Cell ServiceWhen a hurricane rips through a Caribbean island, news sites often report the destruction of buildings, damaged roads and lost lives. However, one of the most important things that people lose in a natural disaster is often invisible to a spectator’s eye: cellular connectivity. Cell service is crucial to life in the Caribbean islands, just as it is around the world. When Caribbean countries lose cell service, rescue operations, the economy and society itself grind to a halt. That is why many people have been developing creative ways to ensure cellular access during natural disasters.

In 2017, Hurricane Maria destroyed 75% of Puerto Rico’s cell towers, which deprived 91% of Puerto Ricans of their cell service. The most immediate effect of losing service was the inability of rescue teams to find or assist survivors. For weeks after the disaster, large parts of the island remained unable to communicate with the rest of the world to tell people about the island’s condition.

Rebuilding After Hurricane Maria

The lack of internet and cellular service proved a chronic problem for Puerto Rico as it attempted to rebuild after Hurricane Maria. Businesses were unable to advertise or sell their goods, and people could not coordinate rebuilding projects.

Even a year after Hurricane Maria, 10% of small businesses had not reopened and 40% of the population had lost their jobs or were earning less than they had before the hurricane. Estimates of the total financial cost of the hurricane range from $43 billion to $159 billion.

Cell Service and Subscriptions

In Puerto Rico, the internet is so important that the poorest 40% of the population pay about one-fifth of their income for broadband service. The rest of the Caribbean is equally dependent on connectivity. In most Caribbean countries, there are more cell subscriptions than people. The island nation of Dominica, for example, had 152 cell subscriptions for every 100 people in 2014. While other Caribbean countries have been lucky enough to avoid destruction on the scale of Puerto Rico, cellular and internet access after hurricanes is a region-wide problem.

Organizations Helping

Various organizations have proposed many innovations that could provide access to cell service and the internet in the aftermath of a disaster. One potential solution is internet balloons. These are huge balloons that float more than 12 miles in the air and grant internet access to huge swathes of land. Such balloons can undergo quick deployment in the wake of catastrophe and remain in the sky for as long as necessary. Unfortunately, Google’s Loon, the largest maker of these balloons, has shut down. As a result, the future of the idea is in doubt.

Other solutions also exist. Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) is a special way of sending radio signals in disaster situations. TETRA is a decentralized system, so it can broadcast from boats, storm shelters, planes and countless other mediums.

TETRA is also a two-way system, allowing people to communicate with each other in addition to a central broadcaster. Several Caribbean nations, such as the Dominican Republic, already use TETRA systems to provide both warning and relief to the public.

Natural disasters are inevitable, and so much depends on a country’s ability to respond to and recover from them. Perhaps no factor is as important for recovery as good cellular and internet service. New technology will hopefully ensure that connectivity continues when people most need it.

– Thomas Brodey
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

USAID hurricane preparation effortsBefore hurricanes arrive, aid organizations such as USAID work to prepare for the natural disasters. USAID hurricane preparation efforts for the Atlantic hurricane season include ensuring that the organization itself and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean have the supplies and knowledge needed to minimize the impact of hurricanes. With the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season underway, USAID’s preparation efforts will help communities, especially those most impacted by poverty, recover from the aftermath of hurricanes.

The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast

June 1 marked the start of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season with the arrival of the first Atlantic hurricane, Hurricane Elsa. According to AccuWeather meteorologists, Hurricane Elsa is one of seven to 10 hurricanes expected for the year 2021. Meteorologists believe three to five of these hurricanes will qualify as major hurricanes — hurricanes with wind speeds more than or equal to 111 miles per hour.

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season forecast predicts a season with above-average intensity, but meteorologists do not forecast a record-breaking season. As with the 2020 hurricane season, COVID-19 presents a challenge for evacuation and relief efforts.

The increased poverty levels in Latin America and the Caribbean also create a new challenge for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Extreme poverty levels increased in the region during 2020 due to COVID-19, with approximately 12.5% of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population currently living in extreme poverty.

People living in poverty face more barriers in recovering from the impact of hurricanes because they lack access to financial resources that could help them rebuild and seek assistance after hurricanes land. Furthermore, impoverished countries usually lack resilient infrastructure and housing, making these countries more vulnerable to damage and destruction.

