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Opinions: Democracy Needed In Epidemic Outbreaks; U.S. Food Aid; Development Partnerships In Africa

Democracy Provides Good Context To Handle Epidemics

After mentioning the riots that broke out in Haiti after the start of the cholera epidemic last year, Richard Evans, a professor of history and president of Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge, writes in a Guardian opinion piece that “popular disturbances during epidemics are nothing new.” He goes on to provide several other examples.  

“As new epidemic diseases strike, scientific opinion is initially uncertain and often divided. The mass media and the Internet allow dissident scientists to gain a hearing, just as they did in the more restricted media environment of the 19th century. Governments and politicians are frequently driven to choose the science that best serves their interest, or their ideological standpoint,” Evans observes.

“Nobody can say what new epidemics and infections may arise in the future, but we can be certain that they will occur. History may not help us learn how to prevent them, but it can teach us lessons about how we can deal with them when they arrive, try to minimise their impact, and take steps to avoid their recurrence,” Evans writes, concluding, “These aims can only be achieved in a democratic context where state, medical scientists and the public have some degree of mutual trust and respect” (5/9).

U.S. Should Tackle Food Aid Challenges

The “real challenge posed by” a recent report recommending changes to U.S. food aid “is not scientific. It is political and also possibly technical,” Eric Munoz, a policy adviser for Oxfam America, writes in a Guardian “Poverty Matters Blog” post.

“Specifically, the proposed changes are not cost free. Applying the updated commodity specifications to nine programmes administered in 2009 raised the overall cost of these programmes by nearly $100m. In a cost-cutting mood, will agriculture appropriators provide enough money to update the commodities to improve their nutritional content while maintaining current food aid levels?” Munoz asks. “Oxfam and others have pressed for more local and regional purchase of food aid as a way of supporting smallholder farmers in the developing world. A key question is whether milling operations in developing countries have the capacity and technical skill needed to produce the improved foods,” he notes.

“The technical issue should be considered a call to arms for USAID, donors from other countries and private sector partners to innovate and invest in processing facilities in developing countries in order to increase local capacity to mill and supply these foods. It’s a challenge yes, but one that if overcome would have long-term benefits for food security and even poverty reduction. The U.S. could tackle these challenges or look the other way as our food aid programmes fail to live up to their potential,” Munoz concludes (5/9).

Partnerships Can Power African Development

“We are witnessing a historic change to the development paradigm. … While aid remains vitally important to build capacity, leverage other flows and achieve specific results, it is clear that African leaders and international donors need to look beyond traditional development strategies to fill funding gaps and accelerate progress,” Kofi Annan, chair of the Africa Progress Panel, writes in a Huffington Post opinion piece highlighting the findings of the panel’s recent report.

“We argue that more can, and should be, done to facilitate the spread of successful partnership models across countries and sectors,” he writes, before noting that “despite the enormous value they can add, partnerships for development are certainly no panacea for all of Africa’s problems. Even brought to scale, there are limits to what they can achieve.”

Annan concludes, “Africa’s leaders need to rise to the interlinked challenges of growing their economies, delivering results for their people, conserving the environment, and achieving the Millennium Development Goals they set themselves a decade ago. My fellow panel members and I strongly believe that partnerships can help them with all of these tasks” (5/6).