Archive for August 2011

PHILIPPINE PEPPER UNDERCUTS DENGUE

August 16, 2011

PHILIPPINE PEPPER UNDERCUTS DENGUE
Erle Frayne D. Argonza

A very good news had sprouted from out of my beloved country the Philippines, concerning the cure to dengue. Among the perennial epidemics in the country, dengue had killed too many to count for nigh centuries already, and continues to make sweeping attacks in both urban and rural areas.
The pepper variety is no other than the black pepper that we commonly use as condiment. Extracts of the black pepper can kill larvae according to scientists, though the exact information cannot be divulged as a matter of protecting intellectual property.
Below is the wonderful report on undercutting dengue.
[Philippines, 20 July 2011]
Source: http://www.scidev.net/en/news/pepper-traps-cut-dengue-fever-in-the-philippines.html
Pepper traps cut dengue fever in the Philippines
Joel D. Adriano
11 July 2011
[MANILA] A trap that uses an extract from black pepper to kill mosquito eggs and larvae has dramatically cut rates of dengue fever in areas of the Philippines where it has been tested, say its developers.
Scientists have known that extracts of black pepper (Piper nigrum) kill larvae, and chemicals similar to those found in black peppercorns have been suggested as mosquito repellents.
Now Nuna Almanzor, director of the Industrial Technology Development Institute, at the Philippine Department of Health, says researchers at this institute have developed a special formula with an additional ingredient that boosts peppercorn’s anti-mosquito activity.
But she declined to give the exact details of the mechanism for intellectual property reasons, while the institute waits for a patent approval.
Female mosquitoes are attracted to the black colour of a trap container, where they lay eggs on a wooden stick submerged under the water solution containing peppercorn.
Only two per cent of these eggs hatch and mature into adults, and the solution also kills adult mosquitoes by interfering with their feeding ability, said Almanzor.
In two provinces south of Manila, where the trap was launched in February, dengue cases dropped sharply in the first six months of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010.
In Northern Samar, dengue cases dropped from 74 to zero, and in Leyte from 190 down to three. Dengue cases in areas without the traps have remained high.
Almanzor said they have agreements with two firms to produce commercially a pellet containing the pepper. The traps could be made at home or purchased for less than ten Philippine peso (around 20 US cents) and a pack of five-to-ten pellets will cost just two US cents. One pellet will be enough to trap mosquitoes for a week and an average household may need up to four traps.
The Department of Health will be promoting the traps in places of high dengue incidence.
Dengue fever, spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is common in Asia and Latin America, but there is no cure or vaccine yet. Last year there were 120,000 dengue fever cases in the Philippines
Almanzor said that the traps could be useful in other countries and for curbing other diseases, such as malaria, since they work with any mosquito species.
Nelia Salazar, a consultant for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, at the Philippine Department of Science and Technology, said that the technology could be the best so far in the array of strategies against dengue. These include the traditional drive to remove water that mosquitoes lay their eggs in, insecticide spraying and the releasing of genetically modified insects, which could have unintended consequences.
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MALARIA D’APES & MONKEYS

August 16, 2011

MALARIA D’APES & MONKEYS
Erle Frayne D. Argonza

We have a new alarming development concerning malaria spread. Gorillas and monkeys might just happen to be the dreaded carriers of the disease, a news that could cause chagrin on the legendary Tarzan.
This analyst has no fondness for Tarzan philosophy, but is more focused on highlighting risks to communities caused by a diversity of factors such as diseases. Being a development worker for long, I contracted malaria while doing field work and almost died of the falciparum disease in 1982.
We have no evidence yet of malaria being transmitted to humans by monkeys even though we do have species of monkeys among our diverse fauna. But Africa has shown less resiliency to that possibility, as shown in the report below.
[Philippines, 18 July 2011]
Source: http://www.scidev.net/en/news/primate-malaria-in-africa-may-be-jumping-species.html
Primate malaria in Africa may be jumping species
Rachel Mundy
7 July 2011
A malaria parasite from gorillas has been found in an African monkey, suggesting it has jumped species and may be able to transfer to humans.
The finding has led some malaria experts to suggest that if transfer between monkeys and apes has occurred then monkey-to-human malaria transmission may already be happening. They have called for more research to quantify the risks.
“The evidence is sufficient to warrant further investigation into the possibility that these parasites may also jump to humans,” said Beatrice Hahn, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, United States. “We need to screen humans who live in flying range of mosquitoes that also bite primates, to establish whether they are susceptible to the primate parasites.”
Wild forest-living gorilla populations are known to harbour a parasite strain that is closely related to the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. And macaque monkeys in South-East Asia carry another malaria parasite, Plasmodium knowlesi — a potential threat to humans.
But this is the first time that a P. falciparum strain similar to the one that causes human malaria has been found in an African monkey — the spot-nosed guenon from Gabon (Cercopithecus nictitans).
The fact that “the genetic differences from the human strain are so slight” raises the possibility that monkey and ape malaria may be transmitted to humans, said François Renaud, a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, in Montpelier, and co-author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (5 July).
As humans come into closer contact with apes and monkeys as a result of deforestation, commercial hunting and population growth, the opportunity for the parasites to be transmitted to humans will increase.
“One single successful cross-species transmission event has the potential to result in a major human pandemic,” Hahn, who was not involved in the study, told SciDev.Net. 

