Monthly Archives: January 2013

Antibiotics in Malawi save Malnourished Children

Ngorongoronov 77DB

Scientists in Malawi have discovered that antibiotics given to malnourished children may significantly lower their mortality rate. Unbeknown previously, and still not fully understood, the antibiotics work to combat the bacteria that cause an imbalance in the gut, malnutrition, and related diseases such as kwashiorkor (aka big belly disease). Served along with protein-enrich peanut butter, there has been serious proof of improved health. Thus “giving children a cheap antibiotic along with the usual nutritional treatment could save tens of thousands of lives a year, researchers found.”

What this discovery also demonstrates is the importance of the fundamental research, (economic, statistic, medical), that goes into projects such as this. Without work on the ground, such as that which these Washington University at St. Louis scientists have done, real progress would be stagnant. It is up to determined, intelligent people to make a difference on the ground, and then for policy makers and donors to recognize these differences and act upon them. In this way real development can best be achieved.

Most importantly this is an inexpensive and effective cure, for “a week’s worth of drugs costs only a few dollars, so governments and donors are likely to accept the idea.” This means that this research can actually be applied to the saving of lives, as opposed to some solutions which are more expensive and unavailable to the population in need.

Here’s to one more breakthrough in Sub-Saharan African healthcare.


The UN plans action in Central Africa


The UN is taking action. Remember the mention that the rebel group M23 may disappear from the news, but the clashes within central Africa will not fade as the coverage does? Here’s proof of such. Although, “as many as 800,000 people have been displaced since the M23 rebel group took up arms against the Kinshasa government last May,” we have only heard about the rebel movement for about a week when the city of Kinshasa was most threatened.

The UN has now taken a stand against the rebel group, and along with 8 confirmed African Presidents it plans to stabilize central Africa. “The UN wants to set up an intervention force to fight rebels fuelling conflict in DR Congo, says a UN official.” There are plans for an intervention force of 2,500 to combat the DRC rebels, but the force still needs to be approved by the UN Security Council. There are also talks of recruiting African soldiers, but Tanzania has been the only nation to volunteer troops so far.

It is for circumstances such as this that the UN takes so much heat from the public concerning conflict. M23 has been around for years, but it was May of 2012 when they regained power and early November when they started seizing major towns and cities again. While conflict has been raging in the DRC for months now, the UN’s call to action has still yet to be approved by the Security Council. Though an international institution such as the UN is without question for the greater benefit of world stability, local conflicts (which usually occur in the developing world), don’t abide by the Security’s Council’s timeline. They usually have drastic effects before action by the institution can be taken. And although we hold national sovereignty above all else in the current global system, lives can be destroyed as bureaucracy gets waded through.

Nuclear North Korea


North Korea has affirmed its nuclear testing and has officially threatened the United States, “saying that it would build up its capability of striking the United States after the United Nations’s expansion of sanctions against North Korea.”

The emphasis here is that it would be Kim Jong-Un’s first advanced military decision, and that if the D.P.R.K. was indeed to test its nuclear capabilities it would a symbol that Mr. Kim is following in his father’s footsteps. Although sometimes considered a blip on the radar in terms of foreign activity the United States government is tuned to, nuclear activity has made North Korea a nation to keep an eye on. This goes for the powerful East Asian states as well, and although China maintains a psuedo-alliance with the D.P.R.K., the Chinese government has shown its own concern of North Korean military capabilities.

Proliferation since the Cold War has remained one of the more heated international issues. Mr. Kim has stated that he will not backtrack on North Korea’s nuclear capabilities until, “the denuclearization of the world is realized.” Since there is little to no chance of this happening under a lack of a single world government, it is safe to assume that the D.P.R.K.’s weapons are here to stay barring foreign intervention. It’s safe to say that this is an option that powers are considering if the D.P.R.K. continues in the direction it is headed, which is to built up its military and threaten other world nations.

On a similar note, if anyone out there ever finds a decent picture of a Chollima, I would love one for the next blog post.

Natural Sound Archive


The World’s largest natural sound archive is now fully digital and fully online.
“It took archivists a dozen years to complete the monumental task. The collection contains nearly 150,000 digital audio recordings equaling more than 10 terabytes of data with a total run time of 7,513 hours. About 9,000 species are represented.”

And let’s be honest, we all need to hear a gorilla grunt, a mockingbird cry, or a whale song once in a while. Here are the recordings: Macaulay Library

Consequences of the Hostage Situation in Algeria


41 foreign nationals are still being held hostage in Algeria this morning following an attack yesterday on a gas facility in the east, demonstrating the reported spillover of the french intervention in Mali. Military operations are said to be underway says the British Foreign Office, for Algerian forces have surrounded the kidnappers location as of this morning. Those nationals involved include Algerian, British, Japanese, American, Norwegian, and French citizens. The suspected kidnappers are mostly Algerian, being led by a former al-Qaeda commander.

