Health Crisis in Venezuela

The extreme shortage of medicine and medical supplies in Venezuela has forced many people to seek refuge in neighboring countries in the hopes of getting the medical care that they need. More than three million Venezuelans have fled the country and the number continues to rise. With the continued lack of aid and action from the government, Venezuela’s health crisis shows no signs of disappearing. These are six facts about the health crisis in Venezuela.

6 Facts About the Health Care Crisis in Venezuela

  1. Because of the lack of available vaccinations, preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria are spreading throughout the country. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that diphtheria had not been reported in Venezuela for 24 years until 2016. Measles had not been seen since 2007. Unfortunately, these diseases are once again affecting the citizens of Venezuela. As of 2018, there have been 2,170 suspected cases of diphtheria with 1,249 being confirmed. There have been reports of 287 deaths due to this preventable disease. Out of the 7,524 cases of measles that had been suspected between 2017 and 2018, 6,252 were confirmed. At least 75 people have died from measles as of 2019. The toll of these diseases could have been prevented if the people of Venezuela had the vaccinations that they needed.
  2. In 2018, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the Venezuelan Ministry of Health noted that new cases of HIV had increased by 24 percent. Between 2010 and 2016, deaths due to AIDS increased by 38 percent. In addition, around “87 percent of the 79,000 registered individuals living with HIV” do have antiretroviral treatment because of the shortage of medicine in the country.
  3. Cases of malaria have increased by 76 percent. There were 240,613 reported cases of malaria in 2016 in Venezuela. In 2017, that number increased to 406,000 cases, the largest increase worldwide. WHO estimated 280 deaths due to the disease in 2016. Venezuelans fleeing the country to Colombia and Brazil are taking the disease with them and escalating the spread. The United Nations agency is urging those countries who are hosting Venezuelan refugees “to provide free screening and treatment regardless of their legal status to avoid further spread.” Because so many Venezuelans are fleeing, these diseases are reaching neighboring countries as well. The re-introduction of measles in Manaus, Brazil resulted in 1,631 cases as of November 2018.
  4. Expecting mothers are unable to receive the prenatal medication they need. Many are forced to have unsafe labors. According to a 2017 report by the Venezuelan Ministry of Health, infant mortality has increased by 30 percent and maternal mortality has increased by 65 percent.
  5. Although these neighboring countries are trying their best to provide aid to the people of Venezuela, their healthcare systems are also taking a toll. Many HIV-positive immigrants have reached Brazil only to find that local hospitals were already overwhelmed with AIDS patients dying from infection. Colombia is currently hosting the largest number of Venezuelan immigrants with an estimated one million as of November 2018. Public hospitals are struggling to accommodate refugee health care needs such as vaccinations and emergency services.
  6. The current government of Venezuela has not publicly recognized the crisis among its people, and therefore they are not allowing international relief agencies to enter the country. In Colombia, a huge supply of medicine and supplies from the United States waits to cross the border. Unfortunately, the current president of Venezuela won’t allow the supplies into the country. Colombia has organized many events to help raise money to aid their Venezuelan neighbors. A relief concert called Venezuela Aid Live was held in Colombia on February 22, 2019, to support and bring awareness to the crisis in Venezuela. In four days, the organization was able to raise almost $2.4 million. They plan to do the same next year to continue bringing awareness and aid to the people of Venezuela.

Despite Colombia’s struggle to accommodate refugees, the country is providing limited healthcare to Venezuelans who desperately need it. “In May 2017, the Colombian government declared that all public hospitals must provide free emergency” treatment for Venezuelan patients, which includes treatments for malaria and measles. Between 2017 and 2019, 29,000 pregnant women were able to safely deliver their babies in Colombia free of charge. This also means that their children will be getting free vaccinations plus a promise of healthcare due to their Colombia citizenship. Since 2017, Colombia has provided healthcare services to 340,000 Venezuelan immigrants.

Venezuela’s government officials still have a lot of work to do to help its own people, but thanks to countries like Colombia and Brazil, Venezuelans seeking medical treatment are able to get some assistance. Providing this healthcare, although straining, has made a difference to the three million Venezuelans who had no choice but to flee their country. Through this continued support and care, at least some of the health crisis in Venezuela can be alleviated.

Jannette Aguirre
Photo: Flickr

Linguistic Genocide in Colombia
Colombia has the second-largest population in South America and is host to more than 80 indigenous ethnic groups which comprise the country’s most vulnerable demographic. Amidst the tectonic power struggles that have persisted throughout Colombian history, the plight of indigenous peoples remains at the forefront. Ethnic minorities in Colombia are struggling to subsist. This began when the Spanish colonized the Colombian territory in the 16th century and continues presently in the form of cultural erasure, resource wars and forced displacement. Dozens of indigenous leaders have suffered murder in recent years. The historic Peace Accord of 2016 created various power vacuums in the country, allowing guerilla offshoots to invade remote, newly-vacated territories. In October 2019, five indigenous dignitaries from the Tacueyo reservation in southwest Colombia suffered assassination. A challenge is the linguistic genocide in Colombia.

