Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan, formally the Kyrgyz Republic, is a country in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan has a population of approximately 6.5 million people, with more than 60% of the population living in rural areas. A practice of the Kyrgyz people, most prevalent in the country’s poor rural areas, is bride kidnapping, which occurs when men abduct women and force them into marriage with or without the consent of the woman’s family. Kyrgyzstan’s government and USAID are working to tackle this issue. However, one of the most effective ways to combat the practice of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan is addressing poverty in rural Kyrgyzstan.

The Connection Between Poverty and Bride Kidnapping

Because some of Kyrgyzstan’s population regard bride kidnapping as a traditional and romantic practice, men may “kidnap” brides with consent from the bride and her family. This is known as consensual bride kidnapping. However, bride kidnappings that occur without the bride’s knowledge or agreement are non-consensual bride kidnapping. The U.N. has condemned this practice of forced marriage as a violation of human rights.

Poverty and unemployment in recent years provide a source of frustration for young men in rural Kyrgyzstan seeking to marry. One characteristic of traditional Kyrgyz marriage is kalym, or the “bride price,” by which a man seeking to marry must pay the bride’s family in cash and livestock.

Poor men in rural Kyrgyzstan often do not have the money or resources to pay this price. Additionally, these men face pressure from their communities to marry before they reach a certain age. Thus, the quickest and cheapest way to do so is to kidnap a bride.

Other Factors in Bride Kidnapping

Aside from poverty, many other factors can also help explain why bride kidnappings occur. One reason why a man may kidnap a bride is simply that he cannot otherwise obtain her consent or because he is worried she may marry someone else.

Another factor that explains bride kidnapping is the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Once the Soviet Union collapsed and Kyrgyzstan gained its independence, the young country sought to assert its nationalist dignity and separate its identity from the Soviet Union by reviving traditional practices, such as bride kidnapping.

The U.N. estimates that one in five marriages in Kyrgyzstan is the result of bride kidnapping. Poverty is one factor that incentivizes bride kidnapping. However, bride kidnapping can also cause further poverty, particularly for the few women who manage to escape their marriages. Often uprooted in the middle of their pursuit of education or professional opportunity, these women return to a society where they lack the skills they need to support themselves and their children.

Additionally, the state does not register marriages that are a product of bride kidnapping, as Girls Not Brides reported. Therefore, these women are not entitled to any assets or support they might have otherwise received in the case of legal divorce. Along with driving women further into poverty, negative effects of bride kidnapping on women also include domestic abuse, denial of educational or economic opportunities, high rates of depression and suicide.

What is the Government Doing About It?

In 2013, Kyrgyzstan’s government increased the prison sentence for bride kidnapping from a maximum of three years to a maximum of 10 years. The state also set forth a Criminal Code that prohibits bride kidnapping and forced kidnapping.

The government’s efforts to criminalize bride kidnapping are worth noting and encouraging further. Still, it needs to more consistently and effectively enforce laws that address bride kidnapping. Women who manage to file a complaint against their kidnappers often find that the crime remains unprosecuted. Additionally, the government does not yet sufficiently fund services for survivors of bride kidnappings and the domestic abuse that can result from such a practice.

The Five-Year Enterprise Competitiveness Project

However, the state is not alone in its efforts. Several USAID projects focus on helping the poorest regions of Kyrgyzstan by supporting job creation and economic growth. Since poverty is one factor that can potentially motivate bride kidnapping, efforts to relieve poverty may translate into deterrence from bride kidnapping.

For example, in 2018 USAID started the five-year Enterprise Competitiveness Project. It focuses on growing sectors that can quickly create more jobs such as the agricultural, manufacturing and apparel sectors. The project provides businesses in regions with high levels of poverty and unemployment with grants and technical advice, funds research and creates partnerships with financial institutions. USAID expects the project to create 19,000 new jobs.

The USAID Business Growth Initiative

USAID also works to support and empower the women of Kyrgyzstan in a variety of ways. The USAID Business Growth Initiative supports women-owned businesses in sectors such as tourism and apparel. Thus far, the project has provided 2,000 women with new technical skills.

USAID also provides professional training for female Members of Parliament. The agency sponsors conferences between these women and political activists. It is fostering connections that strengthen support for legislation that combats bride kidnapping and prioritizes women’s rights. Furthermore, USAID partners with civil society organizations to raise awareness about criminal liability for bride kidnapping. It also advocates for laws protecting women from domestic violence.

Thus, providing greater economic opportunity for men in rural Kyrgyzstan is one way to decrease the risk of bride kidnapping. Men who are more secure in their finances and assured of their employment will have less incentive to kidnap brides.

