Envirofit Cookstoves According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “more than three billion people worldwide rely on polluting energy sources such as wood, dung and charcoal for cooking.” These practices are most common in impoverished areas within developing countries and come with severe health consequences. As women are usually tasked with the cooking responsibilities, the indoor air pollution caused by cooking with these traditional fuels disproportionately impacts women as well as children in the household. A social enterprise called Envirofit International aims to make clean cookstoves more accessible and affordable for families living in developing nations.

Polluting Fuels and Gender Inequality

Cooking with polluting energy sources not only leads to serious health repercussions but also contributes to economic gender inequality. Girls and women are the main gatherers of these polluting energy sources, which require more than twice as much time to gather in comparison to clean fuels. Girls from households that use polluting fuels spend roughly 18 hours per week collecting fuel in contrast to five hours a week for those from households that utilize clean energy sources. This time could go toward more productive activities such as learning and paid work. As a result, girls and women fall behind in education and economic advancement.

Health and Economic Repercussions of Indoor Air Pollution

According to the WHO, annually, almost four million people die prematurely as a result of household air pollution caused by “inefficient cooking practices using polluting stoves paired with solid fuels and kerosene.” Indoor air pollution can cause ischaemic heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and pulmonary disease. Indoor pollution increases the risk of pneumonia in children by 50% and “is responsible for 45% of all pneumonia deaths in children” younger than 5. Gathering traditional fuels, a task typically performed by women and children can lead to musculoskeletal damage due to the arduous nature of this task.

Envirofit Cookstoves

Envirofit International works to replace dangerous and harmful traditional cooking methods with clean biomass cookstoves that are efficient, durable and inexpensive. The enterprise is headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since its incorporation in 2003, Envirofit has manufactured and commercialized smart stoves that cook faster, use less fuel and produce less smoke and toxic emissions. Envirofit cookstoves reduce “fuel use, fuel cost and cooking time by up to 60%” and decrease smoke and harmful emissions by up to 80%. These fuel savings alone can increase household income by up to 15% a year.

Using a market-based approach, Envirofit has helped more than five million people in 45 nations around the world save money and time while also reducing their carbon footprint. Envirofits’s clean, pollution-free technology has saved lives by reducing preventable deaths due to pollution. Envirofit cookstoves feature efficient combustion chambers to decrease emissions and utilize biomass fuel, which is accessible for people in rural communities.

With regional headquarters and production sites in East Africa, West Africa, Asia and Latin America, Envirofit can deliver local solutions tailored to each region’s specific needs. Each regional headquarter also contributes to the local economy by providing new employment and business opportunities. Besides creating jobs and making cooking safer, more convenient and affordable, Envirofit promotes sales by conducting local awareness campaigns about the effects of air pollution on health.

Overall, Envirofit cookstoves contribute to the health and well-being of millions of impoverished people across the world, saving lives, time and money.

Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr

Singapore’s Lenient Plan
With COVID-19 cases rising due to the Delta variant, many countries are returning to strict mandates and lockdowns, as seen at the beginning of the pandemic. Singapore, a country that endorsed strict COVID-19 restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic, is now adopting a more lenient model. This model eliminates lockdowns, large-scale contact tracing and travel-related quarantine measures, among other measures. Going even further, Singapore would no longer tally daily COVID-19 cases. Singapore’s latest lenient plan for mitigating COVID-19 aims to help the country quickly recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Vaccination as a Key Component to Singapore’s Plan

The world holds Singapore in high regard for its initial success in containing the pandemic through a swift COVID-19 response and stringent measures. Vaccination is a crucial component to the success of Singapore’s new lenient plan. Singapore’s COVID-19 task force makes it clear that eliminating COVID-19 entirely is not a realistic short-term solution. The task force suggests that learning to properly manage and live with COVID-19 is a much more effective strategy. Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung made this clear to the Straits Times. He says, “We can turn the pandemic into something much less threatening, like influenza, hand, foot and mouth disease or chickenpox, and get on with our lives.”

