Water Crisis in the Middle East
Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan are among the bottom 10 countries when talking about access to clean water. Water is a primary necessity for human life. Without food the body can survive for up to three weeks, however, without clean water, the body will perish within three to four days, but not before going into shock and fading in and out of delirium. The water crisis in the Middle East is a serious problem now that ongoing conflicts in the region have only worsened.

Afghanistan

Of the three countries listed above, the water crisis in the Middle East affects Afghanistan the least. Despite that, Afghanistan is in the middle of the worst drought it has seen in the past 10 years. In addition, it cannot effectively distribute resources since 40 years of armed conflict following Soviet intervention in Afghanistan has ruined the country’s infrastructure. As a result, about 260,000 Afghani civilians living in extremely dry areas have had to leave their homes, making them refugees.

The drought has drained natural water sources such as the Kabul River Basin, the primary source of water for the nation’s capital. The established system for distributing water is no longer applicable, so civilians must draw water from unofficial wells. In Afghanistan, a country with over 35 million people, 87 percent of accessible water is polluted. Fortunately, India is providing assistance with the Afghan-India Friendship Dam on the Hari River. With further plans to build another dam on the Kabul River, Afghanistan will have water for irrigation and will not have to live with the threat of flash floods.

Syria

In 2006, a massive drought began that would displace tens of thousands of Syrian farmers. By 2011, there were over a million angry, unemployed former farmers in the country ready to fight in a violent civil war that would go on for years. If one said that the water crisis in the Middle East was the proverbial lit match in the powder keg, it would be inaccurate. One cannot, however, deny that it did fan the flames.

Now that tensions are dying down, Syrian civilians have little infrastructure to help provide them with water. Militant groups that occupy water plants and reservoirs hold monopolies on the water for entire regions. Oftentimes, these groups distribute water selectively to blackmail their enemies. Prior to the civil war that started in 2011, water allocation was already inequitable. President Bashar al-Assad allocated more water to fellow members of his particular sect of Islam. Now that Syria is rebuilding its infrastructure, there exists an opportunity to distribute water equally across the country in order to help prevent humanitarian disasters like this in the future.

Egypt

Even in the time of the pharaohs, Egypt has owed its life to the Nile. The Nile is the primary source of water for a country with rice as its number one agricultural export. Rice requires a great deal of water for cultivation and harvest. One kilo of rice needs about 3,000 liters of water. The water in the Nile now contains dead fish due to heavy metals from industrial pollution. Using heavily polluted water diminishes crop yields leading to a further strain on resources.

Egypt faces more than just a drop in the quality of water. As a result of the Blue Nile dam that Ethiopia built, Egypt is also concerned about the quantity of water. By building a hydroelectric dam on the Nile upstream from Egypt, Ethiopia is developing a power grid to reach 86 million Ethiopians living without electricity. Consequently, this will divert about a quarter of the Nile’s water away from Egypt. The Nile supplies 85 percent of Egypt’s fresh water. Egypt has the most to lose in the event of armed conflict breaking out because of its water scarcity, so it is now pushing for diplomatic and scientific solutions to the problem. Negotiating with Ethiopia to share in the dam’s benefits and investments in desalination technology is helping to alleviate the water crisis.

The water crisis in the Middle East is serious and requires much work to alleviate the problem. Through the building of better infrastructure, however, Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan should be able to improve.

– Nicholas Smith
Photo: Flickr

peace and stability in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. The government estimates that 43.6 percent of the country’s total population in rural areas lives below the national poverty line. According to the latest United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs data, about 2.9 million Afghans are internally displaced, 22 percent of whom fled their homes in 2016 alone.

Despite improvements over the past decade, Afghanistan, maintains the lowest educational outcomes in South Asia. The country continues to lag in average educational attainment compared to other low-income and fragile countries. Moreover, girls fall further behind in educational outcomes. As of 2013-14, only 20.3 percent of Afghan women above the age of 15 are literate. The major cause of poverty and the lag in primary education in Afghanistan is the ongoing conflict that has lasted for over three decades.

Instability and Conflicts in Afghanistan

Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, the country endured many conflicts that stunted its ability to prosper and improve. For the past 20 years, the Taliban government became the leading cause of poverty and the prevention of peace and stability for Afghanistan.

