Friday, 31 January 2014

How should we measure quality of life in urban centres?

This blog, written by David Satterthwaite with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), discusses what indicators are needed in order to assess the quality of life of the urban poor. The post is part of the Wikiprogress series on the quality of life.

Mexico City

Almost 1 billion people currently live in slums, and this number is expected to grow by nearly 500 million by 2020 - if we're to ensure that no one is left behind in the future development agenda, we need to determine whether progress is really reaching these marginalised groups. And for that, we need appropriate indicators and data.

Rather than reviewing the appropriateness of existing indicators on urban quality of life, this blog begins by considering what indicators are needed. This allows an assessment of existing or proposed indicators for their appropriateness and shows the huge inadequacies in the indicators currently used.

These indicators can be divided into those relating to living conditions (who 'lives in poverty'), access to public services and income and assets. They could include indicators relating to possibilities for citizen and community engagement – a voice for the urban poor, for example that includes whether they can get on the voter register or access public services and the possibilities of getting appropriate responses from government agencies.

Living conditions among urban populations

These should include sufficient indoor space per person, housing constructed with permanent building materials, and a secure site that does not pose any risk (so not on a site at high risk of flooding or under threat of eviction). They should also include safe and regular supplies of drinking water piped to the home, and a good-quality toilet in the home that all residents can use.

Data on each of these indicators should be available for each dwelling unit. The current indicators fail to show us which dwelling units have these conditions. Furthermore, the data is from national sample surveys, with the sample sizes too small to give a clear indication as to where living conditions are poor.

So for example, the Demographic and Health Surveys or Living Standards Measurement Studies may tell a government that X per cent of their urban population lack safe drinking water piped to their dwellings, but they fail to identify the deficient urban centres, let alone pinpoint where the individual dwellings are.

The data collected at the moment is also inadequate in itself. The definitions of what constitutes ‘improved’ water and sanitation are so broad that they include forms of provision that are grossly inadequate for most urban contexts. Even when there is data on water supply, it does not include details of the cost, quality or regularity of supply of that water.

Urban dwellers’ access to public services

Every urban household needs a solid-waste collection service, and a regular toilet-emptying service if not connected to sewers. Urban dwellers need access to good-quality healthcare and emergency services, schools (and day-care provision), public transport, and policing in their settlements to ensure the rule of law. They also need to be able to vote and hold local politicians to account.

At best, data for these indicators is only available from national sample surveys, so once again it’s of no use in identifying where needs are located. In fact there is no data at all for many of these. One surprising fact revealed in studies of informal settlements is that there are often private schools because the inhabitants cannot get their children into government schools without a legal address. Toilet and washing facilities are also often provided by private companies, and these services have to be paid for.

Income, assets and the poverty line

Indicators relating to whether individuals or households have sufficient income to meet their needs are particularly valuable in urban contexts because most aspects of good living conditions have to be paid for. But the monetary poverty line (the minimum income required to meet needs) must be set to reflect local costs.

The costs of food and non-food needs vary a lot within nations; usually they are highest in larger and more successful cities (especially rent for housing). They also rise where provision for water, sanitation, schools and healthcare is inadequate and people have to pay private enterprises for these services.

So poverty lines need to be adjusted to reflect differences in costs within nations – and we must avoid the application of the same monetary poverty line across a nation. The large variation in costs within nations is already recognised by the United Nations when setting the daily allowances for their own officials; yet this variation is not applied to poverty lines.

The worst offender is the US$1.25 a day poverty line: in many nations this figure bears no relation to the costs of needs (including adequate living conditions) and includes no adjustment for where such costs are particularly high.

The need for local data on urban poverty

Measuring urban quality of life has to be about better measurement in each locality, not more questions in national sample surveys. This needs to be linked to the institutions with responsibilities for addressing needs – mostly local governments and civil-society organisations.

It is also about better use of census data so local authorities can see where the deprivations are located. The collection of data should engage the urban poor themselves; this becomes easier and far more productive where there are representative organisations formed by those living in informal settlements or slums (now the case in over 30 nations).