Efforts for cultural preservation, however difficult, have helped quell instances of neo-imperialism and given Afro-Colombian and native indigenous populations teeth. Jonathan E. Bonilla, a researcher and linguistic preservationist from Instituto Caro y Cuervo, is among a small group of advocates working to give these minority communities access and representation to ensure their continuity. The Borgen Project interviewed Bonilla to discuss linguistic genocide in Colombia.

Interview with Jonathan E. Bonilla

TBP: How do efforts for linguistic preservation help alleviate poverty amongst indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups?

Bonilla: All indigenous languages spoken in Colombia are at risk because their speakers are in physical danger. For example, the systematic murder of social leaders, mostly indigenous, who fight for land restitution or are against mining, expansive livestock or illicit crops, has been proven. The rivers—sources of food and water for the communities— are getting poisoned with mercury for the extraction of gold and other precious metals. The indiscriminate felling of forests and the diversion of water resources has expanded the agricultural frontier. Many communities have moved to urban areas where the dominant language is Spanish due to the war and invasion of their territories. All these factors put the physical survival of the people at risk, their languages by default.

TBP: Why is the definition of poverty further complicated in the context of indigeneity?

Bonilla: Poverty is a concept of the West as it has to do with the daily purchasing power of a person or family. In the case of indigenous communities, the majority live from sustainable agriculture, the production and sale of handicrafts, the raising of domestic animals, fishing, hunting and harvesting of seasonal fruits. For this reason, indigenous communities always fight for the respect and expansion of their ancestral territories. The greater the amount of territory without exploitation for economic purposes, the greater food security. Poverty in the communities is evident when they are forced to leave their territories and relocate to unfamiliar ecosystems. To give an example, guerrillas, paramilitaries, coca merchants and ranchers displaced the Nukak, a hunter-gatherer people who currently suffer from extreme poverty.

Another reason that leads to indigenous poverty is the reduction or overexploitation of their territories. For example, the Wayuu have suffered the diversion of their rivers. Therefore, their lands have dried up and now they have no way to feed their children or raise animals for food. The problem of water scarcity in the deserts of La Guajira has led to malnutrition and the death of indigenous children.

Finally, I want to highlight a form of poverty that occurs due to changes in agriculture’s activities. With bonanzas of exploitation of resources, such as oil, cocoa or marijuana, many indigenous people abandon their crops. Individuals gain purchasing power thanks to the money they earn as day laborers, so they prefer to buy food. When these bonanzas disappear, young people do not want to re-sow land or do not know how to do it because they never had the opportunity to learn. This creates unstable food systems and situations of poverty.

TBP: Is it possible to recover lost languages on the brink of extinction? Is there any state-sponsored or private initiatives in Colombia that are working to do just that?

Bonilla: It’s possible, but requires the commitment of the community and the accompaniment of linguistic experts and pedagogues. For example, at the Caro y Cuervo Institute—a government entity attached to the Ministry of Culture—we are carrying out projects to document, revitalize and strengthen languages based on that of Native Languages (Law 138, 2010).

We are currently working on documenting the Kawiyari language which is at high risk of extinction and has less than 30 speakers in Vaupés. After documenting, the entire process of design and development for language teaching and teacher training will begin. I mentioned that Spanish (as the dominant language) poses a threat to indigenous languages. This year, we will offer certification classes in teaching Spanish as a second language in intercultural contexts. Training indigenous people to teach Spanish creates a precedent of additive bilingualism. That is, Spanish will no longer impose itself in a strange, hegemonic way, but rather, will be taught contextually and be used to strengthen the cultural aspects of the community. International private aids are usually only concerned with documentation and data collection. For example, ELDP from the University of London is a fund to collect audio samples of disappearing languages but is not involved in revitalization or recovery projects.

TBP: What is the relationship between indigenous languages and peacekeeping in postwar Colombia?

Bonilla: Many indigenous communities have oral formulas inbuilt in their ancestral knowledge, such as prayers, songs, declarations to attract good, to be happy, to achieve tranquility and to ward off evil. In these post-war times, it would be important for the government to give the floor to elders. For example, among the Sikuani, there are songs so that objects, such as bullets, do not cause damage. The Karijona and Uitoto have dances to forgive and receive enemies with open arms. Indigenous languages are full of strategies that have allowed indigenous peoples to survive endless threats since the colonial period and that can serve as models to bring us closer to collective peace in our country.

