anthro in the news 12/19/16

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

beware the messenger

The Herald (Zimbabwe) published a piece about recent CIA reports on Russian hacking by social anthropologist David Price, professor at St. Martin’s University in Washington State. He argues that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is a tool of American hegemony, not an unbiased source of information: “I remain agnostic in these matters and highly recommend others do too. While we know nothing about the truth of these reports, we know a lot about the messenger delivering this news, and what we know should give us pause before accepting news of a Russian electoral coup here at home. As a scholar with two decades of academic research studying the CIA, I think many on the American left are letting their dire fear of the damage Trump will surely bring to not fully consider how the CIA is playing these events.  Many on the American left misunderstand what the CIA is and isn’t.  It isn’t some sort of right wing agency, it is an agency filled with bright people with beliefs across the mainstream political spectrum…” [Blogger’s note: The article previously appeared in CounterPunch Magazine].

where health is a human right

Health clinic in Cuba. Source: Eric Weaver
Health clinic in Cuba. Source: Eric Weaver

An article in The Atlantic describes the success of Cuba in ensuring the people’s health according to its constitution which says health is a fundamental human right:  Cuba has long had a nearly identical life expectancy to the United States, despite widespread poverty. The humanitarian-physician Paul Farmer notes in his book Pathologies of Power that there’s a saying in Cuba: ‘We live like poor people, but we die like rich people.’ Farmer also notes that the rate of infant mortality in Cuba has been lower than in the Boston neighborhood of his own prestigious hospital, Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 12/19/16”

anthro in the news 10/17/16

Cholera threat in Haiti

Haitians displaced by Hurricane Matthew Source: Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters
Haitians displaced by Hurricane Matthew,  Source: Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

ABC News says relief efforts in Haiti are “ramping up” one week after Hurricane Mathew but Harvard University medical anthropologist and doctor Paul Farmer is quoted as expressing concern that cholera may outstrip food needs: “I am pretty pessimistic about avoiding a major hunger problem in the coming months, and I am an optimist,” adding that a shortage of food coupled with a contaminated water supply, and a cholera outbreak could create a major humanitarian disaster…I saw a senior official in the health ministry and I’ve known him for 25 years…he said if you add all this up it could be worse than the earthquake.” Farmer, who is co-founder of Partners in Health, has been providing health care in Haiti since the hurricane struck.

Media are neglectful media as Haiti suffers

Source: The New York Times
Hurricane Matthew hits southwest Haiti, Source: New York Times

Mark Schuller, associate professor of cultural anthropology and NGO studies at Northern Illinois University, published an article in The Huffington Post pointing to the unimpressive media coverage of Hurricane Matthew’s impact in Haiti and noting the importance of media attention in securing much-needed aid. WORT radio (Madison, Wisconsin) provided a note about the UN extending its mandate in Haiti for an additional six months, including brief commentary from Schuller: “This hurricane shows for once and for all the dire importance of protecting the environmental resources and to be taking a look at climate change not just as climate change but as climate justice…The U.S., the World Bank and the United Nations do need to do better in terms of how we impose our will on places like Haiti.” Continue reading “anthro in the news 10/17/16”

Washington, D.C. event: Book launch of Fault Lines – Views across Haiti's Divide

Author Beverly Bell will conduct a reading, Q&A session, and book signing.

When: Sunday, October 20, 5:30 pm,

Where: The Coupe
3415 11th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20010

Fault Lines is a searing account of life in Haiti since the earthquake of 2010. The book combines street journals, interviews, and investigative journalism to impart perspectives rarely seen outside the country. It studies the strong communities, age-old gift culture, and work of grassroots movements for a more just nation.

Beverly Bell is an award-winning author who has worked and lived in and out of Haiti for 35 years. She runs the economic and social justice group, Other Worlds, and is associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Books will be for sale. (To order a copy from afar, or for more info on the book, visit

Hosted by Beyond Borders and Just Haiti

From the field: Reflections of a Yangon intern

Guest post by Julia Collins

The pounding rain muffles the sounds coming from the neighboring construction site. It is the rainy season in Southeast Asia and development season in Myanmar. With Myanmar’s recent debut on the global scene, it is the place to be for members of the development community.

World Economic Forum on East Asia 2013
Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Myanmar, 6/7/13. Photo: Sikarin Thanachaiary
In a recent edition of the Bangkok Post, Myanmar was mentioned more than three times in the business section alone. The articles reported on Japanese investment, Thai cement factories, and Norwegian sustainable tourism in Myanmar. Aid workers, foreign investors, economists, human rights activists, education specialists, you name it, everyone has caught Myanmar-fever.

The international spotlight is firmly fixed on this resource-rich, relatively untouched Southeast Asian country.

I intern at an independent policy research organization dedicated to the economic and social transformation of Myanmar. Led by Burmese economists, the think-tank recommends policies related to economic reform, poverty-reduction, and good governance. Professor Christina Fink, was instrumental in helping me find my internship. Her assistance along with the generosity of the Freeman Foundation Fellowship, enabled interning to become a reality, and for that I am deeply grateful.

