Information and news about civil war

Poverty in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is the only African nation to never have experienced colonization, excluding the brief occupation by Mussolini during WWII. This rich lineage goes back further than any anglo-sphere country. From the images of the 1980s-90s famine to the current genocidal crisis in the Tigray region, Westerners may see poverty in Ethiopia, along with most of Africa, through a calamitous lens. While this view threatens to tokenize the pain of a people, it also has the potential to prompt radical change.

In recent years, Ethiopia has made headlines with its record economic growth and industrial advancement. Still, Amnesty International reports that more than 5.2 million people are currently in need of food aid in Tigray, the province at the epicenter of news coverage. Alongside the charges of human rights violations, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the already challenging situation. More than 22 million people are living below the poverty line with a 27% poverty rate expected only to rise. The fear of Ethiopian suffering being ignored on a global stage is what resonates in most reports from the area. However, unification through global affairs makes room for a conversation about geopolitical positions. Civil War, poor health services and global shelving continue to hurt Ethiopians and keep the country in constant economic struggle.

Growth in the Private Sector

The widespread famine of the mid-1980s shocked the world with images of Ethiopia’s hunger-ridden communities. As the country developed in the aftermath, the rate of poverty reduction in rural areas remained mild, moving from 30% to 26%. In contrast, urban development led to poverty falling from 26% to 15% in the same period. From 2004 to 2016, the blooming of business and subsequent decrease in urban poverty ensued. By 2015, the Ethiopian government was following economic leaders like China and South Korea in expanding government policy to encourage private business and development. As the private sector expands and more companies look to Ethiopia for cheap labor, poverty has started to drop. The country sought to meet China’s jaw-dropping achievement of lifting more than 800 million people out of poverty and decided to expand infrastructure, education and health through borrowing from state banks and foreign aid.

For a decade the economic growth rate was 10%. Buildings were cropping up all over the country’s capital, Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s proximity to global markets in Europe and Asia makes it a realistic option for manufacturers of textiles that have started to set up shops in the region. This made Ethiopia one of the fastest-developing African nations and sparked global recognition of the country’s goal of reaching middle-income status for its citizens by 2025.

The Situation in Tigray

A racialized civil war occurred after president Abiy Ahmed postponed the election due to take place in August 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tigrayan government said this was fundamentally unconstitutional, Abiy responded by withdrawing funding to the region and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) answered with violence. Ethiopian and Eritrean militaries saw this as a political opportunity to get back at Tigrayians for an age-old border dispute.

As a result, ethnic cleansing has devastated communities. Alongside the brutal harm inflicted on the Tigrayan ethnic group, an 18-month-long internet blackout followed in the Northern part of Ethiopia, which is home to more than 7 million people. On November 28 and 29, a massacre of 800 people occurred in Aksum but was underreported due to the communication disconnect. Even the Tigrayian language is becoming a barrier as it is nonexistent on Google Translate. Silos have burned down and mass rapes have already become history.

War deprives people of basic resources that are essential to survival. In a country already struggling to win the fight against poverty, a fight among brothers is not helping anyone. Yet, in a hopeful twist, the Tigrayan rebels released a statement this week saying they are ready for peace talks in a rush to find diplomatic answers to the crisis. This came after last month’s fighting left many marred; again violence erupts and those responsible vacate the spotlight leaving the people without a solution, only scars.

Solutions

Spreading awareness of poverty in Ethiopia is one way to get acknowledgment that leads to holding people accountable. The media does not always cover countries like Ethiopia, but they are important. To help showcase Ethiopia and other countries on the global stage, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez proposed the Ethiopia Stabilization, Peace and Democracy Act in 2021. This Act will allow the U.S. to help end the civil war and may help the country thrive through financial, technical and diplomatic support, while also seeking accountability for crimes against humanity in Ethiopia.

– Shane Chase
Photo: Flickr

Ceasefires Bringing Peace to the World
Since the start of the decade, three wars have come to an end following years of brutal conflict. With the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, oftentimes, flooding the news, it can be easy to forget about the positive side of international affairs. However, there have been several conflicts that have ended in recent years. The end of the war has allowed various countries to rebuild during their times of peace and focus on strengthening themselves internally. Here are some examples of recent ceasefires that are bringing peace to the world.

