Over 783 million people lack access to clean drinking water. Every day, 6,000 people die from complications due to contaminated drinking water. Most of those people are children. But the culprit is not an absence of wells. NGOs have been building wells all over developing rural areas for decades. The real problem is a lack of maintenance.

Kyle Westaway, a board member of The Adventure Project, a non-profit working toward sustainable water solutions in Uganda, asks us to compare a new well to a new car. A new car, he says, is a great gift that connects people, businesses, and communities. But, without the mechanical savvy or money required to change the oil, that car will be junk in less than a year.

In the same way, new wells are wonderful gifts that, without care and maintenance, quickly descend into obsolescence. Governments in developing nations usually don’t have the resources to maintain or restore wells, and it’s easier for NGOs—but more expensive—to just build new ones. In the meantime, people resort to local “scoop holes,” like unfiltered streams or springs.

That’s where Water for People (WFP) comes in. The organization, which has projects on every continent, is working with local governments in western Uganda to institute a “pay-as-you-fetch” program so wells can fund themselves. WFP takes working wells and hands them over to mechanics, who collect a usage fee. The going rate is 100 Ugandan shillings (4 cents) per jerry can of water, which is about 20 liters. Half the money goes into a fund to repair the well, which requires overhaul about once every 10 years.

The program hinges on an inexpensive, low-tech water meter that tracks how many liters are taken out. Putting entrepreneurs in charge of meter-equipped wells is the key to keeping them in use.

Diana Keesiga, who manages the project, believes it has huge potential. “Once I prove this works, I am going to expand this model across Uganda,” she says with confidence. “And then, the continent.”

John Mahon

Sources: Huffington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation

As Yemen transitions politically and restructures its constitution, the number one priority should be to protect its citizens—particularly Yemeni girls who are too often subject to child marriage. Traditionally, poor families have married off underage girls in exchange for money, a practice that is not only unethical but also extremely dangerous.

The absence of a legal minimum age for girls to marry endangers the lives of Yemeni females. Without legal protection from instances of rape, systemic inequalities are pervasive. A 2006 UN survey revealed that approximately 14 percent of Yemeni girls are married before the age of 15, and 52 percent are married before the age of 18. Tellingly, these child marriages limit the potential of young girls, entrapping them to a parochial life dominated largely by an authoritative male partner.

In an interview with Human Rights Watch, a child bride explained the perils of her situation: “I thought marriage was just a wedding, a party and that was it. I didn’t have any idea that marriage had another meaning.”

“I loved learning,” she said. “Then my family saw the results of my first year of high school and I had failed…(my) pregnancy influenced my health, because my body wasn’t ready for pregnancy at that young age. As a side effect, I was unable to study because of the fatigue of pregnancy. My dream when I was young had been to become a doctor.”

In September, media attention further highlighted the dangers of child marriage when it covered the story of an 8-year-old Yemeni girl who bled to death after being raped by her husband, a man in his 40s. As details spread, international attention and outrage looked to the Yemeni government for immediate action.

Since then, a variety of activists have worked towards reform, but there is still major progress to be made.

Yemen must be proactive in reforming its laws around child marriage, for the fate of its young female population depends on it.

Anna Purcell

Sources: Human Rights Watch, BBC

In Colombia, thousands of workers, famers and miners have joined together in a national strike to protest the government’s economic policies. Colombian farmers claim that they cannot compete with subsidized crops imported from the United States and European Union. This week, nearly 30,000 people marched in Bogotá to protest government policies, trade deals and alleged exploitation of regions. Other reports estimate that more than 200,000 workers have blocked many of the country’s major roadways.

The agrarian strike in Colombia, as it is being called, involves a broad coalition of the agrarian industry, labor unions and much of the country’s rural population. The strikers are challenging an economic model that has produced widespread poverty and income disparity while allegedly rewarding multinational corporations and large agribusinesses that benefit from Colombia’s “free trade” agreements.

Javier Correa Velez, the head of a Colombian coffee-growers association called Dignidad Cafetera, said, “We’re not trying to overthrow the government or support one armed group or another, we just want solutions to our problems.” Among these problems, increasing fuel and fertilizer costs as well as government neglect of rural areas have decimated Colombia’s agricultural industry.

