Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle EastFemale genital mutilation, or FGM, is a practice that is most common in cultures with strict patriarchial structures. Many people believe that the ritual is only performed in Africa, but in actuality, thousands of girls undergo female genital mutilation in the Middle East every year. Though many claim the procedure is done for religious reasons, researchers have found that it predates Christianity and Islam. In fact, female Egyptian mummies have been found with FGM. This is a deep-rooted and harmful practice that still continues today. The United Nations formally recognizes FGM as a form of torture that oppresses women.

Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle East

  1. Where does FGM occur? FGM was previously believed to only occur in Africa, however, recent advocacy efforts revealed that the practice extends to many other countries, especially in the Middle East. In the Middle East, FGM is mostly concentrated in Southern Jordan, Iraq and Northern Saudi Arabia. There have also been cases of FGM in Qatar, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. The practice most often occurs in small ethnic enclaves where the ritual is considered tradition. It is important to recognize that FGM occurs in many places outside of Africa in order to stop the practice completely.
  2. Who is most impacted by FGM? In Egypt, about 87% of girls are affected by FGM. According to a UNICEF study from 2013, many of them are traumatized by the experience before the age of 14. In many other Middle Eastern and African countries, the majority of girls are cut before the age of 15. Current rates are certainly improving, but it is likely that one in three girls in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti will experience FGM by 2030. In the United Arab Emirates, 34% of the women surveyed said they had experienced FGM. Twenty percent of women surveyed in Saudi Arabia are subject to the practice.
  3. What are the impacts of FGM? This practice has severe short-term and long-term negative impacts on women who undergo the procedure. Young girls are held and tied down while a local village cutter, usually not a licensed medical professional, performs the procedure with little or no anesthetic. In short, FGM can cause death, infections, hemorrhage and severe pain. In Egypt, there was a public outcry after a doctor performed FGM on a 12-year-old girl who then bled to death. The doctor was arrested, but the practice is extremely traumatizing and can cause severe psychological damage in the long run. It can lead to chronic infections and trouble with childbirth. Girls who undergo FGM are also more likely to drop out of school and become child brides.
  4. Steps are being made to reduce FGM. As information becomes more readily available, more and more people are speaking out against the procedure. It is finally being recognized as a violation of human rights. Though FGM is most common in Egypt, the country has made the most progress in the past 30 years, according to UNICEF. FGM is completely banned in Egypt and doctors can go to jail if they perform it. It has also been banned in Sudan. In Yemen, FGM can no longer be performed in medical facilities, but it has not been banned at home.
  5. FGM rates are decreasing. As can be inferred, many women are now against the practice of FGM. However, some more traditional cultures still advocate for the circumcision of women. In Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and Djibouti, 70% of all women were affected by FGM 30 years ago. Today, half of all girls in those five countries undergo FGM. Although FGM is still allowed in Iraq, it is illegal in Iraqi Kurdistan. Many people against the practice explain that law is not enough and there needs to be stricter enforcement to ensure the end of female circumcision.
  6. A call to action: According to UNICEF, there has been a massive movement to end FGM in the last 25 years. There are many organizations, like the Orchid Project, that campaign against the traditional cutting in the Middle East and Asia. In 2013, UNICEF formally recognized that FGM is a problem that extends to areas outside of Africa. In addition, the United Nations celebrates International End FGM day every February 6, which is a huge step forward in spreading awareness. The U.N. also made it a goal to stop FGM in all countries by 2030.
FGM is a way to oppress women and makes girls feel like their body is a sin. It is a horrible practice that leaves long-lasting wounds in our global society. Not only is it a form of torture, but it strips women from basic human rights. Thankfully, more people are becoming familiar with female genital mutilation in the Middle East and elsewhere. Allies around the world are working hard to bring an end to the practice.

Karin Filipova
Photo: Flickr

facts about sanitation in ChadChad is a country highly dependent on agriculture with two-thirds of the population employed in such a capacity. For agriculture to thrive, water must be plentiful. However, for Chad, ensuring access to adequate water supplies has and continues to be a challenge. Additionally, the citizenry at large suffers from a lack of sanitized water, which increases the danger of disease transmission. Here are 6 facts about sanitation and access to water in Chad.

