Helping Hand“My favorite part of Helping Hand packing days is seeing everyone work together. The entire group helps each other with deciding which category an item should go into and where to find that category’s box.” In an interview with The Borgen Project, Bisma Ahmed talked about her experience participating in the packing events organized by Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD). “It makes me feel great knowing that children in need across the world will be wearing the very clothes I am packing.”

Helping Hand for Relief and Development

Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) is a nonprofit organization that fights global poverty by improving access to clean water, feeding the hungry, providing healthcare and rebuilding places affected by natural disasters. In addition to emergency relief, it also has long-term development programs. These include efforts to promote education and literacy, orphan support campaigns and rehabilitation and disability programs. In the 15 years that it has been in service, Helping Hand has worked in more than 85 countries across the globe.

Focusing on the Vulnerabilities of Asia and Africa

The main areas that Helping Hand addresses are countries in Asia and Africa as most of the 689 million people living below the poverty line are in these two continents. A few notable countries that have benefited from Helping Hand’s work include Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Somalia, Tunisia, Kenya and Haiti. The organization also provides benefits to refugees including the refugees of Rohingya, Syria and Palestine.

In 2019, through the long-term empowerment program, Helping Hand assisted 6,140 vulnerable people with skills development training in Pakistan, Jordan, Afghanistan and Kenya. In 16 different countries, 19,100 children, including orphans and refugees, received an education through Helping Hand scholarships and education programs. The organization also provided daily healthcare to 160,900 Rohingya refugees and benefited 1.2 million people through its water, hygiene and sanitation programs.

The organization’s recent campaigns include the Beirut Relief Fund, the HHRD COVID-19 Crisis Response, and most recently, Global Winter Revisions, a campaign allowing donors to send winter packages to places where they are needed most.

Packing Day: The Mid-Atlantic Region

Every year, the U.S. regions of Helping Hand set a goal for how many containers of clothes to send as aid overseas. The 2020 goal was to send 10 40-foot containers.

Now and then, the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region of Helping Hand has packing days where volunteers come together and sort donated clothes for shipment to the needy all around the world. Naveed Ahmed, the regional manager for Helping Hand’s Mid-Atlantic area, explained the benefit of the Helping Hand packing days. “The purpose is many, in my opinion. We’re engaging the local community and we’re opening our doors to show what Helping Hand is all about.” According to Naveed Ahmed, most of the success of the packing days comes from the organization’s personal connections with local donors, including large businesses and companies.

Helping Hand packing days have been going on in all of its U.S. regions since its founding in 2005. In 2019 alone, the $55 million worth of clothing items or in-kind gifts benefited 12 million people in 10 different countries.

The clothing items go wherever the team believes the need is. Helping Hand holds offices in Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Haiti and Kenya, making the organization fully part of the clothes distribution process. The teams in those areas inform the U.S. national team of the amount and types of clothing that are needed. The U.S. regions then start collecting, packing and sending the clothes out.

Typically, the packing events surround a specific global issue or national relevance. For example, the last packing event that the Mid-Atlantic region had was for Giving Tuesday. The packed donations went toward the Helping Hand Winter Relief Campaign. A week later, they had another packing event, this time dedicated to loading the boxes into the containers.

Packing for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The Mid-Atlantic region has a packing day for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January. “We usually like to have a day of service on that day,” Naveed Ahmed said. “Usually, students and volunteers from all over the state will come out and be part of the packing day. It is a great day to show appreciation to a great leader like MLK and for us all to do the part of service he and many others have done over decades.”

The efforts of Helping Hand give hope for the future, ensuring that the lives of struggling people around the world are made a little easier.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in AsiaAs of 2019, there were 5.8 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Asia. Of that 5.8 million, only 75% were aware of their status. HIV/AIDS in Asia is a growing problem for which there is no one solution. However, there is region-specific work being done to combat the crisis.

GreenShoots Foundation

GreenShoots Foundation is a London-based charity founded in 2010. For a decade now, it has been supporting people living with HIV/AIDS and working to alleviate poverty. It takes on international development with a holistic approach through three programs that are active in six countries across Asia.

The Education Loans & Social Entrepreneurship program aims to support children’s education in India. In the Philippines and Cambodia, the Food, Agriculture & Social Entrepreneurship program is bolstering rural economies by promoting sustainable farming as well as sustainable business practices. The Medical Assistance & Medical Education (MAME) program, which is active in Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam and Myanmar, is improving the lives of those with HIV/AIDS.

