Food for Thought

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its newest findings on global warming, and the general conclusion is unsurprising: pollution is harming our environment in such a way that there will be dire consequences in the future. But the report had an even more interesting finding: the framing around climate change is all wrong. Climate change has become much more than an environmental issue and, as a future determinant of food security, has bled into our understanding of human rights.images

The framing of an issue is critical to policy formation and resource mobilization. If an issue does not have the proper framing, one that appeals to the general public, then gaining public support becomes that much more difficult. Look at issues such as gay marriage. When gay marriage was a religious issue, no progress was made on legalizing it. Only when supporters framed gay marriage as a civil rights issue did legalization begin to occur. The same theory applies to development issues.

The current understanding of climate change is that it is an environmental issue that can affect the occurrence and size of natural disasters. Climate change can lead to massive blizzards, devastating typhoons, and the melting of the polar icecaps. But framing climate change in a natural disaster context does not convey the urgency of the issue. With or without climate change, natural disasters are going to occur. No human intervention can stop it. As a result, the common perception is that there are no immediate benefits to addressing climate change and this understanding promotes apathy in the general public.

Courtesy of IPCC
Courtesy of IPCC

The discussion of climate change, however, might be more productive if the development community transformed it into a food security issue that directly impacts human rights. IPCC findings show that agricultural yields could drastically decrease as soon as 2030, and just a two-degree change in temperature has the ability to kill crops and create food shortages. The IPCC report further shows that not only will there be a food shortage, but the shortage could cause a food price increase anywhere from 3% to 84%. So in addition to there being too little food, food will only be affordable for the wealthy, placing countries with high food insecurity at an elevated risk for civil unrest.

Framing climate change as a food security issue adds more urgency to the problem and could help mobilize the general public to take action, regardless of their history with natural disasters. It transforms the picture of climate change from being a disaster like Typhoon Haiyan to an issue directly on people’s doorstep that could affect them at any moment. Food insecurity directly affects people at an individual level and puts every individual’s human rights at risk. It encourages the “not in my backyard” mentality that Americans in particular are very fond of. Climate change no longer just places the rights of those in developing nations at risk. Even those far removed from natural disasters can feel its effect.

images-1Some argue that the IPCC is overdramatizing the threat to food security. While this is entirely possible, it does not change the fact that a changing the framework of climate change could be key to mobilizing the public to take preventative measures. The same applies to any development issue. The development community must place increasing importance on the framing of its issues as a way to mobilize support. Some issues have already benefited from changing its frame. Female empowerment as an economic necessity is the perfect example of an issue capitalizing on a universally appealing framework. But the development community must do even more to further its other causes. Framing will tell people why they should care about international development. How can private organizations benefit from foreign investment? Why should high-income individuals care about a problem thousands of miles away? If the proper framework is not in place, then development will continue to face an uphill battle against public apathy.

Picking up the Pieces

Typhoon Haiyan On November 8, 2013 the whole world watched as the most powerful storm in recorded history smashed into the Philippines.  Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, struck the central region of Philippines with sustained winds of 195 mph and wind gusts of up to 235 mph.  Since its landfall, Haiyan is believed to have affected around 12 to 16 million people – with millions displaced, more than 6,000 dead, and nearly 1,800 still missing.

Countries and organizations around the world quickly scrambled to deliver aid to the devastated area.  The relief effort has come in various forms; military aid, hospital ships, and millions of dollars from both organizations and countries.  While countries have been quick to respond to the catastrophe, the Philippines is not in the clear yet.  Three months later bodies are still being found, people are still missing, and aid is difficult to deliver to the islands that are only reachable via boat or helicopter.

Lack of electricity remains a huge problem in the Philippines.  Not only did the storm knock down power lines, but looters looking to make money have broken into transformers to take out the copper cores and sell them on the black market.  Additionally, looters have also cut open the downed power lines and have taken the copper inside.  With many people still missing, the lack of electricity poses a serious communication issue.  People are having a difficult time contacting their loved ones who live in different parts of the country, or even around the world, to let them know that they’re alive.

