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

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

impact of conflict on poverty
Conflict can be a catalyst for an array of poverty-related events. It can impact poverty by depleting resources, interrupting supply chains, destroying infrastructure, taking lives and much more. Unfortunately, this trend has held in the country of Mali, which currently shows the significant impact of conflict on poverty.

Conflict Background and Economic Impact

The Mali War is an ongoing conflict that began in January of 2012. Since then, violence between the North and South of Mali has ebbed and flowed in severity but never subsided. Malian people, including the Tuareg, in the North of Mali, have expressed resentment and concern, as they feel that governmental groups and political factions have been neglecting their concerns and treating them unfairly. Ethnic divides, fundamentalist fighters and an unstable political system are a few issues that have caused this conflict.

There have been thousands of deaths and thousands of more people fleeing the conflict. As mentioned previously, many connect the weak economic sector in Mali to the outbreak of unrest and violence. Almost cyclically, this violence is now negatively impacting the economic sector. Before the conflict broke out, tourism accounted for more than 40% of Mali’s GDP. Researchers estimate that 8,000 people lost their job due to the drastic decrease in tourism after the conflict began. The economic connection highlights the ranging impact of conflict on poverty.

Many of those living in the North of Mali, mostly Tuareg and Arab groups, depend on the agricultural sector for their income. The government has invested very little in this sector and focuses primarily on tourism and the export of gold and cotton from the South. This has led many agricultural producers in the South to grow jaded towards the government due to their increased likelihood of experiencing extreme poverty.

The Impact on Public Health

Roughly 1 in 3 children in Mali are facing chronic malnutrition. An annual average of nearly four million people in Mali do not have access to an adequate amount of food. More than half of Mali’s children and young adults are illiterate and have been pushed out of school due to displacement. Many children in Mali are at great risk of being recruited into militant groups, further threatening their safety, educational resources, and ability to climb from poverty.

At its base level, the conflict in Mali threatens public health by the sheer loss of life it has caused. In 2018, hundreds of civilians were killed by armed groups. The byproducts of this violence caused even more people to experience extreme poverty, malnutrition and death. Additionally, more than 200,000 people have fled Mali altogether to avoid the violence. This stunts Mali’s economic growth, which reaffirms the dangerous impact of conflict on poverty.

Current Aid and Support Efforts

A military coup ousted the former President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, on August 19th, 2020. President Bah Ndaw became the interim leader of Mali and will hold the position until an election can be held. Some are hopeful that if a legitimate election can be held, much of the conflict in Mali will subside. In the meantime, many local and international nonprofit organizations have mobilized to aid in poverty-reduction efforts throughout Mali.

  1. For example, World Vision began providing aid in Mali in 1975, even before the conflict. In 2012 during the height of the conflict, World Vision provided aid in the form of food, clean water, and shelter to more than 150,000 people throughout Mali. Additionally, more than 60,000 children in Mali are currently benefiting from World Vision’s child sponsorship program. The program allows donors to provide monetary assistance to and communicate with an impoverished child. Many of these sponsored children in Mali reside within conflict-ridden areas.
  2. Peace Direct, another nonprofit organization, focuses on peacebuilding efforts in Mali. They support communities in their implementation of peacebuilding; in 2019 alone, they supported more than 20 projects throughout Mali. Peace Direct realizes the importance of community growth, both physically and emotionally, to peacebuilding. A lack of communal trust can be detrimental to poverty reduction, as teamwork makes progress more effective and efficient. Additionally, the building of trust and understanding among conflict groups is essential to support continued growth and stability throughout Mali. This trust will prevent future conflicts and allow Mali to focus on joint economic growth and poverty-reduction tactics throughout their country.