6 Facts About Sanitation in Chad

  1. Basic water services: In 2019, 61% of Chad’s population lacked access to basic water services. Many had to obtain drinking water from an improved source like a well or piped water.
  2. Open defecation: 69% of Chad’s population practices open defecation, a result of Chad being the country with the largest percentage of its population without access to a toilet. Among the poorest Chadians, access to toilets improved by 7% between 2000 and 2017. However, 88% of them still practice open defecation.
  3. Hand washing: Chad is one of 19 countries where more than 50% of the population does not have a handwashing facility. Additionally, 76% of Chad’s people have no handwashing facility in their home. This is especially salient today since the World Health Organization recommends hand hygiene as “the most effective single measure to reduce the spread of infections”.
  4. Lake Chad: This body of water borders Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad and supports the existence of 30 million people. This economically important source of water, however, has shrunk by 90% since the 1960s. For communities reliant on fishing, farming and herding, a diminishing Lake Chad translates into resource constraints and sometimes conflict.
  5. Refugee crisis: Conflict caused by Boko Haram and other insurgent groups in the region has displaced thousands of Chadians and others. For example, in Kobiteye, a refugee camp bordering the Central African Republic, 24,000 refugees live without adequate access to water.
  6. Lethality: The inability to consume clean water is costly, taking the lives of thousands in Chad. A U.N. report found children under five in conflict-affected states were “more than 20 times more likely to die” from unsafe water or lack of sanitation than from the conflict itself.

Solutions

In response to Chad’s water crisis, some organizations and governments have stepped up assistance. In 2019, World Vision Chad redirected 70% of its funding to providing safe water access. They reached 18,000 displaced refugees with 45 boreholes. A few years ago, USAID dug 113 wells that reached 35,000 people since 2008.

Other organizations are focusing on leveraging technology to improve water access. Chad’s Ministry of Water and Sanitation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation partnered to fund the ResEau project, a 10-year 3D mapping initiative designed to improve borehole drilling. Before ResEau began, boreholes successfully reached water 30 to 40% of the time. Now, boreholes successfully reach water over 60 percent of the time.

Additionally, ResEau also contributed to creating a master’s degree program in Hydrology and GIS at the University of N’Djamena in Chad. This program has benefited more than 100 students so far, many of whom work for Chad’s Ministry of Water and Sanitation. Leapfrog, the 3D technology company that ResEau used for its geological modeling, stated that the project “will enrich the livelihood of all those who live in Chad, by providing the skills and knowledge needed for a robust integrated water management system”. Steps like these represent successes that individual donors and donor governments need to build upon.

– Jonathan Helton 
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Sanitation in JamaicaBeing “the third-largest island in the Caribbean,” Jamaica boasts in both natural beauty and vibrant culture. Although many recognize the country for its white-sand beaches and crystal clear water, the native population still struggles for proper sanitation in some areas. While some regions of the country, like Montego Bay, are undoubtedly luxurious, the more rural areas lack sufficient sewage systems and drinking water. Below is a list of 10 facts about sanitation in Jamaica.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Jamaica

  1. Jamaica has several rich, natural water sources; however, it also has irregular rainfall. The drier regions of Jamaica suffer from the uneven distribution of rain, which contributes to a lack of potable water. Being in the Caribbean, tropical islands such as Jamaica rely heavily on the rainy season for drinking water. With the recent droughts, Jamaica has experienced a consequential water shortage, a significant factor in the island’s sanitation conditions.
  2. One of the solutions to the uneven water distribution is rainwater harvesting. Jamaicans in especially dry areas of the country will collect rainwater through a cistern. A household’s cistern will typically be a large room under the house capable of storing several gallons of water. In an effort to conserve this water, the government recommends minimal water usage for daily routines such as showering, dishwashing and even flushing the toilet.
  3. The Water Resources Act of 1996 requires the government to provide adequate water access to its citizens through proper management and allocation. Following the establishment of this law, the Jamaican government promised to have a sufficient sewage system accessible to all citizens by 2020. However, with the recent events following the COVID-19 pandemic, these efforts have been delayed. It is unclear whether this goal will still be reached this year or when the government plans to achieve the objective.
  4. At least 98% of urban areas of Jamaica have access to drinking water. That number falls to 88% in rural areas. These numbers have remained relatively steady for the past 10 years.
  5. While the numbers for potable water availability are relatively high, the numbers for piped water access are much lower. Only 45% of Jamaicans in rural areas have piped water access. The number for piped water access in rural areas is nearly half of that for potable water access. In urban areas, however, 70% of its population has piped water.
  6. Excessive trash is a common trait among Jamaican cities. With a lack of public sanitation facilities and curbside garbage collection in several areas, Jamaicans are faced with an ongoing sediment problem. Without effective waste removal procedures, a number of contaminants seep into the water.
  7. Vision Jamaica 2030 is a long term national development plan that aims to make Jamaica a fully developed country by the year 2030. Despite its size, Jamaica is still considered an underdeveloped nation. The main factors contributing to this status are its sanitation standards, political structure and the overall economy.
  8. Jamaica’s wastewater sector’s insufficient operations are primarily due to outdated technology faulty plant structures. These as well as a lack of proper maintenance and staff training have a substantial effect on the country’s sanitation conditions. A number of households and even the coasts suffer from the contaminated water culminated from these conditions.
  9. The National Water Commission (NWC) produces potable water to a majority of Jamaican citizens. During recent events of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has waived all late fees for its customers for the next three months and established an assistance program that provides a “30% write off on outstanding bills.” They are continuing to evaluate the situation and make decisions that financially benefit the people of Jamaica.
  10. There are recommendations for people traveling to Jamaica. Taking steps can ensure that their available water is safe to drink. Waterborne diseases are especially common in Jamaica due to a lack of potable water maintenance. In order to combat this, Jamaicans make a habit of always boiling their water or treating it before consuming it. It is also a common practice to purchase bottled water for drinking to conserve cistern water for cleaning purposes.

