Tuberculosis in AfghanistanEvery year in Afghanistan, more than 60,000 citizens contract tuberculosis. A bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis causes the disease and spreads from one infected person to another through the air. Individuals recover from tuberculosis with antibiotics; however, some people struggle to recover with regular medicine. Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) occurs when individuals develop resistance to the antibiotics isoniazid and rifampicin. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) and the Oriental Consultants Global Co., Ltd. (OC Global) work toward diagnosing, treating and improving tuberculosis in Afghanistan.

Medecins San Frontieres

MSF came to Afghanistan in 1980 and strives to serve individuals with critical medical conditions, children and pregnant women. More specifically, MSF started its MDR-TB program in 2017 to improve the quality of life of individuals with MDR-TB. Since the program’s inception, MSF identified over 40 patients with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Afghanistan and many of them received treatment that lasted nine months, as opposed to the standard 20 months. The short treatment time helped eliminate the negative symptoms the patients endured with regular treatment. During their treatment, MDR-TB patients received one of the two antibiotics called bedaquiline and delamanid.

Some patients reside at the association’s clinic in Kandahar to receive antibiotics every day. During their stay, individuals affected with MDR-TB consume nutritious food to help them recover faster. Also, the patients receive counseling and learn how to stop the transmission of tuberculosis to their loved ones.

United Nations Development Programme

The Government of Afghanistan provides universal healthcare to all its citizens. However, many Afghani citizens with MDR-TB do not receive treatment due to the inability to travel to medical centers in the city. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) noticed the struggle that individuals endured to get medical care and constructed four treatment centers in Kabul, Nangarhar, Herat and Balkh. The UNDP came to Afghanistan over half a century ago and strives to get rid of destitution, establish systemic change and teach citizens to be adaptable. More specifically, UNDP works towards providing better medical treatment for citizens affected with MDR-TB.

With the help of donations from the Global Fund, each treatment center bought over 20 beds and built enough space to manage 200 patients. Next, over 1,000 health care workers learned how to better identify and manage the disease. Lastly, programs teach Afghani citizens about the disease to decrease judgment towards MDR-TB patients.

Oriental Consultants Global Co., Ltd.

OC Global began helping Afghanistan in 2009 and aims to construct innovative projects all over the world. In Afghanistan, the corporation helped build a new hospital in Kabul that aims to reduce the number of MDR-TB cases.

Inside the hospital, a laboratory allows medical professionals to draw blood from patients to diagnose them more efficiently and swiftly. Next, the corporation bought all the necessary equipment needed to provide better medical treatment. Lastly, with the data collected from the patients, the hospital learns more about the disease and spreads this knowledge to others.

Looking Forward

All in all, MSF, UNDP and OC Global assist in lowering the cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Afghanistan. These organizations strive to provide easy access to medical care, better quality treatment and a quick diagnosis. As more citizens become aware of the services provided by these three entities, complete management of MDR-TB appears achievable.

– Samantha Rodriguez-Silva
Photo: Flickr

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

Conflict in Afghanistan

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

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

Social Change Through Art

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

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

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

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

Female Artist Shamsia Hassani

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

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

Looking Forward

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

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

– Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

Bank Access in Afghanistan
Bank access in Afghanistan is a step toward financial inclusion for the rural poor. According to Jan Chipchase and Panthea Lee’s research on the nascent mobile-phone-based financial services that were available in Afghanistan in 2010, theft and bribery plagued the banking system. Person-to-person transfers were not widely available until the creation of the M-Paisa mobile money transfer service. Roshan launched the M-Paisa mobile money transfer banking in Kabul in 2010 when 83 bank accounts existed per 1,000. Through this service and other programs, improvements in the availability and quality of bank access in Afghanistan have been a major contributor towards reducing income inequality and poverty.

Gradually Improving Access

With limited credit available, Afghans were hiding money at home under the mattress, and forms of money ranged anywhere from banknotes to gold jewelry to livestock. The rural poor did not trust the banking system, and the use of the word “Paisa” helped to make the service seem more trustworthy, although it posed access challenges for the rural poor. By 2014, banking access improved for 40% of Afghanistan’s population, with a 7% increase in the availability of financial services. However, access to credit was still out of reach to the rural poor as most of the banks were located in Kabul province, an urban area. This made it more difficult for rural people to get loans to start businesses.

