Armed Conflict and Humanitarian Need in Central Africa
An economic crisis ravaging Sudan, Chad and other such nations of Central Africa has made the region a hotbed for protest and armed conflict. As a result, this worsens the living conditions of the citizens residing there. Recently, rising tensions in these nations have contributed to an actively worsening humanitarian crisis. Consequently, this left countless people with homelessness and food insecurity. In Sudan alone, 260,000 people face displacement and hunger due to conflicts in Port Sudan and the Red Sea State. While international relief organizations are administering humanitarian aid, a long list of challenges due to conflict in Central Africa made this process exceedingly difficult.

Crisis and Military Conflict in Sudan

Sudan has been in military conflict since a military coup removed its long-serving ruler Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. The coup removed al-Bashir as a result of austerity measures in response to an economic crisis that has been ongoing in Sudan since 2012. Austerity measures or higher subsidies on products worsened the poor quality of life of citizens living in the area. Instability within the Sudanese reached a boiling point when public protests of living conditions broke out across the country with citizens often calling for al-Bashir’s removal.

Since the April 2019 coup, a council of generals exercised executive power over the nation. However, stability has yet to return. On June 3, 2019, the government of Sudan responded to the protests with violence. The government murdered dozens of journalists and threw their bodies into the Nile. Meanwhile, the military government and armed conflict in Central Africa worsened the humanitarian conditions of the vulnerable citizenry further. Moreover, the nation remains on the United States’ “State sponsors of terrorism” list. Consequently, the nation has less access to debt relief through the United States. This means that the $50 billion debt that Sudan owes to external nations falls on the shoulders of the military government. This will affect vulnerable and impoverished citizens.

Civil Conflict and Resource Scarcity in Chad

Civil unrest in Chad is the primary factor contributing to the depletion of the resources of the already economically insecure population for a number of decades. Since 1990, the Chadian population lived under the power monopoly of the Zaghawa military clan. Its leader is the long-standing president Idriss Déby. Under this military regime, the Chadian population has suffered from political violence and poor social relations due in large part to the nation’s corrupt spoils system. Likewise, poor international relations with the government of Sudan perpetuates conflict within the Chadian border, as each nation offers its support to the other nation’s rebels.

Chad suffers from resource depletion, widespread internal displacement and a high influx of foreign refugees. Protracted internal conflict in Nigeria has displaced more than 200,000 refugees to Chad, Cameroon and Niger alone. As Chad, Sudan, Niger, Nigeria and other surrounding nations participate in armed conflict in Central Africa, resources spread ever-thinner for those in the throes of poverty.

Relief and Reduction of Conflict in Central Africa

Some nations in Central Africa receive funding and foreign aid in order to relieve their populations of the life-threatening stress of resource depletion and military violence. Sudan, however, failed to meet the political requirements for such funding. Likewise, while Chad, Niger and Nigeria all receive funding, these nations are consistently underfunded by 30-40%. Providing guidance to the Sudanese government will foster peace and greater security and end the conflict in Central Africa. Funding goals should be consistent in order to resuscitate the faltering economies of the Central African region.

The Sudanese government has made a recent effort to repair social relations with its citizens. The government prioritizes education and health care as central goals of government funding. Likewise, international partners in humanitarian aid, headed by the U.N., intend to develop programs in the Central African region. This act hopes to align economic stability with improved humanitarian resilience.

Aid does exist for those struggling in Central Africa. However, armed conflict poses a continual threat to the safety and security of the population there. In order for the humanitarian situation to improve in this region, the global community must make a more dedicated effort to support peace and economic stability.

Anthony Lyon
Photo: Flickr

Man in Yemen, one of many countries affected by poverty in MENA
The Middle East and North African region, commonly referred to as MENA, is traditionally considered to include the geographical area from Morocco in northwest Africa to Iran in southwest Asia. Rich in history, culture and natural resources, this region consists of approximately 20 nations. As a result of vast reserves of oil, natural gas and petroleum, MENA has quickly grown in geopolitical importance. However, the region is also afflicted by persistent conflict and poverty. Here are seven recent trends in the rates of poverty in MENA.

