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

food security across AsiaRice is the primary food source of more than two billion people worldwide. However, a quarter of the world’s rice production depends on rain instead of irrigation, threatening yields. “Current commercial rice strains have little genetic diversity.” Farmers require new drought-resistant and submersion-tolerant strains of rice. Resilient rice strains may potentially increase food security across Asia.

Challenges in Rice Growing

Climate change brings with it an increased frequency of floods and droughts, which rice is especially vulnerable to. Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development (SCPRID) sent an international resilient rice team to rain-dependent agricultural areas of India to introduce new strains of rice to help subsistence farmers maintain or increase their yields. To create these new strains, SCPRID bred wild ancestor plants with currently available rice plants to create a strain that is more tolerant to harsh weather conditions.

Another issue rice growers face is salt inundation since rice is an extremely salt-sensitive crop. Two historic disasters, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Japan’s 2011 tsunami flooded more than 65,000 hectares of cropland in multiple surrounding countries. Land flooded with salt water may be usable again after a year or two once sufficient rain has washed the salt away, but the immediate impacts of the salt inundation seriously threaten the food security of households in affected areas.

Hybrid Rice Varieties to Guarantee Harvests

As a salt-sensitive crop, salinity greatly impacts rice yields. In the last few decades, plant breeders have “introduced salt tolerance” into modern rice varieties. This is achieved by introducing the genes of traditional rice varieties that often grow in saline regions to create a hybrid, more resilient rice. For example, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines led a collaboration that discovered a gene called Saltol in the Pokkali rice breed. Saltol gives plants a higher salt tolerance. A strain of rice made resilient by the Saltol gene can survive in higher-salinity environments, preventing large crop losses.

Food Security in Asia

The increase in world food supply between 1961 and 2011 came mostly from Asia, with the supply of all staple foods increasing multifold on the continent. Production particularly shot up in the 1980s. However, Asia’s 48 countries still house about 66% of the global undernourished population.

Reducing the high undernourishment rate will require significant amounts of extra food. The continent’s increasing urban population, along with “the growing disposable income” of some, will also heighten the demand for food. Furthermore, Asia’s total population is predicted to expand to 5.16 billion by 2050, an increase of 779 million people, heightening the food demand even further.

Due to a higher demand for housing and other infrastructure projects, “the amount of natural resources available for agriculture has been declining.” The quality of these resources is also lowering as a result of human activity. If left unaddressed, the shortage of quality natural resources will lead to decreased food quality and yields.

The Road Ahead

Resilient rice strains that can better stand up to high salinity, droughts and floods will help improve food security in Asia. By making the crop hardier, plant breeders can guarantee that fewer rice crops will be ruined by natural disasters and extreme climates. More yields mean increased food security in the region. Resilient rice could help reduce the rate of undernourishment in Asia by ensuring the food supply keeps up with the growing population.

Courtney Roe
Photo: Flickr

Green Super Rice Project With funding from the Chinese government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Green Super Rice (GSR) project centers around a central resource supporting the lives of many people around the globe: the rice plant. Rice is a staple in many diets worldwide, contributing to the food security of many regions. Furthermore, several countries rely on rice exports to stimulate their economies. According to data, Africa alone consumes around 11.6 million tons of rice annually. In Asia, where approximately 90% of the world’s rice is grown, there are more than 200 million rice farms. Most of these farms are less than five acres in size and are manned by smallholder farmers. Due to its prominence, rice links to food security and stability in the countries relying on the crop for survival.

Resilient Rice Varieties

Predictions indicate that the demand for rice will only increase, leading to a growing need to maximize production. The Green Super Rice project aims to research and test GSR varieties from African and Asian countries. The research will allow developers to attain “resource-saving and environment-friendly rice production while still achieving a yield increase and quality improvement.” Furthermore, farmers will be able to achieve crop resilience through new varieties. Rice grows in a unique, wet environment in which few other crops can survive. This means that the environment is specific and crucial to the rice itself. A hybrid variety may allow for a crop that can survive with little water.

Creating new or hybrid varieties involves combining existing rice varieties through a breeding process. The process inputs the unique traits of each variety into the second generation of rice. Proven traits that show up on previously tested seeds include a “resistance to multiple insects and/or diseases, high use efficiency of fertilizers, water-saving, drought tolerance and stress resistance based on high grain yield and quality.”

Increased Output and Income

An important aspect of the Green Super Rice project is the profit it will bring to impoverished smallholder farmers around the globe. The new varieties of GSR allow farmers to garner a high yield from crops while using fewer rice seeds. This is beneficial for rice-producing farmers with smaller plots of land because farmers can produce more rice to sell and eat. Rice farming becomes more profitable for smallholder farmers, and because of the larger production volume, rice also becomes more affordable for buyers.