Additionally, providing greater state protections and services for victims of bride kidnapping as well as a greater guarantee for prosecution can also serve to deter this practice and rehabilitate the victims of this human rights violation. Finally, raising awareness for women’s rights could help dismantle traditional, misogynistic practices such as bride kidnapping.

– Savannah Algu
Photo: Flickr

Expo 2020 Dubai
Expo 2020 Dubai is a gathering of 192 countries each presenting and offering an opportunity to experience their culture, food and innovations. It is the latest of a World Expo tradition that began in London in 1851 as the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. Expo 2020 is taking place from October 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, showcasing and promoting different solutions and opportunities that may improve the lives of people around the world. Projects aim to accomplish this by “promoting alternative employment and income opportunities, women in the workplace, competitive products and services and improved market access.”

Overview

Expo 2020 Dubai is the latest of the world’s fairs with the official theme of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” plus different sub-theming of sustainability, mobility and opportunity. The Expo 2020 is taking place in the Middle East for the first time. Until construction began at the site of the expo, the Expo occurred in an area of empty desert. The layout of the Expo is a vast 1,000-acre site comprising different zones in the shape of petals focusing on the sub-themes of sustainability, mobility and opportunity.

Due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place, individuals must comply with strict precautions, including mask and vaccination requirements and occupancy limitations on the number of people present at the Expo. One of the other crucial aspects of the Expo 2020 Dubai is that there is a record 191 countries participating and each nation has its own area or pavilion. The Expo is partnering with the United Nations, which has its own pavilion that focuses on its future goals, including sustainability. Once the expo ends at the close of March 2022, “around 80% of the built Expo will transition into residential, business and commercial developments.”

Expo 2020 Dubai Addresses Global Poverty

At the Kenya pavilion, some innovators show their solutions to the country’s problems of “unemployment, poverty and food shortages” through “home farming” using basic hydroponic systems. Dr. Peter Chege Gichuku established Hydroponics Africa Limited in Kenya in 2015 with the purpose and goals of eliminating “the root cause of poverty and food insecurity.” The company is hoping to “provide cost-effective sustainable farming methods without the use of soil and an 80% reduction in water.”

WaterAid provides an example of social development commitments. In Nepal, WaterAid promotes good hygiene practices by using Nepal’s routine immunization program as a “point of contact” to reach mothers and children. The Nepal Ministry of Health and Population leads the initiative with the “financial and technical support” of WaterAid. The project has a dual purpose of “[strengthening] Nepal’s routine immunization system by improving immunization coverage and people’s trust in immunization services” while simultaneously improving hygiene practices to prevent diseases stemming from poor hygiene practices.

Looking Ahead

Many more organizations are participating in Expo 2020 Dubai. They are promoting their solutions and putting forward ideas to address issues of global poverty. The Expo presents an ideal opportunity to present these new innovations to governments of all nations and their citizens. Global events such as Expo 2020 Dubai unite nations across the world with the understanding that global collaboration is necessary to address concerns of a global scale.

– Julian Smith
Photo: Flickr

The Developmental Sector
Activists are urging politicians and development agencies to reform foreign aid and humanitarian work on the ground. Critics of the developmental sector tie it to colonialism, and actors within foreign aid are thinking about improving the quality of life for people around the globe while also moving away from colonial ideologies. Outreach International is one of the organizations helping to change the realities of the developmental sector.

The Relationship Between Colonialism and the Developmental Sector

The foreign aid sector has received criticism for being a neocolonial agent. The arguments are that Western countries impose their cultures on non-Western cultures through development programs and that the Global North portrays the Global South as helpless.

In the history of development programs, Western countries have imposed their values on non-Western countries and have touted modernization. Prominent Western officials, who were unaware of the Global South’s everyday realities, designed the programs without input from the actual citizens. The West brought values and practices to non-Western countries that were not necessarily important or even helpful for the people in these countries, as these experts mainly were from non-aid countries.

Additionally, some have portrayed foreign aid recipients as helpless. The foreign aid sector has not historically given agency to people in recipient countries to decide what they want for their futures and how they wish to achieve it. A mentality developed that the Global North could “save” the Global South from misery and poverty even though the Global South was not asking for anyone to save it.

The developmental sector receives criticism, but it has also helped people around the world. For instance, from 1990 to 2019, extreme poverty has substantially decreased from 36% of the global population to 8% of the worldwide population, maternal and infant mortality rates have reduced by 50% and smallpox cases no longer exist.

Neocolonialist criticisms invite the developmental sector to reflect on its history and current practices. The inclusion of voices from aid-recipient countries in creating and implementing development programs can produce sustainable poverty reduction.

