Information and stories on awareness.

Japan’s Foster Care System
In Japan, about 45,000 children cannot be raised by their biological parents because of varying reasons including abuse, illness and economic hardship. According to the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, children “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.” In many ways, Japan falls behind other countries in their efforts to support its children that are removed from their birth parents. Here are five facts about Japan’s foster care system.

5 Facts About Japan’s Foster Care System

  1. Foster Families Adopt Only 12% of Children: An overwhelming amount of Japanese children not living with their biological parents are in orphanages. The U.N.’s Convention states that if biological parents cannot raise their child, then the most desirable placement would be with a blood relative or very close individual to the family. After that, the next best would be with a family through adoption. Foster care is a temporary solution for children to live in a family home while a permanent solution is unavailable. Through adoption, Japan only places approximately 500 children with families per year. For comparison, the United States places more than 50,000 children and the U.K. places more than 4,500 children. Alongside low adoption rates, the number of foster families is also too low. At 12% of children in Japan’s foster care system, according to Japan Children Support Association, it trails far behind other countries.
  2. Orphanages are Too Large: Ideally, orphanages can remain small to reproduce a similar environment that would be in a home. Japan, on the other hand, has orphanages so large that the U.N. has released warnings. Even with enough staff on rotating shifts to provide one-to-one interaction, the care would not allow the children to develop attachments. Furthermore, Japan ranks the lowest among developed countries for their staff to child ratio in orphanages, which is about 1 to 1.3, according to Japan Children Support Association. Japan hopes to solve this problem with its foster care system.
  3. Reports of Child Abuse Have Increased: Child abuse reports have been on an upward trend in Japan. According to Japan Children Support Association, reports exceeded 130,000 in 2017. Additionally, in fiscal 2019, this number grew to 205,029. In fiscal 2020, the number of psychological abuse cases was 121,325 and the number of physical abuse cases was 50,033. Some experts may say that the effects of COVID-19 may have increased this number, but there is no doubt that the number continues to rise.
  4. There is Abuse Within Foster Families: A 2014 Human Rights Watch report about Japan’s alternative care for children points out the abuse that lies within Japan’s foster care system and other places within Japan’s alternative care. In 2011, there were 193 cases of child abuse in alternative care institutions. Of the ones that the government found valid, 13% were in foster care or foster families.
  5. There are People Trying to Help: The Nippon Foundation is a private, nonprofit that Ryoichi Sasakawa established in 1962 to increase social innovation and reduce the number of social burdens that Japan faces. One of their projects is the Happy Yurikago Project. It aims to promote awareness of the programs and institutions that surround children in alternative care and to promote such programs as far as they help children grow up in healthy environments. To do so, the project declared April 4 as Adopted Children’s Day. It holds programs to train foster parents to better connect with their foster children.

Concluding Thoughts

All children deserve to grow up in families that love and support them. Japan clearly has ways to go to provide such environments for children that cannot live with their biological parents. Despite a lack of ability to care for such children, there are solutions that Japan is working toward. Continuing to support Japan’s foster care system will ease the burden on orphanages and provide better care for the children.

Rachael So
Photo: Unsplash

Renewable Energy in the Marshall IslandsThe Government of the Marshall Islands has acquired additional funding for furthering its goal of shifting to renewable energy in the Marshall Islands. The Republic of the Marshall Islands plans to lead the way to a low-carbon energy future and encourages other countries to adopt similar objectives. Creating a renewable energy system will make it easier for the most impoverished in the nation to rise above the poverty line.

Increased Foreign Aid

In December 2021, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of the Marshall Islands (RMI) signed agreements for a $7 million grant to aid in the development of renewable energy in the Marshall Islands. The grant comes after an initial $12.7 million was approved in 2018 as a part of the Energy Security Project.

The funding will support the Marshalls Energy Company (MEC) efforts to strengthen the country’s energy network and ready it for the shift to renewables. ADB Principal Energy Specialist Len George stated that “The additional financing…will allow the Government of the Marshall Islands and the MEC to strengthen efforts to implement an agreed multiyear action plan to support MEC’s performance.”

The goals of the Energy Security Project include:

  • Reduce the safety and environmental risks that come with the handling and storage of refined petroleum products.
  • Ensure the safe, reliable and continuous operation of the existing fuel tank farm.
  • Continue to supply fuel to power generation facilities across the country.
  • Transform diesel-based power systems into sustainable renewable energy generation sources.
  • Improve energy security and disaster reduction for the general population.
  • Train MEC customers on distribution code and connection requirements.
  • Modernize the country’s energy generation sources.

