Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict
The U.K. hosted the International Ministerial Conference on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict on November 28, 2022, and November 29, 2022. This meeting is a follow-up to the Global Summit of 2004 and also marks 10 years since the establishment of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. About 10 years ago, more than 150 nations made commitments to bring an end to sexual violence in conflict-affected countries. Despite these promises, sufficient actions to address these issues on a global level are lacking.

Angelina Jolie Highlights Barriers

Actress Angelina Jolie, who actually co-hosted the Global Summit of 2004 and is one of the co-founders of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, recently called attention to the lack of action to address the issue of sexual violence in conflict.

Jolie has called out funding gaps and what she describes as a “lack of political will,” according to an opinion piece that the Guardian published in November 2022. She also cites abuses of power, declaring that one of the issues is “security council members abusing their veto power, such as in the case of Syria.” Jolie is referring to how Russia “used its security council veto powers 11 times to block action targeting its ally Syria,” the Guardian reports.

Syria is responsible for a variety of war crimes from the use of chemical weapons to the use of sexual violence in conflict as an act of terror. The U.N.’s Commission of Inquiry found that “the Syrian Government and associated militias used rape and other forms of sexual violence as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Syria.”

In her opinion piece for the Guardian, Jolie advocates for the “creation of a permanent international body that can help fill the accountability gap” as well as a “new, permanent, international commission to document and investigate sexual violence in conflict.”

Jolie highlights that these solutions have been a point of discussion for years but no progress is visible. “The conference should not be another moment when survivors have to come forward to explain their pain and suffering again, and to show their willingness to work with governments, only for countries to be unwilling to act on their commitments over the long term,” Jolie said.

Effects on Global Development

Gender-based violence has a harmful effect on global development. Elevated rates of domestic and sexual violence reduce staff output and cause reductions in productivity to the scale of 10 work days annually per employee. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that “In some countries, even pre-pandemic, gender-based violence was estimated to cost up to 3.7[%]of gross domestic product (GDP)— more than double what most governments spend on education.” Lockdowns at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic heightened cases of gender-based violence across the world.

US Actions and Commitments

Despite these criticisms and the exacerbating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. is taking action to address these issues. Acknowledging the gravity of the issue, in November 2022, the State Department announced that in response to this crisis, the U.S. will increase aid and encourage accountability by “Committing an additional $400,000 to the United State’s annual contribution of $1.75 million to the Office of the U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict.”

The U.S. will also expand the Safe from the Start initiative, which prioritizes gender-based violence responses in humanitarian efforts. The U.S. will establish a Presidential Memorandum against sexual violence in conflict, “which will commit the U.S. government to fully exercising existing authorities to promote justice and accountability for acts of conflict-related sexual violence.” Lastly, the U.S. will allocate $10 million to “civil society efforts” for investigations and reporting and $2 million for “survivor-centered, trauma-informed approaches to fostering survivor resilience during and after conflict.”

Positives

While international initiatives to end sexual violence in conflict are facing issues such as funding gaps, security council abuses and a lack of institutional capability, the U.S. is stepping up to address many of these issues in response to the International Ministerial Conference. Jolie calls on the international community to stay true to their commitments long-term to help establish an effective response to conflict-related sexual violence throughout the world.

– Braden Hampton
Photo: Flickr

Drought in Ethiopia
The Oromo Liberation Army and Tigray Defense Forces in Ethiopia are actively in conflict with the Ethiopian government and have received labels as terror groups in the country. However, due to the ongoing drought in Ethiopia, the groups have been working to establish a nationwide truce to allow humanitarian groups to provide aid to the affected areas of Ethiopia where people do not have access to food and resources. The drought is the worst the nation has seen in the past 40 years and has contributed to more than 20 million people needing dire assistance this year. The impact of the drought on the already impoverished country has been so drastic that the role of the military structures in Ethiopia is changing with the idea of a potential truce to improve the impoverished conditions during an ongoing conflict.

