Poverty and Corruption in AfghanistanAfghanistan is currently one of the poorest countries in the world with nearly 40 percent of the Afghan population living in poverty. Afghanistan is also one of the most politically corrupt countries in the world. In 2018, The anti-corruption organization Transparency International ranked Afghanistan an index score of 16/100 for its high levels of corruption. Over the past several decades, political corruption in Afghanistan has destabilized the country and contributed to its poverty problem.

USAID has always believed that political corruption and poverty are an interlinked problem because political corruption has a tendency to aggravate the symptoms of poverty in countries with struggling economic growth and political transition. Conversely, the social and economic inequalities that are found in impoverished countries are known to create systemic corruption.

The Scope of Contemporary Corruption in Afghanistan

The destabilizing effects of political corruption on Afghanistan cannot be underestimated. According to Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. government agency tasked with the reconstruction of Afghanistan, corruption has been a major obstacle in the political, economic and cultural reconstruction of Afghanistan. The Asia Foundation has identified more than 70 forms of corruption currently within Afghanistan that cross a wide range of institutions, including international aid and public administration.

Two of the most common forms of corruption in Afghanistan are nepotism and bribery. Many of the basic public services provided by the government are only obtainable through the payment of bribes, which has caused severe distress to Afghan citizens. Afghanistan’s economic growth has been severely damaged by the reliance on bribes to pay for public services. Nepotism and patronage have made it difficult for honest people without connections to rise within the political system and have given impunity to corrupt officials.

Afghan Awareness and Perceptions of Corruption

Unfortunately, many Afghans believe certain forms of corruption are inevitable and, in certain cases, a legitimate form of political life. When surveyed in 2012, at least 30 percent believed that most forms of bribery were acceptable. This type of attitude towards political corruption can make efforts to reduce or eradicate corruption more difficult.

Nevertheless, the Afghan people have not been completely culturally ingrained with political corruption, and there are many who still criticize corruption in Afghanistan. Most Afghans have consistently stated in several polls that corruption is a serious problem that their country is facing. A study from the Asia Foundation has shown that most Afghans believe that political corruption was more severe during and after Karzai then it had been under several past regimes.

Anti-Corruption Efforts

In 2014, President Ashraf Ghani was elected into executive office in Afghanistan. He has shown a remarkable commitment to developing and implementing strategies to decrease corruption and stabilize the country. Following his election in 2014, his first course of action was to not only dismiss several corrupt heads and directors of certain departments but also charge them with corruption, marking a major change from his predecessor Karzai.

In 2017, Afghanistan’s National Strategy for Combating Corruption (Anti-Corruption Strategy) was adopted by Afghanistan’s High Council and was developed under the supervision of President Ghani. The Strategy consists of 6 pillars outlining the course of action to be taken against corruption. This strategy was based on a comprehensive analysis of the causes and drivers of corruption and provides realistic goals that make it relatively easy to implement. Some of the pillars are designed to address nepotism (pillar 3) and money tracking (pillar 5).

The Ghani administration introduced new legislation in 2017 and 2018 to reduce and prevent corruption. The laws have been limited to a certain extent due to extenuating circumstances; however, they have had a certain level of success. The most notable success in the prosecution of corruption with this new legislation has been the adoption of a new Penal Code. This new Penal Code was the first to incorporate financial and corruption laws into its criminal provisions, making it a major achievement for the Afghanistan legal system.

Corruption Is Declining

While corruption is still pervasive in Afghanistan, these efforts have demonstrated some progress. Within the Transparency International Index, Afghanistan’s CPI score has steadily grown from 11 in 2015 to 16 in 2018, which is one of the largest increases any country has experienced in this amount of time. The introduction of new legislation and the adoption of the Anti-Corruption Strategy can provide a solid foundation to stabilize Afghanistan and reform its political system from corruption.

The government, under Ghani, has already taken the first steps in decreasing the significant level of corruption in Afghanistan throughout the country by implementing these strategies and laws. While progress may be slow, it appears that under President Ghani, Afghanistan may be on its way to political stabilization, allowing it to provide better public services and alleviate poverty within the country.

Randall Costa
Photo: Flickr

Aid to IndonesiaIndonesia is no stranger to natural disasters; it has experienced a lot of destruction throughout the years. A major natural disaster occurs in Indonesia almost every year in the form of tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Christian organizations are planted internationally in order to minister and bring aid to those in need. World Vision Ministry is one such organization that has been in Indonesia since 1960. Here is a look at World Vision’s aid to Indonesia.

