1. Solheim: All we need to end absolute poverty is political will

    Last night I attended the launch of the OECD Ending Poverty report. The panel included Erik Solheim, Sabina Alkire, Jamie Drummond, Priyanthi Fernando and Homi Kharas.  It was quite a lively event particularly as they decided to forego the traditional Q & A section allowing audience members to raise their hands as soon as they had a point or question to make. It worked because the moderator Matthew Taylor was excellent and commanding (wholeheartedly recommend him!).

    Some very quick reflections from the event:

    • Addressing Insecurity and Violence: I got the first question in which was along the lines of “The majority of world’s poor will live in countries affected by violence and insecurity by 2030. Should we address the peace agenda within the post-2015 framework?”. Solheim responded that ending war was critical for ending poverty. Drummond strongly agreed highlighting that even stable countries like Ghana are worried about spillover effects of instability, although he put more emphasis on need for good governance (n.b. ONE do a lot of work on transparency and accountability). Fernando made the point about the need for a universal agenda stating there are “power struggles in development” and alluded to the need to move beyond this competitiveness.
    • Political will: Solhiem and Kharas clashed repeatedly during the discussion. Solheim said we could end absolute poverty “all we need is political will”. Kharas was more cautious commenting that “we don’t know everything….if we want to get to zero we will have to do something different”.
    • The China Model & Good Governance: At one point, it seemed like Kharas was endorsing the China model and Taylor challenged him on whether he felt a strong centralised state – like that in China – was necessary for ending poverty. Kharas responded saying that it is also about bottom up empowerment using the example of m-pesa in Kenya. It actually led to a really interesting discussion on what type of politicians we need with most of the panellists agreeing that bottom-up pressure is key to changing policy and improving politician’s decisions (e.g. China’s leadership under pressure to improve pollution). Fernando was one of the only panellists to talk about the need for global governance reform. This led to one of the audience members to eloquently make the case that we need an education system that led people to change their mind-sets from just thinking about ending poverty to asking questions on a larger-scale (i.e. why are we not studying the unequal effects of globalisation?).
    • Can We End Poverty? Solheim reiterated the need for political will, while Drummond stated, “yes we can, but we won’t” unless all citizens make an effort and actually care. He further commented that “there is a war in each one of us between apathy and interest” arguing that we spend meaningless time watching X Factor and reading the Daily Mail rather than the bigger issues like fighting poverty, which led Taylor to reject the moral equivalence of watching the X Factor and reading the Daily Mail (cue laughter). Perhaps most interesting was Homi Kharas who addressed the framework as a whole. He was not confident; reasoning that if it were another North-South, Rich-Poor framework – it would fail. Overall, he articulated the need for national leadership and the buy-in of private sector to create jobs. He also said that understanding what is actually sustainable development would be essential.

    I went with a friend who does not work on development issues who complained that all they seem to do at these things is say what is obviously important – for example, education, addressing inequality – but asked if anyone is actually doing anything! Welcome to the wonderfully, inexact and frustrating world of post-2015.


  2. One million homicides and counting

    Over a million people have died in Latin America and the Caribbean as a result of criminal violence according to a new UNDP report published today. The 2013-14 Regional Human Development Report (HDR) ‘Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America’ examines what it describes as “the weak link” in the region: crime and security.

    Key Findings in Brief

    1. Insecurity is a regional problem

    Latin America is the only region where lethal violence increased between 2000 and 2010, although in recent years rates of homicides have stabilised in some countries.

    2. Young males are particularly and disproportionately affected by lethal violence

    The homicide rate among youth is more than double the rate of the general population, approximately 70 per 100,000 young people.

    3. Robbery is fast becoming the most significant threat to citizens

    One in five report having suffered some type of robbery last year. This is worsened by the fact that on average 6 out of 10 robberies in Latin America are violent. It is important to note that there are also discrepancies between victimisation surveys and the official crime statistics, which highlight difficulties in reporting, but also the lack of citizen confidence in the justice system.