After the refusal to turn in terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden to the United States after the 9/11 attacks, the extremist military organization joined countless conflicts with the U.S. whilst refusing any ethical attempts toward peace. Nevertheless, many provided aid to the Afghan people and looked for a peaceful solution.

At the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit and at the donors’ conference on Afghanistan in Brussels in 2016, Afghanistan received reassurances of continued international assistance for its security and development needs. The United Nations is part of this group of leaders as it deployed a team in the ground called the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). UNAMA, which Afghanistan leads, promotes security, stability and development in Afghanistan. It looks forward to peace negotiations between the Afghan Government and armed opposition groups.

USAID is another organization that works toward peace and stability for Afghanistan. The agency provided food security by implementing an agriculture program that increased agricultural productivity and rural employment. It also provided access to a healthier lifestyle for Afghans by getting health care professionals and introducing people to healthier habits. The ability to build roads, schools and clinics is a huge step toward peace and stability for Afghanistan. USAID is helping make Afghanistan a better place for younger generations.

The Afghan Institute of Learning

The Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) shares in USAID’s goals and made great strides toward a sustainable future for children. The AIL helps local people set up centers of learning and provides high-quality teacher training and administrative skills training so these centers can thrive. The centers give the Afghan people the opportunity to have literacy skills. Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, currently estimated at 31 percent of the adult population. AIL addresses this issue by giving children education from preschool and having discussions with adults about current world problems. Children who study at AIL’s learning centers joined government schools at age-appropriate grade levels. Gaining literacy is life-changing for adults and children who often go on to study other subjects increasing their capacity to support themselves.

Many other organizations are addressing the increasing poverty rates and helping toward achieving peace and stability for Afghanistan. As the Afghan government and other international governments involve themselves, there is hope for Afghan people.

Andrea Viera
Photo: Flickr

Bacha Posh girls Afghanistan’s patriarchal society forces parents to make tough decisions as daughters are viewed as a burden while sons can earn money, care for their aging parents, and carry on the family legacy. To counter economic dependency on males and social stigma surrounding daughters, some Afghan families practice “bacha posh,” a centuries-old tradition reassigning their daughter’s gender at birth, which allows girls to experience the same freedom as boys.

Bacha posh girls are raised as sons. They dress in boys’ clothes and may go outside alone, bring their siblings from school, go shopping, and play a sport. These girls act as sons and do what the sons would do. While the roots of the tradition are unknown, it is becoming increasingly practiced.

Life For Girls In Afghanistan

Afghanistan is one of the most challenging countries to live in as a woman. Eighty-five percent of Afghan women have no formal education or are illiterate, 50 percent are married or engaged by the age of 12 and 60 percent are married by 16. Three decades of war have led to increased risk of rape and kidnapping of females which has prompted families to force child marriage. Some are forced into marriage to settle a dispute or repay a debt. Many men were killed in armed conflict, leaving the child brides as widows. Most young widows have four children to support and are often forced to beg or participate in prostitution. Child marriage increases the risk of health problems and death because of childbirth in the teenage years. Young wives are also more likely to be abused by their older husbands. Females also have lower legal standing and fewer economic opportunities. Women are hidden from society unless accompanied by a male relative and fully covered.

Widespread poverty encourages families to get their daughters married to avoid having to care for them. Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations in the world with 42 percent of both urban and rural populations living below the national poverty line. An additional 20 percent are at risk of falling into poverty.

Bacha Posh Girls

In poverty-stricken families, bacha posh becomes a normal thing to do. Because boys have a higher status, they are more desirable. The tradition allows families to avoid social stigma affiliated with not having any male children by enabling their daughters to take on the role of a boy in society.

Life for bacha posh girls becomes difficult as puberty reveals their biological gender. The girls often face harassment, risks to their safety, humiliation, and separation from their communities. Others call them transsexuals and Anti-Islamic. Some girls even stop going to school because of the harassment. Families also want their girls to start dressing and behaving like women during puberty, but bacha posh girls do not want to live as a woman in a country that gives them little possibility after experiencing the freedom of males.

Women for Afghan Women, an Afghanistan advocacy group, sees at least two bacha posh girls’ cases at its women shelters throughout the country each year. Most girls, between the ages of 14 – 18, are struggling emotionally, mentally and financially.

