Our Perspective

Vanuatu begins rebuilding but faces severe challenges

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Cyclone Pam has passed, but Vanuatu residents will need months, if not years, to recover from its devastation. Photo: Silke von Brockhausen/UNDP

Descending into Vanuatu’s international airport in Port Vila, I could see the devastation Cyclone Pam caused on March 13, sweeping nearly two dozen islands.  What used to be a lush green landscape is washed brown by saltwater, trees are dead and uprooted, and houses have lost their roofs. More than half of the population was affected by the cyclone. 15,000 homes got destroyed and 96% of the country’s crops as well as coconut and banana trees are wiped out. A true disaster for a country that relies heavily on subsistence farming for food security and income. Two weeks into the emergency, I was meeting with communities in the capital Port Vila and witnessed the impressive resilience of the people of this island nation. Even though their need for basic humanitarian assistance such as food, water, medical aid and shelter was still high, people had started to rebuild their lives on their own. Roofs were being fixed, roads cleared, uprooted trees cut and piled up, damaged bridges restored and those who could were going back to work. One of the severe challenges communities are now facing is lack of employment and income. “Because of the disaster, markets are closed and women can’t... Read more

What contributes to a successful election?

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Africa's most populous nation and biggest economy, Nigeria has surprised the world by conducting largely peaceful elections. Photo: UNDP Nigeria

On 28 March 2015, Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and biggest economy, surprised the world by organising largely ‘peaceful’ presidential and national assembly elections. At a time the National Human Rights Commission was reporting dozens of deaths from pre-election violence in more half the states in the country, and with analysts predicting more of the same, the country managed to conduct a credible poll, setting an example worth sharing. Without the commitment, goodwill and resources of power brokers across the country, Nigeria’s achievement would not have been possible, despite the overwhelming acceptance among Nigerians that it was time for change. Here are some take away lessons: Role of the National Peace Committee (NPC): National leaders on their own accord established a National Peace Committee that was instrumental in mediating differences between the political parties and building confidence. The Committee persuaded presidential candidates sign two peace pledges in the run-up to the elections— assuring that they would abhor violence and ethnic based campaigning, and promising that they would accept the results of the elections. Monitoring Mechanism: UNDP provided support to the National Peace Committee by providing monitoring assistance through civil society, promoting consensus, establishing mechanisms to track incidents of electoral performance and... Read more

How can cooperation between local authorities help to achieve universal access to water and sanitation?

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Internally displaced people (IDPs) in Bannu, Pakistan gain access to water through a UNDP-supported project. Photo: UNDP/Pakistan

Water is essential for local development, particularly for sectors such as health, agriculture, economic development, education and environment. However, 748 million people in the world lack access to an improved source of drinking water and 2.5 billion people live without basic sanitation facilities. Water scarcity mostly affects less developed countries and rural areas, preventing their citizens from living a healthy and productive life while also resulting in huge annual economic losses. To provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, US$ 27 billion are needed annually. Official Development Assistance (ODA) covers approximately one third of the target but 17 billion are still missing. Local and regional authorities can contribute to filling the endemic resource gap that cripples water interventions. I believe local to local cooperation is an important part of the solution but to make it fully effective we need to improve its modus operandi. The benefits of an integrated approach Thousands of regional and local actors are willing to transfer financial resources and expertise to countries with scarce access to water. France and the Netherlands have passed a legislation that commands sub regional authorities to use 1% of their fiscal entries to water cooperation. Other countries such as Spain,... Read more

The need to boost youth participation and inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean

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The region has more than 150 million young people between 15 and 29 years but a closer look into LAC parliaments reveals that young people are scarcely represented. Photo: UNDP/El Salvador

Democracy is widely supported in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). However, institutions and policymakers don’t always enjoy the same positive perception, according to recent Latinobarómetro surveys. Young people in the region have been playing a key role in recent peaceful demonstrations that demand more effective and transparent governments. And they do so not only by taking to the streets but also by playing a role in their own communities and — increasingly — on social networks. The region has more than 150 million young people between 15 and 29 years but has a great challenge ahead: curbing inequality in decision-making and public policy shaping. Institutionalized gaps must be closed if we want to achieve more equal societies: for women, men, lesbian, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and intersex, and people of African and indigenous descent. A closer look into LAC parliaments reveals that young people are scarcely represented, especially women. Among members of parliament, only 2.7 percent of males and 1.3 percent of females are under 30 years old — despite the fact 1 in 4 Latin Americans is young. Today’s young people are also the best educated in the history of LAC, and we need to facilitate their participation in decision-making,... Read more

