›August 30, 2007 // By Gib ClarkeThey say that a good man is hard to find. But in some countries, the opposite is true: a good woman is hard to find—because it’s hard to find women at all. According to a recent article by the BBC, the Chinese city of Lianyungang has eight men for every five women. Ninety-nine cities in China have gender ratios as high as 125 (125 men for every 100 women, or a 5:4 ratio).
But China is not alone. India has a gender ratio of 113, and the ratio in Asia as a whole is 104.4. In the United States, by contrast, the rate is 97, meaning that there are more women than men.
Gender imbalances are caused by cultural and economic preferences for male children, which contribute to sex-selective abortion and female infanticide. Over 60 million girls are “missing” in Asia as a result of these practices.
Furthermore, some government policies may intensify these gender preferences. China’s one-child policy, for example, may cause concern among parents, particularly in rural areas, that having a female child endangers their family’s future. Government policies intended to combat skewed gender ratios, such as bans on prenatal ultrasounds for the purpose of determining the baby’s sex and bans on sex-selective abortion, have proven ineffective.
Unbalanced gender ratios have consequences that reach beyond just the mothers and children involved. According to Valerie Hudson, high gender ratios leave many men without prospects for marriage, which may mean these men have fewer incentives to contribute peacefully to society. The men with the slimmest prospects for marriage are likely to be unemployed, poor, and uneducated, so they are already at increased risk for violent behavior. Hudson cites statistical evidence showing links between high gender ratios and higher rates of violent crime, drug use, trafficking, and prostitution.
Hudson and co-author Andrea den Boer cover these links in greater detail in their book Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population. In the 11th issue of the Environmental Change and Security Report, Richard Cincotta takes issue with some of the statistical methods that Hudson and den Boer use. He argues that what is important is not nationwide gender ratios, but the number of “marriage-age men” (25-29 years old) and “marriage-age women” (20-24).
While there may be some debate over whether the relationship between gender ratios and violent behavior is a causal one, there is little doubt about what causes the gender imbalances in the first place. An end to preferences for female children will be beneficial not only to girls and women, but to societies as a whole.
Photo Credit: A subway in China, courtesy of flickr user 俊玮 戴.
›August 28, 2007 // By Sean Peoplesinefficient foreign aid structure can wreak havoc on what the current administration refers to as “transformational diplomacy”—the attempt to build and nurture democratically elected governments. In our post-September 11thworld, failed states (also labeled “precarious states” or “weak states”) have garnered increasing attention as targets for transformational diplomacy. For the U.S., ensuring sustainable and well-governed states depends partially on doling out foreign aid as collateral for reliable partnerships. But nations with limited internal capacity and extreme poverty levels teeter on the edge of uncertainty, and inefficient allocation of aid can further destabilize states that are already vulnerable to becoming havens for nefarious activity.
In cooperation with The Fund for Peace, Foreign Policy magazine recently published its Failed State Index 2007, which ranks countries according to their likelihood of political, social and economic failure. Four out of the five poorest-performing countries—Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and Chad—are located in Africa. This year’s authors included a valuable section highlighting state stability and its connections to environmental sustainability.
Another excellent Failed State Index-related resource is an analysis by Population Action International (PAI), which drew on the Index to demonstrate that the lowest ranked failing states often had young age structures: “51% of countries with a very young age structure are ranked as critical or in danger by the Failed States Index.”
Many critics view integrating and harmonizing the delivery of aid as crucial to bolstering the stability of these vulnerable states. An excellent brief by the Center for Global Development’s Stewart Patrick critiques the U.S. government’s fragmented approach to engaging failed or failing states. Patrick recommends an “integrated approach that goes well beyond impressive military assets to include major investments in critical civilian capabilities.” Without these critical civilian capabilities, democratic institutions and local capacity cannot take root.