Corruption continues to be a constant fear in the rebuilding efforts.  There have been reports of local officials selling aid supplies for profit.  This type of post-disaster corruption is not new to the Philippines; $20 million in government funds meant for rebuilding towns in northern Luzon Island after a 2009 storm were allegedly stolen by local officials using fake non-government agencies.  Haiyan has revealed to the world the extent of Filipino corruption; money to maintain and build roads were diverted, hospitals have not received resources they needed, and many buildings have not been built to code – which is evident by the fact that cities like Tacloban, the city hit hardest, are flattened.

US Marines were among the many that aided in the relief efforts.
US Marines were among the many that aided in the relief efforts.

Filipino political officials are well aware that the Philippines is known for corruption, and many citizens have been demanding improvement for years.  President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, has made it his mission to eliminate corruption, and has begun to deliver by establishing a new website called the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub.  FAiTH, as the website is called, is open to the public and allows people to track funds given to the Philippines by foreign donors.  On the website people can see how much a foreign country has donated and what kind of assistance was provided.  This website has helped the Philippine government and President Aquino gain some credibility in the battle against corruption, but many Filipinos remain skeptical.

In addition to foreign assistance, Filipinos are helping each other out.  Organizations like the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF) and Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) aim to help out communities ravaged by the typhoon.  PDRF has been able to deliver relief supplies such as food, water, clothes, satellite phones, mobile ATMs, solar-powered lamps, and tents to Haiyan survivors.  PBSP has been able to rally Philippine businesses to donate hygiene kits, blankets, clothes, food, and other forms of relief aid to those affected by the storm.

Even after the typhoon, Filipino resilience is strong.  Shops and markets in areas destroyed by Haiyan have begun to reopen.  Aid organizations, knowing that they need to make money, pay displaced Filipinos to clear debris and make repairs on buildings.  Tacloban even celebrated Christmas by illuminating a church and erecting a Christmas tree in front of city hall.  While it is apparent that Filipinos want to return to normalcy, it is clear that relief efforts will continue in the Philippines for the foreseeable future.  For now, many Filipinos are just happy to be alive.

Making Space for Disability in Development


When thinking of development, many tend to consider those who are most in need: the ultra-poor, the malnourished, and the victimized. It’s natural to first consider things such as poverty, education, and health; these are all important aspects of the development process. In the same respect, those with disabilities should also be on the list. However, disabled people are frequently neglected and seem to be considered a niche market within a wide array of development initiatives and programs.  Probably the most outspoken commenter on this issue, Duncan Green of Oxfam, admits to hearing many in development reason “we do poverty, not disability.Continue reading

Let’s Make a Citizen Out of You: The Rise of Biometric Identification in India

Source: Ruth Fremson, New York Times

In many developing countries, lack of documentation can be a major obstacle for people who want to claim their rights to citizenship. India, in particular, has as many as 400 million people unaccounted for.

In the book Paper Citizens, Kamal Sadiq explores India’s over-dependence on documentary citizenship and the difficulties created for the government to distinguish between who is a legal citizen and who is not. The current national identification card (NID) leads to problems such as “blurred citizenship” where many natural-born citizens (unable to receive government benefits without NIDs) resort to fake documentation in order to receive benefits such as access to government welfare programs, the ability to open a bank account or enroll in school, and protection from wrongful deportation from their homes. Continue reading

The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the tree, ate the mosquitoes, and now we’re malaria free

"Spider trees." Source: Russell Watkins, UK Department for International Development

There’s something odd happening in Pakistan. After major flooding in 2010, one fifth of the region was covered in water. While relief organizations began pouring into the region, there is a tinier, more nimble population that is also doing its part. Millions of spiders, in an effort to escape the ever-rising waters, scrambled up the trunks of trees to create impressive tree cities, or ‘spider trees’ as they’ve been named. This unique phenomenon first gained international attention in 2011 when Russell Watkins, a multimedia editor for the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), stumbled across these trees and snapped a picture, later featured in National Geographic.

While the spider presence can have negative consequences on the trees (killing them from lack of sunlight), they have also helped lower the risk of Malaria in Pakistan. Typically, when regions suffer major flooding, there is an increased risk of malaria because the excess water provides an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. However, with spider webs encompassing many of the trees in the region, more and more mosquitoes are being trapped before they are able to spread disease. As a result, DFID has attributed the lower number of malaria cases to these spider trees. Continue reading