Indonesian earthquake crisis beginning to ease

International relief officials said the crisis facing survivors of the latest Indonesian earthquake was beginning to ease, even as the death toll climbed to nearing 6000.

Repairs to roads and airport runways speeded the arrival of food and other supplies Jan Egeland, the U.N's top humanitarian official, said the arrival of aid officials from 20 countries was helping alleviate problems. "I am getting reports that we are making enormous progress."

Officials estimated that 647,000 people have been displaced by the quake. Even as emergency air drops were underway, many survivors complained they had yet to receive adequate food, shelter or medical supplies.

Millions of dollars of aid has been pledged by the international community in the wake of the disaster. The United States increased its commitment to $5 million on Tuesday.

Egeland said the aid effort appeared to be going well overall, with improvements in coordination among aid organizations and nations since the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 131,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh province.

Saturday's earthquake is the worst disaster in Indonesia since the December 26, 2004, magnitude-9 earthquake that triggered a tsunami, killing at least 131,029 people in Indonesia alone. Another earthquake on March 28, 2005, killed about 900 people off the western coast of Sumatra.


Hope fades for Indonesian earthquake survivors

International aid is streaming into Java island, where the 6.3-magnitude quake in Indonesia struck at the weekend leaving many in urgent need of medical assistance. The head of an emergency response team from Malaysia told The Associated Press he didn't expect to find more bodies.

The World Food Program said some 20,000 people were in dire need of help. "There's also a growing shortage of basic medical supplies -- antibiotics, bandages -- as the hospital becomes more and more crowded," aid worker Susan Treadwell said. Several hospitals have been destroyed and many more overwhelmed.

Heavy rain and damaged roads have hindered efforts to help survivors, forcing thousands of those left homeless to forage for food and shelter. Rescuers are being hampered by the rain, power outages and the closure of a local airport.

U.N. agencies and other groups met Monday in Switzerland and the world body is expected to issue a global emergency appeal for help.

About 100 U.S. military personnel loaded onto C-130 planes on Okinawa bound for the Yogyakarta area, according to a U.S. military official.

Spain sent a plane laden with 10 tons of humanitarian aid, including blankets, tents and medicine, a government spokeswoman said.

The U.N. World Food Program dispatched three trucks carrying enough high-energy biscuits to feed 20,000 people for a week to the districts of Bantul and Klaten.



Innovation in the world of philanthropy

"I am convinced there is burgeoning activity in the world of philanthropy in this country and around the world, new forms of mobilizing philanthropic resources and bringing them to bear," says Lester M. Salamon the new head of the Alexis Institute for Civil Society and Philanthropy. "There is not sufficient focused attention to them."

In Mexico, for example, a consortium of industries has formed a new foundation that will work to train workers and improve working conditions and economic prospects, using funds from a voluntary tax on their payrolls the industries have agreed to pay.

"There's an enormous amount of innovation going on, and we need to do a better job of disseminating it," Salamon says.

Research the new institute plans also will aim to generate greater innovation in philanthropy. For example, foundations "might usefully begin to operate like philanthropic banks, leveraging other private resources by offering an array of financing options, including loans and loan guarantees, in addition to grants," he says.

Previously, Salamon was director of the Center for Governance and Management Research at the Urban Institute, and before that was deputy associate director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

[Excerpt of article in Philanthropy Journal]


Nonprofit sector growing

The U.S. is home to 837,027 charitable nonprofits, up 68 percent since 1993, and the sector's asset based is larger than the economies of all but five countries, a new study says.

More than two in three nonprofits in the U.S. have assets of less than $25,000 and so are not required to file reporting documents with the IRS.

The combined assets of those that do report to the IRS totaled $1.76 trillion in 2003, up from $866 billion in 1993, the report says.

Human services groups accounted for about one in three reporting nonprofits, the report says, followed by education and health care/mental health organizations.

[Philanthropy Journal]


Foundation Center institute will focus on civil society, philanthropy

Tracking and stimulating philanthropic and nonprofit activity and innovation in the U.S. and abroad will be the focus of a new institute at The Foundation Center in New York City.

Heading the new Alexis Institute for Civil Society and Philanthropy will be Lester M. Salamon, professor and director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University. The merger will combine and expand research on foundations and nonprofits, respectively, that The Foundation Center and Salamon now conduct separately.

Salamon says the new "joint venture," named for Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century French historian and author of Democracy in America, will expand the scope of research in the face of growing innovation in philanthropy and growing awareness of the critical role nonprofits play, both in the U.S. and throughout the world.

"We have learned that the problems we're facing in the world and this country are too complex and too big for any single sector to handle on its own, whether it be government, business or the third sector," he says. "And increasingly, governments around the world, including governments in our country, have seen in the nonprofit sector an important ally in solving complex public problems."

But to develop effective partnerships between government and nonprofits, he says, "we need to have as good a body of information about the nonprofit sector as we do about the business sector and about government. And that simply has been lacking."