In terms of income inequality, Colombia is the seventh most unequal country in the world. It also has the highest unemployment rate in Latin America. There are more than 7 million Colombians living in poverty and 2 million of them are classified as living in extreme poverty. 40 years of armed conflict between the government, rebel groups and drug cartels has displaced many Colombians and left others without means to support themselves or their families. These indicators suggest that economic reforms are needed, and the agrarian strike may be a watershed moment for Colombian labor and poverty activists.

To date, the strikers’ efforts have resulted in some government action. Since February of this year, the government has responded with increased subsidies to coffee growers, providing more than $333 million. Some recent reports suggest that President Juan Manuel Santos may be ready to sit down and discuss the farmers’ demands, ending a long stalemate between the government and labor. This is a significant shift in the President’s rhetoric. Earlier in the year, he criticized the strike as an attempt to increase tension between the government and certain rebel groups with which the government has been negotiating peace agreements.

For now, strikers and government ministers remain deadlocked. But the farmers’ resilience and persistence has changed the tone of the debate and caught the attention of the international media.

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: BBC News, Rural Poverty Portal

A new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) reveals that thousands of Tanzanian children—some as young as eight years old—are working illegally in many of the country’s unlicensed gold mines. Despite laws that prohibit child labor, the young miners venture deep underground to drill, dig and transport gold to the surface. In addition to the risk children have from accidents and mine collapses they  also face long-term health issues from exposure to mercury and mine dust.

In most cases, poverty induces the children to seek work in the mines. With the money that they earn from their work, most kids say they purchase necessities such as food, clothes, rent and school supplies. Child labor is used in many other sectors of Tanzania’s economy, including agriculture, domestic work and fishing. In 2006, a government survey revealed that almost twenty percent of children between the ages of 5 and 17 are involved in some form of labor.

In 2009, Tanzania developed a National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labor. According to the Plan, the following factors contribute to Tanzania’s child labor problem: poverty, access to education and employment, and weak enforcement of social protections and labor laws. Though measures have been enacted to reduce child labor, there is no evidence to suggest that there has been a reduction in the number of children employed by small and unlicensed gold mines.

Tanzania is the fourth-largest producer of gold in the world. The mining process begins by digging the ore out of the ground and carrying it to a processing area where it is crushed and sluiced. To separate the gold from other rocks and minerals, miners use liquid mercury, which attracts and amalgamates the gold particles. The final step is to heat the amalgam, which evaporates the mercury and leaves the pure gold.

Beyond the obvious dangers associated with underground mining, long-term exposure to mercury presents a serious health hazard. Mercury exposure adversely affects the central nervous system, causing sensory impairment, lack of coordination, memory loss and tremors. Mercury poisoning concerns not only the Tanzanian child miners but also people in surrounding villages as vapors and byproducts enter the atmosphere and groundwater.

The Tanzanian government is aware of child labor abuses in these unlicensed gold mines. With international organizations like Human Rights Watch casting light on the issue, pressure to curb the abuses is likely to increase. But unless economic conditions change for people in rural areas, it will be difficult to thwart the need to survive.

One man who was interviewed by Human Rights Watch told the organization, “There is no way out… this is how we survive.” Nearby, the man’s daughter was playing in the ashy remains of what was once the mercury-gold amalgam.

— Daniel Bonasso

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Reuters, The Guardian

Global poverty comes in an abundance of shapes and sizes. To effectively combat global poverty, focusing on key areas such as investing in open political and economic systems, promoting education, and improving health systems would be a great start. By improving these key factors in impoverished areas, the quality of life could be improved for a number of people.

1) Open political and economic systems allow for greater freedom, less violent outbreaks, and are known to consistently reduce poverty. Creating stability in markets is an important step to increasing the local food shortage. With an increase of economic market security a country can stand on its own and provide for itself, therefore negating the need for outside aid. Combining a stable economic system with a proven democratic political government can also benefit an impoverished area. The democratic government is not a perfect one, but onlookers cannot dispel its success. The results do take time, however. Installing the government is the first step and keeping the correct people in office is crucial to the development of a country laden with poverty.

2) Many poverty stricken areas suffer from low literacy rates, and this greatly aids the setbacks poverty causes. Without proper education, a country cannot be relied upon to improve their situation. A country without learning enabled people curtails itself, because it cannot make the improvements needed on its own to advance. The lack of education means the people of the impoverished nation must rely on nations that do incorporate proper schooling; without the knowledge being taught to them in stable learning areas the country cannot provide its own improvements.
Programs such as UNICF have made great contributions to this cause, and in time, the work put in will be visible to all.

