Clean Water in SomaliaSomalia is facing an ongoing humanitarian crisis that has affected millions. Over 70% of the country’s population is currently living in poverty, with more than 4.8 million people suffering from food insecurity. Political instability, armed conflict and extreme weather coupled with the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has caused the country’s GDP to decrease by 1.5%. Extreme weather caused over $3 billion worth of damage to Somalia in 2018 which was more than 50% of the country’s GDP. The current state of Somalia has only deteriorated with the need for humanitarian support increasing. Food insecurity, malnutrition and access to clean water in Somalia are major issues requiring continued humanitarian attention.

Access to Clean Water in Somalia

The United Nations has reported that over 2 billion people globally lack access to clean water. UNICEF reports that only 52% of the population of Somalia has access to a water source. With such a low percentage of the Somali people having readily accessible clean water, preventable diseases become a greater threat. Access to clean water in Somalia means improving sanitation, hygiene and decreasing susceptibility to diseases like cholera, diarrhea and respiratory infections.

Save the Children has reported that droughts have left 70% of Somali families lacking access to clean water. The survey gathered responses from over 630 families in 18 provinces of Somalia. Droughts have led to crop failures resulting in more people struggling with food insecurity. Without access to clean water, women and children face an increased risk of health-related issues, like preventable diseases and childbirth complications.

Providing Clean Water in Somalia

Mercy-USA for Aid and Development is a nonprofit organization from Michigan that has been working in Somalia since 1997. The United States-based nonprofit has projects spanning several countries including Syria, Kenya and Yemen. The programs in Somalia are developing self-reliance skills through education, skill training and food and water assistance. In order to combat the crisis of accessibility to clean water in Somalia, Mercy-USA is building wells for the Somali people. The organization has built over 700 wells, which have provided clean water to over 750,000 people. The organization can build a new well for $3,500 which can provide water to an entire community.

CARE International is a non-governmental organization based in Switzerland that has been providing humanitarian aid to Somalia since 1981. The organization has been helping mitigate the damage that extreme weather like floods and droughts have had on Somali agriculture. CARE’s programs in Somalia have helped over 250,000 people through improvements to clean water accessibility, sanitation and hygiene. The organization works with local authorities and international organizations to treat preventable diseases like acute watery diarrhea. CARE International has provided over 10,000 people access to clean water. The organization’s ongoing projects include efforts to improve agriculture, sanitation and develop local businesses.

Looking Forward

With extreme weather displacing communities and damaging agriculture, more people are finding themselves without access to clean water in Somalia. The Somali government is working to expand assistance and opportunities to those suffering from the effects of poverty with the support of humanitarian organizations like Mercy-USA and CARE International. The poverty rate is expected to remain at 71% as the Coronavirus pandemic further exacerbates food insecurity and displacement. Continued humanitarian support is necessary to improve the situation of the Somali people and ensure everyone has access to clean water in Somalia.

– Gerardo Valladares
Photo:Flickr

Child Poverty in Uganda
Many know Africa as having a high amount of poverty. Uganda is becoming one of the most impoverished countries, which is significantly affecting the children. The life-threatening impacts children in Uganda face every day include malnutrition, health assistance deprivation, access to education, shelter deprivation and exposure to crime. Here are five life-threatening impacts pertaining to child poverty in Uganda.

