Geographical Information Systems
Technology is an important tool in every facet of society. It revolutionizes the idea of progress and allows the world to interconnect. The usage of technology to benefit humanitarian aid has been no exception, such as revolutionizing the ability to transport supplies to provide urban communities with the tools necessary to ensure clean water access. Technology, such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS), is a prominent tool in the fight against global poverty.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has solidified itself as a major inhibitor to global health in 2020. Many countries do not have the supplies, technology or economic safety nets to ensure that their people receive what they need throughout the pandemic. Many organizations are doing what they can to provide countries with the tools they need to combat COVID-19 in their communities. One of the largest Geographical Information Systems technology companies is Esri. It has been utilizing GIS technology in the context of humanitarian work for decades. Jack and Laura Dangermond founded Esri in 1969 in a Harvard lab. Since then, Esri has expanded and utilized this technology in a variety of sectors. For example, Esri used GIS technology to map the spread of Ebola in 2013.

Geographical Information Systems Mapping and COVID-19

As it became apparent that COVID-19 would become a pandemic, Johns Hopkins University began creating a virtual dashboard to depict concentrations of the virus in an attempt to stifle its spread. Johns Hopkins researchers utilized technology from Esri in order to do this. Throughout the pandemic, Esri has prioritized the lives of those in our international communities over monetary gain. As a result, Esri made all of its software and training modules available to international organizations for free. Additionally, Esri’s Disaster Response Program helps its international partners utilize its technology.

Transparency in regard to information is crucial in order to prevent the continued spread of the current pandemic. In order to properly combat the virus, community leaders must consider all societal factors. It is impossible to do this without access to all of the information relating to various communities. One can utilize Esri’s geographic information system technology to visualize the spread of diseases. It can also map disease response centers and the availability of medical supplies. For example, some have used GIS technology to show both hospitals and the availability of medicine, as well as preventative resources such as testing locations and isolation areas.

The usage of this technology for humanitarian coronavirus assistance does not stop there. GIS technology has also been useful in determining which international communities are the most at risk of coronavirus-related illness and community degradation. For instance, the geographical information system can map which communities contain the highest concentration of those at risk of the disease. It can also map the communities that have the highest GDP allocation to economic assistance and communities that have access to affordable medical care.

Rwanda as an Example

Rwanda is one country that has been utilizing GIS technology to its advantage during the COVID-19 pandemic. The country uses geographic information system technology to effectively trace contact between people in their communities, enabling them to follow and contain the virus. This contact tracing has also helped allocate funds within Rwandan communities in efficient ways. With case and death numbers very low, it is possible that Rwanda’s use of GIS technology helped the country fight the virus.

While technology can bring about new problems, it can also bring about new answers. Knowledge is power, especially when combating an international pandemic. Additionally, geographic information system technology has been providing helpful information to international communities. The coronavirus pandemic threatens those in global poverty in many ways, both in terms of global health and economic prosperity. Accurate mapping of who is the most at risk is crucial to ensuring that nobody is forgotten throughout the pandemic.

Danielle Forrey
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in El Salvador
Establishing effective women’s rights in El Salvador, including freedom from domestic, sexual and organized violence, is challenging but not impossible. Grassroots organizations and marches are leading the charge for the law and society to be more aggressive towards male perpetrators against women.

There are similar yet unique narratives that women who endure extreme violence, die from extreme violence or seek asylum in other countries tell to escape such violence. Much of the violence that women in El Salvador endure boils down to a critical lack of reproductive choices, resources, education and discriminatory gender hierarchies in the home and the workplace. Machismo, or macho-man characteristics, beliefs are present in all of these narratives.

For women’s rights in El Salvador to flourish, the country must assess and address the ways machismo, as a form of systemic patriarchy, is persistent in the daily functions of El Salvadorian women’s lives and identify potential solutions to this system issue.

Laws Protecting Women’s Rights in El Salvador

There are a collection of laws, international and domestic, upholding women’s equal status with men, barring discrimination or violence against woman. El Salvador is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as well as the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Sanction and Eradicate Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará).

Despite these existing conventions, reports reveal that seven of the top 10 countries with the highest femicide rates are in Latin America, including El Salvador. This highlights the primarily symbolic nature of these conventions, many of them suffering from a general lack of enforcement.

In 1996, 2010 and 2011, the Salvadoran government implemented three laws to further the protection of women’s rights and deter violence against women.