MEC’s Fuel Storage Tanks

The primary goal of the Energy Security Project is to revitalize the entire Marshalls Energy Company tank farm. The farmhouses have eight fuel storage tanks that hold 750,000 gallons each. At the time of the initial agreement in 2018, the farm was using only three of the tanks for fuel. An assessment of the farm concluded that at least seven of the eight tanks underwent enough deterioration to require repairs and one may even require replacing.

The MEC can successfully avoid leaks or catastrophic tank failure by using the increased grant funding to renovate the tank farm. Completing the goals of the project will be key to avoiding economic and environmental failure for the people of the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands Electricity Roadmap

The Republic of the Marshall Islands introduced a roadmap in 2018 outlining a pathway to a low-carbon energy future. It was one of the first countries to submit a long-term decarbonization plan to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change under the Paris Agreement.

Minister-in-Assistance to the President and Environment Minister, Honorable Dave Paul, stated that in order for the country to meet its goals, it needs to have more than half of the country’s electricity coming from renewable sources by 2025. The Government of the Marshall Islands encourages ambitious action from all countries to adopt similar goals of sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making the switch to renewable energy.

Renewable Energy to Fight Poverty

About 30% of residents in the two urban areas of the Marshall Islands live below the basic needs poverty line with double that percentage living in poverty in all of the outer rural areas. The Energy Security Project will help lessen the amount of poverty in the country by bringing in more renewable energy.

Access to clean, affordable energy is a prerequisite to ending poverty. Building and maintaining renewable energy in the Marshall Islands will help create jobs and improve the health of the population. Renewable energy systems will allow for more affordable and safer access to electricity. This will lead to the development of more institutions, such as health centers and schools that will further help the most impoverished of the population thrive.

Melissa Hood
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in China
On January 24, 2022, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs published new guidelines for the approval of gene-edited crops. These guidelines come amid an influx of measures “aimed at overhauling China’s seed industry” and ensuring the nation has the ability to provide enough food for its own people as the world’s largest population. Given the Chinese government’s strong investment in gene-editing, it is important to examine the impact of this technology on food security in China.

Barriers to Food Security in China

  • Limited Fertile Land: China has about “20% of the world’s population” to provide food with only 7% of arable land. In 2016, Beijing established a “red line” with the aim to set aside a minimum of “120 million hectares of arable land” for agricultural purposes. However, industrialization, urbanization and the growing preference for the cultivation of cash crops over grains and legumes have “accelerated the loss of agricultural land since then.” With soil fertility becoming increasingly poor, China is at the risk of falling below its red line.
  • Lack of Self-Sufficiency in Food Production: Greater self-sufficiency in grains, soybean and oil crops production is a policy priority for the Chinese government in efforts to maintain food security in China. For example, as of 2020, China has relied on imports to supply about 85% of its soybeans. While this has allowed China to stock up on other staples, such as rice, wheat and corn, many view the nation’s reliance on imported soybeans as a weakness for stability and food security in China. In 2021, “China imported a record 164.5 million tonnes of grain,” an 18.1% increase from 2020. China’s weak influence in global supply chains has caused its food self-sufficiency rate to decrease from 101.8% in 2000 to just 76.8% in 2020. This is a percentage experts predict will decline further to 65% by 2035. Also, the pandemic-induced setbacks for food exporting nations have heightened concerns about the reliance on imports for stability and food security in China. With the increasing demand for measures that allow for self-sufficiency and import diversification, the Chinese government has turned to gene editing for a breakthrough.

What is Gene Editing?

Simply put, gene editing is the altering of a plant’s genes to adjust or enhance its performance. Unlike its counterpart, gene modification, which introduces a foreign gene into a plant’s DNA, gene editing tweaks existing genes in plants to make genes more efficient.

The process involves the use of biological catalysts, such as “transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFNs) and CRISPR/Cas systems” that can “be engineered to bind to any DNA sequence.” The main advantages of gene editing are affordability, precision and efficiency. With gene editing, plant breeders can achieve results comparable to traditional breeding methods but within a shorter period of time and “with greater precision than ever before.” In addition, gene editing can curb hunger and malnutrition by providing higher-yielding, nutritious crops that are resilient to pests, diseases and environmental changes, thus sustaining the agricultural economies of areas that rely on farming produce for both food security and income. In crop science, genome editing has shown the ability to create less sugary potatoes and “a soybean containing high levels of omega-3.”

China’s Gene Editing Guidelines

Although China has performed more extensive research on gene editing than any other country, none of the gene-altered crops have yet reached commercialization. However, the new guidelines may change that. The guidelines “stipulate that once gene-edited plants have completed pilot trials, a production certificate can be applied for, skipping the lengthy field trials required for the approval of a [genetically modified] plant.” This means that approval for a gene-edited plant could range from one to two years in comparison to about six years for genetically modified plants. The crop must “also pose no danger to the environment and China’s food security.” Researchers are confident that these new trial rules will significantly boost the “yields, taste and resilience” of crops, thereby strengthening food security in China.

