Tag Archives: Liberia

How to Cook without a Fire

One of the most difficult facets of life for the poorest people in developing countries, is the daily work of simple cooking. First you must gather firewood (and water), then you need to transport this to where you live, and cook your food over an open flame, while inhaling smoke from this highly inefficient means of cooking your meals. Smoke from indoor cooking fires kills more than 2 million children a year in the developing world.

Despite the quantities of oil and gas currently being pumped out of the ground in Africa, most of the rural population still depends on firewood or inefficient charcoal as shown in this slideshow of people making charcoal in Liberia. (Liberia has severe fuel poverty and a non-existent rating from the World Bank for Alternative Energy.) Both the firewood gathering and the process for making charcoal have contributed to deforestation as well. The time spent in these activities can also contribute to children’s inability to spend sufficient time in school and the distances traveled can frequently present life-threatening situations for women especially, as in Darfur.

A potential solution to these many problems is solar cooking and there are several organizations involved in getting the technology into the hands of the people who most need it. These cookers work purely with the bright light of the sun (no fires!), cook the food in a better way, preserving nutrients, and can even be used to purify water. (Solar Cookers International even brings all the data together in one wiki so you can browse and find the most recent information on a particular country like Liberia.)

Sometimes I think that all the solutions are there: we just need to open our eyes, minds and hearts to see them!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC


Infant “Un-Mortality” Rates Improving

I’ve been looking forward to updating these numbers for a while now and finally had the chance last night. I’d been using this information from Wikipedia (btw, if you are trying to access this and any other Wikipedia site on Wednesday, Jan. 18 you may not get through because they’ve gone on “strike” for the day), but was really excited when Unicef released new numbers finally. The 2010 numbers are available in their Child Mortality Report 2011. (It’s in pdf format so you’ll need Adobe Reader.) One more technical note: in keeping with my positive take on my quest for 100%, I am subtracting the infant mortality rate from 10. (So it’s really an “Infant Survivability” or maybe “Infant Un-mortality” rate!)

What I found was just astonishing, and truly good news. Almost every single country listed had an increase, even if it was only a tenth of a percent! The European countries, which already have extremely low infant mortality rates, even improved, especially in Eastern Europe. (Oddly, most seemed to settle at 99.7% for some reason.)

Latin American, Asian, but most especially African countries all seemed to improve with a few standouts:

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) actually improved 1% despite the horrible and continuing conflict there. (I am amazed at the commitment and strength of women and medical personnel to saving children’s lives there that this reflects.)
  • Liberia and Zambia improved almost 5%.
  • Malawi and Rwanda did improve by 5%.
  • And even Sierra Leone, which has been wracked with conflict showed an improvement of almost 2%.

From the report, “Since 1990 the global under-five mortality rate has dropped 35 percent—from 88 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 57 in 2010.  Northern Africa, Eastern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, South-eastern Asia, Western Asia and the developed regions have reduced their under-five mortality rate by 50 percent or more.”

We still have a ways to go, 21,000 children under 5 dying every day, is still way too many. but, according to the report, the rate of decline has accelerated. We are getting there! Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were to see this rate get to 99.99% Survivability within our lifetimes?

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. A quick addition/caveat to this post after perusing the news some more over the week. With recent global food prices increasing and some severe food shortages in some countries (especially East Africa), I am less optimistic that infant mortality rates will show a decline in 2011. Another concern which has also come up is the possibility that some countries are under-reporting infant mortality but, with global transparency increasing, I am hopeful that this will occur less and less over time.

Internet Access

Once upon a time but really not very long ago, access to the internet would not have been deemed as an essential tool to improve quality of life. Nowadays, we can barely imagine life without this invisible web of connectivity that constantly surrounds us.

Besides the obvious advantages of better communication, potentials for education, business opportunities, increased political monitoring of every species of government, and even dramatic healthcare improvement, there is another aspect of the increasing connection of our world.

That’s the human aspect. It’s no longer possible to be unaware of famines in Africa, flooding in Asia, earthquakes in formerly remote areas. And with those news reports, come images, videos, pictures from smart phones, pictures from satellites.

With connection, we are becoming more aware of each other. Along with all of these disasters has simultaneously arisen an outcry for help, and charity. Social networks in particular have answered these needs in ever-growing and at frequently astonishing levels.

We are truly becoming a global society and, as we help other people on the other side of the planet, we are also, perhaps unsurprisingly but inevitably, losing that distinction of “other.”

I just checked the numbers I’ve been using for this indicator, “Internet Users,” from the World Bank, and they seem to have changed. I’m guessing they’ve gone up and I can’t wait to find out how! (And they don’t even reflect this exciting fact yet: Liberia just brought ashore its first deep sea fiber optic cable. This is going to speed up the internet in West Africa even more quickly and opens up all sorts of possibilities for growth.)

Thanks for stopping by!

Heather McC

P.S. I meant to include more here on the current internet and education synergy but got sidetracked. However, I will certainly return to this subject because it is simply amazing to me what is happening with the convergence of those two worlds as well as the introduction of “gamification.”