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By Sara Hooker, Global Development Issue Analyst

There is a joke in Southern Africa that vegetarians don’t exist, at least not by choice. There is even a Zimbabwean rap group dedicated solely to eulogizing chicken in their songs. Another inside joke is that you can tell who a government worker is by the girth of their waist, as people tend to literally show their power in kilos. While this may tend towards hyperbole, meat has always been an indicator of wealth in Africa. Unfortunately this may no longer be the case. Grain, long a diet staple, is taking over as a luxury.

Last week in Rome, from October 11th to the 16th, some of the world’s most accomplished academics on food security convened for the annual committee on World Food Security. While the verdict is still out on their performance (the CFS chairperson described it as a ‘rich and lively session’ which in UN speak means there were probably not any sweeping reforms) it is clear it is a necessary dialogue to maintain.
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By Ashley Binetti
Ashley is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Ashley below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

I became wrapped up in human rights (HR) issues in college; I filled my schedule with classes on global poverty, cultural rights, international law, etc.  It is incredibly daunting to learn about the world’s human rights abuses—each problem is linked to the next, and a viable solution appears to be light-years away.  However, we don’t have to solve every problem to have an impact.  As students, we have the ability to garner support for these issues.  Advocacy is our most powerful tool—by writing op-eds, blogs and letters to congress, or by inspiring a new group of passionate citizens.

A few years ago, I interned for Amnesty International, USA (AIUSA) and had the pleasure of meeting 25 college students who volunteered for the Human Rights Education Service Corps Program.  These students taught an introductory HR course in low-performing D.C. public high schools.  I taught my own course as well, and was consistently amazed by my students.  After discussing questions such as, “What do you need to survive, day to day?” and “What do you need to live a happy life?,” we penned a list that paralleled the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948).  Learning occurred through this type of exchange, where the concept of rights was instinctive, and students could understand the universal and interdependent nature of rights.   

As Columbia University Professor Betty Reardon notes, “Intentional cultural change can result only from education.”  It doesn’t have to be in a classroom using the AIUSA curriculum; it could be creating a teach-in of your own, holding a town-meeting on campus, or participating in a national HR conference.  If we seek to live in a world where human rights are respected, the best place to start is by educating ourselves and our peers—encouraging action and compassion.

Ashley Binetti recently graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University with a BA in Government and International Relations.  She has advocated for human rights through internships with The United Nations Foundation and Amnesty International USA, and by participating in Care USA’s National Conferences.  Ashley is particularly interested in social, economic, and cultural rights, as well as the expansion of human rights education in the United States and abroad.  In her free time, Ashley enjoys yoga and salsa dancing.

Take part in the commemoration of International Youth Day, whose theme this year is “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding.”  Celebrations are occuring across the nation today, with the largest one headquarted at the United Nations in New York City, which celebrates the global launch of The International Year of Youth with musical guests, performances, and an art exhibit showcasing “Youth Perspectives on Global Issues.” As active youth committed to changing the world, we deserve to be celebrated!

One way to participate no matter where you are is through Advocates for Youth’s Blog-a-thon:

Advocates has now officially launched its International Day of Youth Blog-a-thon that runs from today until Saturday, August 14th.  This is a time and space to blog about young people and sexual and reproductive health and rights issues commemorating the start of the International Year of Youth with International Youth Day!  So, this week, go to amplifyyourvoice.org and blog about the issues that you care about alongside many other proud youth across the nation!

Read more about International Youth Day at http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/iyouthday.htm.

by Jill Brown, student at GMU

On the twenty-sixth of March, I had the privilege of attending a lecture and dinner with Ambassador Ahmed Kamal, former U.N. Ambassador to Pakistan. Ambassador Kamal spoke on the promotion and maintenance of peace in the modern world. While I found him and his subject fascinating, I believe he made several generalized statements in his lecture that were erroneous and this concerned me greatly.

It was clear that several of the students gave his speech a great deal of credence, but I was not pleased with the sweeping conclusions he was drawing from his premises. For example, one of the statements he made that colored much of the rest of his speech (and even the dinner conversation) was that young people, those under thirty years of age, ought not pay heed to the counsel of those beyond thirty when making decisions regarding the future of our world. His premise, that young people between the ages of twenty and thirty are at their peak both physically and mentally, supported by examples like Joan of Arc, Chopin, and Keats, was fairly sound. It is true that young people are endowed with a great deal of energy and that the brain seems to function at its peak creativity within this decade; therefore, the younger generation of any age has a great deal of responsibility for making use of this incredible potential. However, his assertion that we, as young people, ought not listen to the counsel of our elders, was, in my opinion, incorrect.