The political economy of illicit financial flows

In this blog series, our experts share their thoughts and lessons learned on key financing for development issues, in the run-up to the UN’s Financing for Development conference in July. Tax evasion has often been the hallmark of the elites. In ancient Rome, the upper class viewed tax as ‘the mark of bondage.’  Two millennia later, Leona Helmsley, the wife of a real estate billionaire in New York, reportedly said: ‘Only little people pay taxes’. But the Roman Empire collapsed because the tax on land was largely passed on the poor, and later on the middle classes, while the elite carried less and less of the public financial burden. Today, both developed and developing countries alike face similar problems. Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) such as tax avoidance and evasion, embezzlement of national resources, trade misinvoicing, and smuggling of goods and capital across borders, are widespread phenomena and occur for a range of reasons, including theft, corruption, high political or economic instability in the originating country or higher returns on investment in the destination country. Although these problems can affect all countries, it can be particularly prevalent (and harmful) in natural resource-rich states with weak governance such as Nigeria, Gabon and Equatorial... Read more

If it is not rights-based, it is not real human development

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In Mozambique, UNDP is putting an emphasis on human rights in its development work. Photo: UN/Mozambique

Today, as we witness widening inequalities within countries, intensifying competition around scarce natural resources, and the continued exclusion of marginalized groups, national human rights institutions (NHRIs) are more relevant than ever.  They are the cornerstones of our national systems for the promotion and protection of human rights, essential to sustaining development and successful implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. In the past year alone, UNDP partnered with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to support the establishment of NHRIs in Botswana, Samoa and Sao Tome and Principe. We continue to provide capacity-building support to foster human rights protection, by establishing the mechanisms for handling of complaints in several member states or by supporting the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process in others. In Mozambique, for example, UNDP is assisting the National Human Rights Commission in monitoring places of detention. These practices emphasize what states should do to prevent and address negative impacts from infringements of human rights, and to ensure protection for people whose rights have been adversely affected. The importance of the role of National Human Rights Institutions is heightened by the recent rise in social tensions and violent extremism around the world.  Human rights... Read more

Inside UNDP: Jorge Álvarez

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Jorge Álvarez with community members from UNDP’s sustainable land management project in Las Bambas, Apurímac, Peru. Photo: UNDP/Peru

Jorge Álvarez, from Peru, is an agricultural engineer who has worked for UNDP for over five years and is on the roster of Peruvian national experts of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He is motivated by the desire to raise public awareness on the importance of taking care of the planet and its resources, to generate tangible changes in his country, and to leave to his children a legacy of a cleaner and sustainable Peru. 1. What do you do for work?  I manage the portfolio of energy and environment projects of UNDP in Peru, including more than 18 projects being implemented and another ten in the design/pre-implementation stage.  The projects are classified in five areas: climate change, biodiversity, desertification, environmental quality and environmental funding. 2. How long have you worked for UNDP? How did you end up working for UNDP? Where were you before?  My first experience with UNDP was as National Coordinator of "The Second National Communication on Climate Change" project, but worked at the Ministry of the Environment. I then became a Programme Officer and have worked in this position for over two years. Prior to UNDP, I worked for the National Environmental Council,... Read more

How will small island states finance our ambitious Sustainable Development Goals?

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Helen Manvoi and her children stand in front of what used to be their outdoor toilet in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo: Silke Von Brockhausen/UNDP

“Our development has been wiped out,” said Vanuatu’s President as Cyclone Pam laid waste to pretty much the entire South Pacific nation. It is reported that over 90% of the capital’s buildings have been damaged; disease outbreaks and food and water shortages are now a major concern. Millions, if not billions, will be needed to provide emergency assistance to affected communities and to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.  With major shocks such as these so common, how can small states – from Barbados to Cabo Verde to Samoa – better plan for such emergencies? And will the international community make sure that adequate finance is made available?  Small states often have special challenges when it comes to raising resources. Most often rely on one or two key industries, in particular tourism, for the majority of their exports. For countries spread out over many islands, revenue collection may not be cost-effective, yet remote communities still require basic social services. Many small states have reduced poverty and improved key social indicators over recent years. For example, Barbados has invested heavily in education, and has achieved almost 100% literacy, and enviable secondary and tertiary education levels. Paradoxically, this means donors are less interested in providing... Read more

Maintaining HIV health services in the wake of disaster

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Commemorating World AIDS Day in Petionville, Haiti. Photo: UNDP/Haiti