I arrived in early June and am one of seven interns — four are also master’s candidates studying at Columbia’s SIPA, one is a law student from Yale and one a Burmese-American from Michigan State. We are fortunate to work alongside incredibly hardworking and intelligent Burmese research assistants, former political exiles, professors as well as a few foreign economists and lawyers. We often have internal trainings ranging from tax reform in Myanmar to media laws and hate speech to Myanmar’s role in the WTO to inform our research and endow us with a more comprehensive understanding of Myanmar’s reform process.
Continue reading “From the field: Reflections of a Yangon intern”

Not so fast

Jeffrey Sachs. Flickr/IRRI Images
According to an article in Nature, a recent report of dramatic success from The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) has been partially retracted. The MVP aims to chart a course out of poverty for the most deprived people in Africa. The MVP is a joint venture between Columbia University and the non-profit organization Millennium Promise, both in New York City. The first Millennium Villages were launched in Ethiopia and Kenya in 2004 and 2005, and the project now operates in 10 African countries, reaching about 500,000 people in 80 villages over 14 sites. The MVP’s founder, Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia and a co-author of the partially retracted paper, says that the MVP research teams were too autonomous, and he regrets not having brought in external advisers earlier. “I don’t want such mistakes to occur again,” he says. Sachs has now created a faculty committee to oversee MVP research and increase interactions with outside researchers.

Anthro connection: cultural heritage and development in the Middle East and North Africa

An article in Nature discusses the potential of archaeological heritage sites in Egypt and Libya for contributing to post-Arab Spring stability. For those who want more information on archaeological heritage sites in the Middle East and North Africa, cultural anthropologist Michael Cernea provides an excellent overview in his report, Cultural Heritage and Development: A Framework for Action in the Middle East and North Africa.

In addition to Cernea’s excellent recommendations, I would add a plea that any and all heritage projects in the MENA region, and elsewhere, pay special attention to participatory approaches and, particularly, inclusion of women in leadership and income-generating positions.

A different kind of cooking show

For those of you (including me) who enjoy watching TV cooking contests, we know that the worst that can happen is that an aspiring winner is perspiring, or the presentation was chaotic, or the judges made nasty comments about the taste of one of the dishes.

For millions of women who cook family meals, especially in developing countries, the challenges are quite different. There is no panel of judges and no “time’s up” called out to arrest the work of the contestants in their well-equipped stainless-steely kitchen.

Rob Bailis speaks at the Elliott School of International Affairs, Nov 3, 2011.

Instead, there is a “killer in the kitchen” which calls time’s up for mothers and children who spend a lot of time inhaling cook stove fumes.

On November 3, Rob Bailis, assistant professor of environmental social science in the department of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, gave a CIGA seminar entitled, “Arresting the Killer in the Kitchen: The Promises and Pitfalls of Commercializing Improved Cookstoves.”

Bailis took the audience on a rich and insightful tour of how improved cook stoves could have a major positive impact on women, children, and the environment. His talk drew on knowledge about the effects of various types of fuel for daily cooking on the cooks and the wider environment.

His slides included maps of types of household fuel in various regions of the world. He brought together data from the fields of environmental studies, public health, and local surveys.

He discussed the “energy ladder hypothesis” which says that as people get wealthier, they use cleaner fuels. As I was listening, I was thinking: okay, this doesn’t sound good for the earth, given the way the economy is going.

Another point to share is this: Bailis said that Western development experts have been pushing improved cook stoves for three decades but there is very little evidence about their effectiveness in terms of reducing health risks for cooks/children and reducing deforestation and other environmental problems.

China is the country to watch on improved cook stoves. Of the 200 million improved cook stoves in the world, 80 percent are in China. Let’s hear about the “best practices” there and how they might be replicated elsewhere.

Thirty years is a long time, especially without much to say in terms of what works. Time to switch channels and get back to the cooking throw-down.

Maybe we need a TV show about what works in development?

Update from Professor Rob Bailis:
In fact, there is evidence that some improved stoves certainly improve quality and, based on that, we can justifiably hypothesize that if families adopt such stoves and use them regularly, then their air quality will improve and their health risk will be reduced. More importantly, there is evidence of this – just last week (about a week after my presentation) a paper was published in the Lancet by Kirk Smith and his team. This reports the results of the first randomized control trial based on improved cookstove adoption. They found that the stoves they promoted reduced the incidence of severe forms of respiratory infection by around 30%. So the evidence exists. What is lacking is program-specific follow-up to understand whether a given intervention is resulting in effective and long-term stove adoption. But, like I hinted at in my talk, the carbon markets are having an interesting influence on project monitoring by creating elaborate protocols to make sure stoves are actually used.

It's the people…

An article in Nature reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation realizes the importance of social science insights and indigenous/local knowledge in generating innovative approaches to improving human welfare in developing countries and promoting the adoption of such approaches.

This is not news to cultural anthropologists. What is news is that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has adopted this “innovative” approach. That’s very good news.

