Tuberculosis in Southeast AsiaTuberculosis is a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This bacteria usually attacks the lungs, but TB can also affect any part of the body, including the kidneys, spine and brain. Tuberculosis is highly contagious and spreads through the air from person to person. It is most infectious when it is in a person’s lungs, not in their kidneys or other organs.

Southeast Asia’s Member States Goal to End TB by 2030

Worldwide, 10 million people contract TB annually, killing 1.6 million people. Tuberculosis in Southeast Asia accounts for 44 percent of cases and 50 percent of the deaths from this disease. This region only makes up a quarter of the world’s population.

In 2017, the WHO Southeast Asia Region’s Member States issued a call for action to accelerate the progress that is being made to exterminate tuberculosis around the globe. A year later in 2018, the same group released a Statement of Action to further increase these efforts.

To that end, domestic budgetary allocations have more than doubled. There has been a concerted effort in technology and medicines. The region has adopted a people-centered approach so that they can find more cases. For the first time, case finding has become a core focus, particularly in high-risk groups. Patient-centered policies are being implemented, including direct cash transfers and nutritional support for persons for tuberculosis. Governments are also including civil society organizations in decision making, and more people are joining the effort to combat TB as a result.

Further Efforts to Fight Tuberculosis in Southeast Asia

By 2020, at least 1.8 million tuberculosis-infected patients need to diagnosed and treated, 1.5 million of these should be children. Efforts are also being made to address the 500,000 people with drug-resistant TB. Overall, the plan is to ensure that 12 million people currently at risk receive preventative medicines and vaccines.

Adequate access to low-cost TB drugs via South-South cooperation is also an important policy objective. The goal is that more drugs will be produced with enhanced diagnostics so that more people can be reached.

These countries are working together to make great strides in ending tuberculosis in Southeast Asia. They are working with organizations, like WHO and USAID, to increase local advocacy and communications, to mobilize people to do their part. In Thailand, the Thailand TB Active Surveillance Network was established to strengthen the capacity to watch with outbreaks and cases throughout the region.

In addition, USAID has helped to strengthen regional-specific TB training modules, increasing infrastructure and training across the region so that more laboratories can be created and staffed.

Regional leaders have joined forces to combat tuberculosis in Southeast Asia, with the goal of ending preventable deaths. While there is still a long way to go, with the progress and action that the governments and their people are taking every day, the goal of ending tuberculosis in Southeast Asia by 2030 will be achieved.

– Michela Rahaim
Photo: Flickr

Developing Asia
Over the past 25 years, developing Asia has annually created 30 million jobs in industry and services. Job creation improves productivity, raises earnings for workers and largely reduces poverty.

The Impact of Technological Progress

Shifts in employment from sectors with low productivity and pay, typically subsistence agriculture, to sectors with higher productivity and pay in the modern industry are contributing to this process of raising wages. Productivity improvements come from technological progress within sectors, such as diverse high-yielding crops, innovative machine tools in manufacturing, information and communication technology in the service industries.

A common concern with technological progress affecting the economy is the predicted accompanying job displacement; However, recent studies invite a more optimistic prediction of productivity gains that will generate a positive feedback effect of creating more jobs than are being lost. Furthermore, industries that improve productivity with new technology will lower production costs in industries that depend on them, creating a ripple of higher demand and employment in other industries.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) supports the power of rising demand with data from 90 percent of the region’s total employment spanning 12 developing Asian economies between 2005-2015. The analysis predicts an 88 percent increase in employment, which is equal to an annual addition of 134 million jobs with rising incomes.

The ADB has also reported that jobs that necessitate cognitive and social skills and use information and communications technology have increased 2.6 percent faster than the total employment rate annually over the last decade. The wages associated with these jobs also increase faster than those of manual jobs.

Reasons For an Optimistic Outlook for Technological Progress in Developing Asia

The ADB emphasizes that most new technologies are implemented in only some aspects of a job, usually routine tasks, so that they create more time for complex tasks for workers. For instance, ATMs allow bank tellers to prioritize customer relationship management. The more obvious benefit entails the job creation to manage these new technologies.

