Archive | February, 2008

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U.N., Google, Cisco Unite on poverty-tracking web site

Posted on 12 February 2008 by Philip Brookes

(Article from Computerworld)

The United Nations, Google and Cisco Systems have launched a Web site that will track the progress toward decreasing global poverty by 2015.

The online project, called MDG Monitor (Millennium Development Goals) was launched by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to focus attention on the need for people, companies and governments around the world to work together to fight poverty.

In September 2000, a group of world leaders adopted eight goals called the Millennium Development Goals that called for countries to reduce poverty and hunger, and to tackle such issues as disease, gender inequality, illiteracy, lack of access to clean water and threats to the environment.

The MDG Monitor Web site tracks progress toward these goals in a number of categories in nearly every country in the world. It also provides the most current data from multiple sources in areas such as public health and education.

A visitor to the site, for example, can use Google Earth to find places where work is being done to reach the goals. “MDG Monitor enables more than 300 million Google Earth users to better understand the MDGs and what it will take to achieve them,” according to the statement.

“Achieving the goals is a truly global task, requiring governments, international organizations, private companies and civil society to work together,” said Ki-moon in a statement. He cited the support of Google and Cisco in developing the MDG Monitor as an example of the kind of “innovative partnerships we need.”

Information is available for download on the MDG Monitor Web site and will soon appear as a global awareness layer in Google Earth.

Cisco provided financial and technical support for the Web site.

“Cisco believes that the power of technology, along with human ingenuity in deploying it, can effectively address global socio-economic issues and lead to sustainable change,” said Cisco Senior Vice President Carlos Dominguez, in the statement.

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The tension between our own needs and others needs

Posted on 05 February 2008 by Philip Brookes

Ok, I succumbed and spent $29.95 to buy “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis. I think this is going to become one of my most valuable texts in understanding and prioritising the needs of poverty relief. It’s packed with so many cross-references to other sources to back up his studies, and even just reading up on those referenced sources boggles my mind with so much available information!

In the first paragraph of Chapter 2 Davis quotes the World Bank‘s warnings during the 1990′s that urban poverty would become the “most significant, and politically explosive, problem of the next century.” I’m inclined to agree. The problem is almost incomprehensibly huge. It’s just that most of the urban poverty and slum dwelling is centred in developing countries, and therefore most of the richer nations are comfortably oblivious to the true scale of the issue.

And the more I consider this reality, the more I’m disturbed at how much effort and finance we can throw into combatting global warming whilst simultaneously allowing a huge percentage of the world’s population to suffer in unimaginable poverty. If you were walking down the street and encountered a malnourished, ill person dying on the pavement would we not immediately call an ambulance and ensure that they received medical attention? And yet, because they’re a few thousand miles away, we don’t do anything! But we’re happy to spend thousands of dollars on installing rain water tanks, subsidising Green Energy, building Energy Efficient houses, replacing our whitegoods with more efficient models, upgrading our sprinkler systems for better water use, and buying hybrid vehicles to cut down our “carbon footprint”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for us being environmentally friendly – but why is it that we can’t reach out compassionately today to people who, right at this very instant, are suffering worse than we’ve ever experienced?

I guess it feels like a sad irony, indeed selfishness, that we should put so much emphasis on the environmental issues that may afflict us in 50 years time, when the majority of the world’s population is at this very moment in tough, if not dire, circumstances and we do nothing to assist them.

If we can’t show love and compassion for our fellow humankind, what hope is there for this planet anyway??

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Citizen Journalists

Posted on 01 February 2008 by Philip Brookes

Whilst browsing Blogs this evening, I found this interesting story about Citizen Journalists in Kolkata, India – I was immediately fascinated as, despite the lack of refinement and grammatical perfection, the stories being shared online by inexperienced local Indian writers give such vivid insights into the lives of real people living in real poverty. Even though we can’t directly connect each story to a particular outcome, I firmly believe that awareness of the impact of poverty in real human lives is a major prerequisite to affect change, and it’s great to see people from within their own community contributing to this goal.

I’ll have to keep reading about the specific methods being employed to develop this team of Citizen Journalists, but I’m already fascinated! It’s great to see the Internet being used in such creative new ways to share life-changing stories.

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Planet of Slums

Posted on 01 February 2008 by Philip Brookes

Last night I read just the first ten or so pages of a book called “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis. Fascinating and thought-provoking stuff. I’ll have to go back to Borders (my regular haunt) and keep reading it (or even buy it!).

Davis points out that right about now, for the first time in human history, we’ve reached the 50/50 point where 50% of the global population lives in an urban environment. This growth of urbanisation is amazing, with some cities experiencing as much as 4000% growth in the past 50 years, and mega-cities of 10, 15 or even 20 million people becoming more and more common.

But a curious aspect of this is that the growth of urbanisation is radically greater in developing countries (particularly Asia, Africa and South America) than in western countries. And the formation of these urban areas does not follow the previously expected patterns with a single nucleus and high density living at the centre of a city, but rather many, many communities are expanding and merging together to create massive urban corridors even as long as 600km.

The most worrying part of all, however, is that urban growth does not equate to economic growth. Instead, these developing countries are experiencing rapid growth in poverty, and the explosive growth of the slums that inspired the title of the book. Along the west coast of Africa, Lagos (the former capital of Nigeria), which had a population of about 290,000 in 1950, now has a population of about 8 million and is referred to as a ‘conurbation‘ due to it’s sprawling nature which amalgamates many cities/towns/suburbs/communities into one huge mass of humanity spread over 1000 sq.km. Yet in spite of all this growth (or perhaps because of it?) The Economist, in their December 2006 Liveability Survey, identified Lagos as only 64.7% liveable (where 0% is perfect and 100% is intolerable) and ranked it 130 out of 132 of all the cities surveyed.

Anyway, that’s enough for now – just some food for thought. Once I’ve had a chance to read more of Davis’ arguments, I’ll share my analysis with you. Apparently Davis argues that these issues are further exacerbated, and manipulated, to the advantage of the rich, by organisations such as the IMF intentionally setting policy (e.g. ‘Structural Adjustment Programs’) which further entrench the poverty and transfer wealth and resources from the poor to the rich. Whether he’s right or wrong, it undoubtedbly calls our attention to a very real crisis faced by humanity.

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