FEM (Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional) is a Colombian nonprofit organization working to aid Colombia’s post-conflict rehabilitation efforts. It follows a bottom-up model, empowering marginal indigenous communities through sustainable development projects and horizontal dialogues between local leaders, stakeholders and government actors. Ethnic education is a large part of FEM’s mission statement; FEM is concerned with advancing Colombia’s immaterial heritage—such as songs, dances and the trades—that the conflict has jeopardized, which should help combat the linguistic genocide in Colombia. For more information on how to donate or get involved, visit http://www.femcolombia.com/.

Elena Robidoux
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Corruption in Colombia
Colombians often say that the biggest sport in the country is corruption. Since 1994, corruption in Colombia has steadily increased and as of 2018, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranks the country 99 out of 180. The following 10 facts about corruption in Colombia break down the issue by looking at the various affected sectors, the implications of corruption and potential solutions that the country has attempted.

10 Facts About Corruption in Colombia

  1. One can trace Colombian corruption back to the early colonial legacies of the Spanish conquest. Many believe that the Spanish Empire had a corrupt and disorganized bureaucracy. As a colony of the Spanish Empire, Colombia adopted this system when it gained independence. During the early years, the elite members of society achieved a majority of their wealth through corrupt manners, and there was little punishment due to corruption in the judiciary court as well. Consequently, many aspects of society remained vulnerable in the future.
  2.  Eighty-one percent of the Colombian population believes that political parties are corrupt. Corruption levels have increased continuously since 2009, and as of 2019, corruption exists at every level of government, from local to national. Investigations for corruption have taken place regarding over 48,000 government officials across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, due to corruption in the judiciary system as well, a majority of these politicians avoid prosecution by using their own political parties’ budget to bribe judges.
  3. Colombia has lost up to 1 percent of its GDP annually due to corruption. There is a large amount of mistrust from the people when it comes to businesses and their products, as companies are often corrupt and there is no guarantee for a product’s quality or functionality. Furthermore, Colombia suffers from a trade deficit as other nations are reluctant to engage in business. Due to diminishing consumer interest, Colombia’s production, both domestically and internationally, has decreased.
  4. There has been a 39.7 percent annual increase in crime rates. Forty-nine percent and 61 percent of Colombians believe that the military and police, respectively, are corrupt. Due to military personnel, police officers and other armed forces repeatedly taking bribes, many crimes do not receive punishment. As a result, crime has become normalized and crime rates are climbing.
  5. Eighteen networks of corruption are in Colombia’s public health care system. The Colombian health care system has lost $160 million due to corruption. Doctors and other medical professionals manipulate medical records, including inventing fake patients or fake hiring employees, in order to acquire money for their own gains. The cost of corruption has increased treatment and drug costs and weakened health care performance.
  6. In 2012, audits prompted education secretariats to reveal the embezzlement of $125 million from school budgets. Corrupt officials are inventing ghost students, nearly 180,000, to secure money from the treasury for personal gains. Over the years, this number has decreased due to stricter regulations, but the practice continues to remain in effect; it is especially prominent in smaller areas, where school reports do not receive thorough checks.
  7. Only 2.9 percent of the population views the problem of corruption as a high priority. Corruption in Colombia has become normalized to the extent that most people disregard it, opting to focus on other issues such as increased crime rates and lack of health care. Unfortunately, many of these problems have corruption rooted in them. The widespread apathy from society enables corrupt behavior to persist.
  8. Colombia has put anti-Corruption policies into place such as the Anti-Corruption Act of 2011 and the Colombian Penal Code. These legislations redefined legal framework, criminalizing active and passive bribery, political corruption, foreign bribery, extortion and trading with confidential state information. The government’s goal in implementing such legislation was to increase prevention, investigation and penalty mechanisms against both, private and public corruption. By imposing more drastic measures, the government hoped that people would become more cautious and reports of corruption would increase.
  9.  President Santos created an Anti-Corruption Office in 2011. After the legislation improved, the government needed new agencies to tackle corruption. The Anti-Corruption Office maintains control and performs checks in order to ensure that others follow the legislation. The office intends to prevent conflict of interest and avoid nepotism, cronyism and patronage.
  10. Colombia has signed many international conventions to gain further assistance in addressing corruption. In 2013, Colombia signed the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention, the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. By signing such documents, the country sent an important message to the government, businesses and the people about the seriousness of the issue. Colombia has also taken part in the UNCAC’s voluntary Pilot Review Programme and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, both of which allow an external review of corruption in Colombia as a means to keep the country in check.

As the current government is understanding the repercussions of high corruption, it is taking steps to counteract the problem. Unfortunately, the problem of corruption has not decreased and the country’s world ranking continues to fall. Looking at the 10 facts about corruption in Colombia mentioned above, it is clear that the issue affects many different aspects of life in the country; a lack of further change will significantly hinder Colombia’s development.