Looking Ahead

In light of this, many researchers are actively working to research and develop a successful gene-edited crop. For example, Caixin Gao, a plant biologist and an employee of the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Genetics and Development Biology, worked “on developing a strain of wheat that combats mildew since 2014.” Although Gao’s research team could remove the gene that “makes wheat prone to fungal growth,” the wheat’s post-editing growth faced stunting. However, since realizing that the issue stems from the inadequate repression of the sugar-producing gene, the researchers strongly believe that they have managed to isolate a high-yielding, fungal-resistant wheat strain. Therefore, this crop may be among the first to receive approval for commercialization. Overall, gene-edited crops show potential to enhance food security in China and across the world.

– Divine Adeniyi
Photo: Unsplash

The Brothers TrustTom Holland is a famous actor who made his acting debut at 12 years old as Billy in “Billy Elliot the Musical” in 2008. However, Holland is most notably known for playing Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He made his first appearance as Spider-Man in “Captain America: Civil War” in 2016 and became popular due to Marvel’s large audience. Holland’s parents founded The Brothers Trust charity in 2017, which the whole family plays a role in, including Holland’s three brothers. The organization utilizes Holland’s fame and celebrity reach to fundraise. The funding goes toward supporting small-scale organizations often overshadowed by larger and more popular organizations.

The Start of The Brothers Trust

When The Brothers Trust first began, the Holland family focused on helping to raise money for more local charities, such as Momentum. Momentum is a children’s charity that provides support to families around the South West London area with children battling debilitating illnesses, most commonly cancer. Because Holland and his brothers were born in the same hospital out of which the charity was founded, the Holland family has a special connection to the Momentum charity, and thus, decided to begin their charitable work by supporting Momentum. However, as the organization continued to grow, The Brothers Trust moved to fund charities farther out.

Supporting The Lunchbowl Network

To help eliminate poverty in the world, The Brothers Trust has assisted in raising money for The Lunchbowl Network since their partnership in 2016. The Lunchbowl Network is a charity created in 2006 that, among other efforts, focuses on providing food for the most deprived children within Kibera, an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. In fact, through its Saturday Dinner Programme, The Lunchbowl supplies about 7,640 meals monthly, equating to more than 90,000 dinner meals per year.

In 2019, The Brothers Trust’s fundraising efforts supported the purchase of “two brand new school buses” for The Lunchbowl Network. The buses are used to transport children to school, sports events and recreational school trips. Not only has The Brothers Trust helped raise money for The Lunchbowl but the Holland family also visits the charity to take photos and videos to raise awareness of the struggles that the children in Kibera face.

Artists for Africa

To further reduce poverty, The Brothers Trust supports Artists for Africa. Artists for Africa is a charity that hopes to create a better life for children living in the most poverty-stricken areas of Africa through art and education openings. Currently, Artists for Africa offers arts education for children living in Kuwinda, an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, one of the most densely populated areas with deteriorating infrastructure. Due to these circumstances, Artists for Africa helps provide safe accommodation for those pursuing art and organizes scholarships to allow art students to continue their education.

Art is significant because it “encourages self-expression and creativity.” To add, it can help “build confidence as well as a sense of individual identity.” The Brothers Trust provided eight children with a safe and supportive living environment and arts education by donating $36,000 to the Artists for Africa charity.

How The Brothers Trust Fundraises

The Brothers Trust utilizes different ways to raise funds for the numerous charities it supports. For instance, the Trust raises money through various raffles that give Holland fans the chance to meet him, attend his movie premieres and visit film sets that he works on. As a matter of fact, in November 2021, Holland held a competition allowing a winner to join him in attending the world premiere of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in Los Angeles, California on December 13, 2021. To join the sweepstakes, people donated money to participate in a lottery system raffle.

Another way to support The Brothers Trust is by joining Holland’s live streaming events that aim to raise awareness for a particular cause and raise funds. On November 18, 2021, Holland hosted a live stream to raise awareness and funds “for Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), a rare and life-threatening genetic skin disorder that affects children from birth.” When encouraging people to donate, Holland only asks donors to give what they can afford.

Fundraising Through Merchandise

The Brothers Trust also helps raise money by selling merchandise, using the help of small businesses whenever possible. For instance, The Brothers Trust is selling a jigsaw puzzle designed by Jessica Murray (@jmurhop) and created by Wentworth Puzzles. In this way, the Trust is not only helping raise money to support charities but is also garnering support for Murray’s small business. Other available merchandise include mugs, scented candles and dog collars. By buying merchandise, Holland fans can help raise awareness of the organization to help change the world.

