indoor air pollution
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.3 million people lose their lives every year due to indoor air pollution. A report from the U.N. Climate Panel has further stated that the “worldwide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors” – between 30 and 150 times more people die from indoor air pollution than from global warming.

Around the world, 3 billion people still cook food and heat their homes using solid fuels – such as wood, charcoal, coal, dung and crop wastes – on open fires or traditional stoves. These inefficient cooking and heating practices contribute to a dangerously high level of indoor air pollution, including fine particles and carbon monoxide. In poorly ventilated homes, the amount of smoke produced can exceed acceptable levels for fine particles by 100-fold.

Since indoor air pollution is mostly attributed to activities in the kitchen, women and young children who “spend the most time near the domestic hearth” are especially exposed to the health dangers – acute and chronic respiratory conditions (like pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,) lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, stroke and cataracts. Other risks include adverse pregnancy complications, tuberculosis, low birthweight, perinatal mortality, asthma, middle ear infections and cancers of the upper aero-digestive tract and cervix. These negative health effects are only exacerbated in developing countries.

The cooking and heating practices that are responsible for indoor air pollution are indirectly linked to other health hazards as well. Poorly lit homes and kitchens may contribute to deaths, lifelong disabilities and disfigurement from fire-related burns (which are common when using solid fuel and kerosene stoves.) In low and middle-income countries, kerosene is widely used and stored in soft drink or milk bottles, causing many young children to be poisoned from unintentional ingestion.

Indoor air pollution has adverse environmental effects as well. The reliance on wood fuel can heighten deforestation and put “considerable pressure on forests,” leading to forest degradation and a loss of habitat and biodiversity. Additionally, using biomass and coal stoves is inefficient, and a large percentage of energy is lost as products of incomplete combustion. Incomplete combustion produces pollutants like black carbon and methane, both of which have a significant impact on climate change.

In addition to creating indoor air pollution, traditional biomass fuels and appliances limit the time available for families to concentrate on generating income and educating their children, contributing to a “vicious cycle of poverty and reliance on polluting.” For instance, those who rely on inefficient fuels may spend a large portion of the day on fuel collection, and homes with limited access to a clean and reliable source of lighting would not be able to pursue economic and educational opportunities outside of daylight hours.

To reduce exposure to indoor air pollution, solid fuels should be replaced by cleaner and more efficient fuels: liquid petroleum gas, biogas, producer gas, electricity and solar power. However, biomass is still the most realistic fuel source for poor communities due to the scarcity of alternative fuels. In those areas, indoor air pollution could be downsized through improved stoves and ventilation.

— Kristy Liao

Sources: Eco-Business, Forbes, WHO
Photo: WordPress

nigeria_boko_haram
Boko Haram is an Islamic extremist group from Nigeria with an anti-western world thought. Over 4,000 people have been killed since 2002 when the extremist group began. A month ago Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 Nigerian girls ranging from age 12 to 15 while they were attending school. Recently, the group released a video to the press threatening to sell the girls into slavery and have yet to be rescued. The motive behind these killings and kidnappings is the resistance of anything socially or politically western or modern, such as education. The Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, stated that “all schools are targets.”

The Nigerian universities have come to a halt due to the fear surrounding the campuses because of these attacks by the extremists. The English translation of Boko Haram is “western education is forbidden,” and over 20 schools have been burnt to the ground by the militant group. The extremist group believes that the secularized, western way of life is corrupting the government and society in Nigeria. The goal of Boko Haram’s leader is to create an Islamic nation, and give rise to “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad,” which is also the Arabic meaning of Boko Haram.

The crusade of the attacks on schools by the group is claiming a toll on Nigerian standards of education. Poverty in Nigeria is rising, and a large number of students are not attending, especially Nigerian girls who are living in fear because of the recent abductions. The Nigerian government has had to close down schools and universities for long periods of time due to these growing issues of security.

The fear Boko Haram has instilled in Nigeria is increasing poverty, and lowering human development rates every day. The acts committed by the group are violations of human rights, and are continuing to impede the advancement of female education. The efforts to encourage education for children, especially in young girls, is important to continue to grow the Nigerian economy and prevent the spread of poverty through rural areas. Female education brings empowerment to young girls and is also an investment in Nigeria’s future, in areas including the health sector. Health services like protection against HIV and AIDS, and lowering pregnancy in the community is also a significant factor in female education.

