Global Pulse 2010 – A 3 day online forum for international development

29 03 2010

Today marks the first day of Global Pulse 2010. From Monday March 29th  to Wednesday March 31st 2010, the U.S. Agency for International Development is partnering with the U.S. government’s departments of state, education, commerce, health and human services to bring you an online collaboration event unlike any other! The U.S. Government wants to engage, and partner, with the international community in a meaningful way. Everyone can join the conversation which will hopefully help to shape the future.

As self-described on their website:

Global Pulse 2010 is a 3-day, online collaboration event, that will bring together individual socially-engaged participants and organizations from around the world.

As the name implies, the event will take the pulse of thousands of participants on key issues facing communities around the world. Global Pulse 2010 will connect participants who are champions for the same social issues to build new, or strengthen existing relationships, and inform U.S. foreign assistance and diplomatic strategies on major themes and ideas that emerge across the span of the event.”

*This event is free, and open to everyone who feels that they have something to contribute to the event. Other bloggers, please note – they have specific rules in place for blogging about the event, which can be read in the rules when you sign up.

Sarah Topps (See you on the forums!)





How to Make Money and Change the World

1 12 2009

Recently a good friend of mine and his family heard that I had never experienced an American Thanksgiving and were thoughtful enough to invite me down to visit with them for the weekend. Needless to say, the meal was decadent, and both the conversation and the wine were sparkling. [An extended thank you to the Vitek family!]

While I was down in the USA, my friend took me to meet some friends of his for a night out in small-town America. We visited a local bar, ate bagels slathered in cheese and spicy meats and chatted about our various university degrees and jobs. One of his friends, Tsewang, was a young woman from Nepal who I chatted with for an hour or so about international development and social entrepreneurship (two of my favourite topics!) as well as some less cumbersome subjects. At one point near the end of our conversation, I mentioned to her that I was hoping to start a pilot project for solar water disinfection (SODIS) in Angola next year, and she told me that, being from Canada, I ought to look up an organization called Dream Now“.

After returning from the weekend, I had all but forgotten about her wonderful suggestion when I stumbled onto their website this afternoon. Reading descriptions about how they literally built blanket forts in various rooms across the country in order to facilitate comfortable discussion, I was absolutely intrigued. Ravenous for more of this truly out-of-the-box approach, I dug a little deeper on their website and discovered this jewel of a bookHow to Make Money and Change the World

Not only was it one of the most helpful and innovative books I have read on the subject of finding a job in our generation – it was free! Beautifully designed and available online for download, and redistribution, I thought – well! that’s my Christmas shopping done for every friend I have who’s about to graduate from international development! (On a fair note, being a student, I otherwise probably was just going to wish them Merry Christmas on their facebook walls or twitter, so this is quite the improvement as far as free gifts go...)

Occupation: Change the World

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in working for positive change – either in international development, or other fields of social change.

– Sarah Topps





Plumpynut: More revolutionary than sliced bread

19 11 2009

Every year 10.6 Million kids die before their 5th birthday. Malnutrition accounts for about half of that number. Finally, we may have a solution which addresses both caloric and micronutrient deficient diets: Plumpy’nut.

The old adage about being able to live off of only beer and peanut butter is almost true in this case, although since we’re talking about kids – it’s peanut butter and powdered milk. The mix also includes powdered sugar and several vitamin supplements including zinc, Vitamin A and E, iron and protein. It can add an astounding 1kg (2.2 lbs) per week to a hungry child’s weight.

CBS News ran a special on it back in 2008 but unfortunately WordPress does not support their embedded video.

It’s been used successfully in Niger by Medecins Sans Frontiers and is now being recommended by UNICEF for use across Africa and the world.

Plumpy’nut does not need to be cooked, or refrigerated, or boiled, it does not need to be mixed with water (eliminating potential contamination as has happened with powdered milk formulas), it has no parts which could be a choking hazard, it comes pre-packaged in an ideal amount, it can be eaten directly out of the packaging; making it an ideal meal for undernourished children in the developing world who may not have access to electricity or safe drinking water.

The following YouTube clip is an excerpt piece by Anderson Cooper from the longer CBS video I’ve referenced above.

– Sarah Topps





Interview with David Malone – President of the IDRC

10 10 2009

David MaloneI am very excited to announce that this week I was lucky enough to meet Mr. David Malone, current President of the IDRC, at the Mc Gill Conference on Global Food Security which was being held in Montreal, where he was one of the speakers. He is obviously a very busy man, but he graciously accepted to do a brief email interview for me for the McGill International Development Studies Students Association (IDSSA).

