How_Do_Remittances_Help_Poor_Communities
Immigrants come to work in the U.S. from around the world, particularly from Latin America and the Caribbean. A lot of foreign workers send money back to their families in their home countries and these remittances play an important role in alleviating poverty and helping poor communities develop.

The economies of developing countries in the western hemisphere are incredibly dependent on these remittance flows. Remittances to Haiti account for 25 percent of the country’s GDP. Remittances to Honduras account for nearly 20 percent and remittances to El Salvador account for more than 15 percent of GDP. Remittances to Guyana and Nicaragua also account for more than 15 percent of GDP.

These remittance flows serve as the primary source of income for many poor families in the region. They allow them to buy basic necessities such as food and clothing. Many families use the remittances to invest and better their lives. They use them to build a new house or to expand their business or start a new one. In many poor communities in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, the entire economy depends on these remittance flows. Remittances are used to finance all local investment and construction in many villages.

Around $60 billion worth of remittances are sent back to Latin America every year. More than one-fifth, around $12 billion, goes to Central America. This is four times more than the amount of development aid provided by the World Bank and foreign donors. It’s also three times more than the total amount of foreign direct investment in the region.

Since the economies of so many countries in the region depend so heavily on remittances, they are very intertwined with the U.S. economy. During the recession, the economic downturn spread through Central America, the Caribbean and parts of Mexico as remittance flows decreased. This had a major impact and resulted in several years of slow growth for many countries in Central America. Since the U.S. economy has recovered, remittance flows have increased and economies in the region have started growing again.

This highlights the importance that immigration plays in poverty reduction. These remittance flows create new jobs, infrastructure projects and opportunities for business expansion that are helping poor communities pull themselves out of poverty. This shows that a more open and structured immigration policy in the U.S. could potentially have a huge impact in the fight against global poverty.

– Matt Lesso 

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The World Bank, Americas Quarterly, Lonely Planet Guatemala
Photo: Flickr

Latin_America
According to the U.N., poverty-reduction in Latin America has hit a snag.

The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, or ECLAC, recently put out an annual report, showing that 28 percent of the region’s population was living in poverty in 2014. Of those 167 million people, 12 percent were living in extreme poverty.

Economic growth in Latin America has slowed recently. The region registered 1.1 percent growth in 2014—its smallest growth rate since 2009. Alicia Barcena, head of the ECLAC, blamed ineffective policy for much of the region’s woes.

“It seems the recovery from the international financial crisis was not taken advantage of sufficiently to strengthen social protection policies that reduce vulnerability from economic cycles,” said Barcena.

ECLAC has called on regional governments to put mechanisms in place that would improve the region’s resilience in the face of global economic downturns.

“Now, in a scenario of a possible reduction in available fiscal resources, more efforts are needed to fortify these policies, establishing solid foundations with the aim of fulfilling the commitments of the post-2015 development agenda,” said Barcena.

While the regional poverty rate has stagnated, some countries, such as Paraguay (from 49.6 percent in 2011 to 40.7 percent in 2013) and Chile (10.9 percent to 7.8 percent), have made significant progress in reducing their poverty rates. Peru (25.8 percent to 23.9 percent), Colombia (32.9 percent to 30.7 percent) and El Salvador (45.3 percent to 40.9 percent) also made positive progress.

ECLAC’s latest report also showed that while the income-based poverty rate has languished in recent years, multidimensional poverty has indeed fallen significantly since 2005.

According to the report, the percentage of the Latin American population living in multidimensional poverty dropped from 39 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2012.

Despite the current state of relative economic stagnation, preliminary ECLAC projections for 2015 suggest that there is cause for optimism, forecasting a 2.2 percent regional increase.

The ECLAC’s Third Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States will be held in Costa Rica, January 28-29.

– Parker Carroll

Sources: Andina, El Universal, Mercopress, Reuters, Telesur 1, Telesur 2,
Photo: Huffington Post

digital libraries
Rural communities in Central America and the Caribbean make farming and natural resource management decisions under risky and uncertain conditions. Local knowledge systems are proving to be insufficient for the decision-making process, and outside information is not consistently available when farmers need it.

In some cases, local knowledge systems have been disrupted by local politics or imperial intervention. In other cases, new challenges presented by climate change and increased demand for volume and quality require better dissemination of information.

