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Economic, Business & Technology News

  • Written by Lar Boland

Togo: Solar Grandmothers


Mialo Tassi, a Solar Grandmother erecting a solar panel on a small home in Agame Sevah village, Togo. Photo: Lar Boland.

The lives of four grandmothers from the rural village of Agome Sevah, Togo in West Africa have undergone an amazing transformation. The women travelled 5000 miles to Rajasthan in India where they trained over a six month period in Solar Electronics at the famous Barefoot College. There, they were mentored by like-minded Indian women, some of whom were themselves graduates of the College.

Leaving their families in Togo for such a long period of time was difficult for them but their reward was to become Solar Grandmothers with the prospect of electrifying their village on their return.

On completion of their training at the college, the Solar Grandmothers returned to their villages to install, maintain, and train others in solar electrification. Schools, clinics, places of worship and private homes could now have artificial light, with the potential to improve the education, health and social lives of the villagers.

The women Barefoot Solar Engineers of Africa aim to improve the lives of the rural poor living on less than €1 a day in remote inaccessible villages off the energy grids in the 21 least developed countries in Africa, supplying their communities with clean, low cost household lighting from solar energy.

  • Written by World and Media

Growth. Huh. What is it good for? Absolute poverty


Mphatso Gumulira, 15, with her son Zayitwa in the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. If it continues, Malawi's current economic growth rate of around 6% may improve Zayitwa's prospects. Yet, Malawi's GNI per capita increased very slowly between 1980 and 2012, but life expectancy increased by over 10 years and expected years of schooling has more than doubled in the same period. Photo: Lindsay Mgbor, DFID.

One of the proposed targets of the sustainable development targets for the next 15 years is to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth. Whether that and the other goals will be met will depend to a significant extent on the pace and nature of economic growth in India and sub-Saharan Africa.

Probably every country with a free press has one or two newspapers that depict it as besieged by immigrants, crime and/or antisocial youths. More surprising perhaps is that not just one or two but the overwhelming majority of media convey an even more extreme image of the outside world – a world going to hell in a handbasket. The truth is far more positive, so far.

One simple statistic which captures what has happened to human well-being between 1980 and 2013, is that average global life expectancy went from 59 to 71. That progress is extraordinary and has no parallel in human history. Life expectancy at birth in China is now 75. India's life expectancy is 66 – the same as China's in 1980 – up from 55 in 1980.

In the same period, the global economy has more than trebled. So, does growth explain the improvement in life expectancy? According to UNDP data, Chinese GNI per capita increased by over 1400% between 1980 and 2012. India's GNI per capita increased by a more modest 273% in the same period. However, India's improvement in life expectancy was comparable to China's (it increased by much more but started from a lower base). The rest of the global economy grew a bit more slowly than India, but achieved a similar jump in life expectancy.

The most direct cause of rising life expectancy has been the dramatic reduction in child mortality in recent decades. Success in reducing child mortality has been uneven, however. There has been slower progress in reducing death associated with childbirth, even though millions of lives could be saved at low-cost. According to the WHO:

'Every year nearly 41% of all under-five child deaths are among newborn infants, babies in their first 28 days of life or the neonatal period. Three quarters of all newborn deaths occur in the first week of life… Almost 3 million of all the babies who die each year can be saved with low-tech, low-cost care.'

  • Written by Senan Hogan

Could a debt initiative for poor countries be applied to Greece?

There is little prospect of an end soon to anti-austerity protests in Athens. Photo: Barry Gunning.As Cyprus finalises a controversial bailout agreement due to start tomorrow (March 19), its debt-ridden Mediterranean neighbour Greece continues to be crippled by protests. Could a radical solution that was applied to poor countries in the past now work for Greece?

In the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative in 1996, international lenders agreed to slash the debts for some nations if they implemented key reforms aimed at stabilising public finances.

For years, the IMF and governments tried to help developing countries with short-term rescue loans but most only started to recover only when their debts were substantially reduced.

The IMF and World Bank have now approved HIPC deals with 36 countries such as Afghanistan, Bolivia, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua - and provided US$76 billion in debt-service relief.

The IMF claims the original aim of the HIPC was “to ensure that no poor country faces a debt burden it cannot manage”. Though Greece is not poor by international standards, the IMF's forecasts suggest the country’s debt will exceed a massive 200% of GDP by 2016.

And the European Commission estimated in October that, despite the multi-billion euro bail-out funds, government revenue will only reach 43.5% of GDP by next year.

  • Written by Niamh Griffin

'All you need is mobile money'

Poster advertising mobile money from mobile operator MTN. Photo: Niamh Griffin.Ugandans have found a way to deal with all that bank stress. They say all you need is mobile money.

Walking down Kampala Road in the capital you notice bright yellow buildings at regular intervals in-between the faded browns and ochres. Life-sized posters of beaming, beautiful people look out from the windows, clutching their phones.

And mysterious signs promise mobile money will solve all my problems. It took Joseph, a salesman at one of the many, many phone shops, just five minutes to explain.

Customers can swap their regular SIM card for a MobileMoney-enabled SIM, load credit and that’s it. The mobile phone number does double duty as an account number so there isn’t any paperwork or need to write down strings of digits.

They can pay bills, get paid or send money to a niece for her wedding. And he said the transfers work for all networks too, not just the start-up company.

So far, so hard sell but ... According to an article in local paper ‘Daily Monitor’, experts predict some Ugandan companies will make 10 per cent of their profit from this one segment of the market by 2015.

  • Written by World and Media

Eurozone crisis hitting developing economies

Photo: The colour of your money, Flickr/penguincakes.An economist has described the Eurozone crisis as “really worrying” for developing countries.

One consequence of the crisis is reduced aid: two new reports show that development aid commitments from EU members fell last year.

International investment is also being affected by the ongoing financial crisis. Although Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows rose worldwide in 2011, economic uncertainty is likely to reduce growth in FDI in 2012, according to the UN agency, UNCTAD.

The picture in Africa last year was mixed. FDI flows fell steeply in 2011 in North Africa and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows to sub-Saharan Africa grew from $29.5 billion in 2010 to $36.9 billion in 2011, just below the 2008 peak of $37.3 billion. Much of that increase in FDI was accounted for by South Africa (its FDI went from $1.23 billion to $5.81 billion last year).

Nevertheless, research from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) suggests that the growth outlook for 2012-13 is weak for African and other developing economies. Exports, investment, remittances and aid are all likely to drop due to the continued Eurozone crisis.

The developing world faces an estimated total output loss of $238 billion, while a 1% drop in export growth could lower growth in poor countries by up to 0.5%, according to the research.

  • Written by Niamh Griffin

Poor missing from economic ideas of progress - Geldof

Sir Bob Geldof said on Friday that economic progress is currently defined as growth, which is 'a polite euphemism for more'. Photo: Eirik Helland Urke, Flickr/Zero Emission Resource Organization.Bob Geldof has warned the world faces ‘a perfect storm’ of food insecurity, climate change and overpopulation unless ideas of progress are changed.

Speaking at the EuroScience Open Forum in Dublin, Geldof praised the wonder of science but questioned how it is applied in developing countries.

“We have yet to map the poor, how they mange to survive. We have yet to bring them into a world that would be better for all of us,” he said.

In a wide-ranging speech, he said scientific discoveries come from the human need to know but stressed government donations to centres like CERN could mean reduced funding for fighting poverty.

Geldof said while scientists and others ponder the great questions, more than 50 per cent of the world’s population ask if they will survive the day.

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