It’s been a difficult year for the people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and all those fighting to end the terrible Ebola epidemic that took thousands of lives, spread fear and destabilized economies. Though the global response to this crisis was too slow, at year’s end, there are hopeful signs that international mobilization is having an impact, and that the countries most affected by the disease are coalescing around the goal of “zero cases.”
One of my favorite books about the World Bank is Michael Holman’s Last Orders at Harrods. It’s a satirical novel about trouble brewing in a fictional Kenya during the visit of the World Bank President Hardwick Hardwicke (and his sidekick speechwriter, Jim “Fingers” Adams). What’s great about Holman’s book is that the author, a former Africa editor at the Financial Times, shows in a humorous manner how the Bank interacts with clients and how the view from Washington can sometimes be oblivious to what’s really going on in the country.
I’ve tried to follow in Holman’s footsteps with The Golden Hour, my new thriller about a State Department crisis manager fighting chaos in West Africa and bureaucracy in Washington DC. The hero Judd Ryker has just 100 hours to reverse a coup in Mali, rescue a kidnapped Peace Corps volunteer, and save the U.S. embassy from a terrorist attack. In the novel, shifting forces in Bamako and competing interests at headquarters conspire to shield the truth and complicate resolution. Ryker’s first task is simply to figure out what’s really going on.
The southern fringes of the Sahara desert host rugged lands where mankind has thrived for more than a millennium. In this vast panorama, the Inner Niger Delta stands out: In a region where limited rainfall is a fact of life, the Delta is a natural dam and irrigation scheme whose flood plain creates a grazing and cropping perimeter that at its peak can reach 30,000 km2 and sustains about 900,000 people.
Over the past decade there has been growing interest in using the internet and other communication technologies for conflict management and peacebuilding. Two key areas have emerged: (1) using publicly available data on events and social dynamics to monitor and predict escalations of tensions or violence, and (2) harnessing the increased access to the internet and mobile telephones to promote positive peace. In both areas exciting innovations have developed as well as encouraging results.
In the first area, perhaps the most comprehensive information source is Kalev Leetaru’s “Global Database of Society” or GDELT Project that “monitors the world's broadcast, print, and web news from nearly every corner of every country in over 100 languages and identifies the people, locations, organizations, counts, themes, sources, and events driving our global society”. The event database alone covers 300 categories of peace-conflict activities recorded in public media since January 1979, while the identification of people, organizations and locations enables network graphing of connections in media records.
As we observe World Population Day on July 11, there is new momentum in Africa’s Sahel region to achieve an important milestone in many nations’ path to economic prosperity – realizing the demographic dividend.
Stretching for more than 1,800 kilometers across Guinea, Mali, Senegal and Mauritania, the Senegal River is the third longest river in Africa. In a region such as the Sahel, which is plagued by drought, poverty, and underdevelopment, access to a water resource such as the Senegal River is critical to local populations who rely on it for energy production, land irrigation, and potable water.
- On a global level, the rate of under-five child mortality has been cut in half, from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 48 per 1,000 in 2012. The estimated annual number of under-five deaths has fallen from 12.6 million to 6.6 million over the same period.
- Since 1990, 216 million children worldwide have died before their fifth birthday — more than the current total population of Brazil, the world's fifth most populous country.
- Disparities between children in the high-income and low-income countries have narrowed, but many gaps still remain. Case in point: In Luxembourg, the under-five mortality rate is just 2 deaths per 1,000 live births; in Sierra Leone, it is 182 deaths per 1,000 births.
As we stand a year away from the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 – which aims to reduce the global under-five child mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015 – the pace of reduction would have needed to quadruple in 2013-2015 to achieve this goal, according to the United Nations Children's Fund's (UNICEF's) Committed to Child Survival: A Promised Renewed – Progress Report 2013.
A closer look at regional rates
Now let's take a look at the regional and country level data by viewing the World Development Indicators (WDI) 2014 and the indicator under-five mortality rate. The WDI also features a short progress report on MDG 4, which complements the detailed analysis of the World Bank Group's Global Monitoring Report. This report uses the same methodology to assess whether countries are on track or off track to meet the 2015 targets.
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where one in ten children die before the age of five, faces the biggest challenges in achieving MDG 4, followed by South Asia. The SSA region reduced its child mortality rate by 45% during 1990 to 2012, the only region to reduce its under-five mortality rate by less than half during this time. SSA also lags behind other regions in its pace of decline in the total number of under-five deaths.
Some 135 countries have constitutional provisions for free and nondiscriminatory education for all. Seventy-three countries guarantee the right to medical services. And 41 countries have either enshrined the right to water in their constitutions or have framed the right in national legislation. All of these actions are aimed at protecting the rights of poor people.
Yet, it is poor people who are losing out on access to these services. In Mali, whereas almost everyone has access to a primary school, and 67 percent from the richest quintile complete primary school, only 23 percent from the poorest quintile do. The percentage completing higher levels of education is in the single digits. In rural India, in the period since the Right to Education act was passed, student learning outcomes in public schools have been declining. Equatorial Guinea, with a per-capita income of $20,000, has a child mortality rate of 118 per 1,000 births, comparable to that of Togo with a much lower per-capita income. As a result of intermittent (or nonexistent) water supply through networks, poor people in South Asia and Africa have to buy water from vendors at 5-16 times the meter rate.
Mohammad, a three-year-old boy, lives in Yirimadjo, a community in Mali. A few weeks ago he woke up feeling ill with a high fever. That same morning, Kumba, a community health worker with the nongovernmental organization Muso, visited his family’s home during her daily door-to-door active case-finding visits. On discovering that the child had a fever, she administered a rapid diagnostic test for malaria, and he tested positive.