In 2010, Haiti suffered an earthquake with devastating consequences.  225,000 people died and 1.5 million people were displaced. There was 10 million cubic meters of debris, 30 of the 49 hospitals in the country were ruined, and 80 percent of schools and 60 percent of the government structures were destroyed.  With very little infrastructure left, the internally displaced people were settled in 1500 camps in the metropolitan areas. What happened to us in Haiti has been referred to as the largest urban disaster in modern history. The humanitarian effort following the earthquake was extraordinary, with much global attention and donor support. However, there was little funding and planning for the HIV response and to address gender-based violence.  These needs had not been integrated into the larger humanitarian work, despite the fact that Haiti has the highest burden of HIV in the Caribbean region. Incidences of rape in the internally displaced camps were high, young people were turning to sex work for economic reasons, and the rates of HIV and TB transmission increased. Haiti had been receiving Global Fund grants since 2003, but the weakened systems and capacities after the earthquake challenged their implementation. UNDP was invited to be the interim Principal... Read more

Building resilience and livelihoods in the aftermath of war

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The UNDP-supported project is working to deliver tangible socio-economic benefits by investing in and restoring ecological infrastructure such as rangelands. Photo: UNDP/Afghanistan

Travelling through Afghanistan, one can see that the country is struggling to recover from 30 years of war. Poverty is especially apparent when you leave Kabul and travel to other parts of the country. UNDP has been in Afghanistan for more than 50 years, working closely with the Afghan government to operate projects across the country’s 34 provinces, but despite significant steps forward, this is a country that faces enormous recovery needs after decades of war, natural disasters and a continuing cycle of violence. After months of preparation, we at UNDP are now starting to implement the “Strengthening the Resilience of Rural Livelihood Options for Afghan Communities” project, the first climate change adaptation project in this country. UNDP is now helping Afghan communities withstand the effects of climate change, and we are focusing on building awareness and planning capacity, as well as demonstrating adaptation activities such as livelihood diversification, resilient water and irrigation infrastructure, and improved agriculture practices. This is a crucial project for poverty reduction in Afghanistan. Sixty percent of the Afghan workforce is employed in agriculture, but climate change impact has been making their lives difficult. Due to prolonged droughts, erratic rainfall and extreme temperatures, the most cultivable land... Read more

Why more tigers in India is good news for us all

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There were roughly 100,000 tigers in 1900; that number has tumbled to 3,200 in 2014. UNDP Photo

My first encounter with a wild tiger was pure drama. I was on safari in India’s Nagarhole National Park and only a few minutes into our game drive, the forest erupted into bedlam. There it was, slipping effortlessly through the dry season undergrowth as everybody held their breaths in a spellbound silence. But, once the safari over, I felt the pangs of loss. How much longer before this majestic creature is extinct? Tigers’ decline has been catastrophic. There were roughly 100,000 tigers in 1900.  Poached for traditional medicine, hunted for sport and hounded by the destruction of their habitats this number has tumbled to just 3,200 in 2014. Last month, for the first time in decades, tigers featured in some good news. The Indian government announced an increase in wild tiger numbers from 1,706 in 2010 to 2,226 – a 30 percent bounce back. These astonishing results didn’t come out of nowhere. India is the only country that has an official body, mandated to ensure the nuts and bolts of tiger recovery: regular population surveys, habitat and population monitoring, law enforcement etc.   India is taking a landscape approach. To protect a tiger one needs to set aside areas strictly for... Read more

Vanuatu: at the apex of climate change, disaster risk reduction, and recovery

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Scenes of the destruction caused by Cyclone Pam. Photo: Shoko Takemoto/UNDP

Early morning, I walked through downtown Port Vila, Vanuatu.  Tropical cyclone Pam certainly left many scars throughout the town: damaged buildings, one-sided trees, destroyed boats, and broken sea walls all silently speak of the immense power of what had swept through the land and the sea on the evening of 13th March 2015. Food security is a concern. The vegetable market at the centre of the town is still closed – there is no fresh produce left anywhere on the islands – and it may take weeks and months before the market will return to colour and life. Climate change and disasters go hand-in-hand in this exposed island nation, and clearly this disaster requires immediate relief. But as I continued walking by the waterfront, passing people, I could not help but notice the friendly smiles and warm good mornings that characterises the charm of the Vanuatu people.   Nambawan Café, a popular outdoor spot for gathering by the waterfront was already open a little before 7am, although it took me a while to notice that it was the same Café because most of the shops and structures around it had changed dramatically. I took the opportunity to speak to the staff... Read more

Building resilience in the face of mounting risks in the Arab Region

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A flood-affected village in Upper Nile State in Sudan. Photo: Fred Noy/UN