7 Facts About Poverty in MENA

  1. MENA is the only region that has seen significant increases in extreme poverty. Between 2011 and 2015, extreme poverty in MENA has nearly doubled, rising from 2.1% of the population to 5%. As of 2018, an estimated 18.6 million people in the region are living on less than $1.90 per day. Additionally, studies have shown that the region’s population is particularly vulnerable to poverty. MENA’s poverty rates further increase when multidimensional poverty is included, which is an index of several poverty indicators including, among others, lack of education, poor health, standard of living and levels of violence. In 2017, the Arab Multidimensional Poverty Report estimated the total number of multidimensional poor at approximately 116.1 million – nearly 40% of the region’s population. Factored into the previous figures of poverty in the region, recent studies suggest that about 20% of the region is extremely poor, with an additional two-thirds of the region poor or vulnerable to extreme poverty.
  2. Class mobility is incredibly limited. Once a family falls into poverty, they are increasingly likely to remain poor for several generations. Largely due to insufficient job growth, much of the MENA population relies heavily on informal labor, such as unofficial taxi services or in-home services like cleaning or childcare. These forms of labor tend to be erratic, with low pay and minimal protections, yielding a larger population vulnerable to poverty with very few resources to pull themselves out of it.
  3. Recent studies suggest that MENA is the most unequal region in the world. Throughout the region, the top 10% of the population holds 61% of the wealth, compared to 47% in the United States and 36% in Western Europe. Many political and economic commentators in the region further suggest that this inequality has become deeply ingrained in the value system of the society as a whole, rather than just being the current condition.
  4. The increases in poverty are linked to conflict. The aforementioned increase in poverty between 2011 and 2015 was concentrated very heavily in Syria and Yemen, two nations that are experiencing intense conflict. The rate of extreme poverty in Syria has increased from nearly zero to about 20% over the course of its civil war. Similarly, extreme poverty in Yemen has doubled over the past decade, in line with its continued conflict. Despite the increasing number of people in poverty, these findings do indicate that major improvements in poverty in the region may not be too far off, considering the root cause is well known.
  5. Conflict has done severe damage to the region’s employment sectors. Even outside of the main crisis states, such as Syria, Libya and Yemen, the job market across the region has suffered greatly — either directly due to conflict or indirectly through sanctions, disrupted trade or population displacement. Throughout the early 20th century, the region relied heavily on its tourism, industrial, service and agriculture sectors. However, many aspects of these industries have been seriously impeded by persistent conflict. The International Monetary Fund estimated that the region needs to create between 60 and 100 million jobs by 2030, 27 million in the next five years, in order to significantly reduce unemployment and poverty.
  6. While it has undoubtedly created additional economic problems, the COVID-19 crisis has also inspired steps towards progress. Governments throughout the region took very cohesive and divisive steps from the beginning of the pandemic, restricting movement across borders and even within cities. Despite varied levels of outbreak preparedness, the MENA region has been notably effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19, with many countries beginning to ease travel restrictions and turn their attention toward phasing out of quarantine. The pandemic has had a major economic impact, particularly with the sudden collapse of oil prices. However, many in the region have been rather optimistic, considering this to be an opportunity for nations to begin addressing the systemic issues in the region, such as private sector development and social protections. Governments have been surprisingly receptive, with several states already mobilizing to protect both the public and private sectors.
  7. Governments have been largely ineffectual in dealing with economic problems, but the tides are turning. Largely due to persistent conflict, MENA regimes are typically focused on minimizing violence and war, allowing poverty to grow rapidly without policy changes. This has made the population especially vulnerable to recruitment by radical religious, ethnic or sectarian groups, such as Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. However, more recently we have seen an influx of civilians beginning to demand more from their governments — a call that political leaders are beginning to answer. Since the onset of Lebanon’s current economic crisis and subsequent protests, the Lebanese government has approved sweeping economic reform being referred to as a “financial coup.”  The World Bank has also projected modest continued growth in the economy of the MENA region overall.

The past 50 years have been incredibly tumultuous for the MENA region, characterized by an abundance of violence and poverty. As recent data has confirmed, the region’s poverty is not subsiding anytime soon and the succession of Western-backed conflicts is not helping. Despite these difficulties, the region is very quickly evolving into a state of uniform solidarity. With more regimes beginning to reject foreign intervention and more civilians addressing their governments directly, particularly in the cases of Egypt and Lebanon, structural change could come to the region soon. However, this area of the world continues to be a prime example of just how dangerous extreme poverty can be when mixed with conflict, both for the host state and the international system.

Angie Bittar
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and FragilityThe year 2020’s biennial World Bank Fragility Forum is a series of seminars and discussions about working to build peace and stability in conflict-ridden areas. It brings together policymakers and practitioners in many different sectors from around the world, including the government, to address poverty and fragility and use international aid to promote peace in fragile settings. The Forum exists in conjunction with the World Bank Strategy for Fragility, Conflict and Violence for 2020-2025 and focuses on fighting poverty as a means to eliminate conflict and violence in fragile settings, acknowledging and addressing the link between poverty and fragility.

What is Fragility?

There is no simple definition for a fragile setting or context since each fragile region is circumstantially unique. The Fragile States Index (FSI), though, says there are many common indicators that include state loss of physical control of territory or social legitimacy, loss of state monopoly on legitimate force, loss of connection to the international community and an inability to provide basic public services. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also explains that there are common characteristics of fragile settings, like extreme poverty, authoritarian regimes, high rates of terrorism, high rates of armed conflict and short life expectancy. The majority of fragile settings currently exist in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Fragile States Index lists Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan as the three most fragile contexts in the world.