NGOs and Government Organizations Leading the Fight

USAID has had direct involvement in Afghanistan’s moves toward gender equality. While the problem of gender inequality remains, there have been positive strides in women’s health and education. Over the past 15 years, the life expectancy for a female in the Middle Eastern nation has “increased from 47 years old to over 60.” Female education has also seen a spike as 3.5 million girls are in school, and 100,000 attend university. USAID aims to continue to develop gender equality by assisting Afghan girls through programs offering support for survivors of sex trafficking, increasing educational opportunities, assisting female entrepreneurs with economic growth and infrastructure, and partnering with the Afghan government to focus on women’s rights.

Mullahs and volunteers from the United Nations have partnered together to travel throughout Afghanistan to conquer cultural and social norms to work towards gender equality in both rural and urban regions. The advocacy groups travel around the country in hopes to eliminate violence against women, increase female access to healthcare and education, and economic equality for women. Volunteers from the UN are working to strengthen the Enhancing Gender Equality and Mainstreaming in Afghanistan which hopes to bolster the Ministry of Women Affairs.

– Gwen Shemm
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Child Labor in Afghanistan
Child labor is prevalent in Afghanistan partly due to the quarrelsome war between its government and the Taliban. The country remains one of the poorest in the world where corruption and greed riddle workplaces. Children work long hours and in servile ways to provide goods for their families. It is the only way they are able to survive in an environment marked by poor conditions and minimal social opportunities. Below are 10 facts about child labor in Afghanistan.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Afghanistan

  1. The Motivation for Child Labor: A quarter of kids between the ages of 5 and 14 in the country suffer the burden of working in jobs that are hazardous to their health and well being. The main reason kids work is to help their families survive economically and bring food to the table.
  2. Types of Labor: Children work in many dangerous jobs, such as metal workers, tinsmiths, welders, miners, in the carpet industry and street vendors where the hours are long and the pay is not favorable. One of the jobs that children most fear is bonded labor where they work in brick kilns. Bosses force the children to owe a debt and it becomes insurmountable. The salary children earn is not enough to help them and their families afford a daily meal.
  3. Minimum Employment Age: Afghanistan’s labor law states that the minimum employment age is 18 and prohibits children under 14 from working. Children between the ages of 15 and 17 can work in jobs that express vocational training where the environment is not harmful. The hazardous conditions children must go through at work violates the country’s labor laws.
  4. Limited Enforcement of Labor Laws: According to the Human Rights Watch, the labor law was due for an overhaul to meet international standards, but the government abated its plans to do so. This further interfered with the notion of a child-labor-free country. The safety of children is in jeopardy because the government has not enforced the prohibition against child labor. Children working in prohibited and dangerous jobs go unnoticed as a result of the government’s lack of capacity to inspect workplaces.
  5. Terrorist Groups: Every day, the country’s ongoing war makes matters worse by forcing children to live in constant fear. Various cities in Afghanistan become targets for terrorist groups on a daily basis. Children are at high risk of armed groups abducting them as well as being vulnerable to spontaneous attacks. Armed groups recruit children for use in an armed conflict where many of them face serious injuries, psychological damage and death. In 2018, the country’s government opened a juvenile rehabilitation center for kids formally involved in an armed conflict where it served 34 children.
  6. A Barrier to Education: According to Afghanistan’s Central Statistics, 55 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty. Illiteracy occurs because of the country’s high poverty level where many parents are not able to afford the prices for their children’s education. Around 3.7 million kids between the ages of 7 and 17 do not attend school, and 60 percent of them are girls. Children lose the opportunity to go to school because they need to work long hours in order to make a living and provide for their families’ basic needs. Armed groups constantly target school buildings to use as training grounds, leaving many kids in fear of attending classes.
  7. Girls Education: There is a very low enrollment rate for girls due to the lack of female teachers in Afghanistan. The education system is flawed and only 48 percent of teachers in the country possess minimum academic qualifications. Many schools lack the proper sanitation facilities needed to encourage girls to enroll and only 16 percent of schools in the country are all-girls.
  8. Girls’ Access to Teacher’s Education: To improve conditions, Girls’ Access to Teacher’s Education, a UNICEF supported program, offers a training course to female students in high-school who want to become teachers. UNICEF supported 5,300 community-based schools and accelerated learning centers in 2018, where children learn critical life skills and basic literacy and numeracy skills. As a result, 150,000 students, more than half of them girls, benefited from the organization’s well-doing. In addition, UNICEF worked with the Ministry of Education to provide hand washing stations, safe drinking water and menstrual hygiene curricula to various schools in the country.
  9. Dangers of Migration: Many children flee Afghanistan as a result of the violence and poverty that plague the country. Some kids go to Iran where they continue to work in hazardous environments. They do not attend school. Returnees are vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups and traffickers.
  10. Displacement Due to Natural Occurences: Displacement of populations is a constant occurrence in the country and a major cause of child labor. It is also a reason why poverty remains persistent. Natural occurrences such as floods force families to leave their communities and start a new life. In 2018, a displacement of 266,000 people in the northern and western parts of Afghanistan came as a result of severe drought, further perpetuating child labor along with the selling of daughters for marriage.