Stephen Browne of the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva also addresses aid coordination in “Aid to Fragile States: Do Donors Help or Hinder?,” which examines Burma, Rwanda, and Zambia as case studies. Ratifying the Paris Declaration—a 2005 international agreement promoting the harmonization and alignment of global aid strategies—was an important step, but developed and developing nations still have much to do, according to Browne:
There are agreements by a growing number of bilateral agencies to untie their assistance and mingle it more flexibly with that of others. But to be effective, aid needs to move a radical step beyond the adaptation of individual practices by donors to each other. In each instance, there should be complete alignment with the frameworks and management capacities of recipients. However, the principle of country alignment needs to be reaffirmed, especially in the context of recovery and rehabilitation.U.S. foreign aid is frequently criticized for not being sensitive enough to recipient countries’ specific needs and on-the-ground conditions. Fortunately, the tools and resources to better understand these conditions are available. Judging from our current foreign aid structure, however, we have underutilized these tools and failed to integrate our knowledge and objectives with the realities of these countries. States fail due to numerous cumulative factors, but responsibly allocating foreign aid may help tip the scales toward improving the odds of success for states on the brink of failure.
Photo: Foreign Policy 2007.
›August 23, 2007 // By Rachel WeisshaarAn environmental security threat is heating up in one of the world’s coldest places: the North Pole. Climate change is causing the polar ice caps to melt, making the Arctic’s vast oil and natural gas reserves more easily accessible. But because this area was previously nearly impossible to access, the rights to the territory are in dispute, with the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark all laying claim to it.
Russia recently initiated a flood of diplomatic posturing when it sent two mini-submarines to plant a rust-proof, titanium Russian flag on the Arctic seabed, four kilometers beneath the polar ice cap. Leaders of the other four countries with claims to the area responded with skepticism and dismay. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also reiterated Canada’s claim to the fabled Northwest Passage (it previously claimed ownership in 1973)—which the U.S. officially views as an international strait. Ownership of the Arctic was also on the agenda at a previously-scheduled meeting of Bush, Harper, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon earlier this week in Quebec.
One reason why this controversy is so fascinating—and has been getting so much attention in the media—is that it is of interest to so many different communities. There are industry players and observers who want to know how these new fuel reserves will affect businesses; students of national security and politics who are intrigued by the delicate symbolic and rhetorical dance that is unfolding; scientists who are curious as to what the five countries’ new geological exploratory missions will discover; and environmentalists who are concerned about the increased climate change (and localized environmental degradation) that extracting and burning the fossil fuels under the Arctic would likely produce.
Technically, the Arctic ownership debate will be resolved by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, a group of lawyers and geologists who will rely on the 1994 Law of the Sea Treaty to help determine the validity of ownership claims. But because the stakes are so high—in terms of natural resources as well as political prestige—it seems unlikely that compromise and caution will prevail unless the commission sends a strong message that it will not tolerate Cold War-style intimidation or theatrics.
›August 20, 2007 // By Sean PeoplesThe calls for a more effective U.S. foreign assistance framework have been deafening lately. Although official foreign aid has increased substantially over the last five years, its fragmented organization and lack of clear strategic objectives have been coming under greater fire. More than a year after President Bush announced the new position of Director for Foreign Assistance, a move meant to unify and streamline foreign aid, many prominent voices in the development community argue that substantial reform is still needed to effectively alleviate poverty, strengthen security, and increase trade and investment in developing countries. CARE International’s announcement last week that it would forgo $45 million a year in federal financing is a clear indication that our development strategy is plagued by paralysis on all levels. This post attempts to highlight several different scholars’ innovative approaches to reforming U.S. foreign assistance.
Several critics offer a clear set of reforms, including Raj M. Desai and Stewart Patrick. Desai, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, recommends consolidating the numerous aid agencies and departmental programs into one cabinet-level department for international development. Patrick, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD), advocates a complete overhaul of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, given the outmoded law’s lack of clarity.
Patrick’s colleagues at CGD analyzed the President’s budget and found that “the U.S. continues to devote a relatively small share of its national wealth to alleviate poverty and promote self-sustaining growth in the developing world.” Moreover, according to Lael Brainard, vice president and director of the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution, aid is not usually distributed purely on the basis of need. “In dollar terms America continues to place far greater emphasis on bribing nondemocratic states than on promoting their democratization.”The inefficiency and fragmentation of our current foreign aid structure stems from several cumulative factors, including: numerous competing strategic objectives; conflicting mandates among government and non-governmental organizations; jockeying between the congressional and executive branches for a slice of the pie; and countless organizations overlapping their efforts. Wading through the web of legislation, objectives, and organizations comprising U.S. foreign assistance efforts is a dizzying exercise, as illustrated by the chart above.