[Excerpt of article in Philanthropy Journal]


Gates Foundation gives $104 million to fight TB in Third World

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest philanthropy organization, announced Wednesday that it would give $104 million to a non-profit organization that fights tuberculosis, a scourge in the developing world.

The money will be doled out over five years to the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development to develop new drugs to combat a disease that kills nearly 2 million people a year. The four available drugs currently used to treat the disease are all more than 40 years old and take six months to work, while many patients have tuberculosis strains that are resistant to existing treatments.

"Tuberculosis is one of the world's oldest infectious agents and has always posed challenges for the scientific community," said Dr. Peter Small of the Seattle-based Gates Foundation. "New treatments could free patients from a grueling six-month regimen and, ultimately, save millions of lives."

[Excerpt by Paul Elias, The Associated Press]

Americans are Generous

The Hudson Institute recently released the 2006 Index of Global Philanthropy, the first comprehensive report on international aid by private institutions and individuals in the U.S.

The index shows that millions of Americans give to the world's poor at a rate that is anything but "stingy." Voluntary giving by Americans dwarfs government aid the world over.

The assaults on U.S. generosity [by the U.N.'s Jan Egeland] derive from a view that government assistance is the only aid that matters.

[Consider] the charity from the U.S. private sector. In 2004, the latest year for which many numbers are available, Americans -- through schools, religious institutions, companies, foundations and families -- gave at least $71 billion to the developing world.

This is more than three times what the government gave.

By far the most impressive private giving, and arguably the most efficient, is in the category of individual remittances, which the index puts at $47 billion in 2004.

According to the authors, "The massive amounts of money sent home by immigrants and temporary workers -- involving little or no overhead and filling people's basic needs directly -- is changing the landscape of development and donor agencies."

[The Wall Street Journal]


International Red Cross chief deplores White House

The head of the international Red Cross said he deplored the Bush administration's refusal to allow its delegates to visit detainees in secret detention.

In an unusually strongly worded statement, the neutral agency known for its discretion expressed disappointment that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other officials refused to yield to its demand.

"No matter how legitimate the grounds for detention, there exists no right to conceal a person's whereabouts or to deny that he or she is being detained," said Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, following a series of top-level meetings in Washington.

The ICRC is designated by the Geneva Conventions on warfare as the organization to visit prisoners of war. It is the only independent body the United States allows to visit terror suspects detained in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but it has long been demanding access to detainees in "undisclosed locations."

[The Boston Globe]


Microlending-for-profit in India draws Big Banks

Vikram Akula runs a company that doles out loans of $100 or less to desperately poor villagers so they can buy a water buffalo or a bicycle.

Mr. Akula, the 37-year-old founder of SKS Microfinance Pvt. Ltd., is at the forefront of the latest trend in "microlending," or making tiny loans that help entrepreneurs lift themselves up from the lowest rungs of poverty.

Long the province of charitable institutions, microlending is starting to attract the attention of big business. Intrigued by India's red-hot economy and potential market of more than a billion consumers, financial giants such as Citigroup Inc., ABN and HSBC have already provided millions of dollars for SKS to lend out.

People like Mr. Akula see opportunity in making the system more efficient. After finishing graduate school at Yale University in 1995, Mr. Akula worked with government- and charity-backed microfinance institutions in India. He saw how powerful a little loan could be in the life of a poor villager. He also saw the limits of the standard model.

The programs were run by well-intentioned people, he recalls, but poorly managed. The way that nonprofit organizations "were doing microfinance was incredibly inefficient and hopelessly unscalable," he says.

Mr. Akula decided in 1997 to build his own microfinance company from scratch. His goal: to model a business on McDonald's Corp. or Starbucks Corp., using technology and standardized systems to wring enough efficiency out of each tiny transaction to lower costs.

[Excerpt of an article by Eric Bellman, The Wall Street Journal]


Rights report condemns U.S., China and Russia

Amnesty International said Tuesday that the relentless pursuit of security by powerful nations had undermined human rights, draining energy and attention from crises afflicting the poor and underprivileged.

In releasing its 2006 annual report, the human rights watchdog condemned countries such as the United States, China and Russia for focusing on narrowly defined interests, diluting efforts to solve conflicts elsewhere -- such as Sudan's Darfur region.

"There is no doubt that it (the war on terror) has given a new lease on life to old-fashioned repression," Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary general, told a news conference.
The human rights watchdog called on the United Nations to address abuses in Darfur, where violence has killed more than 180,000 people and displaced 2.5 million since 2003. Many of the atrocities are blamed on the so-called Janjaweed, a disparate group of Arab militiamen allegedly backed by the Sudanese government.

"(The United States) has basically mortgaged its moral authority on the streets of Fallujah and Baghdad -- and lost moral authority to speak on this issue," Khan told AP Television News in regard to Darfur.