    3. “The Peacebuilding Stabilization and Reconciliation Project,” run through USAID, began in April of 2018 and is scheduled to be completed in March of 2023. This project focuses on rebuilding many of the conflict-ridden areas throughout Mali, providing rehabilitation resources to those impacted by the violence, increasing civic engagement and helping Mali’s government introduce barriers to prevent violent outbreaks in the future. USAID believes that providing community members with an active role in their governance will decrease dissent, enhance democratic values, reduce the likelihood of future conflict and decrease the joint poverty level throughout Mali. Success will also ideally increase GDP and overall well being while mitigating the impact of conflict on poverty in Mali.

The Future of the Region

The domino effect that violence can have on the prosperity of a nation is not a surprise. Violence decreases an individual’s ability to focus on economic growth or public health. It overtakes governmental initiatives and attention from the media, forcing poverty-related issues to take a backseat. The importance of the international community supporting peacebuilding efforts in Mali remains essential. The path toward peace will trickle-down benefits for many subsets of Mali’s society and will decrease the occurrence of extreme poverty throughout the nation.

Danielle Forrey
Photo: UN Multimedia

Mental Health in Iraq
Suicide rates in Iraq are on the rise in 2020, primarily among members of communities struggling to find employment, resources, political peace and aid during the ravage of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Yazidi people, a Kurdish religious minority group, are facing an unprecedented rise in suicide rates as they relive the trauma that the 2014 ISIS raids caused in their hometowns. Here is some information about mental health in Iraq including the relationship between suicide rates, mental health and COVID-19 among the Yazidi people of Iraq.

Who are the Yazidi People?

Yazidi refers to a member of a small, monotheistic, semi-ancient religion based in Northern Iraq, Northern Syria and some parts of Turkey. The Yazidi people have been the target of various religious persecutions since their beginnings, most recently in the 2014 raids by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS.) They tend to live in isolation as they observe a strict philosophy on religious purity, thus driving them away from contact with members outside of their religious community.

Why is Suicide Prevalent in the Yazidi Community?

The majority of suicides among the Yazidi people result from poor living conditions in Internal Displacement Camps in the northern corner of Iraq. Still, the living conditions alone are not to blame. The combination of psychological trauma from ISIS captivity and limited access to basic psychological services, due to the stigma around mental health in Iraq, has unfortunately led many Yazidi people, primarily women, to search for suicide as an answer to their suffering.

How is COVID-19 Impacting Suicide Rates?

With unemployment, depression, isolationism and abuse at all-time highs during the pandemic, people across the world are leaning to harmful actions, such as suicide, as a form of relief.

Dr. Mark Reger, Chief of Psychology Services at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, states that the pandemic, along with civil unrest and economic struggles, produces a “perfect storm” for suicide risk. Among Yazidi people specifically, though, COVID-19 is causing many to relive the nightmares that the ISIS invasions caused. For many, the isolation and fear caused by either the loss of jobs or by social distancing remind them of the sleepless nights they spent in fear of kidnapping, murder or rape by members of ISIS in the 2014 attacks.

The lack of services to treat mental health in Iraq may have influenced suicide risk among the Yazidi people. There are currently only 80 active psychologists in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, while 70% of Iraqi citizens who self-report mental distress have suicidal thoughts. Despite this data being about a decade old, one can surmise that mental health in Iraq worsened over the last decade although researchers have had a difficult time updating statistics due to political restrictions.

Solutions

The following organizations are positively impacting mental health in Iraq and Yazidi communities through raising awareness, providing treatment traditionally unavailable to the community and offering financial assistance for intervention.

  1. Dak Organization for Women Development: The Dak Organization for Women Development assists in raising awareness for issues plaguing Yazidi women and girls. For example, it has initiated the 16 Days Against Violence Against Women event, which involves the holding of meetings, workshops and community-based groups to open up the conversation and discuss ways to implement change. This organization also offers psychological support for the Yazidi communities by providing support groups including ones specifically for women.
  2. Back to Life: Back to Life provides rehabilitation and treatment centers for Yazidi women and girls struggling with PTSD or other mental issues due to the actions of ISIS. In 2019 alone, it has helped more than 597 young adults or children receive psychological support and brought empowerment to more than 1,270 Yazidi women through sewing workshops.