Despite the country’s natural beauty, Jamaica’s natives still face daily obstacles that prevent them from living a healthy life. Sanitation issues in the country are a result of insufficient waste removal procedures, inadequate plant management and an uneven distribution of rainfall. The good news is that the country is a constant work in progress with the goal of dissolving its sanitation problem. Recent and unprecedented events have certainly interrupted the country’s advancement. However, Jamaicans are still determined to escape their title as an underdeveloped country. These 10 facts about sanitation in Jamaica reflect the country’s adversity and ability to improve its current conditions.

Brittany Carter
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Sierra LeoneSierra Leone is a small nation located on the coast of West Africa. While the country boasts an abundance of natural resources, it is also a poor nation, with a healthcare system in dire need of improvement. Here are 9 facts about healthcare in Sierra Leone.

9 Facts About Healthcare in Sierra Leone

  1. Sierra Leone has one of the lowest life expectancies on the globe. In 2018, the average life expectancy in Sierra Leone was 54.3 years. This places the nation among the bottom five in the entire world. In comparison, the average global life expectancy is 72.6 years.

  2. Sierra Leone faces high rates of infant and maternal mortality. Similar to life expectancy, infant and maternal fatality rates help gauge the quality of a nation’s health care system. In 2015, 87.1 infants died per 1,000 births in Sierra Leone, while 1,360 mothers died per 100,000 births. In the U.S., just 5.4 infants died per 1,000 births, and only 14 mothers died for every 100,000 births. Birth-related deaths generally occur when there are delays in women seeking, reaching and receiving care.

  3. All people living in Sierra Leone are at risk of malaria. Malaria is endemic to the nation, and poses a great health risk. In fact, four out of every ten hospital visits in Sierra Leone are due to malaria. Children are at particular risk, and the disease contributes to the nation’s high number of child fatalities. However, rates of the illness are falling across the country due to preventative practices such as sleeping under insecticide treated nets. Earlier diagnoses and treatments also contribute to the lowered rates of illness. By the end of 2020, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone hopes to have decreased cases by 40 percent.

  4. The Ebola outbreak of 2014 hit Sierra Leone particularly hard. Despite its relatively small population, there were more cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone than any other country. To be exact, there were a total of 14,124 cases in the country, including nearly 4,000 deaths. The first case was reported in May 2014, and Sierra Leone was not declared Ebola-free until February 2016. According to the World Health Organization, the virus was able to spread so widely due to the weaknesses of the healthcare in Sierra Leone. These weaknesses included too few healthcare workers, not enough oversight and a lack of resources.

  5. Disabled residents face tough conditions. Approximately 450,000 disabled people live in Sierra Leone, including those who were maimed in the decade-long civil war that ended in 2002. The government does not currently provide any assistance to the disabled. Those with disabilities resort to begging on the streets of Freetown, the nation’s capital. Disabled youth turned away from their families (due to the family’s inability to support the youth) often form their own communities on the streets. Employment can also be hard to achieve due to discrimination. Julius Cuffie, a member of Parliament who suffers from polio, brings awareness to the disabled’s struggles. Hoping to bring the disabled’s issues to the forefront, Cuffie pushes for the Persons with Disabilities Act.

  6. Corruption exists in Sierra Leone’s healthcare system. According to a 2015 survey, 84 percent of Sierra Leoneans have paid a bribe just to use government services. Additionally, about a third of the funds given to fight the Ebola crisis are not accounted for. This translates to roughly 11 million pounds, or almost 14 million dollars. Sierra Leone has a literacy rate of about 40 percent. As a result, many health care services overcharge unknowing residents for basic services. A new initiative, put together by the nation’s Anti-Corruption Commission, advises residents to report cases of bribery.