The first was the Family Domestic Violence Act (1996) addressing intra-familial violence and femicide. A 2010 law, the Special Integral Law for a Life Free of Violence against Women, aimed to punish all forms of violence against women, ranging from workplace harassment to murder. Lastly, the Creation of Specialized Courts for a Life Free of Violence and Discrimination against Women (also known as Decree 286 or the “Femicide Law”), of 2011, emerged for specialized courts to deal with cases of all violence against women, requiring all legal staff to obtain necessary knowledge on a woman’s right to a life free of violence and discrimination.

Unfortunately, the laws have not proven effective as the endurance of beatings, rapes and femicides have multiplied since the introduction of the first policy in 1996. For example, in 2012, a year after El Salvador instated the Salvadoran femicide law, the United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCR) estimated that El Salvador’s impunity rate was as high as 77%.

Grassroots Efforts to Protect Women’s Rights in El Salvador

La Colectiva, a nonprofit based in El Salvador, aims to provide services and resources to women facing and addressing gender-based violence. The organization’s founder, Morena Herrera, strives to abolish the country’s abortion penal code. The organization not only addresses domestic conflicts but also focuses on reproductive rights and education so that women feel empowered to retain all rights to their bodies and seek help when necessary.

Abortion and reproductive rights are critical issues in El Salvador. The country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in all of Latin America, with one-quarter of young women ages 15 to 19-years-old having been pregnant. In fact, 41% of pregnancies among 10 to 19-year-old girls stems from sexual abuse, with 12% of those being the result of incest. The degradation of women’s rights in the eyes of the law is most apparent when women seek an abortion, as the law considers it a homicidal offense with a 30-year-minimum sentence.

The feminists of El Salvador are also targeting the judicial system, a conservative stronghold, for its negligence of violence against women cases, including the sexual assault of teenage girls. Many women deem authority efforts futile since perpetrators function about society with impunity. To offset this disparity, El Salvador is making strides to equip more women judges with proper training on gender issues, making them more likely to support victims and women’s rights in El Salvador.

In April 2017, feminist organizations throughout the country organized and demonstrated to denounce widespread sexual violence, the mysterious disappearances of women and mass femicide, in an effort to disrupt the machismo culture that affects women from all backgrounds, ages and economic statuses. These marches occur every year on March 8, International Women’s Day, as women’s rights activists demand more radical and swift change for equality.

– Vicki Colbert
Photo: Flickr

Investing in Peace
The World Bank recently estimated that, by 2030, up to two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor would live in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCS). FCS have serious impacts on poorer countries: conflicts reduce GDP growth, on average, by 2% a year and force millions of people to flee their homes. The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide has more than doubled since 2012, exceeding 74 million in 2018. Of these people, almost 26 million are refugees, the highest percentage ever recorded, with developing countries hosting 85%. This puts a financial and social strain on host countries while also devastating generations of refugees. Constant displacement makes it difficult for refugees to maintain a stable source of income, have consistent access to basic necessities and receive an education. In fact, one in five people in countries that FCS affects suffers simultaneously from inadequate monetary, educational and basic infrastructure resources, making social mobility difficult. As a result, investing in peace is very important.

The Correlation Between FCS and Poverty

There seems to be a correlation between living in FCS and poverty, as the 43 countries with the highest poverty rates in the world are in FCS in Sub-Saharan Africa. World Bank data shows that economies in FCS have maintained poverty rates of over 40% in the past decade, while economies that have escaped FCS have cut their poverty rates by more than half. On an individual level, a person living in FCS is 10 times more likely to experience poverty than a person living in a country that has not experienced fragility or conflict in the past 20 years.

A solution to poverty might be investing in peace: invest in businesses, organizations or development agencies that work to lessen the prevalence of FCS around the world. While humanitarian interventions may bring about peace in the short term, they often do not address development after the establishment of peace. In addition, many conflicts around the world have become protracted and complicated, making humanitarian interventions less effective in the long run. Development agencies, on the other hand, work to establish peace in three-time frames: before, during and after conflict.

Before Conflict

One important step in lessening the prevalence of FCS around the world is to prevent conflict before it begins. This means identifying and addressing a point of conflict within a country or community before it becomes widespread, complex and potentially violent. Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, emphasized the importance of investing in conflict prevention: “Instead of responding to crises, we need to invest far more in prevention. Prevention works, saves lives and is cost-effective.” Estimates have determined that for every $1 the United States spends on conflict prevention, it saves $16 in future response costs. On a larger scale, this finding emphasizes the importance of investing in peace to curb the need for an expensive humanitarian intervention when the conflict is widespread, complex and violent.