    4. Geographical dispersion of violence regionally and intra-state

    Crime and violence have a significant local dimension; recognition of this is critical for effective policy-making.

    5. Insecurity undermines economic development

    The cost of crime and violence as a percentage of GDP (2010) is remarkable: ranging from 3 per cent in Chile and Uruguay, up to over 10 per cent in Honduras. Furthermore, the report estimates that in 2009 the region lost 331 million years of life due to homicides.

    What accounts for the growth of violence and crime?

    Unsurprisingly, the report emphasizes “multidimensional” drivers of violence and crime, but there are discernable factors such as:

    • Aspirational crimes: Resulting from low quality employment and insufficient social mobility with the backdrop of increasing consumption.
    • Social disintegration: Increase in single parent households, dropout rates and accelerated urban growth.
    • Crime-drivers: Such as weapons, alcohol and drugs.
    • Lack of state capacity: Police, judges, prosecutors and prisons cannot effectively address issues of insecurity.

    What can be done?

    The report touches upon a lot of potential solutions ranging from improved coordination between different levels of the government, gathering reliable high-quality data, the creation of programmes that specifically empower women to establishing long-lasting bonds between the police force and communities. In short, reducing the levels of insecurity is a long-term process and those approaches that are most effective “adapt to local circumstances and respond to citizen insecurity problems, identified and defined jointly with the involved communities”.

    Most importantly, the report acknowledges that “citizen insecurity is a challenge shared by all countries in the region and, as such, a regional consensus is needed to tackle the obstacles and response to citizen insecurity” (e.g. the balloon effect).

    Final Thoughts

    The report powerfully demonstrates two things:

    1. The peace and security agenda is not just relevant to conflict-affected states.

    2. While the statistical evidence contained in the report has weaknesses, insecurity and its related effects can be measured.

    Both of these factors have obvious implications for the inclusion of conflict and violence within the post-2015 framework. Much like the original MDGs, which were far from perfect, the new post-2015 framework could potentially act as a catalyst for strengthening coordination between different actors – locally, regionally and globally– and in turn, lead to the development and implementation of strategies that can more effectively reduce violence and crime.

    The report - worth reading in full – can be accessed here, while Helen Clark’s speech at the launch of the report can be read here.


  3. India’s development cooperation: Post-2015 and beyond

    An op-ed in The Hindu earlier this year contended that negotiations on the post-2015 development framework offer India, “an opening to shape the rules of the game at a critical juncture of global institutional development”. However, during a recent visit to Delhi, Saferworld’s Ivan Campbell and Sunil Suri found that the Indian government does not see the post-2015 framework as a major priority – choosing instead to focus on advancing South-South cooperation as a means of furthering its own development and that of its partners.

    With an estimated one in five Indians living in poverty, restoring robust economic growth and accelerating domestic development are key issues for the Indian general election in early 2014. Even hardened Hindu nationalists have, at least rhetorically, recalibrated their priorities – neatly captured by Nahendra Modi’s election slogan, “Toilets First, Temples Later”. Unsurprisingly then, poverty eradication is India’s main priority for the post-2015 framework, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently describing it as the “anchor” of any future framework.

    Read More


  4. A new history of humanitarianism or new humanitarian principles?

    This post will examine Eleanor Davey’s policy brief for the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) entitled, ‘Why history matters in engaging with Southern actors’. The policy brief is part of the ODI’s ‘Global history of modern humanitarian action’.

    Davey’s policy brief makes the case that a historical analysis of the “diverse cultural, political and contextual forces” that have shaped Southern humanitarian actors will help improve future humanitarian action. As Maxwell and Walker state, ‘…understanding the history of humanitarian actions helps understand why it is the way it is today and helps identify how it can, and maybe should, change in the future.’

    The policy brief covers a lot of ground in its brief four pages touching upon the differing principles guiding humanitarianism, the humanitarian system as a Western construct, the evolution of the humanitarian system after the Cold War and post-9/11, and lastly, the different historical trajectories of humanitarian actors.