In 2015, a project to bolster bank access in Afghanistan made a step toward financial inclusion for the rural poor with the start of the Afghan Rural Enterprise Development. The project sought to integrate rural agricultural communities into the economy. Employment opportunities emerged in poor rural villages by the creation of savings and enterprise groups along with loan associations. According to The World Bank, the rural poor received assistance in building their own businesses, which increased the value of trade, ensuring new opportunities. This created access to credit through internal lending, which focused on small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs. This program was so important because it targeted people who traditionally could not access the banking system.

The Reason it Matter

As of November 2019, more data exists to support the successes of bank access in Afghanistan that The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific published. The goal of the report was to assess the status of financial inclusion for all adults in Afghanistan age 15 to 64 including women. Financial inclusion in a “broad range of quality and affordable financial services including but not limited to account, payment, saving, and credit provided by formal financial institutions in a fair, transparent, and sustainable manner.” According to this presentation, 15,000 bank accounts exist per 100,000 adults, and in 2021, projections determined them to be 20,000. Expectations have determined that mobile money accounts and accounts that women hold will also grow during the same period. Although the success of banking the unbanked in Afghanistan has been slow, steady progress has occurred toward financial inclusion of the rural poor and women.

It is clear that bank access in Afghanistan and credit is allowing the rural poor in Afghanistan to do better financially. However, according to the World Bank Afghanistan, “the COVID-19 crisis will have a serious and sustained impact on Afghanistan’s economy. Recovery is expected to take several years, with new investment constrained by political uncertainties, continued insecurity, and questions around ongoing international support.” It is important to maintain international support for improving banking access to preserve opportunities for Afghanistan’s rural population.

Kathleen Shepherd-Segura
Photo: Flickr

Disability and Poverty in AfghanistanEvery day, people all throughout Afghanistan face not only the public health challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic but also a lack of accessibility to food, employment and a sense of stability. A study by Jean-Francois Trani and Washington University in St. Louis discussed how challenges like these may lead to both increased poverty and increased disability. They also identified how disability and poverty may overlap or compound the suffering of individuals. Here is some information about the link between disability and poverty in Afghanistan.

Challenges for Children in Afghanistan

In an environment with varying challenges, illness, injury, neglect and malnourishment can lead to lifelong health concerns and disability for children. Likewise, the chronic stress of struggling to sustain the life of a family in the midst of violence and trauma may also lead to debilitating psychiatric conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. This is the crisis of disability and poverty in Afghanistan.

Mothers and grandmothers like Haji Rizva (only identified by the first name for her safety), struggle to feed their children. She thinks specifically of her 18-month-old granddaughter, Parvana, who had been constantly vomiting and too weak to move for days. “We didn’t have enough to feed her,” Haji Rizva told NPR while waiting in the ward for malnourished children at Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. “Sometimes we only have tea for two, three days. We don’t even have bread.”

Around the same time, and in the same city, fathers like Kahn Wali Kamran told the Associated Press that they fear finding their young children dead when they return home from work each day. With a surge in large bombings, targeted killings and other forms of crime (including armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom), the future appears increasingly dangerous and uncertain.

The Link Between Disability and Poverty in Afghanistan

The Asia Foundation studies suggest that 17% of Afghan citizens suffer from some form of disability and 8.9% have severe impairments and are dependent on others. Additionally, after decades of uninterrupted conflict, the Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA) noted that despite the lack of comprehensive study and measurement of mental health in such a volatile region, it conservatively estimated that more than half of the population suffers from some form of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Halfway across the world, Trani’s 2012 study examining the links between poverty and disability using data from Afghanistan and Zambia has become relevant once again. The study noted that it is logical that disabled individuals may be more likely to be poor, as they have a higher cost of living, and a diminished ability to perform certain tasks, especially those they may require for employment. People with PTSD may be unable to complete tasks, communicate effectively and stay calm, making it harder to acquire and maintain employment. However, poverty and disability as concepts are difficult to define, as they both take many dimensions into consideration.

Defining Poverty

Generally, the amount of income a household earns determines poverty status, and what necessary commodities that the family in that household would be able to acquire. However, because all households have different needs and expenses, this is an unreliable measurement. Instead, the capability to live in a state of well-being, and have a reasonable life expectancy, quality nourishment and shelter, basic education and access to health care should be factors when considering poverty. Trani noted that low income is a cause of poverty, not the definition of poverty. In this way, violence, too, is a cause of poverty, and so is disability.

