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  • Written by Frank Humphreys

Where are the world's most important countries?

If we take our information about the world from the news, we are likely to have a distorted understanding of the state of the world. This is because stories are not normally covered in proportion to their importance or scale. One dramatic death may receive more coverage than 1.2 million child deaths in India.

We created an interactive map to rank countries, according to some of the criteria by which the "world's most important countries" might be judged. You can see how well they match up with the top aid recipients.

This map aims to highlight some of countries that journalists, politicians, policymakers, international development professionals and campaigners, and the wider public may wish to pay more attention to.

3 in 5 preventable child deaths happen here

  • Written by World and Media

Why do so many award-winning journalists write for World and Media?


Women return from a day foraging in the forest. The Ba’Aka people of the Congo Basin are among the most well known representatives of an ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Their lives and well-being are linked intimately with the forest. Photo: Lar Boland, supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund.

Every journalist that has produced original work for to date has won an award - for their work for us, or for their prior or subsequent writing: Niamh Griffin, Senan Hogan, Joe Humphreys, Sally Hayden, Ruairi Kavanagh, Paul Loughran, Joseph O'Connor, David Ralph, Lar Boland and Didem Tati (forthcoming). Why is this, and why have so many of those journalists contacted us with story ideas?

We would like to think that the quality of our service attracts high-quality journalists. We have over a hundred subscribers working in the Irish media, as well as journalists and editors working for the BBC, the Guardian, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, Al Araby, Sky News Arabia, IRIN, the BBC World Service, Independent Online (South Africa), The Nation (Kenya), The Express Tribune (Pakistan), New Age (Bangladesh), and Nouvel Horizon (Mali).

We would also like to think that the advice we offer to journalists that write for us, or who contact us for assistance with work they are doing for another publication, is of some benefit.

More importantly, perhaps, several of the excellent journalists that have written for us have kindly proselytised on our behalf to other journalists.

There is one common factor, however. They have all received awards from the Simon Cumbers Media Fund. The fund was set up in memory of Irish journalist Simon Cumbers who was shot dead in Saudi Arabia while working with the BBC. The Irish Aid-funded scheme is a fantastic one, in our view. It has supported a lot of superb journalism and it has helped journalists to overcome one of the biggest barriers to writing about international development – the cost of travel.

World and Media was set up with a very similar purpose: to make it easier for journalists to produce high-quality development coverage.

The scheme has two deadlines each year. For international and Irish journalists, our service and online resources (including diary announcements of funding opportunities) are available to journalists all year round (sign-up for updates here). We are always open to story pitches from journalists at any stage in their career and from any country, whether they are applying for funding or not. We also welcome analysis and opinion pieces related to international development and/or its media coverage from those with something interesting to say - whether journalists, academics, aid workers and/or voices from developing countries.

  • Written by World and Media

Ireland and Kenya are set to lead UN negotiations on development strategy but in what direction?


Kenya faces many development challenges including ethnic violence, corruption, high unemployment, crime and poverty. It now has a chance to help shape the global development agenda.  Photo: A member of The El Molo fishing community on lake Turkana, northern Kenya, Siegfried Modola/IRIN.

This month, Ireland and Kenya were appointed to lead UN negotiations on the post-2015 development strategy. Ireland’s and Kenya's roles will be led by their respective Ambassadors to the United Nations, David Donoghue and Macharia Kamau. They were appointed as "Co-Facilitators to lead open, inclusive, and transparent consultations on the post-2015 development agenda" by UN General Assembly President Sam Kutesa.

The post-2015 strategy is intended to replace the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire next year. The Goals have provided significant direction to global development strategies since they were agreed fourteen years ago.

Irish Minister of State for Development, Trade Promotion and North-South Cooperation, Seán Sherlock T.D., outlined the importance of the leadership roles: "The role we have been given is pivotal in addressing the ambitious challenge to end global poverty and hunger in a generation. It will require Ireland to work closely with all members of the United Nations to secure a set of new goals which are ambitious and transformative. We will be defining an agenda for global action to end poverty and hunger and to ensure sustainable development worldwide by 2030"

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan T.D., described Ireland's appointment as "a huge honour... and a great responsibility". He said: "It is testament to Ireland’s standing internationally, to our proud record of promoting human rights, to our long-standing participation in peacekeeping across the world and to our diplomacy (and) a recognition of the effectiveness of the Irish Aid programme."

He added: “This significant new role will build on Ireland’s important work on international development during our EU Presidency in 2013, and on the MDGs at the United Nations.”

The MDGs were a series of development outcomes, such as to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day.

Not every target was met in every country but huge progress has been made. The goal of halving the proportion of people earning less than $1.25 a day was met in 2010. Halving the numbers suffering from hunger in 1990 should be almost met by 2015.