One example of an American law promoting investments in conflict prevention is the Global Fragility Act of 2019. It focuses on U.S. foreign aid to prevent violent conflict in fragile countries and strengthens research to identify foreign assistance programs that are most effective at preventing conflict and violence. The act authorizes $1.15 billion over the next five years to fund violent conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts in countries in FCS. The act also benefits U.S. taxpayers, since violent conflict prevention is much more cost-effective than containing a conflict through humanitarian intervention.

During Conflict

Some development agencies around the world make medium-term to long-term investments in countries with ongoing, protracted conflicts. The investments aim to preserve human capital and strengthen local institutions working to promote peace and protect civilians. These investments serve as a social safety net for those at risk, providing them with basic necessities and services such as access to water, food and education. Violent conflicts can significantly affect the accumulation of human capital in a population, and the effects can be long-lasting if the conflict is prolonged across generations. Thus, it is important to provide people with this social safety net to ensure that they can rebuild their lives economically and socially after the conflict ends.

A successful example of investment in a country amid conflict is the World Bank’s investments in Yemen. Yemen has been in crisis for nearly a decade, since the Houthis overthrew its government, resulting in what the U.N. has called “the worst [humanitarian crisis] in the world.” Millions of people have been internally displaced while suffering from medical shortages and threats of famine. The World Bank’s International Development Association has allocated $400 million to creating jobs and providing refugees with essential resources under its Emergency Crisis Response Project (ECRP). As a result, 4.3 million people have received access to community services (water, sanitation, better roads, etc.) and 9.5 million workdays have emerged. Another component of the ECRP is a $448.58 million cash transfer to poor and vulnerable households. As of April 9, 2020, the transfers had reached 1.42 million households or 9 million individuals. The World Bank’s Engagement Strategy for Yemen 2020-2021 will continue funding for the ECRP and other initiatives to provide essential services, preserve Yemen’s human capital and strengthen local organizations helping those in need. 

After Conflict

Investing in post-conflict peacebuilding is another way in which development agencies can help those living in FCS. Investments in peacebuilding can supplement humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts by promoting economic and social growth after a conflict has ended. An important part of promoting economic growth is investing in micro to medium-sized businesses as a means to create jobs and jumpstart the local economy. It is also important to invest in the government to ensure that it can provide its citizens with essential services and resources well after the conflict has ended.

One agency investing in post-conflict peacebuilding is the United Nations (U.N.) Peacebuilding Fund (PBF). The PBF is a financial instrument used to sustain peace in countries in FCS. The PBF invests with other U.N. entities, governments, multilateral banks, NGOs and national multi-donor trust funds. Since its inception, 58 member states have contributed to the fund, with the allocation of $772 million to 41 recipient countries from 2006 to 2017. The Secretary General’s PBF 2020-2024 Strategy calls for the investment of $1.5 billion to countries in FCS over the next five years. The largest distribution of funds (35%) will go towards facilitating transitions from humanitarian missions to peacebuilding and future development. 

Looking Forward

Preventing, creating and maintaining peace in FCS is a daunting task that may take years to accomplish in certain areas. It is important to invest in peace at all three stages of conflict to save lives, save money and preserve resources. There are currently numerous multilateral aid agencies investing billions of dollars into countries in FCS, and one would hope that these efforts, along with humanitarian interventions, will lessen the prevalence of FCS around the world. Investing in peace could be the beginning of the end of global poverty, and if the world works together to lessen FCS, it could lift millions of people across out of poverty globally.

Harry Yeung
Photo: Flickr 

Hajj Continued Despite COVID-19Mecca, the epicenter and fifth pillar of Islam, has hosted around 2 million Muslims in recent years. However, due to COVID-19, they had to downsize it in 2020. With 1.8 billion Muslims globally, Hajj is compulsory at least once in a lifetime. This year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia limited the annual pilgrimage to Muslim residents residing within the country. An estimated 1,000 Muslims attended in an unprecedented attempt to mitigate crowds and spread of the virus. The allotted amount of pilgrims grew to ensure Hajj continued despite COVID-19.

Umrah Suspended

Umrah is a voluntary pilgrimage that Muslims can take at any point and often lasts only two hours. Millions perform it annually due to its short duration and low cost. It is different from the Hajj, which is longer and compulsory for all Muslims but often limited by physical ability and finances.

In March, Saudi Arabia reported its first confirmed coronavirus infection in the kingdom. A man who traveled to Iran, which at the time was the viral epicenter in the region, returned to Saudi Arabia and was quarantined immediately after diagnosis. The kingdom responded to the increasing rate of infection by suspending Umrah until further notice. As of August, COVID-19 has delayed visits to the holy sites of Medina and Mecca for Umrah regardless of residency, visa or nationality. Furthermore, travelers who possess an Umrah visa will not be allowed entry into Saudi Arabia.