The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire Agreement

Azerbaijan and Armenia fought the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Nagorno-Karabakh is a region in Azerbaijan with the most Armenians. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh voted to become part of Armenia. This caused Azerbaijan to take action to reclaim its lost territory.

The war originally began in 1988 and ended in 1994 with a ceasefire; however, it did not lead to the signing of a peace treaty. The war resumed in 2020 for about a month and a half before Russia negotiated a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan. During the initial conflict, more than 600,000 people experienced displacement and the resumption of the war in 2020 displaced 75,000. Ultimately, Nagorno-Karabakh returned to being part of Azerbaijan.

Following the war, Azerbaijani families began to return to Nagorno-Karabakh. With its newly regained land, Azerbaijan has decided to take advantage of various technological advancements since the start of the original war. The village of Aghali, specifically, will be a testing ground of sorts for the country’s “smart villages concept.” This will allow displaced families to home to new houses with smart technology and improved rural lifestyles with the additions of digital connectivity and automation.

The 2020 South Sudan Civil War Ceasefire

After earning its independence in 2011 and becoming the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan became entrenched in years of civil war. There were various factors behind the start of the war; but, much of it is due to the political rivalry between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar.

Similarly to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, both sides agreed to a ceasefire in 2018. Unfortunately, the ceasefire did not hold and fighting continued for two more years. It was not until 2020 that Kiir and Machar agreed on another ceasefire to officially end the war. There are currently about 2.3 million people that the conflict displaced.

While the war has left Sudan in ruins, many of its citizens have hope for the future. The first encouraging sign came when Kiir appointed Machar as the first vice president, signaling an effort to maintain peace. Additionally, South Sudan looks to improve its struggling education system. Just before the war, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) received a grant of $36.1 million to implement its education plan. Despite the conflict, the funding was fairly successful and contributed to the construction of 25 primary schools and a strategy to increase gender equality. With the war over, the GPE has given South Sudan another grant of $35.7 million to build on the foundations that were set in the preceding years.

The 2020 Libyan Civil War Ceasefire

In 2011, Libya attempted to create a new, democratic government after the overthrowing of the previous leader, Muammar Gaddafi. What followed was a disagreement between two different government ideologies that escalated into a full-scale civil war. The war was mainly between the leader Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj, and rebel general Khalifa Haftar

This war in particular was the Second Libyan Civil War. The first took place in 2011 while the second ran from 2014 to 2020. Over the course of the war, more than 200,000 people experienced displacement and many more still require “humanitarian assistance.” After years of fighting, the two sides, eventually, came together and agreed to a “permanent cease-fire.” Many viewed this as a great accomplishment.

Shortly after the ceasefire agreement, Libya implemented a temporary joint government to avoid any clashes between the two opposing sides until proper elections can be implemented. Before the war, Libya included many unfinished buildings and projects that were on hold. Now, with the war officially over, several countries have taken interest in Libya’s reconstruction effort. Italy, in particular, would like to protect its interests in Libya’’s plentiful oil reserves. Italy also proposed the construction of a solar power plant in Libya.

While it can, sometimes, feel like the world is in a constant state of violence, these examples are proof that ceasefires are bringing peace to the world. Nations that have been fighting for years are burying the hatchet and transitioning into a new era of harmony. As their reconstruction efforts continue, many people can rest a bit easier knowing that the world is more peaceful than it once was.

– Tyshon Johnson
Photo: Unsplash

Food Insecurity in Syria The civil war in Syria began in March 2011, greatly impacting the lives of those who live in and around the country of Syria. With the United Nations noting a staggering poverty rate of 90% in March 2021, the people of Syria are struggling to secure their basic needs. Rising levels of food insecurity in Syria are of particular concern, a consequence of the conflict within the nation. According to the United Nations, in 2021, 60% of Syrians were at risk of hunger, “the highest number ever in the history of the Syrian conflict.”

The Numbers

According to an August 2021 World Food Programme (WFP) country brief, 12.4 million people in Syria suffer from food insecurity. This number rose by 4.5 million since the previous year, marking a record high. The onset of COVID-19 served to exacerbate food insecurity and poverty, compounding existing issues of “years of conflict, displacement, soaring food prices and a decline in the value of the Syrian” currency. The cost of essential food “is now 29 times higher” than it was before the civil war began. Due to worsening conditions in the nation, 1.3 million people in Syria are suffering from severe food insecurity. The conflict and war have also led to the displacement of 6.8 million people, serving as another contributing factor to growing food insecurity in Syria.