Ethiopia’s Conflict

Millions of Ethiopians have been displaced due to the conflict between rebel groups, including Oromo Liberation Army, Tigray Defense Forces and the Ethiopian National Defense Force which has been ongoing since November 2020. The war has political roots, such as an election, power struggle and claims of marginalization of certain minorities. Both sides have engaged in war crimes resulting in genocide, sexual violence and widespread looting and destruction of property. In addition to these direct results of war, humanitarian crises and famine have also come to light due to environmental and economic factors.

The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, ordered offensive forces to fight the rebel forces. The government intervention and blockades in Tigray have limited access to 9.4 million people across northern Ethiopia in need of humanitarian aid. Road access for supply trucks with medicine, nutritional supplies and general aid has had its limitations due to such blockages, further exacerbating the famine.

The Impact of the Drought in Ethiopia

In addition to the ongoing Ethiopian conflict, the drought has played a part in increasing humanitarian needs across Ethiopia. The worst Ethiopian drought in decades has led to widespread harvest failures and livestock deaths decreasing food insecurity, increasing famine and increasing acute malnutrition in the country.

Required humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia will be 40% higher in 2022 than in 2016 as a consequence of the El Nino drought. The ongoing Ethiopian conflict in northern Ethiopia is further increasing the severity of the situation, as it is currently affecting more than 8 million people. As the drought in Ethiopia continues to ravage more parts of Ethiopia, this number will likely increase.

The Ceasefire

In March 2022, the Tigray Defense Forces and the Ethiopian government established a humanitarian truce to prevent mass starvation in the northeast region of the country – almost 40% of Tigray’s 6 million people are victims of famine. The purpose of the ceasefire was also to allow emergency humanitarian aid the opportunity to relieve the pressure of the refugee crises, mass displacement and critical environmental issues. U.N. fuel shortages have added to the issue as aid workers had to travel by foot to deliver supplies. However, the added safety of a ceasefire has enabled aid workers to make unrestricted deliveries, presenting a semblance of hope for faster recovery in the region.

Recent Developments

In August 2022, the U.N. called for another ceasefire after the northern region of Tigray saw more bouts of violence during the attempted ceasefire. Peace talks between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front will likely begin soon, but may now be pushed back or indefinitely postponed. Neither side will admit to commencing the attack, but the fighting has nonetheless increased tension between the groups. As a result, political negotiations and unrestricted access to those in need have halted with the return of fighting, as both sides have released opposing statements regarding further steps in the conflict.

– Nethya Samarakkodige
Photo: Flickr

costs of military intervention
A closer look at the costs of military intervention versus the benefits of foreign aid provides insight into why humanitarian assistance trumps military intervention.

The Costs of Conflict, Violence and Military Intervention

In March 2011, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) led a multi-state coalition in response to conflict escalation in Libya. To curb violence and human rights violations in line with the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ norm, NATO created a no-fly zone followed by air strikes. According to a 2012 Reuters report, NATO coordinated “26,000 sorties including some 9,600 strike missions and destroyed about 5,900 targets before operations ended on October 31.”

To terminate the rule of Saddam Hussein and abolish weapons of mass destruction, U.S. forces began the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The U.S. saw success as troops captured Hussein and the last U.S. troops exited Iraq in December 2011. The nine-year conflict cost the U.S. Treasury $800 billion and led to more than “4,700 U.S. and allied troop deaths” along with the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqi people, highlighting the human and material costs of military intervention and war.

Kosovo was once a province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which currently consists of today’s two states, Serbia and Montenegro. The Kosovo crisis escalated in early 1998 upon Kosovo’s desire for sovereign autonomy from Yugoslavia. With Kosovo’s mixed population of Albanians and Serbs, clashes between the ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs took place and the Yugoslav government took a firm stance against the Kosovo Liberation Army, a rebel Albanian group. The crisis led to displacement and death, prompting NATO’s intervention.

Libya (March 2011-October 2011)

While the total scope of collateral damage remains unacknowledged, Human Rights Watch reported 72 civilian casualties as a result of aerial strikes that NATO carried out in Libya in 2011. The number of internally displaced persons fluctuated throughout the intervention period, and by late 2011, the number stood at a minimum of 154,000 people, highlighting the profound implications of military intervention on human welfare.