Amnesty also called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and for full disclosure on prisoners implicated elsewhere in the "war on terror." It also asked for the U.N. Human Rights Council to insist on equal standards "whether in Darfur, Guantanamo, Chechnya or China."

"Guantanamo prison camp is an aberration under international law," Khan told AP. "It places people outside the rule of law. And it sends a message to other regimes around the world -- like Egypt or China -- that they too can ignore human rights. They too can lock people up in the name of national security."

Amnesty has criticized U.S. President George W. Bush's approach to tackling international terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks, complaining that hard-won human rights and civil liberties are being sacrificed in the name of stepped-up security.

The increasing brutality of terrorist and militant attacks is a "bitter reminder that the 'war on terror' is failing and will continue to fail until human rights and human security are given precedence over narrow national security interests," Khan said.


Financial Insights into Microlending

Microloans can be a useful tool for alleviating poverty in developing countries where the poor -- who usually don't have access to credit -- use them to start small but profitable businesses. It has typically focused on social goals such as the empowerment of rural women.

Micro lending, or making tiny loans that help entrepreneurs lift themselves up from the lowest rungs of poverty, isn't entirely altruistic.

Default rates on microloans tend to be very low -- under 3%, in many cases. By comparison, U.S. credit-card issuers typically charge off around 5% of outstanding balances.

Even so, micro lending overhead often gobbles up most of the profit. That's because it can take hundreds or even thousands of loan officers to manage millions of small loans to often-illiterate farmers in remote villages. Transaction costs and paperwork can be overwhelming.

Most microlenders live hand-to-mouth, relying on wealthy patrons or development agencies to keep the money flowing.

[Excerpt of an article by Eric Bellman, The Wall Street Journal]


Mubarak Chides US Over Double Standards

Here’s the latest from Hosni Mubarak, whose country is the U.S.’s next largest aid recipient after Israel. (In fact, US Senator Patrick Leahy noted that “two-thirds of US government aid goes to only two countries: Israel and Egypt”.

"President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt implicitly accused America of having double standards on nuclear policy — Washington's resolute silence on the nuclear arsenal of Israel while leading a drive to deprive Iran of a nuclear program.

"He further challenged Washington to work toward a world "that fosters multilateralism, abides by international legitimacy and steers away from unilateral actions" — a clear reference to his and other Arab leaders' distaste for the American invasion of Iraq.

"He also said democratic reforms in the Middle East should "emanate from within the region," a rejection of U.S. attempts to promote Western-style democracy. Mubarak and other Arab leaders view the U.S. policy as interference in their internal affairs.

"Mubarak, whose nation is the United States' closest ally in the Arab world and was the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel, vowed to work ceaselessly for a broader peace in the Middle East."

[Associated Press]


Back From Iraq

Bad stuff happened in Iraq, stuff Adam Reuter doesn't want to talk about. He doesn't even want to talk about it with his wife, who worried because he was jumping out of bed in the middle of the night.

But when he agrees to talk about the war—really talk about it—he goes right to how the insurgent crumpled after he pulled the trigger. How later, during the firefight, he ended up just a few feet from the corpse.

"He just lay there," Reuter remembers. His eyes and mouth open. His whiskers a few days old. The bullet had gone in his neck cleanly, just to the right of his Adam's apple, but had come out ugly from the back of his head. He was maybe 25, a little older than Reuter. And his blood was pooling, thick and almost black in the darkness.

How can you describe what that was like? Who would understand it? Nobody. So Reuter keeps his mouth shut.

At home in Newnan, Ga., there is no war. "It doesn't cross their minds," Reuter said. "To them, everything is fine."

But after three years, there are at least 550,000 veterans of the Iraq war.

[Excerpt of an article by Christian Davenport, The Washington Post]


Iraq: "What was it like?"

The questions people ask about the war usually don't probe too far, the sort that can be satisfied with rote responses that keep the truth at a safe distance. But sometimes, people push.

"You just try to give a softball answer," said Garett Reppenhagen, who has been out of the Army for a year. "Yeah, it was horrible—whatever. Or you don't answer the question. You say it was hot. You don't tell them what it's like to kill a man or to have one of your buddies blown up. You just don't go there."

But if they were not sated by the polite demurral and continued to press, he would go there, sparing no detail. Then he'd look up and see an expression that made him think they didn't really want to know after all.

"The look on their face: This is not the light conversation I want to hear at a party," he said. --Civilians. After the war, they seemed so different, no matter how many war movies or how much CNN they had watched.

Sometimes, they'd ask something so crazy there just wasn't any way to respond, such as when a friend asked Monika Dyrcakz, "Did you go clubbing in Iraq?" "Some people have no idea," she said.

But perhaps the worst is when they don't say anything at all and just go on living their lives, oblivious to the war.