War and conflict within Syria also affect crops and harvests. A study published by Nature Food in January 2022 uses satellite data to shows that cropland near urban settlements suffered severe disruption after the start of the Syrian civil war. The areas that saw the most cropland reduction are the northwest and southeast. The issue of food insecurity becomes greater when the people of Syria can no longer grow their own crops.

Emergency Food Assistance

According to USAID, 11.7 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance, 9 million of whom “require emergency food assistance.” Some 65% of Syrians have restricted their food consumption and are now “purchasing food on credit.” This means going into debt to feed their families. USAID’s Office of Food for Peace (FFP) has donated “more than $3.2 billion in emergency food assistance [to Syria] since 2012.” This includes $401.8 million in 2017, $514.6 million in 2018 and another $475.4 million in 2019.

WFP is also providing assistance to the people of Syria. It provides food assistance to 4.8 million people on a monthly basis. This food assistance includes “rice, pulses, oil and wheat.” The WFP also provides pregnant and nursing mothers with “nutritious food” as well as vouchers to help maintain their nutritional needs and improve their diets and vitamin intake. In addition, WFP provides school children with the nutritional food they need. The organization has given “vouchers to more than 348,000 students” to ensure they receive “snacks, fresh meals and assistance.” The crisis in Syria is concerning enough that WFP fundraises hundreds of thousands of emergency funds for its various food emergency initiatives.

Addressing the Crisis

The people of Syria continue to face difficult times during the ongoing civil war. Syrians have lost their homes, family members and access to food during this time. Food insecurity in Syria is at an all-time high, with millions going hungry every day. Citizens’ struggles to grow crops only add to the food insecurity. However, with the help of the FFP and WFP, millions of people in Syria are receiving food assistance. Women and children also benefit from these programs by receiving food and vitamins. These programs offer a great example of how the international community can contribute to food insecurity emergencies around the world.

– Sierrah Martin
Photo: Flickr

Okere CityThe city of Okere Mom-Kok began as a project created to rebuild more rural communities destroyed in the wake of the Ugandan Bush War in the 80s. With the death of roughly 100,000 to 500,000 people, this war plagued the Northwestern region of Uganda the most. This project is already spreading throughout the country and reaching global headlines because of the progressive, sustainable methodologies offering accessible living alternatives.

The Ugandan Bush War

From 1980 to 1986, the Ugandan Bush War (also known as the Luwero War) ravaged several Ugandan villages. The conflict began with former General Idi Amin’s rise to power. Early in his presidency, Idi Amin established a military dictatorship. The Uganda National Liberation Front soon overthrew him. Originally implemented by Tanzania to replace Idi Amin, the UNLF’s regime lasted from early 1979 until it was eventually dismantled due to the attacks of Amin loyalists in 1980.

Detached groups of Amin loyalists massacred most of the Ugandan National Liberation Army. With the attacks on the previous Ugandan prime minister, Apollo Milton Obote, and the capturing of most villages along the West Nile, the Uganda Army wreaked havoc in Northwestern Uganda until internal conflict resulted in the separation of the insurgent group. This division generated a new, opposing group known as Uganda National Rescue Front.

Not long after, Obote regained office in 1981 and inspired the emergence of even more rebel armies. In 1982, however, the National Resistance Army, Uganda Freedom Movement, Uganda National Rescue Front and the Nile Regiment came together to create the Uganda Popular Front.

The conflict did not stop there, as the ex-soldiers continued to rebel against the new government well into 1994. Following Idi Amin’s presidency, President Yoweri Museveni took office in 1986 after allying with the rebellions that toppled the reign of his predecessors. President Museveni is currently in the sixth term of his presidency and suppressed the continuous attacks.

The Situation Today

An estimated 1 million Ugandan’s lost their lives throughout the 80s and early 90s. The end of the Ugandan Bush War left the remaining villages uprooted and their residents devastated. President Yoweri Museveni is still working to rebuild the toppled infrastructures of these villages and the Ugandan economy as a whole. The increasingly innovative solutions invented in Okere Mom-Kok are one prime example of the efforts.