Medical Assistance & Medical Education (MAME)

The objective of the MAME program is to fight HIV/AIDS and other diseases that pose a threat to public health. It helps by providing greater access to treatment plans and equipping local healthcare workers with the knowledge they need to help people living with HIV/AIDS.

In Kyrgyzstan, the HIV infection rate has risen 21% since 2010. GreenShoots Foundation is working with the Kyrgyz National Infection Control Centre to provide local organizations with medical knowledge about HIV/AIDS through workshops and internships. It is also making efforts to change public opinion so that people living with HIV/AIDS in Kyrgyzstan are not stigmatized and know what resources are available to them. It has already trained 45 medical staff and 130 students, as well as impacted 350 patients directly.

What began as a health concern for sex workers and drug users in Vietnam has since grown to become a nationwide issue. While deaths related to HIV/AIDS have dropped 45% since 2010, there were still nearly 5,000 Vietnamese people who passed away from the disease in 2018. So while much is being done to address the epidemic, there is still room for improvement.

GreenShoots Foundation has been focusing on the province of Hoa Binh, where the government has taken steps to improve HIV/AIDS treatment, but the level of medical knowledge still needs to be improved. Through workshops, visits to hospitals and the media distribution of medical information, GreenShoots Foundation has been able to improve upon what changes the Vietnamese government has made. It hopes to host more workshops with a broader reach in the future.

Medical Action Myanmar has also been collaborating with GreenShoots Foundation. Similar to approaches used in Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam, the organizations have been focusing on workshops to provide medical workers with better knowledge as well as working with people living with HIV/AIDS on microfinance. Additionally, GreenShoots Foundation has sent 13 doctors and nurses to Yangon to support people living with HIV/AIDS. It has also dedicated nearly 7,000 hours toward mentoring medical staff.

Further Impact

Through its various workshops across Asia, GreenShoots Foundation has trained over 3,000 doctors and more than 1,000 medical students in HIV education. Through this, it has been able to contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Asia and make for a healthier world.

– Evan Driscoll
Photo: Flickr 

The Wellcome Trust Fights Infectious Diseases
Amongst many others, three prevalent issues that continue to burden citizens across the world are mental health problems, weather changes and infectious diseases. Thankfully, organizations such as the Wellcome Trust specialize in these areas and hope to alleviate public health issues through research initiatives and partnerships. It incorporates work with businesses, academia, philanthropies, governments and the public to support the role science takes in solving health challenges. Not only does its work advance the study of science and medicine, but it also benefits under-developed countries needing assistance. Here is some information about the ways the Wellcome Trust fights infectious diseases around the world.

About the Wellcome Trust

The founder of the Wellcome Trust is Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome, a former philanthropist, and pharmacist who worked tirelessly to advance medical research. Born in 1853, Sir Henry Wellcome had an interest in pharmaceuticals and other cultures from an early age. After studying pharmacy and becoming a traveling pharmaceutical salesman, Wellcome formed Burroughs Wellcome & Co. in 1880 and worked to register a new form of tablets that were safer than traditional pills. He went on to profit handsomely from this company and used his wealth to fund many different scientific research laboratories, as well as collect different historical objects and books relating to medicine. Toward the end of his life, Sir Henry Wellcome formed the Wellcome Trust. This organization emerged to benefit those hoping to further biomedical research by providing funding. Today, the Wellcome Trust serves as the second-largest medical research charity in the world.

The Wellcome Trust strategizes to make improvements in public health by supporting various research programs. Wellcome works to advance research in the biomedical science sphere in hopes of bettering the understanding of health and disease. Its areas of scientific research include:

  • Genetics, Genomics and Molecular Biology
  • Infectious Disease and the Immune System
  • Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Physiology and Non-communicable Disease
  • Neuroscience and Mental Health

The Wellcome Fund’s Research Grants

The trust provides research grants to scientists, artists, educators and innovators in 70 countries. Many major collaborations have resulted from Wellcome-funded or co-funded research initiatives, such as the Cancer Genome Project and the Ebola Emergency Initiative. The trust provides funding schemes for potential grantees looking to increase research in biomedical science, population health, product development and applied research, humanities and social sciences, or public engagement and creative industries. In 2016, the Wellcome Trust received the title of the largest philanthropic funding of health research and others noted it for its people-focused funding.