The Hajj Continued Despite COVID-19

As of August 14, Saudi Arabia has had nearly 296,000 COVID-19 cases with an excess of 3,338 victims. As a result, Hajj, the main event of the Islamic faith, will see a dramatic downturn in 2020 — the first in decades. Saudi Arabia has 29 million residents, yet only 1,000 Muslims were initially allowed to attend this year’s pilgrimage due to the pandemic.

Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten, Minister of Hajj and Umrah, stated that the 2020 pilgrimage will be exceptional due to the pandemic. However, he assured that the area would implement strict precautionary measures to ensure that pilgrims remained healthy during Hajj. The country also went through an intense selection process with a period of quarantine required upon entering the holy cities. The quarantine was mandatory upon entry and exit. The Hajj continued despite COVID-19, but officials wanted to make it as safe as possible.

The Turnout

The annual pilgrimage officially ended on Sunday, August 2, with a larger turnout than expected. Therefore, Hajj continued despite COVID-19. Authorities allowed 10,000 pilgrims to enforce social distancing among local Saudis and foreigners that attended. Authorities ensured safety by requiring pilgrims to don a face mask and an electronic wristband to track their movements. Following the pilgrimage, health officials administered coronavirus tests, and they required all attendees to quarantine. Additionally, Saudi authorities ordered thorough sanitation of the site to reduce any risk of contagion.

– Michael Santiago
Photo: Needpix

Healthcare in Equatorial GuineaIn the small Central African nation of Equatorial Guinea, the healthcare system is lacking in many ways. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, “45 other countries in Equatorial Guinea’s per capita GDP range spent at least four times as much on health and education during the same period.” A study by the Pan African Medical Journal has reported a “lack of resources and trauma care facilities” and that  “training and informational programs for both healthcare workers and the general public may not be effectively transmitting information to the intended recipients.” Overall, it can be said that healthcare in Equatorial Guinea is in a dire state that certainly calls for assistance.

Things to Know About Healthcare in Equatorial Guinea

  1. Empty Promises. Following the discovery of oil in Equatorial Guinea in 1991, President Obiang promised investment in social services, primarily healthcare and education. Despite repeatedly saying he would prioritize those two services, financial allocation for funding has been disheartening. According to the World Bank, as of 2017, only 3.11% of the country’s GDP has been spent on healthcare, an increase since 2012, when it stood at 1.26%.
  2. Incorrect Priorities. Instead of allocating money towards improving its healthcare system, Equatorial Guinea has been investing in large infrastructure projects. In 2011, the country spent 82% of its total budget on such projects, a move that was heavily criticized by both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
  3. Treatable Diseases are Deadly. Lack of funding means healthcare in Equatorial Guinea lacks diagnostic tools, trained staff, laboratory supplies, vaccines, cheap medication and condoms. The lack of affordable medicine and resources results in patients being reluctant to seek care and also means the most common treatable diseases become the deadliest. According to the Pan African Medical Journal, diseases like malaria, typhoid, sexually transmitted diseases, diarrhea and respiratory illnesses are the most common diseases, but also have the highest rate of mortality.
  4. Underfunded Healthcare Sector. The lack of funding to the healthcare sector in Equatorial Guinea also acts as a deterrent for people to join the profession and causes many to leave, due to the lack of pay. Data indicates that Equatorial Guinea has only three doctors per 10,000 people. Furthermore, because patient payments are not enough to keep facilities running, many also leave due to the difficulties in their ability to provide care.
  5. Traditional and Modern Medicine Conflict. There is a conflict between traditional and modern medicine, which many healthcare practitioners consider a “negative healthcare outcome.” Indeed, the reluctance for many families to consult hospitals to receive care due to the high cost of medication may drive them to traditional medicine methods instead. Though this conflict has been noted before, not many steps have been taken to help mitigate the gap.

Despite the dire state of healthcare in Equatorial Guinea, research does not indicate that the country is receiving much help from aid organizations or other countries to improve the situation. This conclusion indicates a desperate need for aid to better the country’s healthcare system. With help, healthcare in Equatorial Guinea can be drastically improved.

Mathilde Venet
Photo: Flickr

locust plaguesDuring the past several years, Eastern Africa has experienced the worst swarms the region has seen in decades. Typically, the arid desert environment kills off locusts but multiple tropical cyclones have hit the region thereby creating wetter soil conditions that are more hospitable for these insects. Due to the weather patterns within the last few years, several overwhelming locust plagues have occurred. Not only are the swarms of locusts unsettling and bothersome, but they threaten food security and the livelihoods of the people within the affected regions.