Vaccinations are effective in mitigating the risk of contracting COVID-19. While there is no guarantee that vaccinated individuals will not contract the virus, vaccination helps to mitigate the severity of symptoms experienced, reducing the likelihood of hospitalization and decreasing strain on healthcare systems. Singapore predicts that about 66% of its population will be fully vaccinated by the end of August 2021. A majority vaccinated population will allow the country to employ this lenient model without significant harm.

Immediate Effects of the Plan

The beginning of this more lenient plan has shown a spike in cases connected to the opening of a karaoke lounge. Singapore reported 56 cases on July 14, 2021, 41 of which were tied to karaoke lounges. While this number may seem low, it is the highest spike Singapore has experienced in 10 months. As a consequence, Singapore has reevaluated its leniency, tightening restrictions once more and slowing down the implementation of its plan, with certain exemptions for vaccinated individuals only.

COVID-19’s Disparate Effects on the Impoverished

Like many other countries worldwide, COVID-19 has hit Singapore’s impoverished the hardest. The economic crisis caused by the initial onset of the pandemic forced businesses to close their doors, causing widespread job losses and a decrease in employment opportunities. Low-income families have suffered greatly from job losses and the downturn of the economy. Low-income families have little monetary buffer to support them through economic shocks, and thus, struggle to find the means to purchase food and necessities at an even greater rate than before the pandemic came about.

As Singapore begins to ease restrictions, employers can increase working hours, which will allow job opportunities to arise. Singapore’s lenient plan will allow the economy to fully reopen, allowing those in food service and other service-based jobs to resume employment. This means employees will receive paychecks to help them support themselves and their families.

The Good News

With about  71% of the population in Singapore fully vaccinated as of August 14, 2021, the country is well on its way to a 100% fully vaccinated nation. If Singapore can successfully reopen without significant spikes in COVID-19, then activities should resume as normal. Overall, Singapore’s plan, if successful, will allow the economy to heal and help low-income families begin to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Lily Vassalo
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tea Plantation Workers in Sri LankaSri Lanka is one of the largest tea-producing countries globally and is home to many tea plantation workers. Sri Lanka is known for its Ceylon Tea, which is “acclaimed as the best tea in the world.” However, the process of tea cultivation is arduous and time staking, requiring meticulous care. Tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka put hours of hard work into the job. However, workers, including child workers, are often exploited and unfairly compensated. Organizations are committed to fighting for the rights and protection of tea plantation workers in countries like Sri Lanka.

History of Tea Plantations

Tea plantations, also known as tea estates, came about in the 19th century. The British Empire brought people from Southern India to work on the tea plantations. Most of these workers were from Tamil Nadu. Even though the British Empire abolished slavery, these Tamil tea plantation workers were certainly subject to conditions of slavery. The workers did not receive compensation and endured harsh working conditions “with long hours and heavy quotas.” Furthermore, the “workers lived in crowded shacks, without sanitation, running water, medical facilities or schools for their children.”

After British rule and achieving independence in 1948, Sri Lanka labeled the tea plantation workers as “temporary immigrants,” outrightly denying them citizenship despite years of employment in the country. Only about 30 years later, in the 1980s, Sri Lanka granted citizenship rights to the “descendants of Indian Tamil indentured servants.” To this day, many Tamils still work on tea plantations. While they gained some rights as Sri Lankan citizens, workers, including children, continue to face exploitative conditions.

Present Day Exploitation

Even though the tea industry is one of the foundations of Sri Lanka’s economy, tea plantation workers often experience exploitation. Laborers often walk barefoot through the hills of the tea estates and pick tea leaves for hours. To earn the daily wage, workers have to pluck a minimum amount of tea leaves. Up until this year, to receive the daily wage of 700 Sri Lankan rupees (LKR) (about $4.15) a plantation worker needed to gather at least 40 pounds of tea leaves.