– Shvetali Thatte
Photo: Flickr

Growing Cannabis Industry In recent years, the United States and countries around the globe have legalized medical marijuana. Several states in the U.S. have gone further and decriminalized the recreational use of cannabis. Growers and distributors of cannabis in the U.S. and Canada have been capitalizing on the growing cannabis industry. Doors have also been opening for companies based in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries like Jamaica, Colombia and Uruguay.

According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of the world’s population uses marijuana for medicinal remedies. People know Latin American and Caribbean countries for their expansive farms and high levels of agricultural exports. Cannabis companies can leverage these existing production and distribution channels to their benefit. Ideal climate conditions coupled with increasing investment flows have positioned South America and the Caribbean for explosive growth. Some estimate the industry to grow to $55.8 billion by 2025.

Jamaican Agribusiness Shifts Priorities

In 2015, Jamaica became one of the first countries to decriminalize marijuana. Jamaicans can possess up to two ounces of marijuana. A license to grow marijuana costs $300 and allows citizens to cultivate five cannabis plants. The government is taking proactive steps to capitalize on the growing number of countries legalizing the use of marijuana by supporting local companies and universities in their research and production.

In September 2019, Jamaica’s Ministry of Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, announced it would be partnering with Harvard International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute (HIPI). Through this partnership, HIPI will conduct research on the pharmacological benefits of cannabis. Jamaica aims to capitalize on this partnership and use it as an opportunity to grow and develop its national marijuana industry.

The Alternative Development Programme (ADP), a new government program in Jamaica, has the purpose of helping farmers benefit from the growing cannabis industry. The purpose of the program is to assist farmers in their transition from small-scale farming to large-scale farming to supply large international companies.

Uruguay’s Trailblazing Stance on Marijuana

In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. Combating gang violence was one of the Uruguayan government’s top motivators behind legalization. Despite it being well-known as one of Latin America’s safest countries, Uruguay’s crime rate has been steadily on the rise. By targeting drug cartels’ highest source of revenue, the government hopes to curb the growing violence stemming from the illicit drug trade.

Fotmer Life Sciences is a cannabis cultivator based in Uruguay. In September 2019, Fotmer became the first company to legally export medical cannabis from Latin America. Its first export partner was Australia, and Fotmer also trades with Germany and Canada. Diego Oliviera, the head Uruguay’s national drug agency, hopes to expand Uruguay’s place in the marijuana industry by expanding exports from solely marijuana plants to finished products, like oils. Although Uruguay is home to three other marijuana-based companies, Fotmer is the only company with a license to process and export the marijuana flower and products for direct consumption.

Marijuana as Colombia’s New Most Popular Export

Colombia, known for its petroleum and coal supply, can attribute 57 percent of its total export value to just that. Coffee and spices make up an additional 6 percent of exports due to Colombia’s ideal climate and 12 hours of daylight year-round. It is looking to attract cannabis cultivators using the same ideal conditions as a selling point and viable alternative to growing in countries like Canada and the United States, where people have to spend significant amounts of money on greenhouses for colder seasons.

Desired Effect of Legalization on Crime

In Colombia, the laws regarding marijuana are not as progressive as those in Uruguay. People can possess small amounts of marijuana and medicinal use is legal, but recreational use remains a criminal act. Similar to Uruguay, the Colombian government hopes that legalizing cannabis use will decrease gang and drug-related violence.

Drug- and gang-related violence is second to cancer as a leading cause of death in Colombia. It is too soon to tell whether legalization has had an impact on crime, but the strategy is to crimp revenue streams of gangs by making the illicit marijuana market. Now that it is legal for marijuana to grow for medicinal purposes, cannabis industry workers hope to attract investors. The Colombian Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) has 29 member companies who have invested over $600 million in the construction of medical marijuana facilities.

It is becoming increasingly popular for Latin American and Caribbean countries to capitalize on the opportunities that arise from the growing cannabis industry. As more and more companies look to locate their farms to the Caribbean and South America, LAC countries are seeking to benefit by coupling foreign investment with academic and industrial research in the hopes of reaping socio-economic dividends for everyone.

– Desiree Nestor
Photo: Flickr

Cancer Detection in Colombia

Breast cancer, the leading type of cancer in women worldwide, affects more than 2 million women each year. In 2018 alone, 625,000 women died from breast cancer. According to the World Bank, although developed regions have higher rates of breast cancer compared to developing areas, rates are increasing in nearly every region across the globe. When looking at breast cancer survival rates, one thing is certain: early detection is key to lowering death rates and so early breast cancer detection in Colombia is changing.

A Possible Solution

With more than 13,000 new cases of breast cancer in 2018 alone, Colombian officials have been focusing on initiatives that target early detection. By launching a pilot program through Discovering Hands, an organization founded in Germany that empowers blind women with a heightened sense of touch to feel for breast cancer, early detection is exactly what Colombia focuses on.

