U.N. to deliver food aid by text message

We've reached a very strange point in human history when it is assumed that people who don't have access to food will have working cell phones:

In a test project targeting 1,000 Iraqi refugee families, the United Nations agency will send a 22-dollar (15-euro) voucher every two months by SMS to each family, who will be provided with a special SIM card.

The beneficiary can then exchange the electronic voucher for rice, wheat flour, lentils, chickpeas, oil, canned fish, cheese and eggs at selected shops.

Addressing concerns about mobile phone ownership among the refugee population, WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella said all the 130,000 Iraqi refugees currently receiving food aid from the agency in Syria have mobile phones.

Update: UN Dispatch's Matthew Cordell has more.


How (not) to measure a war

There's nothing more frustrating than reading an article which purports to answer a question that it really dodges. Take, for example, "How to Measure the War," by inveterate Afghanistan and Iraq indexers Jason Campbell, Jeremy Shapiro, and Michael O'Hanlon. One would expect to finish the piece with a better understanding of the metrics that we will use to judge our progress in Afghanistan than after reading, say, Taro Gomi's Everyone Poops. That would be incorrect. 

Instead, the piece meanders inoffensively through thirteen pages, informing the reader that, yes, metrics are important in a counterinsurgency campaign. Yes, they can be misused and suffer from a lack of concrete data. And then there's this: "Unfortunately...metrics will not be up to the job of diagnosing clear and incontrovertible proof of progress or lack thereof in Afghanistan."

That's disturbing news, especially coming from the people who have followed the numbers in Iraq closer than anyone not in a uniform. It's also, thankfully, not particularly convincing. The authors argue that, because the primary measure of success in Afghanistan will be the effectiveness of the Afghan government, this presents a set of metrics which are hard to measure. Well, here are a few metrics to gauge the capability of the government off the top of my head: I would be interested in knowing in what parts of the country the government can collect taxes; how many students regularly attend government-run schools; and where the government can provide regular services, from functioning courts to trash pickup.

Those are just the basics. You can read the Obama administration's metrics for measuring progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan here. I'm sure there are more complicated metrics for a government's capabilities. So how about it, Passport readers? What do you think are the important factors to measure in Afghanistan to determine if the US war effort is worth the cost?