The Brothers Trust has seen success in helping many organizations through Holland’s fame and popularity. The Holland family continues to use their platform for the greater good of humanity, ensuring that funding goes to the unnoticed humanitarian organizations that need the most support.

– Kayla De Alba
Photo: Flickr

USAID Programs in Mexico
Despite Mexico’s social and economic developments over the past decades, the country still confronts serious issues of corruption, a high violent crime rate and unsteady public trust in its institutions. These issues impact those experiencing poverty the hardest because they are often targets of crime and frequently find public assistance to be unreliable. Addressing concerns relating to human rights, violence prevention and environmental sustainability will benefit the most vulnerable members of society. There are several USAID-sponsored programs in Mexico with these objectives in mind.

5 USAID-Sponsored Programs in Mexico

  1. Violence Prevention and Reduction Activity (USAID/PREVI). In recent years, Mexico experienced a significant increase in crime partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, USAID sponsored the PREVI activity. Its purpose is to increase the capacity of local Mexican governments to respond to and resolve crimes. USAID/PREVI partnered municipal authorities will intervene in low-level crime with a reduced focus on imprisonment and a greater focus on community policing and solutions that build public trust in institutions. The activity also calls for the establishment of public hearings, increased communication within the criminal justice system and solutions that address the imprisonment of at-risk youth. USAID provided $19.4 million to the program and will continue support until 2024.
  2. Mexico Border Investigative Reporting Hub (International Center for Journalists). This program, which the International Center for Journalists runs, seeks to reduce corruption in Mexico’s northern border states by improving journalists’ investigative skillset. The idea is that improved reporting on issues of corruption will increase civilian oversight and government accountability of public resources. USAID contributed $6 million to the program and expects to continue support until 2023.
  3. Human Rights Accountability Activity (Chemonics). This is another USAID-sponsored activity that addresses crime in Mexico, though with an increased focus on human rights abuses. Its goal is to support the Government of Mexico’s plans to combat torture and disappearance-related crimes, increase cooperation among agencies and help build the institutional capacity to address those human rights concerns. As part of this effort, the project also lends the Mexican government technical assistance in reducing backed-up forensic cases in five key states. USAID committed $24 million to the activity and will continue support until 2025.
  4. Alliances for Analysis and Communication (Mexico Evalua). This activity aims to increase the transparency of the judicial system in Mexico. Historically, institutions of Mexican justice have not been very open to people from outside of those bodies. To remedy this, Alliances for Analysis and Communication seeks to increase the accessibility of justice sector data among members of Mexican civil society. Members of the general public, the private sector and academia could then play a larger role in oversight. USAID contributed more than $2.3 million to this activity and plans to continue support until 2024.
  5. Sustainable Landscapes Ventures (Conservation International Foundation). There are a number of USAID programs in Mexico that focus on sustainable business, though this one works to make landscape practices more profitable for small farmers. The program will link small producers with buyers and investors to produce partnerships that generate profit through practices that fight deforestation and forest degradation. USAID contributed $10 million with continued support until 2025.

These USAID-sponsored programs in Mexico help build connections between influential state institutions and civil society. The expectation is that this will benefit all members of Mexican society, especially those living in poverty.

– Gonzalo Rodriguez
Photo: Flickr

3D-printed Housing in ZimbabweThe World Bank’s Zimbabwe 2021 Economic Update reports that extreme poverty in Zimbabwe climbed to almost 50% in 2020. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic itself pushed 1.3 million people into extreme poverty due to soaring unemployment rates and income cuts. Poverty rates coupled with highly inflated housing prices make it extremely challenging for hundreds of thousands of families to afford a house, pushing many into slum living situations. However, 3D-printed housing in Zimbabwe may provide a potential solution.

Zimbabwe’s Housing Shortage

In 2005, Zimbabwe’s government cleared slum areas nationwide, leaving 700,000 people homeless. This effort to combat slum living launched the country into a housing crisis that would persist for decades. With a government housing waitlist of 1.25 million households in 2015, Zimbabwe’s history of housing shortages continues to worsen as more of the population falls below the poverty line.

In Zimbabwe, corrupt officials sell housing permits to housing cooperatives at extremely low rates. The cooperatives then construct the houses and sell them to homeless Zimbabweans for outrageously inflated prices. Buyers pay off homes for a minimum of 14 years before even receiving the title deed of ownership. These corrupt officials partnering with housing cooperatives often swindle homeless civilians out of desperation for basic shelter. As the 23rd most corrupt country in the world, without a third party to intervene in this crisis, officials may continue to exploit impoverished Zimbabwean populations.