Prioritizing Community Voices: Outreach International

Outreach International is a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the challenges of global poverty. The organization partners with nine locally-registered nonprofits that operate in nine countries spanning from Africa to Latin America to Asia, and the organization has been in operation for 42 years. Outreach International’s program interventions focus on organizational, capacity and leadership development. The organization, alongside its program and community partners, has worked on 541 community issues, and 62,724 people benefit from the organization’s work.

Collaboration with local communities in poverty-reduction work is the cornerstone of Outreach International’s programming. In fact, The Borgen Project spoke with Dr. Elene Cloete, Director of Research and Advocacy for Outreach International, and she shared that, “We [Outreach International] believe that you can support people in obtaining greater social, economic health…. They [locals] are in [EC1] and should be in the driving seat of their community-led development.”

The Participatory Human Development Process (PHDP), Outreach International’s own methodology, creates sustainable improvements to everyday life. Through the PHDP, the organization and its program partners facilitate discussion among community groups so that locals are the ones who identify the poverty-related problems that are most salient to them and so that local communities can create their own solutions. The PHDP enables communities to plan their futures.

Outreach International’s On-the-Ground Success in the Philippines

Rural communities often face high rice prices in the Philippines. Rural communities also rely on wage labor in the agricultural sector, and rural Filipinos can only work during the planting and harvesting seasons. Between these seasons, many rural Filipinos are out of a job. Combined with high rice prices, rural Filipinos struggle to feed their families.

Outreach International, its program partner, Outreach Philippines, Inc. and rural Filipino communities have worked together to establish a program that allows rural communities to access rice from their own community-based organizations at very low interest, especially in comparison to the other options that rural Filipinos have. The community groups implement rice loan projects through which they buy rice at an affordable price because they purchase the rice in bulk. The interest rate powers the growth of the local community groups by increasing the number of people who can take part in them.

Rural communities own and run the rice loan project, and the program’s rice and money remain in the communities, giving agency to rural Filipinos and allowing them to access a more sustainable source of food. Dr. Cloete sums the program up beautifully; “That’s the beauty of it. Because the project is owned, managed, driven by the community, they have ownership over the project. And they can decide what issue they want to address next. We have this beautiful cyclical thing that takes place.”

Activists and organizations within the developmental sector are encouraging it to veer away from neocolonialism and instead make local voices heard. Outreach International is a crucial example of championing sustainable poverty reduction through the empowerment of local communities. The organization is contributing to changing the developmental sector, and it will be exciting to see Outreach International’s growth and impact over the coming years.

– Anna Ryu
Photo: Unsplash

Climate Migration in Central Asia
About 1% of the world lives in a climate hot zone, causing a concerning rise of climate migration in Central Asia. According to the World Bank, an increase in natural disasters could force 216 million people to migrate within their own countries by 2050. The increased probability of extreme climate patterns and climate migration leads to a bevy of other problems, including poverty. Severe weather events disproportionally disrupt already impoverished areas. Rural communities typically depend on agriculture and suffer the most devastation when extreme weather ravages their industry, income and assets. These people groups decide to move due to the increase in extreme weather patterns, creating a phenomenon called climate migration.

Natural Disasters in Central Asia

Within Central Asia, the majority of the population lives in rural areas. Agriculture accounts for about 10% to 45% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and roughly 20% to 50% of the labor force. With the government failing to respond to the natural disasters in these areas, many have resorted to migrating for less volatile work. All Central Asian countries are experiencing similar impacts from inclement weather and an increase in natural disasters. Land degradation, water stress and desertification could continue worsening. In turn, this will lead many people in affected areas to migrate and lead to an increase in poverty. Luckily, Uzbekistan may be paving a way to mitigate the factors leading to climate migration and poverty.

Uzbekistan: Taking the Lead

Experts consider Uzbekistan one of the most water-stressed countries due to its position near the Gobi Desert. Droughts and other extreme weather are leading to limited water resources and land degradation. This impacts the agriculture industry significantly, particularly in impoverished communities. As of 2019, 11% of the population in Uzbekistan lived below the national poverty line. Similar to other Central Asian countries, rural citizens are migrating to urban areas to avoid agriculturally-devastating weather disasters and to better themselves economically. As a result, new figures are estimated to reach 200,000 displaced migrants and climate refugees, more than triple the amount in 2018. However, a recent policy dialogue in Uzbekistan seeks to combat severe weather consequences by accelerating the transition to a green economy.