5 Life-Threatening Impacts Due to Child Poverty in Uganda

  1. Malnutrition: One of the biggest problems with child poverty in Uganda is malnutrition. Child hunger and malnutrition result in poor health and failure to reach educational potential. Malnutrition in young children can result from a lack of nutritious food but disease, including diarrhea, can also cause it. At least half of all children aged 6-59 months old are anemic as a result of malnutrition. In 2003, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture created a policy that aims to “reduce malnutrition among children; reduce low birth weight among newborns; and eliminate micronutrient deficiencies (in vitamin A, iodine and iron).”
  2. Health Assistance Deprivation: Most of the children in Uganda lack access to healthcare assistance and are not able to receive vaccinations at a young age because of their inability to afford them. According to the UNICEF Child Poverty and Deprivation analysis, “Children slept under treated bed nets to prevent malaria, which was the (leading) cause of 27% of deaths in Uganda in 2016.” A significant amount of children, mostly orphaned, have been suffering from HIV/AIDS in Uganda without any medical treatment. Without parents to provide for their children, the children end up being unable to access any medical assistance. Furthermore, small households with a single parent and a single child are more prone to catch illnesses.
  3. Access to Education: As a result of child poverty in Uganda, children are not always able to garner education and they frequently lack access to school supplies because of the inability to afford them. A majority of the children are unable to read or write, causing Uganda to have one of the highest illiteracy rates in Africa. Lacking nutrition in diets may cause them to miss school; even if they attend class, they may have trouble focusing on their lessons. In Uganda, the deprivation rates are increasing, with nine out of 10 children not having access to educational resources like uniforms, books, chairs and desks.
  4. Shelter Deprivation: Most Ugandan children in poverty live in rural areas with their families. In Uganda, the typical poor family is one that cannot afford access to basic necessities of living. This includes shelter, water, food, beds, blankets and cooking equipment, etc. Additionally, poorer families are not always able to afford any damages that might occur to their homes, causing the damages to worsen over time. A common living condition that the poor in Uganda have to deal with is leaky roofs, which may cause dampness in dwellings and the formation of mold. Also, most children live in households that are unable to put aside money for emergencies. Moreover, they cannot always afford to replace broken pots and pans that their households use for cooking.
  5. Exposure to Crime: Due to Child Poverty in Uganda, a growing number of children are becoming victims of criminal activity. Some forms of crime include theft, housebreaking, abuse, assault, defilement, murder, property damage and robbery. The percentage of defilement cases involving juvenile offenders rose from 28% in 2008 to 42% in 2010. The most frequent form of crime children and their families have experienced in Uganda is theft and housebreaking. Child abuse is more common in girls than boys, with 60% of child abuse crimes involving girls. Even if the crimes are not violent, the constant exposure to such crimes can cause an impact on the social and psychological health of a child.

Save the Children

The life-threatening effects of malnutrition, limited healthcare access, lack of education, shelter deprivation and higher exposure to crime rates could significantly increase if no one addresses child poverty in Uganda. Luckily, the organization Save the Children is aiming to fight for children’s rights to education, healthcare and safety around the world. In 2020, Save the Children and its donors changed the lives of over 552,000 children in Uganda by providing education, protection and health assistance.

While child poverty in Uganda is prevalent, the efforts of Save the Children have had a significant impact. Through continued work, child poverty should continue to reduce in Uganda and around the world.

– Mary McLean
Photo: Flickr

SDG 6The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was established in 2015 and contains seventeen goals. These goals, known as SDGs, were developed to improve global health and well-being. Bhutan was one of the many nations to adopt this agenda. Although they have been specifically focusing on SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 15 (life on land), this South Asian country is also heavily focusing on SDG 6. SDG goal 6 primarily focuses on water sanitation and management being universally accessible. In fact, billions of people currently do not have access to safe drinking water or sanitation. As of 2017, only 58% of Central and South Asian countries had the ability to use soap and water to wash their hands at home. However, Bhutan has been making positive progress in their SDG goal 6.

Government Initiatives for SDG Goal 6

In 2018, Bhutan’s government launched its 12th National Five Year Plan. The agenda contains many SDGs in order to reduce poverty levels. Within the plan, the government has also developed National Key Result Areas (NKRA) to maintain accountability for its initiatives. There are three NKRAs that center on safe drinking water. NKRA 17 specifically targets sustainable water by focusing on maintaining proper irrigation and sanitation for quality water. The agenda plans to create at least six new programs dedicated to this goal, including a flagship program that will prioritize this issue.

While the Bhutan government has increased its focus on SDG 6, there is still room for improvement. According to the Annual Health Bulletin 2017, 4.1% of its citizens experience open defecation due to no access to hygienic toilets and proper water sanitation. Inequalities within this country also result in unequal access to clean water, especially in rural areas. However, more than 90% of rural homes in the country have improved water quality.