World Vision’s Foundation

World Vision in Indonesia is based on a vision of a world that is committed to the well-being of children. The organization strives to build thriving communities where peace and justice can prevail with security, opportunity and contentment. This is accomplished through its relief, development and advocacy work. World Vision has become one of the world’s largest charities with annual revenue reaching more than $1 billion. It has ministries in 90 countries, focusing on children.

In the 1970s, World Vision Indonesia initiated a community development approach that provides more integrated support toward the empowerment of the poor communities and their children. Its involvement improved basic education, health, income generation and basic infrastructure for Indonesia. In 1998, World Vision raised 14 million to aid the poor in Jakarta, Indonesia. As a global humanitarian organization, World Vision’s ministry is dedicated to continuous aid to Indonesia whether it be a food crisis or assistance to victims of natural disasters.

Programs to Empower

According to the ministry, World Vision introduced the Area Development Program (ADP) approach in the 1990s to create an effective and lasting transformation in the lives of people in poor communities. The organization describes the ADPs as nurturing an inclusive approach to tackle poverty across extensive areas, normally involving several villages and communities. World Vision’s aid to Indonesia through the ADP approach has led to more sustainable developments and impacts through longer intervention and lifetime concentrated programs.

Today, World Vision has a partnership with Wahana Visi Indonesia, which supports around 50 ADPs in aid to Indonesia’s North Sumatra, Jakarta, East Java, West Kalimantan, Central Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara, North Maluku and Papua. World Vision in Indonesia has helped to save lives in many ways, but it is most effective in its emergency response.

Emergency Relief and Support

World Vision has administered emergency relief support to those affected by natural disasters or communal conflicts for many years. In 1963, World Vision supported the victims of Mount Agung eruption in Bali and then provided aid to Indonesia in the resettlement of displaced people in West Kalimantan, Maluku among other sites in the 1970-80s. The ministry remained Indonesia in 1997 and 2009 following the drought from the El Nino weather phenomenon, severe economic crises, earthquakes and the major tsunami in Aceh province.

In December 2018, World Vision provided aid to Indonesia when the Sunda Strait tsunami struck Java and Sumatra, resulting in more than 300 deaths. The ministry distributed hygiene and household items to families who lost their homes and provided safe places for mothers to feed their young children.

Margie Siregar, Humanitarian Emergency Affairs Director with World Vision, spoke with NPR’s Ari Shapiro while she was in Jakarta, Indonesia. “We had 30 aid staff already in the place before the earthquake happened and now we are providing some public kitchen and children feeding,” Siregar told NPR. The workers of World Vision also provided the children with a child-friendly space where they could play and recover from the trauma. In Central Sulawesi, an estimated 460,000 children in four districts were affected according to World Vision Indonesia.

Combatting Poverty

Each fiscal year, World Vision raises around $20 million from donors and sponsors in various countries to combat poverty and bring lasting transformation in the lives of the children to facilitate their communities. In 2018, 86 percent of World Vision’s total operating expenses went to aid Indonesia by establishing programs that benefited children, families and communities in poverty.

Parents in Indonesia are being empowered to care for their children through education on child protection and disaster risk reduction thanks to World Vision’s aid to Indonesia. Those who are interested in aiding the families affected by the recent tsunami may donate to World Vision’s Indonesia tsunami relief fund.

Carolina Chaves
Photo: Flickr

Trevor Noah Foundation
Trevor Noah’s childhood in late-state apartheid South Africa color his perception of the world. His recent memoir, “Born A Crime, gives insight into his life experiences. The host of the Daily Show is more than just a comedian. He has taken his success back to his homeland to build a new generation of inspired individuals.

The Trevor Noah Foundation

According to UNICEF, there are about 3.7 million orphaned children in South Africa. The youth make up around 60 percent of the unemployed population. Behind the Trevor Noah Foundation is the vision of a South Africa that improves itself through each new generation. In reference to his program, Noah stated, “the higher the level of education, the higher [the] chance the youth have of creating a future for themselves and collectively, a better South Africa.”

So, with this belief, Trevor Noah’s non-profit has established itself as an organization that supplies troubled youth with the education, life skills, and social capital essential for the pursuit of opportunities beyond high school. The Trevor Noah Foundation strategically launched to an audience of education professionals in order to find partnerships with government schools, mobilize philanthropic capital and, most importantly, to research innovative approaches. Not only does the organization offer skill development and career guidance, but it also provides psycho-social support.

Rooted in South Africa

The initiative is being piloted at a government school in Johannesburg, South Africa. On March 7th, 2019, Trevor Noah and executive director of the program Shalane Yuen, met with South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa. After sharing about the Foundation’s influence on education, the team was invited to the National Assembly as special guests to the president. Impressed by Trevor’s efforts, President Ramaphosa welcomed the South African native back home.