Poverty and Fragility

The World Bank explains that addressing poverty and fragility go hand-in-hand. While only 10% of the global population live in fragile contexts, more than two-thirds of the people around the globe who live in extreme poverty live in fragile contexts. Experts expect this figure to rise to 80% by 2030. Poverty and fragility exist in a sort of feedback loop, as it becomes more difficult to escape poverty in a fragile setting given poor living conditions and likely economic ruin, while poverty is also an initial driver of fragility. Global Washington reports that fragility hurts economic productivity – violent conflict caused a 12.4% decrease in economic activity in 2017 alone – and is the main driver of both global hunger and refugee crises.

Fragility Forum Highlights

Three lectures from the Forum in particular address key components of poverty and fragility by looking at case studies: the social and economic inclusion of refugees, the use of country platforms to increase the effectiveness of global aid and the effectiveness of existing economic programs in fragile contexts. These lectures were:

  1. Refugee Policies: Increasing Self-Reliance & Economic Inclusion in Protracted Crises – Around 80% of refugees today live in developing countries and, as Global Washington reports, the violence and conflict of a fragile region are the main drivers of forced migration. Lecturers in this session explained that aid to refugees and their host countries must address both the immediate needs of refugees with investment in basic needs like healthcare and in long-term, policy for economic and social inclusion of refugees in their host countries. Refugees currently do not have permission to work in 50% of host countries and refugee mobility is severely restricted across the globe. This makes refugees dependent on aid from international agencies like the U.N. Economic self-sufficiency for refugees shifts the responsibility from these international bodies to the host country and both enhances the living situation of refugees and develops the host country’s economy. The Senior Director of Fragility, Conflict and Violence at the World Bank Franck Bousquet explains in the lecture that the World Bank focuses largely on support to the host country and strengthening national systems through emergency response programs and using grants to incentivize host countries to include refugees in their economies.
  2. Reducing Fragility and Conflict: What We Are Learning from Impact Evaluations – This lecture looks at the impact of a wide range of interventions in fragile settings from behavioral studies on social interventions to how labor market programs and economic intervention can increase stability in fragile settings by creating a market opportunity for individuals through vocational training. One particular study in Liberia explored the claim that economic insecurity can encourage violent or criminal behaviors in individuals. The study also explored how giving impoverished Liberians agricultural training increased the employment and average wealth of the individuals in the study, the root connection between economic opportunity and criminal activity, large-scale questions about what motivates violence and whether poverty causes criminality. The theory that underwent testing hypothesizes that increased economic returns to noncriminal activities will minimize the incidence of criminal activities by occupying individuals’ time, building social skills in youth and reducing grievances with poor economic opportunities. The study found that vocational training can decrease the time that individuals spend on illicit activities, but found little effect on individuals’ attitudes about democracy and violence.
  3. Revisiting Development Cooperation in the Hardest Places: The Case of Somalia – This session discussed “country platforms,” which the featured Center for Global Development (CGD) podcast defined as a “government-let coordinating body that brings together partners and stakeholders to define shared goals and coordinate development efforts in the country.” Places like Afghanistan and Somalia have utilized these country platforms, which are part of the World Bank’s Strategy for Fragility, Stability and Violence for 2020-2021, to streamline aid efforts by encouraging collaboration and joining local government and civic leaders with international donors to better implement international aid projects in fragile settings. Country platforms allow for more streamlined and effective flow from a donor to the recipient country, as evidenced by the organizational progress made in Somalia, where the U.S. invested over $400 million in aid in 2019; the country platform in Somalia has been developing clearer plans for development, humanitarianism and politics and shifting control of aid efforts into the hands of the Somali government to both increase aid efficiency and promote state legitimacy.

The World Bank Fragility Forum has made the link between poverty and fragility apparent. Hopefully, an increased understanding of how these two topics interlink will help eliminate poverty in fragile settings.

Emily Rahhal
Photo: Wikimedia

Child Mortality in Yemen
With a population of 28.25 million people, Yemen has been through more turmoil than many other countries. It is currently ranked as the country with the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. This crisis threatens the lives of children through increased malnutrition, inadequate hygiene and other significant health and safety risks. Here are 10 facts about child mortality in Yemen.

