Monday, 27 October 2008


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Some success has been achieved in reducing avian influenza outbreaks in poultry and humans, but the world must still be prepared to tackle an influenza pandemic, experts were told at the sixth International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza in Sharm El Sheikh, Eqypt this weekend. Photo: avian flu blood sampling / UNSIC

“Things are a lot better now than they were when we started this work in 2005 but they are not good enough. We are still not sufficiently prepared to properly bring a pandemic under control quickly,” David Nabarro, senior UN system coordinator for avian and human influenza, told news agency IRIN.

Compensation for farmers affected by bird flu helps the early detection of new outbreaks, the U.N's avian influenza chief said yesterday (October 26), but refrained from criticizing countries like Egypt that lack such programs, according to Reuters.

Cambodia and Egypt are the only countries heavily affected by bird flu that do not offer some form of compensation.

"In our view, compensation for the value of birds that are destroyed for the control of avian influenza is important if public cooperation is to occur," Mr Nabarro told Reuters' Alastair Sharp.

The United States pledged an additional $320 million to the global fight against bird flu and warned on Saturday against complacency in combating the virus, which could mutate and cause a deadly pandemic.

The figure brings to $949 million Washington's total pledges to fight avian influenza, which has killed 245 people in Asia, Africa, and Europe since late 2003. Countless birds have been culled.

"The United States is pledging an additional $320 million in international assistance for avian and pandemic influenza," said Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

At the opening of a ministerial conference in Egypt, Dobriansky echoed comments from Egyptian ministers and heads of international organisations in warning of "flu fatigue".

"(There is) a growing feeling that the threat of an influenza pandemic has somehow diminished and that scarce resources could be better used elsewhere in the field of public health, in other words flu fatigue," she said.

Read more coverage from the conference
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Friday, 24 October 2008


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

The global financial crisis sparked by the world's rich will have the poor paying the highest price, wrote one UK newspaper columnist this week. Meanwhile the United Nations was calling for this crisis to be used positively - to refocus of the world's economy on a Green New Deal. But as the western world contemplates the collapse of capitalism as we know it, there are different priorities being expressed around the globe.

The view from Beijing, according to CCTV9, the official English language news channel, is that China just needs to concentrate on improving livelihoods in its own backyard, rather than get embroiled in a global effort to shore up other markets. The effort to raise incomes in rural areas is at least partly seen as a way to offset the impacts of slowing export markets.

In India today, ahead of the Asia-Europe Meeting, The Hindu's front page reports: "The fact that ASEM leaders will be discussing a crisis that is essentially of America’s making underlines the fact that any overhaul of international financial architecture is bound to have profound geopolitical implications as well."

And writing in India's business daily, Business Standard, Arvind Subramanian states that preserving 'Brand India' is of utmost importance at this time: "'Brand India' has come to connote not just rapid growth but a reasonable ability of policymakers to respond to challenges. Of course, this response will be assessed by outcomes. But critical to this assessment will be whether processes for arriving at outcomes are effective, and specifically, whether all concerned institutions play their rightful roles and maintain their credibility. “Brand India” must pass all these tests.

Meanwhile UN-Habitat have starkly illustrated the size of just one of the challenges facing world leaders - urbanisation - with the publicaton of the annual State of World's Cities report. The report warns that wealth inequality is creating a social time bomb. Let's hope the world leaders at the ASEM in Beijing can hear the ticking and react accordingly.

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Thursday, 23 October 2008


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

The blogosphere is a rich and varied arena for all things avian flu-related. As ministers from around the globe gear up for the opening salvo at tomorrow's conference, check out what the bloggers have been saying. Try Crawford Kilian's H5N1, Debi Brandon's Pandemic Chronicle and Michael Coston's Avian Flu Diary for starters. Read more


By IAN SCOONES, STEPS Centre co-director

As ministers of health and agriculture from around the world gather in Egypt for the International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, the STEPS Centre, based at IDS and SPRU, launches an important new report exploring the lessons of the international response to avian influenza over the past five years.

The international response to avian influenza has been unprecedented – involving agencies across the UN system, the World Bank, the European Commission, bilateral donors together with national governments.

Over two billion poultry have been culled, major poultry vaccination campaigns have been implemented and markets have been restructured, affecting the livelihoods and businesses of millions. Substantial efforts have been invested in improving human and animal health systems, combined with major investments in drug and vaccine development. And detailed contingency and preparedness plans have been devised in case a human pandemic occurs.

Fortunately a pandemic has not occurred yet, although the avian virus has become endemic in a number of countries. But some time, some where a new, emerging infectious disease will have major impacts, given changing disease ecologies, patterns of urbanisation and climate change. How can the world be ready for such an event?