A month after the intervention ended, The New York Times carried out investigations in Libya’s capital of Tripoli along with several other sites and findings show ramifications on civilian infrastructure. The airstrikes led to the destruction of residential and commercial buildings and many people suffered injuries, unable to access health care amid a chaotic political atmosphere.

However, the benefits of foreign aid outweighed military intervention as it helped restore social and economic order within Libya during and following the crisis. Since 2011, USAID has facilitated the delivery of social services, development and humanitarian support in Libya in an investment valued at more than $900 million.

For instance, in June 2011, to “build an inclusive and peaceful democratic future that reflects the will and needs of the Libyan people,” USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives allocated $12.2 million. The program goals included conversations to unite together Libya’s community leaders in creating “strategies to mitigate conflict and promote reconciliation” and public outreach initiatives to keep locals up-to-date on information about Libya’s transition process.

In 2012, USAID provided grants to build a computer center in the Mafqood Center for Missing Persons “where families from all sides of the conflict will receive training on advocacy using social networking and online media.” According to USAID, the center’s goal is to stand as “a sanctuary for families to seek solace and comfort” as well as “a platform from which the families can form a unified voice to tackle the legal and social issues they face.”

Iraq (2003-2011)

The U.S. military invasion led to several human rights violations as detailed in the accounts of abuse and torture in the Abu Ghraib prison, a U.S. army detention center that housed around 3,800 detainees from 2003 to 2006. Graphic photos of males and females show acts of torture, humiliation and assault. This led to charges against 11 U.S. military authorities, according to CNN.

Through the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, U.S. Congress allocated $2.5 billion in 2003 to ease acute suffering in areas relevant to food security, water and health care. Later that year, an additional $18.4 billion went toward general reconstruction projects. By February 2006, Congress distributed $10.5 billion of the $18.4 billion for “security, economic and political” initiatives. The economic benefit of such foreign aid is visible in the nation’s gross domestic product, which rose from “$18.9 billion in 2002 to $33.1 billion in 2005,” signifying an improved standard of living.

Kosovo Crisis (1998-1999)

NATO nations endured a cost of £2.5 billion over 78 days while dispersing “more than 23,000 bombs and missiles” in Kosovo. On the first day of the conflict alone, NATO “launched more than £44.4 [million] worth of weapons” against Yugoslavia’s military bases. In total, the Kosovo war and reparation thereafter cost £31.67 billion, around two-thirds of which went toward rebuilding Serbia/Kosovo.

Already suffering from international sanctions, Yugoslavia endured economic shocks with the nation losing 44% of its industrial production. NATO bombings are reported to have set back Yugoslavia by as much as 20 years, with economic costs amounting to $100 billion, as Yugoslav officials reported in 1999.

However, foreign aid assisted in Kosovo’s recovery and economic development. For instance, since 1999, USAID committed itself to the reconstruction of Kosovo in investments totaling more than $1 billion.

Multilateral donors collected around $2 billion in a donors meeting held in 1999 to aid humanitarian support and reconstruction. The benefit of economic reconstruction in Kosovo is visible in its GDP, rising to $9.01 billion in 2021, according to World Bank data, from $1.85 billion in 2000.

Overall, the benefits of foreign aid outweighed the costs of military intervention in conflicts occurring in countries like Libya, Iraq and Kosovo, especially considering the heightened economic and human loss associated with military interventions.

– Noor Al-Zubi
Photo: Unsplash

2021 Report
Around the world, 222 million children and adolescents are currently experiencing conflict and crises. Of those children, 78.2 million are unable to attend school and 119.6 million face barriers to an adequate education. The findings come from the United Nations’ education fund in crisis-impacted countries, Education Cannot Wait, in its 2021 report.

Education Cannot Wait is the U.N.’s first global fund for “education in emergencies and protracted crises.” The fund underwent establishment in 2016 at the World Humanitarian Summit and aims to ensure that every child can attain an education, regardless of their circumstances.

Despite global challenges, ECW found many successes in 2021, from increased funding to the number of children it was able to serve with its programs. Titled “We Have Promises to Keep,” the 2021 report highlights the fund’s record highs in education grants and mobilization as well as improved gender parity in its educational programs.