The 10 facts about child labor in Afghanistan above demonstrate how the country is in a state of crisis due to high poverty levels among the population. Child labor remains a main obstacle that people around the world need to be aware of in order to make a difference. Afghanistan’s current war only adds to the challenge. However, organizations like UNICEF are working hard to fix the issue and inspire economic progress.

– Eduardo Hernandez
Photo: Flickr

Internet Access in Afghanistan

One of the biggest issues facing developing countries is stunted infrastructure. Many developing countries lack the funds and institutions necessary to efficiently carry out mass infrastructure revamps that would connect all parts of these countries and enable more people to get safer, better-paying jobs. Of course, for developing countries like Afghanistan, this type of development also includes internet access as well. Internet access is so critical for long-term growth that the United Nations even listed it as a key outcome under its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Importance of Internet Access to Development

A lack of internet access can be stifling for economic growth in any country. Many international businesses are unwilling or hesitant to invest in countries that have no broadband connection. In this era, the internet is the medium through which many interactions essential for economic progress take place, such as:

  • Potential higher-paying employers can contact and hire employees.
  • Students can take classes, study, and turn in assignments.
  • Workers can unionize.
  • Citizens can keep educated about international events and help keep their representatives accountable.

However, this staple of modern development is widely not available to those who live in impoverished countries. Lack of internet access is especially a problem in the Middle East, as not only does terrain stifle modern development, but extremist groups like the Taliban oppose it as well. Afghanistan is one of these countries, as only about 17.6 percent of the population has access to the internet. The broadband that the population has access to costs about $80 per month for 1 Megabit per second (Mbps), making broadband access unaffordable for much of the population that has a Gross Net Income (GNI) per capita of $570.

Progress: Internet Access in Afghanistan

The good news is that there have been significant improvements within the past 10 years in Afghanistan’s internet infrastructure. In 2013, only 5.9 percent of the population had internet access, this means Afghanistani people have seen triple inaccessibility in just six years. Afghanistan now has a rather intensive fiber optics network laid down in 25 of its provinces with assistance from its neighboring countries, mainly Pakistan, as well as some international organizations like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Due to these coordinated efforts, there are more than 8.7 million people using the internet in Afghanistan today. This number is expected to increase with de-escalation of the conflict in the region and further diplomatic talks with Afghanistan’s hegemonic neighbor China with plans to coordinate infrastructure development.

Internet access in Afghanistan still has a long way to go before it is considered comparable to any developed country, due in part to political, economic, social and even geographic reasons. Even so, the Chairman of Afghan Telecom Gul Aryobee remains optimistic about the prospect of further development in the Information Technology sector since the country has already seen such rapid improvements in less than a decade. He recognizes all the challenges that the internet in Afghanistan faces, but he remains strong in his conviction to meet the SDGs set by the United Nations and fully believes Afghanistan has the potential to develop exponentially with the continued assistance of other countries and international organizations.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Flickr

 

Poverty in Afghanistan
Afghanistan continues to be a major focus of U.S. foreign policy. Yet while there are hundreds of news articles about the country’s politics, there is less information about the country’s people. Below are 15 facts about poverty in Afghanistan to provide insight into problems Afghanistan’s poorest citizens face every day.