In “Born A Crime”, Trevor talks about the leverage he received from a privileged friend. It was in a CD writer gifted to him, that Trevor began to generate money from his DJ skills. This evolved into his appreciation for opportunities that are opened by technology. For the 500 orphans at the New Nation school, Trevor Noah hopes to open similar doors.

Computer Labs for the New Nation School

With Microsoft as the technology partner for the Foundation, the New nation School opened a new computer lab. The lab is equipped with Windows 10 laptops for students and teachers to allow for computer literacy skills courses. Workshops introducing basic coding has students practicing problem-solving skills.

When given the tools to offer Computer Application Technology courses, some institutions forget the value their equipment has on other subjects. Fortunately for the New Nation School, there are scheduled times students can utilize their tech resources for other subjects. Teachers are also able to use their timeslots to show subject related videos.

New Tech Opens New Doors

The biggest influence actually reflects upon the improved teaching practices. Instructors have been trained to maximize their services with Office 360 which allows for access to their work on multiple devices. In addition to Excel, Word and Powerpoint, teachers now have the opportunity to create online presentations and Socrative interactive quizzes.

Educators at the New Nation School are given new teaching opportunities with a plethora of innovative programs their computer labs offer. As they become comfortable in this new field of tech-based instruction, they are able to give students the tools to hone in on their own skills. These students exhibit the ability to surpass their predecessors adding a layer of growth to yet another generation.

A Vision for the Future

This is in large thanks to the Trevor Noah Foundation. It is no surprise that the symbol for the organization puts Africa at its center, being that the founder is South African. However, the rippled rings surrounding the imprint is symbolic of how a single footprint has an effect. Like a growing tree, generations add to that impact and make up an ever-changing world.

– Crystal Tabares
Photo: Flickr

Palliative Care
Providing necessary medical care is essential to any humanitarian response. For the approximately 745,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, home to the largest refugee camp in the world, accessing high-quality medical care is often difficult. Palliative care, which is medical treatment for those with chronic or life-threatening illnesses, is often overlooked in humanitarian crises. Two organizations, PalCHASE (Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Situations and Emergencies) and the Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation, are pioneering this treatment for Rohingya refugees.

The purpose of humanitarian health work is to relieve suffering and save lives; however, those who are chronically and perhaps terminally ill are often given less attention than those with more easily treatable ailments.

Who Needs Palliative Care?

Palliative care improves the quality of life for children and adults who have chronic or life-threatening illnesses. Treatment focuses on physical, emotional, social and/or spiritual symptoms, and requires ongoing interaction between the patient and health provider. This care is sometimes provided alongside other therapies and treatments, including chemotherapy for cancer patients.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management on life-threatening illness in Cox’s Bazar found that the most common life-threatening illnesses were tuberculosis, cancer and HIV/AIDS.

They also estimated that 73 percent of those with life-threatening illness experience pain. Approximately half received no pain relief and a majority receive very little pain relief. Other common symptoms include insomnia, cough, anorexia and dyspnea.

The Challenges

While medical supplies are generally available to treat these symptoms, they are often unaffordable, particularly for refugees, and more than 60 percent of patients had to stop taking medications because they were no longer able to afford them.

In addition to medication, palliative care requires a caregiver, and caregivers in Cox’s Bazar are normally family members. Approximately 94 percent of caregivers have no training, and providing hours of daily assistance bathing, feeding, giving medications, etc. is a physically and financially demanding role. Providing this treatment for Rohingya refugees, therefore, is often a significant burden on families, particularly if they have to do a lot of the work themselves.

Moreover, unique challenges arise when children need extensive treatment, as they need extra support and often spend more time in the hospital, separated from family and friends. This increases psychological stress and caregivers are in need of even more training to know how to properly care for children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

A Need that Should not be Overlooked

In spite of this need, palliative care for Rohingya refugees is not a priority in the aid sector’s response plan. PalCHASE (Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Situations and Emergencies), an organization based in the UK, was created in response to the general lack of palliative care in disaster and conflict responses.

Co-founder Joan Marston stated that palliative care is “really about the dignity of the individual,” noting that already “there’s enough indignity within these humanitarian situations.” The goal of PalCHASE is to get more emergency response plans to incorporate palliative care, hoping that the treatment will cease being an afterthought in the humanitarian response.

The Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation

The Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation is Bangladesh-based and is working directly on providing palliative care for Rohingya refugees. It is the first concrete palliative care program with a humanitarian response.