But David Conway, professor of biology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom, said the reservoir of malaria in African monkeys must be very small, given the low prevalence found in this study.
“Hopefully, monkey malaria will start to be recognised as an important area of research, but when examining the public health significance for humans, it is important to put the risk into context. Normal human malaria has a much higher prevalence, except in parts of South-East Asia where this has been reduced and the importance of malaria from monkeys has become more noticeable,” Conway said.
Looking for human infections with monkey malaria is “like looking for a needle in a haystack”, he said, adding that “there is every chance that human infections are occurring occasionally in the forest”.
“In this particular case, the vector of malaria is the key determinant in determining any public-health risk,” Conway said. “Identifying which species of mosquitoes transmits each parasite strain is a neglected area of research that needs additional funding.”
Link to abstract in PNAS
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SCIENCE JOURNALISTS PRESS FREEDOM

August 16, 2011

SCIENCE JOURNALISTS PRESS FREEDOM
Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Assessing the link between science and journalism is an emerging concern across the globe. There may be rampant incidences of journalists being denied access to scientists, incidences that feed into the fertile mindsets of conspiracy theorists.
Let us take the case of astronomers in the USA for instance. Astronomers have stumbled upon the fact that all the planets of our solar system are undergoing radical changes in their polar regions, a fact that tend to undercut the ecofascist contention that climate change is solely localized to Earth. Accordingly, astronomers in the know are being exterminated in America, a silent decimation aimed to keep the information classified.
Ecofascist circles are being primed to replace old-fogey communism as an ideological weapon of the global oligarchy to heap up anti-human hysteria. That is, blame humanity for the ecological woes of Earth, thus rationalizing the mad agenda to depopulate Earth down to a manageable level of 2 Billion by 2050.
Below is a report on the state of science-journalism link.
[Philippines, 18 July 2011]
Source: http://www.scidev.net/en/editorials/press-freedom-the-next-challenge-for-science-journalists-1.html
Press freedom: the next challenge for science journalists
David Dickson
8 July 2011
Government attempts to control science communication clash with public demands for accountability, and journalists must resist this trend.
Until recently, distrust has been the biggest obstacle preventing scientists interacting with journalists in the developing world. Scientists have feared — often with justification — that they will be misquoted and their work misrepresented by journalists who do not understand the technical details.
This has resulted in a frequent reluctance even to grant interviews. “Go away and read my paper” has too often been scientists’ response to journalists seeking information about their work.
Fortunately, this is now changing. Scientists are becoming more willing to come out of their ivory towers. In Malaysia, for example, researchers are encouraged to be more open about their research and its implications as part of their funding contract.
Journalists, in turn, are becoming more professional in their approach, supported by initiatives such as the SjCOOP training programme of the World Federation of Science Journalists.
But the old barriers to communication are being replaced by a new one: efforts by governments and institutions to control the content of the communication process. This was one of the key messages of the highly successful World Conference of Science Journalists held in Doha, Qatar, last week.
As journalists increase their skills in seeking out ‘the news behind the news’, governments and research institutions are responding by placing obstacles in the way of reporters who, correctly, see their role as more than reproducing press releases or official statements.
The challenge ahead for science journalists is to contest this trend, which conflicts directly with public demands for transparency and accountability — demands fuelled by the growing popularity of social media.
Access denied