15 Facts About Poverty in Afghanistan

  1. About 90 percent of Afghans struggle to live on current income: Over the past decade, poverty in Afghanistan has risen to record-breaking heights. From 2008 to 2018, the number of Afghans reporting that their current income was insufficient to support their family grew from 60 percent to 90 percent. Keep this number in mind when reading the other 15 facts about poverty in Afghanistan. These facts apply to 90 percent of the country’s citizens.
  2. Well-being is at global record lows: Poverty not only affects people economically or physically – there is an emotional toll as well. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, only 36 percent of Afghans said that they smiled or laughed the previous day. When asked to rate their lives on a scale of 0 (worst) to 10 (best), Afghan citizen responses averaged 2.7. Most recently, in 2016, Afghan citizen responses on the same question averaged 4.2.
  3. Education has become a luxury for children: A 2018 U.N. report noted that more than 2 million children aged 6-14 worked to support their families. With an average of 58 percent of Afghan families unable to afford food, full-time work becomes a higher priority than education. In February 2019, UNICEF, the U.N. and the government of Afghanistan launched a long-term education response program projected to help half a million children in the country. The program hopes to raise an additional $35 million within the next year to help support education infrastructure and secure teachers, supplies and similar needs for schools across the entire country.
  4. Undereducated Afghan citizens are the most vulnerable: Undereducated citizens suffer the most during economic downturns in Afghanistan, with an unemployment rate of 8 percent and underemployment (employed, but unable to cover living costs) of 41 percent. With the difficulty of getting an education, the cycle of poverty continues for many families.
  5. Armed conflict is the top reason for poverty: Poverty in Afghanistan is directly linked to increases and decreases in Taliban control in the country. When the Taliban increased influence in Afghanistan between 2012 and 2017, the number of citizens living in poverty increased from 38 percent to 55 percent. The World Bank believes that political settlement with the Taliban would be an important step forward to attract the return of capital and skilled workers from overseas.
  6. Youth migration is a problem: Since 2015, about 146,000 young Afghan workers moved to Europe per year in hopes of starting a better life. The government still struggles to keep young people in the country and implemented a 2015 initiative to help the 700,000 entrants into the Afghan workforce find jobs. However, the program was unsuccessful in generating enough funding to make an impact.
  7. And so is displacement: In 2018 more than 550,000 new Afghan citizens were displaced by conflict and drought. Between displacement and a dwindling young professional population, it is difficult for Afghanistan to keep skilled workers to further its economy.
  8. Government corruption fuels the fire: The economy in Afghanistan grew only 2 percent in 2018. The World Bank reports that the sluggish economy is a direct result of government corruption. This means aid to struggling areas is often delayed or never arrives and economic growth benefits only the country’s highest elite (and former warlords).
  9. Iran affects Afghanistan’s poverty: Approximately 2.5 to 3 million Afghans left home to pursue better economic opportunities in Iran. These migrants have been a vital part of the economy as they send their Iranian wages home to their families. Unfortunately, as the Iranian economy has crashed, so have the available wages. The rial lost approximately 70 percent of its value, drastically decreasing the ability of workers to support their families back home.
  10. Programs struggle with a lack of information: Due to conflicts and a lack of resources, it has been 40 years since the Afghan government has been able to conduct a proper census or any similar survey of the population. This makes planning and poverty initiatives difficult, as there is no data available to support decisions on where to invest aid.
  11. Afghanistan ran on an “artificial” economy: From 2011 to 2014 Afghanistan had an artificial economy, meaning that economic growth and development were wholly reliant on external foreign aid with little to no internal input. With foreign aid and troops dropping after 2014, the country has struggled to reignite its economy.
  12. Research gives hope: The World Bank implemented a test-program in 2015 to help improve economic outcomes for poor citizens. The program provided households in the Balkh province with a temporary stipend and financial coaching. The results showed a 20 percent decrease in the number of households below the national poverty line, a 30 percent increase in consumption, a 17 percent decrease in depression among women and a 53 percent reduction in debt. The World Bank published these findings in 2019, providing the first-ever evidence of similar targeted programs for poor areas in conflict regions.
  13. Trends predict further growth: Based on current trends, the World Bank believes there is hope for further economic growth in Afghanistan. The 2019 World Bank assessment of Afghanistan confirmed prospects are looking positive for Afghanistan, with a projected 2.5 percent growth in 2019 and up to 3.5 percent growth in 2021.
  14. Continued aid is critical: As of 2019, grants support more than 75 percent of Afghanistan’s public expenditures. The U.N. humanitarian workers warn that the withdrawal of aid to Afghanistan could derail the slow but steady growth the country has experienced since 2001.
  15. The 2020 aid package is under congressional review right now: The Department of State and USAID have requested approximately $532.8 million in aid for the financial year 2020. At the time of writing, this request has not yet been approved.