In the last decade, 43 percent to 57 percent of jobs in India, Malaysia and the Philippines were in informational and communication technologies. The category of India’s craft and related workers is expanding to include specialized technicians who manage machines. Moreover, job sectors that would incorporate technological progress have a large capacity for growth.

Healthcare and education jobs make up 15 percent of jobs in The U.S. In lower and middle-income economies in developing Asia, healthcare and education jobs make up 3.5 to 6 percent of jobs, and business services jobs make up 1.5 to 6 percent of jobs, indicating a high potential for expansion.

Technology in the farming industry can have a positive impact on agriculture. In developed countries, waiters tend to receive the poorest wages; whereas in developing Asia, the agricultural workers receive the poorest wages. Technological progress can help farmers the most directly.

Mobile applications such as phone apps or text messages can assist farmers with tracking agricultural inputs. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have been supporting farmers in Afghanistan, Bhutan, Fiji, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka to implement emerging technologies.

The Necessity of Job Creation

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP) has suffered from instability and militancy for several decades with increasing out-migration and shrinking private industries. Since 2014, the government, in partnership with The World Bank, has recognized the demand for job creation, especially for the half its population of 30.5 million that are under the age of 30.

Turning to the opportunities of the digital revolution in 2018, the government created a program, Digital KP, that directly addressed this youth unemployment issue by preparing the younger generation for occupations in the technology sector. By supporting the youth with advancing technology, the region is on its way to stability and success.

Many educational programs are being implemented to provide foundations for learning necessary skills. Another strategy involves increasing local IT and digital businesses and attracting investment for them through tax relief programs, promoting co-working spaces and sponsoring annual tech events such as The Digital Youth Summit.

Addressing the Potential Issues

As developing Asia is expected to grow by 6 percent in 2018 and by another 5.9 percent in 2019, governments are aware of the potential challenges presented by increasing new technologies. Some businesses might not overcome the displacement of jobs.  

“ADB’s latest research shows that, on the whole, countries in Asia will fare well as new technology is introduced into the workplace, improving productivity, lowering production costs, and rising demand,” said Yasuyuki Sawada, ADB’s Chief Economist.

“To ensure that everyone can benefit from new technologies, policymakers will need to pursue education reforms that promote lifelong learning, maintain labor market flexibility, strengthen social protection systems, and reduce income inequality.”

Benefits of the ADB

The ADB offers different strategies, such as tax policies that will fight against income inequality. The same technological progress that may cause issues to workers could also foster skills, job-match and provide social protection. For the unemployed, the government can create programs that support them as they navigate the new labor market.

Developing Asia also benefits from the technological progress as it allows older workers to continue participating in the labor force past current retirement age. Artificial intelligence can either substitute or complement physically demanding tasks.

To maximize the benefits of technological progress while compensating for any losses, governments must adapt to the situation with policy changes. Technological progress can then become an optimistic gateway to reducing poverty in developing Asia.   

– Alice Lieu
Photo: Flickr

HIVAIDS“We all deserve a quality life with HIV and without it,” declared Russian activist Maria Godlevskaya at the International AIDS Conference. Godlevskaya is a loving mother and dedicated peer counselor who has been living with HIV for 18 years. Advances in the prevention and treatment of HIV mean that the number of new HIV infections is decreasing globally. Only two regions lag behind; in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, new cases of HIV are on the rise.

The State of the AIDS Crisis

To combat the global epidemic, UNAIDS has issued “90-90-90 targets” to be reached globally by 2020. The goal is that of all of the people living with HIV, 90 percent should be aware of their status. Of these people, 90 percent should receive treatment. And of those receiving treatment, 90 percent should achieve viral suppression.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia are currently the furthest from reaching this goal. In these regions, 73 percent of people infected with HIV are aware of their status, 36 percent of those people are receiving treatment and 26 percent have achieved viral suppression.

There is no indication that the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has even reached its peak. There is, however, hope. By understanding the key populations affected by the epidemic and funding prevention, testing and treatment methods, transmission can be slowed and even stopped altogether.