Breast mammography, or a mammogram as it is known colloquially, is sometimes too expensive for women in developing countries. Additionally, they are only available to women in Colombia who are over 50 years of age. Instead of solely using the traditional method of breast cancer detection, the mammogram, Colombia borrowed from Discovering Hands. The country put visually impaired women to work as medical tactile examiners feeling for breast cancer. The surgeon who coordinates the Discovering Hands project in Colombia, Dr. Luis Alberto Olave, said of the program: “They [MTEs] have this gift in their fingers. If they are trained, their disability can become a talent, a strength, and can be used to help other people. Nodules are the first cancer symptom. The faster we find them, the faster we will have any impact on the projection of the illness, and that may mean saving lives.”

Results

Currently, in Latin America, only three visually impaired women work as medical tactile examiners, using their delicate sense of touch for early cancer detection in Colombia. These women have been proven to detect 30 percent more tissue variations in breast tissue than medically trained doctors. The Discovering Hands method is less expensive, more accurate and can find lumps that are 50 percent smaller than ones found by doctors. Additionally, some women in Colombia have expressed that they feel more comfortable going to women to have this examination performed versus male doctors.

These medical tactile examiners do not diagnose patients, rather they do an examination, then help set up an appointment with the doctor if they find any irregularities. This method of early cancer detection in Colombia is not only saving lives by early diagnosis of breast cancer, but it is also creating a fulfilling job for the visually impaired. As female patients are starting to flock to these medical tactile examiners, Colombia discussed expanding the program to provide more jobs for blind women. This would give more low-income women in Colombia access to breast cancer screening.

A Global Answer

Discovering Hands is currently in seven countries: Colombia, Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Spain, Austria and India, and already performed over 10,000 exams. As the model continues to succeed in helping women with early breast cancer detection as well as giving fulfilling jobs to blind women, Discovering Hands is discussing repeating the business model in new countries. This program is unique in that it gives to the community while also providing a living for women who previously could not contribute to society. As breast cancer rates continue to grow, Discovering Hands is doing its part to lower the fatality rate of breast cancer.

– Kathryn Moffet
Photo: Pexels

Cacay Oil
Amongst the incredible array of biodiversity which stems from the Amazon grows a small green fruit, the Cacay nut. A Google search for Cacay oil generates dozens of reviews by beauty blogs and skincare gurus who have tested the product. But what is Cacay and what makes it so special?

The Cacay Nut’s Uses

The Cacay nut, which is similar in size and color to lime from the outside, has three smaller nuts on the inside. The fruit grows on trees in Colombia and has a plethora of uses. People can use every part of the fruit, and this fact makes it a sustainable crop because there is no waste. It has a high nutritional value containing over 40 percent protein, all the essential amino acids and omega 3, 6 and 9. People can use the peel for compost or animal food, while the shell’s slow combustion properties make it a great source of biofuel. One can also make nut milk from the Cacay nut, which can serve as an animal milk substitute.

People mostly covet the Cacay nut for its beauty and cosmetic benefits. The oil from it contains 50 percent more vitamin E than argan oil, which is essential for skin moisturization. Additionally, it contains a high retinol and collagen content, which reduces signs of ages and smooth fine lines and wrinkles.

Kahai Lifts Families Out of Poverty

Kahai, a Colombian-based company, has made it its mission to share the benefits of Cacay with the world and lift up the people who grow it as well. It sells Cacay oil for its incredible health and skin benefits and is the first to do so on such a large scale. Thus far, the organization has exported over three tons of Cacay oil worldwide. Kahai hopes that Cacay will take the place of many illicit crops that were previously a driving cause of deforestation across the region. The potential economic opportunities that farming Cacay will bring should motivate farming communities in Colombia to preserve their forests and plant thousand of more trees.

Kahai’s location in Bogota D.C., Colombia, is home to many impoverished peasant farming families. Because Kahai is seeking to farm the fruit on a commercial scale, it will utilize plantation-style harvesting. This has created over 200 jobs with sustainable incomes for the peasant families in this conflict-torn area. There is also the potential for upward growth within the company, with individuals who began working entry-level jobs now holding management positions.

Kahai’s Recent Initiative

Kahai’s recently launched initiative with the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes may also assist in both the sustainability efforts and the community development efforts. The initiative’s goal is to partner with the government and privately-owned corporations in the region to provide payment for communities who reduce their emissions and demonstrate environmentally-friendly farming practices. This will further encourage this positive development and further support the local economy.

As the benefits of Amazonian gold become more apparent to the rest of the world, Kahai and its employees will reap the economic benefits as the first large-scale Cacay oil farming operation. It is the organization’s hope that farming villages that operate under sustainable practices and receive consistent sustainable incomes will only grow stronger.

Gina Beviglia
Photo: Flickr

What You Need to Know about Fair Trade
Imagine being in the local supermarket, perhaps in the coffee aisle. There is an abundance of options, from decaf to french vanilla and everything in between. Some of the choices have a special seal marked “Fairtrade.” But what does that mean? Here are the facts to know about Fair Trade.