Proven Resiliency and Impact

Since the launch of the Green Super Rice project in 2008, more than 78 varieties of rice have been successfully bred and distributed to around 18 target countries in Asia and Africa. These countries are able to select varieties that meet their unique agricultural requirements, such as drought resiliency and disease tolerance. When Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the central Philippines, GSR crops stood strong as one of the few crops able to grow in the increased soil salinity. Because of the ability to increase yields and withstand harsh environments, GSR crops are able to increase food security and reduce poverty, especially in developing countries that rely on rice for their economic and nutritional needs.

While only introduced less than 15 years ago, the Green Super Rice project holds many promising benefits for not only the economies of developing countries but also the countries’ citizens. The project is playing a key role in advancing economies and improving food security across the globe.

– Grace Ingles
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in BangladeshBangladesh, a South Asian country bordered by India, is one of the most impoverished and most densely populated countries in the world. Bangladesh currently has a population of 161 million in an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Iowa. Bangladesh’s economy relies heavily on agriculture as 63.2% of the country’s population works in industry and agriculture. Even with an unemployment rate of less than 4%, the poverty rate is 21.8%. The dense population, small area, reliance on agriculture and poverty rate cumulatively create a crucial need for clean water. Humanitarian organizations aim to improve the water quality in Bangladesh.

10 Facts About Water Quality in Bangladesh

  1. Water quality in Bangladesh has been a long-term struggle. Since the country’s independence in 1971, international aid agencies have helped Bangladesh with its water crisis. At the time, a quarter of a million Bangladeshi children were dying each year from bacteria-contaminated surface water. Bacteria and pathogens, such as E. coli, cholera and typhoid, were causing severe health problems for both children and adults.
  2. Bangladesh relies on groundwater. Because of contaminated surface waters in the region, 90% of the population relies on groundwater. Groundwater is the water that lies below the earth’s surface between soil pore spaces and fractures of rock formations. This water source is accessible through tube wells in the region.
  3. UNICEF and the World Bank attempted to improve access to water in Bangladesh. To combat the poor-quality surface drinking water and provide more water for agriculture, these organizations funded the installation of about four million tube wells between 1960 and 1970. The tube wells created access to groundwater throughout the entire country. Unfortunately, this led to mass poisoning due to contaminated groundwater.
  4. The largest mass poisoning in history occurred in Bangladesh. In the 1990s, arsenic was detected in the well water. The wells dug in the 1960s and 1970s were not tested for metal impurities, impacting an estimated 30-35 million people in Bangladesh. Ailments from exposure to arsenic include gastrointestinal diseases, physical deformities, cancer, nerve and circulatory system damage and death. About 1.12 million of the four million wells in Bangladesh are still contaminated with arsenic.
  5. Poor water quality significantly impacts public health. Arsenic poisoning is now the cause of death for one out of five people in Bangladesh. An estimated 75 million people were exposed to arsenic-laden water. The poisoning can cause up to 270,000 future cancer-related deaths. E. coli is also still present in 80% of private piped water taps and 41% of all improved water sources. Sickness from poor water quality is a major issue and 60% of Bangladeshi citizens do not have access to modern health services.
  6. Poor water quality impacts agriculture. Bangladesh relies heavily on agriculture with 70% of its land dedicated to the cultivation of rice, jute, wheat, tea, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables and fruits. The contaminated tube wells provide a majority of the water used for irrigation. As a result, high levels of arsenic are absorbed by many crop plants, specifically rice and root vegetables. This can be deadly to those who consume the produce.
  7. Contaminated wells are still in use. After the testing of tube wells in 1997, the government painted the contaminated wells red and the safe wells green to reduce exposure. However, officials used poor testing kits to examine the wells, leading to incorrectly marked wells. Unfortunately, many green-marked wells hold contaminated water that the public still uses. Additionally, the wells that were marked red were never properly closed off and can still be used today.
  8. Poverty plays a role in access to clean water. Both the wealthy and the impoverished in Bangladesh struggle greatly with poor water quality. However, the population living below the poverty line struggles three times more from water-related diseases and illnesses. Roughly two million people in poverty still lack access to improved water sources. Bangladesh is also one of the most impoverished nations in the world, with a per capita income of around $370. This greatly affects the government’s ability to combat the water crisis.
  9. Poor water quality limits the country’s potential. The economy, public health and education all rely on access to clean and usable water. Poor water quality has led to stunting in more than one-third of Bangladeshi children. These developmental impacts limit education and result in an increase in poverty. The mortality rate of those who have come in contact with contaminated water sources will continue to devastate the economy. Over the next 20 years, this could lead to a loss of about $12.5 billion for the Bangladesh economy.
  10. The water quality in Bangladesh can improve. There are many ways to combat the water crisis in Bangladesh. Creating mechanisms to enhance rainwater capture would provide a better-quality source of usable water. Along with rainwater capture, water purification methods and the construction of a water treatment plant would eliminate contaminants from surface and groundwater. Funded projects by groups like Charity: Water, Lifewater and WaterAid are working to improve sanitation and water quality in Bangladesh.

