“After 3 nights we were told that one of us would be executed. We had to draw straws to decide who would be killed. If the police had come one hour later we would have been killed already.” –An escaped slave

The London-based non-profit organization Environmental Justice Fund (EJF) recently released a report on the state of human trafficking in Thailand, called ‘Sold to the Sea.’ In it, former fishing boat slaves provide accounts of torture and “casual homicide” committed by captains and crews onboard numerous fishing vessels. The results of their 2009 survey were very clear: Thailand’s fishing industry is one of the worst examples of modern slavery.

Thailand’s $7.3 billion fishery export business is the third most valuable in the world. One in six pounds of seafood sold in the United States comes from the small nation, which also supplies Europe and most of Asia. The high demand in the industry has created an increase in foreign migrant workers traveling to Thailand in order to fill labor needs. However, the Thai government’s complicated and expensive visa and immigration policies have forced many poor workers to rely on human traffickers in order to enter the country.

Laborers are typically trafficked into Thailand from Myanmar, Burma and Cambodia by coyotes (human traffickers), who lure them there with false promises. Boys as young as 16 can be bought for $600 by fishing companies to work on their boats for up to 20 hours a day with little to no compensation. Such easy access to cheap labor has resulted in barbaric practices on fishing trawlers, including the maiming and murder of these foreign slaves.

A UN report found that up to 59 percent of escaped slaves admit to witnessing at least one murder of another worker at the hands of senior crewman. One former slave testified to the EJF that, “The senior crew attacked workers with knives. And some got killed and their bodies were thrown into the sea.”

These abuses have been allowed to continue for the most part because they take place in international waters, where no country has jurisdiction. Unregistered “ghost boats” take the forced laborers out to sea, and there the crew commits terrible acts against them. Reports of stabbing, crippling, and tossing people alive into the ocean have all been made over the past few years. These crews have been allowed to get away with their crimes because ghost boats rarely ever enter port. Instead, they take their slave-caught seafood to “mother ships,” that then bring the fish into port to sell to brokers.

For the past four years, Thailand has consistently ranked in the second-tier of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report. The report, which is based on a three-tier scale, rates nations around the world based on their human trafficking statistics. Thailand has only avoided the worst rating because they have continued to be pardoned by Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. This year, Thailand used up its last pardon, and if they do not make noticeable improvements in handling their human trafficking stats, the United States will be legally obligated to begin implementing targeted sanctions against them. President Obama has already voiced his support for cracking down on these practices.

This means that the Thai government must spend the next 12 months conducting enough raids and arrests to prove their sincerity and commitment to ending human trafficking in their country. Over the past few years they have made modest steps towards that goal. The government increased police training, created greater potential sentences for convicted traffickers and have constructed more shelters for refugees. These efforts have made little impact on the Thai slave trade, however, mainly because they are not targeted at the true perpetrators.

Human trafficking in Thailand has continued to be facilitated by corruption and an unwillingness to prosecute the companies and brokers profiting from the sale of human beings. The Thai navy’s efforts to monitor the fishing fleet have been negligible at best, and without pressure from the government, the issue is not going to improve. With the threat of international sanctions looming over them, maybe 2013 will be the year that Thailand begins cracking down on human trafficking in the fishing industry- but if the past is any indication, it is not likely.

– Allana Welch

Sources: Al Jazeera, International Business Times, Marine Link, Global Post, Environmental Justice Foundation

Photo: The Asia Foundation

The Group of Eight, or G8, summit was held in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland last week. The G8 Summit is an annual conference at which leaders from nine of the world’s most powerful nations and bodies come together to discuss the global issues of the day. Representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Russia, Japan, Italy, Germany, France and the European Union all sat down together to discuss the Syrian conflict, international trade agreements, and meeting Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Though only briefly discussed, one of the most important topics on their agenda was poverty and how it related to health and development.

In the days leading up to the summit, anti-poverty groups came out in force to demonstrate on behalf of their cause. In Belfast and at Lough Erne resort, where the global leaders were staying, over 10,000 activists took to the streets to make their voices heard. Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, had already vowed to put “impact investing” on the G8 agenda, and the people wanted to be sure that he stuck to his word. Impact investing- a combination of philanthropy and profit- was a topic that would coincide well with other issues up for discussion.