Uzbekistan may be the first Central Asian country to strive for solutions. As such, it could become a leader in the region to fix the climate migration and poverty issues. In August 2021, the Uzbekistan government launched a series called Green Growth and Climate Change that will continue to accelerate the country’s transition to a green economy. The group includes government representatives, policymakers, environmental experts and civil society members seeking to mitigate the area’s vulnerability to weather events. The Uzbekistan government also outlined its goals and priorities in the Climate Change Strategy 2021-2023. A large portion of this strategy is to mitigate and adapt to the increase in severe weather patterns. Additionally, it underlines the importance of assisting those considering climate migration to make good decisions about whether to stay or move to where they would be less vulnerable.

Latest Suggestions from the World Bank

A Lead Environmental Research team from the World Bank evaluated climate migration and its consequences. Specifically, it used a multi-dimensional modeling approach, looking at three potential severe weather and development scenarios. The results showed that “Without the right planning and support, people migrating from rural areas into cities could be facing new and even more dangerous risks.” These new risks include scarce resources, such as food and housing depending on the area.

The study recommends the following actions to assist climate migration in Central Asia:

  • Lessen climate pressure on individuals and livelihoods, leading to a reduction in overall climate migration.
  • Consider the entire cycle of climate migration (before, during and after migration) to prevent risks that may arise.
  • Invest in studies to improve each country’s understanding of its climate migration trends.

Paving the Way

Uzbekistan is definitely on the right course in drawing attention to severe weather patterns impacting poverty and climate migration in Central Asia. Its government is just beginning to dive into solving these serious problems, but the measures it is taking are encouraging.

– Alex Mauthe
Photo: Flickr

Maiti Nepal
Nepal, landlocked between the global superpowers of China and India, is one of the most impoverished countries in South Asia, due in part to poor infrastructure, corruption and natural disasters. Staggering poverty rates and unemployment have created a crisis at the India-Nepal border, a hotspot for human trafficking. Women and girls are especially at risk of sex trafficking, especially girls in rural communities far from the capital city of Kathmandu. Maiti Nepal aims to address the growing issue of human trafficking in Nepal.

Women and Girls at Risk

Women and girls make up about “71% of modern slavery victims” worldwide. Illiteracy, poverty, unemployment and geography all contribute to the human trafficking crisis. Faced with few prospects, many girls are lured into the hands of traffickers with the promise of work and prosperity abroad.

Traffickers transport these girls to urban centers, either to Kathmandu or various cities in India. These girls must work in brothels, massage parlors, dance clubs, circuses and private homes. If the girls are lucky enough to make it back home, they then face additional discrimination and struggle to reintegrate into society.

COVID-19 Worsens the Trafficking Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the risks of human trafficking for girls. As unemployment rises, desperate families are more likely to believe traffickers can provide a better life for their children. In a society that views girls’ education as less important than boys’, extended school closures leave girls at heightened risk of falling victim to trafficking. It is imperative that global actors and the government of Nepal take immediate action to protect girls and women during the pandemic.

Neither India nor Nepal requires documentation for citizens to cross their shared border, allowing traffickers to move people across without detection. Dealing with the COVID-19 crisis has further depleted the resources and ability of anti-trafficking officials to adequately monitor border crossings. Estimates indicate that traffickers move 54 women and girls into India every day.

Maiti Nepal Spearheads Anti-Trafficking Efforts

Anuradha Koirala founded Maiti Nepal in 1993 with the goal of addressing the trafficking of women and children. Named a CNN Hero in 2010, Koirala has devoted the majority of her life to rehabilitating survivors of trafficking and implementing prevention efforts. Maiti Nepal recognizes that without improving conditions in Nepal, trafficking will continue to persist.

Though the Nepali government attempts to monitor the border, women and girls continue to slip through the cracks. Maiti Nepal supplements the government’s efforts to guard the busy border between India and Nepal. Volunteers directly intercept traffickers at the border and safely return the victims to their homes or a transit center. To date, Maiti Nepal has intercepted more than 42,000 girls at the border and convicted 1,620 human traffickers.

Maiti Nepal began as one rehabilitation home to house survivors. Now, its programs include prosecution and legal counseling, transit homes, education sponsorships, job training, advocacy efforts, rehabilitation and HIV/AIDS treatment programs, among others. Maiti has provided rehabilitation services to about 25,000 women and children. The nonprofit spearheads multiple efforts to provide direct aid as well as prevention and advocacy efforts throughout the country.

Looking Ahead

The continued efforts of Maiti Nepal and the Nepali government safeguard impoverished girls and women from the lures of human trafficking. Understanding the links between poverty and human trafficking, a broader focus on poverty reduction can accelerate efforts to combat human trafficking in Nepal.