Since around 2016, “tea plantation trade unions” have demanded a raise in the daily wage to 1,000 LKR. The protests finally paid off in January 2021. The Cabinet of Ministers amended the Wages Board Regulations, implementing an increase of the daily tea worker wage to a minimum of 1,000 LKR. Despite this wage increase, most tea workers still struggle to meet their basic needs. Furthermore, the workers do not receive sick leave, and since “no work means no pay,” workers cannot afford to take a day off.

Along with inadequate compensation, children also experience exploitation within the tea industry. Due to poverty, many Sri Lankan children drop out of school to earn an income to support their families. While the minimum legal working age at Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs)  is 16 years old, one study found that 73% of Sri Lankan children were engaged in employment before the age of 12. Long working hours and strenuous labor adversely impact children. Furthermore, child labor means education is not a priority, perpetuating the cycle of poverty even further.

Ethical Practices

While Sri Lankan tea plantation workers continue to battle unjust treatment, organizations aim to fight for tea plantation workers’ rights. In 2018, the Mother and Child-Friendly Tea Plantations project, funded by Save the Children Hong Kong, launched the Child Protection Policy. In partnership with Kelani Valley Plantations and Talawakelle Tea Estates, the policy “is a voluntary undertaking through which participating tea companies” promise to protect children living in tea estates from harm and exploitation.

Another organization dedicated to tea workers’ rights is the Ethical Tea Partnership. The Ethical Tea Partnership works “with tea companies, development organizations and governments to improve the lives of tea workers.” The organization works in tea-producing regions in Africa and Asia. Between 2016 and 2020, the organization’s efforts benefited more than one million tea workers across the world. Its Women of Tea program in Sri Lanka runs until the close of 2021, aiming to improve “the health and nutrition” of Sri Lankan tea plantation workers. The initiative also aims to improve “hygiene and sanitation practices and financial management strategies.”

The Way Forward

Although there is still room for progress, organizations have achieved significant success in improving the lives of tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka. With further efforts to uplift and empower tea workers, there is hope for tea plantation workers to live a life outside of poverty.

-Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

Human Genome EditingAfter two years of study, the World Health Organization (WHO) released two reports on how to use human genome editing safely and inclusively. The editing technology has significant potential to cure many diseases but the drawbacks must be considered, experts say. Human genome editing safety remains a priority and ensuring everyone has access to the technology could lead to significant improvements in the fight against poverty. The process warrants significant attention: It could further inequality but could also be a massive step toward eradicating poverty.

What is Human Genome Editing?

Somatic and germline editing are two primary types of genome editing. Somatic editing is surface-level and can be used to treat a disease with genetic origins. For example, a scientist can take a patient’s blood cells and utilize CRISPR technology “to edit blood cells as a treatment” for “blood disorders.” This genome editing type does not get passed down to any children.

Germline editing, the more controversial type, changes the genome of a human embryo at the earliest possible stage. It impacts all cells, which could affect any children one has in the future. Although germline editing raises significant ethical questions, it does have the potential to prevent several diseases from manifesting in a child. Currently, international policies limit germline editing, sometimes allowing it for only research purposes. If an individual utilizes edited embryos to “initiate a pregnancy,” this would be considered heritable genome editing.

Heritable genome editing makes changes to the “genetic material of eggs, sperm or any cells that lead to their development,” which includes early embryos. Human genome editing safety sparks serious ethical and controversial concerns, thus, restrictions and guidelines exist worldwide.

Considering the Positives

The potential to cure serious diseases is enormous despite ethical questions. Faster diagnoses, accurate treatments and disorder prevention efforts all could be achieved or improved through genome editing, according to the U.N. In fact, somatic gene therapy made significant strides toward treating HIV and sickle-cell disease in recent years.

Fertility and disease resistance could both improve with the technology’s use. Human genome editing can and already is a way to treat or prevent many serious diseases, and overall, improve life for many. If used correctly, in a safe and efficient manner, the entire world could benefit.

Considering the Negatives

The potential is enormous, but so are the risks. Political and social justice issues are very important to consider, especially when it comes to germline and heritable genome editing. Editing could affect the very issues movements fighting for a broad range of social and economic issues raise.