The City of Okere

The city of Okere is located in the Otuke District, Uganda and consists of 14 villages, each with about 200 people. Made famous for its shea trees, Okere City is the inspiration for Marvel’s “Black Panther.” The shea tree is currently in high demand due to its scarcity after the war. Furthermore, their energy-efficient components make them very coveted.

This area was hit the hardest and is still recovering, thus the pioneering of greener and more sustainable living technologies. From the use of shea butter as a charcoal substitute to solar energy being accessible to the entire network of villages, the city of Okere continues to thrive and evolve. The main village currently consists of a church, markets, schools, clinics and several other crucial establishments.

Okere City is one of the many villages left destroyed by the Ugandan War and is still building towns essentially from the ground up. But this development created greener, more accessible technologies and spread throughout the country. The future for Okere City is bright and illuminates a beacon of hope for the livelihoods lost throughout the travesty that was the Ugandan Bush War.

– Caroline Kratz
Photo: Flickr

The Liberian Civil War
Freed American slaves founded the country of Liberia. It boasts a reputation as an African state that upholds many western values. English is Liberia’s official language, and the country modeled its constitution after the United States’ constitution and named its capital Monrovia after James Monroe. Additionally, Liberia literally means “Land of the Free.” For 130 years, this uniquely American country celebrated independence and economic power. Then in 1980, members of the Krahn ethnic group overthrew the governing body and executed the president and 13 of his aides. This violent coup d’état led to a civil war nearly a decade later, which lasted until 2003. Today, the country is working through the lasting effects of The Liberian Civil War.

The Current State

The Liberian Civil War subjected Liberia’s 4.61 million citizens to tremendous pain and terror. According to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the war killed an estimated 250,000 people. Another 1 million experienced displacement from their homes and had to go abroad as refugees. For years, the United States government and other African nations have hosted these refugees. However, repatriation has proven to be difficult due to the instability of Liberia’s economy.

In 2019, the Human Development Index (HDI) ranked Liberia in the low human development category. This means that Liberians are losing out on “a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living,” according to the HDI’s basic dimensions of human development. Along with this, “Currently 38.4% of the population is food insecure, 25% of the population does not have access to drinking water and just 17% have access to basic health services.”

The 14-year civil war tested the nation and the livelihoods of many who suffered. Despite this, a glimmer of hope exists for the country. Work is underway to reverse the trends that the violent conflict set forth more than 40 years ago.

Action Against Hunger (AAH)

Food security, water accessibility and health services have proven to have experienced the most damage due to Liberia’s post-war economy. As a result, aid has been mainly targeting these sectors. NGOs, IGOs and the Liberian government have each worked to improve the lives of Liberian citizens.

In the fight against food insecurity, Action Against Hunger (AAH) has greatly impacted Liberia. In 2019, AAH’s team in Liberia reached 301,507 people through screenings and treating malnutrition. AAH has also partnered with Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance in Liberia to further its work. AAH advocates on the local and national levels for more support to improve general nutrition statuses all around the nation.

Water Accessibility

Water accessibility is another struggle throughout the country. After the war, Liberia’s new government developed a program called WASH. The intent of the program was to improve water quality, sanitation and general hygiene. USAID—the largest donor to the WASH sector—focuses on and addresses the infrastructure surrounding accessibility and sanitation. The program is also expanding services to both rural and urban communities. As a result, more than 353,000 new people have access to improved drinking water and nearly 154,000 have access to improved sanitation.

Malaria and Ebola

Following these fronts, general health services in Libera have exhibited positive growth. The Ebola outbreak that ravaged sub-Saharan Africa put Liberia’s health system to the test and cracks began to show. In the wake of the epidemic, the CDC expanded its focus beyond malaria intervention by investing in stronger “laboratory, surveillance, emergency management and workforce capacities to respond to disease outbreaks in support of the Global Health Security Agenda.” The CDC also teamed up with Riders for Health in the fight against Ebola. Since 2015, the partnership has transported over 300 relay stations to help rapid diagnosis of the disease. The country has not fully recovered from The Liberian Civil War but these organizations are striving to help it meet that goal.

