(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Some Numbers

Happy Mother’s Day
As most of the readers of this blog are aware, my wife and I are going to have our second baby in a few months. According to a recent report by Save the Children on the worst places in the world to be a mother, Burundi ranks 137. I suppose that given the obstacles it could be worse. It’s still not good. Neonatal deaths are very high and unlike Nairobi and Johannesburg, no matter how much you pay for the care in the country, it is limited. We’re heard horror stories from friends including one where the power went out during the birth.  With over a million newborn deaths in the world every year, it’s best to take as few chances as possible.
After much reflection about where we would have the baby, we are opting to go back to the US. Even though the US isn’t even in the top ten of the survey (a surprising 30th), it’s probably our best option, including the fact that we can be surrounded by family.

And Now For Some Numbers
There are a lot of other statistics that shed some light on the difficult situation in this country. In fact, Burundi, despite being potentially self-sufficient in food, has the highest level of hunger of all 79 countries listed in the 2012 Global Hunger Index published recently by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Some 58 percent of children are chronically malnourished, which means the physical and intellectual development of the child is seriously threatened. It gets worse. In the UNs recent human development index, Burundi ranks 185th out of 187 countries. This is seriously bad, particularly when you consider how many economically devastated and worn-torn countries were rated higher. To top all this off, the attempts to fix these problems are hampered by corruption. Burundi is listed by Transparency International as one of the six most corrupt countries in the world.
While I’m mentioning surveys, the Economist came out with a list of the worst places to find something to eat. The criteria included affordability, quality, availability, etc. Burundi fared much worse than on the mother survey. It ranked 3rd to the last.
The 10 worst places to get food are:
1. Congo 18.4 points
2. Chad 20.2
3. Burundi 22.9
4. Haiti 24.5
5. Madagascar 26.3
6. Ethiopia 26.4
7. Tanzania 26.8
8. Malawi 27.3
9. Togo 27.5
10. Sudan 27.6

So yes, that’s where we live. I should also say that’s why we’re here. If one wants to do humanitarian work and contribute to the lives of those who are suffering, the numbers reveal that these people can certainly use the help. Being land-locked, maintaining a very high birth rate, low education levels and possessing limited natural resources, things are likely to stay tough for a while.

So Now What?
In spite of all this, Burundi is a strikingly beautiful place. The seemingly endless hills are green and very lush. The climate is near perfect year round – tropical without the unbearable heat. I find the people to be quite warm and welcoming. In fact the country is currently host to nearly 50,000 people (mostly from the Congo) who have been given refuge in this small, densely populated and troubled country. It’s an incredibly challenging feat to do such a thing even with international assistance.
After living here for nearly three years, I find it easy to waver back and forth between optimism and pessimism. I think if you only see one or the other then you’re not paying attention. The reality is both. I don’t think we are on the edge of war right now but I don’t think we’re on the edge of prosperity either. Time will tell but it is likely that we are in for a long, slow slog in a gradual albeit positive direction.

…And Where Is the Food?
In case you are wondering about the ten best places to find something to eat, here is where the US makes up for its paltry conditions for motherhood:

1.  United States 89.5
2.  Denmark 88.1
3.  Norway 88.0
4.  France 86.8
5.  Netherlands 86.7
6.  Austria 85.6
7.  Switzerland 83.7
8.  Canada 83.4
9.  Finland 83.1
10. Germany 83.0

At least when we get to America we will be able to find something to eat.

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