Germline and heritable human genome editing both have ethical and moral questions. There is a possibility the genetic changes can be passed down to future children. It could be used as a way to improve traits in an irresponsible manner and access could vary for many.

Somatic editing also faces challenges. Rogue clinics and “illegal, unregistered, unethical or unsafe research” pose serious threats. Also of concern are “activities including the offer of unproven so-called therapeutic interventions.” Human genome editing safety is a difficult but important task to undertake as the treatment could be harmful if used incorrectly.

Another serious issue to consider is who would receive the treatment. This could just further the medical inequality divide between wealthy and lower-income nations as the treatment is expensive. As many nations with fewer resources have more difficulties with diseases, the treatment will be especially beneficial for them. However, these nations might not have effective access.

How Genome Editing May Help Those in Poverty

Diseases that tend to affect those in poverty because of a lack of treatment could be treated with human genome editing. These include diabetes, alcohol-attributed diseases, malaria and others. Improved treatment from human genome editing could lead to significant strides in reducing poverty. For those with the least access to or possession of societal resources, editing could potentially be a benefit. Other diseases like “cystic fibrosis, cancers, muscular dystrophy and Huntington’s disease” could also be treated or cured.

If properly managed, the impact of human genome editing on those in poverty could be significant, increasing health across the board. If recommendations from the WHO are properly followed and scientific progress continues, the benefits for the global population could balance the risks.

– Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr

The Effects of WildfiresThe effects of wildfires are destructive, deadly and devastating. Additionally, they are becoming increasingly frequent. From the west coast of the United States to Australia and Russia, wildfires are spreading like never before, wreaking havoc and adding unparalleled burden to the countries’ poor.

The Effects of Wildfires

Wildfires burden society by depleting resources, burdening the economies and impacting citizens’ health. Wildfires force the evacuation of people and often destroy homes and valuables. The University of Oregon Scholars Bank states that a person needs an income of twice the poverty line to be fully capable of protecting oneself, family and assets from fires. Thus, these fires have a disproportionate effect on the poor.

Wildfires Cause Depletion of Resources

One way in which wildfires are destructive is the depletion of resources. The burning of forests destroys properties, trees, vegetation and wildlife. Wildfires often strip families of everything they own in a matter of minutes.

In addition, these fires deplete not only air quality but water quality as well. As wildfires burn, they contaminate the water in streams, lakes and reservoirs which limits access to clean water. Thus, the affected area’s drinking water and food supply are not usable. Limited food and water supplies make it harder for the poor to live.

Wildfires Cause a Decrease in Economic Stability

Wildfires take a large toll on an affected areas’ economic security by causing economies to close. As a result of closing the economy, tourism decreases. The effects of wildfires make areas untravellable as they pose a massive threat to people and destroy forests and hiking trails that often draw tourists. In addition, the economy slowed due to the destruction of resources.

This lack of tourism and loss of resources cause loss of income in affected economies. So, as income from tourism decreases, the number of available low-paying service industry jobs decreases as well. This causes those already living on or below the poverty line to face greater financial hardships as hours and jobs are limited. Furthermore, as fires destroy forests and trees, jobs in the logging or wood chipping industries run scarce.

Wildfires Cause Strain on Human Health

Furthermore, wildfires pose a great threat to human health as their smoke depletes air quality. This can result in reduced lung function, bronchitis, heart failure and asthma among other things. The effects of wildfires on mental and physical health are long-lasting. These effects on health disproportionately affect the poor as they often have limited access to affordable healthcare.

The Increase in Wildfires Worldwide

Wildfires know no bounds and have begun to spread with increased frequency to places that have little to no previous experience with them. Siberia, a tundra that has had limited prior experience with fires, is now struggling to put out a fire that has burned upwards of 6.5 million acres. 