Founder Farzana Khan, despite being unable to secure long-term funding, is on the ground with a team of three addressing the distinct needs in the Rohingya refugee camps. Khan spent 20 years providing palliative care in Bangladesh prior to focusing on the Rohingya refugees, noting that her “core approach” is “dignity and respect.”

Early in their response, Khan’s researchers estimated that thousands of people in the refugee camps may be in need of palliative care and were not currently getting help. To remedy this, it is essential to make this treatment more easily accessible and ensure that refugees know when to seek medical treatment and care.

Changed Lives

Sanjida, a 16-year-old refugee living with untreated meningitis, which is causing increased paralysis, has received palliative care, thanks to Khan and her team. Her sister and caregiver, Khaleda, noted that she can now do more by herself, can call for assistance more easily and just generally seems happier.

Another patient, 10-year-old Mujibur Rahman, who suffers from bone cancer, was struggling to walk and ended up confined to a wheelchair. Dedicated treatment helped manage his pain and within two months helped him walk again.

Since the Rohingya crisis began in 2017, Khan’s team has reached approximately 1,000 patients, including Sanjida and Mujibur. While funding continues to be a problem, Khan hopes that organizations’ successes will help secure more financial support so that they can continue to provide support for Rohingya refugees.

Looking Forward

Regardless, the Fasiuddin Khan Research Foundation should become a model for other humanitarian response teams looking to focus on palliative care. In addition to the Rohingya, other refugees around the world, as well as those who are impoverished, are in need of better treatment in the case of life-threatening or chronic illness. The work of PalCHASE will hopefully increase knowledge about the need for palliative care and encourage humanitarian leaders to consider it more seriously.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Improvements for Healthcare in India

Technical advancements are revolutionizing the health care industry in India. The country is now experiencing a rise of entrepreneurs and start-up culture, with a promising GDP that is expected to expand to 7.5 percent by 2020. In return, the health care industry of India can expect to see more personalized and accessible health options as well as better infrastructure. Below are five recent improvements for health care in India worth noting.

Five Improvements for Health Care in India

  1. The National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS), also called the Ayushman Bharat, is one of the biggest advances in Indian health care to date. The initiative provides health care coverage for 100 million low-income families in India — nearly 40 percent of the population will have secondary and tertiary care procedures handled for them. Priority is given to women, children and senior citizens. Another component of the NHPS involves setting up 150,000 wellness centers to take care of primary health. In poor regions of India where people have remained dependent on government hospitals, their lives should improve as the NHPS improves health care infrastructure and creates more job opportunities.
  2. In March 2019, Esri, a global company developing location intelligence software, opened its latest research and development center in New Delhi. Esri is bringing improvements for health care in India through geospatial mapping technologies with the software ArcGIS, which can assist health organizations in making decisions that impact the health of India’s population. In developing countries, the demand for health service can outweigh the availability of service. As a result, geospatial intelligence has not been a priority in India’s government policies. The infrastructure for health care networking in India is limited, but there is a possibility for growth with Esri building a hub in India. Medical mapping, or health geo-information, is an efficient way for countries to monitor disease outbreaks, flood risks, and many other functions that improve overall public wellness. For example, in 2013, African organizations used ArcGIS to find the regions of Africa most afflicted by the eye disease known as trachoma; health workers were then able to reach out and provide antibiotics and corrective surgery to these areas.
  3. The startup company Niramai is developing an affordable screening tool called Thermalytix to counter the high rate of breast cancer-related deaths in India. According to WHO, one in every 12 women have the risk of a breast cancer abnormality, and Indian women have a 50 percent chance of survival. By using thermography for early detection, the screening tool is radiation-free, non-invasive, privacy-sensitive and accurate. Thermography reading has been around for a while, especially in the world of holistic medicine, but Niramai’s device uses machine learning algorithms to ensure an accurate result, making it one of the most innovative improvements for health care in India yet.
  4. Phillips and GE Health care have made it possible for doctors in urban cities to see rural patients through an apparatus called Tele-ICU. Since most hospitals in India are not equipped with high-quality intensive care units to handle the high demand, Tele-ICU provides a new option and eliminates transportation risks for patients. It uses video cameras, microphones, alarms and other tools to monitor patients in need of intensive care. By establishing an intensivist and a nurse within a command center, doctors can review patients’ records electronically through Phillips’ Clinical Decision Support software. Through the InTeleEye Mobile Cart, the command center can enter the ICU and oversee a patient’s physical condition through a screen. Tele-ICU thus upgrades the care and reduces the length of stay, therefore diminishing overall hospital costs, too.
  5. Several phone apps have made improvements for health care in India with the goal of helping women. Maya, a comprehensive health tracker app, provides a tool for women to manage their menstrual health. The developer, Plackal Tech, claims that only 12 percent of women at reproductive age in India use sanitary napkins, likely due to the country’s stigma of menstruation. To combat this stigma, Maya helps educate and empower women to understand and nurture their bodies. Another app, Celes Care, has become India’s first virtual health clinic for women. In 2015, the World Bank found that 174 women died per 100,000 live births, which is an improvement from the 215-figure in 2010. This number is still high, however, compared to developed countries where the mother’s mortality rate stays in the single digits range. Apps like Celes Care are necessary to provide long-distance preventative health care and deliver prescriptions to women in India. Within a minute, users can connect privately with a female physician who will address issues concerning fertility, pregnancy, thyroid, PCOS, weight control and menopause.