Helping us untangle this confusing web is a new book, entitled Security By Other Means: Foreign Assistance, Global Poverty, and American Leadership. The book, edited by Brainard, compiles the findings of the Brookings-CSIS Task Force on Transforming Foreign Assistance in the 21st Century. Not shying away from the nitty-gritty of foreign assistance policy, Security By Other Means delves deep into the current development assistance framework and recommends valuable reforms, which include: integrating strategic security concerns; formulating clear objectives; understanding recipient country capacities; and building effective partnerships that exploit comparative advantages.
Calls for reform have not fallen on deaf ears. Last month, Brookings held a briefing on Capitol Hill discussing foreign aid reform, while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sponsored a hearing entitled “Foreign Assistance Reform: Successes, Failures, and Next Steps.” The hearing featured testimony from the Acting Administrator for USAID and Acting Director of Foreign Assistance, the Honorable Henrietta H. Fore, as well as three leading experts on foreign assistance: Lael Brainard; Sam Worthington, president and CEO of InterAction; and Steve Radelet, a senior fellow at CGD. Fore committed to “simplifying the process” and integrating the numerous spigots of money flowing outward. However, it was the three NGO experts who presented a more realistic critique and set of recommendations. For these critics, rapid globalization and the inevitable integration of international economies are the impetus for a more unified and harmonized foreign aid structure. A clear consensus emerged from the three experts’ recommendations: promote local capacity and stakeholder ownership; favor long-term sustainability over short-term political goals; and encourage the consolidation and coordination of the disjointed aid structure. While federal aid stagnates, private foundation donations are growing steadily and are poised to overtake official governmental aid. Moreover, private businesses have been steadily expanding the scope of their humanitarian work. Private businesses and foundations have the advantage of being able to avoid much of the bureaucratic red tape involved with governmental aid. Nevertheless, an attempt by business interests, private foundations, and federal foreign assistance to integrate their approaches and build technical capacity could only be a positive step.
›August 16, 2007 // By Karima TawfikFlooding causes massive damage each year in South Asia, but this destruction will not be diminished without more comprehensive disaster preparedness, says a new report by Oxfam International entitled Sink or Swim: Why Disaster Risk Reduction is central to surviving floods in South Asia. The report comes halfway through a monsoon season that has already harmed the livelihoods of 20 million people in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India, crumbling homes and schools, sweeping away crops, and crippling the region’s already-weak infrastructure.
Current flood control efforts are often ineffective and can even exacerbate the problem, says the report. For instance, poorly designed and broken culverts and embankments often flood roads and downstream areas. One embankment in Bihar, India caused a flood-prone area to expand from 2.5 to 6.9 million hectares over the course of fifty years.
In the report, Oxfam recommends that governments implement local emergency plans; avoid building additional dams and embankments; equip communities with preparedness capacities such as early warning systems and first-aid skills; provide community assets such as flood shelters, raised homesteads, and motorized boats; and mainstream disaster preparedness into government policy. Furthermore, the report urges donors to increase funding for disaster risk reduction, which is a strong long-term investment.
Governments and NGOs should also note that lower-income groups and women are more vulnerable to disasters—and tailor their programs accordingly. Poorly built houses are easily destroyed, the landless have reduced access to post-flood aid, and women struggle with malnutrition and disease in displacement camps. Reducing disaster risk—especially for the most vulnerable members of the population—is an important step in raising the standard of living in South Asian countries afflicted by flooding.
›August 10, 2007 // By Rachel Weisshaar
The newest podcast from the Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies highlights how engineers are using nanotechnology to develop more efficient and cost-effective ways to desalinate seawater and purify wastewater. In the future, these new water purification technologies could be adapted for use in poor countries where access to safe water is limited. The podcast is the third in the “Trips to the Nano Frontier” series, which also includes podcasts on green nanotechnology and nanomedicine. The full series is available online.
The Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) also produces an original podcast series. ECSP’s podcasts, which feature interviews with leading scholars and practitioners, have examined the role of gender in population, health, and environment programs; the challenges and opportunities presented by urban population growth; and the link between international trade and aid policies and conflict.
›August 7, 2007 // By Gib ClarkeThe Economist’s recent story “How to deal with a falling population” rightly states that a growing global population does not inevitably exhaust the earth’s resources, and that a shrinking population poses several serious threats to nations.
But the article downplays the impact of a large population. The total number of people on the planet has both global and local consequences. On the global level, each additional resident contributes to climate change, and this contribution is growing for citizens of developing countries making the transition to more western, carbon-consuming lifestyles. While 6.6 billion people have not yet run the oil derricks dry, large local populations have already had significant effects on local resources. In many parts of the world, women and children walk for hours to obtain water, firewood, and other basic needs.
The story seems to suggest that we should wait for governments to solve the problem of climate change. Yet many, including the author of one of the articles in The Economist’s September 2006 survey of climate change, are skeptical that politics can single-handedly and responsibly address this issue.
While governments work on large-scale policies, everyday people can influence natural resource consumption and climate change by focusing on population issues. One of the most effective ways to do this is by expanding access to family planning programs. Concerns about the possibility of coercion accompany all family planning efforts, but regulated, well-managed family planning programs tend to produce positive side effects, increasing women’s empowerment and education and expanding employment opportunities for both men and women.
It is important for governments and international institutions to craft prudent, long-term policies to address climate change. Yet we must also remember that the choices that ordinary individuals make can have significant positive impacts on health, economic development, and the environment.
›August 4, 2007 // By Geoff DabelkoThe rush to put biofuels in our gas tanks has given those of us analyzing natural resources and conflict some work to do. How are European and American policy mandates to dramatically increase the use of biofuels affecting the places that grow biofuel inputs? It seems fair to say that little consideration has been given to the potential conflict and equity impacts of this surge in demand for palm oil, sugarcane, and corn.
After President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address, which called for massive increases in biofuels, we heard stories of skyrocketing corn tortilla prices and resulting social disruptions. Now we have stories coming from places like West Kalimantan, a remote region of Indonesia where the rush to plant palm oil plantations is generating conflict with Indonesians who grow rubber trees and other crops on their small plots of land. The NGO Friends of the Earth Netherlands has a new report calling out the unethical practices of some palm oil companies that clear existing crops first and make payouts (maybe) to the farmers who own the land later.
It strikes me that this particular link between natural resource management and conflict offers an avenue for addressing one of the traditional shortcomings of environment and conflict research. Rightly or wrongly (and it has been a little of both), much environment and conflict research has been criticized for neglecting the impact of transnational economic forces on so-called “local” conflicts. For instance, West Africa’s mid-1990s “anarchy” is sometimes portrayed simplistically, without sufficient attention to the role Western timber companies or diamond buyers played in creating demand for the forests and precious stones that helped fuel the conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other countries.
I do not subscribe to the school that says all environment and conflict work falls into this category. And there are big differences between how these issues were presented in the mid-1990s and how they are portrayed today. Our research has gotten better–both that of original contributors and that of new players. Nevertheless, much environment and conflict work can be characterized as focusing on conflict “over there” without drawing the connections to how North American or European (or increasingly Chinese and Japanese) consumer behavior can play a role in those conflicts.
The links between global consumer behavior and “local” conflict are made unavoidably clear, however, when we see Indonesian palm oil plantations sprouting up in response to the EU mandate for biofuels to constitute 10% of its transport fuels by 2020. All of us in the environmental security world would do well to pay greater attention to these connections. The fact that energy and transportation are part of the biofuels story makes incorporating this issue into European and North American policy and research agendas that much easier. Let’s hope the new focus on biofuels shines a spotlight (and not an eclipse) on the social conflict that our energy consumption engenders, often in places that are remote from where the biofuels are used.
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