Attention to mental health in Iraq is necessary considering the country’s recent challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, through continued support, mental health among Yazidi communities will improve.

– Johnnie Walton
Photo: Flickr

 

Aid to AfghanistanThe period of 2018 to 2020 brought with it a series of difficulties for the people of Afghanistan, including droughts, floods and pandemics. A severe drought in 2018 impacted 95% of the country’s farmland and dried up crucial water sources. More than 250,000 people were displaced and at least 1.4 million civilians required emergency aid. Following the drought, 2019 had the opposite occurrence: heavy rainfall activated widespread flooding in nine provinces, impacting more than 112,000 people. These crises continue to be felt in 2020 as both old and new challenges exacerbate conditions for the poorest Afghans. Countries all over the world are pledging to provide aid to Afghanistan.

Conditions Affecting Afghanistan

  • COVID-19: In November 2020, Afghanistan documented 44,133 coronavirus cases and 1,650 fatalities. The socio-economic impacts have been extensive. Average household debt rose by 36,486 AFS (US$474) and the poverty level increased from 54% to 70%. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s economy is predicted to contract by at least 5.5% due to the 2020 impact of COVID-19.
  • Displacement: Nearly 286,000 Afghans at home and 678,000 abroad suffered displacement in 2020, bringing the total displaced to approximately four million. Internal displacement camps are rife with insanitation, poor healthcare, unemployment, limited potable water and food insecurity. According to estimations by the 2020 Humanitarian Needs Overview, one million displaced people will require aid by the end of 2020.
  • Political Uncertainty: Political instability has been a mainstay in Afghanistan for decades and continues to trouble both citizens and the international community. Despite ongoing 2020 peace negotiations with the Taliban, fighting continues in the region. As a result, desperately needed health clinics have suffered closures and 35,000 Afghans were displaced from the Helmand Province in October 2020 alone.
  • Women’s Rights: Conditions for Afghan women and children have improved in recent years, allowing 3.3 million girls to receive an education. Additionally, women have experienced expanding opportunities for political, economic and social engagement. However, government participation is still strictly limited and women are still at high risk of violence.
  • Food insecurity: Afghan farmers still had not fully recovered from the 2018 drought and 2019 flood before the impact of COVID-19 on the country raised food prices, and with it, further food insecurity. Estimates warn that one-third of the population have already exhausted their savings and are in crisis levels of food security, with 5.5 million of them in emergency levels. However, farmers are hopeful that improved climate conditions will alleviate some of the damage done in previous years of difficulties.

2020 Afghanistan Conference

International donations fund at least half of Afghanistan’s annual budget. This is unlikely to change anytime soon, especially as COVID-19’s toll on the country’s economy also decreases government revenues. There was concern that the 2020 Conference would see a diminished aid pledge from Afghanistan’s largest donors, but the meetings that took place on November 24 secured a minimum of US$3.3 billion annually for four years contingent upon a review of Afghanistan’s progress in areas of peace, political development, human rights and poverty reduction. The United States is one such donor, pledging $300 million for 2021 and promising another $300 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if the ongoing peace talks prove successful. To this end, the “Afghanistan Partnership Framework” details the principles and goals of Afghanistan’s growth in peace-building, state-building and market-building.

Rebuilding Afghanistan

While some have expressed concern that the donations for aid to Afghanistan are not enough to cover costs and that the contingency requirements will be very difficult for Afghanistan to implement without compromises, there nevertheless is hope that tighter restrictions will prevent fewer funds from being lost to corruption. Despite the future challenges ahead of Afghanistan, Afghan leaders reiterated their commitment to “finding a political settlement that can not only bring an end to the suffering of the Afghan people but strengthen, safeguard and preserve the gains of the past 19 years.”

– Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr

Investing in Peace
The World Bank recently estimated that, by 2030, up to two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor would live in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCS). FCS have serious impacts on poorer countries: conflicts reduce GDP growth, on average, by 2% a year and force millions of people to flee their homes. The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide has more than doubled since 2012, exceeding 74 million in 2018. Of these people, almost 26 million are refugees, the highest percentage ever recorded, with developing countries hosting 85%. This puts a financial and social strain on host countries while also devastating generations of refugees. Constant displacement makes it difficult for refugees to maintain a stable source of income, have consistent access to basic necessities and receive an education. In fact, one in five people in countries that FCS affects suffers simultaneously from inadequate monetary, educational and basic infrastructure resources, making social mobility difficult. As a result, investing in peace is very important.

The Correlation Between FCS and Poverty

There seems to be a correlation between living in FCS and poverty, as the 43 countries with the highest poverty rates in the world are in FCS in Sub-Saharan Africa. World Bank data shows that economies in FCS have maintained poverty rates of over 40% in the past decade, while economies that have escaped FCS have cut their poverty rates by more than half. On an individual level, a person living in FCS is 10 times more likely to experience poverty than a person living in a country that has not experienced fragility or conflict in the past 20 years.

A solution to poverty might be investing in peace: invest in businesses, organizations or development agencies that work to lessen the prevalence of FCS around the world. While humanitarian interventions may bring about peace in the short term, they often do not address development after the establishment of peace. In addition, many conflicts around the world have become protracted and complicated, making humanitarian interventions less effective in the long run. Development agencies, on the other hand, work to establish peace in three-time frames: before, during and after conflict.

Before Conflict

One important step in lessening the prevalence of FCS around the world is to prevent conflict before it begins. This means identifying and addressing a point of conflict within a country or community before it becomes widespread, complex and potentially violent. Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, emphasized the importance of investing in conflict prevention: “Instead of responding to crises, we need to invest far more in prevention. Prevention works, saves lives and is cost-effective.” Estimates have determined that for every $1 the United States spends on conflict prevention, it saves $16 in future response costs. On a larger scale, this finding emphasizes the importance of investing in peace to curb the need for an expensive humanitarian intervention when the conflict is widespread, complex and violent.

One example of an American law promoting investments in conflict prevention is the Global Fragility Act of 2019. It focuses on U.S. foreign aid to prevent violent conflict in fragile countries and strengthens research to identify foreign assistance programs that are most effective at preventing conflict and violence. The act authorizes $1.15 billion over the next five years to fund violent conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts in countries in FCS. The act also benefits U.S. taxpayers, since violent conflict prevention is much more cost-effective than containing a conflict through humanitarian intervention.

During Conflict

Some development agencies around the world make medium-term to long-term investments in countries with ongoing, protracted conflicts. The investments aim to preserve human capital and strengthen local institutions working to promote peace and protect civilians. These investments serve as a social safety net for those at risk, providing them with basic necessities and services such as access to water, food and education. Violent conflicts can significantly affect the accumulation of human capital in a population, and the effects can be long-lasting if the conflict is prolonged across generations. Thus, it is important to provide people with this social safety net to ensure that they can rebuild their lives economically and socially after the conflict ends.

A successful example of investment in a country amid conflict is the World Bank’s investments in Yemen. Yemen has been in crisis for nearly a decade, since the Houthis overthrew its government, resulting in what the U.N. has called “the worst [humanitarian crisis] in the world.” Millions of people have been internally displaced while suffering from medical shortages and threats of famine. The World Bank’s International Development Association has allocated $400 million to creating jobs and providing refugees with essential resources under its Emergency Crisis Response Project (ECRP). As a result, 4.3 million people have received access to community services (water, sanitation, better roads, etc.) and 9.5 million workdays have emerged. Another component of the ECRP is a $448.58 million cash transfer to poor and vulnerable households. As of April 9, 2020, the transfers had reached 1.42 million households or 9 million individuals. The World Bank’s Engagement Strategy for Yemen 2020-2021 will continue funding for the ECRP and other initiatives to provide essential services, preserve Yemen’s human capital and strengthen local organizations helping those in need. 