Engaging with the women-led savings groups at the foundation of most of these federations will produce far more accurate data about living conditions, therefore about what is needed and what it costs. And there are some amazing examples of data on living conditions in informal settlements done by the inhabitants themselves.

Unfortunately, most of what is suggested above does not generally figure in discussions on measuring urban poverty. Debates over how to measure poverty in a post-2015 framework typically fail to acknowledge how the income required to avoid poverty varies within nations and how high that income requirement usually is for those living in informal settlements in cities; nor do they mention the need for official statistics to support local action and actors. If these key necessities were recognised, it really would promote a revolution in national statistical offices.

There is no discussion of the role of urban-poor groups themselves as data-gatherers and users, or as people with the right to question ‘expert’ judgements made about their needs. And there is no mention of the fact that the $1.25 a day poverty line is hugely inappropriate even for measuring ‘extreme’ poverty because of the size of the urban population with a higher income than this figure yet still living in extreme poverty.

This blog appeared first in early January as part of the ODI series on "Measuring progress in the quality of life of the urban poor: are indicators and data fit for purpose?".

See also 

Friday, 24 January 2014

Afghan Children Pay the Price of Brutal War

This blog by César Chelala highlights the issues that children are facing in Afghanistan, which heavily impact their health, education and overall well-being. The post is a part of Wikichild's series on under-5 mortality rates, along with it's spotlight on the recent Save the Children report "State of the World's Mothers 2013: Surviving the first day".

Decades of insecurity and war in Afghanistan have provoked a heavy toll on children’s lives and well-being. An under-5 mortality rate of 199 per 1,000 live births as reported by UNICEF is among the highest in the world. That means that more than one out of every five children is dead by the time they are five. In addition, health and education systems suffer from lack of funds and qualified professionals, a situation worsened by the security situation.

The statistics are frightening. More than 60% of all child deaths and disabilities are due to respiratory and intestinal infections, and of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles. Diarrhea kills tens of thousands of children every year. Many also die from severance of breast-feeding before time. An estimated 7.5 million children and adults are at risk from hunger and malnutrition, the latter affecting children's growth in particular.

According to United Nations statistics, malnutrition among children has increased by 50 percent or more countrywide when compared to 2012. This is happening despite billions of dollars in humanitarian aid by Western governments. One of the most affected places is the malnutrition ward at Bost Hospital, in war-torn Helmand Province, but a similar situation can be found even at Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint the causes for the increase in malnutrition levels, experts indicate several factors that contribute to it such as widespread poverty, difficulties in the implementation of feeding and therapeutic programs, and lack of breastfeeding. Despite low incomes, many mothers are lured by the beautiful pictures on milk cartons, and tend to believe that this milk provides better nutrition for their children.

Children in Afghanistan can also be affected by polio, since Afghanistan is one of only four countries in the world where the disease is still endemic. Despite high vaccination rates, however, there were 47 documented cases of polio in the country.

Some cities, such as Jalalabad, the largest city in eastern Afghanistan, located at the junction of the Kabul and Kunar rivers, are high risk areas for polio due in large part to the massive and continuous population movements from and into polio infected areas. In South Asia in 2000, over 40 percent of the confirmed cases of polio occurred in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

To control the spread of disease, UNICEF and the Department of Public Health in Nangarhar, one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, have launched the “Women Courtyard” initiative, aimed at providing local women with information about polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as such related issues as hygiene and waterborne illnesses.

While this is an important initiative, certain popular traditions still constitute a hindrance to its successful implementation. One such tradition is that babies cannot leave their homes before the 40th day after birth, a tradition which prevents many newborns from being vaccinated at the appropriate time.

To make matters worse, deadly attacks have targeted schools and impeded access to critical health care. According to Daniel Toole, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, “We have had attacks on villages and on schools by both anti-government elements as well as by coalition forces and international troops that have hit civilians."

Just in the first four months of 2013 over 400 children were killed and maimed as a result of the protracted conflict. Statistics seem to show that 2013 may well have been the second most deadly year since 2001.