Similarly, in 2020, Australia suffered devastating wildfires that burned 44.5 million acres and killed upwards of 30 people. It killed large amounts of wildlife and devastated their environment. Likewise, Australians are feeling the effects of wildfires in Australia today. The Australian government did little to curtail the devastation of wildfires which led to countless protests by citizens.

The Good News

The devastating effects of wildfires worldwide are far from gone. However, through the increase in aid and wildfire-related programs, the goal to limit drastic spreads and devastation is possible.

The United States developed many fire-related programs that created job opportunities focused on research, fighting and prevention methods and landscape rehabilitation. These programs aim to limit the level of devastation associated with wildfires. Additionally, the USAID also provided humanitarian support to Australia throughout its 2020 wildfires.

With increased research and fire-related programs in addition to global support during times of active burns, the devastating impacts of wildfires can reduce. Thus, they will lower the impacts on communities and preventing an increased burden on the poor.

– Lily Vassalo
Photo: Flickr

women in sub-Saharan AfricaEducation has long been an uphill battle for women in sub-Saharan Africa who disproportionately lack the opportunity to go to school. The U.N.’s Education Plus Initiative aims to empower adolescent girls and young women, particularly in regard to HIV/AIDS prevention, through secondary education. A recent UNAIDS study suggests a correlation between HIV education and completing school, which also leads to a better socioeconomic future.

Education and Disease Among Young Women

Sub-Saharan Africa has become a hot spot of population growth. With more than 60% of the region’s population aged 25 and younger, a new generation of African citizens waits to meet the world on a global scale. But, educational attainment has long presented a hurdle for many sub-Saharan countries.

Relatively few African children receive higher education, with young women being the least likely. According to a recent study from the United Nations, more than 80% of the world’s women (aged 15-24) with HIV/AIDS are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Such health issues create a barrier to pursuing further education. A 2014 Millennium Development Goals Report shows a strong correlation between disease and missed educational opportunities, reporting that more than 33 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are out of school, with 56% being girls.

The Millennium Declaration, a set of goals adopted by world leaders to reignite education and fight disease, says that incorporating education into young women’s lives in sub-Saharan Africa promotes poverty reduction, improves mental health and decreases rates of HIV/AIDS.

AIDS and HIV in Africa

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has ravaged entire countries in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 50 girls die from AIDS-related women’s illnesses every day worldwide and more than 90% of adolescent HIV/AIDS deaths happen in sub-Saharan Africa. According to a 2019 study from UNAIDS, young women in Africa generally lack sufficient sex education. Thus, young women in sub-Saharan Africa face disproportionate exposure to many diseases. This includes two of the most threatening in terms of both education and life expectancy: HIV and AIDS.

HIV/AIDS has become prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa because of arranged child marriages and early pregnancies. A recent study from UNESCO found that nearly 52% of Sudanese girls older than 18 were already married, numbers that are mirrored throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Empowerment at the legal level decreases women’s chances of forced marriages and pregnancies, thus reducing rates of HIV and AIDS.

Michel Sidibé, the executive director of UNAIDS, stated, “When girls can’t uphold their human rights — especially their sexual and reproductive health and rights — efforts to get to zero exclusion, zero discrimination, zero violence and zero stigma are undermined.”

More than 79% of new HIV infections occur among girls aged 10-19, according to a 2019 UNAIDS research study. Young women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa need educational and health support. Fortunately, several organizations are working to empower them.

The Education Plus Initiative

UNICEF, in collaboration with UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNFPA and U.N. Women, has created a new initiative in sub-Saharan Africa called Education Plus. Education Plus focuses on empowering young women and girls and achieving gender equality through secondary education. According to UNAIDS, sexual education has helped empower tens of millions of young women throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Education Plus aims to revolutionize policies related to women’s sexual education in order to improve their quality of life. Education Plus will begin in 2021 and run through 2025. It plans to create policies that add sexual education to young women’s school lessons, launch tech-based publicity programs to promote women’s rights and expand upon HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and recovery, among other initiatives.