Transparency and accountability in the way that scientific knowledge is generated, used and distributed is essential at a time when tackling so many of the world’s problems, from climate change to food security, requires decisions made on robust evidence.
Science journalists have a key role in ensuring that this happens. They can also help remove obstacles that prevent the transparent use of scientific information, for example by highlighting occasions when their access to information has been blocked, or by pushing for legislation that makes transparency a requirement for public funding.
Sadly, participants in last week’s meeting heard of several instances in which journalists were denied access to scientists in the course of their work.
Richard Stone, for example, the Asia news editor of the journal Science, told delegates how local government officials in the Chinese province of Yunnan barred him from speaking to researchers studying an unexplained disease — known as Yunnan Unknown Cause Sudden Death — even though he had been granted permission by the national government in Beijing.
There were more stories from journalists working in other countries. In Egypt, journalists have been told not to make direct contact with scientists despite having a proven track record of accurate reporting.
The problem is not restricted to developing countries. Several science journalists reported difficulties in getting technical information from the Japanese government about the damage to the nuclear plant at Fukushima after the tsunami hit the country’s northeast coast.
And in Canada, new rules have been introduced restricting the access of journalists to government scientists. Journalist Margaret Munro said that climate change scientists can no longer speak freely to the media, and gave examples of cases where journalists had their interviews recorded by press officers, after obtaining their consent.
Press freedom
Restrictions imposed for credible reasons of national security are clearly appropriate. The same is true when commercial confidentiality is at stake.
But attempting to gag scientists who may be critical of government policy or report findings that may prove embarrassing to government officials is a different issue.
Some speakers at the Doha meeting, including Stone, suggested that journalists counter these restrictions by avoiding official channels of communication, such as press officers, and contact scientists directly. This is now easier than ever before, with email and mobile telephones.
This is, however, an extreme solution. It may provide the information that a journalist is seeking, but it puts scientists at risk, particularly when they are being officially discouraged from talking to the media. And it can only exacerbate tensions between research institutions, government agencies and the science journalists who cover their activities.
A long-term solution requires governments to accept that transparency in all their affairs — including the work of their scientists — is essential for the effective functioning of a modern democracy. The press must also accept that it has a responsibility to use this transparency wisely.
And scientists can add their weight to journalists seeking the lifting of excessive restrictions, both within their institutions and at a political level.
Last week’s meeting was moved from Cairo to Doha because of continuing uncertainties over the recent unrest in Egypt. And delegates were constantly reminded that what united the protesters in Tahrir Square was a common commitment to greater accountability by the Egyptian government.
There were also reminders that developed and developing countries alike have had to fight, over many centuries, for the prized commitment to the freedom of the press that helps to make this greater accountability possible.
The next conference, to take place in Helsinki, Finland, in two years’ time, will, in the words of its organisers, include an exploration of the work of science journalists around the world “in the light of the Enlightenment-period notions of critical questioning and the public sphere”.
This will be an excellent opportunity to explore in greater detail how vital it is for science journalism that governments respect the free flow of scientific information. It will also be an opportunity to take stock of the pressures that prevent this from happening, and the steps that are needed to resist them.
David Dickson
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VACCINE FEARS