[Excerpt of an article by Christian Davenport, The Washington Post]


Iraq: “Don’t they care?”

Army Capt. Tyler McIntyre was trying to explain [the war in Iraq] to some family members while eating at an Italian restaurant when he was home on leave.

He looked across the restaurant and saw everyone stuffing their faces with pasta and drinking wine. "And everyone's kind of just sitting there doing it," he said.

Which is really sort of extraordinary, he said. The country is at war. People are fighting at this very moment. Don't these people know what's going on? Don't they care?

No, he decided. They have no appreciation for their easy, gluttonous lives and don't deserve the freedom, prosperity and contentment he was fighting to protect.

He wanted to yell, "You don't know what you have! You don't appreciate it! You don't care!"

But he didn't. He kept his mouth shut. He was only home on leave. Soon, he would be going back to the war.

[Excerpt of an article by Christian Davenport, The Washington Post]


CARE's Envoy to the Powerful and the Poor

Physician Helene Gayle may have been born with a gift for empathy.

She is a child of the civil rights movement whose father ran a barber and beauty supply business for African Americans in the heart of Buffalo's black community. On Sundays, Jacob Gayle Sr., now deceased, would drag his five children to visit the elderly and the infirm, she recalled.

"The idea of doing something bigger than yourself is something you grew up with in my family in those times," said Gayle.

Her ability to connect with presidents and prostitutes and her focus on social inequities will serve her well as the new president and chief executive of CARE USA, the international humanitarian organization that fights poverty in 70 countries.

Gayle said she can't imagine doing anything else: "This is too gratifying a cause. When you talk to people working on the front lines of survival, I feel there is nothing better I can do with my life than enable them to do what they do. This is what I thrive on."

[Excerpt of an article by Nora Boustany, The Washington Post]


Bono announces new initiative to fight HIV/AIDS

Irish rock star Bono began a new African tour on Tuesday in Lesotho where he will unveil a new initiative to fight AIDS in the ailing textile industry.

"In a small African country the three issues -- debt, aid and trade -- come together in an unholy trinity," the U2 frontman told Reuters as his plane landed in the capital Maseru with a delegation of activists and private sector executives.

Billed as "Measuring Success and Promises Kept" Bono plans to highlight the progress in the treatment of HIV/AIDS in Africa, the search for economic growth and rich nations' pledges to cancel some debts and more than double aid to Africa by 2010.

The 10-day trip also marks four years since he traveled to Africa with then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill to urge wealthy nations to do more for the world's poorest continent. On this tour Bono hopes to show that even more needs to be done for countries like Lesotho, where a once-vibrant textile sector has been hit by low-cost Asian producers and uncertainty over duty-free access to the U.S. market.

Bono will announce a new initiative to fight HIV/AIDS in Lesotho's textile and garment industry with U.S. clothing maker Gap Inc., which has signed onto his Red Products branding plan to raise cash to fight the epidemic. Gap is contributing 50 percent of its profits from the sale of GAP Red products to a global fund for AIDS in Africa and has committed to produce some of the Red Products in Africa.

His current visit to Africa will take him to Lesotho, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mali and Ghana, where he is expected to push wealthy countries to keep their promises to Africa on increased financial assistance and debt relief.



Footballers pledge support to humanitarian goals

Spanish football champions Barcelona have shelved plans to seek shirt sponsorship and will instead use the club's name and resources to finance humanitarian projects.

President Joan Laporta said the Barca board had agreed to donate 0.7 percent of annual income starting from the 2006/07 season to the United Nations as a contribution to their Millennium Development Goals campaign.

"This is the biggest (sporting) initiative to raise awareness of poverty the world has seen," said Laporta.

"Barcelona will become the first sporting institution to establish an alliance of this order with an institution like the UN in order to fight against poverty and injustice in the world."

He added: "The growth in the club's income has allowed us to take a decision of this type."

Barcelona, whose motto in Catalan is "mes que un club" (more than just a club) predict that income for the present season will reach some 240 million euros ($304.3 million).

The UN's Millennium campaign aims to reduce extreme poverty, hunger and infant mortality, achieving universal primary education and promoting sexual equality.

European Union nations have already agreed to a timetable for gradually bringing their annual aid contributions up to 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product, or annual income.

Barca won their second league title in a row last week and meet Arsenal in the Champions League final in Paris on May 17.



Indonesian D-8 summit pledge to alleviate poverty

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and heads of state from Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Turkey and Malaysia agreed during closed doors meetings to boost economic and political cooperation, alleviate poverty and restructure debt. The Developing Eight, or D-8, summit also brought together government ministers from Egypt and Bangladesh.

The D-8 member countries, who comprise 14 percent of the world's population, together have a gross domestic product of U.S.$1.22 trillion and trade among them grew 127 percent in the last five years.

Although Iran's nuclear crisis was not officially on the agenda, Ahmadinejad sought support on the meeting's sidelines.