Lafarge Cement’s 3D Housing Project

Lafarge Cement Zimbabwe is a subsidiary of LafargeHolcim, a Swiss construction material manufacturer. The company hopes to change the future of affordable housing in Zimbabwe. By using 3D printing technology, Lafarge Cement’s initial project plans to print the first 10 3D houses in Zimbabwe “under the affordable housing project” in 2022. A joint venture between LafargeHolcim and the CDC Group in the United Kingdom, 14Trees, created the concrete 3D printing technology for the project.

With this new building technology, constructing homes and schools in Zimbabwe will take a fraction of the time in comparison to traditional construction efforts. While traditional construction methods require a minimum of four days to complete a house, Lafarge can print these 3D houses in as little as 12 hours, with a school taking a little longer at 18 hours. The technology can also reduce construction costs by 10-20%.

This housing solution is particularly exciting as it offers a much more affordable option in comparison to homes in the existing housing market. Starting at around $30,000 for a home “in a medium-density area”and skyrocketing up to $80,000, for many low-income families, conventional homeownership is out of reach. However, 3D-printed housing in Zimbabwe offers lower-income communities an affordable housing option starting at $10,000.

The Future is 3D Printing

Following the successful printing of houses and schools in Malawi, the introduction of 3D-printed housing in Zimbabwe has the potential to transform the property landscape in the nation. Lafarge Cement Zimbabwe has no plans of halting the manufacturing of affordable 3D housing in Zimbabwe and across Africa until housing shortages remain an issue of the past.

In April 2021, the company launched a new dry mortars factory in Zimbabwe worth $2.8 million, which is expected to increase manufacturing capabilities significantly. This type of investment in Zimbabwean society suggests Lafarge’s legacy will continue to grow, aiding low-income communities with affordable 3D-printed housing in Zimbabwe and bringing a much-needed housing solution to Zimbabwe’s housing markets.

– Hannah Eliason
Photo: Flickr

north korea defectorsNorth Korea’s refugee outflow started in the 1990s when North Koreans began fleeing a devastating famine. From then until 2020, more than 33,000 North Koreans defected to South Korea with others dispersed throughout the world. Defectors continued to leave because of food shortages and grave human rights violations. However, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea’s border security tightened considerably, making the possibility of escape incredibly difficult. But, some North Korean defectors who have made it to freedom are now dedicating their lives to raising awareness for the millions of people still locked within North Korea. Here are the stories of three North Korean defectors who became human rights activists.

Kim Seong-Min

Born in 1962, Kim Seong-Min served 10 years in the North Korean military before working as a propaganda writer for the totalitarian regime. In a harrowing journey, he fled to China in 1996 only to face capture, repatriation and an execution sentence. Miraculously, he managed to escape once again and arrived in South Korea in 1999.

Seong-Min became one of the first and most active North Korean defector-turned-human rights activists. Most notably, he founded Free North Korea Radio (FNKR) in 2004. FNKR broadcasts news into North Korea and counters the regime’s propaganda. Only North Korean defectors now living in South Korea produce and voice the station. The station’s programming includes defectors’ personal narratives as well as news related to North Korea and knowledge about the outside world.

While it is impossible to track FNKR’s exact audience numbers, research consistently ranks it as the most popular broadcast in North Korea. Many listeners also covertly spread the broadcast’s news to their neighbors by word of mouth, creating a significant “secondary audience.” Seong-Min’s numerous awards include the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy’s Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award and the Reporters Without Borders’ Media Award.

Ji Seong-ho

As a teenager in the 1990s, Ji Seong-ho helped his family during the famine by hopping on coal trains, taking pieces of coal and trading them for food. At one point, falling from a coal train onto the tracks, a train crushed his left hand and foot. Several sections of his limbs were amputated, leaving him dependent on crutches. At age 24 he escaped to China, nearly drowning in the Tumen River in his attempt. From there, he traveled on crutches thousands of miles to freedom through China, Laos and Thailand before finally reaching South Korea.

Ji Seong-ho founded Now Action & Unity for Human Rights (NAUH) in 2010. The organization reaches out to North Koreans to inform them of their rights and helps prepare both North and South Koreans for the peninsula’s future unification. As of July 2019, NAUH had rescued 450 North Koreans and brought them to South Korea. Once in South Korea, NAUH  provides education on democracy, human rights and leadership development. The organization runs a number of national and international campaigns geared toward raising awareness of North Korea’s human rights violations. It also broadcasts a radio program targeting North Korean youth. Ji Seong-ho received the 2017 Oxi Day Foundation Oxi Courage Award for the work he and NAUH continue.

Yeonmi Park

Yeonmi Park fled North Korea with her mother in 2007 when she was 13 years old, only to discover that her brokers were human traffickers. After several years of bondage in China, she and her mother walked across the freezing Gobi Desert to Mongolia. From there, she moved to South Korea, and eventually, the United States.