  7. In 2010, Sierra Leone began offering free health care. The Free Healthcare Initiative (FHCI) aims to decrease the nation’s high maternal, infant and child mortality rate. The government also hopes the initiative improves general health across the country. The ordinance provides a package of free services for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under the age of five. The program has not been without its challenges, however, due to the aforementioned weaknesses of previous systems of health care in Sierra Leone. That said, the initiative has resulted in a number of positive changes. For example, there has been an increase in the number of healthcare staff, a larger willingness for parents to seek care for their children and a reduction in mortality for those under five.

  8. There has been an increase in efforts to strengthen emergency medical response in Sierra Leone. Road accidents kill thousands each year in the country. In response to this, the First Responder Coalition of Sierra Leone (FRCSL) was created in 2019 to improve the state of urgent medical care. Five national and international groups in Makeni, a city in northern Sierra Leone, founded the coalition. The group aims to provide emergency care, treat the high numbers of injuries and resolve the low amount of pre-hospital treatment in Sierra Leone. In its first two months, the FRSCL trained 1,000 Makeni residents, equipping each one with a first aid kit. The coalition hopes to train 3,500 more in the next six months. It also plans on expanding out of the northern province in the next five years. Hopefully, the FRCSL’s efforts will save thousands of lives from vehicle accidents in the coming years.

  9. CARE is working to improve sexual and reproductive health for women and girls in Sierra Leone. The humanitarian agency began working in the country in 1961. Goals of the organization include providing medical supplies and contraceptives, giving training to healthcare workers and working with the community to eliminate attitudes that prevent women from discovering their rights to sexual and reproductive health. CARE is currently present in approximately 30 percent of the country’s communities, particularly in areas that have high rates of HIV infection and teenage pregnancy. One Sierra Leonean mother, named Fanta, credits CARE with educating her about proper breastfeeding and health practices, leading to the survival and continued health of her daughter.

Healthcare in Sierra Leone is an issue that is complicated by the nation’s high rates of poverty, many endemic diseases and tumultuous political history. While shocking statistics, such as the country’s low life expectancy and high maternal and infant mortality rates paint a grim picture, there are signs of progress being made, and there is potential for much more change on the horizon.

– Joshua Roberts

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Life Expectancy in NauruNauru is an eight square mile island in the Central Pacific, located almost 2,500 miles northeast from Australia and with a population of nearly 13,000 people. Nauru has faced multiple major challenges in the past including diminishing all of its phosphate reserves and being the home of a controversial detention center for the refugees seeking asylum in Australia. However, in recent years, major improvements in the country’s quality of life have occurred, subsequently increasing the life expectancy of Nauru. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Nauru outline the progress the country has made in recent years.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Nauru