August 16, 2011

VACCINE FEARS
Erle Frayne D. Argonza

How far do vaccines work? Is vaccination an opportunity or a threat to communities suffering from epidemic and pandemic outbursts?
Vaccination has generated its own level of fear responses, as cases of vaccination failures have led to fatalities on the parts of poor patients. Let it be stressed that pandemics, such as those that struck Africa, often than not strike down the poor classes, thus generating toxic fears that the vaccines coming from the West are meant as genocide bacteriological warfare weaponry.
Devising ways & means to track vaccine fears is a challenge to healthcare stakeholders across the globe. Below is one reportorial discussion on the subject.
[Philippines, 17 July 2011]
Source: http://www.scidev.net/en/news/system-tracks-vaccine-fears-around-the-globe.html
System tracks vaccine fears around the globe
Smriti Mallapaty
4 July 2011
[LONDON] Fears of a growing mistrust of vaccinations in developing countries have led academics to set up a ‘listening station’ that monitors local responses to new immunisation campaigns.
Researchers at the UK-based London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) are hoping their system will alert them when concerns have passed thresholds beyond which there may be a risk to the smooth implementation of a programme.
“I have been seeing an increasing number of episodes of communities, governments and individuals questioning vaccines and refusing them, even in some of the poorest countries,” said Heidi Larson, senior lecturer at LSHTM and principal investigator for the project.
“After several years of fire-fighting, I started to see patterns where early intervention could have prevented boycotts,” she said.
The project started in November 2009. Data are collected from local media, official and local observer reports and categorised by country, source, type of disease, vaccine and issue raised.
Risk is allocated to three categories, ranging from a potential problem requiring more data-gathering, to immediate action being needed to prevent vaccine refusal.
In Kenya, the researchers are piloting a ‘listening system’ model that documents local opinion as it emerges following the launch of the pneumococcal vaccine last February.
Today, mobile phones, the Internet and social media are providing new methods of self-organisation for those on all sides of vaccine debates.
Larson and colleagues recently published a case study in The Lancet examining the suggested link between the tetanus vaccine and sterility that disrupted immunisation campaigns across the world and led to a 45 per cent drop in coverage in the Philippines between 1994 and 1995.
They found that the Internet had been crucial in allowing the pro-life Catholic group Human Life International to communicate these fears to its members in over 60 countries, including Mexico, Nicaragua and the Philippines.
The eruption of fear usually results from underlying social and political issues, said the researchers. When fears arose in Uttar Pradesh in India that the polio vaccine might induce sterility, analysts found that mistrust revolved around the person administering the vaccine — often non-local men.
“When you have a group that is marginalised and is very conscious of its marginalisation, it is not a surprise that they would be more suspicious of government-driven initiatives,” said Larson.
Thomas Abraham, director of the public health communication programme at the University of Hong Kong, said: “I think that any tool that tells you that there is a problem is useful”.
“The question then becomes, what are you going to do about these rumours?”
He said that communication needed to be the starting point for any public health programme. “Health communication, especially around vaccines, is still very much in the dark ages.”
Link to case study in The Lancet (free registration required)
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COMMERCIALIZING BIODIVERSITY IN COLOMBIA

August 16, 2011

COMMERCIALIZING BIODIVERSITY IN COLOMBIA
Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Should biodiversity be commercialized? What are the stakes in commercialization? What are the costs, and who pay for them?
Colombia is home to 10% of the world’s biodiversity, a resource that its stakeholders wish to leverage in the market. Such an option comes at a time when biotechnology had grown to such a level that can aid biodiversity in sustaining itself.
Below is a summary report on the recent updates in Colombia’s biodiversity initiatives.
[Philippines, 16 July 2011]

Source: http://www.scidev.net/en/news/colombia-to-commercialise-its-biodiversity.html
Colombia to commercialise its biodiversity
Lisbeth Fog
6 July 2011
[BOGOTÁ] Colombia has approved a policy that will map out plans for sustainable commercial use of its rich biodiversity resources, mainly through the development of biotechnology research.

The policy, approved by the government last month (14 June), includes plans to set up a national company for bioprospecting to link up with the commercial sector. It will be backed with US$14 million in government funds over the next four years.
Colombia’s goal is to enable the development of industries and products based on the sustainable use of its biodiversity. The country is home to ten per cent of the world’s known biodiversity.
The new policy should reduce the bottleneck created by the current regulations on access to genetic resources, Mauricio Rodríguez, manager of the biotechnology programme at the National Department for Science, Technology and Innovation and co-author of the document, told SciDev.Net. He said that new, more efficient regulations based on the policy will be ready in a month.
Juan Lucas Restrepo, director of the Colombian Corporation of Agricultural Research, a public research institute, welcomed the policy. He said the current legislation on access and benefit-sharing is not working adequately.
But Fernando Casas, a Colombian economist and a co-chair of the Intergovernmental Committee of the Nagoya Protocol, said it would be difficult to adapt this policy to the existing Andean Community of Nations agreement to which Colombia is a signatory.
The Andean agreement stresses sustainable conservation and the importance of recognising benefit-sharing with indigenous and local people, while the Colombian one stresses the importance of commercialising biodiversity through biotechnology research.
Some Colombian scientists have also said that the main obstacles in research on biodiversity resources are bureaucracy and lack of expertise within the Ministry of Environment — which are not addressed in this policy. This leads to delayed decisions in approval of licenses to get access to genetic resources.
Casas welcomed the policy as overdue but said it does not advance the three goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity — conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from using genetic resources.
He also warned that the document does not analyse the policy’s possible effects on Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement with United States, which has been in negotiation for years, especially with regards to its impact on intellectual property.