D-8 summit delegates released a statement after the meeting saying they supported the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes -- giving Iran's hardline leader a much-needed boost.

Ahmadinejad thanked them "for committing themselves to defend the peaceful use and the development of nuclear energy," and assured them that he was willing to hold talks on his nuclear ambitions, but not with "countries that hang planes with bombs over our heads.

"If they want to threaten the use of force we will not go into dialogue with them," he said. He insists his nuclear program is aimed only at generating energy, but Washington says the real purpose is to build weapons.

"Our people need to do more to help one another," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in an opening statement, adding that among other things "proud" Islamic nations should work together to develop renewable and alternative energy sources. "Our potentials are enormous," he said. "Our resources are vast. Great opportunities lie await."

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar held a hastily arranged meeting with the Iranian leader, telling reporters afterward that he supported a diplomatic solution of the nuclear standoff. "Dialogue is the best way," he told reporters. "We should not create another crisis."

[Associated Press]


Favorable perceptions of Americans shrinking

Recent surveys show that favorable perceptions of Americans have been shrinking while views on the world's only superpower grow increasingly hostile.

"Our collective personality is one of the root causes of anti-Americanism.We are seen as loud, arrogant and completely self-absorbed," said Keith Reinhard, of non-profit organization Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA).

This month, San Francisco-based BDA began distributing a "World Citizen's Guide" to corporate travelers. Its 16 points are a mirror image of the behavioral patterns that earned Americans a boorish reputation in the first place. Here's a sampler from the guide.

** Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller. In many countries, any form of boasting is considered rude. Talking about wealth, power or status -- corporate or personal -- can create resentment.

** Speak lower and slower. In conversation, match your voice level and tonality to the environment and other people. A loud voice is often perceived as bragging. A fast talker can be seen as aggressive and threatening

** Dress up. You can always dress down. In some countries, casual dress is a sign of disrespect. Check out what is expected and when in doubt, err on the side of the more formal and less casual attire. You can remove a jacket and tie if you are overdressed. But you can't make up for being too casual.

**Listen at least as much as you talk. By all means, talk about America and your life in the country. But also ask people you're visiting about themselves and their way of life. Listen, and show your interest in how they compare their experiences to yours.

"We Americans just don't listen," said BDA's executive director Cari Eggspuehler. "Listening is not an American trait." Eggspuehler traveled the world when she worked for the U.S. Department of State before joining BDA.

An estimated 60 million Americans travel abroad each year and BDA's Reinhard sees all of them as potential ambassadors who might win the hearts and minds of their host countries, no matter how much people there might hate U.S. policies.



Millions of newborns die every year, though easily preventable

This Mother's Day, a reminder that Sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst place in the world to be a mother or child, Save the Children researchers have confirmed. (10 worst and best)

The "Mothers' Index" in the report ranks 125 nations according to 10 gauges of well-being. Each year, according to the report, more than a half-million women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth difficulties, 2 million babies die within their first 24 hours, 2 million more die within their first month and 3 million are stillborn.

Causes of death in the developing world were dramatically different from those in the developed world, the report said. In industrialized nations deaths were most likely to result from babies being born too small or too early, while in the developing world about half of newborn deaths were from infection, tetanus and diarrhea.

The report said almost all newborn and maternal deaths take place in developing nations -- 99 percent and 98 percent, respectively.

"All children, no matter where they are born, deserve a healthy start in life," Melinda Gates wrote in a foreword to the report, which was funded in part by the foundation she runs with her husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

"It's tragic that millions of newborns die every year, especially when these deaths are so easily preventable," Gates wrote. "Three out of four newborn deaths could be avoided with simple, low-cost tools that already exist, such as antibiotics for pneumonia, sterile blades to cut umbilical cords and knit caps to keep babies warm."



Palestinians to get some interim aid

The United States says it will provide $10 million in new medical assistance to Palestinians. The $10 million in U.S. aid will come from money the United States took back from the Palestinians after Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, won in democratic Palestinian elections this year.

In all, the U.S. has canceled or suspended $411 million in aid out of concern the money could help the new Hamas-led Palestinian government.

The European Union's external affairs commissioner said the aid would likely be focused on "basic human needs," such as health and education, and it would be distributed directly to Palestinians, not through the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority.

"It is to provide assistance to the Palestinian people so that they do not suffer deprivation," Condoleezza Rice said.

The Washington Post reports that Hamas was able to raise some $70 million from Iran and Arab donors. But under U.S. pressure, banks refuse to transfer the funds, and the money remains stuck in an account in Egypt.

Compounding Hamas' woes, each month Israel cuts off about $55 million in monthly transfers of tax it collects for the Palestinians. This began last January.

Israel is considering freeing up for medical services for Palestinians roughly 19% of the money they have withheld from Palestine. They will however continue to withhold any funds that could be disbursed to pay the salaries of about 150,000 Palestinian civil servants and members of the security forces, who have not been paid for two months.