The Impact of Locust Plagues

One of the most troubling effects of the locust swarms is their consumption of green vegetation, in particular, crops within agricultural regions and pastoral communities. In a single day, a swarm of locusts that covers one square kilometer can consume more food than 35,000 people would in the same time frame. In a region already affected by food insecurity, the locust outbreak only exacerbates the problem and could potentially lead to five million people in Africa facing starvation.

In order to fight locusts, governments often resort to aerial or on-the-ground pesticide spraying. While The Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa exists specifically to take these actions, there are many obstacles in the way.

  • The organization is underfunded and disregarded by many countries in the region.
  • Even with proper funding, finding and spraying all locust infested sites is challenging.
  • The effects of COVID-19 have left many governments under financial stress and unable to contribute to locust-fighting and food security efforts.
  • Political instability and civil unrest make accessing some locust breeding sites very difficult.

How the United States Can Help

Given the lack of resources of many East African countries and the additional impact of COVID-19 on these countries, it is necessary for developed countries like the United States to provide aid. Fortunately, a bipartisan bill aimed at doing just that is currently moving through the House of Representatives.

On June 18, 2020, Rep. Christopher Smith and Rep. Karen Bass introduced H.R. 7276, the East Africa Locust Eradication Act. This bill seeks to create an interagency working group that would form a thorough plan to eradicate current locust plagues as well as create an infrastructure to prevent future outbreaks. Should the bill pass, the interagency group would consist of members from the Department of Agriculture, the Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and more. Additionally, the interagency group would work with regional governments and international organizations in order to develop a comprehensive eradication and prevention plan for the entire affected region.

Action in Progress

Currently, regional governments and international nongovernmental organizations have taken a disjointed response to the outbreaks. For example, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is working on the ground in the East African region to provide direct support to farmers and help some of the most vulnerable people survive. However, without a comprehensive, multilateral and international plan to address the locust outbreak, the IRC’s measures to support communities will be insufficient.

For this reason, it is essential that Congress pass the East Africa Locust Eradication Act. United States aid as well as aid from other developed countries is required in order to save millions of people from the effects of the worst locust plague the region has seen in decades.

Alanna Jaffee
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in TaiwanTaiwan is an independent island nation off the coast of mainland China. The democratic nation of Taiwan has struggled since gaining its independence in 1949 with a political divide over its sovereignty as its economy remains dependent on an already strained connection to China. With a population of over 23.7 million and only 1.5% living in poverty, Taiwan’s GNI per capita is estimated to be over $29,500. While hunger in Taiwan only affects a minuscule proportion of the population, the small country has taken impressive steps in alleviating global hunger, while implementing food waste and distribution solutions to assist its citizens facing hunger.

Taiwan’s Supply Chain

As an isolated island with the average citizen wealthy enough to make selective consumption choices, Taiwan’s food supply chain relies heavily on imported goods. In 2018, Taiwan imported $4 billion in agricultural goods. Taiwan’s food self-sufficiency rate is estimated to be only 30%. The Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, has committed to raising the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate to 40% during her term. Ing-wen and other government officials are working in conjunction with Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture to promote the consumption of domestically produced food and to bolster food stockpiles, which already contain 28 months’ worth of essential food items.

Food Waste

Taiwan produces an estimated 16.5 million tons of food waste. Taiwan implemented a fee on all other forms of waste and recyclables almost 20 years ago but has no fee for food waste. With Taiwan’s urban population booming and arable farmland declining in availability, the environmental, national security and economic costs of food waste have risen to the top of the political agenda. Taiwan plans to build several anaerobic biological treatment centers for food waste in the coming years and privatizing the food waste economy to create financial incentives for companies, yet these steps are only the start of a much needed long-term solution.

Domestic Hunger Relief

Data from Taiwan’s 2018 National Agricultural Congress showed that 1.8 million Taiwanese are underfed or lack food security. Despite a poverty rate of under 2%, hunger in Taiwan affects 7.8% of the population. In 2007, that percentage was only 3.6%. The rapid increase sparked government initiatives to reduce hunger in Taiwan. In 2019 alone, the government announced a nationally-funded food bank’s opening, expanded healthcare for agricultural workers, passed The Agricultural Wholesale Market Management Regulation and the Food Administration Act. The new resources and legislature aim to stabilize food prices, protect rural populations and improve data collection of the relationship between food waste and hunger in Taiwan.