Such innovative solutions provide hope for reducing health risks and increasing access to health care in India.

– Isadora Savage
Photo: Flickr

10 Scary Facts About the Zika Virus
The Zika virus was first discovered in Uganda in 1947 through a group of diseased monkeys. In 1952, the first infected human was found in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. The Island of Yap is the first location where a large scale outbreak of the Zika virus was recorded. This incident took place in 2007. There are currently no countries facing a sizeable Zika outbreak, however, there may be a risk of contracting the disease in regions where the Aedes species of mosquito is prevalent. This article looks at the top 10 scary facts about the Zika Virus.

10 Scary Facts About the Zika Virus

  1. People are more likely to contract the Zika virus in poor countries. Mosquitoes that carry Zika often breed in stagnant water. These buildups of stagnant water are found in areas where communities lack adequate plumbing and sanitation. According to the United Nations Development Programme, poor households are least equipped to deal with the virus and are most likely to be exposed to the disease.
  2. Women face the biggest consequences during a Zika outbreak. Health ministers throughout Latin America have told women not to get pregnant during a Zika epidemic. In poorer countries, women lack access to sexual education, which leaves them vulnerable to misinformation. Furthermore, women may be blamed for contracting the virus during pregnancy, which carries an unfair social stigma.
  3. Zika poses a threat to unborn children. In some cases, when a pregnant woman is infected by the virus it disrupts the normal development of the fetus. This can cause debilitating side effects like babies being born with abnormally small heads and brains that did not develop properly. This condition is called microcephaly. Symptoms of microcephaly are seizures, decreased ability to learn, feeding problems, and hearing loss.
  4. Even though a mosquito bite may be the most well-known way to contract the Zika virus, it is possible to get the disease through other avenues. It is possible to get the disease during unprotected sex with a partner, who already have been infected by the virus. Individuals can also contract the virus during a blood transfusion or an organ transplant.
  5.  Symptoms of a Zika virus infection may go unnoticed. The symptoms can be described as mild. If symptoms do occur they can present themselves as a fever, rash or arthralgia. This is especially dangerous for pregnant women because they may not know that they have been infected, unknowingly passing it on to their unborn baby. There is no treatment available to cure this disease once it has been contracted.
  6. There are other birth defects associated with the Zika virus. Congenital Zika syndrome includes different birth problems that can occur alongside microcephaly. Some malformations associated with congenital Zika syndrome include limb contractures, high muscle tone, eye abnormalities, and hearing loss. Approximately 5-15 percent of children born to an infected mother have Zika related complications.
  7. The cost of caring for a child born with Zika related complications can be quite expensive. In Brazil, each kid born with the disease could cost $95,000 in medical expenses. It would cost approximately $180,000 in the U.S. to care for the same condition. Some experts believe the numbers are higher when taking into account a parent’s lost income and special education for the child.
  8. Even though there are more than 10 scary facts about the Zika Virus, there are also measures being taken to prevent future outbreaks. Population Services International (PSI) is working with the ministries of health in many different Latin American countries to spread contraception devices. This promotes safe sex practices. This also gives the women the power to decide if and when she wants to become pregnant.
  9.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is also implementing steps to control the Zika virus. Some of these steps include advancing research in the prevention of the virus, developing and implementing surveillance symptoms for Zika virus infection, improving Zika testing laboratories worldwide, supporting global efforts to monitor strategies aimed at limiting the Aedes mosquito populations and improving care to support families and affected children alike.
  10. The good news is that there are currently no major global outbreaks of the Zika virus. This is a sign that steps around the globe have been successful to lower the number of Zika cases. However, this doesn’t mean that precautions shouldn’t be taken when traveling to areas where the Aedes species of mosquito is prevalent. Even though they are no major outbreaks the disease still exists and may cause problems if contracted.