After Conflict

Investing in post-conflict peacebuilding is another way in which development agencies can help those living in FCS. Investments in peacebuilding can supplement humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts by promoting economic and social growth after a conflict has ended. An important part of promoting economic growth is investing in micro to medium-sized businesses as a means to create jobs and jumpstart the local economy. It is also important to invest in the government to ensure that it can provide its citizens with essential services and resources well after the conflict has ended.

One agency investing in post-conflict peacebuilding is the United Nations (U.N.) Peacebuilding Fund (PBF). The PBF is a financial instrument used to sustain peace in countries in FCS. The PBF invests with other U.N. entities, governments, multilateral banks, NGOs and national multi-donor trust funds. Since its inception, 58 member states have contributed to the fund, with the allocation of $772 million to 41 recipient countries from 2006 to 2017. The Secretary General’s PBF 2020-2024 Strategy calls for the investment of $1.5 billion to countries in FCS over the next five years. The largest distribution of funds (35%) will go towards facilitating transitions from humanitarian missions to peacebuilding and future development. 

Looking Forward

Preventing, creating and maintaining peace in FCS is a daunting task that may take years to accomplish in certain areas. It is important to invest in peace at all three stages of conflict to save lives, save money and preserve resources. There are currently numerous multilateral aid agencies investing billions of dollars into countries in FCS, and one would hope that these efforts, along with humanitarian interventions, will lessen the prevalence of FCS around the world. Investing in peace could be the beginning of the end of global poverty, and if the world works together to lessen FCS, it could lift millions of people across out of poverty globally.

Harry Yeung
Photo: Flickr 

United Kingdom's Foreign Aid
The United Kingdom has boosted its foreign assistance to Ukraine with an additional £5 million (about $6.5 million) in humanitarian aid. Announced during a recent visit to London by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the United Kingdom’s foreign aid will help alleviate widespread suffering caused by the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic.  Among other objectives, such assistance will allow for the procurement of food, water and medical supplies in addition to providing much-needed psychosocial support to victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Furthermore, President Zelenskyy has also received a commitment from U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson for preferential trade and for greater cooperation between the two countries on issues relating to politics, security and foreign affairs.  The Political, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement that both leaders signed during their London meeting outlined these goals.  According to U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, the combination of humanitarian assistance and bilateral cooperation “[…] is a clear demonstration of the U.K.’s commitment to Ukraine’s prosperity and security.”

Conflict in Crimea

The United Kingdom’s foreign aid will support efforts to address the humanitarian emergency in eastern Ukraine, which developed as the result of years of armed conflict.  After popular anti-government protests prompted former President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country in February 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin seized the opportunity to send troops to Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.  His formal (and illegal) annexation of Crimea one month later exacerbated ethnic tensions throughout the region, inspiring pro-Russia Ukrainians to hold a referendum and declare their independence.

Since April 2014, violence between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian military forces has claimed the lives of more than 13,000 people, but many more have experienced serious injury.  Diplomatic efforts to broker a peaceful resolution have been unsuccessful; skirmishes and shelling continue, and unexploded landmines remain a serious threat.

As of December 2019, reports determined that 730,000 people were internally displaced in territories that the Ukrainian government controlled, while the majority of those who have remained in eastern Ukraine are elderly, ill or disabled. The United Nations has estimated that over 4 million people are dependent upon some form of humanitarian support, but this number could increase as temperatures drop during the coming months.

Economic Turmoil

Six years of bloodshed is not the only trial Ukrainians have faced, however; they must also contend with a struggling economy. Although poverty rates have fallen in recent years and President Zelenskyy has promised to root out corruption among the political elite, Ukraine currently ranks as the poorest country in Europe, with a GDP per capita of only $3,140. And yet, economic conditions could worsen significantly in the wake of COVID-19.

