» Archive for category: ‘aid

Mining for Malnutrition?

Category: aid| child poverty

15 Jun 2014

micronutirent-powder-sachet-open-in-hand‘Superkid’, Millennium Development Goals, an Australian mining multi-national, power powder, open pit gold mining, malnutrition, the Hong Kong stock exchange and UNICEF. Since 10 June 2014 these seemingly disconnected ideas, actors and practices come together in a remarkably concrete form: a tiny sachet containing a micronutrient powder to be sprinkled on rice fed to Lao infants.

What is all this about? Since late 2011, the Australian headquartered and Hong Kong stock exchange listed multinational mining company MMG has been in a public-private partnership with UNICEF Laos and the Lao government. Child malnutrition has long been a development concern in Laos, where UNICEF reported in 2012 that ‘thirty-one per cent of children under 5 are underweight, and 48 per cent are stunted’, whilst further noting that ‘more than one third of deaths of children under 5 years old in developing countries, like the Lao people’s Democratic Republic, are attributable to it’. According to UNICEF, the problem isn’t so much one of no food or too little but one of overreliance on rice which provides a sufficient energy base yet not all the necessary nutrients.

Concerned that persisting high levels of child malnutrition will put reaching the Millennium Development Goal 4 on child survival at risk, the Lao government welcomes the ‘1000 Days project’. In this project, the Lao Ministry of Health, Unicef Laos, MMG, PSI, and the Lao Women’s Union have partnered in order to distribute micro-nutrient sachets (branded ‘Superkid’) to families with children under 2 years of age at no cost to these families in three provinces in Laos.

MMG, which exploits open pit copper and gold mines in one of the concerned provinces (Savannakhet) has, according to Unicef, pledged US$1.38 million to the project. On its own website, MMG further details that ‘the 1000 Day Project aims to reach an estimated 180,000 Lao children, aged 6 to 59 months, via the distribution of approximately 4 million micronutrient sachets, each containing important vitamins, zinc and other nutrients’. In addition, Unicef states that ‘additional sachets will be subsidized and made available to families with children under 5 years old’.

In line with wider trends in development practice, it is perfectly possible to contribute to this very concrete and highly localised public-private initiative in a rather remote part of the world from anywhere provided there is an internet connection and a credit card at hand. How this works? Through the Unicef-MMG ‘matched giving website‘! Its webpages explain that ‘every micronutrient powder gift purchased online will be matched by MMG, dollar for dollar, resulting in double the impact for children in need’. Donating $25 pays for 750 sachets; sufficient for 2 infants over a period of one year. However, since MMG doubles the amount (with a stated ceiling of $25,000), clicking the ‘pay button’ will ‘save’ four Lao infants for the price of two…

Despite the apparent simplicity of the intervention,  reading the various webpages reporting about the project there appears plenty of confusion and quite a few worrysome errors. Whilst Unicef mentions that the project will be rolled out in three Southern Lao provinces, MMG includes also a northern province (Phongsaly) among the three target provinces. Also, whereas Unicef mentions that MMG has pledged US$1.38 to the project on one of its webpages, it talks about 1.5 million on another site. There also appears something wrong with the maths. From the figures on the matched giving website we can deduce that a child needs a sachet a day. If so, how will 4 million sachets be sufficient to reach the estimated target population of 180,000 Lao children, as MMG explains, even if we were to limit ourselves to one year only (65 million appears a more realistic figure)?

Ultimately however, I guess the real issues aren’t in any of what I have listed above but in the simple observation that there might be something wrong more fundamentally if the same rural spaces that generate great wealth for some remain sites with high levels of child malnutrition for so many others.

posted by Roy Huijsmans



posted by Roy Huijsmans

TeachUNICEF‘ is an online portfolio offering ‘free global education resources’ on topics ranging from ‘human trafficking’ to ‘peace education’. Resources include lesson plans, stories, and multimedia resources, all with the stated aim of supporting and creating ‘well-informed global citizens who understand interconnectedness, respect and value diversity, have the ability to challenge injustice and inequities and take action in personally meaningful ways’.