  1. Life expectancy in Nauru is increasing. In 2020, it reached 68.4 years in contrast with the average life expectancy in 2000 of 60 years old.
  2. The unemployment rate has dropped immensely. In 2004, 90% of the country did not have employment. Meanwhile, strip mining ravaged the island, rendering most of its land unusable for agriculture, forestry or recreation. Additionally, these practices almost caused the school system to collapse. Nauru mined all of its phosphate resources and shipped them off to other countries to use as fertilizer. The country was simultaneously combating corruption, climate change and money-laundering. Despite these issues, the unemployment rate in 2011 has dropped by almost 70%, and after nine years, it is currently sitting at 23%. As the unemployment rate decreases, more people should be able to sustain themselves despite the country’s slowly growing economy, consequently boosting the life expectancy.
  3. The health crisis directly correlates with Nauru’s social and economic circumstances. Extreme levels of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity are dropping in Nauru. While more than 70% of people in Nauru were obese in 2018, the percentage dropped to 45% in 2014. Slowly, but surely, people are starting to decrease their alcohol and tobacco consumption and choose a healthier lifestyle.
  4. From 1960-1970, Nauru held one of the highest GDPs, conceding only to oil-rich Saudi Arabia. In 1973, Nauru’s Annual GDP was $26 million. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s was almost $15 million. Nauru lost its rich economic potential during the crash of the phosphate industry and unfortunately, Nauru has exhausted all of its natural resources. Today, Nauru’s GDP is only $112 million and it is surviving with Australia’s help and ambitious plans for the future.
  5. Nauru has 1.24 physicians per 1,000 of the population. Meanwhile, 96.5% of people have access to improved drinking water sources, such as protected wells or public taps. Nauru has more physicians available for its population than countries like Chile, Egypt, Iran and Vietnam.
  6. Around 11% of Nauru’s federal budget or expenditure goes towards the health of its citizens. Nauru’s facilities include two big hospitals located on the island that provide free medical and dental treatments for Nauruans and employees of the Nauru Phosphate Corporation. Furthermore, while the risks of contracting bacterial diarrhea and malaria are high, Nauru is on its way to completing the Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals, outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO), aim to reduce the prevalence of malaria and HIV as well as child mortality. It is also important to note that for a developing country, Nauru’s mortality rate from these diseases is low.
  7. Nauru is partnering with the Green Climate Fund to upgrade its maritime port. This partnership will directly boost Nauru’s food security, local economy, commerce and life expectancy. It will be easier for shipping vessels to disembark and for local business owners to have new opportunities due to incoming exports. Nauru is also advancing its Higher Ground Initiative, which will remove infrastructure from coastal areas and place them elsewhere. Both the Higher Ground Initiative and the new port facility will stimulate employment, create renewable energy and provide a stable income for many. These developments will, in turn, improve the citizens’ Human Development Index (HDI), which estimates the wellbeing, health and life expectancy in Nauru.
  8. Another partnership with The World Health Organization (WHO) resulted in the National Health Strategic Plan of 2018-2022, an attempt to revive Nauru’s healthcare system. This plan will implement high immunization coverage, improve mental health, monitor the drinking-water quality, strengthen systems that protect people from HIV, STIs and tuberculosis and create a national plan to increase life expectancy in Nauru. In 2019, the WHO discovered that Nauru had zero cases of bacterial diarrhea, influenza, donor lymphocyte infusions and pulmonary fibrosis. This suggests that the implemented health plan has made positive changes.
  9. The mortality rate of children under 5 years old has been decreasing. In 2018, the mortality rate was 32 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2020, it dropped to 7.4 deaths per 1,000 births. The mortality rate has also decreased by more than 97% as skilled health staff now assist all births.
  10. Despite economic and health care progress, life expectancy for refugees in Nauru remains low. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported that out of the 208 refugee patients that it served, 60% had suicidal thoughts and 30% attempted suicide.  The life expectancy of refugees living in detention camps is also low. The Guardian reported two dire instances of refugees’ desperation. In the first, a refugee set himself on fire out of despair and powerlessness. In the second instance, a 12-year-old boy was at risk of dying from a two-week-long hunger strike out of hopelessness.

While Nauru is making a lot of progress in its health care and economy, it must continue addressing its refugee crisis that leads to the loss of innocent lives. A coalition of prominent NGOs and Australia’s largest human rights organizations such as the Refugee Council of Australia and Australian Lawyers Alliance are working to re-locate refugee children from Nauru to Australia. In 2019, many resettled in the United States and Australia.

If Nauru continues to strive for financial independence, provide jobs for its people and create stable sources of income, it could eliminate many of the country’s health problems that come from smoking and alcohol addiction. This, in turn, should increase life expectancy in Nauru. By developing as an economically stable and self-sufficient country, it may also no longer need to support Australia’s controversial detention camps for asylum seekers.

– Anna Sharudenko
Photo: Flickr

Hydroelectric Power in ParaguayHydroelectricity is one of the few renewable energy resources that can be used to generate electricity. Many countries around the globe have used hydroelectricity to varying degrees. One country that has used this form of renewable energy to a largely successful degree has been the South American country of Paraguay. Hydroelectric power in Paraguay has proven quite successful.

Turning to Hydroelectricity

Paraguay uses massive amounts of hydroelectric power to produce much of its electricity. There are a few key reasons why Paraguay turned to hydroelectricity in the first place. One is that the country wanted to simply “increase domestic energy consumption”. Prior to this Paraguay was reliant on oil and diesel imports. Another reason Paraguay turned to hydroelectricity was out of an agreement that it made with Brazil in 1973. The result of this agreement was what became the Itaipu Dam, which was built on The Parana river.

The Itaipu Dam provides a large amount of hydroelectric power in Paraguay. In 2018, it produced 90.8% of the electricity for Paraguay. The Yacyreta Dam was also built for similar reasons. The dam was built in 1973 out of an agreement between Paraguay and Argentina to share the dam. The Parana River, where these dams are located, and the Paraguay River form what is called the Plata River basin, which runs along “Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay.”

Along with The Itaipu Dam and The Yacyreta Dam, Paraguay also has the Acaray Dam. All three of these dams contribute to providing hydroelectric power in Paraguay. Paraguay’s electricity is 100 percent produced from ample renewable resources within the country. In 2018, only 35% of the power production from hydroelectric resources was needed to meet the country’s domestic demand.