Findings

  • Forcible displacement due to conflict or disaster presents the main barrier to education. Children and adolescents have disproportionate representation among internally displaced, refugee and returnee populations. A little under half of the 89.3 million internally displaced people in 2021 were under the age of 18, which had a significant impact on their access to education. Child refugees may not be able to enroll in school within temporary accommodations or host communities, or they face financial pressure to work and support their families. The increasing trend in displacement has only continued. As of May 2022, there were more than 100 million displaced people, a record-breaking number according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • Changing weather patterns remains one of the primary causes of displacement and its impact on education. Natural disasters drove the most displacement in 2021 and around 40 million children have disruptions in education because of extreme weather. Climate-driven poverty and malnutrition are also becoming a large concern for children, especially in South American and African countries.
  • Attacks and military presence in schools have increased, especially in crisis-impacted countries. There were 2,100 attacks on education in 2021, which was a 33% increase from 2019. Moreover, girls were subject to gender-based attacks in at least 11 countries. 
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issues mentioned above. Low and middle-income countries have been slow to reopen schools, and 42 countries still had partial closures and six countries had fully closed schools as of July 2022. The countries also face challenges in implementing remote learning due to the lack of widespread technology access. This disproportionately affects girls, as the report points out the “digital gender divide.” 

Successes

  • According to the 2021 report, ECW raised $388.6 million in funding in 2021 and mobilized a total of $1.07 billion since its establishment, which surpassed its initial targets. 
  • The fund supported 11.8 million children and adolescents through its COVID-19 interventions in 2021 alone, bringing the total number of children supported during the pandemic to 31.2 million, of which more than half were girls. A large share were children from internally displaced and refugee populations. 
  • It also provided textbooks and learning materials to more than 2 million children in 2021. 
  • ECW implemented programs in 32 countries with 174 grants, the majority of which were countries in severe crisis. 
  • The share of children reached for early childhood education increased from 5% in 2019 to 9% in 2021, and secondary education from 3% to 11% for the same period. 
  • About 92% of ECW programs reportedly achieved improved gender parity. 

Looking Ahead

Education Cannot Wait’s “We Have Promises to Keep” report shows that even in the face of increased global challenges, significant progress can occur. Despite setbacks in the education sector, the fund broke records and targets set in 2016. However, keeping increasing trends in conflict and crises and their impact on education in mind, more work if necessary.

Ramona Mukherji
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Education to Alleviate Period Poverty
During times of violence, those in need often receive aid, but period health often is a neglected aspect of assistance. Places with ongoing ethnic violence, war and displaced people need solutions for their women and girls to stay protected from infections and infertility issues. Hygiene is important and solutions are more sustainable when operating on the ground and pinpointing specific causes for specific issues. Kashmir, Palestine and Ukraine highlight the power of education to alleviate period poverty during conflict.

Kashmir

In Kashmir, many women cannot afford pads. Due to oppressive government officials and hateful bias in the region, many have lower access to health care and are constantly on the move. This cycle causes period poverty and cultural taboos continue to worsen the issue. Local doctors who treat tribal women see fever, vomiting, infection and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) as a result of the women not properly using reusable period cloths.

Tribal women in Jammu and Kashmir doctors are telling women that “Severe infection can lead to adhesions [scar tissue] in the uterus, which can block the fallopian tubes and, in certain cases, lead to infertility,” Open Democracy reported. It is unusual for girls to learn how to manage their period or how to adapt to hygienic practices with limited resources.

Shazia Chaudhary is a Gujjar activist who holds counseling sessions on menstruation to educate nomadic girls about sanitary pads and proper washing for reusable rags. According to Open Democracy, less than 10% of tribal women in Jammu and Kashmir have accurate knowledge about periods or receive period education. The process of providing education to alleviate period poverty can eliminate serious health concerns.

One man in Kashmir is spreading awareness and engineering cheaper sanitary products for those in extreme poverty in Kashmir. Aaqib Peerzada makes cheap and eco-friendly pads. Alongside, Dr. Auqfeen Nisar is working to educate girls on the safety of these products and register girls for pads at subsidized rates. Health concerns decrease by creating awareness and providing solutions.