Conclusions

Even though the Zika virus may currently not be a threat worldwide, it is still something that needs to be accounted for. Zika has serious repercussions in poverty-stricken countries where people can’t afford adequate medical care. The Zika virus is also more likely to be contracted in poorer regions. The Zika virus has a strong correlation with poverty.

– Nicholas Bartlett
Photo: Flickr

Where is desertification happeningApproximately 42 percent of the planet is covered by dry land. With so much of our world covered by this specific ecosystem, it is important to draw attention to the environmental issues which affect it. Desertification, for instance, can be described as the process in which dryland is degraded permanently. This is caused by human activity such as deforestation and over-cultivation. With such a large global impact, desertification is something worth paying attention to. However, it can be challenging to understand how this issue affects the planet. Furthermore, the question still stands: where is desertification happening?

Global Impact

With the exception of Antarctica, desertification affects every continent. According to the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program), 36 million square miles of the world are currently affected by this. Land that is susceptible to desertification can become uninhabitable if not managed with sustainable environmental practices.

The UNEP estimates that by the year 2045, 135 million people may be displaced due to this environmental crisis. Currently, 1 billion people live in areas vulnerable to desertification.

Desertification in Africa

Africa is the simple answer to the question: where is desertification happening? More specifically, desertification plays its largest role in the grasslands of East Africa, the Kalahari Desert and the Sahara Desert. These regions span over 65 percent of the land.

In Ethiopia, 80 percent of the land is at risk of desertification. In addition, one-third of the continent is unsuitable for living due to climate changes. As Africa’s population continues to grow and desertification continues to be ignored, more of the land becomes arid and uninhabitable. This issue is particularly prevalent in Africa. This is due to the low soil fertility and bedrocks found across the continent.

Countries within the Sahara remain some of the poorest in the world. Malawi, for example, has a GDP per capita of $338.50 and an average lifespan of only 63 years. Desertification can also be linked to poverty because it creates climates which are not suitable for food production and other economic activities. This reflects negatively on the infrastructure and the economy.

One example of how poverty affects Africa is through its agricultural losses. Every year, the continent loses about 280 million tonnes of cereal crops. Poverty, in turn, leads to unsustainable environmental practices such as poor irrigation and overgrazing. Thus, creating a vicious cycle between poverty and desertification.

Helping Hands

To further the answer of, “where is desertification happening?” it’s important to note those that are successfully fighting against the issue. The Great Green Wall is an African-led movement. It is aiming to reduce the effects of desertification. It does this by creating a wall of plants along the Sahel region. The organization has already restored 15 million hectares of degraded land in Ethiopia. Additionally, 12 million drought-resistant trees have been planted in Senegal. The goal is not only to rehabilitate the land but also to create a symbol of sustainable environmental practices around the world.

In addition, the Global Drylands Initiative is being used to create global discourse around this topic. The International Union for Conservation Nature manages the initiative. It aims to reduce the effects of desertification through advocacy work. The mission is to create government policies which monitor desertification through scientific basis.

Where is Desertification Happening?

Desertification is a climate issue that is occurring on almost every continent. It affects more than half of Africa’s land. People living in areas where desertification is occurring are more likely to face poverty. Those affected by poverty are less likely to practice environmentally-sustainable actions. This, in turn, creates a vicious cycle of poverty and environmental deterioration. The good news is that there are people looking to help. Organizations such as the Great Green Wall and the Global Drylands Initiative are working to create a world in which desertification can be prevented for future generations.

– Anna Melnik
Photo: Flickr

Deforestation in Senegal
For the vast majority of people in the United States, it would be difficult to imagine a life without electricity. However, for many nations in the developing world, the primary source of energy – be it for cooking, keeping the house warm or industrial fuel – is charcoal, and the process of harvesting wood and making charcoal has created a livelihood for thousands of people around the globe.

Unfortunately for Senegal and other countries that rely heavily on charcoal production, it is also terrible for the environment. According to a statement by the United Nations Environmental Program, Africa as a whole is losing more than nine million acres of forest per year, putting the continent at nearly double the world’s average deforestation rate.

Deforestation in Senegal and the world can open the door for a host of other environmental problems. Forests are essential for maintaining local water cycles; deforested areas often see a decrease in rainfall, and experts say that the increase in droughts in East Africa in recent years are the result of heavy deforestation rates. In addition, tree roots play a role in maintaining soil by holding it in place; without tree cover, rain or wind can wash rich soil away and turn arable land barren.

Compared to the rest of the continent, Senegal is not doing too badly. An estimate by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. states that the country is about 42 percent forested land as of 2016. However, deforestation still poses a significant problem, in no small part due to the charcoal industry; more than half of Senegal’s 13 million people are still relying on charcoal for fuel and thousands of people in rural areas of Senegal have built their livelihoods on harvesting wood to make charcoal.