The Wellcome Fund’s Initiatives in Africa and Asia

Wellcome’s work in Africa and Asia has resulted in significant impacts for those regions, such as recognizing treatments for infectious diseases and implementing programs that benefit African-led initiatives.

It has administered numerous programs in Africa and Asia, such as the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP) in partnership with the Kenya Medical Research Institute, as well as The Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI). Both of these programs take a special interest in researching to understand the diseases that cause high mortality rates in their regions and use this information to improve public health in their area. The ability to understand the health of a population enables the use of intervention to improve the overall quality of life in that area. One significant impact that has resulted from this focus on Africa and Asia is the discovery of a more effective treatment for severe malaria, which went on to become the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global policy recommendation. Additionally, The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) emerged.

This organization fosters scientific excellence through mentoring upcoming research leaders and translating research into products and policies that improve the lives of people in Africa. With innovators in Africa leading it, the organization hopes to transform health research on the African continent to benefit citizens.

Distribution of Vaccines

The Wellcome Trust fights infectious diseases through the advancement of vaccines and helping distribute them to under-developed countries, which benefits impoverished citizens in more ways than one. About 2 million deaths each year are due to inadequate access to vaccines in low and middle-class countries. In impoverished countries that possess weak health care systems, easily preventable and treatment illnesses can run rampant and result in the death of children and already ill individuals. Many of these struggling nations also lack strong, well-established governments that can provide resources to help their citizens. This is why Wellcome supports the development of new and improved vaccines and hopes to enable vaccines that already exist for use in a broader context.

The Wellcome Trust understands that low and middle-income countries with high rates of infectious disease need to create their own immunization policies based on research evidence and prioritize cost-effectiveness. Therefore, it works with predominant organizations, such as Gavi, to fund and share relevant research with these areas to help them with their decision-making. Vaccines hold the potential to not only prevent sickness and death in impoverished nations but can also bolster education and economic development in struggling areas.

Ultimately, Wellcome uses its renowned research grant programs to cultivate discoveries involving global public health. Its initiatives reach across the entire world and result in new research that forces scientists to re-evaluate how to approach medicine and infectious diseases. Its discoveries also benefit struggling nations, such as areas in Africa and Asia, that greatly need invention to help their communities. The Wellcome Trust fights infectious diseases by helping the world gain a better understanding of science and supported some of the brightest minds in the scientific field to uncover improvements in public health.

– Hope Shourd
Photo: Flickr

GM golden riceRice is a staple crop in Asia that provides 30-72% of the energy intake in the region. Many children in these countries rely on meager amounts of rice and almost nothing else. Enter in genetically modified (GM) rice. GM golden rice is a revolutionary modified rice crop, characterized by its golden color and vitamin A fortification. This biofortified crop works to alleviate the issue of malnutrition in Asia, especially among children.

Vitamin A

In Bangladesh, China, India and elsewhere in Asia, there is a vitamin A deficiency problem. Annually, vitamin A deficiency results in the death of several million children and blindness in 250,000, according to a study done by WHO. Half of these children die within 12 months of losing their sight.

GM golden rice allows for beta-carotene (a Vitamin A precursor) synthesis in the edible portion of rice. This process may prove to be a promising remedy to this widespread vitamin deficiency. The body can actually use beta-carotene in the edible portion of rice, rather than the rice’s leaves. Not only is it usable, but it can supply 30% to 50% of a person’s daily vitamin A requirement.

Other Benefits

Besides the nutritional benefit, GM golden rice also lasts longer than its non-GM counterparts. A Purdue University researcher found that some GM foods have an increased shelf life by a week longer than it would have originally. Foods that can stay fresher longer help impoverished regions store food and aids food distribution across long periods of time.  

Furthermore, modified foods, like GM golden rice, are routinely screened for safety. Simon Barber, director of the Plant Biotechnology Unit at EuropaBio, the European biotech industry association, stated that before anything may be imported into Europe and used as animal feed or as an ingredient in food for humans, it had to travel through a security approval process.

In addition, the two genes inserted into GM golden rice, plant phytoene synthase and bacterial phytoene desaturase, are innocuous to the human body. Further, Dr. Russesll Reinke, IRR Program Lead for Healthier Rice,  stated that test trials in Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. found this rice to be safe for consumption.

