News that matters

This is the first post in an ongoing, monthly series called “News that matters.” The purpose is to highlight coverage in news articles and blog posts about important, current issues that affect those living in poverty around the world.

You'll find that I've selected three issues I think are worth paying attention to, and some recent news coverage that addresses those issues. While these selections are based on my personal judgment calls, I’m hopeful that these stories inspire you to learn more, challenge you to think about your own views of the world, and encourage you to join the conversations going on this blog and among your own circle of friends.

I'm curious to know what you think about this post and these issues. Please share your comments, questions and ideas in the comments section. I’m eager to hear what you all think!

Foreign aid and the U.S. federal budget

There is much heated debate about how the U.S. government should prioritize its spending, given the increasing federal deficit.  World Vision has taken the position that the Federal government does have a role to play in funding poverty-reduction programs and that Congress should improve U.S. fiscal responsibility by cutting programs that don’t heavily affect the poor here or internationally. Agree? Disagree? What do YOU think and why?

Tai Anderson responds to comments on ONE’s budget petition
ONE.org (blog), Tai Anderson, 31 March 2011
“It’s not the government’s job to help the poor. It’s the Church’s.” There is a lot of truth in that statement, and it also comes as a terrible indictment to the Christian church. If we were doing our job as people of faith, there would be little need for our government to have to do anything. I agree. But, we’re not doing our job.... how many of our churches even take one sermon a year to focus on these issues? Again, just as my pastor challenged me about my family budget being a moral document, I would challenge American Evangelical churches the same way.

Why We’re Fasting
New York Times, Opinionator (blog), Mark Bittman, 29 March 2011
I stopped eating on Monday and joined around 4,000 other people in a fast to call attention to Congressional budget proposals that would make huge cuts in programs for the poor and hungry. By doing so, I surprised myself; after all, I eat for a living. But the decision was easy after I spoke last week with David Beckmann, a reverend who is this year’s World Food Prize laureate. Our conversation turned, as so many about food do these days, to the poor.

Doing aid right

As World Vision’s staff – and staff at other aid agencies will tell you – relief and development work is incredibly complex. World Vision is constantly working to improve the quality of the work we do. We’ve learned over decades of activity that there are ways to do aid and development well and there are ways to do it poorly. We’ve learned that when aid is done poorly, it can be very damaging for those who are most in need. The coverage below addresses some of the issues being discussed within the aid community about how to do humanitarian aid work better.

A Tragedy of the Commons in Selling Tragedy
Center for Global Development, Views from the Center (blog), Charles Kenny, 23 March 2011
If it is much easier to communicate tragedy than success, it clearly makes sense for each individual agency or NGO to get their message out by trumpeting catastrophe.  But there are real negatives to that approach. Rothmyer mentions that it skews policymaking towards disaster management, deters investment and is dispiriting to people in Africa working for change.

Aid agencies must listen to the people they're helping
The Guardian (UK), Poverty Matters (blog), Nicholas van Praag, 29 March 2011
Some donors do undertake their own evaluations of things they have funded – but it's rare that we hear directly from those affected about whether needs are being met, if they were consulted, or whether they are being adequately protected. Several humanitarian NGOs have signed up to standards of accountability to beneficiaries. This is an important step, but there is a difference between declarations of intent and actual practice on the ground. We must also regularly ask those affected if they are safe, fed and sheltered – and how they feel about their future prospects.

How to help out during a disaster
ChicSavvyTravels.com, Vawn Himmelsbach, 1 April 2011
Often in the wake of a disaster (especially when it’s a place we’ve visited and feel an affinity toward), we want to hop on a plane and help out. Chic Savvy Travels talks to Laura Blank, a spokesperson for World Vision’s News Bureau in the U.S., about how to help — and how sometimes generous intentions may, in fact, be counterproductive.

Food and hunger

At first blush, addressing hunger is simple: give hungry people food. But in reality, addressing hunger in a way that protects local economies, ensures that people are getting the right balance of nutrition, and building structures to help people protect themselves from hunger in the future is very complicated. Economists are seeing early signs of endemic hunger crises that are based, not on a lack of available food, but on market influences that are driving up food prices. In some communities, families spend up to 80 percent of their income on food alone. When prices increase, these families cannot afford to eat enough to stay healthy. Below is some recent news coverage that addresses some of the issues related to food and hunger around the world.

Stating the Obvious: Hunger Is a Disease
New York Times, Mark Bittman (blog), 31 March 2011
True hunger is not just a feeling, but an insufficient intake of energy (calories) and nutrients. All obvious. Hunger is not “I need something to eat,” but a disease, or at least the precursor to the disease starvation. It has a cure and a cause. The cure, as we know, is nutritious food. The cause, as we know, is a lack of same. Obvious. What causes the lack? Imprisonment, torture, being stranded on a desert island, anorexia, crop failure … and both a lack of aid and bad distribution of nutrients.

Poor nations seek exemption from food export bans
Reuters, Andrew Callus, 5 April 2011
Poorer countries vulnerable to soaring food prices demanded on Tuesday formal exemption under world trade rules from the export restrictions that have proliferated in recent years. In a proposal linked to the long-running Doha round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks, the group of net food-importing developing countries (NFDICs) said 21 food exporters were operating export restrictions last year -- a higher number than the official WTO record of four. They said the curbs were contributing to painfully high food prices.

World Food Prices Seen Rebounding After Falling From Record
Bloomberg, Rudy Ruitenberg, 7 April 2011
World food prices that fell from a record last month may rebound, the United Nations said, after grains rallied on reports of shrinking stockpiles. An index of 55 food commodities dropped 3 percent to 229.8 points from an all-time high of 236.8 in February, the UN’s Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said in an online report today. That was the first slide since June and came as wheat fell 6.6 percent and corn 5.2 percent in Chicago trade last month. Prices have rallied since as U.S. corn stockpiles fell to their lowest since 2007 and soybean inventories shrank to the smallest since 2003. Costlier food contributed to riots across northern Africa and the Middle East that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia and is driving up inflation, spurring central banks to consider higher interest rates that may slow growth.

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