Palestine

UNICEF is creating programs in Palestine to provide education to alleviate period poverty and to help those in extreme poverty learn about personal hygiene and have access to clean water and facilities. Not all women and girls have access to sanitary products, especially in times of uncertainty. As a result of historical forced movement, conflict in 2014 and destruction of infrastructure, many restrooms are not sanitary and lack privacy.

The combination of sanitation concerns and the overall taboo of periods at a young age leads to many young school girls with poor period hygiene. This can cause infection and possible reproductive issues. After success in 2012 and 2016, programs are expanding. “As part of its new country programme action plan in Palestine over 2018-2022, UNICEF is planning to continue with the WASH in schools programmes to address unmet needs identified in vulnerable communities,” said UNICEF in its report.

By creating better facilities and period knowledge, in schools, young women can have a private area to clean reusable products or dispose of reusable products, without feeling embarrassed.

Ukraine and Future Perspectives

Refugees all around the world face insecurity with sanitary products and it is Ukrainian refugees and citizens who now face this concern. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, more than 4 million refugees have fled the country. According to Global Citizen, many of the refugees are women “who could not bring enough supplies to manage their periods and do not have the means to buy them.” Existing programs like I Support The Girls (ISTG), which women created and run, are starting to help “on the ground” in nearby countries to expand their assistance.

Many organizations have received heightened interest in donors, following the invasion of Ukraine and hope that the interest in period poverty and education continues after the war for other women in need.

Refugees and war zones all around the world face similar period products and sanitary needs. The Global Citizen is able to give credit to charities that will continue to help Ukrainian women and other countries, for a long to come.

– Karen Krosky
Photo: Flickr

Tamil Poverty in Sri LankaPeople in certain regions and ethnicities within Sri Lanka — more specifically, Tamil, a Hindu ethnic minority in Sri Lanka — feel the effects of poverty especially hard. This is part of the country’s more extensive history of ethnic tension and civil war. Here is information about Tamil poverty in Sri Lanka.

Civil War and Ethnic Strife

Ethnic conflict has been a significant contributing factor for poverty in Sri Lanka among Tamils. Under British imperial rule, authorities heavily favored Tamils over the Buddhist Sinhalese majority of the island. When Sri Lanka obtained independence, Sinhalese — who the British had long excluded — began to reverse this trend of Tamil dominance.

This shift in Sri Lanka would culminate in a 26-year war, ending when the Sinhalese-dominated government finally defeated the Tamil rebels in 2009. The conflict came at an incredible cost as tens of thousands of Sri Lankans died. The U.N. has accused both the Sri Lankan government and rebels of human rights violations during the conflict.

Post Conflict Poverty Among Tamils

The lasting economic effects of the civil war have been significant in Sri Lanka as Tamils suffer from poverty at much higher rates. Tamil-dominated districts are the poorest in Sri Lanka, and poverty among Tamil youth is 7% higher when compared to the rest of the country. These areas have well over half the population living on less than $2.50 a day.

Many Tamils lack access to work in Sri Lanka, and Tamils cannot interact with government authorities as they do not speak the same language. Tamils face poor working conditions when they can find work and have difficulty accessing health care. Education is also difficult to access, and Tamil child labor is more prevalent when compared to the rest of Sri Lanka.

The civil war also dramatically hindered Tamil fishermen from making a living in the waters around the island. Natural disasters since the civil war-like cyclones and floods have heavily impacted Tamil communities, and there is little effort by the Sri Lankan government to assist after such disasters. Very little rebuilding has occurred in Tamil regions that the civil war heavily damaged.

Displacement and Discrimination

To this day, displacement and discrimination impact impoverished Tamils in Sri Lanka. Despite the end of hostilities, the Sri Lankan government has maintained a sizable military force to occupy former rebel-held districts. This resulted in the seizure of land by the military, displacing many Tamils.

Tamil culture and religion have faced significant discrimination since the end of the conflict. Buddhist shrines have replaced Tamil religious sites without the consent of local Tamils. Additionally, Tamil communities are subject to abuses from security forces operating with little oversight. There are signs of promise, however, as more recently the Sri Lankan government has opened the door for Tamil refugees to return from India where tens of thousands had fled in the past.