Off-site USAID Preparation

Effective USAID hurricane preparation efforts require the agency to accumulate the supplies needed to help people affected by hurricanes. USAID maintains supply stockpiles in the U.S. state of Miami, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Pisa in Italy. By maintaining these stockpiles, USAID can distribute supplies as needed.

USAID hurricane preparation efforts also include testing temporary shelter in simulated hurricane conditions offsite before taking it to disaster-prone areas. Testing housing helps ensure that people impacted by hurricanes receive shelter that is safe and resilient to natural disasters.

On-site USAID Preparation

USAID hurricane preparation efforts also involve working with people on-site in communities at risk of hurricanes. USAID trains meteorologists, educates people about individual safeguarding measures to take to stay safe during hurricanes, stations experts in the Caribbean and Latin America and sends teams to disaster sites before hurricanes make landfall. All these actions help minimize the impact of hurricanes. To create teams that are familiar with the region before disasters happen, USAID stations long-term consultants, advisers and program officers in Latin America and the Caribbean.

USAID’s onsite work in Latin America and the Caribbean creates a network of people prepared to respond to disasters. As of May 2019, USAID trained 70,000 people in the region on disaster response. USAID provides disaster management teams with the necessary information to evacuate regions before flash floods begin, the most life-threatening aspect of hurricanes, by training meteorologists to evaluate the risk of flash floods.

Hurricane preparation saves lives by ensuring that physical and human capital is in place to respond to hurricanes and their after-effects. The Atlantic hurricane season continues until November 30, 2021. With the dedication of organizations such as USAID, disaster response in developing countries is strengthened and the impacts of natural disasters are mitigated.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccination in Dominica
In the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, many people are now receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. Through the combined efforts of several world organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dominica has received a steady supply of vaccines to help combat COVID-19.

Vaccines from COVAX

As of July 2021, the island of Dominica had seen 194 coronavirus cases and no deaths since the outbreak back in March 2020. As of April 2021, Dominica has received 28,800 doses of the vaccine through the COVAX Mechanism, which it will distribute throughout the country. Dominica is one of the 10 countries in the Americas that have received doses of COVID-19 vaccinations at no cost through COVAX.

“We will continue to work with the country to support vaccination along with the entire package of known public health and social measures that we know can help stop the spread of [COVID-19], protect health services and save lives,” said Dr. Yitades Gebre of the PAHO and WHO in an interview with those organizations.

Campaign for COVID-19 Vaccination in Dominica

As of early July 2021, Dominica has administered nearly 40,000 doses to its population. More than 20,000 people, or around 29% of the population, have received at least one shot, and nearly 20,000 more have received both doses of the vaccine. However, even though the COVID-19 vaccination in Dominica is underway, it will still take some time. Recently, the government has been able to give about 25 doses per day and it is on track to have another 10% of the population fully vaccinated in the next 585 days.

People are still contracting the virus as vaccination levels increase, but the U.S. has deemed Dominica a low-risk country. However, the Dominican government has declared that travelers must submit a negative COVID-19 test 24-72 hours before entering the island. People traveling from Dominica must also submit another negative test before reentering the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control advises that they self-quarantine for seven days upon their arrival.

With the majority of Dominicans still not fully vaccinated, the country’s basic COVID-19 prevention tactics are still in full effect. All residents must continue to socially distance themselves from one another, wear masks at all times in public areas, keep up personal hygiene and self-quarantine if they have contracted the virus or been in contact with someone who has. However, the Dominican government and organizations like the U.N. and PAHO remain hopeful that the pandemic will be under control soon enough on the island.

Economic Support for Pandemic Recovery

Not only have WHO and PAHO helped more Dominican citizens receive COVID-19 vaccination in Dominica, but the World Bank Group has also offered support to help Dominica recover from the pandemic. It has given the Dominican government $25 million in COVID-19 relief to help lay the foundation for long-term economic recovery. As of 2009, Dominica’s poverty rate was about 30%. Funding from the World Bank Group will improve the island’s economy by helping restore stability and jobs as the government works to combat the coronavirus.

Demetrous Nobles
Photo: Flickr

Partnership with the Caribbean IslandsThe vibrant atmospheres and scenic views in the Caribbean reach across 14 islands, as well as six more that are categorized as the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. These islands in the Caribbean Sea have relatively small economies that are fiercely dependent on tourism. About 15% of employment and 13.9% of the Caribbean’s GDP centers around tourism, making the Caribbean islands the most tourism-dependent region in the world. However, the COVID-19 pandemic had a disastrous impact on the economy of several Caribbean islands, as people were not traveling and tourism decreased. Due to the United States’ reinstated partnership with the Caribbean islands, the economy may be looking up.