Even if the full extent of the pandemic’s financial impact is still unclear, the latest Economic Activity Report that Ukraine’s Ministry for Development of Economy, Trade and Agriculture released reveals that the country’s GDP decreased by 5.9% between January and May 2020. This has led the Cabinet of Ministers to predict that the Ukrainian economy may shrink by as much as 8% in 2020, with the potential for lower wages and greater unemployment. According to conservative estimates from UNICEF, the economic downturn could cause 6.3 million more people in Ukraine to fall into poverty, 1.4 million of these being children.

In the current context of a global health crisis layered above political and economic instability, an increase in the United Kingdom’s foreign aid to Ukraine will provide essential humanitarian relief. Moreover, the additional £5 million will also support essential projects to rebuild housing and health facilities and to help finance business ventures that encourage the country’s economic recovery. Finally, it is just a fraction of the total foreign aid—£40 million, or $51.8 million—that the British government has allocated to Ukraine during 2020.

Benefits of Foreign Aid

Beyond those benefits mentioned above, there are other significant advantages of the U.K.’s foreign aid and its Political, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement with Ukraine. These include:

  • Expressing the U.K.’s support for the protection of vulnerable people in eastern Ukraine and for the maintenance of an international community that respects human rights;
  • Creating a channel for the U.K. to pressure Ukrainian officials to enact reforms for future economic growth; and
  • Restoring peace in a democratic country whose stability is, as Foreign Secretary Raab stated, essential for the security of the entire European continent. This is especially true in light of Ukraine’s intention to join the European Union and the NATO alliance.

Combined with similar actions by other governments, including the E.U. and the United States, the steps in London earlier in October 2020 to increase the United Kingdom’s foreign aid and strengthen its ties with Ukraine will hopefully alleviate the immediate struggles of the Ukrainian people while bolstering their country’s efforts toward peace and recovery in the longer term.

– Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Libya
Torn by civil war and violent conflict since 2011, Libya is a centerfold for poverty and mass hunger. Due to its geographical location and long history of favorable migrant-worker policies, hundreds of thousands of migrants flock to Libya every year. However, coupled with the country’s instability and the burden of over 600,000 refugees, Libya is reaching a tipping point.

Moreover, when it comes to dwindling food supplies and collapsing regional markets, hunger in Libya is becoming a more pressing issue with each passing day. So far, international organizations such as the World Food Programme are teaming up with local and regional nonprofits to provide meal kits to internally displaced families. While these efforts are noble, more work is necessary to resolve hunger in Libya.

Overview

Since 2014, children in Libya have lacked access to clean water and nutritious food. In fact, “21% of children aged less than five are stunted [in growth and development].” The situation is dire, as both institutional and external reforms are needed for any change to occur.

One of the main challenges for citizens and refugees in Libya in search of food is high prices and stagnant job markets. In fact, one of the most significant challenges for Libyan migrants relates to finding a way to make a living, followed by high food costs.

Furthermore, key EU countries, such as Italy, are criminalizing humanitarian assistance and food aid to refugees. This makes it incredibly difficult for nonprofits and local organizations to take care of fleeing migrants. As a result, they frequently have to return to Libya, which in turn increases the scarcity of food in Libya.

According to the Center for Global Development, “France and Italy have forbidden citizens from giving food, water, and shelter to refugees and migrants. Hungary passed the “Stop Soros” law, criminalizing individuals and NGOs helping migrants claim asylum. Anti-smuggling laws are also being used to prosecute individuals who provide aid close to the borders.”

Overcoming the Challenges of Hunger in Libya

Despite challenges presented to them, nonprofits and international organizations are taking gradual and significant action to reduce hunger in Libya. For instance, one prevalent challenge is the ever-changing environmental landscape and sporadic resource availability. Due to dramatic fluctuations in global markets, food has become more scarce. Since the Middle East and North African region is one of the world’s largest food suppliers, rising temperatures and diminishing ability to sell food amplify hunger, especially in Libya. In fact, countries like Libya are also the most stressed for water, making matters worse.

Moreover, growing conflict in the region is straining already fragile food supplies in Libya. As Libya engages in a series of ethnic, political and military conflicts, millions have descended into hunger to the point where some are considering it one of the top 18 countries struggling with hunger.