Link to full policy document (in Spanish)

INDEXING AFRICA-SPECIFIC SCIENTIFIC INNOVATIONS

August 16, 2011

INDEXING AFRICA-SPECIFIC SCIENTIFIC INNOVATIONS

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

There seems to have been an abusive employment of universalistic yardsticks to measure scientific innovations across diverse countries. For instance, the preponderance on formalistic institutional developments have tended to favor Northern economies that have built universities and think-tanks across the centuries.

Such cross-cultural indices have incidentally overshadowed equally significant developments that could serve as yardsticks for innovations in any given Southern country. Therefore, the move towards idiographic assessments of innovations—based on culturally-specific indices—is novel an approach to unearthing those informal, primary sector engagements that were overlooked using Northern-biased yardsticks.

The case for Africa is shown in a report below.

[Philippines, 16 July 2011]

Source: http://www.scidev.net/en/opinions/africa-needs-its-own-indicators-of-scientific-innovation.html
Africa needs its own indicators of scientific innovation
Watu Wamae
6 July 2011 | EN
Policies to stimulate African development require evidence that is difficult to obtain using existing indicators, says policy analyst Watu Wamae.
Evidence-based indicators in science, technology and innovation (STI) help governments across the world to formulate policies and identify opportunities for development. The second round of a survey designed to capture such indicators across Africa, a project sponsored by SIDA, was recently launched in Ethiopia.
But if STI indicators are to contribute effectively to a sustainable path towards social and technological transformation, they need to be sensitive to the African context. Comparisons of indicators such as research and development (R&D) expenditure between African countries must not dominate policy discussions.
Besides, Africa is not well served by borrowing indicators from other regions. There is no point simply reinventing the wheel, but Africa must develop measures of STI activity that accurately reflect African economies and experiences that are likely to be neglected because existing methods to capture them are lacking.
In particular, we need to understand how to convert beneficial technologies into tangible benefits in Africa, and how to capture traditional as well as modern knowledge.
Collecting the right data
To develop effective indicators, African nations must first establish what resources they have and how to make the most of them.
Most African economies are dominated by agriculture, although some resource-rich countries have industries such as petroleum exploration or mining of minerals. In the current context of rapidly emerging economies such as China, the demand for natural resources will continue to grow, and these industries will continue to expand.
This demand is closely connected to the boom in the development of infrastructure across Africa, such as roads and ports, providing opportunities not only for economic activity, but also for learning about technology and applying scientific knowledge.
Ensuring that this development benefits people requires STI indicators that can help policymakers stimulate innovation in these sectors.
Existing methods of data collection provide neat and tidy indicators for manufacturing, among other sectors, but this is clearly not the main driver of most economies in Africa.
And although it is important to strengthen manufacturing, this must not come at the expense of other key sectors, such as agriculture, health, extractive industries and infrastructure development, even though these areas lag behind in useful methods for data collection and analysis.
Capturing complexity
Across Sub-Saharan Africa, the contribution of manufacturing to national income has not risen since the 1960s when it stood at 15 per cent. In Kenya, for example, manufacturing accounts for 12 per cent of national income, roughly half the contribution from agriculture (25 per cent) – and Kenya has one of the strongest manufacturing sectors on the continent.
Agriculture can involve the use of sophisticated technologies. And vegetables such as French beans and snow peas grown in Kenya are on supermarket shelves across Europe within 24 hours of being harvested.
But like other sectors, agriculture straddles the formal and informal economies. It also draws on both modern and traditional knowledge. The STI indicators used must capture this duality of knowledge systems, as well as the informality of the economic activity.
Agricultural innovation often results from work in research institutes — but also from the ingenuity of farmers, including those in remote areas, who use and adapt new ideas to suit their needs. These innovators are often part of informal networks that pool ideas and expertise, using them in novel ways to meet specific challenges.
This complexity raises the question of how STI indicators should be developed to capture innovative activity that is highly fragmented and informal, and that often goes undetected by existing processes.
I am not suggesting that those responsible for collecting STI data should single-handedly deal with these issues. There must be broader national ownership of processes to develop such indicators in a systemic, strategic way. People need to understand that, like a national census, the collection of STI data is useful, meaningful and deserving of their cooperation.
Beneficial technologies
Another major gap in Africa’s STI system is the lack of specialised capabilities for innovation — the process of converting knowledge to tangible benefits for people and communities.
This transformation depends on human capabilities or skills that can connect scientific output to local demand for solutions to existing problems. Without these capabilities, the products of scientific research will just gather dust.
Policymakers have tended to focus on capabilities for R&D to promote STI. But we need to give serious attention to the capabilities needed to translate the outputs from R&D into usable and accessible solutions to existing problems challenges — such as technical, engineering and managerial skills.
Producing STI indicators that overlook these capabilities is not likely to lead to evidence-based policies that can effectively leverage innovation for development.
Innovation is not just a technical process, but also a social and economic process of introducing beneficial technologies and helping countries achieve development. This is important for the shift from R&D as a determinant of progress to the broader perspective of innovation as a process of social transformation.
STI indicators must provide policymakers with the means to formulate evidence-based policy that is effective in mobilising innovation for development.
Watu Wamae is innovation and technology policy analyst for the non-profit research institute RAND Europe.
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Come Visit E. Argonza’s blogs & website anytime!

