Latest Developments, July 22

In the latest news and analysis…

A new Médecins Sans Frontières report suggests a number of major pharmaceutical companies will no longer provide antiretrovirals at discounted prices to middle-income countries, including ones with large numbers of  people living with HIV, such India, Brazil and Thailand. And while Health Global Access Project’s Brook Baker praises Gilead Sciences for recently becoming the first drug-maker to join the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) that aims to improve access to affordable HIV/AIDS treatments in poor countries, he argues the move may not have been as philanthropic as it might seem. The agreement excludes many “middle-income countries with a high HIV-burden” and “of the 111 countries included in the geographical scope of the tenofovir MPP license, Gilead has patent applications pending or granted in only 2 of the licensed countries, India and Indonesia.”

In other patent news, World Intellectual Property Organization delegates have wrapped up a week of meetings without completing drafts of treaties to protect genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore. A representative of indigenous peoples expressed concern that their voices were not being sufficiently heard.

Britain’s Macmillan Publishers has agreed to a hefty fine for bribes its education division paid in Africa in the hopes of securing contracts. And a confidential government memo dating from 2008 has revealed Canada’s asbestos industry, which critics say endangers the health and lives of people in the handful of poor countries which still import the substance, may be on its last legs due to dwindling reserves.

Somalia’s Al-Shabab militants, who control much of the country, are still blocking a number of aid agencies despite a recent announcement to the contrary and have called the UN’s declaration of famine “pure propaganda” even though the international organization has laid out the specific criteria it uses to make such assessments. The UN secretary general has written a plea for the world community to help the Somali famine’s victims, “the vast majority of them women and children.” Indeed, the photo accompanying the LA Times piece notwithstanding, more than 80 percent of those fleeing Somalia are women and children. This fact has prompted Al Jazeera to ask where the men are, with some suggesting they are being forced to fight in the country’s civil war. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s John Vidal blames the famine, in part, on what he calls an “insidious war” against pastoralists who “produce more and better quality meat and generate more cash per hectare than “modern” Australian and US ranches” but are being squeezed out “by large-scale farming, the expansion of national parks, and game reserves and conservation.”

Al Jazeera also asks if this week’s UN Security Council statement on the threat to global security posed by climate change is “a real opportunity to achieve significant results or an attempt to divert attention from the root causes of the problem and away from the countries that cause global warming and distribute the burden evenly on world nations.”

Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass proposes a so-called “restoration” doctrine, by which he means “a U.S. foreign policy based on restoring this country’s strength and replenishing its resources—economic, human and physical.” He says the idea is very different from isolationism in that it involves carrying out an “active foreign policy.” But restoration would mean engaging in “fewer wars of choice” abroad, such as those fought in Vietnam, Iraq and Libya, and making smart cuts to discretionary spending at home. Haass sees restoration as a short-term objective that could lay the groundwork for what he believes should be America’s real foreign policy goal: “integration, which aims to develop rules and institutions to govern international relations and persuade other major powers to see that these rules are followed.”

Reflecting on a new report entitled “Resource Scarcity, Fair Shares and Development,” Oxfam’s Duncan Green argues that both the left and the right argue away the idea of resource limits in their own way. He also says there is an important distinction between the “new scarcity” of planetary capacity and the largely local and socially determined ‘old scarcity’ that has always left poor people on the outside looking in. In his view, most of the scarcities are primarily local and, as a result, “we should be careful about lumping them all together or going too global, especially when it comes to solutions.”

Latest Developments, July 20

In the latest news and analysis…

As expected, the UN has officially declared a famine in southern Somalia. French agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire writes in Le Monde that hunger in this day and age is a “scandal,” and a Globe and Mail editorial decries the slow international response to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa: “When an alarm of impending famine is sounded, the whole world should be galvanized into action.” But even though USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network predicted the food crisis nearly a year ago and Islamist insurgents controlling much of Somalia recently lifted their ban on foreign aid, there are still legal obstacles to large-scale US assistance.

Earlier this year, the World Food Programme also launched an emergency operation in North Korea and an EU mission recently reported “widespread consumption of grass.” As of last week, the UN had received less than a quarter of the funds it was seeking for North Korean food assistance. The Brookings Institution’s Roberta Cohen says politics have prevented South Korea and the US from helping so far. “But taking no decision is really a decision, which gives the impression that there may be no urgent or extensive food crisis in North Korea requiring immediate action.”

But Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs says responding to food shortages, such as the one currently unfolding in the Horn of Africa, is not the way to go. The focus should instead be on lifting people out of poverty permanently, dealing with climate change and reining in population growth.

A Guardian editorial says the British public’s lack of enthusiasm for the government’s pledge to increase aid to 0.7 percent of GDP is understandable, given the frustratingly predictable cycle of development policies. “Fashions in giving have come and gone, interspersed with bursts of retrospective analysis purporting to show both why previous programmes have failed and how to reshape them so that they really will work and really will add to the sum of peace and prosperity in the world.” Nevertheless, the authors encourage the Cameron government to stick to its aid promise before concluding: “If we get it right this time, the public might eventually come round.”

A major problem with foreign aid, according to Bottom Up Thinking, is an accountability deficit resulting from the fact that its “‘customers’ are not the same people as those who pay the bills and that leads to massively misaligned incentives.” But the main reason why people have such little faith in aid’s usefulness is, paradoxically, the high expectations set up by an industry obsessed with sending out positive messages: “The problem, as I see it, is that we are very rarely upfront about the risks of failure. Far too much of the conservation and development industry is extremely reluctant to admit to failure (or even just disappointing results); glossy brochures proclaim an unending procession of success stories.”

The Center for Global Development’s Wren Elhai warns that a six-word amendment to proposed US legislation would make all American assistance to Pakistan conditional on the South Asian country’s demonstration that it is committed to preventing the Taliban and other perceived undesirables from operating within its borders: “The notion that a relatively small amount of civilian aid will change the strategic calculus of the Pakistani military is simply ludicrous. Meanwhile, attempting to use civilian aid as security leverage would upset the fragile two-track strategy that has guided U.S. strategy in Pakistan for the past several years.”

In a blog post entitled “Yes, South Sudan Can,” World Bank economist Shantayanan Devarajan lays out the three keys for South Sudanese success: stimulating sustained economic growth, implementing “home-grown solutions,” and embracing information and communications technology. Drawing on Africa’s recent history for inspiration, Devarajan points to “a number of countries, such as Mozambique and Uganda, which emerged from civil conflict and sustained above-7-percent GDP growth for over a decade.” In the UN’s latest Human Development Index ranking, Mozambique sat 168th out of 172 countries and Uganda scored better than only two non-African countries: Afghanistan and Haiti.

After discussing a recent study that suggests resource extraction is more often a blessing than a curse, Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations turns to the specific possibility of a Liberian oil industry, reminding us the authors’ “analysis is statistical: while it might say that on average there isn’t a resource curse, that should be little reassurance for any particular country that’s diving into extraction.” Nor does the analysis, which focuses on political freedom, take socio-economic or environmental indicators into account. Of the 12 sub-Saharan countries whose daily crude production currently exceeds 50,000 barrels per day, only Gabon, South Africa and Congo do not rank in the bottom quintile in either the UN’s Human Development Index or Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index.

Reuters correspondent Peter Apps asks if Britain is more corrupt than it thinks. According to one expert quoted in the article: “If you look at the way we talk about and measure corruption in the West, it’s either Africa or Asia which comes out worse. But we are using a distorted prism.” Apps’s question is inspired by the UK’s ongoing phone hacking scandal, but there are also new developments concerning British companies behaving badly overseas. A parliamentary committee slammed military contractor BAE Systems for misusing funds in Tanzania and not paying the penalty imposed after a plea bargain. And miner Monterrico Metals has settled out of court on charges of collusion in the detention and torture of protesters in Peru.

The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage sees an “apparent conflict of interest” in the fact that the European Commission assigned PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international accounting firm which boasts 415 of the Fortune Global 500 among its clients, to prepare a report on how poor countries can minimize financial losses due to corporate transfer pricing.  The practice allows large multinational corporations to reduce their tax bill by creatively billing themselves for transactions between subsidiaries so as to maximize declared expenses and minimize declared profits. “Transfer pricing is the single biggest source of illicit financial flows in the world costing developing countries hundreds of billions of dollars every year,” according to Marriage. PwC claims its own 2011 report on global transfer pricing – a separate document from the EU-commissioned one – “offers practical advice on a subject where the right amount of effort can produce huge dividends in the form of a low and stable tax charge, coupled with the ability to defend a company against tax auditor attack.”

Oxfam’s Duncan Green asks why development experts pay so little attention to “how poor people ‘do’ development.” And the Center on International Cooperation’s Alex Evans points out that poor people will not get a fair share of the world’s limited resources unless “developed countries and the “global middle class” dramatically reduce their consumption levels.”