– Elizabeth Long
Photo: Unsplash

Upcycled Water Bottles
The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that, since January 3, 2020, there have been more than 1.6 million official cases of COVID-19 in Thailand. While the country has around 70 million people, the data demonstrate a significant rate of infection. As of October 4, 2021, approximately 55 million of Thailand’s citizens have had vaccines administered to them. Thankfully, this is not the only good news to come out of the country’s battle with the COVID-19 pandemic. The textile company Thai Taffeta has recently come up with a sustainable means of fighting off the virus, involving upcycled water bottles.

Reduce: How Thai Taffeta PPE Came to Be

During the height of the pandemic, personal protective equipment (PPE) in Thailand was alarmingly scarce. This shortage increased medical staff’s risk of contracting COVID-19 while also exposing them to other hazardous diseases and potential injuries. At the same time, as the Southeast Asian country with the second-largest economy, Thailand’s consumerism creates a lot of plastic waste. When the general rate of infection of COVID-19 in Thailand grew and protection gear started dwindling in hospitals, a textile company based in Bangkok introduced a new, life-saving technology. As of September 3, 2021, Thai Taffeta has been using the nation’s overabundance of plastic waste — mostly upcycled water bottles — as an advantage, subsequently saving lives and helping the environment.

Reuse: How Thai Taffeta Makes its PPE

According to Thai Taffeta, it takes about 18 upcycled water bottles to make one PPE suit. Thus far, Thai Taffeta has collected about 18 million plastic bottles to create personal protective equipment. The process is relatively simple and involves reducing the typical resources necessary for making protective gear and breaking down the plastic waste into malleable filaments that then get upcycled. Donated fibers are combined with the upcycled material. The product is the PPE necessary for doctors and medical staff to better equip themselves with while facing the threat of infection.

Thai Taffeta’s executive vice president, Supoj Chaiwilal, said that the fabrics are “made of 100% recycled PET yarns to produce Level 3 PPE coveralls.” This particular level of protection ensures that the suits are water-resistant and can even keep out blood and viruses from the external environment. Manufacturers dye some of the gear a reddish-orange color for a select group of the PPE’s recipients: Buddhist monks.

Recycle: Accessibility of PPE

While Buddhist monks have access to this textile innovation, needing it to conduct cremation processes safely, it is also available to high-risk patients. Though Thailand’s response to the pandemic was relatively strong, it was not without weaknesses. Had the government not responded to the economic crisis with relief measures, the poverty rate in Thailand would have increased to an estimated 7.4% in the span of one year. However, the 6.2% of Thailand’s population living under the poverty line, who are more susceptible to infection and fiscal devastation, could certainly benefit from a maintained social protection program implemented by the country’s government. Therefore, the introduction of sustainable personal protective equipment in Thailand is critical for health safety in the fight against COVID-19. PPE to more individuals better allows for a deceased spread from continuing to permeate and affect the lives of low-income families.

Looking Forward

Thai Taffeta’s website boasts, “All for one[,] the journey of sustainability.” Indeed, the upcycled plastic waste personal protective equipment in Thailand is an innovation many people marvel at. Operating in a cyclically economic mode, the broken down plastic serves to benefit the environment and reduce the number of resources needed to create new goods while also combatting the rate of infection. The slogan also touches on the immense value of a unified fight against the virus, pressing for eradicating disparate circumstances while simultaneously urging the upper classes to be considerate in their consumption and contribute funding toward these suits.

– Maia Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Disability and Poverty in ChinaIn China, many perceive a lack of access to social infrastructures, such as healthcare and impoverishment due to healthcare expenses as critical issues. It is crucial for populations to understand the inequity that exists among disability and poverty in China, as well as the disadvantages of people within the disability population. Persons with disabilities often experience poverty and lack equal access to social security, education, vocational training and employment opportunities.

High Disability Populations

According to the Second National Sampling Survey on Disability from 2006, the population of people with disabilities hit 82.96 million, or 6.34% of the population of China. Of the number of disabled individuals, approximately 14.86% have visual disabilities, 24.16% have hearing disabilities, 9.07% have a physical disability and 6.68% have an intellectual disability. About 75% (62 million) of the 85 million live in the countryside, and 21% (13 million) of these live in poverty.

Lack of Financial Support

A two-way, negative relationship exists between income and disability. In one direction, poverty can lead to a higher risk of impairment. Low-income households may have difficulty supporting family members with medical impairments. In the other direction, households with family members with disabilities tend to face greater economic challenges and social pressure because people with disabilities are often incapable of fully participating in the economy and society.