Conclusion

As technology rapidly evolves, people will have reservations about the unfamiliar processes involved. However, GM golden rice has continued to be a proven and effective supplement for adequate nutrition. With new technological solutions, like GM golden rice, food shortages can continue to decrease.

Justin Chan
Photo: Flickr

poverty alleviation in muslim majority communitiesZakat refers to the religious obligation for all Muslim individuals to donate a set percentage of their income each year to charitable causes. Due to the size of the global Muslim population, zakat could play a major role in poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities around the globe. Muslims make up about 22% of the world’s population. However, estimates suggest that roughly 35% of the 2 billion people facing poverty worldwide are in Muslim-majority countries. In their 2014 study on zakat, Isahaque Ali and Zulkarnain Hatta reported that over half of the population in Muslim countries are very poor. Further, the regions of the world with the most significant Muslim populations, including Africa and Asia, are facing increasing poverty levels.

What Is the Purpose of Zakat?

Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. As such, it is mandatory for all Muslims who have the means to meet their basic annual needs. Zakat is generally set at a minimum amount of 2.5% of income and total wealth. Muslims believe that giving zakat purifies the giver. Megan Abbas, assistant professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Civilization at Colgate University, spoke to The Borgen Project about zakat.

“The Arabic term ‘zakat’ can be loosely translated as purification, a fact that helps us understand the spiritual components of this practice,” Abbas said. “Specifically, giving zakat is often seen as a way to purify the soul of selfishness and to remind Muslims that their worldly wealth is not really theirs at all but rather exists thanks to the mercy and kindness of God.”

Many Muslims see poverty as both a social and religious problem. As a result, giving zakat aims to alleviate poverty and achieve socio-economic justice. Further, the Quran explains that zakat should reach certain groups of people in need. This includes those who have no or few means of livelihood, zakat workers, new Muslims, those who are indebted, stranded travelers and enslaved people.

“Zakat is also tied to Islamic conceptions of egalitarianism and socio-economic justice because it mandates economic redistribution from the wealthy to the marginalized and poor every year,” Abbas said. “This redistributive function complements other aspects of Islamic economics, including the prohibition on interest-bearing loans and exhortations to engage only in fair and transparent business contracts.”

The Potential Impact of Zakat

Zakat is an underutilized resource for poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities and non-Muslim communities around the world. The Guardian reported that zakat is one of the largest redistributions of wealth. Estimates suggest that between $200 billion and $1 trillion goes to zakat annually. In comparison, experts predict that ending global poverty would cost only $175 billion per year for 20 years. As states within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation increase their amount of humanitarian aid to 14%, zakat will rise. As such, the potential of zakat for poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities increases as well.

Noor and Pickup of The Guardian believe zakat address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This would help meet the $2.5 to $3 trillion annual funding gap to achieve the SDGs. Importantly, this aligns with zakat’s socio-economic goals. The World Bank also acknowledges the potential of Islamic financing to achieve the SDGs. Specifically, zakat can help by closing financing gaps and building affordable housing with the help of technology to organize zakat funds.

How Zakat Can Help Fight Global Poverty

The Guardian reported that only one-quarter of global zakat goes to formal donations. In fact, Muslims give the majority of zakat individually and casually. This leaves an opportunity for a more organized donation system. Such a system could have a greater, sustained impact on poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities.

There are a variety of ways to collect formal zakat. One way is through the government, in a system that may resemble a tax or state collection directly from bank accounts. Organized zakat could also go through independent collection agencies specific to a chosen cause. Finally, mosques could collect funds to spend themselves or redistribute to other organizations.

Chloe Stirk of Development Initiatives outlines important steps to increase the impact of zakat. Stirk promotes greater collaboration between humanitarian organizations, Islamic scholars and academics. This would improve collection and distribution as well as increase revenue. In addition, Stirk’s process encourages more tracking and documentation of zakat. This could create a zakat fund, allowing for streamlined distribution locally and internationally. However, the logistical and ideological challenges of streamlining zakat extend beyond the global Muslim community.

In the Journal of Global Entrepreneurship Research, three researchers propose that zakat could best be used in a “small business entrepreneurial framework.” Instead of a zakat fund, they suggest global interest in entrepreneurship to address poverty. Few entrepreneurs in the Muslim world make this an ideal space for development.