More than three billion people worldwide, about 40% of the world’s population, live in poverty. 1.5 billion people living in “resource rich” countries survive on less than $2 a day. Tax avoidance schemes conducted by foreign investors deprive nations of around $161 billion per year, and global leaders have allowed these practices to continue. The removal of all barriers to foreign investment and the privatization of industries have maintained a status quo where investors benefit more from the country than its people receive in return.

One of the MDGs agreed upon in 2000 was a reform in the structure of economic relations between developed and developing countries, including fairer trade relations. This would allow developing nations to work their way out of poverty, as opposed to allowing wealthier countries to take advantage of their natural resources. As opposed to pursuing a solution to this goal, wealthy nations and investors have denied developing economies the opportunity to build their own industries. Policies that force developing countries to rely on inward “investment” have been embraced instead.

In countries where development initiatives, such as funding for education and improving health care, have been embraced, there has been marked improvement. In Ghana and the Philippines, development index scores have come up over the past few years after implementing such programs. In that same span of time, since 2009, 60 countries have introduced legislation to discourage or prohibit activism in all forms. Organizations that seek to improve the lives of the poor are limited to only providing basic services.

What is needed now is a sustainable development model for nations trying to climb out of poverty. Accountability, transparency and commitment are all essential to shared development goals.

This past week may have been the first step towards reaching this new objective. On the Saturday before the official start of the G8 summit, the participating leaders came together in a pre-G8 meeting and they all agreed to join a tax sharing agreement. This new agreement means that companies and investors must report what they pay to home-nations to insure that developing countries are receiving their rightful portion of the profit pie. If the world’s top leaders commit to seeing this agreement succeed, it could mean the beginning of a brighter future for the developing world.

– Allana Welch

Sources: Hindustan Times, Action Aid, The Journal, The Telegraph, One.org

One of the most inventive programs created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the Grand Challenges Explorations initiative. GCE is a grant program that encourages bold concepts designed to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people. In March, the foundation called for anyone with inventive ideas to apply for Round 11 of the initiative; 58 projects across 18 countries were accepted for funding.

This year, the Gates Foundation will invest $8.1 million in innovative ideas that will address global health and development problems. Each project will receive $100,000 to conduct their studies and experiments. Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Gates Foundation, said in a statement, “The impressive concepts from around the world…are pushing the envelope when it comes to innovation to tackle ongoing challenges for the poor using approaches ranging from agricultural development to communications for social good.”

One category potential recipients could submit their ideas under was “Labor Saving Innovations for Women Smallholder Farms.” Grantees will be working to find holistic solutions to boost productivity on smallholder farms. Some projects accepted for funding include:

  • Mobilized Solar-Powered Grain Driers that would double the storage life of harvested crops to reduce spoilage
  • Electric Multi-Crop Threshers that would enable farmers to thresh their crops faster and save hours of manual labor
  • Drip Irrigation Tubes, made from recycled plastic shopping bags, to be used by smallholder farmers in developing countries

A second topic for submission was “Aid is Working. Tell the World.” Inventors working in this field will seek new approaches to communications that would motivate wealthy nations to support foreign aid investment. A few of the projects in this category include:

  • The BeHere-BeThere Project, which will use location-based network applications and local retailers to connect consumers with aid projects
  • Mobilizing the Unheard Voices of Aid Recipients- a campaign to collect 10,000 personal narratives of aid recipients in rural India to be shared through social media sites
  • The Hactivating Development Aid project, which will develop a crowdsourcing program that would target young people around the world to educate them about global development challenges and solutions

Finally, GCE will also be awarding additional funding to projects that have showed promise from previous GCE rounds. These are more inventive initiatives and include:

  • Vaginal contraceptive gel that would use nanoparticles to inhibit the mobility of sperm tails
  • Acoustical Newborn Diagnostic Tool, a software-based diagnostic tool which analyzes a newborn’s cry to detect serious medical conditions
  • Production of more potent vaccines with increased heat stability to reduce the need for refrigerated storage
  • Development of a blood protein test for preeclampsia in pregnant women

Since its inception in 2008, GCE has funded over 800 grants in 52 nations. Applications for the next round of Grand Challenges Explorations will open up in September.

– Allana Welch

Sources: Gates Foundation, Gates Foundation – Media 
Photo: The Guardian

The Center for Civilians in Conflict is a non-profit organization that advocates for civilians threatened by armed conflicts around the world. The organization was founded in 2003 by Marla Ruzicka, an American political activist and aid worker who was concerned about the wellbeing of civilians who were indirectly harmed by U.S. bombs in the War on Terror.