This creates an unforgiving cycle that allows both poverty and disability to increase in prevalence. When a person is in poverty, like Kamran or Haji Rizva, they are unable to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families. Without proper shelter and protection, Kamran’s children are more likely to suffer severe injury, potentially leading to lifelong physical disability. Likewise, without proper nutrition, Parvana and other kids like her are less likely to grow and develop properly leading to weakened muscles, bones and organ systems. Poverty, in this case, causes injury. Injury then causes disability. This lowers employment opportunities, causing disabled individuals to fall further into poverty, putting them at greater risk of traumatic stress, further injury and other sufferings. This is the cycle of poverty and disability that has captured Afghanistan for decades.

The Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan

Fortunately, OCHA has recently updated its ongoing Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan to take greater action to help marginalized groups through the violence and the pandemic.

“Given the scale of vulnerability in Afghanistan, this effort will be guided by a range of both new and well-established technical working groups focused on gender, disability inclusion, gender-based violence (GBV), child protection, accountability to affected people (AAP) and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA)” wrote Parvathy Ramaswani in the plan’s updated introduction.

OCHA Measures

The efforts in regards to the pandemic will be largely consistent with others around the world, introducing sanitation protocols and vaccine distribution to the best of their ability, as reducing the spread of the pandemic will naturally provide relief to people caught in the poverty-disability cycle. As in developed countries, people with preexisting conditions are much more likely to develop complications from COVID-19 like pneumonia, infection and organ system failure. This could affect various disabilities that people develop from genetic conditions, malnutrition, previous infections and other injuries. Physical disability is quite prevalent in Afghanistan, so complications and deaths are also a greater concern than in some other areas.

From a psychiatric disability standpoint, the response plan is more targeted, directing resources and funding to local hospitals and clinics to seek out trauma patients who have not received adequate treatment prior to 2021. “With the volatile security situation creating higher trauma needs and associated disabilities, secondary trauma care continues to be a critical need,” the report noted. OCHA will continue to monitor the mental health of citizens closely through 2021, trying to care for those it missed in previous psychiatric treatment initiatives.

Help is on the way for people like Haji Rizva and Kamran, to prevent them and their children from developing new health concerns or complications from COVID-19. The OCHA response plan aims to reach 86% or more of the existing disabled population in Afghanistan.

– Anika Ledina
Photo: Flickr

2020 Afghanistan Conference
On November 23, 2020, and November 24, 2020, the governments of Afghanistan and Finland and the United Nations hosted the 2020 Afghanistan Conference in Geneva. The Conference is a quadrennial summit that serves as a chance for the international community to renew its long-term assistance commitments to Afghanistan. Seventy countries and 30 international organizations participated in this COVID-19-conscious summit at the UN Palais des Nations. The groups discussed the ways in which Afghanistan can develop economically, politically and socially. Talks went on in light of a worldwide pandemic and a year of new clashes as well as historic peace talks.

Changes in Funding for Afghanistan

The 2020 Afghanistan Conference serves as a “pivotal moment for aid-dependent Afghanistan.” The changes in funding that Afghanistan will receive in the coming years were a prioritized issue. From 2017 through 2020, Afghanistan received a yearly $3.8 billion from its donors. On the other hand, more recently, estimates determined a 17% drop in funds as Afghanistan has received $3.3 billion for 2021 from donors. Many expected the considerable drops in funding, however. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s economy will contract at least 5.5% by the end of 2020. This is a COVID-19-related crunch that the entire world is feeling. “Donor fatigue” is a concurrent effect as the pandemic stretches the global aid system thin. Donor-reliant nations such as Afghanistan are taking a hit. As the United States Institute for Peace considers funding “a critical ingredient” for stability in Afghanistan, an incoming drop in funds may have detrimental impacts both economically and politically.

Peace Talks in Afghanistan

2020 was also a year for monumental peace talks in Afghanistan, but not a year without violence. In February 2020, a monumental peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban had resulted in a considerable withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan; forces will have reduced from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January 2021. But violence continues, and in October alone, 35,000 civilians experienced displacement in Helmand Province, and another 16,000 underwent displacement in Kandahar. With the U.S. clearly on the withdrawal, the Afghan government now leads negotiations with the Taliban, who were not invited to the 2020 Afghanistan Conference but made a statement with the hopes that the international community would deliver aid “collected in the name of the people.”