Demonstrated Success of Zakat

Case studies on zakat funds show immense success and powerful potential in poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities. Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, demonstrates this. There, zakat has an estimated value of 1.59% and 3.82% of the country’s GDP. This equates to $13.8 billion to $33.2 billion each year.

Indonesia has already begun to incorporate zakat into poverty alleviation systems with two centralized zakat organizations. As a result, zakat is an essential method of redistributing wealth to support those in poverty in Indonesia. Further, the amount of zakat collected by institutions continues to rise. Indonesia’s success with zakat suggests that this is a promising method of poverty alleviation in Muslim-majority communities worldwide.

– Emily Rahhal
Photo: Flickr

cultural survivalThere are about 476 million Indigenous people in the world, just over 6% of the global population. Also known as First Peoples and Tribal Peoples, they are present on every continent except Antarctica. Indigenous people belong to about 5,000 distinct groups. Though the term “Indigenous” is not an exact science, it generally refers to groups of people who originally inhabited an area prior to colonial influence. Despite colonialism, they have achieved varying degrees of cultural survival by preserving the use of their languages, ancestral traditions and ways of knowing. Organizations like Cultural Survival also support this preservation.

Cultural Survival was founded in 1972. Its work now follows the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), adopted in 2007. Based in Massachusetts, this organization aims to streamline social justice efforts by connecting Indigenous people’s needs to resources. Indigenous people often have a hard time accessing resources due to isolation, linguistic barriers or lack of political representation. Here are five ways that Cultural Survival empowers Indigenous people.

5 Key Ways Cultural Survival Empowers Indigenous People

  1. Advocacy: When it comes to advocacy, Cultural Survival responds to real needs expressed by a particular community. According to the UNDRIP, “States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for … Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.” An example of such dispossession might include state-sanctioned projects involving mining or deforestation, which threaten a community’s land. In these instances, the Indigenous community on its own may not have direct access to policymakers. Cultural Survival, on the other hand, has had the privilege of consultative status with the United Nations Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOC) for the past 15 years. It also has offices in North, Central and South America, as well as South Africa and Nepal. This wide reach provides quicker access to resources that can more effectively enforce the UNDRIP.
  2. Grants for community development: Cultural Survival also makes grants accessible for development-focused programs. These programs may relate to environmental justice, female empowerment, language preservation, Indigenous representation in policymaking and more. The Keepers of the Earth Fund makes these grants available in amounts between $500 and $5,000. In March 2020, the Keepers of the Earth Fund went exclusively toward the COVID-19 response in Indigenous communities. So far, it has been able to provide direct aid amounting to more than $81,000. This has reached Indigenous communities in 16 countries.
  3. Fair trade partnerships: Cultural Survival connects Indigenous artisans and creators directly to consumers through their annual “bazaars.” These bazaars showcase Indigenous music, jewelry, household items, art and other products. Usually, New England hosts the events. However, in 2020, Cultural Survival opted for a “virtual bazaar” to keep people safe from COVID-19. This allowed it to connect Indigenous makers to a wide audience of consumers.
  4. Media: Additionally, Cultural Survival publishes a magazine called Cultural Survival Quarterly (CSQ). This publication brings matters of concern of Indigenous communities to the attention of the public. The organization also nurtures expertise in radio journalism and broadcasting by connecting young Indigenous people with conferences. By training them, the organization prepares Indigenous youth with the skills they need for a career in media and advocacy. In particular, the Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship Project offers fellowships up to $2,500 for young people to learn about broadcast journalism. The Community Media Grants Project also makes funding available to bolster already-existing community radio projects. These projects benefit communities all over Latin America, East Africa, South Africa and South Asia
  5. Community Radio: Cultural Survival’s funding for COVID-19 includes community radio. This has recently made a difference in Indigenous communities of Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and others. These programs are vital not only for language preservation but also to ensure that correct information about the pandemic reaches Indigenous communities. This is important, as these communities may not be proficient in the country’s official language or may have limited broadband connection. To complicate matters, Indigenous community radio has been outlawed in several places. In Guatemala, for example, the government claims there are not enough frequencies to accommodate Indigenous radio stations. Cultural Survival continues to fight to support community radio programs and policy changes in Guatemala. Importantly, it also offers legal representation to individuals when necessary. Indigenous leaders have officially requested that a law, Bill 4087, legalize an Indigenous-language radio station for each municipality. Cultural Survival continues to support this effort.