What the Palestinian people are suffering

There is no need to describe what the Palestinian people are suffering from these days. The whole world knows a lot about this and the donor countries know more than anyone else that their decisions to withhold aid from the Palestinian people are decisions to starve the Palestinian people, who were suffering before (and will suffer now) from unemployment, poverty, homelessness and disease under the weight of an Israeli iron fist, which has not stopped the killings, destruction, land annexation, dividing the Palestinian territories, besieging the Palestinian people and starving them.

--Comment by Bassam Abu Sharif, Christian pastor and human rights advocate

Lack of Palestinian Funding Could Lead to Chaos

Palestinian gas stations started shutting down and motorists lined up at pumps after an Israeli fuel company cut off deliveries Wednesday, deepening the humanitarian crisis following Hamas' rise to power.

An end to fuel supplies for the West Bank and gaza and Gaza could cripple hospitals, halt food deliveries and keep people home from work — a devastating scenario for an economy already ravaged by Israeli and international sanctions.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would "absolutely not" bail out the Palestinians.

The head of the Palestinian petrol authority, predicted fuel supplies would run out in many areas today. "If this happens, there will be a humanitarian crisis," he said.

A a top Health Ministry official in Gaza, warned that the area's hospitals, already suffering from a medicine shortage, would cease to function without fuel: Ambulances would stop running, employees would be unable to get to work, gas generators — used during ongoing electric outages — would be hobbled.

The Palestinian prime minister warned that the Palestinian Authority, cut off from most foreign aid since his Hamas movement took office five weeks ago, could founder unless new money arrives. "If the siege continues, the whole authority will be facing collapse," he said in an interview. "And if there is a collapse, there will be chaos in the region."

"Nobody needs the collapse of the Palestinian Authority," a senior Israeli security official said in a recent briefing, speaking on condition of anonymity. "When I say nobody, I mean nobody."

The World Bank said its prediction in mid-March that aid cuts and other economic sanctions would lead to a 30 percent drop in the average personal income of Palestinians this year was "too rosy."

The aid cutoffs appear to be increasing anti-U.S. sentiment in Palestine. "The problem is the West, not us," said Mustafa Hasoona, 33, a pharmacist. "If they don't respect democracy, they shouldn't call for it," he said, noting that Hamas rose to power in elections long advocated by the United States.

He flipped through a tattered notebook on his counter, its pages filled with names of customers and the sums they owe him. Many of them are taking half-doses of medications, he said, and mothers are diluting iron supplements for infants to make them last longer.

"We are with this government we elected," Hasoona said. "I voted for it."

[Excerpt of article by Scott Wilson, Washington Post]


Gingrich challenges U.S. Charities

Charitable foundations must be flexible and innovative in preparing the United States for an unprecedented era of change, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a gathering of the country's philanthropic leaders in Pittsburgh.

"We may be facing the largest scale of change since Abraham Lincoln in 1861," said Mr. Gingrich, whose half-hour speech marked the end of the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Foundations' three-day conference.

The conference attracted about 1,600 of the country's top philanthropists, who [among other things] heard Mr. Gingrich label poverty, education and the rise of India and China as evolving issues that will shape America's future.

"Either America changes itself very substantially in its capabilities, or we cease to be the leading country in the world. There is no third alternative."

[Excerpt of an article by Ryan Haggerty, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]


Canadian tax change good for charity

Donations to Canadian charities could rise by as much as $500-million annually because of a tax change announced in the recent federal budget.

The budget calls for the elimination of capital gains tax on donations of publicly traded securities to charities. Currently, if shares are donated, 25 per cent of any capital gain on the stock, after it has been sold by the charities, must be included in a donor's income. The change, which is effective immediately, means that no capital gain has to be included in income.

The stock donations still receive the same tax credits based on the value of the stock donated. In total, the measure will provide substantially more tax incentive for donations of securities than cash.

[Excerpt of article by Paul Waldie, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)]


Soros pumps millions into global change

Billionaire financier George Soros, of the Open Society Institute, will address the 57th annual Council on Foundations conference. The council is a trade association for more than 2,000 philanthropic programs worldwide.

According to an event program, Soros is scheduled to speak on "the innovative ways that the Open Society Institute is changing lives across the globe." Soros "will share how creative grantmaking and partnerships can effect change that is far-reaching and sustaining," the program states.

According to its Internet site, the Open Society Institute aims to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights and economic, legal and social reform. It oversees a network of nearly 30 national foundations, most in Eastern Europe.

The institute was founded in 1994 by Soros, 75, the controversial liberal activist who two years ago donated $24 million to various political groups in a failed attempt to derail President Bush's re-election.

[Excerpt of article by Eric Heyl, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]


The Threat of Affordable Medicines

Some of the larger developing countries, such as Thailand, India, Brazil, and Egypt have tried to do something about the high pricing of medicines.