10 Facts About Child Mortality in Yemen

  1. Approximately 50,000 infants die in Yemen each year. These deaths are the result of violence, famine, a lack of crucial medical care and widespread poverty. World Food Program USA has been working with Islamic Relief to provide 2 months of life-saving food to families and conducts nutritional programs to malnourished children.
  2. According to the U.N., there are 400,000 children under 5 years old who suffer from severe malnutrition. Some of these issues are the result of longstanding war and conflict. City blockades and airstrikes sometimes make it difficult or impossible for food aid to reach the children who need it the most. One organization working to bring food aid to children and families affected by severe malnutrition is called Save the Children. Save the Children has been working with the children of Yemen since 1963.
  3. Millions of Yemeni children are in desperate need of food to stay alive. Around 85,000 children have died from starvation or health complications caused by starvation since the war escalated in Yemen. In an effort to save Yemeni children from starvation, Save the Children provided food to 140,000 children and treated 78,000 children who were on the brink of death due to severe malnutrition.
  4. In Yemen, 30,000 children under the age of five die every year due to malnutrition-related diseases. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) works to save the lives of malnourished Yemeni children by distributing a nutritional peanut-based paste. With 500 calories per packet, children suffering from severe malnutrition can recover in matters of weeks.
  5. Violence is still a grim reality for Yemeni children. Airstrikes and mine explosions killed 335 children since August of 2018. Many are pushing for the war in Yemen to end so that children can live normal and safe lives. The U.N. estimates that if the war in Yemen continues even until 2022, more than half a million people will have been killed.
  6. Airstrikes are the leading cause of death for children in Yemen. The Civilian Impact Monitoring Project (CIMP) reports that between March 2018 and March 2019, air raids killed 226 children and injured 217. These numbers average out to 37 deaths of Yemeni children due to airstrikes per month. Save the Children is working to help children recover from airstrike injuries. They assist with medical bills and provide emotional support to help manage their trauma.
  7. Conflict in Yemen has caused the destruction of many water facilities, leaving children vulnerable to deadly diseases. Around 5.5 million people in Yemen are currently living in areas at a higher risk for cholera due to a lack of clean or sufficient water. UNICEF is working with the local water corporations to restore Yemen’s water supplies. In 2017, UNICEF installed the first-ever solar-powered water system in the city of Sa’ad.
  8. According to ReliefWeb, 17 million people in Yemen are in need of sanitary drinking water. One potential solution to this is the Life Straw, a small, hand-held straw that filters out 99.9 percent of waterborne bacteria and 98.7 percent of waterborne viruses. Though they have mainly been distributed in Africa, these straws could have a significant impact in Yemen.
  9. More children have been killed by waterborne illnesses and poor sanitation than conflict. Poor sanitation is one of the leading causes of diseases. Many children also lack the proper hygiene supplies needed to stay healthy. Having access to soap would significantly reduce the chances of obtaining hygiene-related diseases. To improve access to hygiene supplies in developing countries around the world, including Yemen, a company called Clean the World recycles partially used pieces of soap from hotels. More than 53 million bars of soap have been distributed in over 127 countries to those who need it.
  10. Diseases caused by mosquitos also contribute to child mortality in Yemen. The country has heavy rainfall and many people collect rainwater as their main water source. Collected water standing idle is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. An outbreak of mosquito-borne illnesses in Yemen killed 78 children under the age of 16, as of the end of 2019. There are 52,000 cases of mosquito-borne illnesses across the country. One potential solution is Kite Patch, which creates a mosquito repellent patch that sticks to the skin and protects against mosquito bites.

Child mortality in Yemen remains a persistent problem for the nation. For long-term improvement, the conflict in Yemen must be resolved. However, with continued efforts by humanitarian organizations, Yemeni children will still become safer, healthier and able to live longer lives.

Amelia Sharma
Photo: Flickr

Progress in Mali
With a poverty rate of 42.7 percent, Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its arid climate also makes Mali one of the hottest countries and armed conflict, famine, weak infrastructure and food insecurity are widespread. Mercy Corps, a non-governmental organization (NGO), has provided humanitarian aid in Mali since 2012. Their efforts have reduced food insecurity, built resilience to armed conflict and natural disasters and assisted in infrastructure development.

Goals of Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps believes conflict prevention and long-term food security programs are important to the livelihoods of Malians. Supporting agriculture, pastoralism and other professions leads to reduced conflict over sparse water and land. Since 2012, more than 250,000 women, children and men have benefited from approximately 20 programs created by Mercy Corps.

According to the U.N., more than 3.2 million Malians need humanitarian assistance, 70 percent of whom live in the Mopti and Segou regions. About 2.7 million are food insecure and malnutrition affects more than 600,000 children. Mercy Corps’ goals are wide-reaching, yet its focus is on long-term stability. The conflict over land and water and overpopulation are two major issues that Mercy Corps and other NGOs are combating by providing humanitarian aid in Mali.

Progress in Mali

Since 2012, Mercy Corps has assisted 98,000 Malians affected by food insecurity. Agricultural support, entrepreneurship and apprentice programs and business development support are three major focus areas. In 2018 alone, the NGO helped 41,000 people through agricultural programs. More than 80 percent of Malians are farmers and fishers, which is one reason Mercy Corps prioritizes agricultural productivity. Seed distribution, technical training and infrastructure rehabilitation were all emphasized during 2018. Improving agricultural productivity and resilience to droughts is essential to helping those affected by food shortages.