Originally titled the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), Ruzicka’s startup received funding from the U.S. government to conduct aid operations specifically targeting hurting civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ruzicka’s life tragically came to an end in April 2005 when she was killed by the blast from a suicide bomb in Baghdad. Since Ruzicka’s death, the Center for Civilians in Conflict (the new name of the organization as of 2012) has broadened its horizons to countries outside of Afghanistan and Iraq to further the legacy of an extraordinary humanitarian.

Today, the Center for Civilians in Conflict operates in Mali, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, and Somalia, in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan. The main areas of the Center’s work are these parts of the world that can be characterized as “conflict zones.”  Civilians who are threatened by a conflict are interviewed by CCC volunteers and the grievances of these civilians are documented and brought to the attention of the warring parties or military groups involved.

In January 2013 the Center assembled a roundtable of experts to analyze the outcome of U.S. military involvement in the Syrian civil war. The specialists utilized data collected from interviews from CCC field missions in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan in 2012. The interviewers obtained information from a large number of sources including “leaders of the political and armed opposition, Syrian army defectors, UN agencies, local and international NGO staff, government and military officials, lawmakers, diplomats, doctors and nurses, journalists, civil society activists, and religious leaders.”

The panel concluded that a five-point plan of action must be instituted by the US military if they chose to become involved in Syria. This is only one example of the thorough way in which the Center for Civilians in Conflict contributes to the protection of innocent civilians in conflict zones.

According to the organization’s website, the Center for Civilians in Conflict identifies themselves as “advocates and advisers creating policies and practices to make warring parties more responsible to civilians before, during, and after combat operations.”  This expectation of “responsibility” on the part of the perpetrators is one of the hallmarks of CCC, making it an effective and singular champion for noncombatant victims of war.

– Josh Forget

Source: Foreign Affairs, Civilians in Conflict

Worst Poverty in the World
It is difficult to rank poverty into objective levels of better and worse, as though human suffering can be quantified. Are the crowded slums of India, for example, worse than the isolated villages in rural Brazil? Answering the question of where the worst poverty in the world is depends on the factors one considers.

In statistical terms, the Democratic Republic of the Congo earns the dubious distinction of having repeatedly been labelled the world’s poorest country. With a GDP per capita of less than $400 and wracked by instability, the DRC has come to be an all around worst-case scenario. Traveller Giovanni Contadino described his trip to the Congo: “Everyone was very keen to tell me how hard life was, and how much better things must be where I am from… Whenever I pressed people as to why their situation was so difficult, it was always the fault of the fighting.” Contandino also described the lack of infrastructure and the rife corruption in the city, where bribes were an everyday occurrence and politicians expected to live well beyond their means, with no protest from the people.

Many have pointed out the psychological devastation of being among the poorest in the United States. Though it is the richest country in the world, the United States is also plagued by devastating poverty. Affected areas include urban communities like infamous Hunt’s Point in New York City or Detroit, which was labelled the most miserable city in the United States and has lower earnings than any other city and a high crime rate. It is a condition that must be made more intolerable by the knowledge of your countrymen’s affluence as well as living in a culture that thrives on materialism and consumption.

Syrian refugees are undergoing one of the world’s most horrendous crises at the moment, losing homes, belongings, livelihoods, subject to random violence and rampant sexual assaults, forced into underserved communities and robbed of any hope of future security while their country burns around them. The poverty to be found in a refugee camp breeds severe physical and psychological trauma. It would be difficult to look at a refugee and state that their suffering was less profound than that to be found in the Congo, simply because it began more recently.

All poverty is bad poverty. All poverty creates suffering and undermines dignity. To ask if one is worse than the other is an impossible and misguided question with little purpose; the most we should be asking is why there is poverty at all.

Farahnaz Mohammed

Sources: Global Finance, Road Trip to the DRC, MSN
Photo: The Telegraph

Approximately 5% of the rural population in sub-Saharan Africa enjoys access to electricity. In an area where sunlight is abundant, solar power is an excellent alternative energy selection. Solar Sister, a registered nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women through solar power, chose to develop the solar-tech industry in sub-Saharan Africa and is taking a unique approach in doing so.

Inspired by Avon cosmetics’ style of distribution system where one woman distributes products by contacting her network of family and friends, the Solar Sister program provides a unique, single-investment approach to social entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa. Because the network is built on connections between women, the program can extend to rural communities, places traditionally untouched by energy companies.