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is:
“...a Crown corporation created by the Parliament of Canada in 1970 to help developing countries use science and technology to find practical, long-term solutions to the social, economic, and environmental problems they face. Our support is directed toward creating a local research community whose work will build healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous societies.”
(taken from the IDRC website- About Us)

1. Mr. Malone, what did you study in your university degree(s)?

“Business Administration (Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, Montreal, BA); Arabic Studies, American University of Cairo (diploma); Publkic Administration, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government (MPA); International Relations (Oxford University, D.Phil.), . “

2. What was the most influential and/or helpful class that you have ever taken and why?

“A History class focused on the Middle East taught by the great Arab historian Hana Batatu, which focused on 12 famous and much admired books on the region, including one of his own on the revolutionary movements of Iraq.  As the course ran on throughout term, it became apparent (although many of us failed to detect the evidence on our own) that the thesis advanced in each of these books was vitiated by a fatal methodological flaw in research methods.  This gave us all a lot to think about.”

3. What influenced your decision to enter the field of international development?

I had lived in the Middle East (Iran) and Africa (Nigeria) as a boy and teenager.  Then and ever since, I have been drawn to the developing world.  During my first assignment abroad for External Affairs (as the Canadian foreign and trade ministry then was known), in the late 1970s, I was asked by CIDA to oversee locally much of their programming in Sudan.  There, virtually every Canadian project failed, for a wide variety of reasons.  This also gave me a lot to think about.  The basic problem was that we had clear ideas on what we could offer while the Sudanese, too polite to contradict us, had little actual use for our programming. I learned that listening carefully and probing interlocutors systematically in order to attempt to ascertain their true views is both time-consuming and immensely important. I have been engaged in the study of development or aspects of development assistance allocations for much of my life since then.”

4. What would you say is your greatest achievement?

Discovering that I could still learn when I tackled my D.Phil studies at age 41. “

5. How did you first get started in the field of international development? (i.e. How did you get your foot in the door?)
“(see above)”

6. If you could give students interested in the field of international development one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Good intentions in and of themselves rarely achieve much, although they are required in order ultimately to do good.  Acquiring practical and analytical skills (including organizational, writing and public speaking skills) is more difficult and more important than simply wanting to do good. Much as I love broad swathes of the developing world, I always try to avoid romanticizing it and to avoid imposing my own template of values and priorities on it.  Other countries move at their own pace, for their own reasons.  We need to respect this, even as we work with partners there to improve economic and social prospects.  Otherwise, we risk antagonizing our hosts and frustrating ourselves.”

Once more, I wish to publicly thank Mr. David Malone for agreeing to this interview upon such short notice and for giving such thoughtful and inspiring answers to simple questions.

– Sarah Topps





Seawater rising? Or the riverbeds sinking!

22 09 2009

Climate change has become a big issue in recent decades, and one of the major indicators that many people point to as a worrying potential problem is the rise in sea levels globally. There are island nations buying up land in foreign countries, people moving further inland, worse floods every year from tropical storms and hurricanes – yet perhaps an even more worrying problem is that the land itself is SINKING!

Scientists in the well-known and respected journal “Nature Geoscience” have recently published an article on the impact of human activities on the land drop towards sea level in many deltas worldwide. This closure towards the water, they claim, is far greater than the rise in sea level faced by the same inhabitants. Their abstract, below, will give a quick glimpse into the problem:

Many of the world’s largest deltas are densely populated and heavily farmed. Yet many of their inhabitants are becoming increasingly vulnerable to flooding and conversions of their land to open ocean. The vulnerability is a result of sediment compaction from the removal of oil, gas and water from the delta’s underlying sediments, the trapping of sediment in reservoirs upstream and floodplain engineering in combination with rising global sea level. Here we present an assessment of 33 deltas chosen to represent the world’s deltas. We find that in the past decade, 85% of the deltas experienced severe flooding, resulting in the temporary submergence of 260,000 km2. We conservatively estimate that the delta surface area vulnerable to flooding could increase by 50% under the current projected values for sea-level rise in the twenty-first century. This figure could increase if the capture of sediment upstream persists and continues to prevent the growth and buffering of the deltas.”

Taken from: http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/ngeo629.html

detailed_chao-phraya

Chao Phraya River Basin

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Chao Phraya, (see image above) the river which flows through Bangkok is one of the worst affected – parts of the delta have sunk 15cm (six inches)! Compare this to the global rate of sea level rise due to climate change at only 1.8-3.0mm per year – nearly a tenfold difference!

