Monday, November 4, 2013

Forget feast or famine, it's time to tell the complex story of development | Global Development Professionals Network | Guardian Professional

NGO communicators, like the wider PR industry, seem more interested in innovating content delivery rather than content itselfDavid HumphriesGELDOF IN ETHIOPIA
Singer Bob Geldof in Ethiopia. Pictures of starving children have been a staple since the Ethiopian famine of 1983 to 85. Photograph: TODAY / Rex Features
If the first casualty of war is truth, the first casualty of a disaster situation is complexity.
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a New York Times journalist who complained that NGOs had represented the situation in Haiti too simply and optimistically. No one, for example, had brought up land tenure, which quickly revealed itself to be one of the major challenges understood by few in the post-earthquake confusion. I pointed out that my organisation, Global Communities, had spoken about land tenure almost immediately – but nobody listened. Instead, the media focused on stories of desperate chaos or children miraculously pulled from rubble. We agreed that poor reportage is a hungry mouth that both sides feed. But there is no point in complaining about journalistic practices until we,communications professionals, first examine our own.
This applies to how we present natural disasters like the Haiti earthquake and protracted human disasters like Syria. It also applies to long-term poverty, and how we represent entire continents such as Africa or South America. So how do we better communicate the complex conditions in the developing world, which so few people see for themselves? And why do so few organisations even attempt to communicate complexity?
Traditionally, NGOs vacillate between guilt and hope in their communications. Pictures of starving children have been a staple since the Ethiopian famine of 1983 to 85. In the past decade, however, guilt has taken a back seat and instead, we are bombarded with carefully chosen images of success and productivity. We hear stories of microfinance lifting people out of poverty or, with the new philanthropy of the dotcom entrepreneurs, the transformative power of text messaging and Twitter. These methods of communication are driven by the need to raise funds for genuinely vital work. But they don't show the full picture. After all, a story of someone's life changed by a loan can be rapidly reversed when their house in a slum is bulldozed or their family member dies because they didn't have adequate healthcare.
What we are selling is old and tired. And it isn't working: overall funding for global development organisations is decreasing internationally; NGOs have been struggling to counter criticism of microfinance; the earthquake in Haiti has inspired a whole industry of NGO criticism; and traditional attempts in the US to raise funds for humanitarian work in Syria are failing in the light of an increasingly complex crisis. We are underestimating our audience.
We know that innovation is the key to new sales, and as an industry we are always talking about innovation. So why not be innovative and communicate openly the multifaceted issues facing the developing world? Why not let the new voices from the global south speak? Where is the disconnect between what we do and see, and what and how we communicate?
Part of the problem lies with the communications industry. It is driven by the need to sell, and is measured in web hits and social media shares. But increasingly the focus is not on content creation but the medium for the content. The PR industry, for example, publishes endless articles on the best vehicles for delivering your content – social media, traditional media, owned media – but rarely on the actual content. Similarly, the communications industry has mistakenly focused on innovative methods of content delivery, while totally ignoring innovative content. A stale message in a press release is just as stale on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the global development discourses rarely penetrate communications departments, not least because they are written in impenetrable pseudo-academic jargon, what the Economist memorably coined "NGOish." We have to work with development professionals to unpack their linguistic horrors of value chains, gender mainstreaming and capacity building to find out what that actually means and then communicate it effectively.
Then there is also control and convenience. On each side of the Atlantic respectively, it is the same big brands, the same talking heads, and the same messages that are repeated. Journalists know where they can call to get a rent-a-quote for their article and it is usually from within the same time zone. Even though there are thousands of articulate global development professionals from emerging economies on our staff, big brands demand on-message speakers, trained for the western media: put on a new voice and they might not say what you want them to say. Control and convenience outweigh conviction.
The status quo is not good enough. NGOs are increasingly concerned about their relevance in the future and are examining their business models, and rightly so. Communications professionals need to take a lead role in this. Good media coverage and honest examination of complex issues are not mutually exclusive. Yale's Innovations for Poverty Action has succeeded in bringing complex issues in aid and development to the forefront of global development media coverage. Most of my own organisation's greatest communications successes have been based around complex issues such as urban disasters and allowing voices from the global south to speak about their own situation.
As long as poverty exists, so too should NGOs. But until we acknowledge that the solutions to poverty are complex and begin communicating them as such, we will appear increasingly irrelevant. What we are communicating is not working. Let's move beyond guilt and optimism and try something new – complex and sometimes troubling reality.
David Humphries is director of global communications for Global Communities.
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Friday, October 4, 2013