A UNICEF study revealed just how important education is to empower young women in sub-Saharan Africa. When young girls finish secondary school, they are six times less likely to marry young. The study also found that if a child’s mother can read, the child has a 50% better chance of survival.

Moving Forward

Education Plus is set to run for five years to help women and girls achieve social, educational and economic success. UNICEF, UNAIDS and several other organizations have come together to make supporting young women in Africa a priority.

Moving forward, empowering young women in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the world’s highest poverty areas, requires an array of solutions. Organizations like UNAIDS hope the area can one day flourish as an oasis for young women and girls, who will, in turn, have the educational and social resources to create a more stable Africa.

Mario Perales
Photo: Flickr

lagos-ibadan railwayThe dilapidated state of Nigeria’s roads, train tracks and other infrastructure has kept 40% of Nigerians under the poverty line as of 2019. In February 2021, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari requested the equivalent of $2.6 billion in funding to address this consistent roadblock, dedicating the majority of the funds to completing a new Lagos-Ibadan Railway. Finished in mid-June 2021, the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge Railway will efficiently connect Nigeria’s largest city with its inland communities. The Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge Railway will aid Nigeria’s impoverished communities by facilitating job creation and increasing national connectivity.

Wealth and Job Creation

The need to create and maintain the railway infrastructure created many jobs for Nigerians. Over its construction period of three years, when builders faced many obstacles that required innovative solutions, the railway provided employment to more than 20,000 Nigerians. Staffing, conducting and maintaining the quality of the Lagos-Ibadan Railway will create an additional 7,000 jobs.

Furthermore, projections determine that the railway will attract many national and foreign investors, especially in Ibadan. Studies by the International Journal of Business and Management Invention and Journal of Economics and Sustainable Development display the large impact of foreign direct investment (FDI) on poverty reduction in Nigeria.

A streamlined connection to Lagos will help Ibadan grow and become more of a trade hub. The resulting increased FDI will supplement domestic savings and expand local technology and managerial skills for the economic development of low-income areas.

Transportation and Connectivity

The railroad will extend the lifespan of existing roads and means of transport. It will also lessen congestion for product transportation, minimize maintenance costs and ultimately aid local producers in sustaining a comfortable lifestyle. In 2018, three million passengers utilized Nigerian trains as regular transportation. About 42,000 people utilized the Lagos-Ibadan Railway in June 2021 alone.

Between Lagos and Ibadan, the railway connects eight cities and their surrounding areas. Connecting rural areas to Nigeria’s industry hubs will help incorporate rural populations into urban markets.  For example, a direct connection to the Apapa port facilitates the transportation of goods from Nigeria’s rural areas. About 70% of Nigeria’s workforce are farmers. Direct connection to a port will improve farm productivity, increase annual GDP and reduce poverty.

Looking Forward

Expanding the country’s railway network by 157 kilometers and increasing city access for millions of citizens is a step forward for poverty reduction in Nigeria. Thanks to this infrastructure update, Nigerians celebrate tens of thousands of new jobs, increased investment and more efficient transportation. The Lagos-Ibadan Railway excites Nigerians who hope to continue the spread of connectivity across the country.

Julia Fadanelli
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Elderly Poverty in GermanyFrom 2006 to 2016, elderly poverty in Germany (people older than 55 years old) increased from 4.5 to 5.6 million people. According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the percentage of people who face poverty while receiving retirement money could increase from 16.8% to 21.6% by 2039. In other words, one in five German pensioners could face impoverished conditions by 2039. Germany intends to combat elderly poverty with a basic pension plan.

Elderly Poverty in Germany

People who receive “less than 60%” of their average working salary from their retirement funds are currently considered at risk of facing poverty. This equals a monthly retirement income of less than €905 or $997. The percentage of people depending on other financial government assistance may also rise from 9% to 12% by 2039. These people would have monthly retirement incomes of no more than €777.

3 Main Pension Systems

A German pensioner can choose from three main pension systems. The German pension apparatus consists of a “pay-as-you-go system,” which is combined with other supplemental plans. The supplemental pension plans intend to provide funds in addition to the state pension that pensioners already receive.