The result of this conflict is that not a single child growing up in Afghanistan today has known peace in his/her lifetime. Deteriorated mental health is one of the consequences of a permanent state of war. A UNICEF study has found that the majority of children under 16 years of age in Kabul suffer from psychological trauma resulting in serious mental health problems including psychiatric disorders and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Children in Afghanistan are exposed not only to violence related to acts of war but also to violence resulting from accidents, beatings by close relatives or neighbors, or seeing close relatives being beaten or executed. A study published in the Lancet has pointed out, “In Afghan children’s lives, everyday violence matters just as much as militarized violence in the recollection of traumatic experiences.”

Daniel Toole remarked at a press briefing in Geneva, “Afghanistan today is without doubt the most dangerous place to be born,” a sad commentary on the beleaguered country.

César Chelala, MD, PhD, is an international public health consultant and 
the foreign correspondent for the Middle East Times International (Australia). He also is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights.

This blog first appeared 11 January, 2014 on The WIP blog site

See related articles:

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Online Discussion: Data Gaps on Gender Equality

Wikigender is running a new online discussion in partnership with the UN Foundation, Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC), the EU-LAC Foundation, European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), ECLAC and PARIS21 – while collaborating with Wikiprogress and Wikichild regarding:

Data Gaps on Gender Equality

Open from 27 January-14 February

We would like to engage participants in a discussion about where the data gaps exist concerning gender equality. With this discussion, we hope to pioneer initiatives that generate new data and new methodological approaches and to examine complex areas of gender equality, including unpaid care, time use and social norms. The discussion will also address the “data revolution” and gender statistics, lessons learned since the adoption of the MDGs in 2000, and proposals for priority targets for the post-2015 development agenda.

Each week of the discussion, there will be a different theme open for comments and dialogue:

Week 1: The socio-economic empowerment of women
Week 2: Violence against women
Week 3: Civic and political participation of women

The outcomes and main findings of the discussion will be summarised in a final report and presented at a side event at the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women held in New York in March 2014. The side event will be organised by the OECD Development Centre, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

We invite you to find out more about the online discussion and questions for each theme by clicking here:

You may begin participating in the discussion on 27 January, 2014. To post a comment, simply go to the “Contribute!” section of the discussion page. We count on your participation and hope that you will disseminate this information widely to your contacts! Feel free to use the following links to send an invitation to your contacts in Spanish or French also. On Twitter, we use the hashtags #gender and #datagaps

See you very soon on to discuss this issue!

Estelle Loiseau
Wikigender Co-ordinator

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Road to 2015 is Paved with Open Data

This blog, by David Hall-Matthews, managing director at Publish What You Fund is about the data revolution, specifically concerning aid transparency. This is the 17th post in ODI's blog series onWhat kind of ‘data revolution’ do we need for post-2015?This post is also a part of the Wikiprogress series on Data and Statistics and Post-2015

Transparency is a key pillar of sustainable development: an essential piece of the puzzle to enable effectiveness, accountability and social change. And in recent years, information on aid spending has slowly become more available and open.
The basic principle that aid information should be publicly available is now accepted as an essential component of international development. Nowhere has that been seen more prominently than the discussions around the post-2015 Development Goals.

We have two years to create new goals. Too often, in development, looming deadlines induce resignation and recrimination – but there are still reasons to be optimistic for the future of aid transparency and open data within the post-2015 process.

Credit is due to the High Level Panel for their boldness and dynamism. Their call for a “data revolution” set the tone for debates on a range of issues, and quickly became one of the buzz phrases of 2013.

There is no question that the “data revolution” means open data. Making detailed information available to everyone, even on something as well-established as aid, would be genuinely radical.

But buzz phrases can mean different things to different people. Many commentators have focused on inequalities of access to information. While it is of course essential to highlight obstacles to data use by the poorest, it would be foolish to put the cart before the horse. Before anyone can use data, there must be data out there.

Others have pointed out that the data revolution can’t be imposed from above. I agree – but we shouldn’t let an insistence on bottom-up approaches let those at the top off the hook on their own transparency commitments. Changes at the top can make a difference.

Aid may not be the most important resource flow after 2015, but making it transparent can make a significant difference to the problematic top-down relationships between donor and recipient nations – and it can set an example for other flows, because aid transparency has had a head-start.