Poverty in Sri Lanka affects minority Tamils disproportionately more than the rest of the country. Decades of ethnic tensions culminated in a lengthy civil war that devastated Tamil regions. Currently, these same Tamil regions have much higher rates of poverty and much lower access to essential services. In addition, the military has displaced many Tamils and many face discrimination. Yet, a recent repatriation program that Sri Lanka initiated shows promise for Tamils to be able to return to their communities.

– Coulter Layden
Photo: Unsplash


Cameroon’s anglophone regions have been stuck in a civil war involving the government and separatist groups. Beginning in October 2016, this war is continuing to take a severe toll on Cameroon’s civilians. The Anglophone Crisis has a devastating effect on poverty in the region. Additionally, the crisis ruined livelihoods and caused several civilian casualties.

Historically, the British and the French governed Cameroon. However, in 1972, French Cameroon assumed executive control over the entire region, including the British sector. As a result, the Anglophone Cameroonians found themselves slowly shrinking in power. A protest by the Anglophone Cameroonians in 2016 resulted in a lethal response from the Francophone government. Subsequently, it set off the Anglophone Crisis. A group of Anglophone separatists declared independence in a region called Ambazonia.

Civilians in the Crossfire

At least 4,000 civilians died as a result of the Anglophone Crisis, and the crisis displaced far more. Throughout the region, citizens have witnessed the burning of buildings, the kidnapping of their neighbors and the destruction of homes. Those who survive escape to live in the jungle or seek refuge in neighboring countries, often living on little to no food, water and money.

Originally, the cycle of conflict was repetitive: a radical separatist would incite an attack on the Francophone military, and the military would respond by going after the separatists in a frenzy. However, several recent Anglophone attacks shifted to target civilians. Francophone government security forces are also consistently unafraid to abuse any civilians suspected of having separatist connections.

Humanitarian Concerns

There are human rights abuses coming from both sides of the Anglophone Crisis. However, providing aid to the region is extremely difficult. The Francophone government has a complex and tough procedure that organizations must go through in order to receive approval. Additionally, these organizations also have to negotiate with separatist groups. However, both sides are kidnapping aid workers due to suspected collusion.

As more and more people experience displacement, it is increasingly more difficult for these civilians to find assistance. In particular, the healthcare system in Cameroon is in shambles. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this becomes especially dangerous. The United Nations has reported that nearly 20% of healthcare facilities are no longer functioning. The organization Doctors Without Borders was running a free ambulance system that has completed thousands of referrals. However, the organization suspended the program in the Ambazonia region in December 2020.

Peace Movements

A movement of grassroots peace activists, largely women, attempt to end the Anglophone Crisis following the breakdown of official talks between the two sides. They do not have the prowess or protection that the international mediators have. However, they do have the benefit of being local. They understand the conflict in a way that outside groups do not, and they work on multiple facets of peace. Groups worked to soften a school boycott that disrupted children’s education for years. Also, they helped former fighters of the conflict re-integrate back into society.

Peacemaking is still dangerous, and many people on either side do not want it to happen. These activists are subject to arrest, abduction and torture from both the Anglophones and Francophones. Despite the risks, their work is incredibly important. With their goals of social cohesion and healing, these peace activists bring hope to a dark period of time.

– Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr


In July 2021, the United States government returned more than 17,000 artifacts of cultural significance to the Iraqi people. The move is symbolic of improving diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iraq. Moreover, it brings a major benefit to those living within Iraq. The move is aiding an emerging tourism industry and is providing jobs for Iraqi citizens. In this way, the return of plundered artifacts and the growth of a national and cultural identity works to alleviate poverty. This is most welcome because Iraqi citizens in poverty endure poor living conditions, environmental disasters such as drought and significant instability from war and conflict between extremist groups.

Conflict, Displacement and Unemployment

The instability from war decimates ways of life and economic standings. In 2019, more than 2 million Iraqi people remained displaced within the country’s borders. In addition, the unemployment rate in 2020 was 13.74% significantly higher than a low of 7.97% in 2012. Without formal settlement and repeated conflict in the country, formal employment and the alleviation of poverty is difficult.