Background of Poverty in the Caribbean

The Caribbean’s exclusion of its poor has been apparent throughout its history, owing to hierarchies of race, class and gender established back through colonial domination. Around 30% of people live in poverty and most jobs that are accessible for uneducated people are low-skilled and low-paid.

There are few opportunities for impoverished people to gain ground in the Caribbean, and there was an even larger setback in the economy due to the lack of tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has contracted the economy by approximately 8.6%. The ability of the Caribbean’s economy to bounce back from the pandemic will determine how many more of its people will fall below the poverty line.

Past U.S. Partnership with the Caribbean Islands

The U.S. has been the Caribbean’s largest trading partner for many years. Likewise, the Caribbean is the U.S.’s sixth-largest trading partner, with around 35.3 billion dollars exchanged between the two each year. The U.S. partnership with the Caribbean began in 1983 with the Caribbean Basin Initiative, consisting of two trade programs: the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act and the US-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act. These help Caribbean countries have more open access to U.S. markets.

The United States’ partnership with the Caribbean islands helps to boost its economy while simultaneously creating more jobs to employ Caribbean residents. This further emphasizes the importance of the U.S.’s reiteration of its commitment to the Caribbean.

Importance of Future U.S. Partnership with the Caribbean Islands

In June 2021, the United States committed itself to partner with the Caribbean as a means for economic growth and the eradication of poverty. This commitment was vocalized as the keynote address at the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago by Ian Saunders, the U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere.

Saunders assured the Chamber of Commerce that the United States is a committed partner to the growth of the economy post-pandemic and of their efforts to help eradicate poverty throughout the islands.

According to the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, Saunders stated that a Caribbean Region Trade Mission and Business Conference will take place in October 2021 with the help of the U.S. Department of Commerce and 14 American embassies. This conference will help connect U.S. companies to opportunities in the islands.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted a positive growth rate that had been maintained by the Caribbean for many years, decimating a lot of hard work by the islanders and plunging many people below the poverty line.

With the United States showing support for the economic backing of the Caribbean, things are looking up for tourism rates and commodity exportation to increase. 

– Allie Degner
Photo: Flickr

Women in BarbadosHuman trafficking is prevalent in the Caribbean, including the island of Barbados. Trafficking is the act of transporting a person with the intention of forced or coerced labor. Research conducted by the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit (CJRPU) indicates that women’s involvement in drug trafficking is more prevalent among those who are uneducated and live in circumstances of poverty with little economic opportunity. The financial rewards of drug trafficking are appealing to women dealing with extreme economic hardship and poverty. Women are involved in trafficking more often than men. Specifically, mothers fall victim to trafficking to take care of their children and help their families out of poverty. Anti-trafficking efforts support women in Barbados and other Caribbean islands.

Caribbean Institute for Women in Leadership

The Caribbean Institute for Women in Leadership (CIWiL), together with several partners, works to create a more favorable environment for female leadership. The CIWiL is a multi-partisan organization without political affiliations that strengthens female leaders’ decision-making in Barbados. Its work is primarily achieved through building initiatives. Currently, webinars are accessible through the CIWiL website. The webinars are about leadership, politics and socio-economic subjects. The website has other political and economic resources such as initiatives for Young Women in Leadership (YWiL) in the Caribbean. One of these initiatives took place in October 2020 in Antigua and Barbuda. This program worked on building personal development skills for women ages 18 to 25 who are actively passionate about public leadership.

Efforts to Support Entrepreneurship

In July 2011, the CIWiL began its activity in Barbados to support events and initiatives that empower female entrepreneurs. In February of the same year, the Barbados government’s Bureau of Gender Affairs held a workshop to celebrate the Day of Women of the Americas for Leaders. The workshop hosted women in the Caribbean who are actively aspiring political or public leaders, helping them learn and build on their leadership skills. The Bureau is confident that supporting entrepreneurship will aid women in Barbados and be an efficient way to combat human trafficking. Developing the country’s economy helps decrease poverty in the country. Providing outlets for businesses to grow also creates significant opportunities for women to explore healthier income avenues.