What is Fair Trade?

One fact to know about Fair Trade is the difference between Fair Trade and Fairtrade. Fair Trade is a set of social, economic and environmental standards for companies and the farmers and workers who grow the food millions enjoy each day. Fairtrade, on the other hand, is a trademarked labeling initiative that certifies a product has met the agreed Fair Trade criteria.

For farmers and workers, standards include the protection of workers’ rights and the environment. For companies, they include the payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium. This premium can be used to invest in business or community projects of the community’s choice.

How does Fair Trade combat poverty?

The Fair Trade argument is that the poor are being paid less than fair prices for their products in the free market trading system. The Fairtrade foundation states that its goal is to “empower marginalized producers to become economically stable and self-sufficient and to promote sustainable development, gender equality, and environmental protection.”

Offering decent prices for products can help support jobs and improve living conditions for producers, their families and the local businesses they buy from. It can also divert young men from involvement in militias. The intention is that this will ultimately decrease conflict levels in impoverished nations.

While not all poor states are volatile, data indicates that violent conflict contributes to poverty in a number of ways. It can cause damage to infrastructure, break up communities and contribute to increased unemployment and forced displacement of peoples.

Additionally, free trade boosts economic sectors, thereby creating more jobs and a source of stable increased wages. As developed countries move their operations into developing countries, new opportunities open for local workers. An increase in the general standard of living reduces hunger and increases food production. Overall, a higher income makes education more accessible, increases literacy, increases life expectancy and reduces infant mortality rates.

Fair Trade focuses on the exchange between individuals and companies. Fair Trade supply chains utilize direct partnerships that take into account the needs of individual communities. Often times, cross border supply chains strengthen ties between two or more nations. By bringing people together in mutually beneficial trade pacts and policies, Free Trade can contribute to a sense of peace in war-torn areas. Through cultural exchange, there is a rare absence of marginalization in this type of commerce.

What are the disadvantages to know about Fair Trade practices?

Although the Fair Trade movement has good intentions, it also has a few disadvantages.

Fairtrade targets farmers and producers who are financially secure enough to pay certification, inspection and marketing fees, which are necessary to ensure compliance with government regulations. Thus, the poorest farmers who would benefit most from Fairtrade certification are often excluded.

Fairtrade minimum prices and wages ensure fair payment of farmers. However, farmers for non-certified products are left at a considerable disadvantage. When prices fall in the world market, it is the non-Fairtrade certified farmers who suffer. That being said, prices in stores are not monitored by the Fairtrade Foundation. Thus, the producers receive only a small piece of the revenue from retail mark-ups.

Conversely, research conducted by various groups such as CODER, the Natural Resource Institute and Brazilian based BSD Consulting has shown positive impacts of Fair Trade practices around the globe. In Colombia for instance, a 2014 study by CODER assessed the impact of Fairtrade for banana farmers in small producer organizations and workers on plantations. The study concluded that Fairtrade, with the support of other organizations, contributed to a revival of the banana sector in Colombia and increased respect for human and labor rights. Other studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Fairtrade on worker empowerment in Ecuadorian flower plantations and the benefits of Fairtrade orange juice for Brazilian smallholder farmers.

Here are the facts to know about Fair Trade that can help consumers make informed decisions in their daily lives. Many everyday food items like coffee, chocolate, fruit and nuts offer Fairtrade certified options in local grocery stores. Change is already happening in the Congo where Fairtrade certified gourmet coffee is sourced from war-torn regions. Companies such as Tropical Wholefoods have begun to sell Fairtrade certified dried apricots from northern Pakistan. Just an extra minute in the grocery aisle and a few extra cents to choose Fairtrade can make a big difference.

-GiGi Hogan
Photo: Flickr

Floating SchoolsFloating schools are exactly what their name suggests, they are schools floating on water, typically on a boat. They are essential to providing year-round education in regions where rainy seasons and flooding often disrupt the school year for the most vulnerable children. Floating schools have proved to be incredibly effective in providing an uninterrupted education in places like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Colombia where extreme weather often makes getting an education more difficult.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh is located in the massive delta created by the Ganges, the Meghna and the Brahmaputra Rivers meaning that the majority of the country is below sea level. The monsoon season, from June to October, can leave up to two-thirds of the country under water. Naturally, this extreme flooding makes it impossible for children to get to school for a significant part of the year which can be very harmful to a developing mind.

Enter the nonprofit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha and its 23 floating schools. The floating schools usually take the form of large boats and use solar panels to provide electricity and power computers. These schools bring the classroom to Bangladeshi children when they cannot get to it themselves. In addition to the school boats, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha operates a flotilla of boats acting as libraries, adult education centers and solar workshops. In 2012, the organization won the U.N. Prize for Inspiring Environmental Action.