The Economy in Paraguay

The excess energy was then exported by Paraguay to other countries. Because of this excess supply of electricity, Paraguay is the fourth largest country to exports electricity. Of the country’s overall GDP, about 7.1 percent of it was attributed to electricity. The fact that Paraguay is able to meet its energy needs with hydropower and then use what electricity it has left over to sell to other countries is most beneficial to its economic situation. The three dams in the country also provide people with jobs.

Despite this abundance of hydroelectric power though, the domestic economy of the country still suffers system losses. The country is also strongly dependant on its agricultural sector, which can be unreliable depending on the weather. However, the situation is not entirely bleak. The Columbia Center on Sustainable Development has offered solutions to this problem. In the future, Paraguay can use its excess electricity to continue to diversify its economy. Doing so would also help in the further reduction of fossil fuel consumption. The country could also use past revenue streams to help predict the best way to maximize revenue in the future.

Hydroelectric power in Paraguay might not be seeing extreme economic gains yet. However, it is providing the country with a sustainable energy source. With the suggestions made by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Development, it is possible that it could improve even further in the future.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

sanitation in Ecuador
Located at the western top of South America, Ecuador has improved water regulation and overall sanitation within the last couple of decades. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Ecuador.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Ecuador

  1. Before 2007, organic loads, toxic substances and hydrocarbons contaminated large bodies of water. Ecuador’s government devised a plan to increase overall healthy water flow. The plan consisted of using financial support to create sustainable water management. The lack of healthy water flow led to the exploitation of aquifers on Ecuador’s coast, which melted approximately 33% of the country’s glaciers. Moreover, the lack of water flow led to a reduction of at least 25% of Paramos’ regular water flow, which is a historical area. The improvement of water sustainability allowed Ecuador’s people to access healthy water easily.
  2. In 2019, Ecuador received an $87 million loan from the U.S. to improve water regulation. The loan from the U.S. allowed Ecuador’s government to expand and improve drinking systems. Ecuador has directed the loan towards the achievement of universal access to piped sanitation services.
  3. The country created a National Development Plan in 2007 which prioritized the integration of water management. Many saw Ecuador’s lack of easy access to clean water and sanitation as a detrimental factor that slowed the development of the country’s sustainability. The National Development Plan encouraged a more developed culture for Ecuador’s sanitation. One main goal was to build 1.5 kilometers of sewage networks in Quitumbe and 26 kilometers of interceptors for wastewater management in Checa and la Merced.
  4. Ecuador’s national sectoral strategy established that the country should reach equitable access to potable Water and Sanitation Services by 2030. In the national sectoral strategy, the country strived to divide loans into different sections with regards to water management. As a result, vast improvement has occurred in the country’s economy. In July 2019, approximately 39,197 additional citizens in urban areas obtained new access to improved sanitation services.
  5. The government’s new project hopes to achieve country-wide access to piped sanitation services. The Guayaquil Wastewater Management Project for Ecuador aims to install wastewater catch basins of the urban cities such as Guayaquil. As a result, 2 million citizens will gain access to proper sanitation. Ecuador’s government hopes to ensure that 100% of the wastewater within these basins receive treatment in an environmentally sustainable way.
  6. Currently, 93% of Ecuador has access to basic drinking water. Ever since 2007, there has been more focus on safely managing sanitation services as well as water waste treatment. Due to the implementation of basic sanitation needs in Ecuador’s sustainability plan, improvement is evident within urban and rural areas throughout the country.
  7. Ecuador upgraded and amplified the sewage system and sanitation networks throughout municipalities in Quitumbe, Checa and La Merced. By building several drinking water treatment plants, the government and local workers introduced 39 kilometers of raw water transmission lines from natural reservoirs. Within agricultural systems, Ecuador also installed and put over 400 flow meters for larger consumers. Installing hundreds of flow meters allow farmers and other agricultural workers to maintain and limit the amount of water needed for efficient agriculture.
  8. Ecuador’s improvement within sanitation allowed basic water regulation within schools to improve immensely. Before, numerous schools lacked access to clean sanitation, flushing water and dry toilets. The government’s development plan focused on nationwide sanitation, which involved the implementation of basic water and clean sanitation to just under 7,000 students.
  9. The overall share of people living in poverty in Ecuador has dropped to roughly 4%. Compared to 1998, the poverty line has dropped significantly. Approximately 10% of Ecuador’s population lived in poverty in the late 1900s. Today, only 4% of the population lives in poverty.
  10. Awareness of female sanitation has increased in the last decade. In 2015, the government responded to a higher demand for easier access to female products. Female products such as towels (pads), tampons and pantyliners are more easily accessible in grocery stores within urban and rural areas.

Throughout the last decade, sanitation and easier access to water has increased immensely. While sanitation within the country has improved, with over 90% of the country having access to clean water, the government hopes to close the entire gap and provide accessible water for the country as a whole by 2030.