The extremist groups within Iraq’s borders and the physical destruction of culturally significant sites largely affect the country’s culture. Specifically, the Islamic State (ISIS) was responsible for destroying and looting historical sites that are thousands of years old. These losses were about more than just physical locations.

How ISIS Uses Artifacts as Pawns and Funds Vehicles

Historical and cultural sites are a major draw for those to whose culture they belong. They also attract those seeking to learn more about the culture. Iraq is home to six official UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 13 tentative heritage sites. The existence of ancient sites in Iraq attracts visitors from across the globe. Even when conflict led to fluctuations in tourist numbers, the industry still attracted 892,000 visitors in 2019. That is how cultural tourism has proven to be a beneficial tool to alleviating poverty in the region. However, the wide draw and attention to heritage sites also attract a more lucrative and sinister clientele.

Extremist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS use heritage sites as leverage. Under conflict, groups may plunder and steal from countless artifacts. In other words, conflict scenarios often involve the use of ancient artifacts as pawns. Terror groups, aside from destroying ancient sites, sell antiquities to fund their operations. This in turn affects poverty alleviation efforts because it reduces the ability to benefit from tourism. In the wake of the return of stolen artifacts, Iraq is seeking to grow the tourist section of its economy.

The Plundered Artifacts

The return of plundered artifacts to Iraq included thousands of Mesopotamian seals and tablets. It included pieces from Hobby Lobby that the United States Department of Justice fined $3 million for its poor policy regarding antiquity acquisition. It also included 5,000 artifacts that Cornell University had received in 2000 from a private collector. The Cornell artifacts featured pieces from Garsana, a Sumerian city that was previously unknown.

National Image: From War-Torn to Culturally Tied

Artifacts serve as a reminder of the seeds of culture. In Iraq, a sense of national identity is necessary to rebuild the nation. Having artifacts to point to where the nation has originated serves the purpose to grow a national sense of connectedness to the past. The artifacts returned in 2021 serve as a testament to the history of the Iraqi people and may empower citizens to work towards a stronger future.

As Iraqi Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities Hassan Nadhem said, the return of plundered artifacts, “restores not just the tablets, but the confidence of the Iraqi people by enhancing and supporting the Iraqi identity in these difficult times.”

– Harrison Vogt
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Casa PintadaMany communities in Colombia have been decimated after more than 50 years of conflict. Despite the signing of a peace deal between the Colombian Government and rebel groups in 2016, violence persists in many parts of the country. Rural communities have been disproportionally impacted as government services are almost non-existent in these areas. Many programs have been initiated to assist victims of the conflict, one of them being the Casa Pintada project. This project involves members of shattered communities coming together to rebuild and repaint buildings that have been destroyed. It seeks to re-establish the sense of community that has been lost in the conflict.

Overview of the Colombian Conflict

The Colombian conflict began in the 1960s with the formation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). These two far-left militant groups embarked on a violent campaign against the Colombian state for more than 50 years. Kidnappings, assassinations and drug trafficking were commonplace during this time and at least 220,000 people have been killed.

The signing of a peace deal in 2016 was lauded around the world and then-president, Juan Manuel Santos, even won a Nobel Peace Prize. However, violence has continued as many of the promises made by the Colombian government have not been kept. Rural areas still are not receiving basic assistance and this has convinced many militants to resume fighting.

The Casa Pintada Project

Blumont undertakes the Casa Pintada project, an organization that provides developmental programs around the world. In the Casa Pintada or painted house project, people restore and repaint damaged buildings in various communities throughout Colombia. Focusing specifically on the Caquetá, Cauca and Córdoba states, it seeks to help the residents of these areas restore the sense of community among themselves by rebuilding their communities from the ground up.

At least 740 families have benefited from Casa Pintada and these benefits have gone far beyond rebuilding damaged infrastructure. The project also provides psychological assistance to those who have experienced years of violence and displacement. The act of repainting homes as a community breaks down barriers that have gone up over the years by instilling a sense of pride among residents of these areas. This helps to reestablish connections between neighbors, which in turn, goes a long way in healing the trauma caused by decades of conflict.

