mfioretti: developing countries*

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  1. Biogas from human waste, safely obtained under controlled circumstances using innovative technologies, is a potential fuel source great enough in theory to generate electricity for up to 138 million households – the number of households in Indonesia, Brazil, and Ethiopia combined.

    A report today from UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health estimates that biogas potentially available from human waste worldwide would have a value of up to US$ 9.5 billion in natural gas equivalent.

    And the residue, dried and charred, could produce 2 million tonnes of charcoal-equivalent fuel, curbing the destruction of trees.

    Finally, experts say, the large energy value would prove small relative to that of the global health and environmental benefits that would accrue from the proper universal treatment of human waste.

    “Rather than treating our waste as a major liability, with proper controls in place we can use it in several circumstances to build innovative and sustained financing for development while protecting health and improving our environment in the process,” according to the report, “Valuing Human Waste as an Energy Resource.”

    The report uses average waste volume statistics, high and low assumptions for the percentage of concentrated combustable solids contained (25 – 45%), its conversion into biogas and charcoal-like fuel and their thermal equivalents (natural gas and charcoal), to calculate the potential energy value of human waste.

    Biogas, approximately 60% methane by volume, is generated through the bacterial breakdown of faecal matter, and any other organic matter, in an oxygen free (anaerobic) system.

    Dried and charred faecal sludge, meanwhile, has energy content similar to coal and charcoal.

    UN figures show that 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation facilities and almost 1 billion people (about 60% of them in India) don’t use toilets at all, defecating instead in the open.

    If the waste of only those practicing open defecation was targeted, the financial value of biogas potentially generated exceeds US$ 200 million per year and could reach as high as $376 million. The energy value would equal that of the fuel needed to generate electricity for 10 million to 18 million local households. Processing the residual faecal sludge, meanwhile, would yield the equivalent of 4.8 million to 8.5 million tonnes of charcoal to help power industrial furnaces, for example.
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  2. According to Peter Edwards of Newcastle University, if people are to achieve normal life expectancy, they need roughly double the current IPL, or a minimum of $2.50 per day. But adopting this higher standard would seriously undermine the poverty reduction narrative. An IPL of $2.50 shows a poverty headcount of around 3.1 billion, almost triple what the World Bank and the Millennium Campaign would have us believe. It also shows that poverty is getting worse, not better, with nearly 353 million more people impoverished today than in 1981. With China taken out of the equation, that number shoots up to 852 million.

    Some economists go further and advocate for an IPL of $5 or even $10 - the upper boundary suggested by the World Bank. At this standard, we see that some 5.1 billion people - nearly 80 percent of the world's population - are living in poverty today. And the number is rising.

    These more accurate parameters suggest that the story of global poverty is much worse than the spin doctored versions we are accustomed to hearing. The $1.25 threshold is absurdly low, but it remains in favour because it is the only baseline that shows any progress in the fight against poverty, and therefore justifies the present economic order. Every other line tells the opposite story. In fact, even the $1.25 line shows that, without factoring China, the poverty headcount is worsening, with 108 million people added to the ranks of the poor since 1981. All of this calls the triumphalist narrative into question
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  3. Organizations use machine-readable data for a number of applications across countries as:

    A resource in the development of web and mobile products and services. Organizations create digital applications that present data in accessible ways. For instance, one agribusiness company in Ghana automates the translation of weather data and commodity prices into simple phrases that are texted to farmers in their local languages. Many organizations conduct predictive analytics and forecasting. For example, one Indian geospatial analytics company uses machine-readable geospatial and agricultural data to predict crop acreage and yields.
    A way to optimize organizational decision-making. Several organizations use machine-readable open data to inform their strategy and investments. Census, household and income surveys in particular are critical to many for targeting populations and markets. It is especially useful when disaggregated by sex, age, location and household income.
    Evidence for research and policy recommendations. Research institutions from Moldova to Zambia use machine-readable data as critical evidence to conduct analyses and support policy recommendations on issues ranging from regional and national economic development, poverty and economic integration, to health and democracy initiatives.
    A tool for advocacy on government spending, elections, and programs. For example, organizations use public. For example, one nonprofit in Ukraine uses spending data to monitor government finances and programs. Another in Nigeria uses budget data to develops infographics for citizens. Yet another provides a tool to monitor contracts, including for the extractive industries in various countries. Across regions, organizations are training journalists to use government data in their reporting, and monitor elections using open electoral commission data.