New book examines legacy of media coverage of Ethiopia's 1984 famine

Irish rock star Bob Geldof (C) helps people at a feeding centre in Lalibela, 700km from the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May 2003. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – It is almost 30 years since a single TV news report alerted the world to a massive humanitarian emergency unfolding in Ethiopia.
"Dawn, and as the sun breaks through the piercing chill of night on the plain outside Korem, it lights up a biblical famine, now, in the 20th century. This place, say workers here, is the closest thing to hell on earth," the piece began.  
Accompanied by shots of thousands of starving people arriving at feeding stations in northern Ethiopia, the report by the BBC's Michael Buerk triggered an outpouring of donations and one of the biggest humanitarian efforts the world had ever seen.
It spawned Live Aid, the concert organised by pop star Bob Geldof, and heralded an era of celebrity do good-ism, which is now practically inescapable. It also led to the unprecedented growth of foreign relief organisations, changed the face of NGO fundraising and helped cement Africa's image as a continent of plagues, pestilence and suffering that continues until today.
In the minds of many, the reporting of the famine and the subsequent humanitarian effort were a huge success. Yet, a new book by former BBC journalist-turned-academic Suzanne Franks shows the opposite to be true.
"Reporting disasters: Famine, aid, politics and the media" takes a comprehensive look at the iconic news event. Mining BBC and government archives, it concludes that media coverage of the crisis was misleading and inaccurate, and that the aid effort ultimately did more harm than good.
"What made it really interesting ... is that many people have wonderful intentions but ... despite these good intentions, there are terrible outcomes," Franks told Thomson Reuters Foundation. "That is very difficult to understand."
Although few would deny the power of Buerk's report and the profound impact it had, Franks' research dispels any notion that media coverage of the famine had any lasting effect on British policy towards Ethiopia, considered by London and Washington to be a "distasteful regime" and a client of the Soviet Union.
In reality, hardly any new money was provided by then prime minister Margaret Thatcher's government largely because, as Franks points out, Thatcher's attitude to aid was said to mirror on a global scale her suspicion of the welfare state at home.
Besides analysing the response to the famine, Franks also tells the story behind the story, explaining why it became such a hit. Buerk's fortuitous lift on a World Vision plane to Korem, a strike by a rival TV station, a quiet news period and record European grain surpluses at the time all ensured the story was told, and told to maximum effect.
From the outset, the famine was characterised as a sudden event caused by drought. But the warning signs were known by the British government long before Buerk's report was broadcast, reinforcing what we now know about hunger crises – that they are a long time in the making.
Media reporting also ignored the obvious role politics played in creating the conditions for famine – how starvation had become a useful weapon of war in dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam's battle against insurgents in the north, and the extent to which the fighting was causing problems with food supply.
Not only was food aid diverted by both government and rebel forces but so too were many of the trucks used to distribute relief supplies. That, and the foreign currency brought in by aid agencies, inadvertently helped the conflict to continue.
In hindsight, it's easy to see why within a few years of Buerk's report being aired on Oct 23, 1984, there were yet more appeals for funds to fight hunger in Ethiopia, despite millions of dollars already raised.
Even worse, donations helped aid agencies set up feeding centres that were used by government officials to round up unsuspecting Ethiopians for resettlement hundreds of miles away from rebel areas.
The impulse to tell a simple story, unmuddied by complexity and doubt, is shared by the media and aid industry alike, Franks says.
"We all want the narrative of the goodie versus the baddie in a nice clear-cut story," she said. "But if you try and tell the real story, which is probably three different baddies all fighting each other and nobody coming out of this very well, how sympathetic is your hearing going to be? And how much are you really going to be able to raise money and get sympathetic attention based on that?"
This aversion to telling the whole story leads Franks to the sad conclusion that "despite all the noise, there was ultimately little wider understanding of the fundamental long-term causes and the real nature of the famine".
Little has changed in the media reporting of famines in the years since the Ethiopian crisis, Franks said. Citing Somalia's famine in 2011, she said there were a few but not many journalists willing to tell the "horrible and complicated story" of why people were starving in the Horn of Africa country which was, at the time, mainly controlled by al Shabab militants.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Famine and poverty are a result of poor governance, not overpopulation - Telegraph