Fortunately, Humidtropics, a CGIAR research program, has stepped up to help poor farm families across the tropics to boost their income through better, integrated agricultural systems’ intensification, while also preserving their land for future generations.

To help bridge this information gap and provide small-scale, rural farmers with necessary, relevant information, scientists with Humidtropics have created four digital libraries with information about: sustainable coffee production, sustainable livestock production, Nicaraguan public policies and rural women.

These themes were chosen based on research by partner organizations in the area. Over several years, researchers chose 300-500 books, manuals, technical reports and scientific articles which are publicly available. The resources are organized by year, theme and source to make them easy to use. The information has now been distributed to the computers of the 50 partner organizations in Mesoamerica.

In 2015, Humidtropics hopes to build more digital libraries and to continually refine the information that is included in each.

Currently the humid tropics are home to 2.9 billion people, the majority of whom are poor farmers. Combined, these farmers have about 3 billion hectares of land, which are critical to local, and global, food supplies, as well as global biodiversity.

Claire Karban

Sources: International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Nicanorte, CGIAR
Photo: Humidtropics

Development in Latin America
Multidimensional poverty is a widespread problem throughout Latin American and the Caribbean, marked by deficiencies in education, health and standards of living. In 14 countries in the region, close to seven percent of the population is familiar with this degree of poverty and an additional 9.5 percent stands on the brink.

United Nation Development Programme expert Alfredo González stated that “there are 45 million people that are living at the limits of their capacities and could fall back into poverty if faced with a negative shock.”

Such a shock could be caused by anything from a financial crisis, such as Argentina’s newest default debacle, to environmental catastrophe, seen in severe flooding and droughts throughout the region.

The UNDP reports that, while Latin America continues to enjoy the greatest amount of human development of any developing region in the world, this progress is being threatened by inequality and a lack of access to formal employment.

In fact, since 2008, the region’s progress toward human development has slowed by 25 percent according to UNDP figures.

The UNDP’s yearly Human Development Index, calculated based on a combination of factors including life expectancy, educational opportunity and purchasing power, rates the long term human development of every nation on a scale of zero being the worst to one being the best.

Chile, Cuba and Argentina topped the region’s HDI charts with respective scores of 0.82, 0.81 and 0.80, while Haiti, Nicaragua and Honduras came in last place.

This year’s HDI report highlights the important role formal employment plays in human development in Latin America. Increased incomes, gainfully employed youth and increased labor regulation are all benefits that communities stand to gain from better access to full employment.

Liliana Rendón, economics professor at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, observes that “the poor do not only suffer from an income deficit; poverty also includes shortcomings in healthcare, education and other problems. Income must translate into wellbeing, taking social, environmental and policy aspects into consideration.”

In order to make strides toward greater wellbeing the UNDP recommends that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean push for policies that facilitate universal access to social services, which, in turn, may serve to bolster formal employment and lift more people out of poverty.

-Kayla Strickland

Sources: Independent European Daily Express, Nearshore Americas, Buenos Aires Herald
Photo: The Guardian

food for the poor, inc.
Food for the Poor, Inc., or FFP, is a Christian-owned and operated nonprofit community dedicated to feeding the poor in Latin America and Caribbean countries.

The nonprofit believes in the power of prayer and donations or gifts to help feed starving children in 17 different countries in order to make their lives better one day at a time.

FFP’s ministry reflects their belief in God’s unconditional love; they inspire trust and faith, and embrace all people, regardless of race or status. It is their belief that Christ is alive and well in their ministry, and that they can best serve him by assisting those in greatest need.

FFP began their work in Coconut Creek, Fla., and it is their current headquarters where they hold daily prayer services. They encourage all members and volunteers of the nonprofit to pray for those in dire need daily because prayer is a fundamental part of their ministry.

The nonprofit also sends out monthly devotionals and weekly prayers in order to set their volunteers and members on the right path as to who has the greatest need. They take prayer requests through the postal service, by telephone and by email in order to best serve the people for whom they pray daily.

FFP addresses issues such as starvation, deforestation, lack of education and many other hardships that may be detrimental to the well-being of the countries they serve.

The nonprofit uses donations and the prayers and faith of their members to help put an end to the largest issue of global poverty. Through donations of gifts, people can help someone eat, get out of poverty or stop deforestation of the rainforests in Latin America.