The Future of Cultural Survival

Cultural Survival requires continuous support to maintain its mission to defend the UNDRIP. Although every Indigenous group possesses the right to be both autonomous and involved in state affairs that affect them, political leaders do not always observe these rights. Cultural Survival is one-of-a-kind in its commitment to defending Indigenous ways of life. With support, it can continue to use its global reach to fast-track solutions to the unique needs of Indigenous people around the world.

Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr

u.n. eradicates povertyThe United Nations (U.N.) is an international organization designed for countries to work together on human rights issues, maintain peace and resolve conflicts. Currently, the U.N. consists of representatives from 193 countries. In the general assembly, nations have a platform for diplomatic relations. One of major missions of the U.N. is the eradication of global poverty. The U.N. eradicates poverty comprehensively and works to address current poverty levels and their resulting crises. Additionally, it works to prevent the causes of poverty from spreading on a global level.

What Is Poverty?

The U.N. defines poverty as “more than the lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods.” The organization asserts that poverty affects people in many ways, including “hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, as well as the lack of participation in decision-making.” Poorer countries that suffer from a lack of basic resources face all of these problems.

Around the world, more than 730 million people live below the poverty line. Many of these people live in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. These poor countries also often suffer from internal violence that impacts their ability to address the needs and vulnerabilities of their citizens. As such, poverty and conflict have a reciprocal relationship, both contributing to the other.

The U.N. eradicates poverty through multiple commissions that address specific populations and the issues they face. For example, UNICEF, the U.N. children’s commission, works specifically to address children living in poverty globally. It does so by promoting education access and healthcare, as well mitigating the damaging effects of armed conflict. Through “fundraising, advocacy, and education,” this division of the U.N. eradicates poverty and helps children around the world.

Poverty and Human Rights

The U.N. outlines inalienable international human rights as the following: “the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.” One of the many detrimental effects of global poverty is high death rates. Poverty may cause death through water and food insecurity, as well as a lack of healthcare and medical access. This is why poverty is truly a human rights issue.

For someone to have a guarantee to life and liberty, they cannot be living in abject poverty. Education and the “right to work” are also rights affected by living in poverty. Education is sparse in many of the world’s poorest countries, which often suffer from high unemployment rates. This contributes to household income and citizens’ inability to provide for themselves and their families. Thus, poverty is a complex and multifaceted issue that affects all aspects of people’s lives, from their health and well-being to their futures.

The International Poverty Line

According to the U.N., as of 2015, there were “more than 736 million people liv[ing] below the international poverty line.” The international poverty line (IPL) quantifies people’s standard of living. This helps researchers, aid workers and governments assess people’s situation. It also allows these actors to assess their success in mitigating harm and promoting development. Foreign Policy explains that “The IPL is explicitly designed to reflect a staggeringly low standard of living, well below any reasonable conception of a life with dignity.”

The U.N. eradicates poverty by examining not only measures like the IPL but also the effects of extreme poverty. The number of people below the poverty line is important, but the U.N. focuses on what this means for people living in such poverty. For example, the U.N. notes that “[a]round 10 percent of the world population is living in extreme poverty and struggling to fulfill the most basic needs like health, education.”

The Future of the U.N. and Poverty

The U.N. is likely to remain one of the leading forces in the eradication of poverty and the promotion of human rights. Its unique history, size and diverse commissions make it a powerful organization. In particular, the commissions that work with vulnerable populations will be essential to securing the safety and prosperity of those living in poverty. Importantly, the U.N. eradicates poverty with the support of its 193 member states, as it depends on their sponsorship and help in conflict resolution. Just as poverty has no borders, neither should the solutions we use to solve it.

Kiahna Stephens
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in Asia
Over the past 50 years, the international battle against malnutrition has raged on every continent. However, the falling malnutrition in Asia has proven the effectiveness of the global intervention in the conflict; with statistics pointing out a 15% decrease in stunting between 2000 and 2017, experts are optimistic that additional action could lead to even more success.

Although this progress comes for a variety of reasons, experts cite the increased involvement of non-governmental organizations and novel government initiatives. After a plethora of meetings among the countries, including the annual Asia Pacific Nutrition Meet & Expo, plans have formulated among every nation. The dedication of all parties involved is a large part of the success.