Looking Ahead

Years of devastation due to war shook the country’s institutions to the core. But as time progresses, the improvements within Liberia are unmistakable. Efforts by NGOs, IGOs and the Liberian government alike provide hope for a recovered Liberian economy. Sustained efforts will allow Liberia to put its civil war in the past.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Colombia's National Development PlanWhile Colombia has magnificent landscapes and rich cultural history, the country is also rooted in deep political and economic inequality. In 2018, Colombia’s poverty rate stood at 27.8%; this measure defines poverty as those living on less than $5.50 a day. Unfortunately, Colombian households led by women are more likely to endure poverty. Thus, Colombia finds itself in need of reform. Hopefully, poverty will decrease with the implementation of Colombia’s National Development plan.

A Look Into Colombia’s Recent History

Colombia’s poverty rates and development plan cannot be explained without the inclusion of the country’s last five decades of civil unrest. Colombia’s civil war involves the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARQ), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Colombian government. The conflict largely revolves around the call for economic reform. The FARQ and the ELN were founded in the 1960s to “oppose the privatization of natural resources and claim to represent the rural poor against Colombia’s wealthy.”

Although the FARQ and the ELN cite good intentions, Colombia’s civil war has led to at least 220,000 deaths, 25,000 disappearances and 5.7 million displacements “over the last half-century.” The U.S. State Department calls these groups terrorist organizations. Unfortunately, the consequences of this civil war, like all other civil wars, had devastating effects on the countries’ social and political spheres. In 2016, the Colombian Government and the leaders of the FARQ signed a peace agreement, hoping to bring unity to the country.

The National Development Plan

However, three years later, the promises of reinsertion, protection programs and rural remain unfulfilled and the violence continues. Fortunately, this could change with Colombia’s National Development Plan (PND). This proposal “combines the government’s financial resources with grassroots participation which the government calls ‘co-creating together,’ a form of engagement that will play a key role in building sustainable peace.”

Launched by President Iván Duque in 2018, Colombia’s National Development Plan has a budget of $325 billion. The plan hopes to address societal, social, economic and political issues within the country. But, its most ambitious goals rest on “education, employment, entrepreneurship and environmental sustainability.”

Eradicating Poverty

One major goal of the PND is to bridge the gap between the economic classes, eradicating extreme poverty. Today, 1.9 million Colombians are in extreme poverty; the government hopes to implement the Sisben IV program, which “will see State resources delivered to the most vulnerable members of society through subsidies.”

The PND aims to alleviate poverty by stimulating the economy in a multitude of ways; state subsidies are just one example. For instance, Colombia plans to develop creative industries, “such as visual arts, software development and cultural industries.” The national administration also plans to reduce unemployment by more than 1% through the creation of 1.6 million jobs. Additionally, “The plan is also targeting the development of international trade and the promotion of foreign investment in Colombia as a means of increasing the capacity of the economy.”

Education and the Environment

Increasing employment and subsidies will certainly help the economy directly. But, the PND also hopes to improve the economy in the long run by developing education systems and improving the environment. For example, the PND hopes to increase participation in the public education system. Administrators aim to double “the number of students who are attending a single session school day from 900,000 to 1.8 million.” In terms of the environment, President Duque’s plan aims to invest $3 billion in sustainable development and to plant “180 million trees in order to stimulate a rejuvenation of the environment.”

For five decades Colombia has struggled with internal strife, leaving the country torn in the political, social and economic arenas. Colombia’s most vulnerable people, the impoverished, have seen little improvement in recent years. Colombia’s civil unrest and high poverty rates left little hope for the future. However, the 2018 National Development plan sparks the potential for change. The plan proposes both direct and long-term solutions for poverty through investments in education, employment, the environment and the economy. Hopefully, Colombia’s National Development plan will benefit the nation’s impoverished communities.

Ana Paola Asturias
Photo: Flickr

solar microgridsThe United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped establish three solar microgrids in rural Yemeni communities. Earlier this year, the British charity Ashden honored the scheme as one of 11 recipients of its prestigious Ashden Awards. These annual awards recognize initiatives whose efforts to deliver sustainable energy have produced important social and economic advantages.

Solving a Fuel Shortage and Economic Crisis

Yemen’s energy infrastructure cannot transport power to rural towns and villages. Thus, many of these communities depend upon highly-polluting diesel generators. However, longstanding conflict and crippling embargoes have made fossil fuels scarce and expensive. Moreover, oil prices have fluctuated in recent years, and poverty has skyrocketed. This crisis has affected approximately three-quarters of Yemen’s population. Current estimates indicate that more than two out of five households have been deprived of their primary source of income. It’s also been found that women are more acutely impacted than men.

