16 December 2013

Africa: Most Read Analysis Blogs of 2013

Photo: Global Integrity
Africa 2013.

From migration policy to green energy, our analysis bloggers reflect on their most popular posts of the year.

This year, SciDev.Net launched a series of analysis blogs, looking to place news stories in the context of wider debates in development, focusing on key stakeholder groups. Our bloggers reflect on their most-read posts of a varied and productive year.

Henrietta Miers, Focus on Gender: Small is beautiful

The next set of international development goals are currently being defined by global leaders and thinkers at conferences and conventions around the world. But amid these grand designs, it is worth remembering that small-scale and locally driven initiatives still count.

This is what I meant when I wrote about micro-hydel hydroelectric generators bringing much-needed electricity to women in northern Pakistan, improving their health, increasing their incomes and providing them with opportunities to learn.

My blog was inspired by the difficulties that the NGO Practical Action experienced while trying to hire a technology advisor.

The charity was founded by the economist E. F. Schumacher, who celebrated the phrase "small is beautiful", and who inspired an array of small-scale, labour-saving and cost-effective technologies. [1]

Many of these - such as the rolling water carrier mentioned in my October column - specifically benefit poor women whose days are often full of mundane and time-consuming chores, such as fetching water, but who have no access to larger, more-expensive technologies to ease this work.

I was pleased to see that this post was the most-read of the year because I am with Schumacher, and I hope my blog has reflected this. Tech-based interventions should start small, aim low and think local.

Max Martin, Focus on Migration: Thinking in the shoes of barefoot people

My most-read post this year was about how residents should be encouraged to remain in their home regions after natural disasters. I think it attracted attention because its argument - that disaster plans should minimise relocation - goes against conventional wisdom.

Current development intervention focuses on massive resettlement programmes, not small and flexible local action. But techno-managerial solutions to today's crises and tomorrow's perceived problems often do not consider yesterday's lessons.

If we care to talk to relocated people, often they tell us why some solutions that may appear logical, efficient, tried-and-tested - apparently sheer common sense - fail to capture their imagination and support. Living somewhere is not all about common sense, but also about culture, beliefs and traditions.

I learned this while teaching a field class of UK students in participatory vulnerability analysis, a method perfected by the International Red Cross, on a coastal stretch in Kerala, India, that was decimated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

After the disaster, local people got better homes in a resettlement village away from their old coastal hamlets that were exposed to erosion and seasonal high tides and waves. But some community leaders told us they disliked relocating.

Many people - especially men - preferred to remain or spend time in their old partly destroyed settlements. They said it felt more like home there, and it was easier to launch and land fishing craft. I have heard such stories of place attachment elsewhere too.

It is difficult to think in the shoes of barefoot people - but that is the way to make meaningful interventions.

Sue Coe, Focus on Disability: ICTs have much to offer disabled people

My most popular article this year was about the need to increase disabled people's access to information and communications technology (ICT). It linked ICT provision to disabled people with technology accessibility obligations spelled out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted in December 2006.

I'm not surprised this piece generated the most interest. ICTs are quickly spreading across the world. They offer much practical help and social communication support. People love technology and articles about it create interest among readers.

Mobile phones are expected to reach near saturation in the global South in the next few years. As disabled people comprise an estimated 15 per cent of any population, it is inevitable that ICT providers will have to address disabled people's needs to sustain and embed growth. And rightly so - ICTs have much to offer disabled people.

Since writing that July column, convention ratifications have increased from 132 to 138 countries. As more ratifications occur, so the convention's obligations on accessibility will continue to spread.

ICTs will also continue to rapidly advance.

Big growth areas are enabling poor people to gain access to life-saving information (mHealth), using mobiles effectively in disaster responses (such as currently in the Philippines after typhoon Haiyan) and providing services such as cash transfer (M-Pesa) and agricultural information (mAgri). More will follow.

Ensuring that ongoing ICT growth is accessible to disabled people must remain a critical aim for all involved with ICT provision.

Roger Williamson, Focus on Poverty: Green shoots in the green energy sector

My most popular post this year was about the expansion of off-grid solar power in Peru. It was nice to see it eliciting reader responses too. One commenter, Dr Jagadeesh in India, said: "Excellent ... other developing countries can adopt this model".

I am writing this from Helsinki's wintry sunshine where I am helping to finalise a project of the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University.

The project points out that, despite their availability, major international climate change funds are too new to have a real track record, or too underfunded to achieve global transformation to a green economy. But they are based on the right insights about greener development paths, such as the importance of forests and the need to adopt clean energy. [2]

My colleagues from the Institute of Development Studies worked on a push for pro-poor, low-carbon development at the UN's COP 19 climate change discussions last month and a study of what that should look like. [3] In addition, SciDev.Net has reported that poor countries last year increased investment in green energy. So there are some 'green shoots' in the green energy sector.

But it remains the case, as environmental economist Mark Jaccard persuasively argues, that we still have to clean up fossil fuels, because most countries aren't going to stop burning them anytime soon.[4]

So, that's my news. And now for the weather forecast: solar can help break through the gloom.


[1] Schumacher, E.F. Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered (Blond & Briggs, 1973)

[2] UNU-WIDER Aid, Environment, and Climate Change (draft) (ReCom, 14 August 2013)

[3] Byrne, R. et al. Energy Pathways (STEPS Centre, 2011)

[4] Jaccard, M. Sustainable Fossil Fuels (Cambridge University Press, 2006)

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