Much has been said about the rolling back of development results and vulnerability of communities in parts of the Arab region because of violent conflicts, but less has been said about the increasing changes communities face from natural disasters and risks from climate change. Debates at the recent World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan highlighted that in the 21st century, development will need to be increasingly resilient to shocks and crises, and address the multi-dimensional nature of risk. This holds special relevance to the Arab region, as the most food-import dependent and water-insecure region on the planet today. The Risk Triad: Conflict, Drought, and Climate Change Many communities face the convergence of conflict, and one of the largest mass movements of forced migrants and refugees in modern history, and the exacerbating force of climate change, which brings more frequent and severe droughts, land degradation and food and water insecurity. Out of a population of 357 million, about 150 million in the region are exposed to drought risks. In Somalia, the famine killed between 50,000-100,000 people and displaced 4 million people.  In Syria, the drought of 2006-2010 decimated the livelihoods of more than 20% of the rural population, unleashing... Read more

Fighting corruption: Adapting ‘best practices’ or ensuring a ‘best fit’ to local contexts

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Korea’s case is particularly interesting because of its rapid economic and social development despite governance challenges such as corruption.

At UNDP’s Seoul Policy Centre for Global Development Partnerships, we often get to hear: “Korea developed so fast. I want to know how this happened, so that I can help my country too”. Policy makers and practitioners in developing countries find Korea’s case particularly interesting because of its rapid economic and social development despite governance challenges such as corruption. At the 2015 Seoul Debates, participants honestly wanted to take practical and immediate solutions home, and found Korea’s innovative tools particularly attractive. Besides the integrity assessment of Korea’s anti-corruption body - conducted by over 600 public organizations in Korea, and now applied in several countries including Bhutan - there was also the electronic subcontract payment system for transparent public infrastructure projects of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Other countries also shared their experiences, among them Uganda and Columbia. Uganda’s Inspector General of Government shared how her country had exceeded its target of prosecuting 50 cases of corruption per year, and stressed the importance of working with all stakeholders both within and beyond the country. Our colleagues from UNDP Colombia shared a transparency assessment tool that helps political parties manage the integrity of political processes. Yet we deliberately avoided the ‘best practices approach,’ or... Read more

Seven things to consider when managing non-renewable natural resources

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Gold mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where production is booming but many diggers live in abject poverty. Photo: Benoît Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

Natural resource wealth offers enormous potential for achieving development goals. But without effective management, the wealth can be squandered. UNDP works with governments, the private sector and civil society to minimize the risks associated with building an oil, gas and mineral economy and optimize the benefits. Here are seven tips on how the development impact of these finite resources can be enhanced. Know your wealth. Most of the oil, gas and mineral resources in developing countries are yet to be discovered. Consequently, foreign companies that carry out exploration activities have pertinent geological information before governments do, creating bargaining asymmetry during contract negotiations. As the African Mining Vision notes, governments need to fully know their resource wealth to be able to negotiate as equals. Establish comprehensive legal frameworks. Several contracts and mining codes have been revised in recent years, usually when governments realize, sometimes under pressure from civil society, that tax rates are low, environmental protection is weak and re-settlement schemes are inadequate. Participatory and consultative measures are indispensable when drafting key legislation. Maximize revenues for development. The income earned from taxing resource extraction can be low, first, because of weak contract negotiating capacity, and second, due to lack of transparency and... Read more

Managing local level risks for sustainable development

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Jambeshwar Maji, 48, works around the lift irrigation unit. UNDP’s partnership with the Government of Odisha is helping communities in Puri in Odisha adapt to extreme weather events. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNDP India

“The most effective disaster and climate risk management focuses on the local level.” As a Disaster Risk Management (DRM) practitioner, I heard this often, and yet only once I worked with communities on the ground did I truly understand the idea’s full import. Working with the GoI-UNDP DRM Programme in India showed me that the most successful and innovative DRM efforts start with communities. The Programme’s bottom-up approach allowed community members to identify their own risk management and climate adaptation needs, formulate local development and disaster management plans, and have these approved by elected village councils/representatives. It was particularly satisfying to note the sense of ownership the people had for the plans. While this might sound both intuitive and easy, I learned that a bottom-up approach requires sustained and continuous engagement with community members. It requires numerous meetings and consultations with a large cross-section of people, including women, the elderly and other traditionally overlooked groups. It requires sharing information and knowledge about successful practices with these communities, while also familiarizing these communities with administrative mechanisms and methods of promoting administration-community collaboration. We used this process in India. After the village/community disaster management plans were approved by the village council, the plans... Read more

Disaster resilience? There’s an app for that.