There are tangible issues that fuel poverty, and these 15 facts about poverty in Afghanistan represent only a part of the complex issues the country’s economy faces. Remember that a country is more than just its politics – it is made up of people. We can help people through our actions and reduce the suffering of millions of Afghan citizens.

Melanie Rasmussen
Photo: Flickr

Curing Polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan
In 1988, polio existed in more than 100 countries and infected close to 1,000 children daily. Due to advocacy efforts and the implementation of preventable vaccinations, cases of polio have significantly dropped at a rate of 99 percent. In 1988, about 350,000 children had polio while statistics indicated that in 2017, only 22 documented illnesses existed. However, children are still struggling as Pakistan and Afghanistan attempt to eliminate polio their countries.

Children are most vulnerable to contracting polio between birth and age five. One in 200 contagions result in irreparable paralysis, most commonly in the legs; five to 10 percent of those infected die from this disease due to the disabling of their breathing muscles.

Most children that are living with polio do not experience manifestations; however, polluted water and food can still spread the disease. Polio is preventable through several doses of vaccinations, but there is no treatment.

Modernized Vaccines to Prevent Polio

In 2013, all countries began to implement one dose of the new vaccines and terminate the use of the oral vaccines by 2018, which the Polio Eradication & Endgame Strategic Plan instructed.

In order to eliminate polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan is terminating the administrations of oral vaccines which only protected against type 2 of the virus; instead, Afghanistan and Pakistan are implementing doses of the inactivated polio vaccine, which should be more effective in preventing the disease as it prevents all three types of polio. The modern vaccine can also enhance immunity and inhibit further epidemics of polio.

Efforts to Eliminate Polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan

In 2018, The Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan partnered with UNICEF and The World Health Organization to initiate the country’s third nation-wide polio vaccination campaign. Nearly 9.9 million children below age five received the vaccination.

Regions such as Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul contained nearly 1.2 million children who did not have access to the vaccine. However, this past program and future programs will ensure that these children can also receive the necessary dosages.

Vaccinated children also received Vitamin A capsules to strengthen their immunity and decrease diarrhea. This also strengthened their immune systems from respiratory infections. Immunity can increase their chances of survival by nearly 24 percent. Nearly 70,000 health workers visited every household to administer vaccinations. This was to ensure that other children received the preventable medication as well. Because polio is contagious, each family’s chances of surpassing the disease increases if every child receives a vaccination.

In Pakistan, the number of polio infections is at a low rate. Further, improved immunity has also begun to increase. While this country has made progress in battling polio, many children have not received the preventable vaccines in high-risk areas. Therefore, Pakistan has begun to implement various solutions such as customized vaccines. Additionally, the country has partnered with the Emergency Operations Centers to administer effective prevention techniques.

Polio is most common in Karachi as well as the federally administered tribal areas, the Quetta block and the Khyber-Peshawar corridor. While the disease is highly present in these areas, other areas nationwide are susceptible to contracting the virus due to travel and migration.

The Partnership Between Pakistan and Afghanistan

To eliminate polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two nations plan on partnering to identify children who are vulnerable to the disease and provide vaccinations, while also administering health campaigns to promote advocacy about the prevention of polio. Environmental surveillance has discovered the presence of polio. This serves as evidence that children with weaker immune systems are present in these areas. Consequently, this enables the disease to grow and infect other children.

– Diana Dopheide

Photo: Flickr

Women in Peace and Security

In mid-June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to discuss the importance of women in peace and security, a follow-up to the Women, Peace, and Security Act (WPS) passed in 2017. This particular hearing responds to the recently published White House Strategy that sets various objectives and goals to diversify the roles women play in the peace process and increase women’s leadership by providing them with the resources, skills, and support needed to secure successful peace agreements.

The members of the committee, as well as the testimonies, emphasized the opportunity to put these plans into immediate action in Afghanistan. The U.S. has committed to peace negotiations with the Taliban but each agreement has failed due to miscommunication, stalemates, or other political reasons. Palwasha Kakar, Senior Program Officer for the U.S. Institute of Peace, stated that including Afghan women in peace and security negotiations is essential to the success and sustainability of peace and recovery in Afghanistan.