At the Egypt conference a ‘One World, One Health’ initiative is being launched, focusing on animal, human and ecosystem health in an integrated way. This is a radical departure from the conventional sectoral approaches to health. It is essential, but presents many challenges – disciplinary and organisational silos may act against it.

The new report - The International Response to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: Science, Policy and Politics - lays out ten key challenges for a One World, One Health approach. These include rethinking surveillance, focusing on uncertainties, redefining health security, emphasising access and equity, as well as questions of organisational architecture and governance.

These themes are central to the STEPS Centre Epidemics programme on ecology, politics, policy and pathways, and are being explored as part of a project on avian influenza policy responses in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, in collaboration with the FAO.

A press release on the publication of our new report is available.
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By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Ministers of health and agriculture from around the world are gathering in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt to formulate a global plan to prepare for, and respond to, the threat of avian flu and other emerging infectious diseases at the International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza (October 24-26).

The plan - called the One World, One Health initiative - aims for an unprecedented integration of animal, human and ecosystem health issues to fight the threat of the avian flu virus, H5N1. But will the ministers come up with an agreement that works in this era of rapid change?

The two-day conference - with 500 participants from 116 countries, including 50 health and agriculture ministers - is being co-organized by the European Union as part of global efforts to combat the disease.

Just days ago, the United Nations system influenza coordinator David Nabarro was warning that more needs to be done to prepare the world for a major influenza pandemic.

"Considering that pandemic preparedness was largely unaddressed by the world's nations three years ago, the widespread awareness and action seen today is a major achievement," said Mr Nabarro.

"But more needs to be done to ensure that we are ready for this kind of major global crisis," he added during the launch of a joint report with the World Bank.

The World Bank had warned that an avian influenza pandemic could bring economic losses as high as 3 trillion dollars, or about 5 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). The issue has unsurprisingly grabbed the attention of the world's press.

A new report published today by Professor Ian Scoones and Paul Forster of the ESRC STEPS Centre lays out 10 key recommendations for One World, One Health, based on analysis of lessons learned from the massive $2bn international response to the avian flu over the past five years, during which time 245 people have died.

Paul is on his way to Egypt to take part in the conference and will be blogging on what happens, so keep an eye on The Crossing.
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Thursday, 16 October 2008


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

As today's World Food Day dawns, new research reveals £26-£48 billion package is needed to alleviate seasonal hunger - a fraction of the proposed $700 billion package to bail out Wall Street.

Food issues are likely to get higher profile coverage today than preceeding World Food Days thanks to almost constant headlines over the past year about food shortages, soaring prices, food riots, food security and hunger. Where once these issues were percieved to be applicatble only in certain places in the developing world, today they are recognised as global problems.

A new book published today, Seasons of Hunger by Stephen Devereux, Bapu Vaitla and Samuel Hauenstein Swann, looks at the seasonal issues causing food crises, challenges compounded by high and rising food prices.

The authors believe no single intervention is adequate; instead a comprehensive approach is needed. The Institute of Development Studies, Action Against Hunger, and the Future Agricultures Consortium - the authors' organisations - propose a “minimum essential intervention package to fight seasonal hunger”. The package includes: community-based management of acute malnutrition; employment guarantee schemes (recently legislated in India); social pensions; and community-based growth promotion.

The total estimated global cost is £26-£48 billion - not cheap, but considerably less than the proposed $700 billion package to bail out Wall Street. Mr Devereux said: "Seasonal hunger is intensifying in the face of the global food price crisis, but it can be overcome if political will is directed to mobilising the resources needed to eradicate it."

You can read more about the book, and order it on the IDS website. Food is one of the STEPS Centre's key areas of research, you can find out more about our work on food and agriculture, and our project about maize and climate change in Kenya, on the website.
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Tuesday, 14 October 2008


ADRIAN ELY, STEPS Centre member reports with our partners professor Ding Shijun and Dr Chen Chuanbo on the challenges of conducting research in China’s changing rural areas

In rural transitional China many households include absentees who live and work in urban centres and send money back to their families in the village. These individuals are extremely important in accounting for incomes and expenditures, and form a central part of family strategies to move out of poverty.

The breakdown of many traditional categories in China’s dynamic socio-economic context became apparent during a visit to two rural villages in Hubei province last year as part of the STEPS Centre Rethinking Regulation project.