The Road Ahead

Bangladesh has shown steady and vast improvements in many areas. Life expectancy has grown dramatically in the past few years and now averages 72 years. Bangladesh’s per capita income has also increased and is growing faster than Pakistan’s. Furthermore, Bangladesh shows an upward trend in per capita GDP with an increase of 6% per year. However, water quality still poses a critical issue in Bangladesh. With commitment from the government and humanitarian organizations to resolve the water crisis, Bangladesh will continue to grow and prosper.

Kate A. Trott
Photo: UNICEF

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Indonesia
Indonesia is an island country off the coast of Southeast Asia, and the fourth-most populous country in the world, with nearly as many inhabitants as the U.S. The Human Development Index has classified Indonesia as a middle-income country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also stated that COVID-19 poses a significant threat to Indonesia. Below are six facts about the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Indonesia.

6 Facts About the Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Indonesia

  1. The pandemic is forcing more people to live in poverty: According to Channel News Asia, as many as five million Indonesians dropped below the poverty line in September 2020, and this number has likely increased further since then. Before COVID-19, Indonesia was making great strides to alleviate poverty. Between 1998 and 2018, the poverty rate fell from 24.2% to 9.66%. During those first few months of the pandemic, poverty has risen by 1.8% and has likely risen higher since.
  2. Past instances of the economic downturn in Indonesia have disproportionately hit the poor: In 2005 and 2006, a global increase in the price of fuel and rice disrupted the Indonesian economy. In this time, the wealthiest 10% of the population experienced only a 0% to 5% decline in expenditure. Meanwhile, the decline for the most impoverished 10% experienced 9% to 12%. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Indonesia will likely be similar. Low-income families in Indonesia have had to pawn off essential items, and are often unable to receive healthcare. This means that diseases, injuries and infections hamper their productivity.
  3. Indonesian pharmaceutical companies are running scams involving COVID-19 testing: According to the Indonesian police, as many as 9,000 passengers in a single airport received testing kits that employees of a pharmaceutical company washed in order to reuse rather than new kits, which are necessary for proper testing. Since these kits came from a huge public pharmaceutical company, it is likely that many thousands more received improper test kits. The motive for the scam was financial gain. False test results and unsanitary test kits will spread the disease further and continue to exacerbate poverty.
  4. Malnutrition is an especially serious problem: Indonesians already suffered from malnutrition before the pandemic, resulting in more than seven million stunted children under 5 years of age, according to UNICEF. With the advent of COVID-19, malnutrition has only worsened. The Center for Indonesian Policy Studies suggests that food imports have decreased an estimated 17.11%, and the difficulty of importing food products means that children may not receive vital nutrients for development. According to UNICEF representative Debora Comini, childhood illness and death will escalate without substantial efforts to combat malnutrition.
  5. There is a visible solution to malnutrition: Lawrence Haddad of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) says that fortification can mitigate the problem of malnutrition. Fortification is the addition of key nutrients to staple foods such as wheat and rice. Fortification is also inexpensive, especially if it occurs in bulk. The problem is that there are more than 100,000 independent rice millers in Indonesia, most of who are unaware of fortification. Haddad says that “advocacy and education efforts” are the key to engaging the private sector to help curb malnutrition and reduce the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Indonesia. As such, GAIN has undergone efforts for practical instruction on fortifying key foods such as vegetable oil.
  6. The Indonesian government is taking serious measures to combat COVID-19: As of January 2021, regulations have passed that require the fortification of vegetable oil with Vitamin A. If observed, this regulation will reduce malnutrition, even if the country remains limited in food supplies. In March 2021, the Indonesian government ordered more than 20 million COVID-19 vaccines, which are key to resuming productivity and alleviating poverty. However, many of the COVID-19 vaccine companies distribute their supply through a private vaccination program. This means that low-to-middle-income countries may not yet have access to vaccines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven dangerous for Indonesia, but various public and private efforts are helping alleviate the situation.  Still, foreign aid will help ensure the recovery from the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Indonesia.