Social researchers often describe the double-way relation between disability and poverty in China as a ‘vicious cycle’. People with disabilities fell into the trap of poverty because of the exclusion of social and economic opportunities and the financial burden due to their medical impairment. According to a survey conducted in Nantong city, Hebei Province in north China, one-third of the poor households have one or more family members with disabilities, most of whom are unable to work. People with disabilities continue to be a vulnerable group and may encounter various difficulties in a society whose economy is going through a market-oriented rise such as China.

The Invisible Disabled Community

The Chinese authorities have primarily focused on welfare services concerning poverty relief for people with disabilities and their families, giving the impression that disability is something for individuals to overcome rather than something they should receive accommodation for through accessible infrastructure. In China’s public spaces, people with disabilities are largely invisible. In China, legal recognition of disability comes in the form of a certificate that the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) issues. While 85 million Chinese received certificates stating they were disabled in 2010, only 32 million people were disabled as of 2020. However, the certificate functions as an identification that allows disabled people to access a range of welfare services or regional benefits.

To blend into a social environment in which people receive encouragement to carry an “able-ism” mindset, disabled people try to overcome their disability at the expense of their regular participation in society. Consequentially, significant numbers of disabled people experience discouragement from seeking out opportunities and continue to face substantial barriers to poverty relief.

Making Progress

Chinese authorities have primarily focused on establishing general welfare services regarding disability and poverty in China. In recent years, the authorities have launched several welfare programs to address the problems of disability and poverty. The systems that provide living allowances for people with disabilities in poverty and nursing subsidies for severely disabled persons cover more than 24 million people. In the system of subsistence allowances, China currently includes 10.67 million people with disabilities.

The General Office of the State Council issued an outline that encouraged development-oriented poverty reduction starting in 2012. The outline stated that assisting poor rural people with disabilities to join the workforce and increase their income is fundamental for them to minimize poverty. The government managed to build a quota system to take care of the employment need of people with disabilities. According to the laws of the certain provincial government, all private and public employers are required to reserve a minimum of 1.5% of the job opportunities for people with disabilities. Furthermore, there is a range of legal incentives for companies to hire people with disabilities – the government support companies’ recruitments through a variety of means such as tax incentives or financial assistance.

Those with disabilities require greater institutional protection and assistance despite the progress China has made to improve their circumstances. However, continued momentum should help reduce poverty among China’s disabled people.

– Beibei Du
Photo: Flickr

Asia's Economy
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe economic disparities globally. Specifically, those living on the Asian continent have experienced significant economic damage and hindrance to their broad economic goals. About 15 million Southeast Asians have become impoverished since the onset of the pandemic in 2019. The delta variant, along with a resurgence of national lockdown measures, has caused another case of economic damage. Through analyzing COVID-19’s effects on Asia’s economy, it is clear that the continent can implement strategies in order to combat these high rates of poverty and economic disparity.

Low Vaccination Rates

Overall, Southeast Asia has lower-than-average vaccination rates compared to the rest of the world. However, some Southeast Asian countries have better vaccination rates than others. Singapore has the highest vaccination rate, at 77.3%, whereas Vietnam has the lowest vaccination rate at 7%. As Southeast Asia is Asia’s major area for good economic production, this has led to a decline in economic growth. These low vaccination rates have allowed COVID-19’s effects on Asia’s economy to be extremely negative as low-income countries have had low vaccine rates due to their economic disadvantage. Around 55% of individuals who live in higher-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one of two vaccination dosages whereas 1% of individuals who live in lower-income countries have received one of two vaccinations.

National Lockdowns

In Southeast Asia, as cases have risen due to the delta variant beginning in July 2021, strict lockdown restrictions have become reimplemented. The implementation of lockdowns worldwide in 2020 was common as countries felt this would be an effective way to quickly decrease the number of people who contracted COVID-19. Lockdowns were extremely effective in decreasing the spread of COVID-19; however, they also caused a negative effect on the global economy. In Asia, lockdowns caused a severe drop in retail sales. For example, vehicle sales in China have been steadily decreasing each month; more recently, they decreased by 11.9% in July 2021. Factories have also stopped production as a response to the surge of cases since July 2021. Southeast Asian countries have also had to enter lockdowns again. This has caused the negative effects of COVID-19 on Asia’s economy to resurface, with yet another decrease in retail sales.

The Delta Variant

The COVID-19 delta variant is more infectious than the original COVID-19 strain, causing a spike in cases for Southeast Asian countries that began in July 2021. The delta variant of COVID-19 has caused both a surge in COVID-19 cases worldwide and a resurgence of the 2020 economic downturn that came with the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of Southeast Asia’s low rates of vaccination have caused a spike in COVID-19 cases in addition to the delta variant, factoring into the reasoning behind the reimplementation of national lockdown measures.