  • Written by World and Media

World: significant elections still to come in 2013

Elections should not be confused with democracy or freedom. Dates and information about upcoming elections are featured in the World and Media international development diary. Photo: Auntie P/Flickr.Between 1976 and 2003 there was a steady increase in the number of free countries – as classified by Freedom House – and a corresponding reduction in the number of countries that are "not free" or partially free". In recent years, there has also been an apparent increase in the number of elections that have been held. However, elections should not be confused with democracy or freedom. Progress on freedom has stalled.

While some elections are obvious shams. Many others are sometimes described as "free and fair" because of what is detected on polling day regardless of how the state marginalises and intimidates any opposition to the dominant party in between elections. Mugabe's re-election as president of Zimbabwe in July was described at the time by both the African Union and the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) as free and fair.

Dates and information about upcoming elections are featured in the World and Media international development diary. Below are among the notable elections still to come in 2013. Some might be free and fair. Others may be described as such but will be neither.

20.10.2013 Rerun of annulled 2013 Maldives presidential election Maldives

In a split 4-3 decision on Monday October 7, the Maldives Supreme Court annulled the results of the September 7 presidential election and suspended a scheduled presidential run-off election. It scheduled a fresh vote for October 20 after a candidate challenged the outcome, citing irregularities.

The removal of former President Mohamed Nasheed from power 20 months ago, amid a mutiny by police, has been followed by political turmoil. Nasheed had won a first round on September 7 with 45.45 percent of the vote. - Reuters

  • Written by World and Media

Humanitarian work more dangerous 10 years after attack on UN HQ in Iraq

Concern Worldwide country director Fiona Mclysaght on one of the bridges Concern have constructed in Afghanistan's Chall district to reconnect communities to the outside world. Afghanistan is among the countries with the highest number of humanitarian worker casualties. However, Fiona describes it as 'an amazing country to work in'.Today is the 10th anniversary today of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq, which killed the UN chief envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 other humanitarian workers. World Humanitarian Day takes place every year on August 19 to honour all humanitarians who have lost their lives or who have worked in the promotion of the humanitarian cause.

Since that attack, humanitarian action has become more – not less – dangerous. Statistics from The Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD) show that, on average, attacks on aid workers have gone up considerably since 2003-5, particularly kidnapping. Over 200 victims of attacks, including seventy-six deaths, have already been recorded this year. Most of the attacks take place in Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and both Sudans.

On Wednesday, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to announced that it was withdrawing completely from Somalia after 22 years operating there. It blamed civilian leaders as well as armed groups, who they said “increasingly support, tolerate, or condone the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers.” Sixteen of its staff have been killed since 1991. MSF noted that much of the “intolerable risk” is borne by their Somali colleagues.

As in previous years, a very large majority of the worldwide victims have been nationals of the countries where the attacks took place. They make up even larger proportion of total humanitarian workers.

Adele Harmer of the Overseas Development Institute lists a number of steps intended to improve the safety of national staff and local partners, including training, decentralizing organisational authority and appointing diaspora nationals as international staff.

It is these personnel, together with international staff that World Humanitarian Day is intended to celebrate. This year, the UN and its humanitarian partners are launching what they describe as a ground-breaking campaign, “The world needs more…”. It calls for more funds to help their work. Even though that work has become more dangerous, the number of aid workers continues to grow.

  • Written by World and Media

Editorial: Why the world's poorest really are different

A Somali girl has her arm measured as part of a weekly nutritional assessment organized by DIAL, a local NGO and UNICEF partner. Economists estimate each euro spent reducing chronic undernutrition has at least a €30 payoff. Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN.The principal rationale for prioritising help to the world's poorest is how little money it could take to improve their welfare.

In childhood, we are told stories of how rich people are bad and poor people are good. It is something of a problem, given that, globally, we are the richest generation in human history: Mediaeval royalty had poor healthcare and life expectancy - and no Internet. However, we can take some comfort from the fact that, by its end, we can expect to have been among the poorest generations of the still new millennium. Even Bill Gates will have many deprivations compared to some future generations.

On the other hand, as we grow up and put away childish things, we are increasingly told that the poor are feckless, tax is theft and that the rich work hard for their money - as if the poor do not.

If it sounds like we are being hit by propaganda, that is hardly surprising given how recently the Cold War ended. Of course, the propaganda is also frequently self-serving: few people argue that they should be paid less for what they do. A more reasonable assessment is the one the Irish writer and critic Mary Colum expressed to Ernest Hemingway: "the only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money." In the same way, the powerful are like the weak just with more power.

Who is rich and who is poor? Apparently most millionaires do not see themselves as rich. Compared with the bottom billion, however, the world's top 3 billion are very wealthy, to say nothing of the top 1 billion. However, many of that top 1 billion are currently unemployed, depressed or facing serious health difficulties. Many of the bottom 1 billion are fairly happy. Both groups contain what would commonly be regarded as nice people and nasty people. Both groups contain men, women and children who are suffering and who could be helped.