Mercy Corps also made progress in Mali by assisting more than 1,112 pastoralists in 2018 with the provision of livestock feed, distribution of goats and animal care from local veterinarians. Livestock and agriculture comprise 80 percent of Mali’s exports, and the assistance from Mercy Corps and other NGOs helps to not only increase food security but also increase income. Mercy Corps provided financial assistance to 25,600 people for basic needs and in support of economic recovery.

Individual Success Stories

Mercy Corps is a major supporter of youth entrepreneurship in Mali, as 60 percent of Malians are less than 25 years old. The NGO assists young entrepreneurs by providing financial assistance and teaching better business practices.

Bibata is a 25-year-old Malian who sells paddy rice and grilled potatoes from her home. Most of her income comes from her business. With her grant money, she was able to buy more paddy rice, spices and vegetables, doubling her profit within months. She stated that the grant money helped her expand and she hopes to grow further into raising cattle.

Hassan is another Malian that benefitted from Mercy Corps’ support. He barely made enough money to care for his nine children, but after a Mercy Corps’ professional training course he understood how to get reimbursed by clients and access services from microfinance institutions. He received a grant, opened up his own shop and now earns twice the income he had earned before.

The Future of Mali

In response to violence in Mali, the United Nations launched a Humanitarian Response Plan in 2019 to assist with food, shelter, nutrition, protection, education and hygiene. Alongside continued efforts by the United Nations, United States government and NGOs, Mercy Corps is set to advance its mission of providing humanitarian aid in Mali. Conflict and high population growth are ongoing in 2019, yet progress is currently being made.

Lucas Schmidt
Photo: USAID

Conflict in Venezuela
In January 2019, Nicolás Maduro won the Venezuelan presidential election, bringing him into his second term as president. Citizens and the international community met the election results with protests and backlash, which has only added to the conflict in Venezuela. The National Assembly of Venezuela went so far as to refuse to acknowledge President Maduro as such. Juan Guaidó, an opposition leader and president of the National Assembly, declared himself interim president almost immediately after the announcement of the election results, a declaration that U.S. President Donald Trump and leaders from more than 50 nations support. Russia and China, however, have remained in support of President Maduro.

During his first term as president and beginning in 2013, Maduro has allowed the downfall of the Venezuelan economy. His government, as well as his predecessor, Hugo Chávez’s government, face much of the anger regarding the current state of Venezuela. Continue reading to learn how the conflict in Venezuela is affecting the poor in particular.

How Conflict in Venezuela is Affecting the Poor

Maduro’s aim was to continue implementing Chávez’s policies with the goal of aiding the poor. However, with the price and foreign currency controls established, local businesses could not profit and many Venezuelans had to resort to the black market.

Hyperinflation has left prices doubling every two to three weeks on average as of late 2018. Venezuelan citizens from all socio-economic backgroundsbut particularly those from lower-income householdsare now finding it difficult to buy simple necessities like food and toiletries. In 2018, more than three million citizens fled Venezuela as a result of its economic status to go to fellow South American countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. However, nearly half a million Venezuelans combined also fled to the United States and Spain.

Venezuela is currently facing a humanitarian crisis that Maduro refuses to recognize. The opposition that is attempting to force Maduro out of power is simultaneously advocating for international aid. As a result, local charities attempting to provide for the poor are coming under fire from Maduro’s administration, as his government believes anything the opposition forces support is inherently anti-government.

In the northwestern city of Maracaibo, the Catholic Church runs a soup kitchen for impoverished citizens in need of food. It feeds up to 300 people per day, and while it used to provide full meals for the people, it must ration more strictly due to the economic turmoil. Today, the meals look more like a few scoops of rice with eggs and vegetables, and a bottle of milk. While the Church’s service is still incredibly beneficial, it is a stark contrast from the fuller meals it was able to provide just a few years prior.

The political and economic conflict in Venezuela is affecting the poor citizens of the country in the sense Maduro’s administration is ostracizing local soup kitchens and charities. A broader problem facing the poor is that because Maduro refuses to address the humanitarian crisis, international organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) are unable to intervene and provide aid.

Project HOPE

There are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are making an effort to help Venezuelans suffering as a result of this crisis. One of the easiest ways they can be of service is by providing aid and relief to citizens who have fled to other countries. Project HOPE is an organization that currently has workers on the ground in Colombia and Ecuador to offer food, medical care and other aid to those escaping the conflict in Venezuela. Project HOPE is also supporting the health care system in Colombia in order to accommodate the displaced Venezuelans there.

The current conflict in Venezuela is affecting the poor, but it is also affecting the entire structure of the nation. It is difficult to know what the outcome of this conflict will look like for Venezuelans and for the country as a whole. What is important now is to continue educating people about the ongoing crisis so that they can stay informed. Additionally, donating to Project HOPE and other NGOs working to provide aid to Venezuelans in neighboring countries would be of great help. With that, many Venezuelan citizens will know that people support them and are fighting to see progress.