3) Improving the health systems in poverty stricken nations is one of the hardest goals to achieve. The health and disease conditions are plentiful, ranging from city cleanliness to malaria outbreaks. By containing even the smallest of these problems (city cleanliness), progress would be visible. Outside markets selling grocery that require refrigeration suffer in the elements daily, causing the food to lose nutritional value. A true grocery store equipped with refrigeration keeps food fresh, allowing the nutritional value to carry over for longer periods of time. Healthy food is a corner stone to a healthy society.

Health and disease conditions could use improvement worldwide, but no area more so than impoverished areas. Without a proper healthcare system, many victims of illness are forced to face their ailments with little to no medical treatment. Deadly viruses such as HIV and AIDS have rocked the world, and treatment for these diseases has been difficult to come by. However, established nations have developed means of treating HIV and AIDS to a certain degree.

While a cure has not been discovered, these containment methods are not available in poor countries. The diseases have ravaged poverty stricken areas, but United States programs have attempted to incorporate aid for those suffering. Programs like PEPFAR have assisted countless victims through their outreach methods.

Global poverty has many drawbacks and problems. However, these problems do not have to be permanent. With the correct systems in place in areas of politics, economic stability, education, and health poverty can be effectively combated.

Zachary Wright

Sources: Global Problems, UNICEF, PEPFAR, India

Charities That Fight Poverty
The Borgen Project’s quest to end extreme poverty is shared by countless people and organizations. A truly overwhelming number of non-profits are working to end poverty, and it can be hard to know where you should donate money. Here’s a list of 10 charities that fight poverty that all received 4-star overall ratings from Charity Navigator, a well-known charity watchdog organization.


Top Charities that Fight Poverty


1) K.I.D.S. (Kids in Distressed Situations): This large organization improves the lives of children living in poverty around the world. They provide new clothes, toys, books, and other products, as well as shelter and medical care. They’re also extremely well-run, spending 99.5% of their budget on programs, rather than fundraising or administrative overhead.

2) Concern Worldwide US: This non-governmental organization has been working towards the elimination of extreme poverty since its founding in 1968. Work, including emergency response and long-term development, is mostly focused on countries ranked in the bottom 40 according to the UN Human Development Report.

3) International Rescue Committee: This enormous organization directed over $350 million to those in need in 2011. They provide emergency aid in 42 countries, aiming to permanently improve life for victims of violence and oppression.

4) SIGN Fracture Care International: This non-profit works to provide orthopedic treatment to trauma victims in the developing world by training and equipping local surgeons. Proper treatment minimizes the financial burden placed on trauma victims and their families, giving them hope and fiscal security.

5) InterAction: This is a coalition of U.S. based NGOs that are aiming to eliminate poverty on an international scale. The partnerships allow each individual organization to multiply its impact by providing important connections, insight, and capital.

6) International Child Care: The Christian health development organization is working to alleviate many of the causes of poverty in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. By providing vital medical care for children and their families, ICC allows them to lead happier, healthier lives in less danger of falling into poverty.

7) Fistula Foundation: This organization funds the treatment of obstetric fistulas in the developing world. Obstetric fistulas occur when labor is obstructed during childbirth. They leave women incontinent, which can ruin her life. Her husband, family, and community often abandon her because of her smell. This injury is common when women give birth at home without access to trained medical help, and can be fixed with $450 surgery.

8) VillageReach: Since 2000, this organization has worked to improve the developing world’s access to healthcare by partnering with businesses, governments, nonprofits, and other organizations. They aim to strengthen local infrastructure in underserved rural areas, and facilitate the delivery of medical supplies. This effort specifically helps fight rural poverty by allowing remote communities to lead better, more fruitful lives.

9) Action Against Hunger (ACF-USA): This organization’s efforts are primarily aimed at ending global hunger. Their work saves lives by fighting malnutrition, especially in times of crisis or conflict. Programs are integrated with local and national systems to ensure long-term solutions that tackle the underlying causes of malnutrition.

10) Life In Abundance: This interdenominational Christian organization aspires to empower the local Church to end poverty in Africa’s developing areas. Their programs aim to create holistic community improvement by focusing on health, financial security, education, and social participation. By encouraging and enabling local Church leadership, long-term transformation is achieved and African families rise out of poverty.