HIV/AIDS Prevention

The Caribbean is leading at number two for the highest HIV/AIDs prevalence rate in the world. USAID launched a five-year initiative in 2015 to support the Caribbean’s efforts to combat the virus. The Bureau of Gender Affairs declares women’s health a pertinent issue, that if addressed, will support women trafficked in Barbados. From July to September 2011, the Bureau conducted a series of workshops addressing HIV/AIDS. The workshops discussed women’s susceptibility to HIV/AIDS and how to create more awareness and understanding of the topic. The event successfully implemented supportive measures for women in Barbados, including educational tools.

Barbados-United States Partnership

The U.S. Embassy Bridgetown Public Affairs Section (PAS) is trying to implement a new fixed grant system for Barbados. There are about 24 grants awarded for up to $24,000 each. These grants hope to strengthen the Barbados relationship with the U.S. Department of State. The more economically beneficial relationships Barbados has, the greater the opportunity to decrease poverty. Providing women trafficked in Barbados with more options for quality work is imperative to stop the lure of trafficking.

Commitment to Anti-Human Trafficking

Barbados will continue to be successful with its measures to support women and stop human trafficking. The Bureau of Gender Affairs is putting stress on expanding women’s economic status through productive initiatives that provide more opportunities for women in Barbados vulnerable to human trafficking. These anti-human trafficking efforts are the start of increased female empowerment in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean.

Libby Keefe
Photo: Flickr

storm resilienceThe Caribbean region is facing an accelerated amount of devastating storms and severe weather incidents. With the Atlantic hurricane season becoming longer and more aggressive, as well as the additional crippling effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, Caribbean nations are struggling to persevere. It was predicted that from June 2020 to November 2020 there would be as many as 19 named storms, with up to six potentially becoming major hurricanes. In the Caribbean, a typical hurricane season has 12 named storms and three major hurricanes. Caribbean nations have united on storm resilience in the face of disaster in order to strengthen their disaster response.

COVID-19 and Caribbean Storms

The COVID-19 pandemic has already made it difficult to rebuild from past storms. Economies have been critically damaged as many regions depend on tourism. Furthermore, the government has to now prioritize already minimal resources for the public health crisis instead of disaster relief efforts.

With more devastating storms to come, the well-being of these Caribbean nations is a critical concern. Amid the uncertainty, Caribbean nations have united on storm resilience to implement effective emergency preparedness and response.

Initiating Institutional Reform

Nations throughout the Caribbean are acknowledging the obstacle of insufficient investments in National Disaster Management Organizations (NDMOs) that stem from deficiencies in their institutional frameworks. In January 2021, The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) launched an initiative to augment disaster preparedness and enact institutional evaluations for Eastern Caribbean countries like Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines and St. Lucia. These evaluations, conducted by in-person interviews and questionnaires from national disaster experts and program representatives, will find weaknesses in each countries respective NDMOs. From there, the initiative will create a foundation that will support future regional cooperation.

During these institutional assessments, a reoccurring fault was the inadequacy of the NDMOs ability to collect and manage triable data and information. In response, the project received further funding to implement data collection training workshops that cover managing COVID-19 and the oncoming hurricane season. To guarantee the sustainability of these reforms, the project needs to engage policymakers and stakeholders within the government as well as gain input from ministries of finance in the countries involved.

Mobilizing Finance and Insurance Coverage

Caribbean nations have united on storm resilience by developing the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) in 2007 which provides the region with insurance coverage for hurricanes and earthquakes. This “sovereign parametric” insurance method is bought by the government and relies on risk modeling instead of on-the-ground damage evaluations to estimate the cost of disasters. The insurance policy automatically pays out when pre-agreed conditions like wind speed, rainfall and modeled economic losses meet or exceed a certain limit.

This creates fast payouts that avoid time-consuming damage evaluations. This also allows businesses to reopen sooner, roads and airports to quickly start operating again and affected communities to recover faster, preventing further long-term damage.