Advances Against AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Currently, only about three percent of HIV/AIDS funding in the region is targeted toward key vulnerable populations, including men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, and people who use intravenous drugs. The stigma against these populations often makes them invisible to the government and to the healthcare system.

About one-third of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are in people who use intravenous drugs. Fortunately, strategies to reduce the risk of spreading the disease have been helping. Needle-syringe programs are an example of effective harm reduction strategies. They distribute free, sterile needles to drug users.

Additionally, opioid substitution therapy allows drug users to stay away from needle use. The therapy provides methadone, which is taken orally and eases drug withdrawal symptoms. Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine have significantly ramped up such harm-reduction programs; as a result, they have seen a decrease in HIV infections among people using intravenous drugs.

Mother-to-child transmission of HIV  has accounted for only one percent of all incidences in 2017. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that mother-to-child transmission was stopped altogether in Armenia and Belarus.

In the fight against AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Saint Petersburg has become a model city. As a result of increased funding for prevention initiatives and harm-reduction programs for drug users, the number of new HIV infections has decreased. On a national level, however, the Russian Federation has neglected to fund effective prevention and treatment services.

Grassroots Nonprofits Helping Their Communities

When the government turns a blind eye, ordinary people step up. Maria Godlevskaya founded E.V.A, a nonprofit that advocates for women affected by HIV. From providing peer counseling to helping women communicate with medical officials, E.V.A gives marginalized women hope. The organization is about building bridges from woman to woman and from this network of women to their government.

The fight against HIV/AIDS knows no gender, no race and no age. Adolescents are coming together to fight HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Across the region, 80 adolescents are part of a nonprofit called Teenergizer. They visit local HIV clinics and record any roadblocks to testing they experience. The teenagers then use this information to create an interactive map of testing and treatment facilities for other youth in their region. Teenergizer reduces stigma and empowers youth to take their health into their own hands: as a result of the initiative, nearly two thousand adolescents from Eastern Europe and Central Asia have been tested for HIV.

The crisis of AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has been bleak, and the future is uncertain. But, the leadership of several countries, nonprofit organizations and dedicated citizens has the potential to crush social stigmas and the associated legislative obstacles to funding prevention and treatment. Armen Agadjanov of Teenergizer affirms that a brighter future is on the horizon. “I’m convinced that the future is in the hands of adolescents—they are the people who will change and build a new world.”

– Ivana Bozic
Photo: Flickr

Aging and Poverty in AsiaAs Asia sees an encouraging decrease in poverty, it now faces new problems it didn’t have to worry about a few decades ago: a quickly aging population. As a result, the workforce will shrink significantly and elderly care may become more of a burden on young people. What does this mean for aging and poverty in Asia? This article aims to discuss the challenges of aging in Asian countries and to situate the problem of poverty reduction.

The Speed and Scope of Aging and Poverty in Asia

The Asian population is aging at a speed history has not yet witnessed. According to a report released by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), it only took forty years for the percentage of elders in Japan to triple, while a similar process took place over the span of about 150 years in France. According to estimates, the dramatic demographic change will take even fewer years in China and Korea.

More than half of the world’s senior residents over 60 years old are living in Asia and the Pacific. By 2050, the elderly population of the world is expected to grow over two billion, and about 1.3 billion will be in the Asian and Pacific region.

Potential Consequences of Aging in the Context of Poverty

Aging and poverty in Asia are closely related. According to a 2012 Peking University report, 22.9 percent of the elderly population live in poverty in China. The report also said that senior citizens living below the poverty line are more often in need of daily care and assistance with everyday activities since there is a negative correlation between poverty and health.

The poverty rate among people over 65 years old is around 19.4 percent in Japan, and among the elderly poor, women are especially at a disadvantage. The proportion of the poor among the elderly in the Republic of Korea is as high as 49.6 percent.

In Japan, young people who were not poor become vulnerable to falling into poverty during old age. According to a 2013 Japan Institute of Life Insurance study, over 80 percent of those surveyed were concerned that there wouldn’t be enough pensions after they retire.