– Katie Fullerton

Sources: Charity Navigator, Life in Abundance

Of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG), maternal health has shown the least amount of improvements in developing countries. In addition to the physical components of maternal health like safely giving birth and having access to necessary medicines and doctors, maternal mental health is gaining attention for its lack of representation in the MDG’s. Mental health for pregnant women and new mothers is critical to not only their well-being, but also the child’s.
According to the World Health Organization, eight to ten percent of women experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy and an even higher percentage, thirteen percent, have these symptoms for the first year of their child’s life. Although any woman can have mental health issues during or following a pregnancy, those living in poverty ridden areas are at a greater risk. Other factors like migration, extreme stress, violence in the home or community, sexual abuse, conflict areas, natural disasters and lack of community services can increase the likelihood of a woman developing depression or anxiety.
The dangers of maternal mental health are numerous. During pregnancy, women experiencing depression and anxiety can cause the mother to eat and sleep inadequately, prevent her from seeking out prenatal services or even turn her to abusing alcohol or drugs. After childbirth, a women suffering from a mental health disorder may not feed or care for her child properly, causing illness, malnutrition or anemia for the child. Babies who are exposed to a depressed, reclusive mother are also less likely to develop social skills and intelligence.

Despite these concerns, maternal mental health is still not considered to be an aspect of maternal health by the MDGs. Other maternal health issues, like reducing infections and complications from childbirth are given precedence over mental health disorders. However, as health experts have pointed out, these two aspects of maternal health are not mutually exclusive. Many international organizations are calling for mental health to be included in the maternal health goals ,because mental disorders cause many of the maternal health programs. Although including mental health in the MDGs does not ensure a reduction in maternal health problems, it is a vital step towards improving women’s maternal health around the world.

– Mary Penn

Sources: Public Library of Science, World Health Organization

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With major organizations like the World Health Organization, the World Bank and USAID trading out-of-date data collection methods for Magpi, the data collection and analysis service from Joel Selanikio, it is safe to say that the DataDyne software is a success. But, as laudable as the increased efficiency in these large organizations is, Magpi’s real utility is realized by smaller groups such as local governments, NGOs and networks of activists. By offering an indefinite, though limited, version of its product for free, Magpi enables those who lack the funds and reach of international organizations to gather and synthesize their data quickly, efficiently, and cheaply, educating themselves as to the appropriate courses of action.

Selanikio himself expressed that sentiment, saying, “Our target audience for Magpi is regular people.” He cites Facebook and Google as inspirations for Magpi’s structure. In addition to its free version, however, Magpi (which was initially called EpiSurveyor) offers two superior versions of itself for $10 or $20 thousand annually. The increased price tag allows greater data capacity, input limits, and assistance with synthesis and analysis.

DataDyne is not alone in addressing this market. As of August 2013, Selanikio reached out to Chris Neumann of DataHero to link their softwares. DataHero specializes in generating functional and concise graphics and charts from user-inputted datasets, allowing greater intelligibility of complex trends and statistics. Since both companies are the toast of the tech community, such a partnership could mean greater profitability for both and an increase in the ability of governments and organizations operating in the developing world to understand better the situations they are trying to alleviate, and to identify trends before they fully manifest.

Mechanical and social limitations still prevail in many regions. Though disappearing, the Digital Divide is still a very real phenomenon, with many African, Asian, and South American countries covering mere fractions of the percentages covered by their European and North American counterparts, and with far lower hardware capacity. Magpi is also compatible with cell phones, of both smart and non-smart varieties, but cell reception in many rural areas is unpredictable or outright non-existent. In areas of high illiteracy, finding staffers to administer the surveys and enter the data can be difficult, suggesting that DataDyne and DataHero may have to wait for institutional changes before their full utility can be realized.

Despite these problems, Magpi has met with marked success in many ventures. A 2004 collaboration with the WHO met or exceeded every goal set by reaching nearly 1.2 million people with AIDS prevention messages, distributing nearly 15.5 million condoms, and providing over 16,000 with Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) services. These figures provide a promising look for the possibilities for software which is intuitive and polished–and if Selanikio and Neumann can become for NGOs what Steve Jobs was for techies, a revolution in the way aid is assessed could be underway.

Alex Pusateri

Sources: DataDyne, Health Market Innovations, Tech President

Photo: Amara.org