USAID Collaboration in Disaster Response Training

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has continued to support the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to expand the Red Cross national societies in Caribbean countries. USAID allocated more than $43.1 million in 2020 to support disaster risk reduction activities in Latin America and the Caribbean. These tools will empower communities to adequately prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

Setting an Example During Turbulent Times

Preventing future destruction from violent storms and natural disasters will require serious commitment and collaboration among Caribbean nations. In addition, these circumstances call for increased international support during a time where pre-existing vulnerabilities have been intensified by a threatening pandemic. Witnessing how Caribbean nations have united on storm resilience in face of disaster can provide a positive example for other countries during a time where global unity is most essential.

Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

traditionally excludedOne of the gravest mistakes made when discussing development initiatives is presuming to know what communities’ most relevant problems are without involving those experiencing them. The members of traditionally excluded communities have the necessary knowledge to not only identify the best solutions to the challenges they face but to articulate and call attention to these challenges in the first place. Including traditionally excluded communities in the innovation process is a key ingredient in tackling some of the biggest development challenges of today. IDB Lab is an innovation lab born out of the Inter-American Development Bank Group that aims to do just this, promoting solutions that have been developed with and for excluded communities.

Incubating Innovation

IDB Lab mobilizes financing, knowledge and connections to support creators of inclusive solutions geared to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. These innovative projects target people who are usually excluded from traditional markets. The projects also target populations made vulnerable by economic, social or environmental factors. Such people often do not get to participate in the decision-making process that influences public and private services designed in their favor. IDB Lab prioritizes the involvement of beneficiaries to ensure that relevant solutions are proposed and implemented.

Since 1993, IDB Lab has deployed more than 2,300 operations across 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries, amounting to more than $2 billion put toward development projects. These have included 161 loans, 144 equity investments and more than 2,000 technical cooperation projects. The creative thinkers who champion these ideas come from universities, non-governmental organizations, private firms, and importantly, excluded populations.

The Process

IDB Lab relies on crowdsourcing so that excluded individuals can voice their challenges as well as their preference and knowledge of solutions. Crowdsourcing is essentially gathering and applying the wisdom of a group, a practice that has become increasingly popular and feasible with the emergence of smartphones and social media.

Crowdsourcing fills knowledge gaps and the people in need of the solutions are engaged in it. IDB Lab follows a seven-step process when crowdsourcing data.

7-Step Crowdsourcing Process

  1. Excluded individuals voice their challenges
  2. The group of excluded individuals ranks these challenges
  3. Creative thinkers supply innovative ideas as solutions
  4. These ideas compete with one another and become solutions
  5. IDB Lab and partners fund the winning solutions
  6. Impactful innovations are generated
  7. The innovations developed ideally solve the problems

Informed Decisions, Effective Solutions

IDB Lab favors interdisciplinary collaboration as opposed to a single-sector approach, recognizing the complexities and varying perspectives present among the challenges faced by traditionally excluded communities. Technology facilitates inclusive communication, thus, the group has a strong tech basis. These technologies also ensure democratic and demand-driven development. Technology also offers efficient tools to tackle international development in inventive ways.

Successful social innovation requires sourcing and employing the knowledge of traditionally excluded populations. The more accurate the understanding of a community’s hardships, the more effective the proposed solutions are going to be. IDB Lab recognizes this. IDB Lab finds those who are experiencing hardship and offers them a voice. Crowdsourcing techniques enable IDB Lab to identify and support the development initiatives that are most relevant, inclusive and impactful.

Margot Seidel
Photo: Flickr

Non-Communicable Diseases in the Caribbean RegionNon-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are now causing more damage than communicable diseases, globally killing approximately 40 million persons annually, three-quarters of which occur in low and middle-income countries. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and mental disorders have now been confirmed as the leading causes of death worldwide.

Unfortunately, this reality is no different in the Caribbean. According to the Pan American Journal of Public Health, every year 16,000 persons prematurely succumb to Non-Communicable Diseases in the Caribbean region. In fact, over 70% of all deaths in the region can be traced back to an NCD. Such a record has lasting effects, significantly stunting economic growth and productivity, and has been brought to the alarming attention of health authorities. While the exact reasons for such high mortality rates still remain an ongoing point of research and discussion, risk factors, including tobacco smoking, harmful use of alcohol, poor diet and physical instability, have been found to significantly contribute to the mortality of NCDs in the Caribbean Region. Furthermore, the lack of improvement in the quality of available health care has also been identified as one of the leading causes of the rise in NCD prevalence, case-fatality rate and mortality burden in the Caribbean region.

