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Foreign Aid’s New Directions?

From the field of development cubicles (in other words my internship office), I found a few interesting articles on aid reforms. It is not my intention to rehash academic discussion by Easterly and Sachs, but as those working or interested in international development, I thought it would be good to be up-to-date on the “industry” news. Recently, there is an active discussion about shifting priorities of aid investment by some major aid agencies and organizations, as I found out from the following articles you can access online:

Some of the key words throughout seem to be around “efficiency” and “effectiveness” of aid, trying to maximize the value of money in aid. This leads me to the thought that there is always a push-and-pull between two different fruits of development we struggle to define; economic growth and all that is in between and beyond (such as democracy). Economic growth in itself needs to be defined on all levels from international to household level, and respective social factors that drive increase in income and profit. But the chicken-and-egg problem persists, and the difficult question of what is considered as process versus what is considered as goals/results — and that’s why there is always tension and room for different interests to leverage the ambiguity — hence, the politics of aid. Efficiency and effectiveness sounds sweet and uplifting, but it may be sugarcoating various dynamic aspects of development industry underneath the surface of nicely written reports. Though this blog and in academia, I want to learn more from the peer students’ experience on the field and in various development agencies this summer, how we’re opening up this nicely packaged box and getting our hands dirty to dig up facts and relationships of people who are decision-makers and shapers of development.

And a note to those who were and will be there: let IGID & PID discussions that got us to no answers be a comfort to us through this journey..

Entry by Aerin Cho
MPA ’11 International Policy and Management

Canadian Oil Sands: An Introduction

By Chris Pedersen

Over spring break, a group of nine students and I from the Center of Global Affairs took part in a field-intensive study to the oil sands in northern Alberta, Canada.  With the support of a grant from the Canadian government, we spent a week in Fort McMurray to see the oil sands production process and then visited Calgary, Canada’s booming energy metropolis.  Why Canada and the oil sands?  The United States imports more oil from Canada than any other country in the world.  Canada’s oil reserves are the second largest in the world, leading one to believe that the US-Canada energy relationship will be crucial in overall bilateral relations and geo-politics on a global scale.

First, some facts on Canada’s oil sands.  When one thinks of oil, they usually visualize a desert somewhere in the Middle East with oil rigs pumping oil out of the ground.  This type of oil is a light sweet crude oil, the easiest oil to turn into gasoline.  In contrast, Canada produces oil from a rock-like material called bitumen.  The bitumen is processed and turned into synthetic crude oil in two ways.  The first is mining the earth, using the world’s largest trucks to dig up the earth that contains varying amounts of bitumen.  Massive diggers load dump trucks that drop their loads of soil into a processor that breaks down the earth.  As the earth is broken down into smaller pieces, boiling water is mixed with the earth.  The water separates the bitumen (oil) from the rest of the dirt.

Mining Process

CAT 797 Dump Truck

The second way to get bitumen out of the ground is a process called “in situ” which means drilling in place.  Like surface mining, the bitumen that is deeper under ground is solid and needs to be heated so that it can be extracted.  To heat the oil, one pipeline delivers natural gas down to the bitumen area until it heats up into liquid from.  Then a second pipeline takes the hot liquid bitumen underground and delivers it to the surface to be processed.  The oil sands produce 1.3 million barrels of oil each day and about half of that goes to the United States.

In-Situ Process

It is expensive and energy intensive to turn bitumen into synthetic crude oil.  Until recently, the oil sands were not economically viable because low oil prices and worldwide availability to produce oil was much easier in other parts of the world.  To produce a barrel of light sweet crude in Saudi Arabia costs around 10 dollars and the infrastructure is already in place.  To produce a barrel in the oil sands costs around 35 dollars and only recently has the infrastructure to produce large amounts of oil come online.  And then there is the environmental issue.  Producing a barrel of oil in the oil sands emits between three to five times as much green house gases as oil produced in the Middle East.  Hence, Canada’s oil has been labeled “Dirty Oil.”

One argument that Canada and the oil sand producing companies (all the major oil companies) use to defend their dirty oil production is the idea of national security.  Do you want your petrol-dollars to be turned over to a democratic country that shares similar ideas and morals as the United States or to an autocratic government that represses their population and funds terrorism?  After hearing this argument I was reminded of the New York Times foreign correspondent David Rhode, who was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan for seven months last year.  Speaking at NYU, one of his concluding remarks stated that he was not concerned by how much oil Saudi Arabia has, but how Saudi Arabia spends their petrol-dollars.