Now, the energy situation is shifting. The UNDP has provided funding and support to three different groups of entrepreneurs that own and operate solar microgrids. The three are located in Abs in the district of Bani Qais in the northwest and in Lahij Governate in the south. Their stations provide clean, sustainable energy to local residents and at a much lower price. The solar microgrids charge only $0.02 per hour as opposed to the $0.42 per hour that diesel costs.

Such savings for households and businesses have greatly impacted the local economies. Not only can people work after sunset, they also possess more disposable income. According to Al Jazeera, approximately 2,100 people have been able to save money and put it toward creating their own small businesses. These include services for welding, sewing, grocery stores and other shops. So far, a total of 10,000 Yemenis have benefitted from the energy provided by the three solar microgrids.

Empowering New Leaders in Business

The entrepreneurs who founded and now run the microgrid facilities in Bani Qais and Lahij Governate are young men. However, the power station in Abs is completely owned and operated by women. These Abs women receive training in necessary technical skills and study business and finance.

Some expected the scheme to fail due to the sophisticated knowledge it required and the relative inexperience of the facilities’ operators. Well, one year has passed, and the solar microgrids are running at full capacity. The project thus offers a valuable model for creating jobs in a country where civil war has shattered the economy and hobbled basic infrastructure.

Specifically for the women in Abs, though, a steady income and the ability to provide a much-needed service have increased their self-confidence. These women can feed their families and use the university educations they each worked for to a great extent. As the station’s director explained, their work has even earned them the respect and admiration of those who used to ridicule them for taking on what was once considered a man’s job.

Looking to the Future

The success of the UNDP’s project’s first stage shows a possible solution to Yemen’s problem of energy scarcity. The UNDP now works to find funding for an additional 100 solar microgrids. Since civil war began in 2015, both sides have tried to limit each other’s access to the fossil fuels that Yemen depends upon. Pro-government coalition forces have prevented ships cleared by the U.N. from unloading their cargoes in the north. On the other side, Houthi-led rebels have recently suspended humanitarian flights to Sanaa, the country’s largest city and its capital. This is all in the midst of hospitals struggling to care for patients during the pandemic.

The UNDP’s solar microgrids are a source of hope among the many conflicts plaguing Yemen. More still, it is likely others will soon follow in the footsteps of the three initial young entrepreneurs. These solar microgrids stations have empowered Yemeni communities to build better and more sustainable futures and will for years to come.

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

Child Hunger in IdlibThe Syrian conflict continues to rage through this pandemic. The locus of fighting has shifted to the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. Since 2019, the Syrian government — with support from Russia — has engaged in various bombing campaigns in the region and sent ground forces as well. Idlib is clearly feeling the effects of this violence. The need for aid in the province grows alongside the increasing size of the humanitarian crisis. One particularly important but overlooked aspect of the devastation in Idlib is the rising cost of food. Child hunger in Idlib is a result of the rise in levels of food among the youth due to price increases.

The Issue

Child hunger in Idlib — for infants in particular — has become an area of concern as COVID-19 has become more prevalent throughout the country. One big factor is that food has generally become much less accessible. According to The New Humanitarian, “‘An infant needs one container of formula per week, but the price has risen to $12,’ up from $9 three months ago … For many parents, that sum is out of reach.” This increase in price manifests itself often in the form of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). The disease primarily affects children under the age of 5, is highly dangerous and often turns life-threatening. Effects of SAM include a process known as “stunting,” which limits the physical growth in very young children. Stunting and other effects of SAM lead to other problems later in life for these children.

Another frequent issue is malnutrition in pregnant and breastfeeding women. It not only affects them personally but impacts the growth of their infants as well. The New Humanitarian also reports a rise in SAM hospital cases over the summer of 2020. The ratio jumped to 97 out of 1,692 people screened from the January status of 29 out of 2,199. This is likely a lower estimate given the number of people who cannot get screened or don’t have access to testing. Time is of the essence after receiving a SAM diagnosis. Once a child with this condition reaches 2 years of age, they will likely deal with the consequences of SAM for the rest of their life.

Fighting Worsens the Problem

Child hunger in Idlib — and in Syria more widely — is deeply concerning. The issue is compounded by the broader poverty levels and violence that plague the entire country. As a result of the fighting, the majority of  Syrians are internally displaced from their homes.

