IRIN's Top Picks: Child mortality, counting the dead and Africa on the up

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.

Five to read:

Good but could do better on child mortality

First, the good news in global health: the number of children who die worldwide before reaching the age of five has fallen by more than half since 1990, according to a new report by UNICEF. However, the figures also show that the Millennium Development Goal to cut them by two-thirds by the end of 2015 will not be met. The study turns up shocking statistics: 16,000 children under five still die every day – and sadly, most deaths are due to complications at birth, diarrhoea, or other very preventable causes. While tremendous progress had been made, “the far too large number of children still dying… should impel us to redouble our efforts,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, a UNICEF deputy executive director. “We cannot continue to fail them.”

Who is really implementing the Development Agenda?

With world leaders set to meet in New York later this month to adopt the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, how much do we really know about how they will be implemented? A new crowdfunded investigative journalism project takes a critical look at the proposed SDG processes and asks if business interests are taking precedence over “recommendations from grassroots stakeholders representing the world’s poor.” Alarmist in tone, this engaging long-read nonetheless raises valid concerns about the dangers of transnational corporations financing the new Development Agenda and – with expert testimony – outlines how NGOs and other groups remain deeply sceptical of the SDG processes and their commitment to inequality, water rights, gender equality and other vital issues.

No war, no peace

History has shown that peace agreements to end South Sudan’s bloody civil war fail before they have even begun. Foreign Policy’s Antony Loewenstein believes the latest deal may see the same fate. “One of the most daunting impediments to a sustainable peace in the country is the people who run it, ” he writes, and goes on to argue that threats of UN sanctions if the deal fails do little to address the real problems: a corrupt political system held together by “vested interests” and the lack of “effective mechanisms to implement justice for victims and perpetrators.” He ends with a grim reality: “Rhetorical battles over peace deals mean nothing for the millions of civilians caught in the crossfire.

See: Is South Sudan’s latest peace accord the real deal?

Counting dead people

“Not acknowledging an individual death [is] an act of disrespect for those who cared for the dead.” Counting the human cost in any humanitarian crisis is as delicate and as difficult as you would think, as Robert Muggah, research director at the Igarapé Institute, points out in The Guardian. But garnering an accurate number of the dead is pivotal for a number of reasons: a credible high count can convince donors to send more aid, help convict war criminals and “support truth commissions in societies ripped apart by mayhem and violence.” For example, 5.4 million people were initially found to have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a result of conflict between 1998 and 2006. That was enough to “justify the deployment of the largest UN peacekeeping force ever assembled.” The figure was later revised down drastically to 2.8 million, and only 10 percent of those attributable to violence.

Dust to dust

Did you know that the old city of Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, is also a UNESCO world heritage site? This Economist piece laments that this hasn’t stopped Saudi-led airstrikes reducing parts of it to rubble in a civil war that has caused both a humanitarian crisis and cultural destruction. The West’s silence on this is deafening, it says. Major damage to historic or archaeological sites, such as the Great Dam of Marib, a “feat of engineering that was undertaken 2,800 years ago,” hasn’t captured the headlines quite like the actions of so-called Islamic State, who have demolished sacred structures across the region, including ancient temples in the Syrian city of Palmyra. The writer concludes that unless more is done to protect Yemen’s extraordinary heritage, “a great irreversible tragedy” is doomed to remain just that: a tragedy.

Two to listen to:

Tracing our human rights

Is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights really as ‘universal’ as we think? The latest podcast from the BBC World Service’s The Why Factor delves deeply into how human rights are enforced worldwide and how extensively their reach goes. Various experts also give their take on how rights-based approaches to issues such as climate change, food security and a range of legal cases are changing the discourse on human rights as a whole. For example, as Indian Supreme Court lawyer Vringa Grover outlines: “The right to life in India encompasses the right not to die of hunger.” In a country where 30 percent of children are malnourished, it’s hard to imagine how such rights are being enforced.

Africa rising and surprising

In the first of two episodes for a BBC World Service documentary, reporter Hugh Sykes travels across Africa to find fascinating stories of hope, growth, and opportunity in the face of the continent’s outdated image of being ravaged by war, disease, and poverty. One story of change comes from Mozambique’s capital Maputo, where a feminist-activist movement is gaining momentum as more women fight for their right to education, work and full emancipation – and refuse to be beaten into submissive wives. “You’re expected to accept anything that comes with marriage, including tolerating violence,” one campaigner says. “We have to really break that belief.”

Coming up:

Real priorities versus imagined agendas

What do ordinary Africans really think of US foreign aid? New findings from the Pew Research Center, which evaluated Africa’s development priorities and perceptions of overseas aid in countries such as Ethiopia and Tanzania, will be presented at this event hosted by the Center for Global Development. CGD’s Ben Leo will then chair a panel debate on the implications of the survey for the humanitarian community. It features: Katie Simmons, associate director of research at Pew Research Center, Mark Green, president of the International Republican Institute, Nora O’Connell, associate vice president of public policy & advocacy at Save the Children and Yaw Ansu, chief economist at the African Center for Economic Transformation.

From IRIN:

Typhoon Grindr

“Overnight… my Grindr became the United Nations.” In the Philippines, Jonathan Corpus Ong finds an unexpected silver lining in the wake of the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan. The city of Tacloban has seen something of a same-sex revolution thanks to the “influx of professional aid workers, able-bodied gap year volunteers, and fellow Filipinos” helping with recovery efforts. As a result, discreet meet-ups, new friendships and post-disaster dating are thriving, as the LGBT community flourishes with new-found confidence.

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