The oil sands create tens of thousands of jobs in the United States.  The synthetic crude oil that is produced from bitumen in Canada is sent to Texas and Oklahoma to be refined. The massive trucks are built in Illinois and the tires they drive on are manufactured in South Carolina and sell for $65,000 apiece. From an economic viewpoint, the oil sands is a mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Canada that has great potential to create even more jobs in the future.

What about renewable energy?  In the United States, 95 percent of the energy used for transportation is with fossil fuels.  As tough as it is to hear, oil will be around for a long time.  I fully support R&D, feed-in-tariffs, and other subsidies to encourage renewable energy development, but it is important to be realistic in the expectations of “green energy”.  Green energy sources such as wind, biomass, and electric all use fossil fuels as a necessary component in energy production.  Phasing out of fossil fuel in the next few generations is simply unrealistic.  A more feasible challenge would be to incrementally increase the amount of renewable energy the world uses, taking market share away from fossil fuels.

Lastly there is the geopolitical issue.  Today, it is a luxury to be environmentally conscious.  What does this mean?  The countries that demand and need energy to keep their economy growing do not have a consensus on human rights or the environment.  Sudan is an example.  There were many human right activists in the United States that lobbied and fought to kick out US oil companies from the Sudan.  Although these activists had good intentions, their results proved to be ineffective and maybe even detrimental.  The US companies left the country and China stepped in.  Today, China has a monopoly and dependable oil source from the Sudan.  In return, the Sudanese government receives large revenues to continue the atrocities that Western activists deplore.  In Canada, we heard from both environmentalists and industry leaders of the growing demand and interest from China and other Asian nations in the oil sands.  If the United States decides to stop or slow importing “dirty oil” for environmental reasons, China and the rest of Asia will be more than happy to take “dirty oil.”  The infrastructure and capacity to export to Asia is not there at the moment, but if Canada continues to feel pressure from the United States, it will begin to look for a new buyer in the East.

I invite readers to leave a comment and share their view on the issue of oil sands.  Which way do you lean: Do you support the oil sands for national security and job creation or are the environmental effects a greater issue?

Additional information:

Buffett Buys Railroad

By: Chris Pederson

Warren Buffett, known in the finance world as the “Oracle of Omaha” turned many heads yesterday when he bought the 131-year-old Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation. Buffett is betting billions that future U.S. transportation will be carried out by railroads. The newly acquired railroad, traveling throughout the Midwest and to both borders carries grain, timber, and imports from Canada and Mexico. Although the east coast is littered with passenger and cargo trains, the vast Midwest and western coast has great potential for a more development and growth regarding railroad infrastructure. What does this mean for America and our future? Buffett, who has invested in oil and natural gas all over the world, has now looked for alternative ways to invest. As investors from all over and bankers on Wall Street obsess over each of Buffett’s moves, this could be a great sign for railroads and other alternatives to cars and trucks. With Buffet financial backing in the railroad industry, great strides and innovation can be made so that the U.S. can start diversifying the way goods are transported. It also sends a clear message to the world of oil investors, hinting that this might be the right time to diversify your investment. As the investments trickle into non-automotive companies that are looking for ways to move people and cargo, the U.S. can finally start moving in a direction where tires are not needed, only track.

US Navy as a “global force for good”?

Looks like the Navy has updated its recruitment slogan to "A Global Force for Good." Interesting. Notice how different this is from "Accelerate Your Life" and the classic "It’s not a job, it’s an adventure"? Many observers have noted that the Millennial generation of Americans is more service-oriented than its predecessors, so it’s not surprising that the Navy is looking to ride the "public service" wave in its marketing.

But what’s more interesting is how the slogan (and accompanying advertising) frames public service — and what it tries to imply about the US military’s role in the world. The US military lost its clear-cut strategic purpose when the Cold War ended. While some thought that 9/11 gave it a new mission ("Go kill the bad guys"), it looks increasingly like cooler heads and reality will prevail. "Global Force for Good" may be vague but it certainly conveys a mission larger than defending American shores or even American economic interests. If the US military moves in the direction of promoting global good, it can only be a positive development. An increasing part of their portfolio is already humanitarian work (including in many places they didn’t invade…). Some even argue for splitting this work into a separate force, which would cooperate more closely with USAID, NGOs and other international/multilateral actors.

Discussing the US military as a positive force can be unpopular at a left-leaning place like Wagner. But the US military has done some good things in the past, and every institution in society has both positive and negative effects. Most importantly, the political economy of the US is such that the military will continue to play a role in world affairs. So how can we maximize the positives and minimize the negatives?

By: Dave Algoso

PEN, ACLU Address United States’ Torture Legacy

Last Tuesday I attended “Reckoning with Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the War on Terror,” co-presented by PEN American Center and the ACLU at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. The event brought together more 17 well-known writers and human rights workers to read from the War on Terror’s chilling record.