The Closing Gaps Program

Casa Pintada is a part of Blumont’s larger Closing Emergency Gaps to Aid Displaced People program. Called the Closing Gaps program for short, it is funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. This program seeks to aid victims of displacement in Colombia by strengthening the local government’s ability to care for refugees while providing for their basic needs and representation. Furthermore, as demonstrated by the Casa Pintada project, Closing Gaps is also concerned with treating the psychological impacts of displacement.

The Casa Pintada project reflects the multifaceted issues that arise from violent civil conflicts. The Colombian conflict lasted for more than five decades and left an indelible impact on much of the population, especially in rural areas. While the physical toll the Colombian people have suffered received much attention, Casa Pintada aims to address the psychological effects of the conflict. By having people repaint and refurbish damaged buildings in their neighborhoods, it helps heal the trauma they have endured by instilling a sense of community among them.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in BurundiThe East African country of Burundi is one of the poorest in the world. Its meager economy relies heavily on rainfed agriculture, which employs approximately 90% of the people there. Burundi is Africa’s most population-dense country and nearly three out of every four people live below the poverty line. One of the lamentable realities of Burundi’s poverty is the effects it has on children. Child poverty is a serious issue in Burundi and the country has a current score of 5.46/10 on Humanium’s “Realization of Children’s Rights Index.”  Burundi is deemed a black level country by Humanium, meaning that the issue of children’s rights is very serious.

The State of Child Poverty in Burundi

In Burundi, 78% of children live in poverty. Poverty especially affects children in the rural parts of the country. Poverty also disproportionately affects children of the indigenous Batwa people. Additionally, child poverty in Burundi has seen an unfortunate and notable increase since 2015, when violent unrest occurred following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement of a third term, which was unconstitutional. The roots of the poverty problem in Burundi stem from a few different factors, the most predominant one being hunger.

Chronic Hunger in Burundi

Despite having an agriculture-centric economy, more than half of Burundians are chronically hungry.  The lack of food in the country is due to the fact that even at the peak of the harvesting season, food production is too low to sustain the population. Food production in Burundi can only cover a person for 55 days of the year. The lack of food also means prices are much higher. As a result, it is not uncommon for households to spend up to two-thirds of their incomes on food, even during harvesting season. One reason for Burundi’s difficulties in growing enough food has been frequent natural disasters that destroy crops and yields.

Hunger and Education

Hunger is so prevalent and intense in Burundi that despite having free and compulsory school for children between the ages of 7 and 13, the country faces growing dropout rates due to hunger. Another problematic issue for Burundian children facing poverty is schooling after the age of 13. After 13, school is neither free nor compulsory, making it exponentially less accessible and thus reducing opportunities for upward mobility. Much of Burundi’s education system has been negatively affected by Burundi’s civil war, as schools were destroyed and teachers were unable to teach.

Street Children in Burundi

Burundi has many “street children.” As the name suggests, these children live on the streets and are incredibly poor, left to fend for themselves. Street children have no humanitarian assistance from the government and consistently face police brutality, theft and arrests. Kids in Burundi become street children because families are sometimes too poor and hungry to stay together or they have to flee from child abuse or family conflict.

Organizations Addressing Child Poverty in Burundi

Although the reality of the child poverty situation in Burundi is dire, there are good things being done to improve the situation. While the government in Burundi is not providing adequate help, there are several humanitarian organizations providing assistance to those in need.

The NGO, Humanium, works on raising awareness, partnering with local projects to help children and providing legal assistance to victims of children’s rights abuses. The World Food Programme (WFP) has also been working in Burundi since 1968 by providing food such as school meals, malnutrition rehabilitation to starved children and helping to improve food production. Additionally, organizations like Street Child are working to build schools and eliminate as many barriers to education as possible for children in Burundi and elsewhere. Groups like the WFP, Humanarium and Street Child do substantial work to help children in Burundi. It is vital that the work continues and that more organizations participate in alleviating child poverty in Burundi.

– Sean Kenney
Photo: Flickr