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Hi all, I’m Erick Ford, the AIDemocracy Southeast Regional Coordinator at George Mason University.  Last Friday – March 26th 2010 – over 100 members of the George Mason University community welcomed Former UN Ambassador Ahmad Kamal of Pakistan to the Fairfax campus for a discussion about building sustainable peace and security for future generations.

This was the second year in a row that Ambassador Kamal made the trip to George Mason. The forum was hosted by GMU’s Global Relations Organization, Americans for an Informed Democracy, the Public and International Affairs Department, Global Affairs Department, and the Office of the Provost, with support from the Student Government President Devraj Dasgupta.  The purpose of the forum was to bring the leaders of tomorrow an opportunity to ask and learn directly from today’s global leaders.

Ambassador Kamal spoke on various subjects including the Middle East peace process, Iran, nuclear proliferation, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Russia, US debt, the WTO, global concentration of wealth, welfare states, access to water, and the role of the US and the UN in maintaining global peace and security.

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Nearly eighty years ago the United States experienced a decade long drought that altered the course of American history. Now we live in a time with a drought severe enough to alter the history of the world. According to a Vanguard interview on Current TV, with the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, “there are fifty countries with nearly 2.7 billion people, who do not have access to water.”   In a world where our differences are shrinking, so is the most valuable resource for our survival, our fresh water supply.

According to the United States drought monitor, the state of California reported a record to near record dry spring in hundreds of locations throughout the state. The drought was so severe it prompted Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a statewide drought. In a recent report from the US government Accountability Office, “At least 36 states will experience water shortages within the next five years.” The main areas to be effected will be the Southeast, Southwest, and the Pacific west. How bad is the drought at this moment? The Colorado River no longer ruins into the Gulf of Mexico. Lake Mead has experienced a 60 feet drop in the level of water within the past three years. The Everglades in South Florida is experiencing a shift in its ecosystem as the once freshwater swamp slowly evolves into a saltwater pit. Yet, the United States is not alone.

According to the same Vanguard interview, the northern Chinese province of Hebei, (pronounced Hébĕi)  is home to more than two million people and half of the country’s production of wheat. However, the river that feeds life into the area and eventually Beijing has fallen 97% from its original capacity. The country itself is under a desertification. Nearly 2,000 sq/km of arable land turns into desert each year. Today, nearly 25% of China is a desert and one that is continuously growing everyday.

So what brought us to the breaking point? Although some climatologist lean toward global warming, other scientist and those who survived the Dust Bowl of the thirties blame ourselves. With the rapid rise in human population, the demands on necessary resources also drastically increased. Our excessive consumption of water has dried-up rivers and lakes, and has drained our reservoirs, and aqueducts. We, as a specie can not survive without water. Even the plants in which we consume need this resource. In fact the cultivation of the land is also blamed on the current global drought.

Whether is it the over-farming in the plains of China or the man-made canals that redirect runoff water in the United States, humans have altered the natural flow of water.  Our methods in farming are far out dated in which they reflect a time when water was in abundance.  However, now that we are experiencing a servere drought, our methods must adapt for the sake of our survival.  Understanding the causation of a problem and the impact it has will lead to the development of a solution.

Areas that are overwhelming effected by the shortage of water have already begun to take action.  Suburban cities in the US  have implemented restricitions on the useage of water for lawns.  Permitting alternating days dependant upon the numerical address.  In Spain where the lack of water has set region against region, water is imported from France, city fountantins have been turned off, and a desalination plant near Barcelona is being constructed to extract water from the sea.  Younger cities in the United States such as Irvine, California and Cape Coral, Florida, have constructed a reusable water system.  The recycled water is comprised of a collection of used water from homes, businesses, as well as storm runoffs.  Once it has been filtered, the water is then redistributed to be used for irrigation purposes  for crops, golf courses, wetlands enhancement, and serves as a cooling system for industries. A recycled water system is a component of the citywide water system.  Therefore dual distribution provides fresh and recycled water.  In Saint Petersburg, Florida this system has reduced portable water usage by 50%.  Imagine a similar system in operation throughout every state in the Union and the millions of fresh water that would be saved each year.