Global Partnerships

Bhutan works with many global organizations to improve clean water within their country. The organization Sanitation and Water for All is a multi-national partnership that focuses on achieving universal access to water sanitation by working to implement the SDGs. Bhutan joined this organization in 2017 and is currently upgrading older toilets and developing a map for accessible safe water.

Bhutan also partners with the SNV Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), a nonprofit organization that focuses on the SDGs and global poverty. SNV, Bhutan’s Public Health Engineering Division and Ministry of Health developed the Rural Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene Programme (RSAHP). Their mission is to develop more water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) protocols in the Bhutan government. This program has increased sanitation to almost 99% in certain districts.

The Water for Women initiative is a program by the Australian government that works with Bhutan. The program also partners with SNV. Both organizations developed Beyond the Finish Line – Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All to improve rural water sanitation in Bhutan. This project focuses on the impact quality sanitation can have on many factors, including decreasing poverty levels and increasing gender equality.

Bhutan is making headway in its work to achieve the SDG 6. Although there is always room for improvement, Bhutan’s governmental policies, programs and its global partnerships will further aid their positive progress toward more accessible water sanitation. The drive can be heard in statements made by the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who said, “Where we live must be clean, safe, organized, and beautiful, for national integrity, national pride, and for our bright future. This too is nation-building.”

– Mia Banuelos
Photo: Pixabay

Construction sector in Côte d'IvoireIvory Coast, also known as Côte d’Ivoire, is a country located in West Africa. Although it is mostly known as the largest producer and exporter of cocoa globally, another successful industry is emerging in the country. As of 2019, the construction sector in Côte d’Ivoire accounts for 10% of the workforce, making it the third-largest source of employment. This sector has contributed to economic expansion since 2012. The COVID-19 pandemic may have stunted the growth of this sector, but it is expected to grow at least 6% once the country resumes normal conditions.

5 Key Facts About the Construction Sector in Côte d’Ivoire

1. Growth of the Sector: In 2011, the transportation sector became a priority, increasing the need for the construction sector. Spurred by public investment in roads and urban areas, construction saw major growth in GDP from 2015-2018. Through the years, more local companies have gotten involved. An increase in funding will allow the sector to continue its growth before the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Impact of COVID-19: Construction became more difficult due to the pandemic. An increase in health regulations, a decline in access to supplies and lockdown all stunted the construction sector’s growth. However, Ivory Coast was able to slow the economic impact of COVID-19. Not only did the International Monetary Fund (IMF) assist them with a financial package, but the country’s economic diversification and government’s effective emergency spending plan also helped them become one of the few Sub-Saharan African countries to continue to achieve economic growth.

3. Global Assistance: The growth of the construction sector in Côte d’Ivoire has resulted in much global interest. In fact, many businesses in China have funded construction projects in the Ivory Coast, such as a hydroelectric dam in Soubré and a motorway in Abidjan. There are many projects still in development, including three stadiums for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

4. National Development Plan: The country’s new National Development Plan 2021-2025 intends to strengthen infrastructure development, which will help the construction sector’s growth. This agenda will also help increase exports and public investment.

5. Impact on Poverty: Ivory Coast has a high poverty rate despite its economic growth. As of 2020, the country’s poverty rate is at least 45%. If the construction sector continues its growth and increase in GDP, local construction projects will help develop an influx of jobs. As a result, the economy will continue to grow and help lower these rates of poverty.

Interweave Solutions

The nonprofit organization Interweave Solutions focuses on different sectors of a country. Their Masters of Business in the Streets, Literacy and Success Ambassador Programs allow for an increase in business understanding to improve homes and communities. By linking these three areas, this nonprofit works to increase self-reliance and lower poverty levels. This nonprofit wants citizens to have the ability to achieve a higher income by participating in these programs.

Ivory Coast’s construction sector will benefit from this nonprofit due to its unification of businesses and communities. The construction industry grew in GDP due to public investment, so Interweave Solutions’ focus on community involvement will continue to help the sector grow. The nonprofit’s focus on reducing poverty levels will help the country’s economy and help the GDP of the construction sector. The emerging construction sector of Ivory Coast has expanded over the years. Conclusively, The pandemic only serves as a roadblock for this construction’s economic growth.