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) is the only existing international open data standard now in use. Knowing how difficult it is to make new agreements – let alone implement common standards – that’s a massive achievement. Any serious attempt to start a data revolution in 2015 would be crazy to overlook a system that works.

IATI works because:
It’s relatively easy to publish to it. Organisations only need to convert information they hold into a common format, then send links to an online registry.
It’s relatively easy to use the data. It’s raw, and will need to be interpreted to make sense to everyone (like all information), but it’s fully accessible and – critically – comparable.
It’s relatively easy to adopt the standard. Many non-traditional providers of development finance, including NGOs, climate finance providers, philanthropic foundations, development finance institutions and private companies have published to IATI.

IATI itself will be too limited to encompass all resource and information flows. But new standards – for example on domestic budget transparency, or extractive industry payments, could adopt the template – and common code – to make it as easy as possible for users to compare, contrast and collate.

There is increasingly more data out there – now we must make it a useful weapon in the fight to end poverty. We are working hard to ensure donors are becoming more open and now we are working hard to ensure information will be put to use.

We know that raw data may not be understood by the average person on the street, but don’t be fooled into thinking that only small packages of neatly visualised information can be understood. That’s an excuse used too easily by those seeking to control what data is released.

IATI was built specifically in response to partner country, civil society and government requests for more detailed, useful information on money coming into their countries. All donors should publish to IATI if they want to truly bolster the bottom-up approach to international development. It doesn’t make sense for donors to be suggesting new goals and ways to hold partner countries to account, without doing their own bit first.

The end of 2015 is not only the deadline to agree new Development Goals. It is also the date by when the Busan Partnership Agreement needs to be implemented.

Our Aid Transparency Index, the industry standard for assessing transparency among the world’s major donors, shows that most donors have quite a way to go to meeting their Busan commitments. The average score for all 67 organisations was disappointingly low, despite the many international commitments and speeches about openness.

For example, France is the third largest donor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), spending over USD 1 billion in 2011. But we could find no comprehensive listing of the country’s current aid activities for DRC – or for any other recipient country. Similarly, Japan is the second largest donor in DRC, spending over USD 1.2 billion in 2011. But their database does not include basic information on the projects it’s funding, such as start or end dates of projects or their current status.

In other words, over USD 2 billion in aid to DRC – an aid dependent and fragile state –remains unmonitored. And much of the information we could get was out of date, patchy and difficult to compare with that of other funders operating in DRC.

It’s not all bad though. A leading group of organisations is publishing large amounts of useful information on their current aid activities. And some donors have made real progress over the past year. So there is reason to hope for better aid transparency by 2015.

Open data and transparency are becoming fashionable watch words, but we’re checking if donors are really delivering, looking beyond high-level commitments and long-held reputations. Crucially, we are measuring donors’ progress on the road to 2015.

- David Hall-Matthews

This post first appeared January 16, 2014 on ODI's site.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Child Well-being in 2013

Wikichild just wrapped up another exciting year in 2013, and we decided to kick off this year with highlights of the most popular blogs, events, reports and articles in 2013 regarding child well-being - Enjoy!

Top PROG BLOGS about child well-being

"Youth Unemployment and the OECD's Action Plan"
on youth unemployment in Europe and the OECD Action Plan for Youth, which proposes how to tackle the issue.

"The U.S. versus the rich world in child well-being" is a comparison between the recently published 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book on America's child well-being with UNICEF's 11th Report card on rich countries' child well-being.

"Schools tackling obesity and malnutrition" Discusses what schools can do to tackle childhood obesity by establishing a healthier diet, increasing activity and educating about food and nutrition.

"Abstinence doesn’t do the trick" discusses the negative impact that adolescent pregnancies can have on the child, the mother and all of society.


Top REPORTS about child well-being in 2013

Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013





Top ARTICLES about child well-being in 2013

Top EVENTS about child well-being in 2013

World Teachers Day 5 October

World Toilet Day 19 November

World Day against Child Labour 6 December 

Also, to see what happened in the NEWS regarding child well-being,
check out the Wikichild MEDIA REVIEW.

 - Melinda George
Wikichild Co-ordinator