Some of the most densely populated places are among the richest
SIR – Sir David Attenborough blames famine in parts of the world on over-population (report, September 18). But this cannot be. Some of the most densely populated places (Hong Kong or London for example) are also among the richest. Some of the driest places (California or Saudi Arabia) again are among the richest, and the inhabitants, despite their numbers, are not dying of thirst.
The only conclusion which can be drawn about poverty is that it is caused by governments, and not by the size of the population.
Roger Merryweather 
Stroud, Gloucestershire
SIR – We would like to thank Sir David Attenborough for his recent interest in Ethiopia but his comments about famine in Ethiopia and “too many people for too little piece of land” (Comment, September 19) are somewhat outdated.
Ethiopia has undergone a significant political and social transformation, achieving food self-sufficiency and double digit economic growth for the past 10 years.
Africa has vast tracts of arable land sufficient to feed itself and the rest of the world. Specifically, Ethiopia has 76 million hectares suitable for agriculture, of which only 17 million hectares have so far been used. It also has an abundant water supply for irrigation. Population growth control is a key element of Ethiopia’s current five-year Growth and Transformation Plan. This is being addressed through family planning and the empowerment of women and girls through education and health-sector programmes.
I would like to invite Sir David to visit Ethiopia, so that he may witness this transformation for himself. The issue is not sending “bags of flour”, but helping Ethiopia to achieve full sustainable development through the promotion of trade and investment.
Berhanu Kebede
Ethiopian Ambassador to the UK
London SW7
SIR – Sir David Attenborough is right to be concerned about threats to Africa’s ability to feed itself. Backed by £400 million of British aid, the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is forcing African governments to adopt policies that make it easier for foreigners to take over agricultural land, much of which will be used for the production of biofuel or other export crops.
But if his concerns are really about too many people and too little land, his attention should be focused nearer to home: Europe’s population relative to its land area is more than double that of Africa’s. Our consumption levels are only made possible by the ongoing extraction of agricultural and other raw materials from developing countries.
Allowing Africa to feed its own people, rather than greedy Western markets, would make “barmy” food aid redundant.
Nick Dearden 
Director, World Development Movement
London SW9
Free school meals
SIR – Instead of restricting free school meals to children under eight (report, September 18), would it not make more sense to subsidise school meals for all children? Over-eights are just as much in need of a hot meal in the middle of the day to aid their ability to learn. Promoting healthy eating without the diversion of television would surely benefit everyone.
Helen Webster
Woking, Surrey
SIR – A free school meal gives an opportunity for teachers to observe children eating and question parents about any ravenous eating or lack of eating from a child. At the very least, the policy may be one small step towards spotting this type of child abuse.
Janet Apps
Pinner, Middlesex
SIR – Not all primary schools have a kitchen large enough to prepare meals, and who would pay for the extra staff needed to cook, serve and supervise?
Carol Day
Alton, Hampshire
Banning the veil
SIR – Should the state be licensed to force a parent to send their child out of the house dressed in a manner that the parent considers immodest? To put the state in such a totalitarian position not only undermines the authority of parents, but is against the British tradition of liberty. If this issue were not associated in the public perception with a minority “religion” as distinct from “custom and culture”, Jeremy Browne MP would not have proposed it for debate (report, September 16).
We value our reputation for tolerance and diversity; let us not join France in becoming a narrow-minded “majority rule means uniformity” (everybody has to look like us) type of society.
David McManus 
Godalming, Surrey
SIR – Not so long ago, during a hospital visit, David Cameron was reprimanded by a doctor for wearing a tie and made to roll up his shirt sleeves. Surely, a loose veil or a flowing burka poses an even more unacceptable risk of cross-contamination.
Stefan Reszczynski
Margate, Kent
British-only prizes