Nigeria

The neighborhood of Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria spans across the Lagos lagoon making the region at perpetual risk of flooding and waterlogging. Around 250,000 people live in Makoko in crude housing that often deteriorates because of heavy rains. These conditions make it especially difficult to give children in this community a consistent education. The Nigerian architect, Kunlé Adeyemi, in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the United Nations, designed and built Makoko’s prototype floating school. The school was three stories, used plastic drums to stay afloat and housed around 100 students.

Unfortunately in 2016, after the school had been decommissioned, the structure collapsed during heavy rains after what Adeyemi described as “three years of intensive use and exceptional service to the community.” The Makoko community and the international community alike welcomed the school. In 2014, the floating school was shortlisted for the design of the year award and an improved version of the school is already in the design process to replace the collapsed one.

Colombia

In northern Colombia, in the town of Sempegua, the rainy season invariably brings flooding and disruption. Andres Uribe and Lina Catano, in partnership with the United Nations Development Fund and Colombia’s National Disaster Risk Management, constructed and inaugurated the first floating school in Latin America in 2014. The architects behind the project designed the school so that it could float during the rainy season and function on ground during the dry season, making it operative year-round. The schoolhouse can fit 60 children and around 400 underprivileged families will benefit from the floating structure. The school is also part of a loftier project that Uribe outlined, “and when we talk about floatable housing solutions, we are not just imagining schools, but houses, health centers, sports centers, or commercial zones, so the town can continue to be productive.”

These floating schools provide consistent access to education to children who otherwise would not be able to get to school on a regular basis, but also provide viable infrastructure solutions to places where persistent flooding has been disruptive for decades. Floating schools are just the beginning; the future leaders educated inside these schools are sure to continue developing the full potential of floating infrastructures for their communities.

– Isabel Fernandez

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Colombia is making remarkable strides towards improving its public health outcomes, including life expectancy.

Once ravaged by political instability and violence, the nation’s outlook is steadily improving. However, although the quality of life in major cities is improving, with increased access to health care and sanitation, rural Colombians have unequal access to these benefits that improve life expectancy.

In the article below, top 10 facts about life expectancy in Colombia are presented.

Top 10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Colombia

  1. According to the CIA World Fact Book, Colombians’ life expectancy rate is currently at 76.2 years, ranking the country 90th worldwide. Females live an average of 79.5 years and males live for 73 years. Overall life expectancy is up for nearly 20 years from the first data collection in 1960, when the life expectancy rate was at 56.75 years. The rate has increased by 5 years since the turn of the century.
  2. Concomitant with an improvement in life expectancy is a substantial decrease in infant mortality rate. When the World Bank began collecting data in 1960, Colombia’s infant mortality rate stood at 93.9 deaths per 1,000 births. As of 2017, that rate is 12.7, which is a reduction of 739 percent.
  3. Rising GDP per capita may help explain the increase in Colombia’s life expectancy. In a 10-year period, from 2003 to 2013, GDP per capita soared from $2,246 to $8,030. Although that number is slightly declining, this long period of sustained economic growth allows for improvement in health care infrastructure. Furthermore, more Colombians are able to afford access to clean water, sanitation, and health care treatments in comparison with previous generations.
  4. An astonishing success story in Colombia is a rapid decrease in the homicide rate. For decades, guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) waged a war of terror, resulting in millions of internally displaced persons and a high homicide rate. In 1996, during a particularly violent phase of the conflict, Colombia’s homicide rate stood at 71.8 per 100,000 persons. Today, two decades later, that number is at 25.5.
  5. Although urban access to sanitation and potable water is well established, rural Colombia lags behind. Colombia is an extremely mountainous country, with many villages and towns geographically isolated from urban centers. While 96.8 percent of the urban population has access to improved water sources, only 73.8 percent of the rural population does. Similarly, urban and rural differences exist in terms of improved sanitation, standing at 85.2 percent and 67.9 percent, respectively.
  6. Many rural villages suffer from inadequate medical facilities. Rural populations near the tropical rainforest and Magdalena River must also contend with mosquito-borne diseases including malaria, yellow fever and the Zika virus. According to Malteser International, in the tropical departments of Magdalena and La Guajira, almost 59 percent of the population suffers from malnutrition, and only around one in seven are able to access basic medical care. Additionally, indigenous tribes in Colombia often do not receive adequate health care. Many of these tribes reside in rural regions adversely affected by the conflict with the FARC. Consequently, the government has limited influence in terms of public health initiatives. Furthermore, environmental degradation from mining has threatened the health of Wayuu group, Colombia’s largest indigenous population. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs states that, as a result of coal mining along the Rancheria River, as many as 14,000 Wayuu children have died from starvation or thirst.
  7. Inefficiency among insurance providers in impeding the quality of treatment Colombian population receives plays a huge role in life expectancy in the country. All working Colombians have access to government-funded health care plans through their employer, although the individual providers of said plans can improve their implementation. A report from the OECD recommends “stronger performance and account management for health insurers”, meaning a better system to monitor insurers’ purchasing of services.
  8. Colombia is partnering with international organizations to improve food security for malnourished populations. The World Food Programme is working in conflict-affected regions to improve access to nutritious food. These initiatives include providing community meals, nutrition education and crop support for independent farmers.
  9. Both private and public sector expansion of the health care industry is taking place in Colombia. Drug companies and medical device manufacturers are investing in the market, reducing costs for Colombians through competition. Furthermore, the government is working to improve the number of hospital beds available. The current level is relatively low and stands at 1.58 beds per 100,000 individuals.
  10. The country has recorded continuous improvement in educational attainment. Since 1990, expected years of schooling increased from 9 years to 14.4 years. Education strongly correlates with higher personal health outcomes, as an educated population tends to make more health-conscious choices, such as improving their diet and visiting doctors. Education also correlates with higher socio-economic standing, which corresponds to improved sanitation.