– Emi Cormier
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Terrorism in Africa

On March 22, the Trump administration repeated its assertion that ISIS had been defeated in Syria. For the past two decades, Americans have focused exclusively on the Middle East when it comes to strategic counter-terrorism efforts. Since September 11, the U.S. military has involved itself in the affairs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other countries in order to stamp out terrorism. However, poverty and terrorism in Africa are going unchecked.

These military campaigns and several other military operations took place during the contentious “War on Terror.” Now, nearly eighteen years after the attacks, the American public is ready to lessen its intervention in the Middle East. By announcing ISIS’ defeat and pulling the military out, the President is suggesting that the U.S.’s role in the Middle East is nearing its end.

Violent Extremists Organizations

Though leaders of terror groups, like Osama Bin Laden, can be stopped, ideologies on terrorism still hold critical importance. Professor Paul Holman of the University of Maine has been an expert and educator on terrorism and politics for nearly four decades. He did not agree that ISIS had been “defeated” in Syria. This comes down to the root of what terrorism actually is.

In correspondence with the Borgen Project, Professor Holman defines terrorism as “violence against innocent civilians for political reasons.” He notes that both governments and violent extremist organizations (VEOs), like ISIS, use terrorism to further their ideals. Though Syria is no longer under its control, ISIS is more than a national movement.

ISIS is not simply trying to seize and hold territory in Syria and Iraq. Instead, Holman notes, ISIS is a transnational movement based upon extreme religious views, which exist in many other countries. Now that the United States military has weakened many VEOs in the Middle East, where do these organizations go next? Poverty and terrorism in Africa reveal the influence of these VEOs.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

In April, Congolese President Tshisekedi discussed the future of terrorist violence in Africa: “It is easy to see how the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq could lead to a situation where these groups are now going to come into Africa and take advantage of the pervasive poverty and also the situation of chaos that we have, for example, in Beni and Butembo, to set up their caliphate.” Beni and Butembo are northeastern cities in the DRC that have faced a substantial amount of violence.

No doubt, ISIS and other VEOs are capitalizing on the extreme poverty and the chaos of certain regions in Africa. In fact, on April 16, ISIS claimed its first attack on the DRC, killing eight soldiers. A statement made by Islamic State propagandists, to take responsibility for the attack, described Congo as the “Central Africa Province of the Caliphate.” Though these attacks by extremist groups in Africa are not new, American’s realization of their strengths seems to be.

Extemists Groups Gaining Power

As poverty and instability lead to upticks in violence by VEOs, regions in Africa are becoming more susceptible to extremist attacks. For the past ten years, Islamist militant groups have been gaining ground in Africa. In 2015, in the poverty-stricken region of northern Nigeria (the largest nation within Africa), Boko Haram became “the world’s deadliest terror group” while at the same time pledging allegiance to ISIS. Though several African militaries, with aid from France and other Western countries, decimated the land control of Boko Haram, the group still maintains a strong influence within Northern Africa.

With African militaries and other nations are fighting against its influence, Boko Haram focused on the Lake Chad region that borders Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Lake Chad is not only one of the poorest regions in the world but a region that remained largely ungoverned. In 2016, Boko Haram split into two, the new group being the Islamic State of West Africa. The Islamic State of West Africa is offering protection to locals from Boko Haram in exchange for economic reimbursement.

Other extremist groups are adopting the strategy of exploiting extreme poverty as well as profiting off of regional and tribal conflicts while diseases spread. According to the Global Hunger Index, some of the hungriest places on Earth are in Africa as are also some of the least peaceful countries. Northern and Central Africa have similar scores in hunger and peace rankings to those of Syria and Iraq where extremist groups have thrived in the past.

VEOs in Nigeria and Sudan

Professor Holman identified a few African nations that are of higher risk of violent attacks by extremist groups, such as Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria. “The country [Nigeria] is polarized between extreme wealth and extreme poverty, suffering from endemic corruption as well as ethnic rivalries and religious differences.” Libya has been in a civil war since the Ghadaffi regime was overthrown. Sudan has had political turmoil both before and after Bashir’s regime was ousted, and Somalia has a weak government.

It is clear that these terrorist groups thrive in poverty-stricken countries fraught with political strife. Therefore, it is essential that poverty and terrorism in Africa be combatted. Governments and organizations must ensure that the innocent civilians have the education, food, water and financial stability needed to secure themselves from violent extremist groups that prey on the poor and the weak. Foreign aid along with maintaining diplomatic relationships with governments from African nations will be a huge part of that. This fosters strong governments that are able to coordinate a defense from extremist groups.