Social Blogs:
IKONOKLAST: http://erleargonza.blogspot.com
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INCLUSIONARY POLITICS & GOVERNANCE AFTER ‘ARAB SPRING’

August 16, 2011

INCLUSIONARY POLITICS & GOVERNANCE AFTER ‘ARAB SPRING’
Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Arab societies have been very exclusionary as regards politics & governance. The post-colonial era had long commenced and celebrated nascent nation-states after World War II, yet Arab political societies remain relatively ‘closed societies’.
The ‘Arab Spring’, a broad regional turmoil that has affected the entire Arab world, seems to offer a new opportunity to retool and re-engineer politics and governance. Those sectors or groups marginalized along religious sects, gender, generations, ethnicity, and class are challenging ossified structures and political cultures, thus creating windows of opportunities for grand re-engineering works.
This analyst had openly opined for an ‘open political society’ for the entire Arab world, even as he gave his moral support to youth revolutionists who have been spearheading the meltdown of tyrannical regimes in the region. My position hasn’t changed, though I am critical of world powers’ bombing addiction in Libya that has resulted to enormous ‘collateral damage’.
Below is a reportage about the UNDP’s efforts to change the frames of governance in the region after the Arab Spring.
[Philippines, 10 July 2011]
Source: http://www.beta.undp.org/undp/en/home/presscenter/media_contacts.html
Clark: After the Arab spring, toward political and economic inclusion
22 June 2011
Speech by Helen Clark
“After the Arab Spring: Toward Political & Economic Inclusion in the Arab World”
At the Academy for Educational Development
Washington, D.C.
22 June 2011
My thanks go to Ambassador Chamberlin and the Middle East Institute for co-hosting this event with UNDP today focusing on events in the Arab States region.
Nearly ten years ago, UNDP began commissioning Arab Human Development Reports. The first four Reports drew attention to deficits in freedoms and governance, in education and the production and use of knowledge, and in women’s empowerment in the region.
The most recent report, in 2009, highlighted widespread challenges in the area of human security, including the high rates of youth unemployment throughout the region.
In recent months, the Arab Human Development Reports have been taken off the shelves again, dusted off, and quoted widely around the world. The credit for them, and for the salience of their findings, must go to the authors. They were writing and speaking from within the region, and not to the region from afar.
While covering different topics in depth, the central message of the reports has been clear – that in the interests of human development in the broad sense, change was needed in the region.
Those who have filled the streets and squares of the Arab States at great personal risk in recent months have called for that change to take place now.
They have braved batons and bullets to express their deep desire for dignity, opportunity, and the protection of their human rights.
They have called for a meaningful say in the decisions which shape their lives, and for an end to corruption, injustice, and repression.
A number of factors have contributed to the groundswell of anger against both economic and political exclusion and the denial of basic freedoms.
First, times became even tougher for many people in the region as growth rates declined with the global recession. As it was, even before the recession, according to the 2009 Arab Human Development Report the proportion of those in the Arab States living on under $2 a day is estimated to have declined only from about 22.5 per cent in 1990 to a little over twenty per cent in 2005, the most recent year for which this data is available.
In Egypt, the World Bank estimates that around nineteen per cent of people lived under $2 per day in 2005. Using a $3 a day poverty line, over fifty per cent of the population was poor. By this measure, around half of all Egyptians are particularly vulnerable to any income or price shocks – as there have been with the recession and with food and fuel price volatility. In a number of other countries in the region people suffer from similar vulnerabilities.
Unemployment has been a major challenge in the region, especially for young people. The under-25s make up over fifty per cent of the population, and they suffer rates of unemployment which are nearly twice the global average for youth.
There is also a mismatch between the supply of university graduates and the type of jobs available in this region. In Egypt, over twenty five per cent of young people with university degrees are unemployed. In Tunisia, that figure stands at around forty per cent.
It’s also worth noting that the unemployment rate counts only those in the job market – not those who are out of work but not job seekers. According to the ILO, Arab labour markets have the lowest labour force participation rates in the world. The female participation rate is especially low, at 27 per cent.
Many developed societies have also been deeply shaken by the global recession, food and fuel price volatility, and high rates of unemployment.
But the impacts tend to be cushioned there by social protection systems, and democracy has its own built-in safety valves for expression of discontent and for peaceful transfers of power.
In countries in the Arab States region with significant numbers of people under or close to the breadline, with large youth populations, without the democratic safety valve, and in many cases with outright repression of human rights, resentment boiled over into uprisings aimed at systemic change. That now opens up the prospect of building more inclusive economies, societies, and political systems and guaranteeing basic rights previously denied.
In order for the reform processes now underway to succeed and be sustainable, they have to be led and driven by national actors. Yet the international community can support the process. Let me mention some of the ways in which UNDP is doing just that.
A core part of our mandate is to support countries’ efforts to build democratic governance. In that work, we draw on the wide experience we have gained from our experience around the world, and the fact that we are a trusted partner and able to work in sensitive areas.
While in Cairo recently, I took part, together with the Egyptian Prime Minister, in an event UNDP organized for a broad cross-section of Egyptians and others from the region. The aim was to share experiences with those who had helped lead transitions to democracy in other parts of the world, including Latin America, South Africa, and Indonesia.
Beyond that event, we are supporting the formal multi-party national dialogue process in Egypt, and helping to identify ways to encourage young people to participate in the processes which will shape the future of this nation.