Roles of Afghan Women in the Nation’s Civil Society

Another primary concern at the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, specifically among Afghan-based groups working for peace and development, was the future roles that Afghan women may play in the nation’s civil society. The Kabul-based group Equality for Peace and Democracy made an address. It exalted the impact that gender-based equality has in a society striving for a place on the world stage. The aid group CARE, which noted that women and girls have experienced exclusion “from meaningful participation” in Afghan society, hopes that donors will make more economic and political opportunities for women in Afghanistan a requirement for financial assistance.

Naturally, the epidemic, declines in donorship, historic developments in regional peace and potential upheaval of civil society all presented humanitarian worries for Afghanistan’s immediate future. As the nation enters the second wave of COVID-19, food prices will continue to rise globally. In addition, a third of Afghanistan’s population is predicted to face “crisis or emergency levels of hunger” through March 2021. The more mountainous regions of Afghanistan, which typically face bitter winters, will have even more vulnerable food security. The 2020 Afghanistan Conference, however, was a productive way to bring these issues to light and an opportunity for the international community to learn about these problems and pledge to help treat them.

Stirling MacDougall
Photo: Flickr

Denmark's Foreign Aid
When it comes to foreign aid, one of the most widely-commended countries is the small nation of Denmark. The Danes are well-known for their generous aid spending and both donor and recipient nations recognize Denmark as a highly effective partner in the fight against global poverty. Here are five facts about Denmark’s foreign aid.

5 Facts About Denmark’s Foreign Aid

  1. Denmark is a world leader in foreign aid spending. In 2019, Denmark spent $2.55 billion on foreign aid, a seemingly small figure compared to the $34.62 billion the United States spent, but Denmark’s population is only about 1.76% that of the U.S. When adjusted for population, Denmark’s foreign aid totals $447 per-capita, much higher than the United States’ $95 per-capita. In fact, Denmark is the fourth-highest per-capita spender of all OECD countries after Norway, Sweden and Luxembourg.
  2. Denmark has consistently been a world leader since the 1970s. The United Nations uses foreign aid as a percentage of Gross National Income to measure a country’s proportional spending, and Denmark is one of the few countries that has met or exceeded the U.N.’s target of 0.7% of GNI since 1978. Denmark’s foreign aid currently amounts to 0.71% of its GNI, trailing only Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden among OECD countries. However, for a brief period during the 1990s, Denmark actually increased this number to over 1%.
  3. Low-and-middle-income countries rate Denmark high for usefulness, influence and helpfulness in foreign aid. In a new study that AidData conducted, leaders from 40 aid-receiving nations ranked Denmark as a top development partner. Besides meeting the U.N.’s foreign aid target, Denmark scored second among all countries for its usefulness regarding policy advice, second for its influence in setting agendas and first for its helpfulness regarding reform implementation. Since 2009, these reforms have included promoting greater private sector expansion and focusing on social progress as a catalyst for economic growth. Denmark’s long-term commitments to implementing such policies in a small number of prioritized nations have proven to be highly effective in reducing extreme poverty.
  4. Denmark manages its foreign aid spending and implementation through DANIDA, the Danish International Development Agency. DANIDA’s top priorities for 2020 are advancing human rights and equality, developing sustainable green growth, providing humane asylum for displaced people and maintaining international cooperation in all global efforts. Denmark’s foreign aid reaches over 70 low-and-middle-income countries, but those of the highest urgency include Afghanistan, Somalia and Niger. Efforts in Afghanistan largely center around education as Danish aid provides teacher education, updated textbooks and curriculum development. In Somalia, DANIDA works to develop safety nets, human rights advancements and strengthen national and local governance. Niger receives policy advice on properly handling the irregular number of migrants in the country as well as basic delivery of living essentials to impoverished children.
  5. Denmark can still improve. While the country is one of only six to meet the U.N.’s target of 0.7% GNI in 2019 with 0.71%, this is a substantial drop from 2015 when Denmark spent 0.85% of GNI on foreign aid. Addressing this cutback, which was largely due to increased spending on refugees within the country, should be a top concern. Reverting back to 2015’s percentage or higher is a positive step Denmark can take, and such a move is all the more likely now as Denmark’s 2019 net migration was negative for the first time in almost a decade. As the country spends less on internal migrants, more of the Danish budget is available to supplement the once-highly-robust foreign aid sector.