The aging process in rural areas is taking place faster than that in urban areas. Professor John Traphagan, a specialist of population movement in Japan from the University of Texas, points out that rural areas will likely be affected more significantly by poverty. Professor Traphagan, who conducts fieldwork in rural Japan, could already see the effects of aging on the elderly population in rural parts of the country: “I have met older individuals or couples who lack family living nearby or are uncomfortable living with their children who are living in very difficult conditions.”

What Needs to be Done

The national economies in the Asian and Pacific region will be hit with a shrinking workforce. It is necessary to encourage elders to work and to motivate more females to join the workforce, though the effectiveness of these policies is still unknown.

Governments facing the challenge of a quickly aging population will have to provide for a sustainable pension system, meaning higher government expenditure. A gradually increased tax rate is already enforced in Japan. With an increasing awareness of a quickly aging population, governments can overcome the challenges of aging in Asia.

– Feng Ye
Photo: Flickr

Malaria in South AsiaEvery two minutes a child dies of Malaria worldwide. This potentially fatal disease has resurged in many countries in South Asia and surrounding Australia. A big attributor to this is the fact that infected mosquitos are developing resistance to the insecticides that are typically used in bed nets.

Papua New Guinea, for example, experienced a 400 percent surge in malaria cases between 2010 and 2016 and had 3,000 deaths due to the disease in 2016 alone. Additionally, the disease is more commonly drug-resistant than it used to be, which is leading to an increase in fatality levels.

Obstacles To Eradicating Malaria

Contributing to the spread of the disease is the lack of necessary funding to properly eradicate it. WHO needs between $6-9 billion to fight malaria, but there is currently only around $2.5 billion is being allocated. WHO had a goal to eliminate malaria by 2030, but due to its resurgence and the lack of funding, the likelihood of that being achieved is not high.

Malaria is known as a “disease of poverty.” Its prevalence in certain regions is indicative of the poverty rates in that area. Communities living in poverty are significantly less likely to have access to bed nets and insecticides among other tools to fight malaria. Lack of education also contributes to the lack of knowledge of how to prevent and treat malaria and, consequently, causes a rise in fatalities.

The disease often returns after a period of success in mitigating it. After malaria in South Asia has been successfully fought off, healthcare groups will focus on other diseases and stop actively maintaining the fight against malaria. This dynamic allows for a resurgence of the disease and perpetuates a cycle of malaria spreading.

Organizations Fighting Malaria

Luckily, there are developing solutions on the market. A new drug called Tafenoquine is giving hope to leading malaria experts. The treatment is taken over the course of two days, which is an advantage compared to the previously used treatment, Primaquine, which is taken over twelve days. The shorter treatment time increases the likelihood that those infected will comply and finish treatment.

There are also organizations that are putting their efforts towards eradicating the resurgence of malaria in South Asia. Unitaid has been putting money behind the development of simpler and easier treatments. The group has been collecting data in South Asia to better inform their efforts in addition to surveying in malaria-ridden sub-Saharan Africa.

Working alongside Unitaid is The Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance Secretariat (APLMA). This group focuses not only on increasing innovation in malaria treatments but on providing access to treatments in at-risk communities. Many low-income regions are hard to reach, so APLMA has been looking for new and faster ways to get to these areas.

The efforts to reach at-risk communities are just as important as the work in developing new treatments. All the innovative treatments in the world could be discovered, but they would not matter if the people infected could not access them.

Thanks to Unitaid and APLMA’s projects, the outlook for malaria in South Asia is looking up. Technological advancements and expedited transportation are expected to assist in eliminating the disease.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr

Child Trafficking in Southeast Asia
Instances of child trafficking in Southeast Asia are among the greatest in the world. UNICEF provides an abbreviated definition of child trafficking: “A child has been trafficked if he or she has been moved within a country, or across borders, whether by force or not, with the purpose of exploiting the child.” Although this issue is extremely prevalent, there are indeed ways to combat child trafficking.