The startup kit — the “business in a bag” — that each new entrepreneur receives includes everything each woman needs to start her own business in solar-powered innovation technology. The capital provided by Solar Sister gives each member of the community the funds to get started at only $500 a bag. Micro-financing from individual donors combined with corporate investments make up the organization’s capital for these investments and are eventually paid back by the women involved.

Being a part of the Solar Sister team provides much needed income to women and their families by investing in women on a micro-financing level. As indicated on the Solar Sister website, $1 invested generates $46 for the solar sister and her customers in the first year alone. And not only does the organization’s investment empower women to build both family and community, it also falls in line with the global green movement to move away from traditional energy sources, such as kerosene.

The Solar Sister program addresses two major issues in sub-Saharan Africa in their alternative energy-based solution to poverty. To support the initiative, help the environment, and invest in women’s empowerment, click here.

– Herman Watson

Source: Avon, Solar Sister
Photo: Kiva

Founded in 1983, the Ethiopian Community Development Council is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. whose mission is to empower Ethiopian refugees and immigrants in the United States. The main function of the ECDC is to resettle Ethiopian refugees displaced by drought, famine, and internal conflict in their home country. It should be noted that the organization is not limited to Ethiopian refugees, as it also serves immigrants from other African nations. The nonprofit receives support from US federal, state, and local governments along with the charitable contributions of private individuals, businesses, and foundations.

One of the most effective programs offered through ECDC is the Match Grant Program. This innovative program is funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement and has allowed over 8,000 refugees from around the world to obtain employment quickly and easily. The program also provides a stipend for rent and transportation for the grant recipient.

Altogether, the Ethiopian Community Development Council is bettering the lives of refugees who have resettled in the United States from poverty-stricken African countries. In the ECDC, we see an organization that is successfully confronting a tangible need, the need for a fresh start in the life of a refugee, and delivering a set of solutions to meet that need. The ECDC is surely on the front lines of humanitarianism in America, and its influence can only spread. Currently, the ECDC is operating in Washington D.C., Denver, and Las Vegas.

– Josh Forget

Sources: The Ethiopian Development Council, USAID
Photo: The Ethiopian Development Council

tristram stuart_opt
With hopes to change the global opinion about the waste of “unwanted” food, Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal and founder of Feeding the 500, prepared a meal for global ministers and diplomats February 192012 in Nairobi. The meal was
prepared with only “ugly” ingredients, Stuart claims.

The five course meal consisted of yellow lentil, grilled sweet corn, French Beans and pleothra of other vegetables. Although well- presented, the dinner ingredients likely would have been rejected by various UK supermarkets for their appearance. Through his meal, Stuart hoped to uncover the truth about unwanted fruit and vegetables.

“The waste of perfectly edible ‘ugly’ vegetables is epidemic in our food production systems and symbolizes our negligence,” Stuart tells.

In addition to cost and environmental impact, food waste increases pressure on the already fragile global food system. In a country with millions of hungry people, it is a scandal that UK supermarkets waste so much food, adds Stuart. The expected amount of vegetables wasted every week is 40 tons, 40 percent of what the farmer grows.

A study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that one third of all food produced worldwide is either wasted or lost, resulting in 1.3 billion tons annually.  Combined data from the FAO and Unep estimates the annual cost at approximately $1 trillion.

Half of all consumable food in industrialized countries is wasted, the FAO claims. In retrospect that is 300 million tons of usable food, more than the total amount of food production of Sub-Saharan Africa sufficiently feeding 900 million hungry.

With these figures as evidence, use of wasted food can benefit farmers and the global hungry alike. Instead of simply asking to reduce food waste, it would more beneficial to utilize the food wasted, Stuart claims.

In his TED talk about global food waste, Stuart reflected on personal application of food waste utilization as a teen raising livestock. By utilizing scraps from his school, local bakers and other farmers “throwing out potatoes because they are the wrong shape and size”, Stuart was able to provide plump, healthy and profitable pigs. Not only was this method environmentally friendly, it was the most economically sufficient, Stuarts exclaims.

Farmers have learned to use “leftovers” to feed their livestock.  Because livestock serve as a source of livelihood and supplement for farmer family diets, the use of food waste helps famers both health-wise and economically, Stuart adds.  If applied by all farmers and non-farmers alike, quality of life would increase while global hunger would decrease.