– Mia Banuelos
Photo: Flickr

Groundwater Wells in Venezuela
Amidst the current problematic economic situation and levels of poverty in Venezuela, urban and rural sectors are going deep to find water due to poor access to safe water. Geographical studies or dowsing are the most common methods of creating local groundwater wells in Venezuela.

Poverty in Venezuela

In terms of the poverty statistics of Venezuela, between the years 2008 and 2013, the country ceased the process of poverty reduction and the government stopped providing poverty statistics. Since then, a group of national universities called ENCOVI has implemented independent studies regarding poverty in Venezuela.

According to ENCOVI, 67% of the Venezuelan population is living in extreme poverty while 94% are in poverty. No other country in the region holds numbers as high as these.

Water Access in Venezuela

A 2019 to 2020 report stated that 77% of people in Venezuela enjoyed aqueduct access. Meanwhile, 12% had access to water via water truck, 3% garnered water from public taps and 9% retrieved water from wells.

Despite having a well-established aqueduct system nationwide, many communities do not have a guaranteed and continuous source of clean water. In fact, only one out of four houses have a continuous supply of water, while the majority (59%) can only obtain water on certain days of the week. Meanwhile, the remaining 15% is only able to garner water once a month. On top of this deficient service, the quality of the water is often poor. Reports have said that the water often has a foul smell, yellow color and sediment.

Solutions

Urban and rural communities have decided to solve this problem themselves. This has led to urban areas hiring private companies to implement geological studies and find underground water reservoirs. Rural communities can do the same if they have the economic resources, but if they do not, they opt for dowsing.

The total cost to explore and drill a water well hovers between $15,000 to $25,000. This sum is an orbital number due to Venezuela’s current economic situation. However, with great sacrifice, urban communities can collect this sum in many different ways.

In addition to this effort, local governments are also attempting to find a solution to this problem. In fact, some have taken on the full cost of building the water wells.

The Process of Building Local Groundwater Wells in Venezuela

A scientific method to detect water underground involves the use of a piece of equipment called an Earth Resistivity Meter. It injects electricity into the subsoil through some stainless-steel electrodes that those doing the testing nail into the soil to determine the receptivity of the layers of the ground and subsoil as well as groundwater covers. Various methods use electricity to explore the soil and subsoil to find a water reservoir.

While this works well for some areas, rural areas frequently have challenges due to a lack of funds. Despite this situation, some rural communities have opted for the dowsing method. With the help of two y-shaped branches of a pigeon pea plant, these communities can detect water underground. Normally, dowsing experts survey the area near ravines, and after several experiments, the branches will tilt down indicating the water reservoir.

Other communities go simpler and go along with their intuition by perforating the ground until they find water. However, the problem with this method is that these wells are not well made and the quality of water is dubious if not dangerous.

Efforts of UNICEF to Provide Safe Water

In 2019, UNICEF began working with the Venezuelan government to supply safe water to Venezuelans. Some methods that UNICEF and the Venezuelan government will take include repairing and improving water systems, providing supply water trucks and chlorinating water in many impoverished communities.

From a panoramic perspective, building local groundwater wells in Venezuela is necessary to supply local communities. No shortcut exists regarding solving this problem. To tackle this issue, Venezuela requires economic investments from both the private and public sectors to bring the vital resource of water to all of its citizens.

– Carlos Eduardo Velarde Vásquez
Photo: Flickr

Migrant workers in Lebanon
For decades, the Lebanese economy has relied heavily on migrant workers to supplement the workforce. The economy provided necessary domestic services and filled up low-level positions in retail, salons and hospitality. The kafala system, a program that encourages employers to hire migrant workers in Lebanon, fueled a sense of dependence on migrant workers in various industries. This institution creates great racial and economic inequality. The employers abuse the migrant workers and offer them substandard pay and inhumane working conditions. This immense disparity worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The employers placed workers in unsafe situations, forcing them to endure terrible conditions with the imminent threat of job termination.