Park debuted as a human rights activist at the 2014 One Young World Summit in Dublin. She gave a widely popular speech detailing her experiences. After that, she published her memoir, became a sought-after speaker on North Korean human rights issues and conducted countless interviews.  Perhaps most impactful is her YouTube channel, which, as of January 2022, claims more than 81 million views and is the leading English-speaking channel hosted by a North Korean defector. She was also selected as one of the BBC 100 Women 2014, and in 2017, the Independent Institute awarded her the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for her contributions to liberty as the foundation of free, humane societies.

Fighting for Freedom

The lives and missions of these three North Korean defectors demonstrate their incredible tenacity and the many different ways that activists can bring awareness to human rights issues. Whether through radio broadcasts, education, direct rescue missions, speeches and even Youtube channels, human rights activists can reach millions and change the world for the better.

-Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr

Drug Trade in Myanmar
The drug trade in Myanmar is a critical contributing factor to poverty in the country. However, the relationship between the drug trade and poverty in Myanmar is very nuanced and complex. Factors such as decades of civil war, the military coup and foreign economic sanctions create complications in addressing the relationship between poverty and narcotics.

The Drug Trade in Myanmar

The drug trade in Myanmar is both a large-scale and persistent problem. Myanmar is central to the narcotics trade throughout Southeast Asia. In fact, Myanmar is one of the largest producers of synthetic drugs in the world. Along with ongoing conflicts, the drug trade is an issue that the country has grappled with for decades.

The lack of development and economic opportunity within the nation is an essential contributing factor to the scale of the drug trade in Myanmar. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recognizes that lack of rural development means few viable economic alternatives for impoverished rural communities other than engaging in the drug trade.

UNODC recognizes that creating jobs and other industries in rural areas stands as a potential solution for mitigating the drug trade. By providing alternative forms of income to Myanmar’s rural impoverished, it would be less necessary for people to rely upon drug production for income.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, the director of Counter-Narcotics Interdiction Partnerships at Rigaku Analytical Devices and former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) attaché to the Myanmar government from 2017 to 2019, Michael Brown, discussed the relationship between narcotics and poverty. Brown noted that the lack of economic development and the prevalence of the drug trade in Myanmar are two of the central pillars of instability and poverty in the country.

Conflict, Coup and the Drug Trade

Decades of conflict in Myanmar play a central role in the prevalence of the widespread drug trade in the country. Brown discusses how many of the armed groups fighting the government of Myanmar have become heavily reliant on the drug trade. Essentially, armed groups utilize the drug trade in Myanmar to support their war efforts against the government.

In addition, much of the country’s most productive regions for drugs are directly under the control of various armed groups. Armed groups view poppy fields and synthetic drug laboratories as a vital economic resource. Brown also told The Borgen Project that some of these armed groups have essentially abandoned their initial political motivations for fighting the government of Myanmar. Instead, the groups have shifted their focus to operating as criminal organizations that focus on drug production and distribution activities.

The coup that occurred in February 2021 has also created complications in addressing poverty and the drug trade in Myanmar. Political instability from the most recent coup significantly compromises the ability of the nation to combat the issue of the drug trade. Additionally, much of the international community has levied sanctions on Myanmar, creating economic upheavals that the U.N. predicts will drive more people into the drug trade to make ends meet. Brown also noted that the military could no longer focus on combating the drug trade as its first priority is maintaining the military government’s rule.

Poverty and the Impact of COVID-19

The pandemic also heavily impacts the relationship between poverty and the drug trade in Myanmar. Much like the economic sanctions stemming from the coup, the pandemic has created economic upheavals that could make the drug trade more appealing to those seeking to make ends meet. Since the onset of the pandemic, more than 80% of families have reported a loss of income. Rising food and fuel prices also undermine food security.

Efforts to Help

Brown explains that the coup and the following economic sanctions against Myanmar make it more difficult for the international community to help the nation combat poverty or the drug trade. Despite this, he discusses that the U.S. DEA, U.S. companies such as Rigaku and law enforcement in Myanmar have worked together successfully in the past to combat the drug trade in Myanmar. For example, several years ago, Operation Viper successfully curtailed the flow of precursor chemicals into the country essential to synthetic drug production.

To address the effects of worsening rates of poverty in the country due to the impacts of both COVID-19 and the military coup, the Myanmar Red Cross stepped in to provide emergency humanitarian assistance. The organization mobilized its volunteers to provide “lifesaving first aid, health care and ambulance services” to citizens amid political unrest. According to the Red Cross website, “since February [2021], 2,000 volunteers have provided first aid services to more than 3,000 people.” The Myanmar Red Cross is also supporting people with both food and cash assistance.