We have all witness the value of commodities such as food and energy soar within the year causing civil unrest in developing countries from the islands of Latin America to the plains of Africa.  We have been fortunate to find alternatives for these commodities.  However, for water there is no subsitute.  Each of us has a responsibility, not to consume, but to conserve.   Turn off the water when you brush your teeth, fix leaking faucets, do not water turfs.  If we do not, water will be a commodity of the wealthy as the rest of humanity slowly dies of thirst.

There are so many concerns that demand our attention these days: our economy, our food supply, our source of energy.  When times are difficult, the concerns over the environment are placed on the back burner.  On December 1st nearly 4,000 participants comprising of delegates, staffs, activists, and lobbyists, met in Pozan, Poland  for the UN Framework on Climate Change.  Although the conference was given poor media coverage in the States, the convention attracted all of those who held stake in the UN’s treaty including businesses and civilians.  In November I spoke with Wesleyan senior Eli Allen as he prepared with the youth organization SustainUS for their journey to Pozan.  ( College Youths Embody New America and Head to the UN)  Now that the conference has ended, Eli has returned to the States and was gracious enough to speak with me, once again.

As a small youth organization, SustainUS joined 400 youths from across the world to form the International Youth Delegation (IYD).   In a conference as large as this, the IYD was capable of displaying a unified concern from the world’s youth on the global stage.  The members from SustainUs also served as liasons from the United States.  The Bush administration provided a passive voice at the conference, since the new administration will be the one to determine the US ‘s role in the global fight for climate change.  The group conversed with delegates and staff members in an attempt to ensure the new and changed America’s committment to the global participation.  With the understanding that international interests should also be national interests, Eli and his fellow participants are seeking to broaden international grassroots activism while broadening US support for a climate bill.  In order to ensure international success on climate change, “Domestic support is manadtory,” says Eli.

The world will convene once more this fall in Copenhagen, where the climate treaty will be signed.  I asked Eli what he and SustainUS will be doing in preparation for the autumn conference, to which he replied, “We came to a realization.  Small island developing states are the most progressive members of the UN, however they lack the resources to create change.  The global youth have the resources, but they lack the formal influences.  We have to combine the two to save all of us.” In times such as these, when everything seems to be crumble, it is refreshing to see those who are fighting to keep it all together.  I wish them success, not  just for their sake, but for the rest of humanity.

On the first cold day of autumn, just days before his departure, I sat with a young man for a cup of  hot coffee. Sitting on a bench I took a moment for a mental note of my surroundings. Eli AllenNestled in the hills of Connecticut, Wesleyan University beckons the images of an old, small, New England college, like a scene from Good Will Hunting. I was meeting with a senior name Eli Allen who was preparing to fly to Pozan, Poland for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Allen is a member of Sustain US, a U.S. based youth network for sustainable development. The organization will be sending 23 delegates from around the country to Pozan for the international conference. Of all the applicants, Allen was selected because of his previous E.P.A. policy involvement concerning Environmental Health. “The rise in temperature will affect global health,” says Allen. “There will be an increase in malaria, cholera, and hepatitis because of the shift in our climate.”

For the 12-day conference starting December 1st, the United States will be joining 191 countries. Poznan LogoAs a lame duck administration, President Bush’s role will only be participatory since any agreement crafted at this time will be ratified by the new administration. Hence, the objective in Poland is to serve as a framework for the agreement to be made in Copenhagen next year. As the world awaits for our leaders to convene, Allen and the other participants are preparing for their voyage. The organization plans to bring bags of coal to distribute to countries who seek to abrupt the talks. They are going to represent the generations of Americans the world has only begun to see. So different from their predecessors, these educated, mobile, post-modern youth see the world for now what it is, but for what they envision the world to become. They are going to show the world our new America, and to demonstrate that a new time has begun.

Every individual death is a tragedy for those who knew and loved the person killed. A single violent death sends waves of grief and shock radiating outward through the circles of friends and family of the deceased. War brings death in large doses, and those waves of grief become tsunamis.