Investment in Prevention and Control of NCDs

For a long time, regional leaders wrote off deaths associated with NCD as unavoidable. However, the impacts of the NCD epidemic in the region have been found to be much more far-reaching than just health and well-being. Moreover, the existing NCD epidemic has served as a catalyst for negative ripple effects on the economies, productivity and quality of life in the region. Investing in the prevention and control of NCDs is therefore needed to keep other indicators of economic growth and development in check.

Existing Policy Action to Address the NCD Epidemic

Caribbean leaders have put forward outstanding effort and measurements to curb the growing costs associated with NCDs. While sticking with the timeline has proven to be quite a challenge, the regional health authorities have set the following paths and goals toward slowing the progression of its NCD epidemic:

  • The 2007 Mandates of the Port of Spain Declaration (POSD): This includes 27 commitments to action in the areas of reducing NCD risk factors, which include improving healthcare awareness and quality, increasing development of appropriate legislative frameworks and establishing NCD commissions to provide effective monitoring and evaluation of NCD prevention and control efforts.
  • The World Health Organization’s Best Buys/Investments: WHO has designed a set of affordable, cost-effective and evidence-based interventions termed the “WHO Best Buys” to achieve the Sustainable Development Target of 30% reduction of premature NCD related deaths by 2030. Made up of six policy target areas: tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, poor diet, low physical activity, management of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and cancer management, the regional health authorities have set out to generate a $7 yield in health care costs for every $1 invested in Caribbean health care reform by 2030. Additionally, with 16 areas of targeted intervention to guide the policy decisions of each country in the region, countries can design their health policy to address their specific NCD related challenges.
  • Global WHO 25 x25 Strategy: After the 2007 mandate of the POSD in the Caribbean, the World Health Assembly set a global target of a 25% reduction in NCD related mortality by 2025. Set as a part of the WHO’s Global NCD Action Plan 2013-2020, the WHO detailed a total of nine voluntary national targets, with reduced mortality from NCDs and stopping the rise in diabetes and obesity being among the most urgent. This is set to be done through directed health and public policy, focusing on social, political and economic determinants of NCDs in the Caribbean Region.

With continued health policy effort and focus, both the Caribbean Region and the world at large will be able to successfully control this Non-Communicable Diseases epidemic.

Rebecca Harris
Photo: Flickr

demand for child rightsWith 25% of Latin America’s population being under the age of 15, an increased demand for child rights is inevitable. As a result, Latin America and the Caribbean have seen gradual implementations of protection for children under the law. Countries in these regions have seen improvements spanning from a growing economy to quality health care.

Health Improvements for Children

One immediate causes for the demand in children’s rights is because of the abuse that many children in impoverished countries endure. Some issues that exemplify the need for child rights are sexual abuse, drug and alcohol consumption and child labor. The health care systems in Latin American countries are responding.

For example, increased demand for child rights in places such as Argentina and Peru has resulted in more representation for children in health care services. Argentina has had children’s rights written in law since 1994. Now, with children included in health plans, child mortality rates have decreased to 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018, compared to 12.6 just five years earlier.

Strengthening Written Law

Previously, many children in these countries were not seen as separate individuals until they reached adult age. However, increased children’s rights in certain Latin American and Caribbean countries have improved the livelihoods of the underaged. Children’s rights in Latin America and all across the world have moved to the forefront of many political agendas thanks to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and active citizens.

Countries such as El Salvador have shown that the demand for child rights have proved their international leadership on the issue. There are more than 15 comprehensive laws within the country protecting children and almost 20 international laws protecting El Salvadoran children.

Though the numerous laws, in theory, protect the children, it is not as easy to enforce the laws. A large discrepancy still remains between the sentiment and enforcement of law for the protection of children. Legislature rendered ineffective through lack of enforcement “allows perpetrators of violence against children and adolescents to continue committing the same crimes with no fear of prosecution or punishment.

The BiCE

One organization that has made child rights in Latin America a priority is BiCE, the International Catholic Child Bureau. The organization’s main goal is the preservation of child rights in different countries in Latin American and around the world. Current field projects take place in countries such as Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru. Most of the projects focus on fighting sexual abuse of children.

BiCE’s projects have many goals that ensure the safety of a child. For the programs fighting sexual abuse, they offer therapy services for recovery. They also train people to learn advocacy techniques for children’s rights. Over 1,000 children in Peru have received help from BiCE and the organization continues to do more in other countries in Latin America.