– Sawyer Lachance
Photo: Flickr

Educational Inequality in South Korea
Despite 70 years of impressive economic and educational development in South Korea, low-income households are struggling to close the achievement gap resulting from the income gap. Past educational inequality in South Korea persists today as low-income adults invest disproportionately in hopes their children will achieve academic and economic success.

Education and Poverty

In 2018, the Organization Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a working report on child poverty in South Korea. One positive finding is that only 7% of children live at or below the poverty line in Korea in comparison with the 13% average among OECD countries. A strong labor market and a steady decrease in birth rates both contributed to a drop in child poverty.

This report highlights education’s role in children’s standard of living regarding two key identifiable risk factors:

  • Cost of Education
  • Parental Education and Employment

Other factors such as rising rent prices also burden families. However, parental education has had a noticeable impact on a household’s income potential and how burdensome a household might find all expenditures, including the significant cost of children’s education.

The Cost of Cramming Schools

South Korean households pay about 42% of the costs of primary and secondary school education for their children compared with the 22% average among other OECD countries. These expenses include traditional fees and costs for supplies and afterschool activities.

Nearly 68% of students attend hagwons, otherwise known as cramming schools, which are private schools that children attend outside of their usual classes for an average of 4.6 hours per week. Cramming schools provide additional instruction on top of regular school hours in order to prepare students for competitive entrance exams. The more hours a child spends in those schools, the more money their families have to spend. An estimated 16.5% of poor households overspend on hagwons, investing around 30% of their income as opposed to the 5% average among higher-income households. These cramming schools demonstrate how parental employment impacts educational inequality in South Korea.

The Value of Parents’ Education

While South Korean employment rates line up with other OECD countries, the nature of employment is important. Having a parent in non-regular employment is a risk factor for child poverty and, indirectly, educational inequality in South Korea. Non-regular workers are subject to inconsistent or short-term employment with poorer conditions and pay. These workers make up one-third of the South Korean workforce and many possess a secondary education level or lower.

It is also notable that a growing number of highly educated people hold non-regular employment in South Korea. While non-regular workers make up a third of the labor force in South Korea, a third of those workers have completed tertiary education. However, this is due to competition for well-paid, regular work, and households with a highly educated head still tend to be better off than less educated households. Thus, attaining a higher education level remains desirable.

Dr. Soo-Yong Byun and Dr. Kyung-Keun Kim provide a greater context in their 2010 study, “Educational inequality in South Korea: The widening socioeconomic gap in student achievement.” Byun and Kim examined how a household’s socioeconomic status affected eighth-grade academic achievement. They determined that, regarding secondary education, parents’ socioeconomic status indirectly impacted their children’s achievement through how much money they could spend on hagwons.

Lower-income students unable to extensively attend hagwons, among other opportunities, might then experience a disadvantage in competitive exams determining which schools they might attend. Various cities and regions have implemented policies to equalize primary and secondary education, more evenly distributing lower-income students throughout higher quality public and private schools. However, this policy does not apply to all of South Korea or account for university entrance exams. This means children’s future socioeconomic achievement may be at risk due to their parents’ education and employment statuses.

Cutting Families a Break

The South Korean government recognizes the educational inequality that low-income families face and employs additional programs to address the issue. The National Center on Education and the Economy outlines some programs assisting low-income households regarding educational inequality in South Korea. Such programs comprise:

  • Free childcare for all children aged 3 to 5 years old
  • Vouchers for after-school activity fees for primary and secondary-aged students
  • Child Development Accounts in which the government will match the family’s contributions and alleviate future university or vocational school expenses
  • Incentives for teachers to work in schools with higher proportions of low-income students

Looking Ahead

South Korea continues to expand and experiment with its education and social policies in hopes of mitigating burdens on low-income households. Education already helped lift generations of South Koreans out of poverty. The government and families are investing in education and its equalization in hopes of lifting up thousands more.

– Mckenzie Howell
Photo: Flickr

Economic Expansion and Poverty Reduction Over the past half-century, Asia has become the world’s standard-bearer for both economic expansion and poverty reduction. Asia has made tremendous growth that accompanies poverty reduction.

Asia’s Economic Profile

In 2020, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Asia was greater than the GDP of the rest of the world combined. Experts estimate that by 2030, the Asia-Pacific region will account for 60% of the world’s economic growth.

Tremendous economic growth is not a new phenomenon in Asia. In fact, since 1960, Asia’s economy has grown at a higher rate than any other continent. East Asia’s economy, specifically, has exceeded the rest of the world over the same time frame. Japan kickstarted Asia’s period of growth after World War II. Soon after, the “four dragons” —  Taiwan, Singapore, Korea and Hong Kong, emerged. The dragons each experienced tremendous and sustained economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century. In 1978, China opened its economy to the world, marking a huge leap forward for Asia’s economy.