Flooding and the Women of Kaffrine

In Kaffrine, a region of Senegal where many families rely on charcoal, deforestation has taken its toll on the residents. In 2016, the region was scourged by heavy flooding during the summer. Heavy rain had always been common in Kaffrine during the summer months, but 2016 brought a level of flooding not seen for decades. The floods destroyed at least 100 houses and damaged at least 1,500 other homes on a massive scale. In addition, the flood waters swept away crops, resulting in farmers losing their livelihood for the year – a devastating blow in a region where agriculture is the main source of income. Experts claimed that deforestation may have been partially responsible for the flooding and that reforestation might be the key to preventing similar disasters in the coming years.

However, as deforestation in Senegal continues, the women of Kaffrine have been at the head of the movement to salvage what is left. Senegal has long considered the process of making charcoal to be men’s work, but in recent years, women have been taking the initiative to reduce the negative impact of charcoal.

The Female Forestry Association and PROGEDE 2

Part of the job is reducing the harm done through reforestation. The Female Forestry Association, led by Fily Traore, has been leading the way in this undertaking; in 2018 alone, the organization planted more than 500,000 trees in Kaffrine. One of its goals is to revive several types of fruit trees, which have become scarce in the region as forests disappear.

Furthermore, in areas which are dependent on charcoal production for money, women have played a massive role in finding other, more sustainable ways for communities to support themselves. Aside from the work of reforestation, which provides jobs for many women within the Female Forestry Association, women have been instrumental in developing alternative sources of income besides charcoal production. In particular, the village of Medina Degouye has taken huge steps toward developing horticulture; the community’s vegetable gardens not only provide food for the village, but several residents have begun selling excess produce throughout the region and even in the capital city of Dakar.

These advancements have happened partly because of the support of the United Nations’s Second Sustainable and Participatory Energy Management Project (PROGEDE 2) in Senegal. Under PROGEDE 2, women in Kaffrine are empowered to take charge of the local economy, including charcoal production and the management thereof. PROGEDE 2 also offered training in forest management, beekeeping and horticulture for men and women, allowing women to support their families while also finding alternative sources of income.

Aside from the environmental impact of charcoal, the work of PROGEDE 2 and the women of Kaffrine are addressing a much more direct result of overusing forests: if deforestation in Senegal continues, eventually nothing will be left to harvest. In addition, the long-term effects of deforestation could easily ruin life for many people in the rural areas of Kaffrine if left unchecked. However, between the work of the Female Forestry Association and the empowerment of rural women under PROGEDE 2, Senegal may be able to avert this scenario as the area sees a regrowth of its forests. The women of Kaffrine are taking the future into their own hands.

– Keira Charles
Photo: Flickr

Progress in Benin
Despite a low unemployment rate of one percent and a GDP growth rate that increased from two percent to over five percent from 2015 to 2017, progress in Benin has been slow and it is still a poor country in West Africa. With more than a third of the over 11 million population living below the poverty line, it is difficult for Beninese to live without a feeling of unease. Three major reasons Benin has a rising poverty rate is because of over-reliance in Niger’s economy, the largest exporter, reluctance for Benin to modernize its own economy and climatic shocks, particularly massive floods.

Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project

The agriculture sector employs over 70 percent of Beninese. In an effort to boost the economy, the Republic of Benin is investing in improvements in the agriculture sector. The Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project began on March 22, 2011, with a budget of $61 million and ends on February 28, 2021. Its purpose is to repair major damage caused during Benin’s 2010 flood and improve productivity in certain export-oriented value chains, such as aquaculture, maize, rice, cashew and pineapple.

One component of this project is improving technology and restoration of productivity. The devastating flood in 2010 destroyed over 316,000 acres of cropland and 50,000 homes. The project began after the major flood and takes into account the need for drainage systems to stifle rising waters during floods. Small-scale irrigation infrastructure repair and improvement are issues that the project faces and hopes to correct in the timeframe. Climate-smart production systems are another investment that the country is developing to prevent widespread destruction to cropland when a natural disaster threatens to destroy homes and crops. The project is also set to create new jobs by investing in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), especially for youth and women.

Improving the Business Environment

Although flooding caused several Beninese people to lose their homes and cropland, there is one impediment that halts economic development: corruption. President Talon became the President of Benin in 2016 and stated in his inaugural address that he would “make the fight against corruption an ongoing and everyday struggle.” A 29 percent electricity access is another issue that prevents developmental progress in Benin, but since 2016 blackouts have reduced and electricity generation has improved significantly.