Global Hunger Relief

In addition to taking steps to minimize hunger in Taiwan, its government has emerged as a strong contributor to providing global hunger aid and solutions. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides hunger relief through programs funded by it’s International Cooperation and Development Fund. Through this funding, Taiwan supports The Horticulture Project in the Marshall Islands, which promotes agricultural education development. Taiwan also worked with Action against Hunger in 2019 to improve refugee living conditions in parts of Asia and Africa, improving food accessibility for over 12,000 refugees. That same year, Taiwan launched rice donation programs to supply almost 10,000 tons of rice in Jordan, Mongolia, Namibia, Guatemala and South Africa.

Moving forward, as its government pledges to address hunger in Taiwan, perhaps even stronger efforts can be made by the Taiwanese to reduce global hunger. While Taiwan grapples with innovative approaches to reducing food waste and alleviating domestic hunger, it continues to set precedent for global hunger relief efforts.

Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Flickr

poverty in ChinaPoverty in China remains a pressing concern for the global community, as 252 million people—or 18% of China’s population—live on less than $2 per day. Another 22% of China’s population lives on less than $5.50 per day, especially in rural areas with struggling farming and fishing industries. Yet, many people don’t realize the extent of poverty in China.

Poverty in China

China remains as the second-largest economy in the world since the 2008 recession. There were still 5.5 million individuals living in extreme rural poverty in China by the end of 2019. This was even after an average of 13 million people were lifted out of poverty each year for the first five years of President Xi Jinping’s first term.

China’s mountainous terrain and varying natural conditions have caused issues like air pollution, water and soil problems and biodiversity loss. China’s natural landscape along with a lack of transport infrastructure makes poverty alleviation rather difficult.

However, many regions of China are trying to stimulate their economies by embracing regional cuisine. In Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, traditional noodles have stimulated the economy. In Guangdong, local chefs have run workshops to teach the poor how to cook and market their goods. Embracing traditional cuisine could help solve the poverty in China.

Noodle Initiative in Gansu Province

Gansu Province, located in North-Central China, created a noodle initiative in 2019. The aim was to alleviate poverty through the region’s specialty dish, Lanzhou noodles, prepared in a beef broth. Gansu authorities trained over 15,000 people from impoverished areas to make Lanzhou noodles from scratch, which would typically cost them $1.50. The participants then hopefully have a better chance to find employment at or open their own noodle shops. Similar initiatives in Gansu’s capital, Lanzhou and Beijing in 2018 led 90% of participants to find noodle-related jobs afterward, which helps fight poverty in China. These jobs typically earned the workers more than $590 a month.

The centuries-old noodle recipe calls for very precise noodle pulling. It can even take up to three years to fully master the skill. The Vocational and Technical College of Resources and Environment in Lanzhou helps many Lanzhou residents perfect their noodle-pulling craft. These new chefs also receive aid in fulfilling the necessary education requirements to spread their skills overseas.

The result is an estimated 4,000 Lanzhou noodle shops are currently open in Gansu province, which had the lowest GDP per capita of any Chinese province in 2017.

Hand-pulled noodles in Qinghai Province

Qinghai Province, located in China’s northwest on the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau, has seen drastic poverty reduction over the past decade. Previously plagued by poor infrastructure and lack of skilled labor, Qinghai has seen success with its “noodle” sector. The disposable income for farmers and herdsmen in the region nearly doubled from 2015 to 2018. Their poverty rates decreased from 24.6% to just 2.5% within that same time period.

Haidong, in northeast Qinghai, generated 15.4 billion yuan in business revenue. The source was from the city’s 578 noodle businesses, which employed 9,786 employees. One-third of the urban population and half of the families in rural areas are engaged in the city’s operating noodle businesses. The province has encouraged the noodle sector to continue hiring poorer residents. The city employs poverty reduction methods such as workshops, specific guidelines for growth and even a planned noodle business hub.

Benkanggou Village in Qinghai also helped eradicate poverty through the noodle industry. Over 110,000 of the villages’s 300,000 residents are engaged in the noodle industry. These numbers are thanks to the village’s 350 sessions of hand-pulled noodle training to over 13,000 families. Local authorities visited many poor households encouraging them to participate in the workshops. Thousands of more workers have been brought into the thriving industry since then.