The resources appear designed for consumption in the Global North, or in some instances for the USA specifically as is evident from question 4.3 of Lesson 1 in the ‘End Trafficking’ pack for grades 6-8:

‘Where does human trafficking occur in the United States?’ (the correct answer is given as: ‘Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, with particularly high rates in California, Texas, Florida, and New York’

Furthermore, the lesson plans are made ‘age appropriate’. In the same lesson pack on Ending Trafficking it is for example suggested that ‘sex trafficking’ may be omitted from the lessons on child trafficking ‘due to the age of the intended audience’. For this reason, the resources including sex trafficking have been marked as ‘optional’ and should these be included, UNICEF ‘recommend[s] that you collaborate with and gain the support of your administration, school mental health professionals, and your students’ families before including this mature content’.

The site also includes an interactive map, allowing educators to scroll the globe and to navigate from a PODCAST on ‘the recruitment of child soldiers in Somalia’ to a VIDEO on ‘UNICEF reponds to nutrition crisis in the Sahel’ pinned down in Chad, and to ‘Action: Advocacy’ pinned down in the USA.

In short, TeachUNICEF offers plenty of material to study the representation of geographies of development. A study of the ‘consumption’ of these ‘global resources’ in classrooms in the Global North would also be of great interest. This would illuminate how these lessons (plans) are appropriated in diverse settings and this may shed some light on whether the stated aims of TeachUNICEF are indeed achieved.


Project Childhood

Category: aid

7 Jan 2013

posted by Roy Huijsmans

Project Childhood is a 5 year (2010-2014), AusAID funded, initiative addressing sexual exploitation of children in the tourism and travelling sector in Mekong Sub-region (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam)). It involves an interesting set of actors, including Interpol, World Vision, and UNODC and frames tourism as a development issue bringing opportunities as well as risks to the Mekong Sub-region.

The documents setting out the rationale and approach of Project Childhood are well worth a read. This includes a 148 page ‘Project Design Document‘ on the ‘prevention pillar’ (there is also a ‘protection’, and ‘recovery’ pillar), which contains an interesting discussion on ‘terminology’ as well as the ‘strategy paper’ underpinning Project Childhood. In addition, Project Childhood appears fertile ground for studying the dynamics between ‘combating transnational crime’ and ‘promoting human rights’, the interplay between greatly diverse sets of actors in development, and is interesting for the role of the private sector as this is key actor in tourism.


posted by Roy Huijsmans

Following a decade of ‘anti-trafficking’ programming the international organisation Terre des Hommes (TdH) makes a remarkable move. Its newly launched international campaign ‘Destination Unknown‘ shifts the programmatic focus away from anti-trafficking and towards the ‘protection of children on the move’.

The launch of the new campaign is accompanied by an interesting publication, entitled ‘Beyond a Snapshot: Learning lessons from the Terre de Hommes International Campaing against child trafficking (2001-2011)‘.

Here an excerpt from p.13:

At the beginning of the campaign, the issue of child trafficking appeared relatively straightforward. Crimes were being committed against children, which were going largely unnoticed, so governments needed lobbying to persuade them to take action. As the years went by, however, the complexity of the issue became more obvious, along with the risk that certain messages linked to the campaign could have unexpected or even counter-productive effects for children. It also became clearer that trafficking cases represented an extreme along a continuum involving children who moved from one place to another…so, measures to prevent trafficking needed to be supplemented by a range of other measures to protect unaccompanied children and other children who had left home, whether they remained in their country or went abroad.


Budget cuts as opportunity?

Category: aid| education

19 Nov 2012

posted by Roy Huijsmans

The Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) posted on its website an interesting interview with Corien Sips, a representative of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the INEE working group on Education and Fragility).

Sips explains that the former Dutch cabinet that came to power in October 2010 had decided that:

basic education is no longer a priority in itself, but should be positioned as an instrument for four new priorities, including security and rule of law. In practice, this meant the cabinet decided for budget cuts in the field of basic education, and focused the remaining part of the aid budget more towards the new priorities.

In order to understand the significance of the above it is important to know that in 2002 the Dutch had decided to increase the share of aid to basic education to 15% of the total offical Dutch development cooperation budget by 2007. Consequently, Dutch aid money to basic education went up from about €200 million in 2004 to about €700 million in 2007.

Hence, budget cuts and the de-prioritisation of basic education will no doubt have had major implications on receiving countries. However, rather than reflecting on this Sips states that:

In my opinion this policy shift provided new opportunities


International Institute of Social Studies

ISS is an international graduate school of policy-oriented critical social science. It brings together students and teachers from the Global South and the North in a European environment.