India’s successful pharmaceutical industry, built on its patent laws that allow the development of very cheap generic drugs has been under threat from WTO property rights rules on patent protection, and pressure from the large pharmaceutical companies.

Brazil made a bold, but important move to produce AIDS drugs themselves, but at the same time, breaking the patent rights of Swiss pharmaceutical company, Roche.

Furthermore, a subsequent global AIDS fund set up by the U.N. also led to warnings of concern at things like patents, pricing and so on, which is captured well by Philippe Riviére, who is worth quoting at length:

"The Indian firm Cipla’s offer to MSF [Médecins Sans Frontiéres] to provide a cocktail of antiretrovirals for less than $350 a year (compared to the big boys' $10,000) resounded like a thunderbolt. "

Philippe Riviére, Southern Sickness, Northern Medicine; Patently Wrong, Le Monde Diplomatique


The Constant Gardener not “just a movie”

A number of recent posts focus on the uncaring attitudes of the pharmaceutical industry. So how much is hype and how much is real?

For readers who may not have seen the recent movie "The Constant Gardener", a pharmaceutical company tests dangerous drugs on unsuspecting Africans. The Washington Post today reports a case where Pfeizer gave an unproven drug to nearly 100 children.

The drug in question is banned in Europe and severely restricted in the States. So where do they test a drug like that? –Africa.

”Pfizer contended that its researchers traveled to Kano with a purely philanthropic motive, to help fight the epidemic, which ultimately killed more than 15,000 Africans.

“The [investigating] committee rejected that explanation, pointing out that Pfizer physicians completed their trial and left while 'the epidemic was still raging.'

“Pfizer's experiment was ‘an illegal trial of an unregistered drug,’ the Nigerian panel concluded, and a ‘clear case of exploitation of the ignorant.’

“The confidential report …was provided by a source who asked to remain anonymous because of personal safety concerns."

[Full Washington Post article, "Panel Faults Pfizer in '96 Clinical Trial In Nigeria"]

Why should the Pharmaceutical Industry care?

Some may argue that it should be up to those nations affected by such problems to invest in appropriate research, that the private corporations cannot be expected to solve all of the world’s problems and that it is unfair to point to such companies and criticize them as they would also go broke from such activities. However:
  • The western nations that the corporations are based in have, through colonialism, and post-war global economics, fostered an environment that have led to further poverty and dependency of the poorer nations on the first world countries.
  • Post war policies from the IMF and World Bank have forced most developing countries to cut back on such social expenditure as health and education, in the first place. Most countries are in a downward spiral due to their policies.
  • Medical and pharmaceutical companies often tout their strengths of having vast capital resources to do research, bringing benefits to humanity the world over. Unfortunately though, tropical disease cures are not profitable for them because most people with such diseases are too poor to afford cures.
[Excerpt of research compilation by Anup Shah]

Incredible wealth of pharmaceutical companies

“There was a time not long ago when the corporate giants were merely the size of nations. Now, after a frenzied period of pharmaceutical mega-mergers, they are behemoths which outweigh entire continents.

“The combined worth of the world’s top five drug companies is twice the combined GDP of all sub-Saharan Africa and their influence on the rules of world trade is many times stronger because they can bring their wealth to bear directly on the levers of western power.”

— Julian Borger, Industry that stalks the US corridors of power, the Guardian.


Pharmaceutical companies and developing countries

While pharmaceutical companies have no doubt created life-saving drugs that have saved millions of lives, they have also participated in practices around the world that have come under a growing amount of criticism.

NGOs allege that the pharmaceutical corporations:
· sell products in developing countries that are withdrawn in the West;
· cause the poor to divert money away from essential items, such as foodstuffs, to paying for expensive, patented medicines, thereby adding to problems of malnutrition;
· promote antibiotics for relatively trivial illnesses;
· resist measures that would help governments of developing countries to promote generic drugs at low cost;
· use their home government to support their operation with threats if necessary, such as withdrawing aid, if a host government does anything to threaten their interests.

— John Madeley, Big Business Poor Peoples; The Impact of Transnational Corporations on the World’s Poor

[Excerts of research compilation by Anup Shah]


Why the awareness on AIDS, and not other diseases?

Of diseases in the Third World, AIDS is getting the most attention and focus. Not coincidentally, it is also one of the few diseases that remain a threat to First World countries.

— “Pharmaceutical companies put profits before needs”, Project Censored

As western nations realized they too were going to face the threat of AIDS, awareness was raised. Until recently, AIDS did not kill as many as some of the other major diseases, yet it receives more attention.

Developing World not a profitable “market”

Multinational pharmaceutical companies neglect the diseases of the tropics, not because the science is impossible but because there is, in the cold economics of the drugs companies, no market.

