IRIN's Top Picks: Overhauling aid, ending poverty and 'philanthrocapitalism'

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:

Overhauling aid & aiding overhaul

Next week, representatives of the UN, NGOs, governments, the private sector, academia, and local communities meet in Geneva to explore how to improve crisis response. The Global Consultation – known as “GloCon” – is the last in a series of gatherings held over the last 18 months with some 23,000 people in 151 countries in the lead-up to the World Humanitarian Summit next year. A 189-page synthesis report of the process, released last week, repeats the call we have been hearing over and over: to put the people affected by crises at the heart of humanitarian action. The five core strands are: empowering people to cope with more dignity; placing more emphasis on protecting civilians from violence (in places like Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Syria); strengthening people’s resilience to crises; building better partnerships, particularly with local actors; and finding more efficient financing models.

If you don’t have time to get through it before the big meet-up, there is a short synopsis here, or the recently released 2015 edition of ALNAP’s flagship State of the Humanitarian System report is accompanied by an easy-to-browse infographic summary that basically says the same thing: the aid sector is broken. “The system is still applying a one-size-fits-all response that currently doesn’t work”. Among the recommendations: mapping out which responders are best placed in which circumstances; and creating a more unified emergency system within the UN. To support the proposals you think most critical, click here.

An end to poverty?

Could we be moving closer to ending worldwide poverty by 2030? A briefing from the World Bank certainly gives hope: the number of people living in extreme poverty is forecast to fall to less than 10 percent of the global population by the end of the year. An updated international poverty line, now defined as those surviving on $1.90 or less a day, and new country-level data on living standards mean a projected 700 million people will be in extreme poverty in 2015 – down from around 900 million, according to the same standard, in 2012. But concerns that poverty is falling too slowly in sub-Saharan Africa and “unevenness in shared prosperity” across South Asia leave a “large unfinished agenda”, the World Bank says.

Keeping order among chaos

“In a city, one broken pipe can deprive 100,000 people of water.” Maintaining basic systems of infrastructure in conflict-struck cities is no easy feat for aid agencies. The International Committee of the Red Cross says radical change is needed if humanitarians want to continue helping civilians in urban areas gain access to essential public services, such as water, electricity, and sanitation. In its new report, it highlights how organisations must plan better for long-term knock-on effects of armed violence. For example, if an electrical transformer goes down after being shelled, it can shut down water supplies to nearby hospitals, thereby impacting public health. Evaluating the scale and duration of what needs to be fixed or restored in such scenarios is crucial to providing the most effective humanitarian response.

Being super-rich and Superman

Paying homage to business elites for their charitable work has led to the rise of "philanthrocapitalism" – but are these activist billionaires escaping much-needed criticism? Writing in The Nation, David Reiff talks of the "richesse oblige" – entrepreneurs, or organisations like the Gates Foundation, whose work in development aid seems to “skirt the essential issue of accountability in the name of efficiency” due to lack of regulation and vast amounts of political influence. Yet somehow, it has become “entrusted with the welfare and fate of the powerless and the hungry”. Reiff concludes that unless systemic aid criticism is accepted and implemented, these philanthrocapitalists may be doing more harm than good.

Humanitarian broadcasting in emergencies

Evaluating impact has become a necessary obsession for the humanitarian industry. Donors demand it, but more importantly, it improves accountability on behalf of the people humanitarians are trying to help. But the impact of information in a crisis is much harder to measure. This BBC Media Action report attempts to lay the foundations for future research in this emerging area. At an event last week, the report’s editor, James Deane, argued that public service media has never been more important, as commercial media are increasingly co-opted in crises, not only by governments, but also by factional, religious and ethnic interests. Yet in what he called a “ridiculous” oversight, the international development community has “no clear, coherent response” to this market failure. The report makes the case for investment in media development based on evaluations of four BBC Media Action programmes – in response to the Nepal earthquake earlier this year, the Ebola outbreak, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the 2014 conflict in Gaza.

One to listen to:

Generation War

In the latest Global Thinkers podcast from Foreign Policy, Lauren Wolfe, director of the Women Under Siege project, joins Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), an organisation pairing unaccompanied minors crossing the US border with pro bono lawyers, to discuss the challenges facing children fleeing conflict. Wolfe highlights the appalling conditions for children held in detention centres across Europe and stresses that locking them up at such a young age, especially after the trauma of making dangerous trips from places like Syria, can have serious long-term mental health consequences. Young sees “stark” parallels with those escaping violence in Central and Southern America, many of whom suffer weight loss and illness in detention. The overriding message: there will be big problems down the road if children, many of them unaccompanied, are left to languish and their needs are not addressed.

Coming up:

Disaster risk reduction in action: live Nepal case study, 14 October 2015 11:00 - 12:30 (GMT+01 (BST))

In the aftermath of the two devastating earthquakes that hit Nepal
earlier this year, experts are still debating how the country’s disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategies could have prevented further destruction and loss of life. This event hosted by the Overseas Development Institute examines preparedness and governance in relation to DRR and launches the revised Good Practice Review 9, a how-to guide on the issue for humanitarians.

From IRIN:

Since you’ve been gone

As more and more refugees and migrants escape their homelands, our special feature looks at the families two economic migrants left behind. With maps, videos and on-the-ground reportage, we first chart the journeys of the two migrants, one from Nigeria, the other from the Gambia, bringing to light the challenges they face as they seek a better life. But then we also tell the lesser-known side of the story, exploring how their loved ones back home also carry an enormous burden – both financially and emotionally. So why do they still go? One of the men, Lucky, sums it up: “Because today I may suffer, but tomorrow, if I happen to make it, I know my family will lead a better life.”

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