Reflecting on yet another example from his pig-raising days, Stuart told his TED talk listeners of yet another applicable story. One day when he was feeding his pigs, Stuart saw a rather consumable tomato loaf. Stuart washed it off, sat down and ate it. For Stuart this was the first application of what he would later term Freeganism, an exhibition of the injustice of food waste and the provision of the solution. The solution to food waste and global hunger is simple:  to sit down and eat the food than throw it away, Stuart concludes.

Danielle Doedens

Sources: TED Talk, The Nation
Sources: The Guardian

Latvia is a country with one of the widest income gaps in the European Union. This gap was expanded by the global economic crisis, which caused income levels in the country to decline by 19%. The IMF confirms that the economic recession very severely damaged the economy of Latvia. According to the Fund, “the richest 20 percent of the population (in Latvia) earn seven times more than the bottom 20 percent.” The IMF warns that these adverse conditions put Latvians at a higher risk of poverty.

The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism notes that the country does not provide adequate government-funded support for its poor. In fact, the small Baltic nation spends less on social welfare programs than any other European Union member state. For example, when compared to her northern neighbor Estonia, which spends 40% more per capita on social protection programs annually for the poor than Latvia, the lack of poverty-reduction programs from the Latvian government is quite conspicuous.

One of the most “at risk” groups in post-recession Latvia are single mothers. The cost of living has increased over the last few years, due in a large part to changes in tax policies which caused the price of heat and water utilities to rise significantly. The Baltic Center’s report highlights the struggles of a single mother living in Saldus, a town in western Latvia, trying to make ends meet in a small apartment with her two young children.  The mother can’t afford to buy or run a refrigerator, so the family lives off of a meager subsistence of room temperature dry foods and water. The tiny apartment also does not have a shower, so the children are forced to wash in the gym locker rooms at the primary school, a school where they attend classes with no supplies because their mother doesn’t have the money to buy them.

The plight of single mothers in Latvia has prompted many of them to leave the country. The income provided from a minimum wage job in Latvia is simply not enough to support a woman with one or more children, even in the smallest of living spaces. The mother in the Baltic Center article earns only three euros a day and has been forced to ask her friends for donations to keep her family afloat. Three euros a day is hardly enough money for a single, childless woman to survive in a developed country, let alone a mother responsible for a family.

As the Latvian government comes out of the recession, politicians should propose welfare programs for single mothers living below the poverty line. Failure to confront this critical social issue will only result in increased emigration and a more extreme wealth gap.

Josh Forgét

Sources: Baltica, The Washington Post
Photo: Baltica

A growing movement in Africa finds solo innovators experimenting with homemade flight technologies out of mere curiosity. The daring, Wright-esque pioneers involved are sourcing materials from scrapped vehicles and local junkyards to build helicopters, and even piecing their projects together with cheap gum. One would-be pilot, Gabriel Nderitu Muturi from Kenya, hopes the interest in flight will one day lift Africa out of poverty.

On the ground, individuals are making progress with their flying machines, from life-size, remote control helicopters to two-seater airplanes, but they receive no governmental support for their projects. In some cases, the government obstructs the aviation development. One man had his helicopter confiscated as a security risk and was fired from his job for pursuing the interest on the basis of media attention distracting from his work. Those continuing the fight for flight say such obstacles result in wasted talent that could help lift developing nations and their people out of poverty. The technological curiosity is apparent, but the capacity and reward system stands lacking.

Hackerspaces and fab labs have cropped up to support the solo innovators in impoverished nations, where government assistance is either minimal or nonexistent, but they are by no means commonplace. For creators of homemade airplanes these spaces are a veritable Godsend, as they offer community-based resources and the actual space to design and experiment. Without these spaces, these pioneer inventors would face many obstacles to the flight of their helicopters.

Mr. Muturi reports his use of the Internet as the most significant variable in his formula for success. He cites the web as a source of information for research and a marketplace for fabrication as it allows him to order parts from the United States. Though he completed the project on his own, he urges governments to recognize the importance of supporting interest in science and research as an indispensable resource that will pull Africa out of poverty and underdevelopment.

In light of increased fiber optic connectivity from more developed nations investing in Africa, the Internet will likely prove a valuable resource for individual and community-based projects like Mr. Muturi’s. Nonetheless, there is the problem of providing such a resource to rural communities, where e-learning depends on first establishing free digital centers, heretofore inadequately represented in such locations.

– Herman Watson

Source: BBC, Hackerspaces, CNN
Photo: BBC