Scientists estimate that the area of land vulnerable to flooding will increase by about 50% in the next 40 years due to a combination of climate change causing sea levels to rise and land sinking due to human causes.

“This study shows there are a host of human-induced factors that already cause deltas to sink much more rapidly than could be explained by sea level alone.” Journal Geoscience Article

The researchers report that the flow of sediment down to the Chao Phraya delta has been almost entirely blocked, due to  irrigation, damming the river, and directing the main flow through just a few channels. In rivers with no dams or man-made controls, the sediment would pass down the river and add to the height of the land, a process known as aggradation. (see image below) Now, the sediment can’t reach many delta areas. The further extraction of water and gas for irrigation, drinking, and industry further compacts the land.

Aggradation

As reported in the BBC yesterday, “Rivers affected include the Colorado, Nile, Pearl, Rhone and Yangtze. Of the 33 major deltas studied, 24 were found to be sinking. About half a billion people live in these regions…

THE HIGH-RISK LIST
Deltas with “virtually no aggradation (supply of sediment) and/or very high accelerated compaction”
Chao Phraya, Thailand
Colorado, Mexico
Krishna, India
Nile, Egypt
Pearl, China
Po, Italy
Rhone, France
Sao Francisco, Brazil
Tone, Japan
Yangtze, China
Yellow, China

As the ground falls and sea level rises, people become more vulnerable to inundation during storms.
Every year, about 10 million people are being affected by storm surges,” said Irina Overeem, another of the study team from the University of Colorado.

So should we be worrying about the inevitable rise in sea levels? Or more focused on the major impacts we are still having on these sinking river deltas, which around the world are home to almost half a billion human beings?

– Sarah Topps





A Road Map to World Harmony

4 08 2009

I always have trouble when people ask me to explain succintly what I am learning from my degree (International Development Studies) and why I am taking classes in so many different areas. Last year I had made a rough diagram which attempted to demonstrate how all the areas were interconnected – i.e. agriculture is affected by environment, women’s rights are affected by religion, modern-day governments are affected by political geography, which in turn is affected by history etc.

Areas of Study - Interconnections

LANG = language, EDUC = education, NUTR = Nutrition, RELG = Religion, AGRI = agriculture, GEOG = geography, ECON = economics/economy, ENVIR = environment

*since making this diagram, I have added a few more areas to my degree, and there are certainly more which could be connected, these are just my chosen areas of focus.

More recently, Toyota has released an interesting interactive website showing the same idea as shown above, but with suggestions on how we can improve on the problems which face the world, including energy, education, health and coexistence – just to mention a few.

I thought about trying to duplicate it on here somehow, but it’s probably best to just explore it yourself.

– Sarah Topps





One Billion Hungry People

19 07 2009

In my last post, I ranted about the sour economy and how terrible it was for students in North America to try and find a job in these troubled times. Perhaps I’ve been in my own country for too long again, and searching back through media stories today, this one hit me hard:

World hunger ‘hits one billion’

The UN said almost all of the world’s undernourished live in developing countries, with the most, some 642 million people, living in the Asia-Pacific region. In sub-Saharan Africa, the next worst-hit region, the figure stands at
265 million.

Here I am, feeling a bit undervalued and thinking that students in the North American recession have got it so tough, and BAM! this headline makes you sit up again and wish you could just crawl back into your safe academic hole. True as it is painful, while most students are being beleaguered to ‘just get a job’ and ‘stop messing around’ with our lives, there remains a full sixth of humanity which is slowly starving out their years on Earth.

Chronic malnutrition affects people long after they have begun eating normally again, killing many young children and causing stunting, lower life expectancies, eye and brain damage, and causing their own children to be smaller years later, thus repeating the trend. Most people who die from malnutrition actually die from micronutrient deficiencies such as Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc. For example according to prestigious medical journal The Lancet; Iodine deficiency is the number one preventable cause of mental damage worldwide.

According to Jean Ziegler* , mortality due to malnutrition accounted for 58% of the total mortality in 2006: “In the world, approximately 62 millions people, all causes of death combined, die each year. One in twelve people worldwide are malnourished. In 2006, more than 36 millions died of hunger or diseases due to deficiencies in micronutrients”

Fascinatingly enough, when I was working in Morocco last summer, I asked my fairly educated (high school or higher) students  if people had ever died of hunger in Morocco. The answer they unanimously gave was:
no, never, not since before Mohammed (blessed be he) was alive, not since before Christ, has anyone died of hunger.

Interesting. And I bet you would find many people in countries around the world who would echo their sentiments.
– Sarah Topps

*(the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food for 2000 to March 2008)








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