Searching for questions: global development issues to prioritise in 2016


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As 2016 begins many international development issues are threatening to intensify – the crisis in Syria and the thousands of people now refugees, the growing global power of ISIS, and the World Bank’s recently released flagship report, Global Economic Prospects, which predicts a “perfect storm” of financial turmoil coupled with slowing of growth in emerging markets this year. A recent article named the 10 news stories most likely to dominate the news this year as being:

  1. The Syrian refugee crisis
  2. Climate change
  3. Data security
  4. The US presidential election
  5. Regulating drones And self-driving cars
  6. Gun violence
  7. ISIS
  8. Global internet access
  9. Regulating the sharing economy (companies such as Airbnb and Uber)
  10. Online social justice

And while news organisations are looking ahead to the events that will shape the world in 2016, others are focused on how we can prevent and solve some of these global development challenges. 14 Academics and 21 NGOs recently put together a list of the 100 most important development issues and research questions that need to be answered. The list, published in Development Policy Review, has focused on identifying the most relevant and important research questions around the Sustainable Development Goals, set in September 2015, the successor to the Millennium Development Goals. The questions or research themes are divided into nine main themes: [Read more…]

7 online games for understanding international development: let the edutainment begin

mpg-with-textA major challenge for those working in international development is being able to understand the lives and needs of people in developing countries and being able to understand the challenges facing global decision makers. More and more online games are being developed by the international development community to help us gain insight into global development challenges and increase engagement around these issues, albeit in a virtual world. Here’s a list of some of these online games.

  1. Cyber Nations – Allows you to create and rule a nation, choosing a government type, a national religion, tax rate and more. You can choose and purchase infrastructure, land to expand your borders, technology to increase your effectiveness, and military to defend your national interests. You can build trading ports to enhance your ability to trade with other nations, build clinics and hospitals to increase your total population, invest in schools and universities to increase your people’s literacy rate and choose which economic sectors to support. See how your developmental decisions affect your population’s happiness.
  2. Climate Challenge – You are the president of the European nations and must tackle global climate change from 2000 to 2100. You choose Europe’s policies and try to persuade competing regional blocs to reduce their carbon emissions.
  3. African Farmer: The Game – Allows you to simulate the complex decisions and uncertainties faced by small-scale farmers living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Your challenge is to manage a farming household in a village by making decisions on what to grow, what to buy and how to feed your family all while managing emerging threats such as price rises, bad weather and disease. See how your decisions affect your family’s welfare.
  4. Food Force 2 – Aims, through the development of a storyline, to make people more aware of hunger-related problems in under developed nations and of the work of the World Food Programme. The game is aimed at educating and motivating people to solve world hunger and achieve self-sustenance.
  5. Spin the Plate – A tool developed to increase understanding of the problems of micronutrient deficiencies or hidden hunger. By investigating common meals from around the world, the game aims to educate on what vitamins and minerals many children are missing in their diets as well as on the work of the Micronutrient Initiative.
  6. Third World Farmer – A game meant to be both educational and provocative, it lets you investigate the challenges facing farmers in poor countries such as corruption, lack of access to resources, war, drought, disease and market failures. The aim is to motivate discussion and understand better our role, wherever we are, in contributing to the eradication of hunger and poverty.
  7. Stop Disasters! – Aims to engage children in learning how to build safer villages and cities, covering different factors that can mitigate the impacts of disasters such as location of buildings and their construction materials, early warning systems, evacuation plans and education. The aim of the game is to plan and construct a safer environment for your population, assess disaster risk and try to limit damage when natural disasters strike.

Of course the question is whether these games, really lead to a better understanding of development challenges? One article investigates how such games, designed to engage young people, can be better designed to really inspire change, emphasising that it is through the making rather than the playing of such games that young people can be truly empowered. While games present an opportunity to interact and learn in a fun way, true social impact will require a multi-instrument approach that includes participation, creation and ownership of these tools.

Food prices volatility: watch this space

iatp.logoA recent article by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) outlines the food price situation and the actions that need to be taken to reduce price volatility. In 2012, as prices began to creep higher and a third food price spike since 2007 looked likely, governments should have been poised to act to curb food price volatility once and for all. As the IATP authors believe, governments did not take this opportunity and failed to address the root causes of food price volatility.

This recent article is an update to the authors’ 2012 report, Resolving the Food Crisis, and calls for action to be taken around a series of themes:

  • Donor funding for agricultural development
  • Reducing biofuels expansion
  • Curbing financial speculation on agricultural commodities
  • Building food reserves
  • Halting land grabs
  • Addressing climate change

These issues are neither original nor specific to solving the problem of food price spikes. Instead they are frequently raised by NGOs and other stakeholders across the world and, as the authors point out, these problems are not going away. Not enough is being done to address them. There are huge opportunities for progress in 2013 but whether governments will seize them is another matter, as history attests. Action to address food price volatility from the G20 has revolved to date primarily around the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) and, while G20 leaders plan to meet in Russia this year, no meeting of agricultural ministers is planned. Decisions over the future vision of the World Trade Organisation Doha Development Round could be an opportunity to ensure trade rules ‘protect and promote food security,’ but given the previous disarray of the Doha Round this may be too much to hope for. New farm legislation in the US and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in the EU show little sign of being transformative. [Read more…]