The Problem

According to UNICEF, the movement of children contributes to child vulnerability and exploitation. Displaced children lack relatives, healthcare, money and other options to return home; oftentimes, these children are unfamiliar with the new language and region.

In many cases, UNICEF emphasizes that “no force or deception is required” to traffic children. The Australian Institute of Criminology explained that economic pressures on families — such as poverty, unemployment and barriers to educational attainment — that push loved ones toward migration. As a result of such circumstances, children find jobs in low-skilled sectors.

Addressing Child Trafficking

It is difficult to recognize the occurrence of child trafficking, especially due to the unspecified language set forth by the United Nations Trafficking Protocol, also known as the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children of 2000.

For instance, the Australian Institute of Criminology noted that the terms “exploitation, slavery, forced labour and vulnerability” held conflicting interpretations in a case study involving respondents from U.N. agencies and NGOs.

In the case study, it was found that “no two respondents answered all questions in the same way; an indication of the high degree of confusion regarding what constitutes child trafficking.” Despite these limitations, however, programs still strive to eliminate child trafficking. Child trafficking organizations specifically address concerns involving child vulnerability as unique from that of adults. Victims of child trafficking in Southeast Asia experience “bio-physiological, cognitive, behavioral, and social changes,” which require specialized attention.

Terre des Hommes

Concentrating on child trafficking in Southeast Asia, the organization Terre Des Hommes works with local partners in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to implement prevention and protection measures along migration routes. Protection measures include the implementation of shelters, medical care, education, psychosocial support and “family reunification.”

Beginning in 2017, Terre des Hommes successfully rescued 58 boys and 86 girls in Cambodia. The organization’s training programs even teach community members and NGOs about children’s rights. In fact, approximately 19 street shows were performed in Myanmar to discuss child trafficking in a public setting, and educate community members about the issue.

Asia Against Child Trafficking (Asia ACTs)

Working at the regional level, Asia ACTs is an organization associated with the International Campaign against Child Trafficking (IcaCT). To reduce child trafficking in Southeast Asia, the organization campaigns for legislative reform so that authorities can “implement human rights standards for trafficked children.”

Actions involve the development of protection and rehabilitation programs for child victims and “implementing preventative measures like poverty alleviation [and] community awareness campaigns.” Targeted countries include the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The fight against child trafficking in Southeast Asia progresses as organizations continue to provide aid at the regional level and offer more individualized solutions, rather than a singular and over-generalized answer for all of Southeast Asia. These personalized response measures will change the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals, and hopefully model the proactive measures other organizations and nations should take against child trafficking.

– Christine Leung
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in Southeast Asia
With all the global news that flies around day-to-day, progress in the fight against poverty can get lost in the shuffle. 
Poverty reduction in Southeast Asia has been a major goal for years. With over 230 million people — or 11 percent of its total population — undernourished, the nation still has major food security issues. Additionally, 15.1 percent of all people in the region experience poverty, living on less than $2 a day.

Combatting Extreme Poverty in Southeast Asia

So, one may ask: what is being done to combat these issues? There are several different ways that this kind of extreme poverty is being combatted, with efforts stemming from individuals, organizations and governments.

One company doing great work in Malaysia is Epic Homes, which builds houses for indigenous people, the Orang Asli. Taking donations from both private donors and corporate clients, the company has built more than 100 houses worth around $12,500 apiece. Founded by John-Son Oei, Epic Homes trains community members and builds homes with a combination of residents and volunteers.

John-son Oei is proud of the work his company does, stating how “the community is involved in the building of their own homes, so there is a sense of ownership, a sense that this is not just an act of charity.”

Creating a Home in Southeast Asia

Oei’s company is not the only one doing good work on poverty reduction in Southeast Asia. Social venture Doh Eain, which means ‘Our Home’ is based out of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon. Using crowdfunding and donations, the company has restored over a dozen colonial homes and cleaned up half a dozen back alleys. These alleys — which are usually used for dumping trash — have been converted into green spaces where residents and children gather.

According to Doh Eain’s founder, Emilie Roell, “Yangon has very few public spaces that people can use. Having access to their own back alleys and safe spaces has led to greater social cohesion, and a change in behavior.”