Refugees and the Kafala System

Currently, refugees and migrant workers make up a quarter of Lebanon’s population. This renders them an extremely valuable sector of society. Tensions between local-born Lebanese citizens and refugees developed during past years. Lebanese individuals and armed forces committed several acts of violence against refugees out of spite and anger. In addition, nearly 90% of Syrian refugees become unemployed and unable to meet housing costs in 2020. Employers fired domestic migrant workers at an alarming rate since the pandemic.

The Anti-Racism Movement found that Lebanese employers terminated their migrant workers, likely due to racial bias. Nevertheless, gaining Lebanese citizenship as a migrant worker is nearly impossible. Due to an antiquated nationality policy set up during the French mandate, only children born to a Lebanese father may obtain full legal status as a Lebanese national. Thus, no feasible pathway exists to permanent residence and legal protection for migrant workers in Lebanon. They end up at the mercy of their employers to keep them in the country.

Medical Inequality Among Migrant Workers

For many migrant workers, medical inequality has become especially prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the cruel implements of the kafala system, migrant workers rely on their employers to provide them with legal residency status. Without Lebanese nationality, these workers do not have entitlement to these benefits that other people within Lebanon possess. Lack of health coverage discourages these migrant workers from seeking out medical help and accessing the treatments they need to ensure their personal wellbeing. As unemployment has continued to rise, thousands of migrant workers are left with no healthcare or legal status. They must return to their home countries, despite the potential endangerment that awaits them.

In an international relations briefing by Natasha Hall, the author notes that “ensuring that people are not prioritized for medical treatment by nationality, as medicine disappears from shelves and intensive care units fill up, is another serious concern.” Migrant workers in Lebanon end up not being able to access treatments due to a lack of insurance and inadequate financial means. This is similar to the United States and other countries that experience inequality. Lebanon faces economic complications, such as inflation rates rising and banks refusing to withdraw money for their customers. It has become nearly impossible for people to obtain the medications they need. Lebanon sustains its medication supply due to imported drugs. Due to the trade challenges facing the nation, Lebanese citizens cannot obtain medicine for their health conditions.

Hope for an End to Migrant Worker Inequality

The kafala system is extremely ruthless. It puts migrant workers at a socio-economic position far below the average Lebanese citizen. This caused a public outcry, sparking change and encouraging reform to the system. According to the Human Rights Watch, “Amendments to the system [in 2020] provide guarantees for workers including 48-hour work weeks, a rest day, overtime payment, as well as sick and annual leaves. Workers can now terminate their contracts without their employer’s consent.” Increased regulations have provided an added layer of protection to the rights of migrant workers in Lebanon.

Luna Khalil
Photo: Flickr

Aquaculture in NicaraguaNicaragua is a popular tourist destination but also the second most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere. The resource-rich country has potential for significant economic growth but a long history of colonization, autocratic governments and neglect of human capital create barriers to economic growth. Agriculture is the main form of industry in Nicaragua as there are large expanses of level, fertile ground in the eastern part of the country. Fishing is also traditional to the area, especially shrimping. In the last few decades, the government began prioritizing the development of infrastructure to support aquaculture in Nicaragua in order to help fisherfolk and reduce poverty.

What is Aquaculture?

Nicaragua is one of the many coastal countries undergoing what is referred to as a “blue revolution.” Nicaragua is testing the capacity of the surrounding waters to bring significant income into the economy. This often means updating a traditional industry such as capture fishing and applying that knowledge with new technology. Furthermore, it means utilizing more environmentally sustainable practices. Aquaculture in Nicaragua was a natural step forward, as its land-based version, agriculture, is already a prolific industry. Learning how to farm the ocean is a relatively new concept but one that is gaining ground quickly in global agricultural circles.

The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition released a brief in February 2021 detailing the benefits of aquaculture. These benefits range from increased nutrition and food security to a higher national GDP. The panel asserts that aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing aspects of the greater agricultural industry. Additionally, worldwide fish consumption is growing, creating a demand that traditional capture fisheries cannot support sustainably.