Gates Foundation

It is always been a major challenge to get those in power, with money, at the top, to adopt a more grassroots, local approach. Now let’s see if big money can actually lead to big changes in people’s well being by listening to the people (and the people who study people first hand).

It is essential for the Gates Foundation to also support adequate funding for long-term monitoring and evaluation of social impact, not just recording stats on micro-outputs. We need to be able to see what various innovations accomplish five, ten, twenty years out. We need baseline studies now and follow-up studies on into the future. Local people could be trained to collect basic social data and enter it into a computerized database each week, week after week. In this way, development monitoring and evaluation becomes participatory and sustainable. It’s development for local people, with local people, and monitored by local people.

Sounds like the Gates Foundation may be on an important learning and listening curve. Stay tuned.

Japan: Looking ahead to recovery

Guest post by Jin Sato

On April 4, 2011, the Asia Society and the Japan Society co-sponsored a Japan town hall meeting in New York City to discuss questions related to the recent earthquake. Several prominent experts constituted the panel which was moderated by Fred Katayama. Topics and questions for discussion were formulated by Jin Sato of the University of Tokyo and visiting democracy and development fellow at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, Princeton University.

The event was taped and can be viewed by clicking on the image below.

Questions were clustered into three areas in order to generate broad discussion about the disaster’s impact on Japanese politics, economics and social life, as well as to assess the extent of the uniqueness and historical significance of the changes for the Japanese people, and for Japan as a nation:

1. Japan’s Reliance on Nuclear Energy: The Politics of Risk Sharing

Japan has only 20 percent self-sufficiency in primary energy supply and more than half of that is nuclear power. Historically, the main rationale for advocating nuclear power was to enable Japan to be more self-sufficient. More than 30 years ago, during the incidents of “oil shock” and petrochemical shortage in the 1970s, the Japanese people learned the lesson of dependence on fossil fuels. Given the magnitude of the ongoing catastrophe, questions such as these arise:

  • Is it time to question Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy as the primary domestic source of electric power?
  • Given this kind of catastrophe, is it appropriate for Japan to allow the private sector to continue to manage this kind of high-risk operation?
  • What should be the role of the government?
  • How do we democratically control high-risk operations?
  • Will a growing awareness of the inequitable distribution of risk lead to the Japanese public questioning of the reliance on nuclear energy?

2. The Future of the Japan Brand: Economic Fallout of the Disaster

Historically, the myth of superior Japanese technology has prevailed and even in this tragic series of events, the international community was shocked to discover the failure of the “failsafe” Japanese nuclear technology and safety mechanisms. Questions include:

  • Will this incident signal the beginning of the end to the myth of Japanese technological superiority?
  • What will be the impact of the current nuclear crisis on Japan’s reputation as a high-tech exporter and more generally on the “Japan brand”?

Continue reading “Japan: Looking ahead to recovery”

Let’s start with Haiti

Imagine that you live in a region that comprises Washington, DC, and Maryland (roughly the size of Haiti). Then imagine that you are one of many experiencing extreme poverty, lack of education, and other forms of deprivation. If that’s not bad enough, then imagine an earthquake of the magnitude that struck Haiti in January. Then picture 1.3 million people living in tents in the DC area.

With this thought exercise, Ray Offenheiser, President and CEO of Oxfam America, opened his talk on October 20 at the Elliott School of International Affairs of George Washington University. His presentation was titled “Let’s Start with Haiti: Making President Obama’s New Vision for Development Work.” It was sponsored by the Elliott School’s Culture in Global Affairs (CIGA) Program. Robert E. Maguire was moderator. Maguire is associate professor of international affairs at Trinity Washington University in DC; Chair of the Haiti Working Group of the United States Institute of Peace; and a Visiting Fellow with CIGA. To watch a video of this talk, click here.

Ray Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America; Photo credit: Oxfam America
Ray Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America; Photo credit: Oxfam America

After that stark opening, Offenheiser turned to considering President Obama’s new approach to international development in the context of Haiti. Speaking at the United Nations in September, President Obama argued that the United States needs to change the way it handles development aid. This speech proposed the first ever global development policy of the United States and offered the only major rethinking of the approach established in 1961 by President Kennedy to shape development during the Cold War.

In this new approach, Offenheiser explained, America is redefining development. Instead of controlling development through a focus on aid, it will take a comprehensive approach to sustainable development. America is now poised to focus on results, especially long-term results that support institutions rather than providing assistance in perpetuity.  Broad-based economic growth is a goal through support to market infrastructure. Mutual accountability between the US government and partner countries is the new goal for bilateral aid relationships.

Offenheiser hailed Obama’s vision as breathtaking and most welcome in its emphasis on country ownership: countries must own the process of development, the investments, and the partnerships. The rationale is that poverty can only be solved by poor people and their governments, in partnership with other countries. In the past, too little attention was given to the hopes, dreams, and plans of people in developing countries. Aid projects were likely to be driven by earmarking in the US. From now on, aid will go toward investing more in country-designed ideas.

Continue reading “Let’s start with Haiti”