Government Involvement

Moving past individuals, governments are also doing their part in poverty reduction in Southeast Asia. The multi-government association called First China-South Asia Cooperation Forum (CSACF) concluded successfully in mid-June this year. The CSACF, according to Chinese official Li Jiming, Director-General of the Foreign Affairs Office of Yunnan Provincial People’s Government, bred interconnectivity and opened a dialogue between nations that haven’t interacted much in the past. According to Li, the forum fostered the “cooperation atmosphere of candid exchange, mutual assistance, and shared development has been created.”

China has been the regional leader for awhile, with the 12th ASEAN-China Forum on Social Development and Poverty Reduction held in Manila through Friday. Conferences like these demonstrate how poverty reduction in Southeast Asia is at work, as 25.2 percent of the population in the Philippines below the poverty line in 2012 decreased to 21.6 percent in 2015 — a reduction of 21.9 million.

Reducing the world’s poverty takes time, especially in places such as Southeast Asia. However, thanks to the work of individuals and governments, people in a variety of countries are gaining an increasingly higher standard of living. 

– Dylan Redman
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Poverty in AsiaOf the 766 million people living on less than $1.90 a day, 42 percent of them live in Asia, despite the significant economic development in these past decades. Many global groups realize the importance of aid to change this devastating state of millions, and this list below describes just a few of the organizations worthy of recognition for their poverty-reducing ambitions in Asia.

Hope Place

Hope Place, a Malaysian nonprofit organization, has been providing the Penan community in Ulu Baram more than just the typical food aid packages. After visiting the community to evaluate the amount of food that was needed for the Giving Hope, Sharing Love charity project, founder Kevin Wan and a group of volunteers realized that other health, water and electricity issues created a huge hurdle to the community’s improving welfare.

Eventually, Hope Place collected enough funds and sponsorship to supply solar panels, hygienic products and school supplies for 60 Penan families. More than 100 volunteers ran other important helpful procedures such as health screenings, dental services, haircuts and hair lice treatment to children. Educating the villagers on simple daily habits, such as the proper method of brushing teeth, will improve their personal hygiene and health for the long-run. Calling attention to the various ways of fighting poverty in Asia, Hope Place inspires the community to contribute a range of skills and knowledge to villages in need.

Traphaco

Traphaco, the leading Vietnamese pharmaceutical company which was founded in 1972, strategizes to link its economic growth to environmental protection within the 2017-2020 period as an initiative for its corporate social responsibility. The Green Plan is one of its projects concerned with sustainable development. It aims to increase local herbal materials in its medicinal products and to help local farmers reduce poverty and end hunger.

Covering 28 cities and provinces, Traphaco stabilizes employment for local farmers. As pharmaceutical and medicinal plant production in Vietnam is approximately 80 percent dependent on foreign imports, Traphaco hopes to localize this process. So far, 93 percent of Traphaco’s pharmaceutical products are grown by local farmers.

An inspiration and model for other pharmaceutical companies, Traphaco encourages business models to prioritize sustainable development to eventually parallel the level of effort of multinational corporations. Traphaco is one of many other Vietnamese enterprises that strive to engage the community in sustainability efforts and build support for fighting poverty in Asia especially those in poor and remote areas.

Other Noteworthy Organizations in the Region

Other organizations are equally dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable communities in countries throughout Asia.

Epic Homes 

Another nonprofit with a focus on social improvement for vulnerable communities, Epic Homes is working in Malaysia and Myanmar to provide and conserve homes for different groups of people as well as increase safe, public places for women and girls. Epic Homes hopes to build more than 10,000 houses for the indigenous Orang Asli people most of which have been driven out of their home in the forests. “The community is involved in the building of their own homes, so there is a sense of ownership, a sense that this is not just an act of charity,” said John-Son Oei, founder of Epic Homes. Apart from affordable housing, Epic Homes provides funds through a crowdsourcing design platform for open-air classrooms and outhouse toilets. Epic Homes is an exemplary organization of the growing trend that fights poverty in Asia through social entrepreneurship complemented by growing technologies.