Looking Ahead

A large and overarching goal of Asia in its entirety is to increase rates of vaccination in each Asian country as a response to this economic decline. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director of Southeast Asia, Dr. Poonam Khetraapal Singh, has a goal to have the Southeast Asian population 40% fully vaccinated by 2021. This strategy against economic disparity uses the COVAX initiative, a plan that WHO put in place that advocates for global access to COVID-19 vaccines. The COVAX initiative especially targets low-income countries and works to help them gain equitable access to not only vaccines but also to COVID-19 testing and treatments.

If Asia successfully increases its vaccination rates, there is hope that the Asian economies will be able to continue with their goals of economic growth.

– Francesca Giuliano
Photo: Unsplash

South-South Cooperation
In June 2021, the United Nations High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation (BAPA+40) met for its 20th session to assess the
progress on South-South cooperation and discuss progress regarding the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). South-South cooperation is the technical collaboration between developing countries of the southern hemisphere or Global South to improve economic development, human rights, climate change, health and other indicators of a thriving society. The Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Collaboration Among Developing Countries (BAPA), which emerged in 1978, launched the South-South cooperation initiative and, since then, 40 additional countries have joined the effort. At the June 2021 meeting, the group discussed progress regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global Context and Trends

The period from 2016 to 2020 witnessed a combination of disastrous shocks and notable human progress. Between 1990 and 2016, poverty rates fell by 35%. By 2019, those living in excessive poverty (below $1.90 per day) decreased to 630 million from the 1990 figure of 2 billion. Nevertheless, by 2020, this situation had changed due to the serious effect of the COVID-19 pandemic which, up to April 2021, had resulted in more than 2.8 million deaths in the world, and also a disastrous economic impact. Experts were concerned that crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental challenges and violent conflicts may negate the success in alleviating poverty over the past three decades.

Specifically, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) emphasized the necessity to consider human progress from a wider perspective than economics. This program, in cooperation with the University of Oxford, promoted the idea of “multidimensional poverty” as development practitioners and policymakers began tracing poverty to its origin as apparent in the different living conditions of destitute persons and communities. For example, the 2020 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index which the UNDP published, shows that 803 million multidimensionally poor persons dwell in undernourished households, 1.03 billion persons live in substandard housing and 476 million children are not receiving an education.

Developing nations also encountered multiple, interlinked climatic, financial and microeconomic challenges from 2016 to 2020. For that reason, they attempted to accelerate the attainment of the 2030 SDG goals.  They viewed the  South-South coordination as an important model for this effort.

Developing Countries: Africa

The South-South collaboration 2019 landmark Agreement Establishing the African Continental FreeTrade Area bolstered regional integration in Africa. Africa has an extensive single market of over 1.3 billion persons as well as a $2.2 trillion combined yearly output. The implementation of the Free Trade Area is likely to have a major socioeconomic effect. Some have anticipated that there will be further gains from intra-African trade which has the potential of increasing by 33% during the Free Trade Area transition stage. There has also been an increase in the number of African leaders who have slowly initiated terms of engagement with other nations. The High-Level Committee reports that it will be critical that these leaders avoid inequalities that would reduce the potential benefits that Africa could obtain from South-South collaboration on the continent.

Developing Countries: Asia and the Pacific

Asia’s high level of regional integration makes it an epicenter of economic South-South coordination. While Asian economies represented 80% of all South-South exports, China continued to be the instrument of growth in investment and trade, and 19 economies in the region “reported China as their first or second-largest export market in 2017.” Despite its excellent performance in South-South trade as well as in other exchanges, large infrastructure gaps have hampered Asia. 

The small island developing nations in the Pacific area continued to be susceptible to climate shocks. Consequently, in the Southeast Asia and Pacific region, South-South collaboration is of critical importance for capacity building for economic resilience to natural shocks with Asia being a role model for public-private partnerships. For instance, in 2019, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Amundi announced a  $500 million Asia Climate Bond Portfolio. This initiative’s objective has been to promote climate action on the part of bank members that involves increasing green leadership and climate resilience as well as considering the climate bond market’s underdevelopment. Despite a dramatic reduction in foreign direct investment (FDI)  and trade in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Asia and Pacific area performed better than the remainder of the world because of more regional integration.

Developed Countries

Several developed nations and multilateral organizations remain supportive of South-South collaboration by triangular coordination. This triangular coordination combines the abilities of various development partners in order to introduce new and adaptable solutions to development challenges and to help to attain the 2030 SDG goals. Unfortunately, a 2019 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that despite the increased focus on triangular coordination, no more than 30 nations or international institutions established guiding documents, strategies or cooperation policies. The study indicated a need for an attitude shift of developed nations from thinking of developing nations as “donor recipients” to considering them as partners.