But fatality numbers in armed conflict are themselves dangerous things, as they can be used to justify more and deadlier violence.

It is vitally important, for the sake of peace, that we know how many people have died in the war between Russia and Georgia. The breakdown, too, is important; how many Georgian civilians? How many Ossetian civilians? How many soldiers on each side? How many paramilitaries and mercenaries?

Accounts like this are viscerally disturbing, as are ones like this –but numbers of dead are just being thrown out there by refugees and politicians –dozens in this town, a hundred here, several hundred here, more on this side, more on the other side– and then being reported as facts. These numbers aren’t facts, at least not yet. What we need are hard numbers provided by the parties that are normally tasked with doing the body-count work in the thick fog of war: the United Nations and the Red Cross.

In most nationalist conflicts, inflated civilian dead numbers can and do arouse tremendous anger, collective anger that is all too easily channeled by those in power to justify the continuation or escalation of military action and the incitement of paramilitary-driven revenge attacks against civilians. This then makes refugee returns near impossible when the fighting finally stops. Unfortunately, in the long term, it’s the inflated numbers that usually stick in collective memory, rendering reconciliation (citizen to citizen as well as between political factions) and the acceptance of a common historical narrative extremely difficult.

I’m not saying there hasn’t been massive civilian suffering in Georgia. Without a doubt there has been. Numbers won’t alter the basic truth that parents, lovers, friends, children, and schoolmates have been taken away from those they shared their lives with. And it may turn out that even more people have died in this war than even the highest unjustified estimates, but we just don’t know yet. That’s a serious problem, and one that needs to be addressed now.

Today, Anne Hastings Executive Director of Fonkoze Haiti will be receiving the Women Together Award from the UN. On Wednesday May 21st she will be making a speaking at Microfinance Club of NY and WAM NY at a conference titled “Accompanying the Poorest Out of Poverty: The Effect of the Global Food Crisis”. Please see below invitation for Wednesday.

Fonkoze has been having a positive impact in Rural Haiti for almost 13 years now and I think it would be interesting to hear more about this organization and the leaders behind it.

WAM invites those interested in microfinance to hear Anne Hastings, Executive Director of Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance institution. Under her leadership, Fonkoze has grown from 2 volunteer employees to over 750 full-time employees. The institution now has 36 branches throughout rural Haiti, with over 165,000 clients, more than 50,000 of whom have microcredit loans.

WHEN:  Wednesday, May 21st, 2008
TIME:  6:30-8:00PM
WHERE:  Laura Parsons Pratt Conference Center, 281 Park Avenue South, NY NY 10010

This event is free for MFCNY and WAM members. There is a fee of $10 for non-members.

Please RSVP to mfclubny@gmail.com to confirm your attendance.

Speaker Bio:
Anne Hastings has been the Executive Director of Fonkoze – Haiti’s largest microfinance institution – since May 1996. Under her leadership, the institution has grown from 2 volunteer employees to over 750 full-time employees. The institution now has 36 branches throughout rural Haiti, with over 165,000 clients, more than 50,000 of whom have microcredit loans. In July 2004, Fonkoze spun off its financial services component to form a commercial financial institution. Anne serves on the board of directors of that institution. She also continues to manage the foundation, which is now devoted to monitoring the impact of microfinance on the lives of clients, eliminating illiteracy among its clients, incubating new branches that reach ever poorer and more rural clients with microfinance services, and continually testing and developing innovative new products for the clients of both the commercial entity and the foundation. She is the recipient of the 2005 Pioneer in Microfinance Award of the Grameen Foundation USA. In 2006, she was honored in the First Annual Chiapas Project Recognition Dinner in Dallas, Texas.

Before coming to Haiti, Anne had fifteen years of experience in providing strategic management services to executives and in managing young organizations for high performance and steady growth.  She was Senior Partner and Managing Director of Scanlon and Hastings, a management consulting company in Washington DC, from 1985 to 1996 and a Senior Analyst at Advanced Technology in Reston, Virginia from 1982 to 1985.  Anne holds a PhD from the University of Virginia and an Honorary Doctorate in Business Leadership from Duquesne University.  She completed research fellowships at the Brookings Institute and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, both in Washington, DC.

Please RSVP to mfclubny@gmail.com to confirm your attendance.

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