Economic Diversification

The last major impasse that prevents development in Benin is over-reliance in Nigeria, Benin’s major exporter. Current IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, announced a call for economic diversification in Benin. Lagarde believes diversifying is one way to reduce the high poverty level of 36 percent. Due to the country’s economic reliance on the agricultural sector and economic conditions in Nigeria, it is difficult to grow if a recession, such as the 2017 recession in Nigeria, occurs. In her speech at the Chamber of Commerce in Cotonou, Benin, Lagarde discussed how Benin could strengthen land tenure, increase food security in rural areas and invest more in education and health, and improve transparency in the government so that outside investors would find investing in Benin appealing.

Rate of Progress in Benin

There is room for growth, though the poverty-stricken nation has had success in certain areas, such as the average life expectancy that rose from 50 years in 2000 to 62 in 2018. With the creation of the Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project, improvements in agriculture and infrastructure are already underway. The estimated rate of urbanization is fairly high at 3.89 percent from 2015 to 2020. At this rate of progress in Benin and under the leadership of President Talon, the country will continue its headway in development so that the percentage of Beninese in poverty will gradually drop in the coming years.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Improving Child LiteracyChild literacy is often taken for granted, but around the world, millions are growing up without the ability to read or write. What many do not realize is that literacy has a direct effect on poverty. According to a study conducted by the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization, there are links between illiteracy and higher unemployment. The study also found that illiterate adults are more susceptible to illnesses, exploitation, lower pay, and human rights abuses.

The inability to read or write is a self-perpetuating cycle because it traps illiterate communities in poverty without the tools to help themselves out. These conditions make illiterate communities more at risk of violence and conflict. In fact, 40 percent of illiterate children live in countries with active conflicts. The issue prompted the United Nations to launch the International Literacy Decade in 2003, which has taught around 90 million people to read and write. Despite this effort, there are still millions of vulnerable children around the world that need assistance to escape illiteracy and its negative consequences. There are many organizations dedicated to improving child literacy rates and these are just three NGOs working hard to bring education to the world.

3 NGOs Improving Child Literacy Across the Globe

  • Room to Read: Room to Read is an NGO founded in 1998 that began its work in Nepal. Room to Read’s vision is to improve literacy and access to literature in low-income communities, with a special focus on gender equality in education. The NGO has now spread all over Southeast Asia and Africa and has benefited around 16.6 million children worldwide. The NGO has distributed 24.1 million books, trained 15,285 librarians and teachers, and has partnered with 30,337 schools to implement its literacy program. In addition to the literacy program, Room to Read also has a specific program for girl’s education which aims to close the gender gap in classrooms of developing countries. Room to Read has received many commendations, most recently receiving a perfect “four stars” rating from Charity Navigator for the thirteenth year in a row.
  • World Literacy Foundation: The World Literacy Foundation was founded in 2003 with the guiding mission to provide books, tutoring and literacy tools to children in communities that otherwise would not have access to these resources. WLF began transporting books to Africa in 2005 and shortly after developed low-cost eBooks that could be distributed in local languages. In 2016 WLF designed and implemented “Sun Books”, which are solar powered tablets that bring educational books to classrooms in Uganda without electricity or the internet. In 2014, WLF ran the first World Literary Summit to increase cooperation with other literacy organizations. Since then, the summit has been held in 2016, 2018 and is scheduled again for 2020. So far, WLF has been active in more than 93 countries, has provided access to literacy resources to 250,101 children, and last year alone reached more than 350,000 children and adolescents.
  • Pratham: Pratham was founded in 1995 in Mumbai, India with the goal of having “every child in school and learning well.” Pratham is one of the largest NGOs in India, operating in 21 out of 29 Indian states and with volunteers in 300,000 Indian villages. Its mission is to improve literacy and the quality of education in India by supplementing government efforts and supporting teachers and parents. Pratham’s lead program, Read India, was launched in 2007 and has reached more than 30 million children. The program also provided training for around 61,000 teachers to improve literacy all across the country. Pratham has been a strong advocate for education reform to improve basic competencies like reading, writing, and arithmetic in Indian school children. Several state governments use Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Reports to plan yearly education programs. In 2013 Pratham was named one of the top 100 NGOs in The Global Journal for their pioneering work in primary and literacy education in India.

There are still 124 million children and adolescents that are not enrolled in school and one in four children in developing countries is illiterate. Tackling child and adult illiteracy is no easy task but it is NGOs like Room to Read, WLF and Pratham that are making big strides in closing the literacy gap. By providing training and resources to the neediest communities, these three NGOs provide disadvantaged children the fundamental tools needed to escape poverty.

– Isabel Fernandez
Photo: Flickr