Doh Eain

In Yangon, the social venture Doh Eain, aids residents to conserve older, colonial homes and create safe public spaces for women. With the involvement of the community, Doh Eain has also transformed a few back alleys full of trash into green spaces where residents can relax and children can play. “Yangon has very few public spaces that people can use. Having access to their own back alleys and safe spaces has led to greater social cohesion and a change in behavior,” said founder Emilie Roell in an interview with Reuters.

TraXion

TraXion, a Filipino blockchain enterprise powered by Hyperledger Fabric blockchain technology, is working to provide economic support to 82.6 percent of the population that are underbanked or unbanked through financial services such as providing savings accounts, insurance, investment consultancy and philanthropic crowdsourcing.

One of the three main features of TraXion, TraXionWallet provides financial services such as those mentioned above. TraXion Chain creates customized business solutions on a blockchain to those who request them. TraXion Contract utilizes smart contracts for transparency and accountability of information. Targeting the unbanked and underbanked, these features reduce transaction and remittance fees and the slowness and lack of transparency of an involved bureaucracy. TraXion is one of many icons for the innovative social enterprises fighting poverty in Asia.

– Alice Lieu
Photo: Flickr

Social Safety Nets in AsiaRegardless of its title—alms, gifts, handouts, welfare, aid—the true meaning of social safety nets is not universally accepted in the developing world. As a useful form of poverty reduction, there are several purported reasons as to why “charity” is regarded as wasteful spending. One is the belief that social assistance programs diminish incentives to work and create dependency on the program’s benefits into the foreseeable future.

The Issues with Social Safety Nets in Asia

The myth of “crutch economies” being the bane of current work ethic and the cause of further, more established and resilient poverty, appears to be losing its already slippery empirical footing. Recent studies conducted by the World Bank in countries such as Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines have found no evidence that workers who receive assistance go on to work less. Instead, social safety nets routinely form a stable barrier for further slides into economic degradation in developing countries.

But spending on them still appears to be minimal. Although the levels of spending as a percentage of GDP varies across countries, spending on social safety nets in Asia, South and East Asia especially, is relatively low. The developing world on average spends 1.5 percent of its GDP on some form of welfare programs. South Asia, meanwhile, spends only 0.9 percent of GDP on social safety nets.

In lieu of more conventional welfare programs, the region has relied instead on more customary and time-tested economic assistance programs. A mix of ample growth, a youthful population and a devoted and helping family has filled the void of official government social safety nets in Asia.

While an admirable economic support system, there are more modern social safety net programs that do not become victim to the “crutch economy” fears. A unique pension plan in Mexico is disproving both the myth of diminishing work ethic and future drags on the economy due to dependency.

The Older Adults Program in Mexico

Pension plans provide better well-being later in life, as they allow people to project their current earnings into the future. But the regency of informal labor in developing countries has made large-scale worker contribution plans rather toothless in practice. Instead, Latin American countries are trying a pension program that targets age and income and does not rely on the contributions of workers. This form of social security could encourage Asian countries to provide a more substantial safety net at home.

Removing the fear of falling into abject poverty, or burdening close relatives once workers are removed from the labor market, is the goal of the Older Adults Program (OAP) in Mexico. The OAP is a noncontributory universal pension system for elderly Mexicans living in small towns. Initiated in 2007, the program took only four years to cover 2.1 million elderly people in 76,000 communities in Mexico. A recent study of the OAP by the International Development Bank (IDB) helps dispel the myth of crutch economies.

One concern of social safety nets in Asia is that they instill a sense of complacency in the younger population. Expecting to receive future income from the program’s benefits, the pension warps the savings and work ethic of the younger generations. The IDB’s study, however, found no evidence of such dependence. These “anticipation effects” that are widely feared and cited by critics of social safety nets were not backed up with any empirical findings. Negative labor supply effects of working age citizens was not a side effect of the pension plan for the elderly.