It is now determined by reports that “the kidnapping in Algeria was a retaliation for a French military assault on Islamist extremists in Mali that has escalated into a potentially much broader North African conflict.” Like with many international interventions on terrorism, there has been a local (regional) backlash, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the French government and military, who are much in the spotlight right now, will act. Clearly, other governments such as the British and United States are now at least minimally involved, and the conflict is unquestionably no longer limited to within Mali’s borders. Although these powerful nations will most likely not get seriously militarily involved, there now have to be discussions between them on the real conflicts and dangers that remain in the North African region.

Mali and the French Intervention


Last Friday France sent troops into Mali “with the aim of halting the Islamists’ advance south.” And it seems for the past week that whenever there has been a headline about insurgency in Mali, increasing French support has been the bulk of the article. Even today, more troops were sent into the country by France as the fighting continued, reportedly increasing the number from 800 to roughly 2,500. President Francois Hollande has said that France’s ultimate goals are “to stop the terrorist aggression… make Bamako safe… and enable Mali to recover its territorial integrity.” In addition, West African troops are also being sent in from Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Guinea, Togo, and Burkina Faso. It seems that the southern nations of Mali’s region are making a statement.

So where does the United States fit into all of this? From a U.S. point of view it is interesting to be on the sideline of a terrorist intervention, for usually the U.S. is the acting forerunner in these situations. For an interesting op-ed on why the U.S. and Algeria should back the french support, read this.

Micro-Evidence as it helps Broader Development


Chris Blattman in his development blog recently addressed the question on if micro-evidence, that is minor studies within the development field on concentrated projects, has a lasting impact on the broader scheme of global development. He made a point of disagreeing with Francis Fukuyama, one of the leading figures in international affairs and development, who was quoted as saying,

“Development economists spend their time these days performing randomized controlled experiments, in which a particular intervention like co-payments for mosquito bed nets are introduced into one group of villages and not into another matched set. This approach establishes causality with a level of certainty approaching that of the randomized trials used in pharmaceutical testing. But while such experiments are useful for evaluating the effectiveness of certain types of public policies, they all operate at a very micro level and don’t aggregate upwards into an understanding of the broader phenomenon of development. It is hard to imagine that all the work being done under this approach will leave anything behind of a conceptual nature that people will remember fifty years from now.”

Blattman pointed to a number of texts and authors who study micro-evidence that he said have helped shape his conceptions of basic development, the most prominent of which is probably Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, which deeply analyzes how certain development projects have bettered local peoples and economies.

Although I am aware that this is taking the diplomatic (and perhaps therefore easy) way out, I must agree with both Fukuyama and Blattman. Both the micro and macro scale are important to understanding development, and both should concern those who study it. Micro-evidence such as controlled experiments with mosquito nets or tracking individual micro-financed entrepreneurs is indeed inherently important to understanding how economic, political, and social development occurs in particular areas. But the macro level, and as Fukuyama states the “broader phenomenon,” needs to be at the very least in the back of every good researchers mind. If this larger goal is not present, then what can anyone who works on development claim they are attempting to achieve? If only the micro-level is studied then Fukuyama is correct in saying that the broader picture would be lost, and the steps forward in the micro-level would mean nothing in a matter of years. If, however, the broader focus on overall development of people is present when studying the micro-level, then real, lasting progress on bettering the quality of people’s lives can be attained.

Though now 5 years old, Paul Collier’s book and work on the bottom billion remains a particularly suitable examination of both the micro and macro level. While always keeping emphasis on the larger picture of reaching a better future for the least development nations, Collier occasionally falls into the micro level when discussing issues of conflict, natural resource, and governmental or military poverty traps. This is how I believe development can best be studied and worked on.

Kenya’s Conservation Militia


Kenya has a new military, but not a rebel group. In fact, this new militia may even be somewhat approved of by many local governments and international organizations. This is because this group, almost oxymoronically, has been assembled to conserve. It uses violence to protect, albeit an unlikely group of victims.
Started by Julius Lokinyi, a former elephant poacher, this militant group made up of mainly rangers and untrained volunteers has a mission to fight elephant poachers. The reason is that “elephants… are actually worth more alive than dead, because of the tourists they attract.” Grossly understaffed and underfunded, rangers of national parks have increasingly felt powerless to the growing number of poachers and an increased ivory demand in Asia. Now, however, these rangers have found a group in which they can make a difference, and they’ve found others with additional reasons to join. ” ‘This isn’t just about animals,’ said Paul Elkan, a director at the Wildlife Conservation Society, who is trying to set up community ranger squads in South Sudan modeled on the Kenyan template. ‘It’s about security, conflict reconciliation, even nation building.’ ” Other nations such as South Sudan are making attempts to mimic this group and it’s protective fundamentals.

Like with many problems of governments and international agencies, one of the main issues with properly combatting poaching is the lack of funds and resources. This grass-roots militia is the proof of supplemental solutions to such problems. While some rangers truly believe in the cause, the real incentive to protect the elephants comes from ulterior reasons, namely economic ones. “These citizen-rangers are not doing this out of altruism or some undying love for pachyderms. They do it because in Kenya, perhaps more than just about anywhere else, wildlife means tourists, and tourists mean dollars — a lot of dollars.” Therefore what can be learned from the development of this group is that problems governments may be unwilling or unable to confront often may have other, private solutions. All you need is the right economic incentive to encourage action.