Women in Afghanistan

The Taliban government of Afghanistan held power from 1996 to 2001, during which Afghan women were stripped of natural rights–they were prevented from obtaining an education and job, showing skin in public and leaving the house without a male chaperone. Rape and violence against women were widespread until U.S. military action overthrew the regime. A driving factor of U.S. intervention 18 years ago was to protect Afghan women from threats and actions against their human rights. Despite the tremendous gains women have achieved in political, economic and social life since 2001, women still struggle to have a seat at the peace talk table.

However, Afghan women have found ways to participate at a local level. Women have brokered local deals by negotiating directly with Taliban leaders; for example, Afghan women’s communication with the wives of the Taliban helped facilitate the release of hostages several times. Second, Afghan women use their access to information to act as informants for the U.S. and its partners. Third, Afghan women mobilize the public by increasing public awareness and support for the peace process. Fourth, Afghan women have mobilized support across various ethnic lines to push for a unified commitment to equal rights for all Afghan citizens.

Impact of Women on the Peace Process

On a local level, Afghan women in peace and security positions have made significant achievements for Afghanistan and its cities. However, on a global level, women were only included in two out of 23 rounds of negotiations with the Taliban between 2005 and 2014. Yet research shows that women are a necessary asset at the negotiation table. When women are involved in peace agreements, they are 64 percent less likely to fail and 35 percent more likely to last more than 15 years. In her testimonial, Jamille Bigio argues that women in peace and security negotiations are more likely to deescalate tensions and stabilize their communities. Therefore, closing the gender gap will improve a country’s conditions.

Four Focus Areas Outlined in the WPS Strategy

The outcome of this hearing suggests that women’s participation in Afghanistan is essential to create a stable and sustainable agreement. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to simultaneously use and revise the following four goals from the WPS Strategy to encourage multi-agency resources and support for women’s participation in Afghanistan peace talks.

  1.  “Seek and support the preparation and meaningful participation of women around the world in decision-making processes related to conflict and crises.”
  2. Three activities to support this goal includes: Incentivizing women to participate in security-sector programs that train foreign nationals in male-dominated courses, integrating local women’s interests into conflict prevention and resolution, and leading by example by increasing American women participation and making local women partners.
  3. “Promote the protection of women and girls’ human rights; access to humanitarian assistance; and safety from violence, abuse, and exploitation around the world.”
  4. Women are often the targets of violence, and therefore experience unique consequences of conflict. To increase the role of women in peace and security, the U.S. must identify and eliminate obstacles that generate sex-based discrimination and gender-based violence and include medical care and psycho-social support for women as part of humanitarian aid.
  5. “Adjust U.S. international programs to improve outcomes in equality for, and the empowerment of, women.”
  6. Train U.S. diplomats, military and development personnel on the needs and perspectives of women to increase their ability to prevent and mediate violence and support the involvement of women in peace and security negotiations.
  7. “Encourage partner governments to adopt policies, plans, and capacity to improve the meaningful participation of women in processes connected to peace and security and decision-making institutions.”

Women peacekeepers receive more trust from their communities and therefore have more power to increase participation among other women. Further, research shows that women are more likely to address social issues during negotiations, which helps communities recover. Women’s participation increases the likelihood of reaching a sustainable agreement.

Women are essential for achieving peace and security in Afghanistan, and vice versa. The U.S. is more likely to bring peace to a hostile environment with women’s participation. As Sen. Tim Kaine said at the hearing, “We [U.S] have incredible power to give people hope and inspiration, and I hope we will continue to do it. And I think there’s a lot of women in the world who really have grown to count on us during the years, and I hope we don’t let them down.”

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

The International Development Association
The International Development Association (IDA) is one of five institutions that work together to form the World Bank. The IDA’s main goal is to reduce global poverty by working alongside the world’s poorest countries. To accomplish this goal, the IDA issues grants and loans to development programs in impoverished countries. These development programs try to spur economic growth and improve living standards. Currently, the IDA involves itself in a plethora of projects around the world. In the fiscal year 2018, the IDA began 206 new operations.

How the IDA Works

The IDA has managed to raise $369 billion since 1960 to aid underdeveloped regions and it invested all of the money into various development projects. The IDA was able to accomplish this through communication with partner countries and contributions from wealthier nations.

Donor governments meet with receiving countries to discuss funding and a repayment plan and ensure that the development project is feasible and will be successful. The IDA releases reports from these meetings, which publicly allows anyone to learn about the organization’s future projects. The IDA also frequently consults think tanks and civil society organizations to receive feedback on their work. On top of all of this, the IDA reviews a country’s economy and recent history to determine whether it is eligible for a development project. After completing each of these steps, the IDA can determine how to allocate resources appropriately and effectively.