One of the most effective ways developed governments can help to improve conditions in poverty-stricken nations is by properly funding and managing healthy foreign aid budgets. By taking Denmark’s example, more countries should seek to meet the U.N.’s 0.7% GNI target and implement this aid in a manner that best fits the needs of impoverished individuals in low-income countries.

– Calvin Melloh
Photo: Flickr

all-girls Afghan roboticsAs the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stretch across the globe, all areas of the world have been impacted in various capacities and have been approaching the virus in numerous ways. With growing numbers and many hospitals at full capacity, innovation and new technology become a much-needed crutch. In early March of 2020, the virus began to spread in Afghanistan and the cases steadily increased to almost 1,000 new cases in early June. As of December 2020, Afghanistan had more than 50,000 confirmed cases. Though the World Health Organization (WHO) had been providing personal protective equipment to Afghanistan since February 2020, there was still a strain on doctors and nurses who lacked sufficient resources to treat patients. An all-girls Afghan robotics team aims to reduce the strain on the healthcare system with a ventilator prototype.

The Afghan Dreamers

In June 2020, the demand for oxygen was higher than the supply and many doctors and hospitals expressed concerns about both costs and scarcity. An all-girls Afghan robotics team saw the severity of this issue and took action to attempt to combat this shortage and fight against COVID-19.

The “Afghan Dreamers” are a robotics team from Afghanistan comprised of all girls between the ages of 14 and 17. The group has reached impressive heights including winning a silver medal in 2017 for “courageous achievement” in an international robotics competition called the FIRST Global Robotics Competition in Washington D.C. In light of the pandemic and increasing ventilator prices, the Afghan Dreamers decided to utilize their skills to design effective and more low-cost ventilators to combat the lack of affordable oxygen in Afghanistan.

Ventilator Prototype

One prototype they produced was based on a model from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and another utilized car parts. The gear-based model based on designs from MIT is low-tech, meaning that it can be duplicated from machine parts that are more easily sourced and widely available. The team’s ventilator designs are estimated to cost around 200 to 300 dollars, which is a 99% decrease from the original cost of $30,000. If the prototype does get approved, the ventilators will be used for emergency cases when there are no alternatives.

Car Parts for Ventilator Model

The Afghan Dreamers faced many obstacles during the course of the building process. While in the middle of a pandemic, the girls were also fasting during the month of Ramadan. In addition, they also had to look for
ways to source materials efficiently and effectively, which led them to look at car parts as Toyota Corollas are a common car driven in Afghanistan. Despite these potential barriers, the all-girls Afghan robotics team was determined to continue researching and problem-solving all while trying to keep themselves safe and healthy.

The Afghan Dreamers: Breaking Barriers

In Afghanistan, as many as 85% of girls do not receive a proper education. Due to many cultural barriers and stigmas, girls typically do not engage in endeavors as ambitious as the Afghan Dreamers. The all-girls Afghan robotics team has changed the narrative for many girls and hope to continue to help others and achieve more in the future. While the COVID-19 pandemic crippled many across the world, it certainly served as a large source of motivation and inspiration for the Afghan Dreamers.

– Grace Wang
Photo: Flickr

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation ProgramOf the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the first one sets an ambitious target. To end poverty in all its forms, everywhere and to leave no one behind. One such organization embracing this challenge is Bangladesh’s BRAC. BRAC is one of the world’s largest nongovernmental development organizations founded in Bangladesh that has done a tremendous amount of work fighting extreme poverty in Bangladesh. BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program has seen success globally.

Poverty Progress in Bangladesh

Nestled between India and Myanmar in South Asia, Bangladesh has made enormous strides in combating extreme poverty in a relatively short amount of time. In a little over a decade, 25 million people were lifted out of poverty. Between 2010 and 2016, eight million people were lifted out of poverty in Bangladesh.

Although poverty rates were seeing a steady decrease, those living in extreme poverty in Bangladesh still lacked basic safety nets and support from NGO services.

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) Program

In 2002, BRAC introduced the innovative Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) program in an attempt to apply innovative approaches to solve extreme poverty in Bangladesh and across the globe.