Studying rural worlds at the household level makes sense in many parts of the world, and has been central to much development research over the past two decades. In Hubei we met with Prof Shijun Ding of Zhonghan University of Economics and Law. He was leading a team conducting household surveys as part of the POVILL research consortia’s important research into household complexities in China and ways of taking methodologies forward.

Prof Ding’s team collected information from 12,000 households across four counties in Hubei and Sichuan provinces in order to investigate strategies and behaviours used by the rural poor to cope with health shocks caused by major illness.

During this work Prof Ding found many of the major breadwinners within households are absent, away in cities earning money which they then send back to their parents, who act as the guardians of their children. This phenomenon was demonstrated by the 2006 national agricultural census, which reported 30% of agricultural labourers (those above the age of 16 with the ability to work) in Hubei are working far away from their homes. Between the ages of 20 and 24, this percentage doubled.

Under such circumstances, traditional questions which have featured in household economic surveys - for example about the head of the household or the income/ expenditure of the household, need to be rethought. Is the head of the household the oldest member, or the breadwinner? When calculating income and expenditure, does one include the income of the absentee breadwinners and if so, what proportion thereof?

To think these questions would obviously lead to practical research difficulties. Does one include the outgoings in the village alone, or also the expenditure in the urban areas? How does one disaggregate the income of the couple that goes towards supporting their children from that which is spent on their parents?

More than a year later, Dr Chen Chuanbo of Renmin University of China - a STEPS Centre research partner along with Prof Ding - continues to think of ways to address this challenge. Next year, for another project, Dr Chen and his colleagues plan to time their rural research visits to coincide with the Spring festival, when migrant workers traditionally return home. Hopefully this will allow them to gather more complete data on both resident and absentee household members and shed more accurate light on the complexity of China’s rural situation.
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Monday, 13 October 2008


By ADRIAN ELY, STEPS Centre member, reports from the Asia-Europe People’s Forum in Beijing

Thirty years ago, the idea that the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) would be held in China would have been inconceivable, but the fact that civil society organisations from all across Europe, Asia and other areas of the world have come together this week in Beijing shows that the country is undoubtedly undergoing political change alongside its rapid social, economic, technological and environmental upheavals. Photo: AEPF conference / Adrian Ely

This is the seventh time that civil society organisations have gathered at the AEPF to discuss issues of global importance. This year, their aim is to feed into the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit (ASEM) , which will be held in Beijing later this month. Some 500 delegates attended the first session this morning, although it felt like more as we crammed into the conference hall, which heard the Chinese foreign minister and various international guests lay out their visions of the world, and the role of civil society and governments, especially that of China, in addressing current challenges.

I took the opportunity to attend the subsequent morning session on “Development Paradigms: trends and alternatives”, which was presented by Walden Bello (Focus on the Global South), Wolfram Schaffar (University of Hildesheim, Attac Germany), Wu Xingtang (China Centre for Contemporary World Studies), with input from MP Charles Santiago of Malaysia. All seemed to agree that current events in Washington and the financial centres of the world indicated the end of the neo-liberal economic development paradigm, and that the turmoil and impending fallout offered an opportunity for a radical people-centred political agenda to take hold.

There was an optimistic feeling that the discussions over the coming three days could significantly contribute to the main characteristics of the new financial architecture (in which the BRICS economies, it was argued, should play a more central role). According to the speakers, this financial crisis was different from that of the depression in the 1930s, and also the more recent Asian financial crisis – the rise of China and other emerging powers requires a new global approach to financial regulation. The was little debate as to whether the world was at a tipping point, and a large number of speakers were convinced that the coming months and years would inevitably see the rise of an alternative global political, as well as financial, order.

Although unable to attend the whole forum, I’m looking forward to a session on food security and food sovereignty, especially following recent decisions around land reform in China. That session will take place on Wednesday afternoon, shortly before the participants come up with a final declaration of the people’s agenda under the theme “For Social and Ecological Justice!”
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By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

On the day that the UK has nationalised some of its biggest banking institutions, China has announced bold new proposals to free up the way 700 million peasants can use state-owned land.

The plans, announced by the Communist Party yesterday via the Xinhua news agency, could allow farmers to exchange thier plots of land or use the sites as collateral for loans. Across the world the news has been hailed as an attempt to 'set China's farmer's free'.

The STEPS Centre's Rethinking Regulation project has been working with Chinese farmers looking at the regulation of seeds, linking to our affiliate partner POVILL which has been carrying out a household survey of the rural poor. A view of the impact of China's new anouncements from these projects will be posted on the blog tomorrow.
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Thursday, 9 October 2008


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

The UK government’s chef scientific advisor, Professor John Beddington was here at Sussex University last night to deliver the 12th Marie Jahoda Annual Lecture, hosted by SPRU Science and Technology Policy Research. With the theme Sustainability in a Changing World, Prof. Beddington said by the end of the lecture he would reveal the contents of the (imaginary) file he would like to present to the next US president.