River Snail Rice Noodles in Liuzhou

The city of Liuzhou, located in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is well known for its river snail rice noodles, or luosifen. Luosifen is a fusion of traditional ingredients from Han, Miao and Dong ethnic groups. It consists of rice noodles boiled with pickled bamboo shoots, dried turnip, fresh vegetables and peanuts in a spicy river snail soup. The dish was designated as part of Guangxi’s intangible cultural heritage in 2008. In the years since, the Liuzhou government has been boosting industries related to luosifen’s production. The region now brings in around six billion yuan annually.

Guangxi was listed as the province with the fourth lowest GDP per capita in 2018. Then in 2019, Guangxi lifted 1.25 million people out of poverty as well as de-listed 1,268 poor villages. This was a direct result of 337 workshops and 33 new poverty alleviation industrial parks. The luosifen industry played a major role in these poverty eradication efforts, as new factories have been created that specialize in instant luosifen, bamboo shoot processing, river snail collection and creative luosifen packaging.

Guangdong Cooking Initiatives

In Guangzhou in South China, an initiative called the Cantonese Cuisine Master program has tried to cultivate talent, promote cultural exchange and alleviate poverty in China through Cantonese cuisine training. The program has trained over 30,000 people so far and has mobilized over 96,000 people to secure employment and start their own businesses, lifting many out of poverty.

A Cantonese Cuisine Master Skills Competition in 2019 brought together many graduates of the program from 23 cities. Chefs prepared dishes like Chaoshan marinated goose, roasted crispy suckling pig, Portuguese-style chicken and flavored fish balls. Various Cantonese Cuisine Master programs and workshops have taken place in Hong Kong, Macao and other regions in southern China with the help of universities and enterprises. The program prepares chefs, many of whom come from rural and poverty-stricken areas, for the workforce. It also teaches the chefs about the concepts and ideas behind their cooking, which fosters cultural exchange and cooperation.

Since 2018, Guangdong has signed cooperation agreements with Tibet, Guangxi Zhuang, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions and Guizhou and Yunnan provinces to train more Cantonese chefs and help many escape poverty.

In Sichuan Province, 103 trainees from poverty-stricken counties—Meigu, Leibo and Jinyang—came to the Shunde District in Guangdong’s city of Foshan to receive free cooking lessons for two months at the Shunde Culinary Institute. They learned to cook traditional Cantonese dishes like stir-fried milk and stuffed mud carp as well as Sichuan-inspired dishes. After completing the program, trainees will have access to restaurant internships and full-time opportunities both in Shunde and in their hometowns. These sessions provided by Guangdong are said to increase monthly salaries by 1,000 to 2,000 yuan. Additionally, 56,000 students are currently enrolled in Cantonese cuisine courses at vocational schools across the province.

Noah Sheidlower
Photo: Flickr

Rohingya refugee campsLow-income areas with a high population density are at the highest risk of contracting the coronavirus. This threat is very prevalent in the Rohingya refugee camps, especially for women and girls.

The Issue

Currently in Bangladesh, there are over 860,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps. The Rohingya people, a minority ethnic group from Myanmar, are fleeing from genocidal violence, persecution, discrimination and human rights violations. The Rohingya face violence because they mainly practice Islam while the majority of Myanmar is Buddhist. The large mass of people fleeing into Bangladesh has caused the refugee camps to become immensely populated. The result is overcrowding, only temporary shelter, communal bathrooms and water facilities and limited food space.

Overcrowding and limited space in refugee camps result in the Rohingya having an especially high risk of contracting COVID-19. Currently, the best way to prevent the spread of this disease is to social distance, wear masks and increase testing. However, the Rohingya refugees do not have the space or resources to do this. As of June 2020, there were four deaths and 45 confirmed cases within the Rohingya refugee population. However, because there is a huge lack of testing, these numbers are most likely not accurate. The hospitals in city centers no longer have resources themselves to treat any more people. As such, many infected Rohingya aren’t being accepted.

How Women are Fighting Back

Oxfam, an NGO fighting poverty, traveled to the Rohingya refugee camps to help build better water, sanitation and hygiene stations. This includes systems like water taps and hand washing stations, which could be potential risk areas for disease spreading. When designing the new water and sanitation facilities, Oxfam interviewed many girls and women to hear their thoughts. The women and girls contributed to design aspects like how the stations should stand, where hooks should go, and even suggested a mirror. All of the expertise given by those Rohingya women and girls has spread to other camps. Now 300 hand-washing and water stations are implemented in three different refugee camps.

Women also have taken on the important role of spreading information and discounting myths surrounding COVID-19 in the refugee camps. One woman, Ashmida Begum, walks around the camp dispelling myths. Begum explained that she uses the Quran to help explain the virus and disease prevention. She mainly helps other women and children who are a large majority of Rohingya refugee camps. Misinformation has led Bangladesh to lift internet restrictions on the Rohingya refugees. The barriers were originally in place to quell panic and stop rumors. Instead, rumors and myths spread and local women like Begum worked to stop them.