With economic growth comes an increase in prosperity as the Asia-Pacific region is home to 90% of the world’s new members of the middle-class. While Asia’s economic prospects are tremendously promising, economic growth does not always translate into advancements in quality of life. Poverty reduction is an essential component of improving living standards and poverty reduction in Asia has been an important focus for Asian governments.

Poverty Reduction in Asia

Since the beginning of Asia’s period of tremendous economic growth, the region has seen similarly tremendous progress in poverty reduction. Asia continues to lead the world in poverty reduction.

No single country is more responsible for this achievement than China. In the last 30 years, more than 700 million people in China have made it out of extreme poverty. On a shorter time scale, China’s efforts to reduce poverty have yielded similarly promising results. From 2015 to 2019, China reduced poverty from 5.7% to 0.6% of the total population. In February 2021, China officially celebrated the end of absolute poverty, defined as the level at which a person cannot afford to meet their basic needs like food, water, healthcare, education and more.

Room for Improvement

Economic growth is not solely responsible for the successes of poverty reduction in Asia. In fact, as economic growth has progressed, Asia has actually experienced diminishing marginal returns in poverty reduction. In other words, as Asian economies have continued to grow, the growth has had a reduced effect on poverty reduction rates. Economic expansion and poverty reduction do not always happen equally. Policy is still needed to ensure poverty does not become a hidden issue. Despite all the expansion of the past 50 years, poverty in Asia is still a significant problem.

Asia’s progress in reducing poverty has been substantial but continued efforts are needed to truly eradicate poverty with further progress. There are still more than 320 million people in Asia who live in extreme poverty, defined as less than $1.90 a day. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected poverty reduction in Asia. A World Bank report in September 2020 estimated that for the first time in 20 years, poverty could rise in East Asia. It estimated that as many as 38 million East Asian people could fall below the $5.50 poverty line. As such, continued focus on poverty reduction efforts is crucial, now more than ever.

Leo Ratté
Photo: Flickr

APHRThe Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group who have lived in Myanmar for centuries. The Rohingya follow Islam and have their own language and culture. In 2017, there were one million of the Rohingya population living in Myanmar. However, the government considered them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refused to recognize the Rohingya as citizens. The government targeted the Rohingya, leaving thousands fleeing as a result of discriminatory violence and abuse. However, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) works to help the Rohingya.

The Targeting of the Rohingya

The government officially forced the Rohingya out of Myanmar on August 25, 2017, by burning Rohingya villages and attacking and killing the population. Hundreds of thousands had to flee by sea or foot. A minimum of 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under 5, died in the month after the conflict occurred. Furthermore, at least 288 villages burned down in northern Rakhine State.

In January 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya from genocidal attacks. The country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, denied all allegations of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) is a network of parliamentarians promoting democracy and advocating for human rights in Southeast Asia. Founded in June 2013, the APHR’s mission is to create a safe place where all people can live without fear of violence and discrimination. Specifically, the APHR focuses on preventing democratic and human rights violations.

The APHR is an organization consisting of public figures in positions of power working with government officials and upholding political freedom. The APHR targets public figures and organizations based on specific strengths and the ability to persuade. The organization emphasizes the importance of international relations and environmental sustainability. Founding members include Charles Chong from Singapore, Son Chhay from Cambodia and Walden Bello from the Philippines.

The APHR works to implement democracy and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief programs. The organization brings officials together through workshops, forums and conferences while working with the United Nations, parliaments, international governments, communities, shareholders and grassroots actors.

The APHR in Myanmar

The APHR is currently focused on assessing regional response to the Rohingya crisis in the Rakhine State in Myanmar and holding the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, accountable for the recent attack on Armed Forces Day. Tens of thousands of people protested in support of democracy in Myanmar and security forces responded by killing 114 people, including children, on March 27, 2021. The APHR called upon the international community to take action against these atrocities.

The APHR members spoke to refugees to gather information on the human rights violations being experienced by the Rohingya in Myanmar as well as the situation in Bangladesh that led them to flock to Myanmar. The APHR requests that Myanmar’s government allow U.N. agencies and others looking to provide humanitarian assistance access to the northern Rakhine State. Journalists should be allowed to investigate and report accurately on the abuses happening, and “impartial and independent” investigations leading to fair trials seeking reparations ought to take place.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights has worked effortlessly to help many other people and causes in addition to the Rohingya people. Overall, the APHR shows its dedication and commitment to protecting the most vulnerable populations.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Flickr

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