The Fight Across Borders

Although one cannot understate the impact of government action on the recent success, international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs for short) have taken the fight to every corner of Asia; the variety of methods introduced provided a multipronged attack against malnutrition poised to continue for the foreseeable future.

These organizations battle malnutrition in Asia in multiple ways; some take the fight directly to local communities, while others act as private research groups providing important data for each country’s policymakers. In their own way, every active NGO assists in the process of lowering the rate of malnutrition, contributing to prior decades of success.

Who Leads the Fight

Although every organization deserves credit for the success, distinguished NGOs producing results in the region include Action Against Hunger (AAH) and the World Public Health Nutrition Association (WPHNA). These two groups differ in their courses of action, but both are instrumental in the falling rates of malnutrition in Asia.

The WPHNA specializes in research on the causes of hunger and malnutrition globally, allowing it to effectively produce the evidence necessary to convince policymakers to take action. Although politicians share an interest in alleviating the struggle of their malnourished citizens, taking action can be expensive, and if the initiative fails, it could cost them their jobs. By providing data and reasonable conclusions regarding appropriate methods of fighting malnutrition, WPHNA convinces policymakers that certain actions are safe and worth considering.

Actions Against Hunger fights hunger directly in communities by identifying the needs for infrastructure and resources that leave communities impoverished. The group partners with local towns to provide funding for widely supported initiatives, taking the fight directly to its source.

These two NGOs only comprise a fraction of the currently active organizations in the Asia-Pacific region. However, they have seen their success exemplified in statistics like the aforementioned decrease in stunting – data on wasting before 2018 is not readily available.

A Persisting Battle

Yet, despite all the progress up to this point, more improvement is necessary. When addressing the 821 million people suffering from malnutrition globally, roughly 520 million live in Asia and the Pacific. Moreover, a massive percentage of these citizens still require assistance. Despite the widespread initiatives and successes, NGOs still insist that more can and must occur to resolve the crisis.

The organizations often cite the opportunities available to end malnutrition; recent innovations in studies on the subject can reveal where intervention is optimal along the line for families receiving too much or too little food, and where governments can step in with funding or where NGOs can intervene and create change. For now, progress marches on slowly, but the opportunity for investment offers expedited change.

– Joe Clark
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in NepalNepal, a landlocked country in South Western Asia, is one of the few places in the world where rates of child marriage are not slowing. In certain areas, they are increasing. Although child marriage in Nepal has been illegal for over fifty years, 40% of Nepalese women between the ages of 20 and 24 were illegally married before their eighteenth birthday. Young boys are equally at risk. The number of child grooms is disproportionately high when compared to the rest of the world.

Contributions to Child Marriage in Nepal

Several factors contribute to child marriage in developing countries. Nepal has a patriarchal society that values girls significantly less than boys. Limited access to education and a negative outlook towards a sexual expression motivates adolescents to marry early. The most massive motivator, however, is poverty. Countries with a higher percentage of the population living on under $1.90 per day, including Nepal, frequently experience higher rates of child marriage. Poverty correlates to the high rates of child marriage in Nepal, including dowries and financial benefits, economic hardship of schooling and “love marriages” to escape poverty.

The Struggle with Poverty

Although rates have decreased over the past few years, Nepal continues to struggle with poverty. While poverty in Nepal has reduced from 15% to 8% in the last decade, the country remains one of the most impoverished in Asia and ranks 147th on the Human Development Index. Nepal is mostly made up of a landscape dominated by mountains. Being rural makes development difficult. The country also struggles with rapid population growth, political instability and a growing wealth gap between the very rich and the very poor. They all contribute to a high poverty rate.

Considering the Financial Reasons

Nepalese families often arrange marriages for their children for financial reasons. Girls who live under the poverty line are more likely to enter a child marriage in Nepal than girls who do not. This dilemma is due to the concept of a dowry. A bride’s family will provide the groom’s family with money or gifts to establish the marriage. Dowries increase the societal value of boys who receive them. They decrease the value of girls whose families must pay. Impoverished families rely on dowries as a source of income, incentivizing them to marry their sons, especially at young ages. In some areas in Southern Nepal, the dowry increases with the age of the bride. This motivates families to arrange marriages for their daughters quickly and early.