Aquaculture Potential in Nicaragua

Aquaculture programs supported by the Nicaraguan Government gained traction in the 1980s. Since then, shrimp farming has become the major export of the fishing industry. While many shrimp farms are owned by large corporations, small farmers are supported by the government and programs like the Nicaraguan Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture (INPESCA). In 2018, INPESCA helped residents of the Palo Grande community to form fishing cooperatives and provided the necessary training to learn shrimp farming. Along with the municipal government, INPESCA then gave each of the eight fishing cooperatives, including more than 250 cooperative members, licenses to farm shrimp in designated areas in northwestern Nicaragua.

Not only does this opportunity provide people with the means of creating a steady income and access to a nutritional food source, but, many women who previously relied on their husband’s income are now able to be involved in the work. Instead of working for large companies that underpay workers, people can work for themselves earning the full price of the sold shrimp.

Looking Forward

There are serious challenges to the industry that created major setbacks. Hurricane Mitch devastated coastal properties in 1998, causing flooding and almost 4,000 total deaths in Nicaragua. Just one year later, with shrimp farms still struggling to recover, outbreaks of the fatal white spot syndrome in Nicaragua wiped out large quantities of shrimp.

In spite of past challenges, there are many exciting reasons to support aquaculture in Nicaragua. Offering stable income to uneducated citizens, economic growth for the country, affordable sources of nutritious food and a sustainable form of farming, aquaculture has an impressive array of possible benefits. The Government of Nicaragua and various international organizations continue to pursue further development of aquaculture technologies, hoping to facilitate economic growth and decrease overall poverty.

Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

Social Change for AfghanistanWar-torn and poverty-stricken, people of the developed world seldom think of Afghanistan as a place where beauty and art bloom. But, in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, a movement is growing. Contemporary street artists in Kabul use the ruins of blasted city walls and bombed-out buildings as their canvas, slowly transforming the city from the shell of a warzone to an open-air art gallery. However, the goal of this gallery is not simply beautifying the city’s rubble-strewn streets but actually inciting social change for Afghanistan.

Conflict in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has remained in a state of almost constant conflict since 1978. The internal conflict became global news as other countries, most notably Russia and the United States, involved themselves by supporting various parties and factions. Social scientists predict that thousands of Afghani civilians died as a result of civil unrest thus far.

Since the Taliban, a violent extremist group, was forced out of their occupation of Kabul, many families who fled to seek asylum in other countries are returning. Unfortunately, just re-established as a republic, the capital city did not have the infrastructure to support the influx of impoverished and uneducated ex-refugees. The refugees who fled from Afghanistan under Taliban rule experienced widespread discrimination and restricted access to education and fair wages. Now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Kabul is home to almost six million civilians and crime and poverty are rampant.

Social Change Through Art

Decades of war destroyed much of the literature and art in Afghanistan, once a culture-rich place. But, in this tragedy lies an opportunity to bring the historically male and upper-class art world into a more inclusive space.

Street artist groups are popping up in Kabul, using colorful murals to send political messages about social change for Afghanistan. One such group calls itself the ArtLords. The organization consists of volunteers and artists seeking a future for their battered homeland. The ArtLords believe that while there are many things it cannot control, it can begin to alter the country’s narrative and express the people’s desire for peace. By visually bringing social issues such as women’s empowerment, terrorism and corruption to a public space where people cannot ignore them, artists hope to change the future of Afghanistan.

Young people who grew up watching the horrors of war right outside their doorsteps make almost all of Kabul’s street art. After seeing the effects of extreme poverty, constant war and restricted rights, it is not surprising that many seek an outlet for their voices.

These artists risk arrest and even murder to spread their messages of hope and activism to the people of the city. Through art, both men and women are able to speak out against the violence and tyranny Afghans endure. Street art in particular allows messages to reach a massive and diverse audience, ensuring that people from all corners of society are able to see and enjoy, be inspired or be incensed.

Female Artist Shamsia Hassani

Probably the most famous name in Afghanistan’s art world right now is Shamsia Hassani. The first female street artist known in the country, she is making history with her art. Growing up in Iran to Afghan immigrants, Hassani was labeled a “foreign national” in school and experienced many roadblocks to her education due to a preponderance of discriminatory laws against Afghan refugees. In 2015, her family decided the situation in Afghanistan was stable enough to return home. Never having been there, Hassani was hesitant about the change, but once they had settled in Kabul, Hassani felt she finally understood the meaning of home. No longer a foreign national, she was free to pursue a fine arts degree at Kabul University, where she now lectures. Although the city was still in ruins, Hassani declares “even if it was ruins, it was my ruins.”