– Elisabeth Balicanta 
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Known for its tropical vistas and banana plantations, Costa Rica has also developed a well-deserved reputation for stability. Indeed, since abolishing its military in 1949, the small Central American nation has celebrated seven decades of uninterrupted democracy. While this stability has allowed Costa Rica to make great strides in alleviating poverty, however, nearly 21 percent of the country still remains impoverished. To this end, many in Costa Rica are increasingly turning to microfinance as a potential remedy.

Why Microfinance?

Microfinance is a banking service that focuses on delivering small loans to communities underserved by traditional banks. These ‘microloans’ can be as low as $100 and are specifically designed to help meet the needs of low-income families.

Because the principal of a microloan is much smaller than that of a traditional loan, lenders can afford to take on risks they otherwise could not. This means less stringent requirements on things like documentation and property, which are traditionally the largest obstacles to acquiring credit for those living in poverty. As a result, microfinance has become a favorite tool of activists in the developing world.

Costa Rica is no exception in that regard. With more than half of Costa Ricans unable to raise needed funds in an emergency, microfinanciers provide the country a crucial service.

Keeping Small Farmers and Rural Communities Afloat

One reason microfinance has been able to take off so quickly in Costa Rica lies in the country’s history. In the 1980s, a prolonged economic crisis prompted traditional banks to retreat en masse from Costa Rica’s rural areas. This left many small farmers suddenly lacking access to badly needed credit.

To help combat this issue, organizations like FINCA began seeking ways to encourage sustainability in rural financial markets. One such solution was microfinance.

Beginning in 1984, FINCA Costa Rica set about building a series of ‘village banks’ in the areas hit hardest by the loss of financial services. These were largely community-run, shared-liability ventures whose purpose would be to offer microloans to farmers. It did not take long for the model to become a success. Village banks quickly began to attract Costa Rican farmers, many of whom would have had difficulty acquiring a standard loan. In fact, the village banks would prove so popular that within a decade they had already become self-sustaining.

Others in Costa Rica soon took note of FINCA’s success. Though not all would copy the village bank model, many other microfinancing operations began to sprout up around the country.

Empowering Costa Rican Women

While FINCA’s village banks primarily served a demographic consisting of rural, male farmers, modern microfinanciers pursue a more diverse client base. Women in particular are a focus for many.

Research demonstrates a sharp gap in financial access along gender lines in Costa Rica. Thirty-nine percent of Costa Rican women lack a bank account, for instance, compared to 25 percent of men. This is a pattern that largely holds consistent across the developing world. Although in many cases women provide necessary income for their families, they often lack the means to build upon those earnings. This leaves them more vulnerable to the sudden economic shocks that can devastate a household, like personal medical emergencies and unexpected changes in consumer trends.

Microfinance institutions empower these women, however, by offering them the credit needed to start a business of their own, and by providing them with a newfound resiliency.

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like Fundación Mujer, women now own more than 22 percent of Costa Rican businesses. And, as the number of women gaining access to loans and other financial services increases, that percentage is only expected to grow. This means greater social mobility for Costa Rican women and a stronger ability to weather the storm in times of crisis.

The Future of Microfinance in Costa Rica

Microfinance in Costa Rica has come a long way from its first experiments with village banks in the 1980s. As it stands, Costa Rica is now one of the world’s largest microfinance markets. And, with the industry expected to grow by a further 5-10 percent in Latin America over the next decade, it is unlikely that will change any time soon.

While experts caution that microfinance cannot be seen as a ‘miracle cure’ for poverty, it is undeniable that it can provide real benefits to those in need. To see that, one only has to consider the success of microfinance in Costa Rica.

– James Roark

Photo: Pixabay.com

homelessness in El Salvador
In 2001, a major earthquake struck El Salvador leaving many helpless and on the streets. El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America despite having a dense population of 6 million people. Now, homelessness in El Salvador is at an all-time high. Currently, over 40% of the population live in run-down homes with dirt for floors. This roughly translates to upwards of 2 million people living in disheveled and decrepit homes. Luckily, there are organizations working towards rebuilding El Salvador.