The charity is in good standing and has great ratings on nonprofit tracker websites. According to Charity Navigator, they put nearly 96 percent of all gifts or donations received toward programs to put an end to global poverty, deforestation and more.

Through the power of faith, donations and prayer, FFP provides a fresh new perspective on how to go about providing aid to those in need.

— Cara Morgan

Sources: Food for the Poor, Charity Navigator
Photo: Empire Press

haiti_deforestation
Spring is upon us but in many places April showers don’t necessarily bring the hope of May flowers, instead they promise environmental disaster and damage to surrounding communities.


Every year, floods ravage Haiti’s countryside, injuring, displacing, and economically crippling many of its rural villages and townships. Rainfall, though necessary for agriculture in the hot Caribbean nation is more feared than it is welcomed these days. Due to widespread deforestation, the soil around riverbanks has eroded, the land has become arid, and there is nothing to anchor the foothills and prevent devastating mudslides.

Between 1954 and 1984 alone, nearly 90% of Haiti’s once abundant rainforests were depleted. An estimated 2% of what was once there remains today, and even that is at risk. Without tree cover or a natural means to replenish the soil with nutrients, the mountain region is now agriculturally useless, only perpetuating a cycle of poverty and harmful environmental practices.

Deforestation has been made significantly more prevalent by corrupt business practices and irresponsible regulations. Under the abusive dictatorships of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier, many Haitians was forced to rely on the production of charcoal for subsistence, turning to the harvesting and burning of trees to supplement widespread unemployment. Charcoal is now, unfortunately, one of Haiti’s most thriving markets.

Additionally, like other developing nations, economic instability and unaffordable trade options have forced millions of Haiti’s inhabitants to rely on this “woody biomass” for fuel.  More viable options of electricity, petroleum, and even kerosene, though also not earth friendly, are less encroaching on the communities themselves. However they are nearly unattainable in many areas.

In more recent years, illegal logging, price negotiations, structural trade agreements, and the seizure of property rights from outside actors has also contributed to an economic environment that leaves many Haitians without much choice but to contribute to cutting down the forests.

For example, Swine Flu paranoia in the 80’s essentially wiped out Haiti’s once successful pork market. This forced pork farmers to annihilate their own acclimatized pigs and replace them with the more delicate North American variety which was too expensive to keep. This paved the way for Reagan’s “American Plan” for the country, which implemented a weak export economy of cheaply and inhumanely manufactured goods. With such bleak options, charcoal and deforestation are increasingly chosen out of necessity.

Journalist and political analyst Amy Wilentz states, “You can read about deforestation and its affects in the books and pamphlets written by these experts, and then you can read about it in the faces and bodies of Haitian peasants…. The summation of a story of dry earth, of the need for sustenance and comfort, of crops that are impossible to raise, even with the hardest and most grueling work, of rain that never falls, of food that just isn’t there.”

People continue to fight back, such as Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, who is a renowned in the world of environmental activism for his work in Haiti. After receiving a formal education in agronomy, he went on to found the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) in 1973 with the expressed goal of establishing principles of sustainable agriculture. The Movement has been effective in the fight against deforestation and other contributions to soil erosion.

His life of activism has not been without contention though. Before winning the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005, he suffered multiple assassination attempts, death threats, and periods of forced exile. His outspokenness regarding forest protection and his role in sparking political dissent made him highly targeted. Still, he leaves an unwavering legacy of land protection in a previously colonized nation, and the MPP continues to be a strong political force.

Deforestation’s effect has been horrible, for the people, the infrastructure, and the very landscape of Haiti, which has seen its fair share of economic and political storms over the past half century. However, scientific awareness, increased environmental consciousness, and a climate of political activism provide hope that Haiti’s rainy season will come to an end.

— Stefanie Doucette

Sources: The Energy Journal 1, The Energy Journal 2, The Ecological Society of America, The World Today, The Journal of Developing Areas, Nathan C. McClintock, The Rainy Season
Photo: 

100k_strong_in_the_americas_program
One of President Obama’s most important initiatives in the Latin American region has been the 100K Strong in the Americas Program. This program was launched in March 2011, and seeks to increase international study in the Western Hemisphere. The idea is to foster a common understanding between the peoples of the Americas in the hopes of bettering inter-American relations.