Work ethic among the elderly was not negatively affected either. Although beneficiaries working for pay in the official labor force dropped, this was more than compensated for by the rise in informal, unpaid family business employment. Rather than sapping their willingness to work, the pension program transferred those efforts to where families deemed most urgent.

The Coming of Age in Asia

But despite the lack of spending, there is hope that social safety nets in Asia will soon grow in usage and acceptance. This is already the case in Indonesia and the Philippines, even if they are outliers in the region.

A cash-transfer scheme in the Philippines, having covered four percent of the population in 2009, increased coverage to 20 percent in 2015. A similar scheme in Indonesia has grown in coverage from two percent of the population in 2009 to nine percent in 2016 with help from the World Bank.

In Indonesia, the payments from the Family Hope Program provide benefits to those in the bottom 10 percent of income distribution. Benefits are available to households with a pregnant mother or a child between the ages of zero to 18. Assistance focuses on promoting education and health of the family. The cash payments are made only if beneficiary households keep children enrolled in school and respond to health issues by taking children to clinics.

As promising as the Family Hope Program is, other countries in Asia have yet to adequately address welfare programs relative to other regions of the world. A fear of diminishing labor supply motivation and perpetual dependency on benefits should not deter the acceptance and administration of social safety nets.

Other than evidence-based research, there is one persuasive reason for adopting more widespread social safety nets in Asia: human kindness. Harry Truman, commenting in 1946, said, “The word ‘charity’ has regained its old, true meaning—that of goodwill toward one’s fellowman; of brotherhood, of mutual help, of love.” Until that is realized, the world will have to rely on empirical arguments to persuade decision makers that social safety nets are necessary.

– Nathan Ghelli
Photo: Flickr

mobile apps in developing countriesIn the last 10 years alone, the number of mobile phone users has grown to four billion, with 37 percent of that growth occurring in developing economies. With internet availability expected to reach even the least developed nations in the next couple of years, a rapidly growing market for mobile apps in developing countries will likely expand even more.

Why is This the Trend?

In areas of Asia and Africa, one can buy a smartphone for the equivalent of $30. Simply put, mobile technology is the most convenient and cheapest technology option available for developing countries.

This convenience is one reason why the biggest market growth is seen in three main regions:

  1. Latin America, where smartphone adoption has seen double-digit growth and mobile banking gives financial access to those who might not ordinarily have it.
  2. South Asia, where in places like Vietnam, the number of Internet users has grown from four million to 45 million in just the last 10 years.
  3. The Middle East and North Africa, where, in Egypt alone, downloads of tool and messaging apps rose 60 percent in a year.

What Are the Uses for Mobile Apps in Developing Countries?

Whether it is to increase food production, access health information, launch a startup or improve education, a new reliance on mobile apps in developing countries transforms the way nations grow. While access to education is not a given in developing countries, the concept and means of education are shifting.

Four of the five top countries for educational app downloads are India, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. A large reason for this is that 50 percent of South Asians and 33 percent of Africans who finish school still cannot read, and 60 percent of six- to 14-year-olds in India cannot read at a second-grade level.

Mobile Apps are Facilitating Needed Change

For farmers who seek to increase food production, change is especially welcome. For practical purposes, apps like iCow allow livestock farmers in Kenya to track gestational periods for their animals, find veterinarians and monitor best practices. An app called Esoko disseminates information to farmers about market prices, weather forecasts and advisory services. Yet another popular app, WeFarm, offers a peer-to-peer platform for farmers to share information among themselves, with or without Internet access.

Beyond the fields and the classroom, popular mobile apps in developing countries range from banking apps like M-PESA, which allows for the transfer of funds over text message, to Voto Mobile, voice-based services in local languages. These programs have been rolled out in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and India.

In India, as with much of the developing world, access to good healthcare is also a concern. With over 60 million people in the country with type two diabetes and 36 million living with Hepatitis B, its people look to take advantage of the over 100,000 healthcare apps that already exist.

Never has technology been so accessible, yet never has the need for technology been so dire. With the myriad issues that arise because of extreme poverty, mobile technology gives rise to a new hope for developing nations.

– Daniel Staesser

Photo: Flickr