Additionally, many married girls stop attending school to care for their husband and start a family. Tuition and materials are costly, and keeping girls in school creates a financial strain on families. This strain is relieved when a match leads to an established marriage.

Escaping Poverty

Child marriage also functions as a means to escape poverty. ‘Love marriages,’ or those not sanctioned by parents, are also common in impoverished Nepal. Young girls and boys often establish ‘love marriages’ as a way to leave their families. This can be done for many reasons, yet a common one is poverty. Matches form quickly to escape impoverished homes and enter a more secure situation.

The Nepalese government has implemented some strategies to decrease the high rates of child marriage in Nepal. The country recently increased their minimum legal marrying age to 20. Families who kept their daughters in school instead of arranging a wedding for them received cash incentives and bicycles in January 2019. Nepal has promised to eradicate child marriage by the year 2030. Although it is a daunting task, it is incredibly crucial for the health and wellbeing of Nepalese girls.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Bootleg Alcohol in AsiaFrom champagne to sake to lambanóg, it is apparent that alcohol consumption has firm cultural and aesthetic roots in countries all over the globe. Despite its enduring popularity, countries sometimes reflect the dark side of alcohol consumption. Counterfeit, bootleg alcohol in Asia continues to thrive and endanger the lives of many, especially lower-income individuals.

An Unaddressed Epidemic

The problem of fake alcohol has roamed around Asia for countless years. Unregulated distilleries and bathtubs produce counterfeit alcohol before it is distributed under the radar. It is estimated that up to 30% of alcohol in China is fake, with illegal alcohol having infiltrated even well-established bars and pubs under the guise of well-established liquor brands.

Much of the incentive in producing bootleg alcohol in Asia often comes from high import taxes on liquor, or even so far as government prohibition in certain countries. With higher restrictions on liquor sales, many people choose to turn to the black market as their only option.

Various countries have suffered from the effects of counterfeit alcohol. In Indonesia, 300 people have died from consuming counterfeit alcohol between 2014 and 2018 alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that half of all liquor consumed in India is contraband. This causes numerous cases of methanol poisoning, drunk driving incidents and exacerbating domestic abuse incidents. In 2019, 154 individuals in India had died from methanol poisoning alone.

Consequences, Risks and Poverty

Bootleg alcohol, typically made of dangerous chemicals, disproportionately affects communities facing poverty. Living in poverty is a leading risk factor for alcohol consumption.

Multiple factors make alcohol consumption particularly more threatening to poor communities. The addictive nature of alcohol combined with the weaker support networks and resources (counseling services, healthcare systems, etc.) in low-income communities make these populations vulnerable to prolonged alcohol abuse. Alcohol expenditure could limit the total amount for individuals to spend on food, healthcare and education. Most importantly, the health risks and hospitalization fees associated with alcohol could further exacerbate many families’ financial situations.

The risks associated with poverty and alcohol consumption combined with the cheaper price tag of bootleg alcohol in Asia further amplifies the problems faced by low-income communities. The WHO states that the limited medical resources for poor communities lead to high mortality rates for methanol poisoning.

What Now?

Counterfeit alcohol in Asia continues to run rampant for a straightforward reason: it is taboo. This taboo also makes it highly neglected. Although the WHO encourages public health campaigns addressing illicit alcohol production, few have tackled this issue head-on.

Organizations such as the Methanol Institute (MI) are one of the few that chose to lead the movement in addressing undocumented alcohol production. MI has partnered with countless organizations such as Mitsubishi, BP and Methanex. It provides market support and public awareness for methanol poisoning from counterfeit alcohol.

As of 2013, MI partnered with Lifesaving Initiatives About Methanol (LIAM) to create a pilot campaign in Indonesia to provide community education for citizens to recognize bootleg liquor and combat methanol poisoning. In December 2014, MI-LIAM-trained hospital staff were able to save the first two lives from methanol poisoning. As of 2015, MI-LIAM received funding to continue its effort in Indonesia. Moreover, they garnered approval to expand training in Vietnam.

While bootleg alcohol in Asia continues to be a persisting problem, awareness efforts have slowly highlighted the seriousness of this epidemic. As a handful of brave organizations spearhead efforts to mitigate this issue, many of us hope for others to follow along this path to recovery.

– Vanna Figueroa
Photo: Flickr