    ‘Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter’*

    There is no doubting that comparatively assessing the contribution of Southern humanitarian actors and the humanitarian system more generally is of value, especially given emergent geopolitical realities – namely, the declining influence of the West and what Davey describes as the “ethical imperative” to adequately represent the Global South. 

    With humanitarian aids flows in decline there is a critical need for a holistic understanding of the architecture of the humanitarian system, both formal and informal.* In 2011, official figures highlight that non-OECD DAC governments donated only $509 million for humanitarian emergencies. However, if other mechanisms that are used to dispense humanitarian aid were included, these figures would be truly colossal. The World Bank recently revealed, for example, that India’s earnings from remittances were larger than earnings from the entirety of its IT sector. Imagine then if only a small percentage of this was channelled towards responding to disasters in states such as Orissa.

    Principles of humanitarian aid

    It is perhaps the case though that there is more of a need to review the principles guiding humanitarian aid. Davey explores, for example, how ‘non-Western’ groups may not conform to some of the norms traditionally underpinning humanitarian action, in particular, impartiality and neutrality instead using the discourse of solidarity. She implicitly suggests that this may effect how ‘non-Western’ humanitarian aid is dispensed with a brief reference to transnational Islamic NGOs operating in Afghanistan subsequent to Soviet invasion in 1979.

    Nonetheless, this distinction ignores the reality that Northern humanitarian aid is also subject to competing pressures that can also prevent its adherence to the principles as set down by Henry Dunant. Chief among these pressures is the requirement to satisfy the donor (and secure future funding), who can potentially affect how an NGO undertakes its humanitarian activities.

    Finally, while I recognise the deficiencies in any label designed to ‘capture’ and give some semblance of coherence to a diverse range of actors for the purpose of analysing them (for example, at Saferworld I focus on “Rising Powers” - an undoubtedly problematic label), I feel that setting out what exactly constitutes a ‘Southern’ humanitarian actor would be highly beneficial.

    * West African proverb taken from Davey’s policy brief.

    *According to the 2012 Global Humanitarian Assistance report, the gap between what is needed and what has been given to UNCAP has widened by 10% over the last five years.


  5. It’s Urban Coastal Conflict, Stupid!

    Dr. David Kilcullen recently spoke at a Chatham House event to launch his new book, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla. He describes it as an attempt to challenge the “external reductionist framework of counter-insurgency” that has become the norm after the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Making the case that Western military forces, aid agencies and diplomats have spent the “last decade away from cities focusing on non-state armed groups in countryside”, he argues they are unprepared for the predominant environment in which conflict will occur in the future – urban coastal areas.


    Kilcullen’s analyses familiar global population and urbanisation trends, but adds one slightly unfamiliar ingredient into the mix – coastal living. Over 80 per cent of world’s population lives within 50 miles of the sea. Added together with increasing connectivity, Kilcullen contends these factors create immensely complicated operating environments, which we have little understanding of at present.

    He illustrates how these changes have already altered conflict with an example from Libya in 2011. A French naval force sitting offshore near Misrata noticed pin marks were appearing on Google Earth, but did not know what they represented. Eventually the French realised Libyan school children were marking sniper position with their smart-phones to warn their friends and consequently began running air sorties against those positions. In turn, the Libyan school children seeing the effects redoubled their efforts and marked as much regime infrastructure as they could identify. ‘Bomb damage assessment’ (BDA), one of the hardest things to do in that environment was thus completed on a “synchronised crowd-source basis”. Kilcullen seems to ignore that this kind of operation is wholly open to manipulation, but clearly the important point is that it represents a transformative shift in how warfare could be conducted in the future.

    Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla is a clarion call to stop thinking about “urban terrain like its static”. In Nairobi, for example, gangs control terrain where 60 per cent of the population resides, which startlingly only amounts to six per cent of Nairobi’s land mass. Largely off-limits to state authorities it is an ideal environment in which illicit activities can occur unimpeded and potentially fuel conflict.

  6. Pictures from Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Department of International Studies - a beautiful, vibrant campus.