The coming years will be critical for Colombia and its development. Positivity abounds a growing economy, increased foreign investment and security in the country, as the top 10 facts about life expectancy in Colombia described above point out.

The incoming administration of the new president, Iván Duque Márquez, promises reforms, especially regarding rural infrastructure in rural Colombia. Implementing the same strategies that have served its urban areas well, should benefit rural Colombians’ health care outlook.

–  Joseph Banish

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Colombia
Colombia is well-known for its coffee plantations and scenic mountains and beaches, but also for harboring conflict and political unrest. After 50 years of civil war, the country has finally entered into a peace agreement and is now in a post-conflict period of reconstruction. Because travel to the country was considered unsafe until quite recently, there are many aspects of Colombia that are widely unknown and most foreigners have little concept of what life there truly is like. Below are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Colombia.

Top 10 facts about living conditions in Colombia

  1. Colombia has a population of over 47 million people, with 23.6 percent of the population residing in rural areas. Colombia is ranked the seventh most inequitable country in the world, with almost 63 percent of national incoming going to the wealthiest 20 percent of the population.
  2. After 50 years of conflict, President Juan Manuel Santos signed a peace treaty with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), winning himself the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. This was the first major step toward ending violence in the region, creating economic growth and altering the global perception of Colombia.
  3. Due to regional conflict and violence, many locals were forced to leave their homes. Since 1985, 5.9 million people have been displaced, with the majority being women and children. After Syria, Colombia has the second largest population of internally displaced persons. As a result, 5 percent of the population has been left homeless, and 30 percent of Colombian families (3.8 million) do not have adequate housing.
  4. Displacement has led to the formation of informal settlements on the outskirts of major cities. These communities are characterized by a lack of access to schooling and health care, unsafe home construction, houses built on land that is not owned by the homeowner and limited employment opportunities. Groups like Habitat for Humanity are working to improve conditions by assisting with housing construction and community infrastructure, as well as promoting local engagement and providing training workshops.
  5. While water infrastructure is commonplace in urban cities, many Colombians continue to struggle for access to clean water and proper sanitation systems. One in four individuals residing in rural areas lacks access to drinking water, which is considered a basic human right.
  6. Despite recent economic improvements that make the country to have one of the world’s emerging economies, poverty remains a prevalent issue, with 34 percent of the population living below the poverty line. This is a result of multiple factors, including low-income, high unemployment rates (10 percent of the population) and residual impacts of conflict and displacement.
  7. Agriculture has become a government focus and is seen as an opportunity to improve the economy, lower unemployment rates and connect Colombia with the global market. The agricultural sector is responsible for almost 7 percent of the country’s GDP and offers employment to over 15 percent of the population. With less than 30 percent of its arable land currently being used to produce crops, there is significant room for growth in this industry.
  8. Despite being rich in natural resources, Colombia has high rates of food insecurity that affects 43 percent of the population. Chronic malnutrition impacts over 13 percent of children under the age of five and individuals that have been displaced or belong to an ethnic minority group are more likely to suffer.
  9. The World Health Organization (WHO) has ranked Colombia in 22nd place for their health care. In comparison, the United States ranks number 37. However, access to these resources is limited for those living outside of urban areas.
  10. With its scenic, diverse landscape and rich culture, Colombia has recently become a popular tourist destination for travelers around the world. The New York Times ranked Colombia in the second place for the touristic destination in 2018. This offers the opportunity for growth in the tourism industry and a chance for Colombia to share its history, resources and traditions with the world.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in Colombia demonstrate that the country has come a long way since creating peace in the region, but is still dealing with many socioeconomic issues. Continued efforts by government and advocacy groups offer hope for security and growth in the upcoming years.

– Georgia Orenstein

Photo: Flickr