What are African countries already doing to adapt to climate change?

August 19, 2010
While climate change negotiators seem to be wading through metaphorical cement, national governments have no choice but to get on with adapting to current and future climate change, as far as they are able. A recent review of 10 African countries’ adaptation plans by IFPRI shows some patterns to the response. (The countries were Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea,

Should emergency relief be used to build mosques and churches?

May 13, 2010
Should Oxfam’s emergency relief money be used to build mosques? That was the fascinating question that cropped up in a recent internal discussion on faith and development. And it’s not a purely academic one. In Aceh after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, Oxfam said no to one request.  But two years later, after the big Java earthquake of  2006, we said

How to insure crops with a mobile phone – an experiment from Kenya

March 24, 2010
For technophiles everywhere, an uplifting story from a recent issue of The Economist: ‘One of the things holding back agriculture in developing countries is the unwillingness of farmers with small plots of land to invest in better seed and fertiliser. Only half of Kenyan farmers buy improved seed or spend money on other inputs. Many use poor-quality seed kept from

How do you help people cope with shocks? A liquid brainstorm with Robert Chambers

March 15, 2010
At an IDS seminar last week, part of its excellent Crisis Watch initiative, Steve Wiggins from ODI argued that his research on the food price crisis shows that during an actual shock, state initiatives are much less important to poor people than their own social coping mechanisms as individuals, communities or through local institutions like churches. These mechanisms include borrowing money,

Haiti Reconstruction: Two cheers (and one big boo) for Paul Collier’s plan

January 29, 2010
Oxford economics professor Paul Collier is the policy entrepreneur’s policy entrepreneur. The man who coined the phrase ‘bottom billion’ has an unparalleled ability to reach decision makers with cogent, timely and well written arguments. Paul has a long-standing connection with Haiti – he was previously Ban Ki-Moon’s special adviser on the country, (read his January 2009 paper for the UN

Reconstruction in Haiti, what do we know from previous disasters?

January 26, 2010
The Haiti operation is moving rapidly from rescue to reconstruction . What major challenges can we expect to emerge? What sort of policies have delivered results after previous earthquakes? One of the best sources on this is Responding to Earthquakes 2008: Learning from earthquake relief and recovery operations, by the ALNAP network.  Here are some highlights of that report, plus

This is why I work for Oxfam

January 22, 2010
Yolette Etienne, the Oxfam GB country director in Haiti, in an extraordinary interview with Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, matter of factly discusses burying her mother in her garden before rejoining the relief effort. For regular updates (audio, video, text), links etc from the relief effort, go to this website set up by some tech savvy Oxfam relief workers and

Why is humanitarian work so hard in cities?

January 21, 2010
By chance, the day before the Haiti earthquake, we were having a discussion at Oxfam about why, when it comes to feeding programmes, disaster relief etc urban work tends to be both harder and less attractive to NGOs than doing equivalent things in rural settings. This reflected an increasing conviction that we need to do more on urban issues. Although

How archaeology holds the key to climate change adaptation in Bolivia

November 20, 2009
Climate Change is giving Bolivia a rough ride. One of the poorest, most unequal, and most biodiverse countries in Latin America, it has been buffeted by ‘natural’ disasters in recent years and is home to 20% of the world’s tropical glaciers, which are melting faster than most experts thought possible. Bolivia is also home to an exciting change process under

Eight introductory powerpoints on development – please plunder

November 6, 2009
I recently gave a two week introduction to development (undergrad level) at the University of Notre Dame, consisting of eight 45 minute lectures – here are the powerpoints for anyone wanting to nick them. Each lecture includes a brief illustrative video clip of campaigns, social movements etc. Subjects covered are: Risk and Vulnerability; The Global Economic Crisis; The International System;

25 years after the Ethiopian famine, what have we learned?

October 22, 2009
It’s 25 years since the Ethiopian famine and the region is again being flayed by drought. Expect lots of media coverage, at least some of it along the lines of ’why did we bother? Nothing’s changed.’ Not so. Band Aids and Beyond, an Oxfam briefing paper published today, summarizes what’s been learned since then and asks why donors and governments

Can we say climate change ’causes’ extreme weather events?

October 14, 2009
Every time a flood, cyclone or drought makes it into the media, my colleague John Magrath is asked whether climate change is to blame. In a valiant attempt to avoid the researcher’s reflex but annoying ‘it’s more complicated than that’ response, he has produced this briefing. ‘There’s a natural tendency to blame major disasters solely or largely on climate change