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Haiti Video: Six months after the earthquake

Natalia Cieslik's picture

We often forget that before we thought of Haiti as a place recovering from a devastating earthquake, it was a country struggling with conflict, limited services, and extreme poverty.

Haiti was on a slow road to recovery when the quake hit and more then 250,000 people died. For many Haitians their nation's double tragedy is far from over. Although there are signs of hope and improvement.


Haiti: Education for All from WDR Video on Vimeo.

Overcoming cultural barriers with sound economics

Zainab Salbi's picture

This post is the first in a series on "Gender and Conflict" which explores gender issues in the context of crisis and violence. Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO of Women for Women International, discusses the cultural complexities involved in working to improve the lives of women in fragile and conflict-affected states.

   Photo © Women for Women International

Working to improve the lives of women in fragile and conflict-affected states raises complex cultural issues, but sound economic arguments paired with practical solutions can help overcome resistance. 
Culture and tradition are too often used to justify the stifling of debate about change, especially when it relates to women’s lives. As an Iraqi-American woman who grew up with Muslim traditions and ended up traveling the world through my work with Women for Women International, an organization that supports women in conflict-affected areas, I have had plenty of exposure to these attitudes.

The use of culture as a defensive weapon blights the lives of women from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sudan and Afghanistan.  It is used as an excuse to silence opponents. Although the intention may be to respect cultural traditions, it often leads to policies that undermine the social and economic advance of women. 
A classic example of this occurred in the first year of the Iraq invasion, when the US governing authority switched food distribution from public stores to mosques. This policy was intended to respect Iraqi culture but, in fact the policy changed the role of the mosque from a private to a public role. For the mosque has played a public role associated with government actions in Iraq’s modern history.

Navigating the maze to peace

Justin Yifu Lin's picture

Photo © istockphoto.comWhile much of the world has made rapid progress in building stability and reducing poverty over the past 60 years, states beset by persistent violence and fragile institutions are being left far behind.

Today, 22 out of the 34 countries furthest from reaching the Millennium Developing Goals, or MDGs, are conflict ridden or emerging from some form of turmoil. The MDGs, which have a deadline of 2015, cover hunger, poverty, child mortality, maternal health, and other key challenges.

The plight of those 22 countries—and how prosperity eludes them—was foremost in my mind when I was in New York earlier this week to take part in a debate at the UN General Assembly on "UN Peacekeeping: Looking into the Future." The proceedings were webcast.

My session focused on the nexus between security and development and you can read my intervention here.

Let me tell you more about the daunting challenges faced by those 22 countries. They account for two out of three of all infants and children dying. They also account for three out of four of all mothers who die in childbirth.

My panel talked about these countries in the context of the challenges of multi-dimensionality of peacekeeping, peace building and development. We talked about how, after conflict, the process of reform can create stresses that reignite violence. We also touched on the dissolving boundaries between institutional mandates and the challenges this poses for international organizations.

Glimmer of hope in Central Asia

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Happier days in Osh Market
Photo © Nick van Praag

Osh was a bustling market town when I first visited Kyrgyzstan a decade ago. Today news reports describe a city devastated by killing, burning and pillage. I can only imagine the huge market placeone of the biggest in all of central Asiagutted and forlorn.

Many Uzbeks have fled or cower in what’s left of their homes. Traders are off the streets. The border to Uzbekistan, just down the road, is closed as are the bakers’ stalls selling delicious rounds of bread. But saddest of all, the complicity among the many ethnic groups that rubbed shoulders on the streets of Osh appears to have been shattered.

From Almaty and Bishkek to Dushanbe and Samarkand, I was struck by the way people from so many ethnic backgrounds seemed to get on so well.

After independence in the early 1990s, there was a greater premium placed on being Kazak in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan and so on in the other ‘stans. Some people saw this as normal; others as ominous. But what I observed on several visits to the region were people of Russian, Armenian, Korean or Tartar descent strolling arm in arm with people of Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uyghur origin.

The World Cup and lessons from South Africa’s transition

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Who would have thought that rugby could change the world?  Two decades ago the apartheid regime in South Africa was brought down by a range of pressures.  But the clincher for many South Africans was being ostracized from rugby and other global sporting competitions. 

As South Africa prepares to open the 2010 World Cup, the country's passion for sport is offering an equally powerful way of celebrating its full membership in the international community.

With the national team about to square off against Mexico in the first of this year's matches, I am thinking as much about the drama of penalty shoot-outs and the like as lessons of peaceful transition. 

When I was in Cape Town a couple of months ago I visited the city’s brand new football stadium which is squeezed between an up-scale residential neighborhood and the Atlantic Ocean.  It is a pretty amazing structure.  I also visited one of the gritty townships in the Cape Flats area north of the city. It was hard to believe I was in the same country.

The peace process that produced the country’s first one-man one-vote elections in 1994 unleashed a wave of optimism that reverberated around the world.  It took with it the systemic divisions of the apartheid era but South Africa’s trajectory over the intervening years shows how difficult it is to put divisions and violence of the past behind and start over.

Opinion polls, priorities, and leadership

Nicholas van Praag's picture
     Interpreting their parents' concerns.  Photo © Curt Carnemark / World Bank

Polls matter to political leaders because they reflect public sentiment about what is important and what is not.  They are no crystal ball, however, and can be interpreted and acted upon in very different ways.  President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, who will step down later this month, used polling data in his first term to justify a decisive break with past policies.  It is an interesting example for the WDR team as we look at how leaders in conflict-affected states prioritize policy actions and the extent to which they do so by listening to the people.

By 2002, after years of zero growth and declining living standards, Colombia's institutions were under increasing pressure from the narco-clans, the militia and the FARC.

With presidential elections in the offing, polls showed the country was almost equally divided between those who wanted more focus on social programming and poverty alleviation and those who thought the government needed to get tough and crack down on violence.

International norms and local realities

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  Outcomes matter

All too often, donors and development organizations push pre-fabricated institutional models on developing countries despite the checkered history of these arrangements.  This is something we are grappling with in the context of the WDR as we look at the functionality of the institutional forms that the international community often encourages fragile states to embrace. 

Elections are a case in point as countries vulnerable to violence are urged to put in place this particular pillar of democracy without much attention to the other elements of democratic architecture.  We have seen in many places how this can backfire, triggering tensions and undermining progress towards more resilient societies. 

It is not just elections.  In addressing corruption and human rights there are plenty of examples of institutional implants placing major strains on fragile societies.  While there is no question that international norms and standards are central on many crucial issues, there is too much emphasis on institutional models and too little on outcomes.

Mozambique's long post-conflict transition

Nicholas van Praag's picture

The most visible sign of Mozambique’s long history of conflict is the war memorial opposite Maputo’s main railway station.  It is designed in the fascist-deco style beloved of European dictators in the 1930s.  Built in 1936, it was a belated commemoration to the Portuguese and Mozambican soldiers who died in the Great War—in clashes with forces from what was then German East Africa.

There is no such reminder of the hundreds of thousands who died in the more recent wars of liberation, which lasted from 1961 to 1974, or the 14 years of civil war that followed.  After so much suffering most people want to forget these years rather than erect public monuments to their memory.

Unlike the on-again off-again nature of so many conflicts today, the peace agreement reached in 1992 by the two main groups, FRELIMO and RENAMO, marked the end of hostilities.  ‘It had become a war of the protagonists, not of the people’, says Dr.  Americo Jose Ubisse, Secretary General of the Mozambican Red Cross.  When the guns fell silent, one million people had died and some 5 million were displaced.

During the intervening years Mozambique has made strides in turning around its fortunes, consistently posting growth rates of 8 percent in recent years—closer to Asian levels than to other African countries. 

This performance has made Mozambique a kind of post-conflict poster child.  So when I visited Maputo last month, the vibrant but run-down capital, I wanted to find out how Mozambique had seized these impressive results from the jaws of state failure and whether all is as rosy as the growth rate suggests.

Transparency trickles down...Berlin

James Martone's picture

The Democratic Republic of the Congo was accepted as an EITI Candidate Country in 2008.

In April, I was sent to an EITI conference in Germany to question participants for an upcoming World Bank video.  I didn’t know much about EITI and its multi-donor trust fund which the World Bank manages, so I did a lot of reading on the plane from Washington, and was in place and ready the next day with cameraman Axel Goppelt outside the main doors of the conference hall in Berlin.

We interviewed EITI country members and representatives of countries supporting EITI, as well as NGO’s intent on securing social and environmental rights of people living in nations dependant on natural resources like minerals, gas, oil and timber.  We also interviewed private companies involved in extracting these resources.

The views were many, some conflicting, others not.  You will find those details in the upcoming video, so stay tuned to the EITI-MDTF website!!

Day trip to Dachau

Nicholas van Praag's picture

I was in Mozambique last week trying to work out how to dodge the volcanic ash and get back to Washington DC. Checking my itinerary on-line, the system advised me that I could use my stopover in Munich to visit Dachau concentration camp.

Was this for real? A day trip to one of the most horrendous killing grounds of the twentieth century (alternative suggestions were a boat ride on the Danube and a tour of Munich’s beer gardens).

Screenshot of the website showing a menu of activities available in Munich.