I attended this event not long after screening Steve York’s Confronting the Truth, a documentary about the use of truth commissions to respond to the needs of victims of mass atrocities. The film focused on examples from South Africa, Peru, Morocco, and Indonesia, which, while varying in methodology, all aimed to create a space for victims’ voices to be heard and become part of the public record. This documentary helped me frame “Reckoning with Torture” as an attempt at public truth telling.

When I walked into the Great Hall I was greeted by two floor-to-ceiling screens showing images of handprints of Iraqis detained in U.S. military jails, which had had been manipulated by artist Jenny Holzer. On the armrests of our seats were sheets of paper marked with the handprints of those who had died while under U.S. custody during the War on Terror. All of the images, which also included censored memoranda and reports, had been made available by way of the Freedom of Information Act, used since 2003 by NGOs and others to petition for their release.

With these haunting images as backdrop, I listened as participating authors read testimony from the War on Terror taken from official state documents, legal memos, and victims’ statements. Some segments were outrageous, like a statement by GW Bush reaffirming the United States’ adherence to the Geneva Convention in the aftermath of the Abu Graib scandal. Other parts were devastating, like watching video footage of Guantánamo detainees disclose the details of their treatment in detention or hearing autopsy reports of those who died in U.S. prisons.

The readers of these testimonies (including such luminaries as Art Spiegelman, Eve Ensler, and Paul Auster) were themselves moved and left a powerful impression on me. Yet it also wasn’t about them. They were there to draw an audience to bear witness to and create a public record of the atrocities committed during the War on Terror, whose victims are dispersed around the world, some still in prison. The likelihood that a formal truth commission will emerge to recognize and record their stories seems slim. I hope you’ll take the time to see and hear what took place last week in the Great Hall.

The full hour and a half-long event is available to watch on PEN’s website here.

By: Karen Phillips

Summer in New York

Unlike many of my Wagner colleagues, I have been in New York all summer – but no less focused on the field of international relief development! I dropped out of the water capstone when I was offered a full-time job at the International Rescue Committee, an organization that works to provide emergency relief and development assistance after a disaster. The IRC is primarily active in post-conflict and post-natural disaster areas, and focuses its efforts on assisting refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

I work from the NY headquarters office, primarily with the South Sudan, Syria, and Myanmar country programs (though all the others to some extent as well), and do work related to the logistics and operations of these complex country programs.

My main project at the moment is the new logistics manual that will be used by staff on the ground in each of our 28 country programs. Much of this involves turning the complex processes required by U.S. government and donor regulations into a manual that will actually be used and read, and be a helpful tool enabling field staff to carry out the basic operations and logistics of their humanitarian work efficiently and transparently!

Although the topic can be dry at times, this has been one of my favorite projects in the last few months, and it’s actually been surprisingly interesting learning the intricate inner workings of an organization as amazing as the International Rescue Committee. The IRC is highly regarded as a reputable, transparent, well-run organization, one that uses donor funds efficiently and carries out truly groundbreaking work, so I’m enjoying being a part of this in whatever small ways I can!


IPSA Summer Book Club-Mountains Beyond Mountains

On Thursday, 6/18, an eclectic group of current and future NYU students met to discuss the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. MBM chronicles the life and work of Paul Farmer, an American doctor has worked tirelessly since the mid-1980’s to bring high quality medical care and social equity to various underdeveloped regions, but most notably Haiti. Much of this work occurs through the organization he co-founded, Partners in Health, but his work in these regions began long before the founding of PIH.

Discussion began with general reactions, all positive, to the book. Some identified with Farmer and his quest (also noting the frequent mentions of Lord of the Rings, a favorite of Farmer’s, in MBM); others admired Farmer for his work but felt that they didn’t share his tireless devotion. The book prompted a great deal of discussion around the methodologies, advantages, pitfalls, and other issues surrounding international development.

Farmer was criticized for not working to improve poverty more holistically. Although much of his work has reported and analyzed the associations between poverty, disease, and poor health outcomes, Farmer himself has refrained from working directly in alleviating poverty. His life’s work has centered around multi drug tuberculosis health care, and he himself has become directly involved in administering that care. Farmer cites this as crucial to improving health and quality of life, but some would criticize that he could be more effective by working less with patients.

Farmer, however, treasures his time with patients, especially those of Haiti. Furthermore, by working in Haiti so often, Farmer rejects many of the rewards and advantages of the American medical system, and some thought he was particularly unique in his refusal of material rewards.

Farmer himself would most likely sternly rebuke any such criticisms of himself, as he does in the book, and there can be no doubt that he has improved the lives of thousands, if not millions, by working in his unique methods.

Andrew Quinn


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