  1. State Pension. This pension plans awards about 70% of net income to people older than 65 who have been working in Germany for at least five years. Enrollment in the state pension plan is mandatory for everyone working in Germany.
  2. Company Pension. The company pension plan is a plan workers can monetarily contribute to via the employer. The plan intends to augment the state pension plan and has become the most popular retirement plan in Germany.
  3. Private Retirement Scheme. This plan is established through insurance organizations and banks. The German government promotes these plans through tax incentives and bonus benefits.

Despite the three main pension plans that Germany has implemented, those working for a lifetime in Germany still struggle to make ends meet after retiring. This is especially relevant for those employed in low-earning careers.

The Basic Pension Plan

Since the amount of state pension given to a pensioner depends on their net income, those who participated in low-earning jobs are at increased risk of facing poverty. To address this, Germany recently decided to implement a new basic pension plan, which ensures that those who have been working in Germany for a significant amount of time will receive a basic amount of pension.

In January 2021, the German federal government enacted the basic pension plan to combat elderly poverty in Germany. This plan guarantees that individuals who have contributed to the German state pension system for a minimum of 35 years receive a basic pension in addition to their original state pension. The additional basic pension ensures that the pensioner has enough money to pay for fundamental necessities. No application is necessary as the government utilizes an automatic system for these basic pension benefits.

According to German legislator Malu Dreyer, more than 1.4 million people will benefit from the basic pension plan. Furthermore, a significant portion of women will benefit from the plan as four out of five beneficiaries will be women. The plan also rewards those who took time off work for familial caretaking as long as their total employment time meets the minimum requirements.

Looking to the Future

In hopes of decreasing elderly poverty rates, Germany implemented the basic pension plan, which aims to provide its low-earning citizens with enough funds to secure their basic needs after retiring. The state pension only provides the pensioner with 70% of their net income, which can be problematic for citizens who spent their lives working in low-paying positions.

The German government estimates that the plan will benefit more than 1.4 million people, providing hope that more than a million elderly citizens will not live the remaining years of their lives in poverty. Overall, the German government presents a clear path ahead for combating elderly poverty in Germany.

Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in the Solomon Islands
Best known for its exquisite marine life, the Solomon Islands is a nation of approximately 700,000 in Oceania. Furthermore, the World Health Organization’s depression rate estimates put the country as the least depressed nation in the entire world. To make this even more impressive, the Solomon Islands’ GDP per capita is lower than that of the 10 most depressed countries.

So, what is its secret? How does an impoverished nation grow to boast the world’s lowest rates of depression? Unfortunately, the answer is that these numbers grossly misrepresent the situation.

The Problem of Diagnosis

Mental health statistics rely on diagnoses, which are not widespread in impoverished nations. Mental health in the Solomon Islands seems low. However, this is because of inadequate healthcare which results in undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses.

Though one cannot simply say that all impoverished nations have higher rates of depression, their statistics may be untrustworthy or undocumented. Additionally, merit exists regarding the idea that citizens of some less wealthy nations are actually happier. This is often because of spirituality or a closer community. However, several factors suggest that this is not the case in the Solomon Islands.

Equality and Depression

The two most striking examples of this phenomenon revolve around equality. The first is gender inequality. This problem is easy to see through statistics of domestic abuse. According to the National Institute of Health, more than three in five women in the nation revealed that they suffered from “physical[ly] and/or sexual[ly]” abused. This rate is among the highest in the world.

The second suggestive element of the Solomon Islands’ reported depression rate is lower than in reality is sexuality intolerance. Gay marriage remains illegal for men, as does adoption. Non-straight people do not receive equal protection under the law, and conversion therapy is legal. These all take substantial tolls on the mental health of homosexual people. The community already reports higher than average rates of depression and suicide.

