Saturday, 28 February 2015


The nonprofit International Relief and Development — once the U.S. Agency for International Development’s largest contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan — responded today to USAID’s suspension of its projects over allegations that IRD misused U.S. taxpayer funds and engaged in “serious misconduct.”
IRD staff carry emergency supplies for hospital across a downed bridge
in the Luhansk region of Eastern Ukraine. The nonprofit has responded
to the U.S. aid agency’s allegations of funds mismanagement. Photo by: IRD
The last month has seen an overhaul at IRD — 21 employees were laid off last week and the entire board of directors was dismissed — following the resignation of several top executives, including founder and former President Arthur Keys. While many question whether the organization will be able to survive the fallout, those left standing continue to look forward and plan for the future.
“This is a pretty unprecedented situation,” an IRD representative told Devex, “and an extraordinary opportunity going forward to build a 21st century [nongovernmental organization] that is really going to be setting some new standards in the development landscape.”
USAID raised three areas of concern when it suspended IRD from receiving any new U.S. government contracts: questionable expenses, accountability of senior management and the organization’s oversight capacity. IRD’s “very, very comprehensive” response takes each of them on in turn, according to the representative.
Regarding “questionable expenses,” the response includes details from an “expedited audit,” which IRD claims shows half of those expenses were actually allowable
IRD addresses the issue of senior management directly. The organization’s decision to dissolve its board of directors was made to ensure those responsible for financial mismanagement are no longer part of the organization.
USAID took issue with the fact that senior managers responsible for misconduct were still part of the organization at the time of its suspension.
“None of them are now,” the representative told Devex.
“Going forward, I will work with our new senior management team and reconstituted board of directors to make the new IRD a model of transparency, accountability and impact,” recently appointed IRD President and CEO Roger Ervin said in a statement.
Finally, IRD points to an independent audit it commissioned from the consulting firm Ernst and Young in its response to USAID concerns about systems and oversight capacity. The details of that audit’s findings are included in the response and, according to the representative, provide “ample evidence” of IRD’s capacity and the adequacy of its internal controls.
USAID will now have 45 days to submit a final debarment decision, according to regulations for nonprocurement debarment. IRD leaders hope the process will move quickly, and that USAID will help to avoid an “ambiguous” situation regarding the organization’s ability to continue its programs, many of which operate in time-sensitive, crisis situations like the Syrian border.
“This is not something that can remain unresolved for any period of time without having a significant impact well beyond IRD headquarters or inside the beltway,” the representative said.
The deadline for a response — originally Feb. 25 — was already extended once by USAID, due to inclement weather in Washington, D.C.


Protesters in Dhaka gather around the portrait of Avijit Roy,
a blogger who was killed on Thursday. (AP/A.M. Ahad).
Bangladeshi authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate the murder on Thursday of a blogger in the capital, Dhaka, and ensure the perpetrators are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Avijit Roy had criticized religious fundamentalism on his blog and had covered secular topics, including free expression.
"We call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government to leave no stone unturned in investigating and prosecuting the attack on Avijit Roy and Rafida Ahmed Bonna," said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz from New York. "This attack is emblematic of the culture of impunity that pervades Bangladesh, where the lack of accountability in previous attacks on the press continues to spurn a deadly cycle of violence."
Bloggers and commentators covering religious issues in Bangladesh have been at risk in recent years, according to CPJ research. In 2013, Islamist groups called for the execution of bloggers they said had committed blasphemy, according to news reports. In February of the same year, blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, who had covered Islamic fundamentalism and Islamist groups, was hacked to death by members of an Islamist militant group, police said, according to reports. No one was convicted in the attack. The month before, blogger Asif Mohiuddin, who had written critical commentary on religion, Islamist groups, free speech, and human rights, was stabbed by Islamists. He survived the attack. No one has been held responsible.
Two unidentified men approached Roy and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonna, as they were leaving a book fair in the Dhaka University campus area, according to Bonna and witnesses, the Dhaka Tribune reported. The assailants stabbed and hacked at them with sharp weapons and fled the scene, news reports said.
Roy and Bonna were taken to a local hospital, where Roy was pronounced dead, according to news reports. Bonna was critically wounded.
Roy, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin, was visiting Bangladesh to attend the book fair, news accounts said. The blogger had covered secular issues including science, homosexuality, atheism, and free expression on his blog, Mukto-Mona (Free Mind), and had published several books on those issues, news reports said. Roy, a Hindu, was critical of religious fundamentalism in his writings on Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country.
The blogger had reported receiving death threats from Islamists to his friends and family and to the U.K.-based human rights organization the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the organization said. The blogger's father told journalists that Roy had received threatening messages over email and on social media from individuals who were unhappy with his writing, news reports said.
Police said they were investigating the attack, but did not immediately name any suspects, according to reportsCPJ

Tuesday, 24 February 2015


A partnership between the Italian NGO, Doctors with Africa CUAMM, and the Ministry of Health has achieved outstanding success saving the lives of mothers and babies in a rural hospital in South Sudan.

A bush ambulance and a handful of committed staff able to provide round the clock quality healthcare at Yirol County Hospital increased the number of women delivering at the facility by 47 per cent in the first year it was introduced, according to a study presented in Juba today.  In the last three years, safe deliveries at the hospital then jumped by a further 100 per cent.

In South Sudan, around 90 per cent of women give birth at home but some suffer from life-threatening complications such as excessive bleeding after birth, requiring emergency medical care.  Chiara Scanagatta, Country Director for Doctors with Africa CUAMM, said:

“In one of the countries with the highest maternal mortality rate on the planet, getting pregnant can be a terrifying time for women. But by ensuring a simple ambulance service can work in a rural setting, we’re helping to make pregnancy and delivery a little less scary.”

The poor condition of roads in Lakes State means transporting women needing medical care can be a difficult task, with potholes and flooding often making the simplest of journeys to hospital near impossible.  Thanks to collaboration between the Lakes State Ministry of Health and Doctors with Africa CUAMM, communities in Yirol West can now dial a dedicated phone number and be sent an ambulance able to traverse the roads, reaching Yirol County Hospital for proper care and treatment.

The study “A hospital-centred approach to improving Emergency Medical Care in South Sudan” conducted by Doctors with Africa CUAMM, and in collaboration with the State Ministry of Health, assesses the progress of the intervention, which began in 2008. The study also proposes ways forward to further improve emergency obstetric care in the country.

Doctors with Africa CUAMM’s work in Yirol County Hospital is currently funded by the Health Pooled Fund, a $185 million fund backed by the Governments of the UK, Australia, Canada, Sweden and the European Union to improve health in six of the country’s ten states.  Dr Damianos Odeh, Director at the Health Pooled Fund, said:

“While there’s still a long way to go to stop mothers dying in childbirth, we’re confident that by sharing success with NGOs, donors and the Ministry of Health, we can help each other to come up with strategies that we know work in the South Sudanese context”.