    Most of the data used is not (yet) machine-readable.

    While all the organizations in our study used machine-readable data as in their work, half of them told us that the majority of the data they need is still only available in PDFs, images, paper reports, or as website text. Over three quarters of the organizations stated formats were a barrier to data use. This is especially the case when working with large, historic and geospatial datasets. For example, organizations most benefit from geospatial data when it is highly detailed and available in shapefiles, GeoJSON, or CSV - formats that can be utilized by a computer - rather than in image form as it is too often provided. Similarly, census data is especially valuable when it can be accessed in bulk and is available in CSV or other machine-readable formats.
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  4. Our mission while at the orphanage was to build a library. Turns out that we, a group of highly educated private boarding school students were so bad at the most basic construction work that each night the men had to take down the structurally unsound bricks we had laid and rebuild the structure so that, when we woke up in the morning, we would be unaware of our failure. It is likely that this was a daily ritual. Us mixing cement and laying bricks for 6+ hours, them undoing our work after the sun set, re-laying the bricks, and then acting as if nothing had happened so that the cycle could continue.

    Basically, we failed at the sole purpose of our being there. It would have been more cost effective, stimulative of the local economy, and efficient for the orphanage to take our money and hire locals to do the work, but there we were trying to build straight walls without a level.

    pippa biddle

    Tying friendship bracelets during my first trip to the Dominican Republic in 2009.

    That same summer, I started working in the Dominican Republic at a summer camp I helped organize for HIV+ children. Within days, it was obvious that my rudimentary Spanish set me so far apart from the local Dominican staff that I might as well have been an alien. Try caring for children who have a serious medical condition, and are not inclined to listen, in a language that you barely speak. It isn’t easy. Now, 6 years later, I am much better at spanish and am still highly involved with the camp programing, fundraising, and leadership. However, I have stopped attending having finally accepting that my presence is not the godsend I was coached by non-profits, documentaries, and service programs to believe it would be.

    You see, the work we were doing in both the DR and Tanzania was good. The orphanage needed a library so that they could be accredited to a higher level as a school, and the camp in the DR needed funding and supplies so that it could provide HIV+ children with programs integral to their mental and physical health. It wasn’t the work that was bad. It was me being there.
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  5. My contention with Cranz's story is that it doesn't talk about how these devices are impacting people's lives, hence missing the big picture. I believe that it doesn't necessarily matter if our smartphones aren't going to get any smarter. The first-generation Moto G, from a few years ago, can also help you quickly get information from the Web, and it can also allow you to book a cab using Uber app, and do pretty much everything that you do on a flagship smartphone. As Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson pointed out last month, the next "second smartphone revolution" could enhance the lives of millions of people in places such as Asia, where most of the population still doesn't have a smartphone. When you look at that, it becomes unnecessary to talk about the top-of-the-line specs and the rate at which these smartphones are receiving incremental improvements. The vast majority of people in the emerging world are in a desperate need of a bare-bone smartphone that allows them to make phone calls, even if it doesn't do it in a "redefined" fashion, and works with speeds that don't blow them away, a couple of things that I think we are taking for granted. Wilson wrote:
    The first 2.5bn smartphones brought us Instagram, Snapchat, Uber, WhatsApp, Kik, Venmo, Duolingo, and most importantly, drove the big web apps to build world class mobile apps and move their userbases from web to mobile. But, if you stare at the top 200 non-game mobile apps in the US (and most of the western hemisphere) you will see that the list doesn't look that different than the top 200 websites. The mobile revolution from 2007 to 2015 in the west was more about how we accessed the internet than what apps we used, with some notable and important exceptions. The next 2.5bn people to adopt smartphones may turn out to be a different story. They will mostly live outside the developed and wealthy parts of the world and they will look to their smartphones to deliver essential services that they have not been receiving at all -- from the web or from the offline world. I am thinking about financial services, healthcare services, educational services, transportation services, and the like. Stuff that matters a bit more than seeing where you friends had a fun time last night or what it looks like when you faceswap with your sister.
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  6. Before the mobile phone, developed economies had invested large amounts of money in land-line infrastructure. However, developing economies are able to effectively skip the landline, which, after all, would have been prohibitively expensive in poor communities due to vast distances and low population density. The popularity of mobile technology, its ability to increase levels of income, and the rapid adoption demonstrates the real opportunity for 3D printing as the technology development curve is not dissimilar to that of mobile communication. Furthermore, this lack of infrastructure and limited logistics provides a huge opportunity for 3D printers as it could mean rural villages would be able to print their own products or agriculture tools and not have to rely on unreliable supply chains. The advancement in mobile communication and the internet continues to support this technology allowing for the rapid transfer of data between sites.