The UPG program aims to provide long-term holistic support for those in extreme poverty to lift themselves out of poverty and graduate to a more resilient and sustainable life. This is done by addressing the social, economic and health needs of poor families while empowering them to learn new skills and better financial management.

BRAC believes that while traditional government interventions such as food aid and cash transfers are impactful and have a role to play, these benefits, unfortunately, remain out of reach for many in extreme poverty and are certainly not a long-term solution.

BRAC’s UPG program sets to build skill sets and assets to ensure families are equipped to become food secure, independent and achieve economical sustainability.

The Success of UPG Programs Globally

The program has found success inside and outside Bangladesh and has received praise and acknowledgment in some of the world’s most impoverished regions.

Take for example the country of South Sudan. From 2013 to 2015 BRAC piloted a project involving 240 women. The program provided support for the women to receive food stipends, asset transfers and various skills training that included financial and basic savings skills.

Shortly after the women received training and support, the South Sudanese Civil War escalated, ravaging the country and causing inflation and food shortages.

Despite these shocks, 97% of the 240 women were still able to increase their consumption thanks to the resources, assets and skills they obtained during the program. Also, their children were 53% less likely to be underweight and malnourished, compared to those who had not been in the program.

More Success in Afghanistan and Other Countries

Another example comes from Afghanistan, where a widowed woman in the Bamiyan province received a flock of sheep and training from BRAC. Since then, she has been able to generate enough income to feed her family, send her grandchildren to school,  sell additional products and save for the future.

From 2007 to 2014, a large-scale UPG program across Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan and Peru saw a 4.9% increase in household consumption, 13.6% increase in asset values and a 95.7% increase in savings pooled across all countries.

The success of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program can be clearly seen from the results. It is an innovative program that aims to end all poverty and leave no one behind and is successfully on its way to doing so.

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Afghanistan Afghanistan currently faces a large-scale human trafficking crisis that is rooted in centuries of abuse. Children and women are sold or kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery or armed forces. With the Afghani Government failing to properly protect victims and prosecute perpetrators, the U.S. Department of State and a network of NGOs are working to alleviate the problem.

The Systemic Issues

One of the major issues contributing to the human trafficking crisis within Afghanistan is the continued practice of bacha bazi, or “dancing boys”, in which sexual abuse against children is performed by adult men. Although technically illegal, the centuries-old custom has been proven hard to get rid of, with many government and security officials being complicit with its continuation.

The U.S. Department of State has declared Afghanistan Tier 3, the highest threat level, meaning that it does not meet the minimum requirements for combatting human trafficking and is not making a significant effort to do so.

This has a significant impact on Afghanistan because according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the United States will not provide nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related foreign assistance to a country that is ranked on Tier 3. According to the June 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, the use of child soldiers and bacha bazi has continued. Although there have been investigations and arrests made in an attempt to end bacha bazi, no police officers involved were prosecuted.

Addressing Human Trafficking in Afghanistan

The Afghani Government has shown efforts to end human trafficking within its borders. In 2019, it joined the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on a global initiative to stop human trafficking. This initiative aims to allocate resources to countries in the Middle East and Asia that need assistance in the battle against human trafficking.

USAID reported that in 2019,  Afghanistan increased the number of Child Protection Units within national police precincts, preventing the recruitment of 357 child soldiers. Furthermore, the National Child Protection Committee (NCPC) was created to respond to the practice of bacha bazi.

USAID has worked to assist the Afghani by training government officials to prosecute human traffickers and abusers as well as giving assistance to shelter workers that give legal and social resources to victims. It assisted in the creation of the Afghanistan Network in Combating Trafficking in Persons (ANCTIP), a network of Afghan NGOs that work with victims of human trafficking.

NGOs within the country have provided most of the assistance to victims of human trafficking. Approximately 27 women’s shelters in 20 provinces provided protection and care for female victims of trafficking. NGOs also operated two shelters for male victims under the age of 18.

Eradicating Human Trafficking

In order for Afghanistan to efficiently combat its human trafficking crisis and move to a lower tier level, Afghanistan needs to increase criminal investigations and prosecutions of suspected traffickers, especially in law enforcement and the military. Furthermore, traffickers must be convicted and adequately sentenced. This can be done by increasing the influence and powers of the NCPC and allowing the committee to remove public servants found practicing bacha bazi. Additional support from the country’s government must also be given to survivors of human trafficking. Only by rooting out the systemic abuse within the top institutions of the country can Afghanistan effectively address its human trafficking crisis.

– Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid efforts in AfghanistanAfghanistan’s evolution after two gruesome decades of immense adversity has caught the attention of countries all over the world. The South Asian nation has made breakthroughs in infrastructure, getting millions of girls in school and improving community development. Nonetheless, foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan are still crucial for the further development of the country.

Foreign Aid Skepticism and COVID-19

The world wants to see Afghanistan succeed, but despite willing donors, definitive complications hinder the level of aid that Afghanistan is severely reliant on. The imminent withdrawal of U.S. troops has caused violence from the Taliban to spike while pressures of long-awaited peace talks between the two powers unfold, making donors wary of sending money that could be wasted due to corruption based on past events.

On top of that, COVID-19 is running rampant and bruising economies all over the world, cutting aid efforts in half compared to previous years.

Afghanistan’s rooted systematic issues will continue to undermine any reconstruction and development efforts unless a clear and mindful plan is made that addresses the topical concerns affecting the nation and motions toward this kind of growth are beginning to come to fruition. There are several important facts to note about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

Cuts to US Forces Links to Cuts Toward Aid

To end the United States’ longest war, the Pentagon announced that a cut to U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 will be underway by mid-January 2021. This decision has already sparked vigilance and tensions between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, as there is a great concern that the Taliban will feel invited to expand its influence and interfere with hopes of peace and progress. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, urges that Afghans are in “acute need” of humanitarian support, stating that nearly 300,000 Afghans have been displaced by conflict in 2020.

Deadly attacks on Afghan forces show the Taliban’s intentions during a time where peace talks are being strained after months of stagnance and it has made donors feel uneasy about whether the Taliban could abuse any funding meant for aid. Even amongst suspicions, foreign donors like Germany are still showing support, urging the international community “not to turn their backs on Afghanistan.”

Ensuring Prosperity is an International Effort

After 19 years of promised reforms and attempts to grow the economy after the U.S. ousted the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan will still be reliant on international support for the foreseeable future. Ministers from about 70 countries and officials from humanitarian organizations have pledged a total of $12 billion to the war-torn country over the next four years, at Afghanistan’s international donor conference held on Nov. 23 and 24 of 2020.

Germany has pledged $510 million in civilian assistance, the United Kingdom pledged $227 million in civilian and food aid, Norway pledged $72 million in development assistance and humanitarian aid and the United States pledged $600 million in civilian aid but made half of it conditional on the progress of Taliban peace talks. The U.S. was not alone in donating with specific conditions. All donors stressed that aid would only come as long as Afghanistan shows that it is committed to the peace process and that all parties to the Afghan conflict must respect human rights.

COVID-19 Causes Donation Restraints

Afghanistan is one of many countries taking an economic plunge due to COVID-19. The poverty level jumped from 54% last year to 70% during the pandemic, with more than half the population living on $1.14 a day, despite the billions of dollars devoted to the country over the last two decades.

A global pandemic combined with fragile circumstances emphasizes the need for foreign aid in Afghanistan, but with the heavy burden of COVID-19, most international donors have made significant restrictions on how much they can give. At the last donor conference in 2016, countries pledged a total of $15.2 billion for the years 2017-2020 compared to the $12 billion for 2021-2024.

Past Corruption is Obstructing Development

The U.S. government’s independent oversight authority on Afghan reconstruction, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reported on October 20, 2021, that $19 billion of the total $63 billion that the U.S. has spent on Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2002 was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

With corruption forming such a stain on Afghanistan’s reputation and leaving remnants of distrust amongst potential donors, it is apparent why obtaining the necessary aid for growth and development has been such a hindrance for the war-torn country. That is why it is vital to ensure that future investments being made toward reconstruction are not lost and exploited.

Prospects for Peace

The Afghan government and the Taliban have endured a three-month impasse regarding peace talks that were finally brought to a close on November 2, 2020. The Afghan government and the Taliban are now expected to implement an agenda on how they can be partners in developmental changes and advancing realistic and sustainable peace plans.

As the world carefully watches the peace talks unfold, there is hope for a new start. Afghanistan is ready to transform into what it has envisioned for decades, and with realistic compromises set in place, there is an assurance that donors and the international community will feel less wary about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr