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  • Written by Joe Humphreys

New book examines the role of missionaries in overseas aid

Picture of the first Missionary Sisters of St Columban to go to China in 1926, with Columban Fathers. Photo: Columban Father's Archive.Irish missionaries have had a profound impact internationally and remain relevant, despite their dwindling number. It’s a reminder of what we are capable of, writes Joe Humphreys.

A few years ago I got talking to a nun at an Irish Embassy reception in South Africa. I decided there and then I was going to write a book about missionaries. It seems a bit impulsive now. Stupid perhaps, given how unfashionable all things church are these days. There was never going to be a publishers’ bidding war over the title.

But this nun reeled me in. She told me about her work in crime-ridden neighbourhoods and prisons, how she counselled young rapists and murderers, how she’d survived close scrapes down the years and how she planned to live out the rest of her life – and be buried – in Africa.

I’d had similar conversations with missionaries elsewhere, but this sprightly, defiantly upbeat sandal-wearing septuagenarian unsettled and agitated me. I realised something quite obvious but also, it seemed to me, profound: she had once been a young woman with her own hopes and dreams. Did she ever want to get married or have a paid career? Did she really know what she was getting herself into when she filled out a recruitment coupon on the back of a missionary newsletter a half-century ago? Why did she now speak of Ireland disappointedly?

  • Written by World and Media

Ireland No 2 in humanitarian index despite aid cuts

The 2010 Humanitarian Response Index calls on governments to keep their humanitarian aid independent of political, security or economic objectives.Ireland has come second in the 2010 Humanitarian Response Index despite cuts to its overseas spending. The index, published this month by DARA, provides an overview of donor performance to "assist governments in ensuring their humanitarian funding has the greatest posible impact for people in need".

The 2010 report warns of growing politicisation and militarisation of humanitarian aid. It calls on governments to keep their humanitarian aid independent of political, security and economic objectives.

Denmark, Ireland and New Zealand top the index, followed by Norway, Sweden and the European Commission. "These donors do well in prioritizing the needs of people in crisis areas and keeping aid independent of other objectives", according to DARA.

The UK came 8 in the list of 23 donors. The US came 19th, its worst performance since the index was launched.

  • Written by World and Media

Some extraordinarily good news

Life expectancy in China in 2010 is 73.5 compared with 66 in 1980. In India it has gone from 55.1 to 64.4 years.Nuclear-armed North Korea exchanged missiles yesterday with South Korea. Ireland is in crisis, so is the Euro and so is Europe. There is no letup in environmental disasters nor in the risk posed by climate change. Scepticism about humanitarian relief and development aid appears to be growing.

Is the world in decline? Two numbers suggest otherwise: 59 and 70.

In 40 years, across 135 countries, life expectancy has increased from 59 to 70, according to the 2010 UNDP Human Development Report.

Latin America and the Caribbean were found to be approaching nearly full school enrolment and average 80-year life expectancies.

  • Written by IRIN jk/he

Global: Hunger dips but not by much

Food prices have not come down in Eritrea. Photo: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN.[JOHANNESBURG] Higher incomes in Asian countries have lowered the number of hungry in 2010, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), but economists warn that volatile wheat prices are affecting other staple grains such as maize and rice, and could lead to setbacks.

The dip in the number of hungry people is a sign that developing countries are recuperating from the 2008 food price crisis, when more than a billion people were undernourished, but David Dawe, a senior economist at FAO, noted that at 925 million the figure was still very high. The numbers are from the State of  Food Insecurity in the World report, which FAO will release in October.

  • Written by Stephen Browne

Millennium Development Goals: Is the UN up to its own task?

'Everything will be all right — you know when? When people, just people, stop thinking of the United Nations as a weird Picasso abstraction, and see it as a drawing they made themselves.' Former UN secretary general, Dag Hammarskjöld, June 1955. Image: close-up of Le portrait de Dora Maar, Picasso, 1941.The recent UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals should have focused on the instruments of delivery as much as the objectives, writes Stephen Browne, director of

Another United Nations summit convened on 20-22 September 2010 to launch the organisation’s 192 member-states into the final five-year lap in the race to meet the eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015. This is the third stage of a fifteen-year effort.

The MDGs emerged from the Millennium Declaration adopted at the global summit of September 2000, the largest gathering of heads of state in history. Its agreement was a huge symbolic triumph. A unique gathering of individuals best able to improve the lives of the world’s entire population had agreed to a long statement on good governance, respect for human rights and the achievement of several key human-development goals.

After such a moment, the hard work should have begun. But almost nothing happened for six months.

  • Written by IRIN cm/pt/mw

Asia: Cities key to disaster risk reduction

Overcrowding and poor infrastructure increase urban disaster risk in Asia. Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: Chris MacLean/IRIN.[BANGKOK] Improving the resiliency of cities is critical to disaster mitigation in Asia, according to specialists.

“Cities are more vulnerable because there are a higher concentration of people at risk; at the same time they are the economic engine so the impact of the damage is greater,” N.M.S.I Arambepola, direct of Urban Disaster Risk Management with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre, told IRIN on the eve of the International Day for Disaster Reduction, 13 October.

The UN’s 2010-2011 campaign theme, Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready, seeks to convince city leaders and local governments around the world to work with grassroots networks and national authorities to boost their cities’ resilience, including providing homeowners with incentives to reduce their exposure to disasters, improve school and hospital safety and invest in flood drainage. 

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