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Improved technology and disaster communication training supported through UNDP's projects in the Philippines helped local authorities obtain information rapidly and coordinate on a response during emergencies such. Photo: Hari Krishna Nibanupudi for UNDP

Mobile phones are helping revolutionize the way we protect communities from disasters. While more traditional measures, such as earthquake-resilient buildings and early warning broadcasts, will continue to be the hallmark of disaster risk reduction, innovations in technology are offering new ways to strengthen resilience. From simple SMS-style early warning messages to full touch-screen enabled ‘hazard maps,’ mobile technologies connect users to real-time disaster info. These innovations provide new ways of sharing life-saving information, but also help ‘crowd-source’ disaster info, allowing users to receive and update hazard-related information in real-time. Such technology has already had impressive results. For example, after the devastating 9.0 earthquake struck the coast of Japan in 2011, 120,000 residents in the Philippines’ exposed coastal communities received warnings of a possible tsunami on their mobile phones. While the tsunami fortunately did not materialize in the Philippines, some 150 coastal districts were nonetheless successfully evacuated. Countries around the world are using technology to raise awareness about disaster threats and create cultures of action. In Uzbekistan, UNDP helped create a mobile app in Uzbek and Russian that can transmit emergency information from the Ministry of Emergency Situations to at-risk communities. “It’s really easy to use,” says Vasko Popovski, UNDP’s Project Manager... Read more

Why Sendai is important for Africa

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UNDP IS HELPING RWANDA BOOST RESILIENCE TO DISASTERS AND THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE. PHOTO: UNDP RWANDA

This week the world will gather in Sendai, Japan, to mark the end of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) and the beginning of a new global framework on disaster risk reduction (DRR). Sendai is a golden opportunity for Africa to engage meaningfully in the debate and be heard in the light of its current economic transformation. Africa has seven of the top ten fastest growing economies— that growth, if not well managed, will likely contribute to new risks, including the potentially negative fallout from rapid urbanization and industrialization, the intensive use of natural resources and the degradation of ecosystems. One of the biggest achievements of the HFA in Africa has been raising awareness on disaster risk. It has been a tremendous vehicle for engaging African governments, sub-regional and regional institutions on DRR, and an important addition to Africa’s development agenda. The HFA has helped many African nations adopt legislation and shape institutional arrangements that include DRR. Yet, while considerable progress has been made over the last decade, the continent is still facing many challenges. The Horn of Africa and the Sahel region are continuously under threat of drought. Floods annually affect many cities and rural areas, with huge socio-economic impacts... Read more

Inside UNDP: Fides Borja

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Fides Borja with her colleagues and volunteers during Typhoon Ruby Response Operations at the Office of Civil Defense Operations Center.

1. Who are you? I’m Fides Barbara B. Borja, from UNDP in the Philippines.   Growing up, my parents taught us the value of hard work.  I have always dreamt of working in an international organization such as the UNDP, contributing and making a difference. 2. What do you do for work? I provide technical assistance to the Civil Defense Administrator in his role as the Executive Director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).  I assist the Philippine government in preparing for high-level international and regional conferences, including the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation 2015.  I also provide technical assistance for the review of the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 and Framework and Plan.  It is an exciting and challenging task because it includes inter-agency coordination as well as policy review of existing issuances and regulations.  I get to experience how the DRRM theories and principles are applied on the ground.      3. How long have you worked for UNDP? How did you end up working for UNDP?  Where were you before? I have been working for UNDP since May 2014.  After Typhoon Yolanda struck the... Read more

Payment of Ebola Response Workers - a moral imperative and a practical collaboration

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An Ebola casefinder, supported by UNDP in Liberia.

Ebola Response Workers (ERWs), mostly nationals of the epicenter countries Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, have been the cornerstone upon which the response has rested.  As the Time Person of the Year Award 2014 recognized, these workers have been at the frontlines: transporting the sick, caring for patients, tracing and monitoring the exposed, attending to the deceased, and providing security and coordination at all levels. A number of ERWs were already public employees (health sector workers, hospital staff, or district medical officers) at the outbreak of the crisis. But at the height of the crisis, as causalities mounted, many more were hired to work as part of the emergency response, supporting contact tracing, safe burials and community mobilization amongst other functions. Regardless of their status, these workers took on their responsibilities expecting at best modest compensation. By October 2014, when medical evidence indicated the risk of an exponential expansion of infections, many workers had, however, gone without pay for months. Whilst resources were available, reliable payment platforms able to manage large scale coordinated payments to individuals were not. Government payroll only covered existing civil servants, banking sector penetration was weak, and mobile payments had only been used for small scale pilots... Read more

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