– Kurt Thiele
Photo: Flickr

Conflict in Nigeria
Modern Nigeria arose in 1914  from two British Colonies, one predominantly Muslim and the other predominantly Christian. The difference in religion translated to different political beliefs, causing tension between the two populations. The resulting violence and constant tensions between different ethnic groups have caused disunity in Nigeria, making it vulnerable to the threat of different extremist groups, most infamous being Boko Haram.

Boko Haram Role in Conflict in Nigeria

Boko Haram, a major source of conflict in Nigeria, was first created in 2002, driven by existing beliefs that Islamic, Sharia law should be enforced. The group has used various tactics including suicide bombing, terrorizing public places, and kidnapping to push for their goal. The violence and fear they have spread have intensified the existing 53.5 percent poverty rate in Nigeria.

The crisis has displaced more than 2 million Nigerians and has left 228,000 refugees without a home. Nigerians facing conflict and displacement consequently have restricted access to food as there are 4.5 million people that are food insecure. Although the effects of conflict in Nigeria do depend on the area, with the North region of the country having generally more dramatic effects because of the presence of Boko Haram, the problems are present in the whole country. Blocked access to health care affects up to 11 percent of the population while restricted education affects up to 26 percent.

Health and Education Issues

As of 2017, Boko Haram destroyed 788 health facilities in Northeast Nigeria, leaving Borno state with 40 percent of its facilities lost. To make matters worse, 30 percent of Borno’s doctors have left the state in fear of the violence. Displacement brings health care concerns as well, with crowding increasing the risks of diseases in a country with a history of polio. The lack of health care facilities means that in the case of a disease outbreak, vaccines may not be fully distributed.

A similar situation exists for schools, with 57 percent in Borno not being in a condition to reopen, and 1,400 schools destroyed in this region. Children are also vulnerable to being used as suicide bombers, especially girls. The constant threat of violence, hunger and poverty prevents children from progressing and becoming educated, posing dangerous long-term effects for current and next generations.

Effects on Agriculture

The disunity and conflict spill over to the agricultural sector, sector that employs 70 percent of the total labor force. Pastoral farmers are moving south because of the threat of Boko Haram in the north, along with pressures of drought and limited space, create tension with existing sedentary farmers in the south. These often violent conflicts have killed 2,500 people in 2016 alone and have led to an annual loss of around $13.7 billion to the country.

It also forced the displacement of 62,000 people between 2015 and 2017, leaving them with restricted access to food and shelter and amplifying existing poverty in Nigeria. An end to these conflicts could potentially increase family income in the country up to almost 210 percent. With the majority of Nigerians depending on farming for their livelihood, it is evident that conflict Nigeria is worsening poverty.

The UNHCR in partnership with 70 organizations is working towards alleviating the effects of the conflict in Nigeria. They have offered child violence protection, gender-based violence protection, economic support and other services to around 180,000 people. With a focus on displaced people, the UNHCR has increased protection in displacement camps, making a safe place for those affected by the conflict.

Evidently, these conflicts are damaging the lives already impoverished people in the country, restricting their already limited access to food, education and health care services. Various organizations are fighting against these effects in order to hopefully improve the conditions of people affected by the conflict in Nigeria.

Massarath Fatima
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about the Ukraine-Russia Conflict
2017 brought significant changes to Ukraine as 6.4 million Ukrainians rose above the country’s poverty line thanks to increases in minimum wage and a boost in social welfare programs. However, after five years of conflict with Russia and 39 percent of the country still living below the poverty line, the future of Ukraine’s poor remains uncertain. As the Ukraine-Russia conflict continues, aid from the U.S. and other countries is the only sure-fire way for those in Ukraine to find relief from the violence at hand.
Here are 10 facts about the conflict in Ukraine and its effect on this eastern European nation.  

Top 10 Facts about the Ukraine-Russia Conflict

  1. The Ukraine-Russia conflict began in 2013 when the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych declined a resolution that would allow for Ukraine to engage in more economic activity with the European Union. After Yanukovych declined the deal, protests began in the capital city, Kiev. When police intervened, the number of protesters increased to contest the brutal treatment from the officers. Yanukovych fled the country in 2014 amid the turmoil, leaving Russia to occupy Ukraine soon after.
  2. Currently, the Ukrainian military is fighting rebels in eastern Ukraine who are being supported by Russia and who wish to annex and become part of Russia.
  3. The Ukraine-Russia conflict has killed more than 10,000 and wounded at least 23,000.
  4. Since 2014, fighting between the two countries has damaged more than 700 schools as well as 130 medical centers. Breaches in ceasefires have endangered more than 200,000 children who are often put in harm’s way and lack access to safe learning spaces.
  5. The front line of the war stretches 280 miles across Ukraine, blocking much of the country’s access to trade and supplies from neighboring countries and the U.N.
  6. In 2017, UNICEF, along with nongovernmental organizations and utility companies, worked to provide more than 962,000 people clean drinking water in both government-controlled and non-government-controlled areas. They also provided vouchers for cash and hygiene education to 160,000 people living closest to the front lines, 30,000 of them children.
  7. UNICEF offered psychosocial support to 82,000 children and caregivers within 15 km of the front line through community support centers. The organization also provided 700,000 children and their families with mine-risk education. Futhermore, the rehabilitation of 87 schools and kindergartens within 5 km of the front lines, provided by UNICEF aid, allowed 138,000 children to return to school, with teachers and aides receiving emergency training.
  8. In order to provide proper healthcare, education and shelter for its citizens, Ukraine requires consistent aid from the United States. Americans can alleviate the effects of the violence in Ukraine by contacting their congresspeople and representatives and asking that they support the International Affairs Budget. Ongoing support from the U.S. will help to improve the conditions of those in the middle of the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
  9. USAID supported elections in 600 communities throughout Ukraine, with many of these townships experiencing their first true election process.
  10. For 2018, Ukraine requires $23.6 million in aid in order to properly improve the country’s predicament. The top three main areas of need are:
    • Access to clean water, sanitation services and hygiene products ($13,619,000)
    • Child protection from violence ($3,200,000)
    • Education ($3,050,000)