We are mobilising support for the development of the human rights architecture, anti-corruption mechanisms, and the decentralisation and local governance agendas. We are fielding experts to provide advice on asset recovery and security sector reform.

In Tunisia, UNDP is giving support to the new electoral commission and to the development of political parties. Work is also being done to help develop policy options for a strategy against corruption; to support an inclusive national dialogue; and to help strengthen civil society, including by supporting work on the new NGO regulatory framework. UNDP has also been asked to assist with security sector reform.
In all this work, I do believe it is essential to protect the rights of women and girls, to ensure that their voices too are heard, and that they are represented at the decision making tables.
We know, however, that building democratic governance alone is not enough. It has to be supplemented by supporting more inclusive economic growth which will reach young people and marginalized groups in general.
While longer term strategies are put in place, quick-win job creation is needed – an area in which UNDP has experience which can be drawn on by policymakers.

In Egypt, UNDP has been promoting job creation through small- and medium-sized enterprises and micro-credit schemes. We are also helping to design a public works programme to address short-term economic recovery challenges.

In Tunisia, we are designing coaching programmes for young people, and supporting labour intensive public works in a province whose economy has been badly affected by the Libyan crisis.
Country by country in the region, we are reviewing our programmes so that we can respond effectively to changing circumstances.
The full outcome of the events unfolding in the region is as yet unknown. Where regimes have fallen and transitions are under way, hopes are riding high, but there will be bumps along the way. Rapid transitions bring not only new opportunities, but also new lines of division and tension. The decline in economic growth in countries undergoing transitions has also created more hardship.
In conclusion, we have seen the success of popular movements in forcing political change in key Arab States.
That now needs to be followed by the difficult and detailed work of building more inclusive societies, economies, and governance systems.
That will take perseverance, patience, and partnerships, but it is essential if the legitimate aspirations of those who have already brought about change and those who continue to struggle for it are to be met.
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