Most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have written laws and statutes that protect children. However, this has not proved to be enough for the safety of children in these countries. There have been health improvements and decreased poverty rates, but more still needs to be done to enforce the written laws.

Josie Collier
Photo: Flickr

Hunger Crisis in Latin America
Latin American countries and the Caribbean are on the verge of confronting the deadly combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and a hunger crisis. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report that an estimated 83.4 million people will live in extreme poverty in 2020, potentially leading to a hunger crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean. This number will be 16 million more people than in the previous year. Latin America and the Caribbean’s seven years of slow growth could experience a historic drop in regional GDP (-5.2%).

Ways to Prevent a Hunger Crisis in Latin American and the Caribbean

As part of an initiative, ECLAC and FAO suggest 10 measures to prevent a hunger crisis in both Latin America and the Caribbean. They are as follows:

  • Provide an anti-hunger grant which could take the form of cash transfers, food baskets or vouchers to the entire population living in extreme poverty for a six-month period. It would amount to an estimated cost of $23.5 billion.
  • Support school-based food programs for children and adolescents.
  • Support local and global humanitarian organizations like Action Against Hunger and World Food Program.
  • Financially support agricultural companies with credit and subsidies.
  • Enforce sanitary and health protocols for food production, transportation and food markets.
  • Expand and ensure the functioning of programs to support local production.
  • Support artisanal fishermen and family farmers who contribute a large portion of food in national markets with funding, technical assistance and access to inputs and labor.
  • Maintain and add agile mechanisms for consultation and public-private interaction within all aspects of the food system (production, supply, distribution and access to food).
  • Prevent wholesale and retail markets and agro-industries from closing or reducing their operations.
  • Continue with policies that until now have kept the world food trade open.

Food Prices and Imports

As food systems weaken and unemployment increases, domestic food prices rise and people resort to purchasing cheaper, less nutritional options. The most vulnerable populations are the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Caribbean, the Dry Corridor in Central America, Haiti and Venezuela.

The Caribbean depends heavily on food imports from the United States and the United Kingdom. The area is also at high risk of supply chain disruption and impacts from hurricane season. The ports in the Dominican Republic did not reopen until a month after Hurricane Maria, a category 5 storm, devastated the island in 2017. Anticipating the season in 2020, organizations are subject to balancing the impacts of storms and maintaining measures against COVID-19.

Challenges in Tourism

The pandemic has also placed a strain on tourism in the Caribbean islands as travelers from all around the world had to cancel their trips due to government-issued orders. The Bahamas alone generates 75% to 80% of its GDP from tourism. These small island economies that often find themselves at odds against natural disasters face a decline in tourism by 60% to 70% between April and December.

The Situation with Remittances

Mexico and Central America face high extreme poverty, and undernourishment, especially among decreases in remittances. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are small countries with economies that rely on remittances. In 2016, the remittances that Salvadoreans received amounted to about 17% of the country’s GDP. During the worst of the pandemic, those countries suffered the most as people lost jobs globally, especially the U.S. where people send most remittances from. These countries are also at risk of border closures during the pandemic which is an obstacle for imports and exports.

Poverty and Food Insecurity

South America has a high proportion of poor, indigenous farming families who are already at a disadvantage from COVID-19, lacking proper treatment and medical equipment. In Peru, the country with the fifth-highest number of coronavirus cases, millions are struggling with food security. About 20% of the population lived in poverty and survived through informal employment before the pandemic. Now struggling to find work and afford food, many are going days without food or relying on “community pots” for food.

The global pandemic and hunger crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean could have serious implications if ignored. With a widespread hunger crisis, the world could experience “increased social unrest and protests, a rise in migration, deepening conflict and widespread under-nutrition,” said the U.N. World Food Program’s executive director, David Beasley.

 Understanding the severity of this situation, it is imperative to pass legislation aimed at protecting the International Affairs Budget and increase international funding in the next emergency supplemental. With no end to the COVID-19 pandemic in the near future, the most vulnerable populations need guaranteed access to food.

The ECLAC and FAO’s initiative and their 10 measures are crucial points in preventing a hunger crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean. The pandemic may have set these nations back, but the fight is not over. In fact, 83.4 million people are at risk and their future depends on these measures.

– Johana Vazquez
Photo: Flickr