Although there is still a long way to go in ending the Ukraine-Russia conflict some important steps have been made. The Ukraine government passed a healthcare reform law in October, which was signed by President Poroshenko, to improve the quality of care provided to its citizens and reduce corruption in the system. The work being done by UNICEF and USAID in Ukraine is helping to alleviate the damaging impact of the conflict. The next step will be working to end the Ukraine-Russia conflict once and for all.

– Jason Crosby
Photo: Flickr

Top Five Nonprofits Combatting Human Trafficking
War Child, a nonprofit organization that supports and educate the children affected by wars, in association with British newspapers,
Evening Standard and Independent, launched the Learn to Live Campaign.

As a part of this campaign, students in the United Kingdom have connected with students in conflict areas around the world. By pairing U.K. classrooms with other classrooms worldwide, the campaign hopes to encourage empathy, understanding and support across borders. With this new understanding, students in the U.K. can learn about students around the world and become their advocates.

Education of Young People in Conflict Areas

According to the Global Partnership for Education, 21.5 million children, 15 million adolescents, and 26 million youth that are out-of-school worldwide live in 32 countries affected by conflict. Needless to say, these young people need educational support. Recently, humanitarian efforts have focused more on this need and over the past five years, requests for education funding in emergencies have risen by 21 percent.

Despite the desperate need for improvement of this situation, only 2.7 percent of humanitarian aid went towards education efforts in 2016. Education should be a focus for humanitarian efforts since access to education directly affects young people’s lives and their future.

Providing young people with quality education and support does only help them overcome the circumstances of war, but also lowers the risk of conflict. In fact, education helps make conflict less prevalent and reduces the risk of conflict by approximately 20 percent. Therefore, educating young people in conflict areas is an important investment not only to individual students but also to the future of conflict-stricken parts of the world.

The Work of Learn to Live Campaign

The Learn to Live Campaign aims to broaden understanding and compassion and it centers around facilitating communication between British students and students in conflict areas. Students send video messages and letters back and forth, detailing their personal lives and challenges.

This exchange of information enables students in U.K. to learn about the reality of students in other parts of the world. In conflict areas, these relationships can give students psychosocial support by making them feel heard and understood by their peers. As the campaign teaches U.K. students about other parts of the world, it also draws attention to the needs of students in conflict areas.

The Art Project

Recently, Andria Zafirakou, an art teacher who was named world’s best teacher in 2018, started an art project, incorporated in Learn to Live campaign, for students from all of the participating U.K. schools. Currently, four U.K. schools have paired with students affected by conflict in Jordan, Iraq and the Central African Republic. 

The art project challenges students to spell “Learn to Live” with materials found in their environments. Several schools are working on the art project, and their works will eventually be combined into one piece. As one of the participating students, Harriet Webster, commented, the art project “is something people will understand, as they will have seen something similar in newspapers or online all over the world.”

Zafirakou also notes the importance of the campaign in expanding British advocacy for global issues. In Zafirakou’s view, The Learn to Live Campaign will educate and empower British children, then those children will go on to raise awareness in their own school and communities, and become a really powerful force. Thus, the campaign’s effects have the potential to spread far beyond the classrooms and the students themselves.

Support for the Campaign

The Learn to Live Campaign has gained wide support in the U.K., from London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, to celebrities, such as Sam Smith and Richard Curtis. In addition to backing up the project, Khan has encouraged Londoners to get involved. In his words, “children living in areas of conflict deserve our unconditional compassion, as well as our solidarity and support.”

The growing visibility and reach of The Learn to Live Campaign will continue to foster empathy and support for students in conflict areas. Luckily, other students will follow the example and get in touch with their underprivileged peers.

– Morgan Harden
Photo: Flickr