Many of the biggest global health problems are common to every country: heart disease, cancer, depression, obesity, smoking, road accidents. These problems often relatively neglected in lower-income countries despite their increasing life expectancies and growing problems with tobacco marketing and obesity, for example.

Nevertheless, rich and poor countries and populations do not experience the same burdens of disease and disability. When it comes to children, the differences are stark. Millions of children under five die every year from poverty. Every 20 seconds a child dies from diarrhoea. UNICEF estimates that 165 million children are stunted due to malnutrition. Citizens of the rich world enjoy democracy, human rights, public services, safety nets and peace in far greater measure than the bottom billion.

  • Written by World and Media

Aid still has huge public support 28 years after Live Aid

Live Aid at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, PA. A simultaneous concert was held at Wembley Stadium in London on July 13, 1985. Photo: Squelle/Wikipedia.28 years after Live Aid, the aid sector is perhaps under more scrutiny and criticism than ever before. Yet, surveys do not find widespread cynicism. Instead, despite austerity, support for aid is nearly as strong as ever.

This month in 1985, Boomtown Rats front man Bob Geldof and others cajoled international stars of rock and pop to join together in live concerts in London and Philadelphia – Live Aid – to raise funds to fight famine in Ethiopia.

The story that Geldof said "give us your f***in money" may be apocryphal but the message was plain. Live Aid has since been criticised for oversimplification, principally for ignoring the man-made nature of the Ethiopian famine, but also for what some have taken as its implied message that small private donations can feed the world.

Whether fair comment or not, similar accusations could have been made against many fundraising campaigns. It may always be true that humanitarian emergencies receive far more media, public and political attention than long-term needs or prevention.

Live 8 was a set of international concerts held 20 years later, in 2005, to influence the G8 rather than raise funds. It was a symbolic affirmation of the connected Make Poverty History campaign and a recognition of the importance of political leadership and international coordination in matters of aid, trade and debt (the campaign themes). Some of those close to those G8 negotiations in Gleneagles felt that Live 8 put important pressure on visiting G8 leaders, while Make Poverty History made a big impact in the UK, which was hosting the summit. (It also made a significant impact in Ireland.) The G8 agreement was an impressive achievement though one that was honoured in the breach by several signatories.

Live 8 was an obvious legacy of Live Aid but its full legacy is larger still and hard to estimate. The Ethiopian famine influenced a generation from which future aid workers, activists, policy analysts, journalists and politicians would be drawn. Live Aid's simple message of need, duty and optimism likely played a significant part. The concerts were apparently a formative experience for the last three UK Prime Ministers and two recent US Presidents. Bono, who performed with U2 in 1985, is a notable graduate of Live Aid, who has done much to shift US Republican opinion in favour of aid to Africa, and has raised the profile of African poverty in the United States and internationally, partly through the ONE Campaign, which he helped to found..

Not everyone agrees that Live Aid or its legacy was positive. In the years since – particularly in the last few years – aid has received a lot of criticism. (One of the best books on the subject is “The Trouble with Aid” by Jonathan Glennie.) Some of the criticism (notably by Linda Polman) has highlighted the severe difficulties with providing humanitarian relief in conflict situations, as with Live Aid in Ethiopia in the 1980s.

  • Written by World and Media

Better governance without coups or revolutions

Army cheered by the public after General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi removed President Mohamed Morsi. Photo: Zeinab Mohamed/Flickr, July 7, 2013.In Zimbabwe, Egypt or Luxembourg, people want better governance. The major differences between countries are the degrees of dissatisfaction, and the ways in which people wish – or have the power – to effect change.

Not all countries have a Prime Minister willing to resign over a security scandal, as does Luxembourg. For many others, there is always the next election.

Elections are not always a good indicator of democratic freedoms or a guarantee of good government, unfortunately - even when they offer a genuine choice. Coups and armed resistance, on the other hand, are an expression of failure to achieve change by another method.

Even in mature democracies, elections are blunt instruments that are unlikely to precisely produce the change anticipated by the electorate not least because voters have different preferences and any change creates losers as well as winners. And there are other reasons: improvements usually take time; governing in opposition (whether by politicians, pundits or voters) is easier than in office; candidates may overpromise or will not have as much power if elected as they pretend.

There can be serious problems with the system too, such as the gerrymandering of electoral districts in the US. In poorer countries, system failings can be more widespread and severe.

In recent decades, increasing attention has been paid by the international development community to the impact of governance on poverty. In the worst cases, bad governments can be responsible for famines, civil war, for corruption on a massive scale, or for the collapse of the state. On the other hand, improving governance is not easy nor cheap. This is why some international donors, including Irish Aid, support governance and democratic development in recipient countries.

Incremental improvements rarely make headlines but they are intended to prevent the sort of state failure that does lead to headlines and for calls for the international community to "do something". As with other humanitarian disasters, prevention is as cost-effective as it is neglected.

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