There is, of course, a market in the sense that there is a need: millions of people die from preventable or curable diseases every week. But there is no market in the sense that, unlike Viagra, medicines for leishmaniasis are needed by poor people in poor countries.

Pharmaceutical companies judge that they would not get sufficient return on research investment, so why, they ask, should we bother? Their obligation to shareholders, they say, demands that they put the effort into trying to find cures for the diseases of affluence and longevity - heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s.

Of the thousands of new compounds drug companies have brought to the market in recent years, fewer than 1% are for tropical diseases."

In the corporate headquarters of major drug companies, the public relations posters display the image they like to present: of caring companies that bring benefit to humanity, relieving the suffering of the sick. What they don’t say, is that, so far, their humanity has not extended beyond the limits of the pockets of the sick.

--Isabel Hilton, A Bitter Pill For The World’s Poor, The Guardian


Disease: An “unimportant” and ignored issue

The deepening poverty across the African continent has created fertile ground for the spread of infectious diseases. Declining living conditions and reduced access to basic services have led to decreased health status.

In Africa today, almost half of the population lacks access to safe water and adequate sanitation services. As immune systems have become weakened, the susceptibility of Africa’s people to infectious diseases has greatly increased.

Meanwhile, the amounts being paid by African governments to foreign creditors continues to increase. By the 1990s, most African countries were spending more repaying foreign debts than on health or education for their people.

In 1997, it was estimated that sub-Saharan African governments were transferring to Northern creditors 4 times what they were spending on the health of their people. In 1998, Senegal spent 5 times as much repaying foreign debts as on health.

The poverty and economic aspect of the various root causes of disease and health problems is less understood or discussed in mainstream media or various medical and scientific circles. Yet, poverty has been described as the number one health problem for many poor nations as they do not have the resources to meet the growing needs.

However, emphasis in the mainstream media and by pharmaceutical companies has been far more on cures rather than prevention.


Cure for Neglected Diseases: Funding

A global push to tackle neglected diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis is gathering steam, largely because of an influx of charity money to subsidize the work of the drug companies.

A new report cites a wealth of donations and leadership from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, the Wellcome Trust and the Rockefeller Foundation, all designed to create a new landscape for work on diseases afflicting poor countries.

Governments, including that of the United States, have started to help with modest donations.

But more than half the nearly $255 million contributed as of April 2005, the most recent available figure, had come from the Gates Foundation.

The U.S. government has contributed $16 million, dwarfed by the Gates Foundation's $159 million, the report said.

"Who's actually funding this is essentially Bill Gates," Mary Moran, principal author of the new report, said as she presented some of its findings at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Now we need the public to step in and take it to the next stage."

[Excerpt of an article by Justin Gillis, Washington Post]


Clinton: Compulsory AIDS tests

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative is helping to provide cheaper AIDS tests and drugs in developing nations.

The foundation has brokered deals with pharmaceutical companies to bring the price of an instant test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, down to between 49 and 65 cents, or about half the normal cost. It has also brought down by about 70 percent the prices of some anti-retroviral drugs that slow the spread of disease.

According to the Clinton Foundation, more than 90 percent of the 40 million people living with HIV do not know they are infected. "If 90 percent don't even know (they have the disease) how can you ever reduce the number of sufferers?" Clinton told reporters.

"They need to know their status," he said. Rapid HIV tests can do that even in remote areas because they're easy to use and give results in 20 minutes, the 59-year-old former president said.

Clinton said he supported the African kingdom of Lesotho, which is the first country that has pledged to introduce the compulsory testing of all its 2.2 million citizens, of whom 27 percent are HIV-positive.

He hope to tackle the stigma surrounding the disease, so more people will be tested voluntarily.

Asked for his perspective on his post-White House role, Clinton said: "Directly and indirectly, I can have influence ... by chain reaction I might do some good. Tens of thousands of kids are alive now that might not have been" without his foundation.



Prince Harry launches AIDS charity

Britain's Prince Harry launched his own charity in memory of his late mother, Princess Diana, to help children orphaned by AIDS in Lesotho. Harry, an army officer who is third in line to the throne, called the charity Sentebale which means "Forget me not" in Sesotho, the main language of Lesotho.

The prince, once dubbed the royal "wild child" for his youthful drug and drink antics, said of his new charity "As far as I am concerned, I'm committed for the rest of my life."

Harry announced the launch of the charity after his fourth trip to the tiny African kingdom, where up to one-third of the population are believed to be HIV positive and drought has caused serious food shortages.

Harry co-founded the charity with Lesotho's Prince Seeiso whose own mother, Queen Mamohato, died in 2003. Harry, speaking to reporters in a pooled despatch, said "Sentebale does mean 'Forget me not' and it's a way that both me and Prince Seeiso can relate to our mothers who were both in sort of the same jobs working with orphaned children."

"This particular charity, rather than aiming directly at AIDS itself, it's about the knock-on effect on the children, so we can actually help the kids."