Furthermore, warring governmental and political forces are amplifying corruption and halting aid. Since the government relies upon oil for 95% of its funding, tanks in the oil markets for the past two years have devastated the national reserve. Moreover, in a country where militias are a priority, mass Libyan hunger is often a backburner issue.

Reforms for the Future

Although hunger in Libya is a prevalent issue, if international organizations and governments work together, they can make the situation less bleak. For example, inter-regional cooperation between neighboring local governments and regional organizations can maximize food availability.

The opening of trade routes in the region has had positive effects in the past. Take, for instance, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA), which has so far provided a solid framework for increases in agricultural markets and boosting food supplies. Moreover, internationally sponsored research and development into sustainable food systems could provide fruitful prospects, such as:

  1. Increase evidence of the nutritional value and biocultural importance of these [sustainable] foods.
  2. Better link research to policy to ensure these foods are considered in national food and nutrition security strategies and actions.
  3. Improve consumer awareness of these alternative foods’ desirability so that people may more easily incorporate them into diets, food systems and markets. This approach already underwent testing in seven countries and has already shown several positive effects, reducing hunger and increasing food quality.

If international organizations, local governments and development aides spearheaded such policies, hunger in Libya could reduce if not resolve. Hunger in Libya is a serious problem, one that affects hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Nevertheless, if the world bands together to fight against poverty and hunger, Libya could see beyond tomorrow.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Fragility, Conflict and ViolenceFragility, conflict and violence (FCV) is among the largest threats to development, continuously putting both low-income and middle-income countries in danger of inescapable poverty. Addressing FCV is a top priority for the World Bank specifically, as the organization considers it an essential problem to solve in order to both end extreme poverty and promote collective prosperity. Alongside other global organizations working towards peace, the World Bank looks to address FCV in the hopes of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 16 for peace, justice and strong institutions.

Understanding Through Numbers

The World Bank estimates that as many as two-thirds of those in extreme poverty could live in FCV environments by the year 2030. Even today, conflict accounts for almost 80% of the world’s humanitarian needs and conflict is estimated to worsen gross domestic product (GDP) growth by two percentage points annually. Sadly, the number of people living close to conflict, which includes those within 60 kilometers of at least 25 conflict-related deaths, has more than doubled since 2007.

As of 2019, almost 80 million people were forcibly displaced as a result of FCV settings. Of that 79.5 million, four out of five of those displaced have been in those conditions for at least five years. And, startlingly, more than two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. Today, all five of these countries face significant fragility, conflict and violence, sparking refugee crises and general instability.

What is Being Done

The World Bank has developed a Fragility, Conflict and Violence Strategy in its IDA19 Special Theme documents. The proposed four pillars in the strategy involve: “pivoting to prevention, remaining engaged in conflict, escaping the fragility trap and mitigating FCV externalities.” Given that the World Bank has tried to reduce FCV conditions in the past, this newly developed strategy is focusing on improving the organization’s response to mitigating risks and is focusing on partnering with a more diverse group of stakeholders.

So far, the World Bank has found mixed success in its efforts to reduce fragility, conflict and violence. In Cameroon, the World Bank shaped the policy of the government to better protect refugees, using its reputation and finances to leverage a stronger policy. In Lebanon, its cash transfer program focused on host communities, making the program more inclusive to even the communities that feel excluded by humanitarian organizations providing aid to refugees. However, while the emergency cash transfer program implemented in Yemen was successful in that it helped millions buy food, the approach was unorganized and many humanitarian efforts overlapped, resulting in duplication and inefficiency.

In today’s world, fragility, conflict and violence stand as one of the largest threats to global peace and stability, for not just low-income countries but middle-income countries as well. The efforts on behalf of the World Bank prove not only that this is an urgent humanitarian issue, but if solved well, these efforts can work to end extreme global poverty.

Olivia Fish
Photo: Wikimedia Commons