Civil Society, Think Tanks and the Private Sector

In development cooperation, the private sector, think tanks and civil society are significant stakeholders who could be influential in increasing the application of the 2030 SDG Agenda through South-South and triangular coordination. The Alliance of Non-Governmental Organizations, the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation and Civil Society Organizations for South-South Cooperation are collaborating to improve the understanding of the value of South-South cooperation in humanitarian development and related areas. 

Moving Forward

The June High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation underlined the progress of the South-South cooperation and triangular coordination with developed countries. The committee reported that these strategies have been effective in reducing multidimensional poverty and associated problems in developing countries. Its report suggests that the introduction of the United Nations system-wide strategy on South-South and triangular cooperation has great potential for enhancing this progress moving forward.

– Aining Liang
Photo: Flickr

Made in China 2025Over the last few decades, the Chinese economic miracle has astounded pundits across the globe. When reforms began in 1978 under Deng Xiaoping, China accounted for about 5% of the world economy. In 2020, that figure was more than 17% and rising quickly, second only to the United States. During the same period, extreme poverty was effectively erased, down from a high of 90% in 1981. The Made in China 2025 initiative aims to reduce poverty even further and ignite economic growth so that China can avoid the middle-income trap.

Poverty and the Middle-Income Trap in China

In some ways, many of these figures paint an inaccurate picture of the Asian giant. China is wealthy but its population is enormous, meaning that average incomes remain relatively low. In the United States, GDP per capita is almost four times higher than China’s. Furthermore, Chinese economic growth is slowing. Ballooning levels of debt and an aging population create worry for Beijing, even as the Communist Party celebrates its 100th anniversary. Economists fear that China could fall into the middle-income trap, a situation where rising wages for developing countries erode their manufacturing advantage but their innovative sectors remain too small to compensate.

Radical Planning for a Radical Problem

In 2015, preempting these concerns, Chinese leadership announced the Made in China 2025 initiative, hoping to move the nation up the value chain. As Harvard University explains it, the strategy intends to “secure China’s position as a global powerhouse in high-tech industries.” Furthermore, “the aim is to reduce China’s reliance on foreign technology imports and invest heavily in its own innovations in order to create Chinese companies that can compete both domestically and globally.” If China succeeds, it will create a blueprint for other developing countries in Africa and Asia to bypass the middle-income trap and liberate their populations from the grips of poverty.

Made in China 2025 outlines 10 key industries that the nation must master if it seeks to move up the value chain.

  1. Information technology
  2. Robotics
  3. Aerospace equipment
  4. Pharmaceuticals
  5. Medical equipment
  6. Electrical equipment
  7. Farming
  8. Railway equipment
  9. New energy vehicles
  10. Ocean engineering

From artificial intelligence to quantum computing, China has poured billions into developing cutting-edge technology. The U.S. administration cast the effort as an attempt to displace U.S. technological leadership, sanctioning Chinese companies from doing business with their suppliers in the United States. In reality, much of the motivation behind the Chinese initiative stems from a more basic goal: lifting the nation out of poverty and inspiring other nations to do the same.

Avoiding the Middle-Income Trap

The middle-income trap that confronts China is daunting as only a few countries have ever escaped its grasp. Most prominent were the Asian Tigers — South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore — economies that defied the odds and delivered decades of sustained growth. But, many have failed to replicate the Asian Tigers’ success. Nations like Brazil and South Africa became mired in the middle-income trap, unable to escape the hard ceiling.

The danger for developing countries around the world is a run-in with the same fate. Before COVID-19, African nations were fast-growing. The World Bank predicted that many would reach middle-income status by 2025. But, upon achieving this milestone, they would encounter the same middle-income trap that Brazil and South Africa once faced. If this occurred, the region could be forever stuck in a grey zone, one where poverty would be reduced but not eliminated.

Looking to China

China offers a solution. If nations can move up the value chain with enough speed, they can escape the middle-income trap. Governments can help. The Communist Party has poured billions of dollars into research and development for Made in China 2025, creating some of the world’s largest technology companies in the process. African and Asian nations can do the same on their path to development.

Of course, investment has its downsides. Corruption takes a significant toll on the ability of a government to distribute funds in an appropriate manner. Tackling this problem will not be easy or simple, but a roadmap to success has been laid. With the rise of Asia and Africa in the decades ahead, countries have a chance to crush poverty and increase welfare for billions of people.

– Zachary Lee
Photo: Flickr