There is no clear end in sight to the fighting between rebel forces and the Syrian state military. Refugee camps are essentially at capacity and can’t withstand an influx of people if the civil war persists. Additionally, COVID-19 continues to ravage the country, which will likely increase the number of Syrian refugees and displaced persons.

In addition to the housing issue, food scarcity is prevalent in the country. Food options are usually unavailable or unaffordable. As such, many Syrians rely on foreign assistance and aid from NGOs as resources for food.

Aid

There are, however, numerous aid organizations and NGOs working to provide food security and address the growing refugee crisis. They are especially targeting the northwest, where Idlib is located. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is an organization working to expand health care access to those who need it. SAMS also provides meals to both children and adults at risk of food insecurity. Yet another part of their work focuses specifically on care for those with Severe Acute Malnutrition.

SAMS fights against child hunger in Idlib and throughout the rest of the country. They report that in 2019, the last year for which data is available, SAMS performed more than 2.5 million medical services for the Syrian population, at no or greatly reduced cost. Since 2011, they have provided more than $207 million worth of aid and medical resources as well.

SAMS and other similar organizations are vital to the survival of millions of Syrians. However, there is still more to be done. The international community must redouble their efforts to provide resources to those displaced and malnourished. Everyone must work to end the violence that has been a constant in the country for so long.

Leo Posel
Photo: Flickr

Alleviate Poverty in Syria
Syria has been in a state of civil war for nine years, since March 2011. Dire consequences meet civilians from all sides; from danger and violence if they stay and closed borders due to an overflow of refugees if they try to leave. Due to this humanitarian crisis, poverty has affected more than 83% of the population. In this same vein, 8 million Syrian children are in need —both inside and outside the country. As of April 2020, the WFP reported that the cost of a staple basket of food has risen by 111% in comparison to the previous month, due to Syria’s COVID-19 crisis. With these factors at play, initiatives to alleviate poverty in Syria are a welcome respite.

While it may seem that good news is hard to come by, there are a few initiatives in Syria working against the effects of high poverty rates. They tackle these issues from several angles, such as rewriting stereotypes, entrepreneurial education, resource allocation and community development. Here are four initiatives that are working to alleviate poverty in Syria, today.

4 Initiatives to Alleviate Poverty in Syria

  1. MeWe International and the #MeWeSyria Movement: Rewriting Stereotypes – MeWe International Inc. aims to rewrite the narrative about poverty in Syria and Syrian refugees. By using communication skills and narrative interventions as tools, it encourages and promotes healthy psychological skills, leadership efforts and community engagement. The training networks are hosted within Syrian communities and gear toward refugee youth and caregivers, especially within the facets of mental health. Storytelling is a tool MeWe International uses to help people to heal, grow and dream of a better future within communities in poverty in Syria.
  2. The Remmaz and Mujeeb Programs: Entrepreneurial Education – Programs from 2016 and 2017 are continuing to focus on equipping the younger generations in Syria with the knowledge and skills they need to rebuild their country and support their communities. Leen Darwish founded Remmaz, which teaches students how to code. “This programme is providing young people in Syria with critical business, leadership and entrepreneurship skills and directly linking them to opportunities to generate income,” says Bruce Campbell, UNFPA Global Coordinator for the Data for Development Platform. Aghyad Al-Kabbani, Eyad Al-Shami and Zeina Khalili co-founded Mujeeb, an AI program that creates customer support chatbots in Arabic. Al-Shami quoted, “On the human side, it’s hard. It’s not about building the next Google. But I want to exist. I want to do something.” Their hard work has led not only to easier online communication for people in Syria but also to a great success story for other young, Syrian entrepreneurs. This is a great example of how to alleviate poverty in Syria from the inside.
  3. United World Food Program Initiatives: Resource Reallocation – The World Food Program USA (WFP) has brought a few innovative solutions to Syria that have improved quality of life and the procurement of resources. Technology has been a valued instrument through NGOs like WFP. Moreover, the extension of aid is very much necessary to alleviate poverty in Syria. To counter the needs of 11.1 million people, iris scans prevent robbery while truck convoys carry supplies to hard-to-reach communities. Furthermore, both bakeries and greenhouses (under construction) increase the flow and availability of food. The WFP feeds more than 4.5 million people inside Syria and more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees every month. By addressing hunger on this scale, the most essential needs of the poor are met. Further, they can slowly grow and rebuild their homes and businesses.
  4. UNDP Leaving No One Behind Resilience Program: Community Development – The 2018 Resilience Program based in Syria focuses on four large-scale areas to alleviate poverty in Syria. The initiative works to promote self-reliance through socioeconomic recovery, improving the quality of basic services. Also, it aims to reinforce social cohesion in the community and strengthen local partnerships. The interventions were able to reach around 2.8 million people and contributed directly to around 111,000. The area-based approach rated certain geographical areas by need and ensured that the most crucial needs were met first. The communities with the highest beneficiaries include Aleppo, Al-Hakaseh, Rural Damascus and Lattakia. One of the projects included the improvement of basic services to crisis-hit areas, and these services included:
    • Solid waste and debris management;
    • Repair of water, sewage and electricity networks;
    • Rehabilitation of local businesses;
    • Supporting clean and renewable energy sources; and
    • Emergency repair of electricity and infrastructure.