Why Women

Women have been so effective in helping the refugee camps because the local people trust them. They have special access in reaching other women, who normally do not leave their homes often and do not have internet.

Women are traditionally the primary caregiver of the family, so they especially need to be healthy and informed to keep the rest of the family safe. This is also why women’s input is needed in the sanitation and water stations; women will be using them the most.

Impacts of this Work

The work that the women and girls of Rohingya refugee camps have impacts beyond fighting COVID-19. Oxfam reports that the design process helped girls take a more active role in their own lives. They were able to think and speak for themselves.

The rise in panic and social tensions in the camps resulted in a rise in domestic violence and violence against women. Rohingya women stepped into leadership roles and formed networks to help combat that panic around the virus to counter the gender-based attacks.

The work done by the women in Rohingya refugee camps to fight COVID-19 is helping to increase cleanliness and knowledge about the virus. They are slowing the spread of the virus and giving women and girls a way to be leaders in their communities.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Ghana
People have explored the topic of gender rights for many decades as women’s conventional role in modern society drastically changed. This evolution changed how genders interacted with one another and challenged the conventional norms of patriarchy that went unchecked for centuries. Women’s rights in Ghana is important socially and economically. Although ahead of its neighboring counterparts economically, politically and developmentally, there is still a wide gender gap that needs bridging.

Beginning of Women’s Independence

Ghana is a West African country located on the Gulf of Guinea and enjoys a tropical climate. Ghana gained independence from British colonial rule in 1957. There is no denying the role of Ghanaian women’s benefaction to the outcome of this freedom, as it segued into the establishment of the National Council of Ghana Women in 1960. The council’s intent was to empower and benefit women’s rights in Ghana by developing vocational training centers and daycare facilities.

Efforts to propel women to the forefront of the country’s progression were lacking. The numbers show how far behind women were in comparison to their male counterparts. Ghana is “in the bottom 25% worldwide for women in parliament, healthy life expectancy, enrolment in tertiary education, literacy rate, and women in the professional and technical workforce.”

Enrollment in Tertiary Education

Tertiary education illustrated the gender gap in Ghana best. Looking at the reasons separating women from pursuing higher learning exposes the patriarchal ideology woven into society. In general, keeping girls in education raises a country’s GDP. According to a report by Water.org, increasing accessibility for children in Ghana “on a global scale, for every year a girl stays in school, her income can increase by 15-25%.”

Impact of Literacy Rates

The impact of literacy is as severe as reducing a country’s GDP. However, with such devastating numbers related to the gender gap in Ghana, the sinking literacy rates had to be addressed. Women in Ghana do not necessarily obtain the ability to read and write from receiving a formal education due to the consequences of the quick development of schools in low-income countries such as Ghana. There is a current disruption in educating students due to the exponential growth within education systems, which impacts the school’s full potential. However, the literacy rate for women in Ghana has made significant progress over the years. According to the World Bank’s data report in 2018, the literacy rate for females aged 15 or older is 74.47%. While the literacy rate for females aged 15 to 24 years old is 92.2%, increasing young girls’ independence.

Women’s Employment and Labor Force

Currently, 46.5% of the labor force in Ghana is female. However, these women participate in domestic labor, such as in the agricultural field, without any pay, which limits their independence. Despite the rights Ghanaian women have gained since the 1960s, the country has recognized that economic growth does not necessarily reduce gender-based employment and wage gaps.

Contrary to the women who receive no pay, women who earn a subsistence wage through agriculture are at risk of significant health issues due to the physically demanding nature. Ghana is a traditional-based society explaining gender-based roles. However, one nongovernmental organization defending women’s rights in Ghana is Womankind. The organization emerged in 1991 with the goal of ending violence against all women in Ghana. This can help increase their social rights and political power within the government. Over 600 women in Ghana received recognition for their professional training experience to construct their own political decisions within the last five years. The secondary school leadership roles consist of 30 young girls who studied management within the organization. As a result, this increases the chances of independence and rights for women in Ghana.

Developing Women’s Rights in Ghana

Women and men are legally equal in Ghana, and women’s rights in Ghana have made significant progress. However, multiple aspects of traditional society affect gender equality, impacting their rights as women. With educational empowerment and recognizing that economic growth does not necessarily mean women are receiving the same job opportunities as men, gender equality will be more promising in Ghana.

Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr