updates on SDG Goal 1 in ChinaSDG is short for Sustainable Development Goals, or the blueprints set by the United Nations to achieve global sustainable development. This initiative motivates every country to fight against social issues including hunger, global poverty, gender inequality and more. The first objective of the SDG is to “End poverty in all its forms everywhere.” Here are some updates on SDG Goal 1 in China.

Chinese Government’s Endeavor to Eliminate Domestic Poverty

Among important updates on SDG Goal 1 in China is the fact that some researchers believe that China is on its way to eliminating poverty. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the population of rural citizens in poverty has declined from 100 million in 2012 to 16.6 million in 2019. The poverty line set by the government is an annual income of 2,300 yuan, or about 6 yuan a day. This reduction in poverty in China is due to political support: the Chinese government aims to end poverty by 2020 and complete the establishment of a “moderately prosperous society.”

Another key part of updates on SDG Goal 1 in China is the government’s new actions to reduce poverty. Since 2012, China has employed targeted poverty alleviation methods focusing on relatively impoverished areas. As a result, the average annual income for citizens in rural areas increased to nearly 10,000 yuan in 2018. The Chinese government has also employed “Internet Plus” strategies by encouraging the development of e-commerce centers in rural areas. Accordingly, many cities have become “miracles” for poverty alleviation: statistics show that 2.54 million people have escaped from poverty in China in 2019.

Challenges During COVID-19

COVID-19 is a special challenge that the world, and especially developing countries, must confront. It is not only a health crisis but also a social and economic crisis. As such, it affects updates on SDG Goal 1 in China. For China, COVID-19 presents a barrier to achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. COVID-19 restricts agricultural development because farmers cannot return to their lands. Meanwhile, due to interruptions in transportation, migrant workers are also unable to work. The combination of these challenges has caused an economic decline in China. In addition, healthcare issues and economic distress have resulted in poverty in China.

Some of China’s poverty alleviation strategies are also no longer appropriate during the pandemic. In 2013, China encouraged “wildlife breeding and domestication” in specific areas and created a market value of 521 billion yuan. Many impoverished areas depend on raising wild animals for economic growth; however, the Chinese government banned the industry due to its link to the spread of COVID-19 and the suspicion that wild animals can infect people. Thus, perpetuating this industry in the midst of COVID-19 presents a severe challenge for undeveloped areas.

Looking Forward

China’s endeavors in poverty alleviation are significant for both the nation and the world. Other countries can learn from China’s successes in fighting against poverty, which helped 602.7 million people escape poverty. If China can achieve SDG Goal 1 in 2020, it will be 10 years ahead of the United Nations’ commitment to eradicating global poverty.

– Yilin Che
Photo: Flickr

remittances in PakistanThe global COVID-19 pandemic has sent many countries’ economies spiraling downward. Developing countries such as Pakistan have been hit especially hard due to poor infrastructure and social safety nets. However, one piece of encouraging economic news resulting from the pandemic is that remittances in Pakistan have increased to a record high.

Why Remittances Are Crucial to Developing Countries

In essence, remittances are sums of money sent back to a country from its citizens currently working abroad. For example, if a man in Pakistan leaves his family to work in Australia due to a better job market, he may send back sums of money to support his family still living in Pakistan. Remittances are vitally important for several reasons.

Firstly, the family still in Pakistan often relies on remittances to pay for essentials such as food and clean water, or other important services like sending children to school. These payments allow Pakistanis to increase their human capital, which refers to the amount of value a person can provide for the economy. Healthy, more educated people help an economy more than unhealthy, uneducated people. More human capital in turn improves the economic outlook for the country as a whole.

Furthermore, remittances are an important system that encourages migration and opens up the labor market for people seeking jobs. Educated people in Pakistan can view remittances as a form of insurance that their families will be taken care of, which makes them more likely to temporarily migrate to a different country with better job prospects. For those remaining in Pakistan, a smaller supply of local workers opens job opportunities and increases wages.

How COVID-19 Increased Remittances in Pakistan

In July 2020, remittances in Pakistan were the highest ever recorded for a single month. Pakistani citizens abroad sent $2.77 billion were sent back to Pakistan, an increase of 12.2% from June 2020. This number also represents an increase of 36.5% from July 2019. The countries from which most remittances in Pakistan came were Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the U.K. and the United States. Remittances for the year now stand at $21.8 billion. As a result, Prime Minister Imran Khan thanked workers abroad in a statement recognizing the immense value of remittances for Pakistan’s economy.

Analysts reason that the increase in remittances in Pakistan is primarily from far fewer pilgrimages to Mecca. Having spent less money on Hajj, workers abroad had more to send back to Pakistan. Additionally, canceled flights and reduced travel overall contributed to increased remittances. Another reason remittances increased is the rising efficiency of channels used for overseas workers to return their money. For example, Pakistan reduced the threshold for a formal money transfer from $200 to $100, allowing greater accessibility to transfers.

Ultimately, the increasing remittances in Pakistan represent exciting news for an economy otherwise devastated by the pandemic. Hopefully, news like this will continue to surface as the world discovers silver linings emerging from the pandemic.

– Evan Kuo
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Burkina Faso
Homelessness in Burkina Faso is a crisis in a long list of crises. Aside from the ongoing challenges that confront the landlocked West African nation, housing shortages have escalated for over 18 million inhabitants. The woes of the former French colony are plentiful, but Burkina Faso’s U.N. advisor, Miriame Fofaso, sees hope in Burkina Faso’s future.

A Brief History

  • In 1960, Burkina Faso gained independence from France, which had held the nation as a protectorate since 1896.
  • Since the 1960s, the region has had a number of military coups and juntas laying the foundation for ongoing destabilization.
  • People knew Burkina Faso as Upper Volta until 1984 when the country decided to break with its colonial past.
  • Burkina Faso has inclement weather (floods, droughts, etc.) which continue to put stress on housing, food, clean water and several mainstays of infrastructure and economic health.
  • In April 2020, flooding wiped out internally displaced persons (IDPs: Burkinabé residents) camps and washed away homes, businesses, agricultural harvests and livestock.
  • Militant groups have carried out countless terrorist attacks throughout the countryside. Groups like the Al Qaeda-inspired Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and the
    Islamic State of the Greater Sahara (Sunni Islamists) have increased by several hundred since 2015.
  • Refugees from surrounding war-torn countries (Mali, the Central African Republic and more) add to the homeless crisis.
  • Homelessness in Burkina Faso is a struggle, as the weather and raids have displaced a staggering number (700,000) of Burkinabé citizens, of whom 40% live off $1.25 per day. Due to these issues, current data on homelessness is sparse. Some sources claim a 100% increase in homelessness (1 million), as compared to early in 2020 (450,000).

The needs of the Burkinabé are growing, according to Jerry-Jonas Mbasha, the health cluster coordinator for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Burkina Faso. The landlocked nation had 1,929 COVID-19 cases as of September 27, 2020.

Within the homeless population, there is also susceptibility to disease due to a lack of basic needs like clean water, health care, basic hygiene and sanitation. This includes diseases that were already present before the pandemic, like cholera, dengue fever and yellow fever to name a few.

COVID-19 Relief

In an unfortunate, but not unforeseen turn of events, COVID-19 has ravaged the countryside in almost apocalyptic fashion. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), a United Nations entity that appeals to public and private partners, raised $37.8 million to aid 480,000 people in June 2020. The organization has provided health kits, community and IDP camps awareness campaigns regarding the virus, providing temporary housing and more.

The European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, an arm of the European Union, has also added to the relief funding, earmarking €22.5 million to aiding the country’s humanitarian aid needs. But the economic impact has already disrupted economic viability for families, whether it be lockdown measures or children’s school cancellations.

A New Hope

Homelessness in Burkina Faso seems hopeless and endless, with the coronavirus adding to the stresses of a county already on the brink. That is unless Mariame Fofana is involved. Fofana serves as the Burkinabé Ambassador Deputy Permanent Representative at the U.N. Social Development Commission. The commission is devoted to developing housing relief in the impoverished nations of the U.N.

Under her tenure, she has successfully lobbied for the funding of 35,000 new government housing units from the U.N. In a session from earlier this year, she drew attention to the opportunity for solutions, saying that “2020 provides a chance for the international community and the Commission to take stock of its work in social development [….] underlining the need to prioritize poor and vulnerable people.”

Fofana has advocated for anti-poverty investments for several years. Fofana serves on the Group of 77, an international organization of developing nations within the U.N. that advocates for the needs of developing countries.

At a 2019 International Day for the Eradication of Poverty meeting, through her French-accented English, she conveyed sympathy for her people. Noting the terrorist attacks that had ravaged the Burkinabé countryside, she called on younger generations to fend off discouragement and depression. ‘Young people? Who better than you, through your innocent eyes, can make us better aware of a need to build a world of solidarity, prosperity, and security? Where all children, without exception, will benefit from the full enjoyment of their right[s].”

Fofana represents a light for homelessness in Burkina Faso and an international hope for the Burkinabé population. Perhaps in the future, that hope will prevail.

Christopher Millard
Photo: Flickr

Vietnam's COVID-19 response
COVID-19 has presented the world with new problems, set against the backdrop of a globalized economy. Some nations have opted for strict shutdowns, while others have taken a more gradual approach via staged lockdowns. Regardless of the initial steps taken, nations have seen astronomical numbers of new coronavirus infections. Some nations have been able to control outbreaks better than others. Vietnam’s COVID-19 response won praise from the World Health Organization for its swift implementation and effectiveness. Regardless of a relatively low GDP and proximity to China, Vietnam was able to keep COVID-19 cases below 300 while other nations surged in April 2020.

Early Response

After nations throughout Southeast Asia and other locations around the world began reporting cases, Vietnam’s COVID-19 response (initially) was to issue a nation-wide address to quell the spread. These regulations, though extensive, were quite effective. Vietnam fell victim to both the SARS outbreak of 2003 and the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. These experiences meant the government was on high alert, as soon as reports began to trickle out of Wuhan, China in January 2020.

Part of their methodology included banning all flights, either domestic or international. This helped to reduce travel between nations as well as between different areas of Vietnam. Additionally, the government has placed more than 44,000 people in quarantine camps. Also, Vietnam’s COVID-19 response included widespread economic shutdowns to decrease person-to-person contact. While these measures were effective in reducing the number of cases, it has taken an economic toll on the markets around Vietnam.

Complications

The nation overall is well below the world’s average GDP, coming in at $261 per capita. This indicates that the Vietnamese economy will be less flexible when placed under economic stress. While these widespread restrictions and quarantines are effective at limiting exposure to the virus — economic ramifications accompany them as well. According to the Vietnamese Labor Ministry, 7.8 million people have been left unemployed as a result of the pandemic.

Amid economic pressure, the government and people are coming together to help move past these hard times. NPR reports that some entrepreneurs within cities have established “rice ATMs” to ensure that all people can access food, regardless of income. In addition to an economic toll, a second wave of the virus is also threatening the Vietnamese people. Since the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in March — Vietnam was able to avoid community spread through the early measures it took. In mid-July 2020, the nation still has no evidence of community transmission. However, in late July 2020, more cases began cropping up to bring the nation’s case count up to 867 cases. This represents an increase of more than 600 cases and the nation’s first 10 COVID-19 deaths accompanying them.

These cases are a warning to the nation about how easy the virus spreads. Regardless, the nation is responding swiftly and responsibly as 80,000 visitors have already flown out of Danang as the city shut down once again to prevent more infections.

The Takeaway

The Vietnamese COVID-19 response began with strong policies to protect its citizens against COVID-19. Though these restrictions posed economic challenges, the nation was able to shelter those who posed a risk in reportedly well-maintained and staffed quarantine camps while other citizens worked to ensure those who faced lay-offs were still able to feed themselves and their families. The spike in cases is indicative that the pandemic, though controlled, is not over.

Allison Moss
Photo: Flickr

immunization in pakistanDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, 63 polio cases were reported in Pakistan. Four months after the COVID-19 outbreak occurred in Pakistan, more than 50 million children did not receive a polio vaccination, as immunization in Pakistan was delayed. At the end of July 2020, Pakistan was able to complete a round of vaccinations to cover 780,000 children.

Vaccinations and COVID-19

On April 1, 2020, Pakistan went into a nationwide lockdown for a month due to COVID-19. During the lockdown, immunization in Pakistan reduced by more than 50%. This reduction occurred mainly in impoverished regions and areas that were far from service delivery.

Healthcare workers’ contracting COVID-19 led to a halt in immunization services in some areas. More than 150 Expanded Programme on Immunization healthcare workers contracted COVID-19. Additionally, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) further reduced immunization, as healthcare workers were concerned about the risk of transmission while providing immunizations without proper PPE.

Transportation Interruptions Delay Immunization

Many immunizations in Pakistan were not delivered due to flight disruptions from COVID-19. Reduced immunization in Pakistan can lead to new outbreaks of other preventable diseases, like measles. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, an area with a large refugee population and limited healthcare access, has already seen an increase in measles cases.

The lack of public transportation available during the pandemic also made it difficult for many to travel to receive immunizations. People who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 were often afraid to go out in public and get immunized.

New mothers in particular were not willing to risk the travel to hospitals to get their children vaccinated. One new mother expressed her concern that the absence of vaccinations could lead to contracting preventable diseases, but she was also worried about the coronavirus. Furthermore, multiple private and public hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID-19 and did not allow babies and mothers to receive their immunizations.

WHO’s Restrictions Led to Vaccination Difficulties

After the World Health Organization advised countries to postpone their immunization campaigns, Pakistan halted its door-to-door polio immunization program. The postponement of mass vaccination programs may lead to 117 million children worldwide not receiving a measles vaccine. Countries that have low immunization rates are at the highest risk. Pakistan’s routine vaccination campaign for tuberculosis, for example, reached only 66% of its slated coverage this year, compared to 88% in 2019.

In Karachi, the Health Education and Literacy Programme (HELP) works to support maternal and child health and maximize vaccination coverage. Founder of HELP, Dr. D. S. Akram, said that the delay in immunization could lead to hundreds of thousands of young Pakistanis missing their tuberculosis and polio vaccines. On average, 12,000 to 15,000 children are born in Pakistan every day. Since polio is still endemic in Pakistan, the suspension of the door-to-door polio immunization program may lead to more outbreaks in the future.

Once Pakistan started to come out of its lockdown in May 2020, clinics began to reopen in an effort to continue vaccination campaigns. Pakistan faced two obstacles in attempting to increase routine vaccinations: both opening hospitals and ensuring that parents felt safe to bring their children there. Hospitals had to ensure not only that there were enough vaccinations in supply but also that parents would be willing to get their children immunized.

In Pakistan, children who belong to poor households are affected by vaccination coverage the most. The reduction of immunization in Pakistan has occurred mainly in slum areas, where it is difficult to deliver healthcare products. Despite the delay in immunization caused by COVID-19, Pakistan continues to adapt in its efforts to return to routine vaccination.

– Ann Ciancia
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in New Zealand
New Zealand, an island country located in the southwestern part of the Pacific Ocean, is home to a population of about 4.8 million people and comprises of nearly 600 islands. In 2019, New Zealand received the rank of one of the world’s richest countries, ranking fifth after Switzerland, Hong Kong, the United States and Australia. Despite its status as a rich country, New Zealand still has hidden issues with poverty, food insecurity and hunger.

Hunger and Poverty in New Zealand

Nearly one in five children in New Zealand are living in “relative poverty,” according to a report done by Stats NZ in June 2019. This number rises to one in four in the case of the Māori population (New Zealand’s indigenous people). Though it is a relatively wealthy country, many New Zealanders live with food insecurity. Defined as a lack of access to healthy and nutritious food, food insecurity has negative effects on families, children, health and even mental health.

New Zealand’s Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) estimated that the weekly cost to feed a person ranges from 29 to 74 NZD (depending on age and sex). For a family of four, that means food costs can average over $400 NZD a month on top of other costs like utilities, rent, clothing and education. According to CPAG, about 7% of New Zealanders experienced severe food insecurity in 2008/2009, and 3% — one-third of New Zealanders — experienced moderate food insecurity. The implications of this, even when dealing with moderate food insecurity, were large. CPAG reported on families struggling to feed their children, often opting for unhealthy food because it was cheapest, going through garbage to salvage food or forgoing food altogether to make sure their children did not go hungry.

COVID-19’s Impact

Food insecurity, fortunately, has reduced to about 10% of New Zealanders in 2019. But with the outbreak of COVID-19, the Auckland City Mission estimated that that number had rocketed to 20%. Between citizens losing jobs, panic-buying at grocery stores and other factors, the pandemic is threatening more widespread food insecurity in New Zealand. Emergency food assistance services have seen large spikes in demand. Additionally, many essential workers may be working full-time but are still not making enough to put food on the table.

Though it expects the winter months (June through August) to be harder on families, especially with the pandemic, Auckland City Mission was able to provide emergency food to over 23,000 families and individuals who were “in desperate need” over the last financial year. Additionally, when New Zealand released its 2020 budget in May 2020, Auckland City Mission released a statement noting that its social services support package meant the mission could help even more families who are facing food insecurity this winter.

The Future of Food Security

Food insecurity in New Zealand remains an important problem. In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, these problems are becoming harder to ignore. Recently, CPAG released a paper about its ideas to solve food insecurity for New Zealand’s youth, including food programs in schools. It showed that with awareness and advocacy, people can begin to find solutions to these problems. In fact, the 2020 budget plans to expand an existing school lunch program to ensure that by the end of 2021, 200,000 students will receive a healthy lunch every day at school, up from the 8,000 currently receiving aid from the program. This sort of increase is a promising step to reducing the amount of food insecurity for New Zealand’s children.

Additionally, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Auckland City Mission has gone from supporting 450 families to over 1,200 and expect that number to stay high throughout the winter. Thanks to the 2020 New Zealand budget, Auckland City Mission will be able to continue helping those in need.

It is an unprecedented time for food insecurity in New Zealand, especially on top of existing challenges lower-income families have been facing. However, with help from the government and organizations like Auckland City Mission, the country is beginning to put more focus on providing food to those who need it most.

Sophie Grieser
Photo: Pixabay

Ebola Outbreak Funding Gap
Amid efforts to suppress the coronavirus effects, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is now facing its 11th outbreak of Ebola since the discovery of the disease in 1976. The current outbreak officially began on June 1, 2020 — causing 24 deaths and garnering the attention of government officials and international agencies, such as the World Health Organization. The start of this outbreak coincides with the end of the 10th outbreak, which finished just 25 days earlier. Further complicating the latest outbreak is the fact that it comes when much of the international world is focusing on protecting themselves against the spread of the new coronavirus. As a result, there is an Ebola outbreak funding gap for what is required to sufficiently protect citizens of the DRC from the further spread of Ebola.

The Gap

The WHO reports that the $1.75 million raised so far will not last long enough to end the current outbreak. The organization estimates that the money will only last a few more weeks and that the unique location of the outbreak (in a more forested part of the country) is too costly to regularly send health officials.

This lack of funding could be a step backward for the country’s progress in limiting the disease. An outbreak in 2018 killed only 33 people, but from 2014 to 2016, 11,000 people died as a result of the disease. The main difference between the two time periods was the level of preparation and emergency funds to rely on, both of which are now decreasing due to the estimated gap.

The funding gap could have a direct impact on the current outbreak and may become a significant factor in the potential for new outbreaks. E.g., the recurrence of outbreaks is due to the virus’s presence in animals across the country. Therefore, there will most likely be another outbreak for which the WHO needs to be prepared.

Help from the United States?

The United States has donated more than $600 million to prevent the spread and minimize the devastation of previous outbreaks of the disease, in the DRC. This money has gone to building and managing health facilities, tracking the spread of the disease and evolving several safety measures for the country’s citizens. Those funds also went toward developing the two effective vaccines for Ebola and for transferring the dosages to citizens in need. Only a fraction of this money could make up for the lack of funding that the western part of the DRC needs today. Still, with most efforts and donations going toward coronavirus relief — very little attention has been placed on the current outbreak. This lack of attention contributes to the existing Ebola outbreak funding gap.

Looming Threats and Remaining Vigilant

A great challenge with this disease is that it could spread rapidly in the absence of a vaccine. Health officials typically vaccinate using a ring method — meaning they treat people that are near the center of the disease. Without the funds needed to disseminate the vaccine, the country’s infection rates could go up dramatically.

Officials are aware of this potential future, as the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus states, “This is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face. Although much of the world’s attention is on the pandemic, the WHO is continuing to monitor and respond to many other health emergencies.” Some are urging other countries and organizations to take on this mindset. Aid from the United States could prove a significant help in preventing loss of life in the DRC by closing the Ebola outbreak funding gap.

Aiden Farr
Photo: Pixabay

Andorra Struggles With COVID-19 ResponseAndorra, one of Europe’s smallest and oldest countries, does not boast full European Union membership. Instead, sandwiched between Spain and France’s 11,000 foot high Pyrenees borders, Andorra relies on integrating relations with the two countries. Yet, as Andorra’s economy and demographics differ greatly from most of the European Union, Andorra has a unique agreement with the body of countries. Unfortunately, lacking full E.U. membership and the benefits this includes, Andorra has faced struggles with their COVID-19 response.

A Unique Agreement With the European Union

As evidenced by the recent Brexit controversy, E.U. membership comes with positive and negative aspects. Entry challenges proved a significant hurdle for Andorra; therefore, it initially did not join the union. Only after the 2008 recession did Andorra arrange a special agreement with the European Union, like other European micro-states.

Due to tourism, the country’s main economic draw, and Andorra’s location on a map, some economic realities have been unavoidable. After 2008, Andorra began using the Euro and entered trade agreements slashing tariffs. However, unlike the rest of Europe, Andorra continued to restrict individual taxes. This branded the small country as a hot spot for tax evasion. This caveat kept Andorra afloat but alienated the country from the rest of Europe. Due to international pressure in 2011, the country began moving towards international tax standards.

Even though it lacks full European Union membership, Andorra still retains membership in the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Does Andorra qualify for European Union aid?

Full European Union member countries qualify for aid programs. The European Union, like most international institutions, provided large amounts of COVID-19 aid–37 billion Euros in the initial program to be exact. Individual countries qualify for an additional 100 billion from the E.U. for employment assistance.

However, Andorra’s partial membership benefits to the European Union are limited to:

  1. The customs union, which is a group of countries that have agreed to charge the same import duties as each other and allow free trade between themselves.
  2. Tariff exemption to void taxes imposed by a government on goods and services imported from countries outside of the European Union.
  3. Euro use for stable and standardized currency.
  4. Access to name and tax databases.

COVID-19 in Andorra

As Andorra’s place in the European Union is unclear, so is its ability to receive COVID-19 aid. It appears that Andorra cannot and has not accessed any European Union COVID-19 aid. As neighboring Spain and France have done, Andorra implemented specific travel limitations. Uniquely, its rules included odd and even-numbered homes taking turns with short exercise periods.

Poverty in Andorra

The tough situation created by COVID-19 shutdowns and the ambiguous nature of Andorra’s relationship with the European Union have left the country exposed to further poverty. Unlike countries with widespread extreme poverty, Andorra’s poverty is specific to immigrant labor unemployment during tourism lulls and the housing crisis. Both of which, when paired with COVID-19, have the potential to drastically increase Andorra’s 4% poverty rate.

As of now, Andorra continues to encounter additional struggles with their COVID-19 response. As the post-2008 trend of strengthening relationships between Andorra and the E.U. continues, more poverty prevention aid will hopefully find its way to this small, land-locked country.

– Rory Davis
Photo: Flickr

gender gap in Latin AmericaRanked the third-highest after Western Europe and North America, Latin America has an average gender gap of 29%. Many Latin American countries are seeing improvements in education, healthcare and shortening the gender gap. According to the World Economic Forum in their Gender Gap Report for 2020, Nicaragua was ranked 5th globally, with 80% of its gender gap closed. On the lower-ranking end of the gender gap in Latin America, Guatemala and Belize have closed 66% and 67% of their gap, respectively. While these percentages are promising, the current COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to gender equality.

Looming COVID-19 Crisis

Decades worth of progress toward eliminating the gender gap in Latin American could potentially reach a halt or decline with the impending COVID-19 pandemic. Since the onset of the pandemic, stay at home orders have caused an increase in domestic violence. A few examples from Latin America expose the enormity of the issue. In Colombia, the domestic violence helpline has risen by 9%, and by 36% in Mexico. Also, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a city in Bolivia, has reported the highest number of cases of both domestic violence and COVID-19. The issue is exacerbated as women avoid reaching out to health services in fear of getting the virus.

The other obstacle COVID-19 leads to is losses in jobs, more specifically, the availability of jobs for women. According to the World Bank’s Gender Dimensions of the COVID-19 Pandemic brief, women engaged in informal work such as self-employment and domestic works are unable to receive unemployment insurance. Since COVID-19 has restricted travel, Latin American countries that depend on retail, hospitality and tourism will see half of their working population lose jobs. Additionally, the effects of COVID-19 will force women to stay at home to care for children and the elderly, thus reducing working time and possibly excluding them from the labor market.

Lastly, the COVID-19 crisis will cause setbacks to efforts to reduce teen pregnancy. The shift in resources can interfere with health services for women and girls, including reproductive and sexual health services and family planning. In similar crises, lack of critical resources led to a surge in teen pregnancy and maternal mortality. Although COVID-19 causes a lot of complications surrounding the future of gender equality, there are actions regarding the gender gap in Latin American that governments and institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations can take to continue progressive efforts.

Thus, The World Bank has outlined the following four methods to approach gender equality.

  1. Improving Quality of Life: Latin American countries need to reduce teen pregnancy and maternal mortality, improve water and sanitation services, secure women’s access to healthcare and close educational gaps. The World Bank Group (WBG) supports removing negative gender stereotypes in curriculums and is helping train teachers to create classroom environments that encourage inclusivity. The WBG is also backing programs aimed at supporting girls to enter STEM fields.
  2. Increasing Female Employment: Latin American countries should change gender norms about career choices, provide adequate child care services, create connections for women entrepreneurs and allocate time-saving resources. In Mexico, the WBG partnered with the National Institute of the Entrepreneur to devise and evaluate the institute’s first national program to promote female entrepreneurs, Women Moving Mexico. The pilot was launched in five states and “provided close to 2,000 women with a mix of hard skills (better management and business literacy), and soft skills (behaviors for a proactive entrepreneurial mindset)”.
  3. Removing Barriers to Women’s Financial Independence: The WBG supports efforts to provide land and property titles to women and to increase access to capital and financial services. In partnership with indigenous women’s organizations in Panama, the WBG designed a pilot intervention in six indigenous communities. The pilot supports training designed for indigenous women, technical assistance for women’s producer organizations and financial inclusion through the founding of community banks and financial management training.
  4. Enhancing Women’s Voice & Agency and Engaging Men and Boys: Latin American countries can support gender equality by acknowledging a woman’s right to control her own life. For example, giving women control over income and the capacity to move freely and have a voice in society, including the ability to “influence policy and family formation, and have freedom from violence.”

Bettering COVID-19 Response

The United Nations has also developed a response to the pending COVID-19 and its effect on gender equality. The U.N. seeks to recognize the “impact of COVID-19 on women and girls and ensure a response that addresses their needs and ensures that their rights are central to strengthening prevention, response and recovery efforts.” Institutions like the World Bank and the United Nations make it possible for girls and women in Latin America to aspire for more for themselves in education and career, despite the current setbacks prompted by COVID-19. Within the next couple of years, the gender gap in Latin America could be significantly reduced by promoting women’s rights and giving them access to education and career opportunities.

Mia Mendez
Photo: Pixabay

South African PovertyThe battle against poverty has always been a difficult one, but the novel coronavirus pandemic has presented many new challenges. Actions currently being taken to combat South African poverty and COVID-19 have proven that, with new options and renewed commitments, there is still much that can be done to alleviate poverty. Impoverished people around the world need aid now more than ever.

An Ongoing Struggle

Historically, South Africa has struggled to aid its most economically vulnerable citizens. According to the most recent government analysis, almost half of the adult population is living under the poverty line—an alarming figure. It seems apparent that this South African poverty crisis would be seen on nearly every level of society. Sadly, this widespread poverty has had a notable impact on which necessary resources are available to people. While electricity infrastructure is fairly widespread, between 28% and 30% of poor households lack access to water and sanitation services. As is relatively common in cases of inequality, the most vulnerable frequently lack access to basic necessities, making their struggles far more urgent.

COVID-19 Developments

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is poised to exacerbate South African poverty. The World Bank has predicted that while the pandemic will increase poverty worldwide, the hardest-hit region will be Sub-Saharan Africa. Although South Africa has been relatively spared from the worst of COVID-19 on a health level, the poverty-inducing effects of the pandemic are daunting—it is projected that some 23 million South Africans will be pushed into poverty in 2020. Beyond the immediate tragedy, this decline will present new challenges. In order to protect them, governments will need to find new ways to offer meaningful support throughout the crisis.

Innovation Brings Hope

Fortunately, the government of South Africa has begun to take steps to properly aid its impoverished citizens during this time. They have rolled out a new, easily accessible digital tool called HealthCheck in order to provide self-assessment resources. Members of the public can download the program, which will ask them a few simple questions and then provide a COVID-19 risk prediction along with a pertinent guideline and suggested actions.

While HealthCheck is designed to be available to the entirety of the South African populace, it aids low-income South Africans in particular. Although only a third of the population uses smartphones, feature phones enjoy more widespread use, so a lack of hardware is not necessarily an issue. For many impoverished people in South Africa—and across the world—receiving the proper healthcare needed to determine a risk of infection may be difficult or outright impossible.

Partnerships Increase Access

To further alleviate this issue, the South African government has coordinated with network operators MTN, Vodacom and Telekom, to have facilitate free access to the USSD line. This way, South Africans who could not typically afford cellular or wi-fi services can make use of the HealthCheck tool. As a matter of fact, they have—authorities have reported that so far, over one million members of the public have used HealthCheck.

The digital tool has been utilized in conjunction with NGOs like Doctors Without Borders.  The NGO has worked to fill the gap in fighting South African poverty by creating impromptu field hospitals in otherwise-ignored townships. In Khayelitsha, it has opened up 70 additional beds in a basketball arena in order to serve as many people as possible in the area. This was part of a broader government plan to have over 1,400 extra beds ready as needed. Providing aid such as this is an important part of the battle against poverty.

Just a Start

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the growth of the continental African economy, and threatens its growing middle class. Across the entire continent, nearly eight million people are predicted to fall into poverty, in many cases due to the lack of a social safety net. By providing essential resources, NGOs like Doctors Without Borders are working to limit the economic burden that falls on the South African populace.

While it’s just a start in terms of supporting the impoverished population, these initiatives have clearly provided accessible ways for low-income citizens to keep themselves and their loved ones safe and healthy. There are still many hurdles to overcome in the fight against South African poverty, but these recent initiatives have shown that we can still work to effectively aid the poor.

Aidan O’Halloran
Photo: Flickr