Washing Away the Stain of War

Two million Syrians alone have benefited from the improvement of basic services. The remnants of war and violence are being cleaned up and removed. Moreover, the stones in the debris that were removed from Bab Al-Hadid were collected on-site. Notably, these stones will be reused in future rehabilitation projects in the same area.

After nine years of civil war and the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, the contributions of these organizations provide relief to Syrians.

Savannah Gardner
Photo: Pxfuel

Rising Poverty in Lebanon
Before COVID-19, Lebanon was already facing an economic crisis, and rising poverty in Lebanon was a growing concern. As a result of COVID-19, the country’s economy is failing. The pandemic threatens to push up to 75% of the country’s population to poverty. A country with one of the highest debts in the world, Lebanon has now defaulted on its debts. Inflation has risen, putting many members of the middle class at risk of poverty. The people of Lebanon blame corruption and mismanagement for the problems that are plaguing the country.

Lebanon’s Political Dysfunction

From 1975 to 1990, Lebanon experienced a civil war that religious tensions caused. Ultimately, Lebanon’s new government decided to adopt a system based on confessionalism, which gives religious groups a strong voice. The president of Lebanon must always be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the house a Shia Muslim. However, government action has been slow as a result. It took Lebanon 12 years (from 2005 to 2017) to pass a state budget. Increasingly, people in Lebanon have been calling for an end to this political system, which is not only fragmented and ineffective but also filled with corruption and meddling from countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Inflation and Rising Poverty in Lebanon

In 2019, the World Bank predicted that Lebanon’s poverty rate would increase as a result of the country’s economic problems. Inflation had already risen — but not by the margins that the country has seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lebanese currency has now lost more than 80% in value. With the devaluing of its currency, Lebanon is experiencing an increase in prices on goods. Many people are struggling to afford meals, as food prices have increased by 190% in comparison to last year. Meanwhile, the price of clothes has increased by 170%.

Inflation is a vicious cycle, influenced by both suppliers and consumers. Suppliers in Lebanon — such as supermarkets and shop owners — are unable to sell as many goods, because people are unable to buy as much. In addition, the pandemic shut down certain aspects of the economy, preventing people from receiving wages and having money to spend. As a result of the economic crisis, banks imposed limits on how much money people could withdraw, which increased financial uncertainty for many citizens. Without sufficient support from their government, the people of Lebanon face a desperate future.

Rising inflation is not the only disruptor to many people’s lives in Lebanon. Access to reliable electricity is becoming more of a concern. According to Human Rights Watch, power cuts are disrupting life in Lebanon. People face hurdles in storing food and disruptions to work, while also worrying about health risks for family members who depend on electrical medical equipment.

Support for Refugees and Citizens

The pandemic is also affecting refugees from Syria. There are close to 1 million registered refugees in Lebanon — more refugees per capita than any other country. The World Food Program (WFP) is currently providing aid to refugee families.

To help with the crisis in Lebanon, local groups like Mission Joy and the COVID-19 Task Force for Lebanon have donated 960 food parcels and 400 hygiene kits. The World Food Program is also working to help hundreds of thousands of citizens, as many families are financially constrained and struggling to meet rising food prices. Currently, Lebanon is negotiating with the IMF for more loans to help its economy. With help from international organizations, Lebanon can hope to provide a more secure economic future for its people.

Joshua Meribole
Photo: Flickr