Elephants – in particular the forest elephants of Central Africa – are being poached at unprecedented rates for their valuable ivory. It is estimated that at least 200,000 forest elephants – a whopping 65 percent of the elephant population – have been slaughtered since 2002. Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been hotspots for the killing.
Now you might ask why we should care--an especially appropriate question to ask as we celebrate Earth Day. As humans, we may be attached to charismatic species such as elephants – but will their extinction affect us directly? The answer is yes. The intricate interconnections within ecosystems mean that the disappearance of a species has effects that are never limited to just that particular species. The impact can be broad and deep, affecting other animal and plant species, our water supply, people’s livelihoods, and even – in small ways – the climate.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
The Transformative Impact of Data and Communication on Governance: Part 3
How do digital technologies affect governance in areas of limited statehood – places and circumstances characterized by the absence of state provisioning of public goods and the enforcement of binding rules with a monopoly of legitimate force? In the first post in this series I introduced the limited statehood concept and then described the tremendous growth in mobile telephony, GIS, and other technologies in the developing world. In the second post I offered examples of the use of ICT in initiatives intended to fill at least some of the governance vacuum created by limited statehood. With mobile phones, for example, farmers are informed of market conditions, have access to liquidity through M-Pesa and similar mobile money platforms.
Cashing in: why mobile banking is good for people and profit
Using digital finance to tackle development problems can improves lives, and offer innovative companies handsome rewards. Whether it is lack of access to water, energy or education, development professionals are well versed in the plethora of challenges facing billions of people. The traditional approach to solving these problems has been to think big – in terms of the millennium development goals, government aid programmes, or huge fundraising campaigns. But there are dozens of startups and larger companies with innovative ideas who are approaching these challenges in new ways using digital finance.
The epic battle of man against machine has been fought on many occasions. One of the most memorable encounters was the chess game between IBM’s Deep Blue and Gary Kasparov. Deep Blue was the first computer to beat a reigning chess champion in 1996 (the machine still lost 2 to 4 after six games). A year later, at their “rematch”, the machine won on the overall score: 3.5 to 2.5.
However, it is surprising that, 18 years later, we still have not figured out the ultimate winning strategy in chess. Any game with limited combinations and full disclosure of information must have ‘safe strategies’ and can be ‘solved’ (as has happened with the game checkers in 2007). The solution, in chess, would from what we know today involve strategies whereby the white player would win or the black player would force a draw. Yet no human or super computer to date has managed to solve chess’ mathematical puzzle. How much more computing power do we need to succeed?
Lessons from a recent case study on informal settlements in Kampala, Uganda, where water services were expanded to reach the poor in less than a decade, indicate that pro-poor policies are critical to increasing water coverage for poor people. What is telling is that revenues and subsidies earned from serving the non-poor, combined with applying rigorous business principles, were equally important in sustaining these services.
In the case of Kampala, the utility improved its financial viability by more than doubling the number of connections from 59,000 in 2004 to 146,000 in 2009 and tripling revenues between 2004 and 2010. As a result of the policy, an additional 2,500 yard taps and 660 new public points were installed in the informal settlements. Although this was a small fraction of total new connections in the period, since they were shared, they reached 21% of the approximately 466,000 new people served during this period, those in the lowest socio-economic quintiles.
Trafficking in West Africa
Trafficking is not new to West Africa, but its magnitude is. From Northern Mali to The Gambia, smugglers have traded fuel, cigarettes and staple food for decades. Longstanding trade routes and interregional tribal connections have allowed illegal cross-border trading to grow alongside traditional commercial practices.
For the first time in history, more than half the human population lives in cities, and the vast majority of these people are poor. In Africa and Asia, the urban population is expected to increase between 30-50% between 2000 and 2020. This shift has led to a range of new public health problems, among them road traffic safety. Road crashes are the number 1 killer among those aged 15-29, and the 8th leading cause of death worldwide. The deadly impact from accidents is aggravated by pollution from vehicles, which now contributes to six of the top 10 causes of death globally.
People want dignity, people want rights
In the global survey World We Want 2015, health was the first priority of people living in poor countries. This was not surprising. Every year in Africa, nearly a quarter of a million children under five die because their parents cannot afford to pay for treatment. According to the World Health Organization, 150 million people face catastrophic health care costs every year, while 100 million are pushed into poverty because of direct payments. Increasingly, poor people are protesting the denial of their basic right to access health care when they need it.
The hall was full all the way to the back and up to the balcony. The audience was lively, contributing loud asides in their seats, applauding often, cracking inside jokes, and even occasionally arguing directly with those on stage. You’d think I was at a political rally, but it was the 20th Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja last month; the theme of the three-day summit was ”transforming education through partnerships for global competitiveness.”
Photo credit: Katrina Kosec.
Can a cash transfer program that relies heavily on communities to target beneficiaries, deliver payments, and monitor conditions, improve outcomes for the poor in the same way that more centrally-run conditional cash transfer programs (CCTs) have elsewhere?