Her street art style developed over a few years. She describes its accessibility to everyone draws her to the medium, although it puts her in danger every time she creates a piece. Hassani’s art does not fight against the wearing of hijabs or other forms of cover. Instead, she focuses on the need for women to have access to education and careers. She states that if women did not require hijabs but were still unable to go to school or get a paying job, it would not be true freedom or real progress.

Looking Forward

There is deep symbolism to Hassani’s signature art character, the woman with closed eyes. The character conveys sadness and pain, the desire to look away from the destruction of war and the struggle for women, in particular. But, the image also inspires joy through Hassani’s use of bright colors, the inclusion of musical instruments and the simple pleasure of seeing a crumbling wall transformed by a beautiful work of art.

Hassani is confident that art can bring about social change in Afghanistan. Like the ArtLords and many others who use art as a form of activism, Hassani is part of a generation who has never known peace. They spent their entire lives in wartime and can only dream of peace in Afghanistan. Until then, they will continue to illustrate a vision of a future in which there is peace, equality, justice and unity.

– Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

Microfinance in Zimbabwe
Imagine a Zimbabwean woman trying to run a very small chicken farm amid the rising inflation of Zimbabwe’s unstable economy. Prices are constantly shifting, making it harder to buy the chickens and feed she needs to keep her business afloat. Her name is Nyachi and she is constantly struggling to stay ahead of the rocky economic situation in Zimbabwe.

Partners Thrive Microfinance and Whole Planet Foundation provided her with a loan of $50, equivalent to 500 Zim. Nyachi was able to buy more chickens and feed, allowing her to remain open for business. With the boost from the loan, she can pay back the money and even take out another loan. Thrive Microfinance also provides courses in business and economics, so Nyachi can be more prepared to handle the complex financing of being an independent entrepreneur. She is an example of how microfinance in Zimbabwe can change the country. Her story is just one of many featured on Whole Planet Foundation’s website, illustrating hard times for many small business owners as well as stories of hope.

The Situation in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is currently experiencing an economic crisis. Recent natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic and poor economic and financial leadership contribute to the country’s current situation. High inflation rates and the rapid devaluation of the Zimbabwean Dollar plunged the population into poverty and food insecurity. In 2015, The World Bank estimated that around 72% of Zimbabweans lived in poverty. In 2019, it was reported that 50% of Zimbabweans were food insecure and 49% were living in extreme poverty.

More and more women in Zimbabwe are taking on small-scale entrepreneurial roles. However, the male-dominated traditions make it difficult for women to get the loans needed to start and run a business. Without a bank account or the proper collateral for a loan, female entrepreneurs have a challenging road to success. These low-income businesses often struggle to profit since, without loans to start or expand a business, it is often impossible to procure necessary equipment and workers. In Zimbabwe, 52% of the population is female, yet women earn only 10% of the country’s income. This disparity is why most organizations for microfinance (MFIs) in Zimbabwe and worldwide cater specifically to women.

Simple Solution but Complicated History

Microfinancing is not an especially new concept, but its history is complex. In 1997, the wild success of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh sparked global attention. Unfortunately, many MFIs popping up in the wake of that success failed to improve or even worsened situations in their countries. Low-income borrowers in India and Nigeria were victims of MFIs with ultra-high interest rates and other issues that made paying them back difficult or near impossible, especially for those who were not financially literate.

Zimbabwe faced similar challenges when introducing MFIs into the economy and still struggles with some of those issues today. However, with more NGOs and nonprofits becoming involved in microfinance in Zimbabwe, interest rates and other predatory lenders are more scarce. Additionally, with organizations like Thrive working to teach financial literacy to aspiring entrepreneurs, the likelihood of borrowers being taken advantage of is much lower.