Mercy Corps recognizes that strengthening economic prospects for impoverished citizens helps to both keep them out of the drug trade and raise them out of poverty. By increasing the economic prospects of farmers in Myanmar’s rural and conflict-riddled regions — areas that typically form the centers of the drug trade in Myanmar — Mercy Corps has addressed the issue at its roots. Mercy Corps helps farmers “increase productivity and incomes by accessing new technologies, adopting diversified and environmentally-friendly agricultural practices and accessing financial services like loans and insurance.” Mercy Corps also addresses the instability in Myanmar by working to enhance the agency of individuals and communities with programs designed to increase trust, accountability and conflict resolution.

Looking Ahead

For years, the vibrant drug trade in Myanmar has been a critical component of poverty in the country. Armed groups looked toward narcotics as an economic base. In addition, the lack of economic development in many parts of the country and economic upheavals from the pandemic and foreign economic sanctions make the drug trade a more appealing source of income. Despite efforts to provide direct assistance to the impoverished of Myanmar and to curtail the narcotics industry, much work remains to address the relationship between poverty and the drug trade in Myanmar.

– Coulter Layden
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Development Goal 2
In 2015, the United Nations established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for creating global change in key areas by 2030, especially in lower and middle-income countries. The second of these goals, Zero Hunger, aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” According to Action Against Hunger, in 2021, hunger affects almost 10% of the global population. Furthermore, just between 2019 and 2020, the number of people suffering from undernourishment globally rose by 161 million. To prevent the dire consequences of not reaching Sustainable Development Goal 2, the U.N. has suggested several steps for individuals to take to support this goal.

5 Ways to Achieve Zero Hunger

  1. Shop Local and In-Season. Eating locally-grown foods helps to support smaller-scale farmers in one’s community. Buying in-season foods also helps sustain local, native crops and plants. Preserving native crops helps increase genetic diversity as it increases the number of plant species in a given area. Maintaining genetic diversity in food production across the globe is one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 2 as this allows the plants with favorable traits — those that are resistant to pests or are able to provide higher yields — to proliferate.
  2. Reduce Food Waste. Food waste is one of the greatest barriers to eradicating hunger as food that could serve food insecure populations instead ends up in landfills. According to Feeding America, U.S. citizens waste “108 billion pounds of food” annually, equivalent to 130 billion discarded meals. However, food waste is not an issue unique to high-income countries: the U.N. Environment Programme’s “Food Waste Index Report 2021” has found that lower-middle-income nations annually discard 201 pounds of food per capita at the household level. In comparison, for high-income nations, this amount is 174 pounds per capita per year. To reduce food waste, people can freeze extra produce and save leftovers from meals. They can also buy “ugly” produce from the grocery store, which often ends up going to waste because it is less aesthetically desirable. However, the slightly misshapen produce found in grocery stores is still perfectly good to eat. In addition, staying informed on anti-food waste initiatives in low- and middle-income countries helps to develop global awareness and better understand the progress that these countries are making toward achieving Zero Hunger.
  3. Reduce Meat Consumption. The U.S. imported $216 million worth of beef from Brazil in the first nine months of 2021. Approximately 80% of deforestation in the Amazon is due to cattle ranching. Deforestation can have negative impacts on food production thousands of miles away. For example, deforestation of the Amazon at 40% would significantly decrease rainfall in the Rio de la Plata agricultural basin more than 2,000 miles away. Such droughts lead to decreased crop production, negatively impacting local farmers. To help mitigate the impact of the meat industry on deforestation, the U.N. has suggested that individuals consider vegetarianism for just a day per week. Just one day of vegetarianism could preserve “3 million acres of land.” Even though those who live in North America may be physically far away from local farmers in the Amazon, individual eating habits still impact these farmers.
  4. Support Organizations Focusing on SDG 2. Two organizations working to improve food security worldwide include the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the World Food Program (WFP). GAIN focuses on providing aid to women, children and adolescents. One of its programs is Better Diets for Children, which provides support to small-scale food manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries to make nutritious, safe food more affordable and accessible. The program spans eight countries and aims to help more than 120 million people. The WFP provides food assistance to victims of extreme events, such as those facing natural disasters and conflict. The organization operates in more than 80 countries and provides more than 15 billion life-saving meals each year. One of the WFP’s programs is the food assistance program, which provides “cash-based assistance” so that families can afford nutritious food.
  5. Stay Informed and Spread the Word. Staying updated on global hunger reduction initiatives is important for tracking progress made toward Sustainable Development Goal 2. The U.N. SDG website and social media stand as great resources in this regard. It is also important to educate others about Sustainable Development Goal 2 by sharing ways that others can help and the organizations that people can support in achieving this goal. Social media serves as an essential tool for raising awareness of global issues.