SIR – Opening the Booker Prize to authors from the whole world (report, September 19) leaves us British without a prize of our own. Wouldn’t it be better if British publishers, agents, retailers and authors got their act together and organised some awards – The Book Brits, perhaps?
Categories might include best thriller, best romance, best fantasy, best literary fiction plus an overall novel of the year. A best celebrity author award would help secure essential television coverage.
Who knows, we professional authors might even sell some books.
David Thomas, aka Tom Cain 
Chichester, West Sussex
Be careful Boris
SIR – Boris Johnson should be careful of allusive comparisons, especially maritime examples (“Boris hails UK economy’s 'Costa Concordia moment’”, report, September 19). In 1987, following the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise and the loss of nearly 200 lives, Nicholas Ridley, the environment secretary, caused uproar by remarking that he would not be pursuing a particular policy “with the bow doors open”.
Robert Vincent 
Wildhern, Hampshire
Hunting ban backfires
SIR – As Peter Oborne points out (Comment, September 17), the unintended consequences of the fox hunting ban have included more foxes dying by shooting and poisoning and a displacement of foxes from the countryside to the city. These migrant foxes enjoy a plentiful supply of food and have nothing to interrupt their opportunistic scavenging.
Another consequence of this law was the encouragement it gave to animal rights extremists. Emboldened by the ban, they have now broadened their remit to include stopping the Government’s proportionate and humane badger cull, using the same sinister tactics and caring little for the consequences for Britain’s hard-pressed beef and dairy farmers and the devastating effects of TB on the animals they tend to.
Philip Donnelly
Chairman, Hunting Association of Ireland
Clane, Co Kildare, Ireland
Not all the news
SIR – Nora Jackson (Letters, September 19) is wrong – the news is the news and is factual. Rape happens, pornography exists, and sadly, paedophiles roam our streets.
Children need to be exposed to the harsh realities of this cruel and wicked world in order to understand the environment in which they are growing up.
Cossetting them in a bubble leaves them in for a nasty surprise when they mature into adults – only to find out the world is not the fairytale place they had been led to believe it might be.
Alan Reynolds 
Sudbury, Suffolk
SIR – I edited the Early Evening News and the News at Ten at ITN for many years. On the Early, we were acutely aware that younger viewers would be watching and went to considerable lengths to make sure that details that might cause distress to them were severely restricted. Nor was there a free-for-all on the News at Ten. Although we showed and said more, good taste was paramount. Perhaps Nora Jackson is watching the wrong channels.
Philip Moger
East Preston, West Sussex
Dull days
SIR – My schoolboy diaries had the acronym NUHT written against most days.It stood for Nothing Unusual Happened Today, and I’m afraid my diary would be much the same now.
Kevin Platt
Walsall, Staffordshire
Drunk and disorderly – or drunk and incapable?
SIR – Prior to the introduction of the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) most police stations had drunk tanks.
PACE put an end to this practice, giving detained persons obligatory rights on arrival in the charge room, renamed the “custody suite”. No longer could station sergeants simply put drunks in the drunk tank and discharge them at 5am.
In the current politically correct era, distinguishing between prisoners who are drunk and disorderly and those who are merely drunk and incapable, and therefore not qualifying for protection from PACE, could lead to very serious unintended consequences.
David Griffiths 
Bromley, Kent
SIR – Drunk tanks are certainly a good start, provided that someone can decide who belongs there and who, in case of serious alcohol poisoning, would be better off in A&E.
Roger West
Appenzell, Switzerland
SIR – It would be unlawful for the police to visit pubs and “arrest bar staff and people buying drinks for their drunken friends” (Letters, September 19).
When I became a London policeman in 1965, such visits to licensed premises were the norm. They enabled the police to control general drunkenness and ensure alcohol was not sold to those who were underage. However in the early Eighties, judges decided that such visits were unlawful unless the police had good grounds for believing offences were being committed prior to their entry.
So much for Sections 141 and 142 of the 2003 Licensing Act.
P A Feltham
Epsom, Surrey
SIR – There needs to be a campaign in the media to emphasise the dangers of binge drinking and convince the public that “having a good time” does not equate with “getting drunk”.
John Talman 
East Bergholt, Suffolk