Today’s Goals

In 2018, the non-banking financial institution Thrive Microfinance partnered with Business Call to Action, an alliance bringing together multiple governments to address the need for low-income business owners to have the ability to engage in their country’s economics more fully. This alliance aims to provide loans and business management training to 16,500 women and girls in Zimbabwe.

The global nonprofit Kiva uses donated funds to finance small loans. Once a loan is repaid, donors can either withdraw their funds or recycle them back into the revolving lending system. Kiva is currently able to crowdsource an average of $2.5 million in renewable funds every week, making for a total of $1.4 billion in loans given to date. Their mission is a financially inclusive world where everyone is capable of improving their situation.

Programs like these lend more than money. The satisfaction of running a business, the empowerment that comes from education and the security of financial stability lend hope for the future, a loan that never has to be repaid.

– Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

Air Quality
The COVID-19 pandemic has renewed interest in air quality as lockdowns and public health restrictions have led to improved quality in many areas. Additionally, research has found a link between poor air quality and poor COVID-19 outcomes. The decline in pollution will be only temporary, and in many areas was actually smaller than scientists anticipated.

The impacts of poor air quality on global health beyond COVID-19 are numerous. However, curbing emissions and improving quality where it is already poor are huge undertakings. Nonetheless, looking at those living in urban areas where quality is monitored, more than 80% of people are experiencing air pollution in excess of the limits suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO). This makes air quality a pivotal global health issue.

Another important factor in addressing this issue is the distribution of the negative effects of poor air quality. In other words, the development of any program or policy interventions ought to consider the inequitable distribution of those effects. Research in the United States and the United Kingdom indicates that while wealthier people tend to be responsible for the majority of air pollutants, those living in impoverished areas disproportionately experience the harmful effects of those pollutants.

A. What Compromises Air Quality

There are two main categories of air pollutants: those naturally occurring and those human-made. While dust storms and wildfires can introduce harmful particulate matter, there are also numerous sources of pollution driven by human activities. These include automobiles, certain types of power plants, oil refineries and more. In addition to particulate matter, other pollutants that adversely affect health include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.

Finding new yet affordable ways to decrease the pollutants we release into the air is challenging but not insurmountable. Putting this into perspective, 90% of people around the world are breathing unclean air according to WHO guidelines.

B. What Poor Quality Air Does to Our Health

Beyond the link between air pollution and poor COVID-19 outcomes, research also shows the negative impact air pollution has on the risk of stroke and heart disease, certain types of cancer, lung infections and diseases and even mental health. Furthermore, both air quality and environmental quality tend to be worse in areas of the world already comparatively disadvantaged.

According to research on the effectiveness of European climate and pollution policies, the number of people prematurely dying after exposure to fine particulate matter pollution decreased by approximately 60,000 between 2018 and 2019. Better yet, between 2010 and 2020, there was a 54% drop in premature deaths attributable to nitrogen dioxide pollution. Despite these positive outcomes, they also demonstrate the extent of the damage airborne pollutants can do to human health.

C. What Has Proven Successful in Protecting Air Quality

Like health policy progress, innovations in air quality programs and policies often start at the local government level. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), cities around the world are implementing ultra-low and zero-emission urban access zones, deploying hundreds of thousands of electric buses, and learning from their own successes in moving to clean municipal transportation in order to teach other cities to do the same.

The EDF notes the importance of gathering detailed data on air quality. This data allows organizations to identify communities disproportionately affected by pollution and develop targeted approaches to protecting and improving air quality. This type of data can help localities not only measure levels of pollutants over time but pinpoint hotspots. Hotspots include, for example, those caused by construction sites and manufacturing facilities. The need for this type of data is worldwide, but developing nations are in particular need of the tools necessary for thorough air quality monitoring.

Highlighting the successes experienced in air pollutant reduction efforts in wealthier counties may seem counterintuitive given the importance of addressing inequalities across the world. Still, they also represent numerous lessons for developing cities and countries to learn. The negative experiences of areas already developed have yielded data, technology and sample policies from which leaders worldwide can draw. Moving forward, it is essential that organizations and leaders around the world prioritize improving air quality.

Amy Perkins
Photo: Pixabay