BRAC leads anti-poverty effort in post-conflict countries (PRESS RELEASE)

NEW YORK, July 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — BRAC is leading a $15 million initiative to rebuild war-torn communities in West Africa, four organizations supporting the effort announced today.

The Soros Economic Development Fund, Open Society Initiative for West Africa, Omidyar Network, and Humanity United are funding this groundbreaking initiative to support families and prevent renewed conflict.

“This investment in the people of West Africa comes at a critical time,” said Stewart Paperin, president of the Soros Economic Development Fund. “With their countries emerging from devastating civil wars, this support gives people the tools to rebuild.”

BRAC, one of the world’s largest anti-poverty groups, is providing microfinance, health, and agricultural support in Sierra Leone and Liberia. It anticipates that over 500,000 people will benefit from these programs.

“In the face of overwhelming need, BRAC’s work has real potential to create opportunities for hundreds of thousands of families to stabilize their lives and build for the future,” said Matt Bannick, managing partner of Omidyar Network. “Our investment will help catalyze this economic and social impact.”

Since March, BRAC has opened 20 new microfinance branches in Sierra Leone and Liberia and will add 20 more by the end of the year. BRAC made its first loans in June. Over the next two years, it will provide financial services to tens of thousands of women, as well as agricultural supplies and training to small crop and livestock farmers. BRAC will also prepare four hundred community based health volunteers to provide ongoing essential healthcare and help fight deadly diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and cholera.

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Commentary on sustainable development in Africa

Negotiate Tana River sugar project  

Written by Joe Ageyo  July 14, 2008:

Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni are not the best of friends – that is the impression one gets when the two men are together. But they seem to share a philosophy that is sometimes referred to as ecoskepticism.

Museveni has often dismissed the idea of Sustainable Development as a Western construct, with  little relevance to underdeveloped Africa. He is often heard saying that development is like a pregnancy and can therefore not be said to be sustainable. His point seems to be that development is an absolute concept and so is either happening or is not happening. Really?

Raila seems to agree. When asked about the proposed Tana Delta sugar project, the PM gave what is now his signature response to controversial development projects – that “your daughter must not remain a virgin if you want to have grandchildren.”

This view on the face of it seems to suggest pragmatism at its very best and a deep desire to improve the lot of the poor residents of Tana River. Yet it flies in the face of modern-day development planning principles.

First, that all “development” is good and should take place at whatever cost and secondly, that development is the same thing as economic growth. The first view is based on the notion that the western countries “developed” using the same model they are now calling unsustainable. The logic is, therefore, that Africa should gun for economic growth now and worry about the environment later.

It is predicated on the idea that Africa’s greatest problem is material poverty and so the continent must strive to “develop” at whatever cost.The second assumption is even more misguided – the idea that economic growth is an end in itself.

If that were the case, then the world’s largest economy, the USA, would not be changing governments so regularly, on account of perceived economic mismanagement. If that were the case, the world’s fastest growing economy, China, would be receiving nothing but accolades from around the world.

Yet Americans still complain of economic difficulties and several world leaders have been toying with idea of boycotting the Olympics to protest China’s human rights record.

This is simply to say that any development that does not address the total needs of a person is not development at all. This is where the controversial concept called Sustainable Development comes in.

Granted, that terminology has as many definitions as there are scholars but the most widely accepted one has to do with ‘meeting today’s needs without jeopardising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.’

To that end many visionary development planners now think beyond economic growth. Sustainable Development addresses economic, social and ecological aspects.

That is to say that for development to be sustainable it must, of necessity, combine a robust economy with rich and resilient natural systems as well thriving human communities. So when some Ugandans complain about the Bujagali power project, President Museveni should not blast the World Bank and NGOs but ask himself whether provision of hydropower is necessarily more important that listening to what the people want.

What use is a multi-billion sugar project in Tana River if many of the local residents feel it is an intrusion?Granted, we all need a growing economy, we all want Vision 2030 realised even in 2010, but it is important to remember that there is life after 2030.

Many economists (not just environmentalists) are now warning that if Planet Earth was a business it would be in the red – we are simply drawing too much more from nature than it is able to replenish.

But there is now even an economic imperative for keeping a keen eye on the environment. In Tana River, leading conservationists, Nature Kenya, say the costs of the proposed project are underestimated and its potential benefits grossly overrated.

But even if it were to take off, there will be the big question of whether British consumers, for instance, who are so environmentally conscious will be willing to pay for ethanol produced under acrimonious circumstances, with possible irreversible damage to the environment.

Development must therefore be a negotiated concept where the government strives to find a place where the interests of all stakeholders meet, even if it does not guarantee the maximum economic benefit.

Ageyo is the NTV News Editor