Looking Forward

The outstanding mental health in the Solomon Islands does in fact seem to be a grave case of misleading data. However, such an investigation does yield two significant and optimistic takeaways. First, the case of the Solomon Islands shows the importance of fighting for equality. Misleading statistics can entirely conceal the struggles of minority groups through the impression that the nation is not in need of development aid. Australia, a close partner to the west of the Solomon Islands, is doing great work to fight this inequality, which includes increasing mental health resources.

Second, an integral part of foreign aid needs to look out for psychological well-being. Poor nations do not have the proper training in diagnostics to communicate that mental health should be a priority, but that is part of healthcare, another key component of development. Thankfully, this idea underwent a recent proposal to the U.S. Congress through the MINDS Act. This act would force the world’s richest nations to consider the mental health of the nations to which they provide aid. Hopefully, with adequate support, these organizations and partnerships will address mental health in the Solomon Islands.

– Sam Konstan
Photo: Flickr

Parfait HakizimanaBurundian athlete and refugee, Parfait Hakizimana, has overcome significant obstacles throughout his life. In the near future, Hakizimana will represent the Refugee Paralympic Team (RPT) at the 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games, vying for gold in the men’s under-61-kilogram division in Taekwondo.

Refugee Paralympic Team

The Refugee Paralympic Team will compete for the first time in these Games, marking Hakizimana, age 32, and his five teammates as historic competitors and inspiring examples of lifelong perseverance. Featuring athletes from across the Middle East and Africa, the Refugee Paralympic Team represents more than 82 million individuals worldwide who have experienced displacement due to war, conflict and poverty. About 12 million refugees worldwide (roughly one in seven) live with a disability and the Refugee Paralympic Team serves as an inspiring example of hope, uplifting those who have lived through some of the most difficult conditions imaginable.

Parfait Hakizimana’s Story

Amid a devastating Burundian Civil War in 1996 that took place in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, Hakizimana suffered a permanent injury caused by a serious gunshot wound to his left arm at 8 years old. Tragically, his mother died the very same day. Hakizimana and his family had already been living at an internally displaced camp, and following this tragedy, Hakizimana spent nearly two years in a hospital. His arm took a long time to heal and he began to find hope and rehabilitation in sport following the healing process.

Hakizimana discovered Taekwondo at age 16 and took a quick liking to it. Before long, Hakizimana had earned his first black belt in 2010. However, upon further dissent and destruction in his home nation of Burundi, Hakizimana sought refuge in Rwanda. Since 2015, Hakizimana has called the Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda his home. Hosting around 60,000 people, many of whom have escaped Burundi, the camp is the largest in Rwanda. Hakizimana, his wife and their 18-month-old daughter still live there today, making his journey to the Paralympics the longest of long shots.

Continuing to learn and progress in Taekwondo, Hakizimana has competed in several major paraplegic sporting events across Africa, even winning a bronze medal in 2019 at Rwanda’s Ambassador’s Cup. For the first time, Hakizimana will take on the world, hoping to medal in the K44 classification of Taekwondo. Hakizimana will be the first-ever Olympic or Paralympic athlete to go directly from a refugee camp to compete in the Games.

Giving Back Through Teaching

Hakizimana continues to emphasize how sport has helped him rise above his troubled past and find community among his fellow refugees. Hakizimana has taken that positivity and paid it forward by now teaching and training more than 150 refugees at the Mahama Refugee Camp.

Taekwondo has been a unifying force at the refugee camp, breaking down superficial barriers, including regional and tribal identities, to provide a positive outlet for refugees to build friendships and find purpose. Parfait Hakizimana will undoubtedly have many fans cheering for him in both his country of refuge, Rwanda, and his homeland, Burundi, as he takes to the mat in Tokyo for the Paralympic Games. Hakizimana represents a worldwide community of impoverished refugees whose living conditions have forced them to flee for safety and improved opportunities. Parfait Hakizimana inspires hope in one of the most vulnerable populations of the world, encouraging them to break barriers and achieve success regardless of their physical impediments or their disadvantaged backgrounds.

– Sam Dils
Photo: Flickr