The International Development Association’s Work in Action

The International Development Association continues to change the lives of millions every year. In 2019, farmers in Ethiopia reaped the benefits of the Second Agricultural Growth Project (AGPII). The AGPII aims to improve agricultural efficiency and productivity in Ethiopia by teaching farmers about agriculture, improving irrigation systems and providing fertilizer. The AGPII also helps farmers access new markets which help raise their incomes. Thanks to the AGPII, one farmer increased her potato production by 400 percent and another was successful enough that they could start a family.

Improvements like the ones in Ethiopia are the norm for IDA projects and not rare. For example, in Madagascar, the IDA funded a program titled the productive cash-for-work program (ACTP) in 2015. Since then, many economically vulnerable communities have been able to improve their lives and take advantage of new economic opportunities. The ACTP provides money and training to impoverished people in exchange for work. The program has helped 31,250 households so far and has aided in the creation of small businesses.

IDA funding has had similar effects in other countries. From 2013-2018 new roads in Afghanistan helped create over two million new jobs. In the Gambia, an agricultural project doubled rice yields between 2014 and 2018. Meanwhile, in Kenya, three million people benefited from infrastructure improvements. Overall, between the fiscal year 2011 and 2018, IDA projects led to the building and repairing of more than 140,000 kilometers of roads, the gaining of clean water access for 86 million people and the immunization of 274 million children.

The International Development Association is crucial to global poverty reduction. The IDA has created a system to ensure that the world’s poorest countries receive an appropriate amount of funding and support for future social and economic development. The results speak for themselves as the IDA has changed many people’s lives for the better.

– Nick Umlauf
Photo: Flickr

Women War and Peace
When resolving conflict in the face of war, women are noticeably absent. Throughout history, however, women have occupied important roles during wartime, including as soldiers, politicians, factory workers and even baseball players. People often exclude women and under-represent them among the governmental and conflict-resolution side of the war. Between 1990 and 2017, 92 percent of all peace negotiators were male. Accordingly, the perspectives and interests of women are disproportionately missing, even when war affects women just as much, if not more than men.

Evidence suggests that including women in peace negotiations significantly reduces the presence of violence and aids in bringing peace. Some evidence goes so far as to say that when others include women in negotiation, there is a 70 percent chance that peace will stay for 20 years, compared to a 25 percent chance if only men participate in the conversation.

The “Women, War and Peace” Docuseries

“Women, War and Peace” is a docuseries that began with the idea that when women are part of peace processes, the outcome is often more peaceful for a longer period of time.

Produced by Abigail Disney and a team of all-female executives, the first season of “Women, War and Peace,” which first premiered in 2011, follows female peace negotiators in Afghanistan, Liberia and Northern Ireland. With tactics ranging from sit-ins, mass rallies and negotiating around a table, despite challenges and doubts of their legitimacy, the women attempted to convince leaders of their worth and usefulness in wartime proceedings.

Season two, which premiered in 2019, follows the stories of women in Gaza, Haiti and Egypt. In one episode, directors Geeta Ganbhir and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy told the story of one of the only all-female peacekeeping units in the world. One hundred and sixty Bangladeshi women traveled to Haiti following the 2011 earthquake where they encountered devastating poverty and ravaged health care systems and attempted to stabilize peace in the country. Another episode followed three Egyptian women in the height of the Arab Spring, struggling to restore peace in the crosshairs of the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.

What Disney Hopes the Docuseries Achieves

In addition to the general public, people use the series for educational purposes, teaching women and all individuals about political advocacy, female empowerment and gender equality. Most of all, the docuseries is a look into the realities of war.

In an interview for Women and Hollywood, the interviewer asked Abigail Disney what she would like viewers to take away from “Women, War and Peace.” She responded, “I would love people to take a moment and ask themselves what they understand about war. What do they believe happens in war, and what is war about to them?” “Women, War and Peace” is a look at war through the perspectives people usually ignore. Disney and the production team of the docuseries aim to dispel the heroism and nobility that many perceive in war through movies, stories and myths. Rather, through the eyes of women working towards peace, viewers of the docuseries see what victims of wartime see. In Disney’s words, the “high-minded view of war” is impossible “through a woman’s eyes.”

– Orly Golub
Photo: Flickr