    For engineers, this development could enable greater access to these markets through online communities (which are already beginning to form) and enable end users to join the design process, creating more effective product » solutions to meet their needs.
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  7. A new report envisions a nightmare scenario in which just three climate change-driven disasters could lead to global food shock, resulting in food riots as the price of basic crops skyrockets and stock markets experience significant losses. The risk assessment, which was produced by insurer Lloyd’s of London—with support from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and vetted by academics from a number of institutions—shows just how close humanity may be to catastrophic collapse by mid-century unless significant changes are made to slow global warming.

    The scenario posited in the report looks at what would happen if there were three simultaneous disasters; specifically a heat wave in South America, an explosion of windblown wheat stern rust pathogen across Russia and a particularly strong El Niño southern oscillation cycle—all perfectly plausible events given current climate trends. The impact of this would be enough to cripple global food security.

    Specifically, the model estimates that this would cause wheat, soybean and maize prices to quadruple, with rice prices increasing by 500 percent on 2007/08 levels, as wheat and rice production declines by 7 percent, maize production falls by 10 percent and soybean production by 11 percent. Food scarcity would cause riots to break out in Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East, and the EU stock market would fall by 10 percent, while the US markets would fall by 5 percent, creating significant global instability and political unrest. A model created by Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute in light of the report finds that “In this scenario, global society essentially collapses in 2040 » as food production falls permanently short of consumption.”
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  8. "We ran the model forward to the year 2040, along a business-as-usual trajectory based on ‘do-nothing’ trends — that is, without any feedback loops that would change the underlying trend.

    "The results show that based on plausible climate trends, and a total failure to change course, the global food supply system would face catastrophic losses, and an unprecedented epidemic of food riots.

    "In this scenario, global society essentially collapses as food production falls permanently short of consumption."
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  9. We have pointed out that these loans often target rural populations who were not previously in debt: they represent the long arm of capitalism reaching into remote rural areas, encouraging a shift away from dependence on the land and the local community, towards competition in a resource-depleting global economy.

    It has not been easy to oppose micro-credit: many well-intentioned grassroots activists have bought into the idea that giving ‘Third World’ women a loan would eradicate poverty and reduce population. This thinking was promoted with missionary zeal, and spread rapidly across the world. In trying to counter it, we have often felt like heretics. (One of the most difficult moments was when I was asked to debate Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, at the height of his popularity, on BBC radio.)

    For this reason we’re very happy to see this article by Jason Hickel, a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, in the UK Guardian: The microfinance delusion: who really wins? As Hickel says, “microfinance usually makes poverty worse”, because the vast majority of microfinance loans are used to fund the purchase of consumer goods that the borrowers simply can’t afford: “they end up taking out new loans to repay the old ones, wrapping themselves in layers of debt.” Even when used to finance a small business, the most likely outcome is that the new businesses fail, which leads to “vicious cycles of over-indebtedness that drive borrowers even further into poverty.” The only winners are the lenders, many of whom charge exorbitant interest rates. Hickel concludes that “microfinance has become a socially acceptable mechanism for extracting wealth and resources from poor people.”
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  10. moringa really is an amazingly nutritious plant. It’s a tree that grows like a weed throughout the tropics, all around the world. The leaves are packed with vitamins, potassium, calcium (way more than milk), and iron. They provide nine times the protein as an equivalent serving of yogurt. Moringa has been used in several cultures as a form of medicine, and there is some evidence that it may have some anti–bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects. Fidel Castro credited his recovery from sickness, a few years back, to moringa. Basically, it’s supposed to cure everything. I won’t be going down that rabbit hole, but you’re welcome to; here’s the entrance.

    All of that is really good news for the paleo-vegan Crossfit enthusiasts of Wall Street, but it’s even better news for do-gooder greens and Peace Corps types who want to be healthy and help the poor.
    buckets (1)Lisa Curtis, left, in Niger.

    Lisa Curtis is one of the do-gooders. She and several friends have founded the company Kuli Kuli to bring moringa to the masses
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