The Department of State has partnered with the Association of International Educators (NAFSA), and Partners of the Americas, a development agency, in order to realize this vision. The program works by establishing a network of partnerships with foreign governments, universities, and colleges, and the private sector to increase foreign student participation in the U.S. and U.S. student participation in the Americas. The goal of the program is to reach 100,000 Latin American students studying in the U.S. and 100,000 U.S. students studying in Latin America by 2021.

In order to finance this venture, the State Department has set up the 100K Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, whereby companies can donate money to Latin American and U.S. universities in order to improve cross-cultural student exchange. By current figures, 40,000 U.S. students study in Latin America and the Caribbean while 66,000 Latin American students study in the U.S. each year. Clearly there is work still to be done.

One large obstacle is the fact that many Latin Americans from poorer backgrounds do not have the necessary grasp on the English language that is required to succeed at a U.S. college or university. On the other hand, many U.S. students do not understand or recognize the value of studying abroad at Latin American colleges or universities.

It is hoped that the public-private sector partnership through the Innovation Fund will be able to increase the numbers of students studying in the U.S. and in Latin America.

Through the 100K Strong in the Americas program the U.S. hopes to construct a more understanding relationship between Latin Americans and the U.S. Enhancing cross-cultural contact is necessary for a better working relationship within the hemisphere in the future. By promoting this contact between the future leaders of the Americas, the U.S. is ensuring more successful diplomatic efforts down the line.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: 100K Strong, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State
Photo: US Embassy

Violence_Caribbean_poverty
For many wealthy tourists around the world, the Caribbean islands seem like the perfect vacation getaway. Spring breakers, honeymooners and retirees all flock to the golden sands to bathe in crystal clear waters and soak up some sun. Last year alone the Caribbean had 25 million tourists. However, it might be surprising that the murder rates in the Caribbean region are higher than in any other region of the world.

Beyond the protected walls of the all-inclusive hotels, crime, violence and poverty plague the populations of these Caribbean nations. While tourism may be growing back to pre-recession levels in pockets of resorts, the majority of the population continues to battle with rising rape, murder and poverty levels. The Dominican Republic, for example, receives the most tourists of all the Caribbean Islands, yet it ranks as the third poorest Caribbean country with a gross domestic product per capita of only $9,700.

Jamaica similarly represents this paradox; though Bob Marley’s music resonates peace and love around the world, today Jamaica is known for its widespread poverty and high gun crime. In fact, in 2006, 75.2% of all murders committed in Jamaica involved the use of guns.

A report from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean discusses the complexity of poverty and its multilevel impacts on Caribbean countries. Poverty affects societies on a social, cultural, psychological and political level, resulting in increased crime and violence. Nations easily become entangled in a vicious cycle that perpetuates these problems. Poverty causes crime and violence, which then further inhibits a country’s growth and development, thus leading to more poverty and inequality.

Social inequality and poverty in the Caribbean date back to colonialism, as the slave trade created a lasting impact on the social order and economic system of many islands. Back then, social tensions and inequality existed between peninsulares, Spanish-born Spaniards and Creoles and those with European decent born in the new colonies. Today, the situation remains relatively unchanged, as some of the largest businesses are still owned by white families who continue to reap the benefits of the plantation profits.

The violent past has indeed scarred the Caribbean region, creating a deeply divided society brewing with bitter resentment. Not surprisingly, many Caribbean nations seek slavery reparations from European countries, like Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom. They hope to restore some kind of moral justice and initiate development plans to help improve communities still suffering from the effects of slavery.

So there is hope of breaking the vicious cycle. Poverty in the Caribbean can be reduced from an institutional level by supporting education, providing family support and improving health facilities in impoverished areas. On an economic level, trade integrations can stimulate the Caribbean economy by generating jobs and alleviating poverty.

Providing a safe and productive outlet for families to make a living keeps people off the streets and away from crime and violence. The United States can encourage mutually beneficial trade relations that create jobs and build foreign markets while simultaneously restoring the social and economic stability of popular vacation spots.

– Gloria Kostadinova

Photo: Star Wars of the Caribbean
Sources:
ECLAC, World Bank, Bloomberg, The Guardian