3 Organizations Combatting Homelessness in El Salvador

  1. Habitat for Humanity: Through two large-scale community projects, Habitat for Humanity has helped homelessness in El Salvador by building homes and making improvements to current houses. Juntos Construyendo mi Casa (Building my House Together), is a project that primarily focuses on constructing new homes for those who are currently in inadequate living situations. It also helps to improve existing homes by replacing dirt floors with tile or wooden flooring. Its second project, Construyendo Empoderamiento con Mujeres (Building Empowerment with Women), works on building new homes while also teaching women about their rights. This project teaches women to perform in jobs typical for males, thus providing career opportunities as well. Around 97,760 Salvadorans have received help through Habitat for Humanity’s programs.
  2. New Story Charity: In 2018, New Story Charity printed its first 3D house in Austin, Texas in under 24 hours. New Story partnered with the robotics construction company, ICON. Together, they began working to expand this construction to countries that need it most, such as El Salvador. Currently, a 3D house costs around $10,000, but New Story Charity’s goal is to reduce that price to $4,000. New Story is raising $1 million to be able to begin the construction of more homes. Though the introduction of 3D homes is new, New Story Charity has constructed over 850 non-3D homes in Haiti, El Salvador, Mexico and Bolivia. 3D homes in Tabasco, Mexico have already created an entire community of these low-cost homes. In the upcoming years, New Story Charity will begin bringing 3D homes to El Salvador. Through the development of 3D homes, homelessness in El Salvador could drastically reduce.
  3. La Carpa: Tim Ross and Erica Olson founded La Carpa, meaning “The Tent,” in the summer of 2018. Though being a Christian based organization, Ross welcomes any religious backgrounds. La Carpa provides food for many of the homeless in the community. It began with distributing coffee, food and water, but is now expanding to creating hospitality houses with the hopes of building a better and closer community. On average, 30 people visit La Carpa daily to receive coffee and a meal. La Carpa aims at not only provide food and housing to the most vulnerable but also friendship and a sense of belonging.

Though El Salvador faced great destruction in the past, it is working towards rebuilding. Through organizations like Habitat for Humanity, New Story Charity and La Carpa, homelessness in El Salvador is reducing and many of the displaced are moving off the streets and into homes.

– Erin Henderson 
Photo: Flickr

Hepatitis B in ChinaHepatitis B is an infection of the liver that is passed through blood, sexual contact or from mother-to-child during pregnancy. The cause of the disease is unknown, but hepatitis B affects about 350 million people in the world. It is dubbed as a “silent epidemic” because many people may be carriers, but remain unaware that they have the disease. Particularly, hepatitis B is prevalent in China, where there has been an extensive focus to curb the spread. To better understand this, here are five facts about hepatitis B in China.

5 Facts about Hepatitis B in China:

  1. There are approximately 80 million cases of hepatitis B in China. Further, one in every three people infected around the world is located in China. These numbers are largely due to the nature of the disease spreading from mother-to-child in the womb. A study conducted by Peking University in China found that around 30-50 percent of new hepatitis B virus (HBV) transmissions are through pregnancy.
  2. The “floating population” has been found to spread hepatitis B in China through sexual contact and blood. This population consists of people who frequently move between rural and urban parts of the country for family and work. Hepatitis B in China is found in rural populations 2.57 percent more than urban populations.
  3. The Chinese Foundation for Hepatitis Prevention and Control has developed the ‘Shield Project’ to immunize pregnant women with HBV. Though it does not cure the women, the vaccine succeeds in preventing almost 100 percent of the babies from being born with hepatitis B in China. Additionally, the Shield Project uses a mobile app to spread information to expecting families about HBV and the treatments available. The project has been implemented in 124 hospitals as of February 2019.
  4. For existing and chronic hepatitis B in China, the ‘Chinese 2010 chronic hepatitis B guidelines’ help physicians to develop treatment techniques to help those suffering. As it affects liver functioning, hospitals must keep the symptoms under control to avoid organ failure. Doctors use different antiviral medications and other methods of treatment because of the current knowledge provided in the guidelines.
  5. Unfortunately, due to the economic burden of treatment and the stigmatized culture around hepatitis B in China, many people do not seek out help. A study conducted in Shandong, China, found that patients with illnesses related to hepatitis B had to pay around 40 percent of their income for treatment. There has also been widespread misinformation about the disease and how it is spread. People discriminate against those infected with hepatitis B in China because they are afraid of contagion. Alternatively, communities see the disease as something that can only be sexually transmitted. Doctors can prevent and treat hepatitis B in China if the person is willing to seek treatment. However, some people do not want to face families and communities after diagnoses.

There is a constant struggle in the medical community regarding the availability of resources to curb an outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls for hospitals and organizations to provide more information about possible treatments to those that lack education on the topic. WHO also urges hospitals to sign up for projects providing immunizations to newborns and pregnant women with hepatitis B in China. With these efforts, WHO maintains the goal of eliminating hepatitis B in China by 2030. As the epidemic continues, China has made innovative strides to combat the spread.

– Ashleigh Litcofsky

Photo: Flickr