Boko Haram is mainly composed of young, poor Nigerian men. This is another consequence of the rising poverty and employment rate, causing these young men to become conflicted with religious righteousness and the justification of these killings and abductions. The religious extremist group recruits young members from Islamic schools and turn them to violence to extend the message of a non-secular Islamic state. Religious terrorism is a dangerous problem not only for the Nigerian civilians, but the country’s resources and economy as well.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: The Guardian, BBC

Rural Sudan Drought
Conflicts over oil in Sudan, North Africa’s largest country, caused a series of price inflations that have greatly affected the population. As Sudan’s largest natural resource is oil, the country experienced years of turmoil and conflict with bordering countries over the rights to oil fields. The increase in the price of oil is further reflected in transportation, and the isolation gap between urban and more rural areas has grown. As a result of this isolation, rural areas are unable to access necessary resources and economic growth. These areas have experienced low human development and according to the World Bank Sudan ranks 171 out of 187 countries on the human development indicator. In order to better human development the country must focus more on social and economic factors, especially in these rural communities.

Sudan is mostly made up of rural areas, which are drastically affected by drought, famine and conflict. In particular, the region of Darfur has suffered considerably and is currently the poorest area of the country. In fact, the land in Sudan is unfit to farm because of unreliable rainfall and the area faces major drought. Due to these circumstances, more than half of the population of Sudan lives in poverty and isolation.

Sudan also faces inequality and underdevelopment for most people living in these areas. For instance, access to health services is scarce, leaving more than half of the population without access to health resources. Due to the lack of resources in the health sector the child mortality rate in Sudan is extremely high, with  111 child mortality deaths per 1,000 births. In addition to a high child mortality rate, more than half of the population does not have access to safe drinking water. Instead, these communities rely on rivers, wells, and lakes as their drinking source.

In addition to these factors, there is an extreme lack of education in Sudan, especially for young girls. Even if a young girl does have the option to attend school, she becomes at risk of rape and other forms of violence.

There is an obvious need for social and economic development in rural areas to increase Sudan’s overall human development. Children in rural communities must have equal opportunity for a safe education to improve these areas. Also, while there is a substantial focus on oil, the country should instead shift to agriculture so that proper farming practice can be promoted in rural communities. This would foster economic development and lessen the isolation gap that these rural areas currently face.

– Rachel Cannon 

Sources: The Guardian, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Energy Forecast 

Israeli Entrepreneurs
In recent years, Israel has often been dubbed “Startup Nation” – a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation. Tel Aviv is ranked the world’s second startup ecosystem behind California’s Silicon Valley, and Israeli entrepreneurs set up around 600 to 700 million new tech companies each year. These entrepreneurs are extraordinary when it comes to implementing creative ideas and raising early stage funding, contributing to Israel’s record of having the largest venture capital industry per capita in the world.

There are certainly explanations for the success of Israel’s startup scene; a well-educated entrepreneurial population, long work hours, strong funding and high employment for new startups can all be seen as contributing factors. But while Israeli citizens are doing an incredible job of setting up their companies, they have not yet established a history of building long-lasting ones. Instead, it is common for Israeli startups to sell out to larger firms after a few years. These larger firms are almost always foreign companies, who quickly acquire the startups and convert them into research and development centers.

Lately, however, the trend appears to be shifting. Israeli entrepreneurs are making efforts to build lasting, full-fledged businesses. Additionally, more Israeli companies are striving to go public in the United States. Around 70 companies listed on the NASDAQ are Israeli or affiliated with Israel in some way – the most out of any other country, with the exceptions of only the United States and China.

Israel is also looking to use its booming startup scene to contribute to global development. A Devex article noted that new companies should focus on pressing issues like poverty and child mortality, emphasizing the need to concentrate “not only on creating the next Waze to help people navigate around traffic, but also to find solutions for some of the world’s most pressing development challenges.”

Currently, 1.2 million people live in extreme poverty, and 19,000 children under the age of five die each day. Many of those deaths are preventable, and Israel’s track record of startup victories could be the answer. Recently, 70 young entrepreneurs, innovators and international development professionals met at the 2014 Israeli Designed International Development (ID2) to discuss entrepreneurship for global development. These 70 people are at the vanguard of social entrepreneurship – designing medical devices to fight cervical cancer, developing online platforms to address high unemployment in rural areas, providing a way for the poor to design and pursue their own community impact projects.

Helen Clark, the head of the United Nations Development Program, was reportedly “blown away” by the entrepreneurial strength of the ID2 participants. And ID2’s venue of choice – Israel – was well-chosen. Israeli entrepreneurs are already making great strides toward development challenges and social betterment. For example, the Chilean government successfully alerted millions of citizens to an approaching tsunami in early April with the help of eVigilo, an Israeli startup that serves as a mass notification and emergency communication platform. With its innovative spirit and entrepreneurial clout, Israel is capable of producing many more social enterprises like this. In time, “Startup Nation” could truly make its mark in global development.

– Kristy Liao

Sources: Devex, Forbes, Wharton, JNS
Photo: Baruch College