With the scarcity and security of natural resources central to many of today’s global challenges, we were hoping for a fulsome exploration of sustainability in this era of rapid change from a man well-qualified to give his opinion. Prof. Beddington became Gordon Brown’s scientist on January 1 2008, but remains a Professor at Imperial College specialising in the application of biological and economic analysis to problems of Natural Resources Management.

And with global financial markets in freefall, could there ever have been a better week to illustrate the rapidly changing nature of a world rocked by shocks and stresses? However Prof. Beddington started not with economics, but birds. He used the fear of the avian influenza H5N1 virus mutating into human to human transmission as an illustration of one of the human and animal disease problems in his in-tray, along with polio, TB, AIDS, malaria, CJD, BSE, FMD, and Bluetongue.

Human and animal diseases are just a fraction of the pile of papers on his office desk. What followed was a whistle-stop tour of the most pressing global challenges facing us today, the things he has been employed to help the government understand.

The problems of sustainability facing the world are multiple, but chiefly fall into three categories, said Professor Beddington: increasing population, urbanisation and under-nourishment. The first of many graphs featuring steep red lines marching diagonally upwards across his Powerpoint slides began.

The problem of population is dealt with swiftly - increasing prosperity is the only way solution, according to Prof. Beddington, who batted away a later question about birth control saying it was a very complex and difficult area.

Urbanisation poses a second problem with the number of large cities of over 1million inhabitants set to soar, with Africa’s large cities alone set to double between now and 2030. By that time developing nations will have 80% of the world’s urban population, and conflicts, over resources such as water, will be heightened, said Prof. Beddington. People in the urban environment will out-compete those, particularly in the peri-urban areas, for resources, he added.

Next up, poverty alleviation. With 1.1bn people living on less than 50p a day and 854 million of them suffering under-nutrition and hunger you would think the outlook is bleak. But Prof. Beddington was quite upbeat because of a final World Bank figure that the number of households with incomes of more than £8,000 a year is set to soar from 352million households in 2000 to 2.1 billion by 2030. This is a fantastic thing, said Prof. Beddington, because so many more people will have increased purchasing power. Unfortunately the increase is not happening fast enough, he added.

That clean and renewable energy is needed is not in dispute. But how it is delivered is very much so, as some of those listening to Prof. Beddington’s lecture were well aware - with leading UK thinkers on the subject, including Professor Gordon McKerron and Dr Jim Watson of the Sussex Energy Group, among the audience.

Prof. Beddington made one thing clear – the Labour government’s u-turn on nuclear energy was made while his predecessor, Sir David King, was in post. Although he said there are strong arguments for the government’s investment in nuclear power, he added: “It’s not to say there are no problems with nuclear, and we’ve got to address that. It’s an interim measure.” And while he believes nuclear fusion could solve our energy needs, a solution is 30 years away.

So, we’ve got an energy demand problem, food and water demand problems and then there is the small matter of climate change. At this point Prof. Beddington apologised for the lack of cheer in this lecture. Slides quoting Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) facts and figures are familiar, but the fact that the Arctic will be ice-free in 12 years, by 2020, is always shocking no matter how many times you hear it. Graphs for predicted temperature, ocean heat, floods, coastal erosion and numbers of international migrants show more ascending red lines.

On the subject of agriculture, Prof. Beddington said crop improvement and protection measures are needed to reduce losses due to pests and diseases while better irrigation and water management must be developed. He was very keen on Brazil’s hi-tech grain production methods and unequivocal on the issue of GM: “We (the UK) are being left behind by the rest of the world on GM usage.” He said the US had been using GM for 15 years, and in the most litigious nation on Earth, there has been no litigation about the health effects of GM.

So, after running through his 'to do' list of most pressing concerns, what would Prof. Beddington put in that phantom file to the next US president? “My file to the new US president is for him to recognise that the new international challenges are all linked. We can’t ignore food, water and energy problems but we have got to treat them all in an integrated way. We can’t just see climate change on its own.”

With the constraints of both time and of being part of the political machine, Prof. Beddington delivered a broad-brush picture of scientific sustainability challenges rather than revealing his personal view or that of the government. Having joked that his son’s gift of a box set of British political satire Yes, Prime Minster had been handy in his new job, Prof. Beddington proved himself an adept politician: he was voluble on the problems by less forthcoming on his thoughts about solutions.
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