Looking Ahead

Minimizing hunger is an important step in the sustainable development of low- and middle-income countries. By taking action to support Sustainable Development Goal 2, each person can help improve food security and small-scale agriculture worldwide.

– Aimée Eicher
Photo: Flickr

dental healthThere is a strong association between oral diseases and poverty. According to the World Health Organization, oral diseases impact approximately 3.5 billion people. In addition, it is estimated that 3.9 billion people worldwide suffer from dental decay, which can impact their overall “health and well-being” and increase the burden of health care costs for already impoverished people. Many remote and underserved communities lack access to treatment and preventative services, however, several nonprofits are working to increase access to dental health services globally.

7 NGOs Making Strides in Improving Global Dental Health

  1. Academy of Dentistry International Foundation. The Academy of Dentistry International is an honor society “for dentists dedicated to sharing knowledge… to serve dental health needs and to improve the quality of life throughout the world.” Its Academy of Dentistry International Foundation provides grants for missions and projects that assist disadvantaged communities, supporting dental care for people in Honduras, Columbia, Kenya, Jamaica, the Philippines and Belize since 2010. The Foundation funded Bright Smiles Cameroon in 2018, which offers oral health education to school-aged children. Another grant recipient was the Health and Development Society Nepal, which offers oral health training to primary care workers who can then offer health care services to marginalized communities in Nepal.
  2. Dentaid. This organization began its work in 1996, delivering dental treatment to more than 70 countries since then, including the U.K. Dentaid supplies dental equipment and sends volunteers to impoverished and rural communities. Its “DentaidBox,” an innovative portable bin, includes all the equipment necessary to perform dental surgery even when electricity and running water are unavailable. In 2021, the DentaidBox reached seven African countries. In that same year, Dentaid created eight free clinics for people who are homeless in the U.K. and has plans to launch nine more. It also offered services to refugees and asylum seekers in the U.K.
  3. Global Child Dental Fund. This organization aims to serve every child needing dental health services. Currently, the organization is working with Jordanian dental students to aid Syrian refugees in Jordan. About 1,500 children in Jordan’s refugee camps have received “toothbrushes, toothpaste and oral health education.” One of the fund’s projects, SEAL Cambodia, has treated more than “66,000 children with dental sealants.” Global Child Dental Fund also provides “special care dentistry” in poverty-stricken and remote areas. The fund has trained students in Zambia and offered services to children with special needs in Kenya and Cambodia.
  4. Global Dental Relief. Since 2001, Global Dental Relief has offered free dental care to children across the world, serving close to 200,000 children from 2001 to 2020 with its volunteer work in eight countries. In addition to providing dental care, Global Dental Relief is unique in that, in Guatemala and Nepal, it also provides meals to families suffering from food scarcity.
  5. Open Wide Foundation. The Foundation’s mission is “to bring lasting change to the state of oral health in underserved communities worldwide.” The Foundation targets communities that have the greatest need for dental health care, beginning in 2012 and since serving more than 200,000 people. Open Wide Foundation built its first clinic in the Guatemalan city of Peronia, an impoverished community that had little to no access to dental health services. Since then, the Foundation has opened additional dental clinics in Guatemala. The Open Wide Foundation also works with students, offering “mentoring and practicum opportunities” to first-year dental students.
  6. Smiles for Everyone. Smiles for Everyone offers free dental health services in several countries. Since its inception, more than 27,000 individuals have received free dental care. Smiles for Everyone offers basic dental services as well as root canals, dentures and implants. The organization also provides training to Paraguayan dentists on complex dental procedures. Many of the patients at the free dental clinics have never visited a dentist before.
  7. World Health Dental Organization. This organization offers free dental care and education to marginalized communities, primarily in Kenya. Its flagship clinic provides annual dental treatment to around 4,000 Maasai people who have limited access to dental services. One particular Maasai initiative is the Momma Baby Clinic program that offers “preventative oral health and early intervention strategies… to pregnant mothers and mothers of infants and young children,” educating “hundreds of mothers” a year. Another program, I Am Responsible, has led to the oral health education of more than 700 school children. The organization, through its programs, has also distributed 1,500 bamboo toothbrushes to children living in the Mara.

Looking Ahead

While many oral diseases continue to plague impoverished communities, NGOs are committed to addressing the issue by providing free dental care to previously out-of-reach communities. By volunteering services, supplying resources and carrying out skill-based training, these NGOs aim to create global change. Many also aim to offer education to school-aged children on good oral health and hygiene. As people have better access to essential resources for oral disease prevention, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and running water, the burden to alleviate the public health problem of oral diseases will subside.

– Amy Helmendach
Photo: Flickr