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

If we do not control population, the natural world will -famine in Ethiopia is about “too many people for too little piece of land- Telegraph

Sir David Attenborough:

Attempting to solve famine in Africa by simply sending flour bags is “barmy”, Sir David Attenborough has said, as he argued it was nature’s response to too many people and not enough land.

Sir David Attenborough holding a Hadrocodium fossil, Beijing
Sir David Attenborough Photo: BBC/Atlantic Productions
Sir David, who is soon to present a programe on human beings, said population control was a “huge area of concern”, adding the world was “heading for disaster unless we do something”.
He warned if humans do not act soon, the “natural world will do something”, as he argues famine in Ethiopia is about “too many people for too little piece of land”.
He suggested humans are "blinding ourselves" to the problem, claiming: "We say, get the United Nations to send them bags of flour. That's barmy.”
In an interview with the Telegraph, ahead of new programme David Attenborough’s Rise of Animals, he admitted the issues had “huge sensitivities” but insisted it was important to “just keep on about it”.
When asked about comments he made on population control earlier this year, when he said human beings were a “plague on the Earth, Sir David agreed they could be considered “blindingly obvious” but claimed nobody else had made the point publicly.
“Just keep on about it. Just keep on about it,” he said, when asked about the next step to solving the problem. “You know and I know that there are huge, huge sensitivities involved in this.
“To start with, it is the individual's great privilege to have children. And who am I to say that you shan't have children? That's one thing.
“Then the next thing is that there's a religious one, in the sense that the Catholic Church doesn't accept this. That you should control the population.
“So that's another huge area of concerns. And the last sensitivity - and the most tricky of all - is the fact, when you talk about world population, the areas we're talking about are Africa and Asia, you know.”
He agreed it could be construed as just being about “poor people”, adding: “And to have a European telling Africans that they shan't have children is not the way to go around things.”
When asked how to get around the sensitive issues to solve the problem, he said: “We keep on talking about the problem without putting names on it in that sense. And getting it on the agenda of people.
“Because - you obviously can see it just as I can - you know, that we are heading for disaster unless we do something.
“And if we don't do something, the natural world will do something. And you say that, but of course they've been doing it for a long time, the natural world.
“They've been having... what are all these famines in Ethiopia, what are they about? They're about too many people for too little piece of land. That's what it's about.
“And we are blinding ourselves. We say, get the United Nations to send them bags of flour. That's barmy.”

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ethiopia police block rally Blue Party, beat some

AP) – An opposition leader in Ethiopia says police have prevented his group from staging a rally to demand the release of jailed activists.
Yilkal Getnet, who heads the opposition Blue party, said Sunday that police raided their headquarters in the capital, Addis Ababa, on Saturday night and beat up some party members. He said police also seized banners and equipment that would have been used during a street protest on Sunday.
He said the rally was meant to highlight the continued detention of some journalists and Muslim activists.
Ethiopia has charged at least 28 Muslims activists with terrorism. But those activists say they have been unfairly targeted by the government, which they accuse of harassment.
A spokesman for Ethiopian police was not immediately available for comment.

Politics stalling Food Security Bill: Amartya Sen to NDTV

Food Security Bill: India can feed its people, says Sonia Gandhi

Food Security Bill: India can feed its people, says Sonia Gandhi

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ethiopia in her Capital to build Africa's Tallest Building while it's majority of population still starving.

Ethiopia's capital city, Addis Ababa, may boast Africa's tallest building by 2017. This is not considering still over 80 % of the population do not eat one full meal a day .

While a 58-storey building had been announced previously, plans unveiled by private Chinese developer Guangdong Chuanhui Group now call for a 99-storey office-cum-hotel tower to be built here.

The site for the Chuanhui International Tower is at the new Addis Ababa Exhibition Centre and the developer said it has acquired a 41,000-square metre site and building plans have been approved.

If built, the structure will supersede by 225 metres Africa's current tallest tower, the 50-storey Carlton Centre in Johannesburg.

While floors three to 55 of the proposed super tower are designed for offices, floors 78 to 94 have been set aside for a 217-room Regency Hotel, said a statement by Chuanhui which is based in Guangdong Province in southern China.

Chuanhui has also allocated 2,600 sq m for an exhibition hall and ballroom. Occupying 27,000 sq m, the ground floors and basement have been earmarked for retail space and a public library will occupy another 1,500 sq m.

If completed, the tower would be renamed the Meles Zenawi International Centre to honour the memory of former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Chuanhui has not revealed the building's estimated cost or other details, including financial arrangements or the names of the architect and engineer.

With a population of about 2.8 million, Addis Ababa is the country's commercial and industrial centre.