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

explosion in beirutLebanon has long served as a bustling commercial hub for the Middle East. However, in recent years, its burgeoning economic crisis has shifted more and more of its population below the poverty line. This crisis results from a multitude of factors, including Lebanon’s pile-up of debt and the Syrian crisis. This already souring situation took a turn for the worst on Aug. 4, 2020 when an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, left 177 dead, 6,000 wounded and around 300,000 people homeless. Devastating by every stretch of the word, the explosion in Beirut impacted all types of people. Even so, its impact has been felt in different ways across the population. Efforts to recover and rebuild have often overlooked the poorest communities, exacerbating poverty in Lebanon.

Poverty in Lebanon

Much of Lebanon’s poor come from the refugee population. In all, 25% of Lebanon’s population is comprised of refugees, in large part due to the Syrian crisis. This crisis, socio-economic unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic have only kept refugees and other vulnerable families below the poverty line. Just under half of Lebanon’s population is accordingly food insecure. The explosion in Beirut, through which 70% of Lebanon’s commerce takes place, has further crippled an already floundering economy. It has left Lebanon ill-prepared to care for its native people on top of the refugee population it has taken in.

The Poor Take the Backseat in Times of Crisis

Already a vulnerable population in more certain times, the poor fall further when a crisis hits. Impoverished people may struggle to access healthcare and safe shelter during crises. Homeless and low-income populations may struggle to meet their daily needs more during a crisis, when those needs become more precarious and expensive. Furthermore, people with more resources are often better equipped to access available aid and resources. A good example of this phenomenon is the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Many people are concerned about low-income populations obtaining shelter and having access to clean water and medical care.

Similar worries crop up with the crisis in Beirut. Because a large number of people lost their homes, the explosion in Beirut thrust many into homelessness. This made it harder for many people to access shelter and medical aid. Though capacity issues already plague the homeless seeking shelter in Lebanon, the explosion in Beirut created a new wave of displaced people looking for a place to stay. With limited resources, homeless and low-income populations are at an automatic disadvantage for securing their needs.

Long-Term Impacts of the Explosion in Beirut

The explosion in Beirut has launched Lebanon into a series of severe shortages when resources were already tight. After predictions of a low harvest in the months to come with rising crop prices, experts were already concerned about food security for Lebanon’s vulnerable. However, the explosion in Beirut destroyed 15,000 metric tons of wheat stored in nearby silos. In response, various world leaders convened a summit to pledge funds toward the country. They aim to respond both to the disaster as well as to COVID-19’s strain on the nation’s economy and healthcare system.

Before the explosion, Beirut’s healthcare system was already under pressure from the country’s economic downturn. By destroying five major hospitals and 12 primary healthcare centers, the explosion in Beirut further strained this system. Lebanon’s major drug supply was also destroyed, leaving the country with a crippling shortage of essential medications while demand skyrocketed.

In addition, the blast damaged more than 8,000 buildings, leaving many displaced and homeless. Architects and engineers have started a grassroots effort to collect donations and rebuild people’s homes. However, the concern of money weighs heavily on the project, threatening to kneecap it before it has fulfilled its purpose. In all, the population fears that the world will forget Beirut and leave it to deal with the long-term effects of the explosion on its own.

Rebuilding Beirut will be a lengthy process. In the meantime, members of the displaced community are struggling to get their daily needs met. The people of Lebanon lack no determination to do so: all they need are the resources to rebuild and recover.

Catherine Lin 
Photo: Flickr

Disease Treatment in Bangladesh
The country of Bangladesh sits in the Northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent. Also, it is one of the most densely populated nations in the world. This high population of more than 166.2 million has been hard hit by disease. For example, the primary causes of death in Bangladesh include respiratory diseases, such as tuberculosis. To combat the threat posed to its citizens, the government installed many hospitals and rural health centers to treat tuberculosis and other fatal yet common diseases. Moreover, cholera and malaria also fall into this category of fatal, common diseases plaguing Bangladesh. These centers came about to improve disease treatment in Bangladesh, especially in the more rural regions. Unfortunately, it is these rural regions where such services would normally be scarce.

Problems and Progress

The Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) and the International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), located in Dhaka, have both worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This joint effort aims to conduct public health research. The organizations seek to gather more information to categorize and treat a multitude of diseases, such as encephalitis, rotavirus, polio, and viral hepatitis. The main hope of these programs is to learn more about the transmission of the pathogens in question and their ability to spread between hosts of different geographic areas.

Also, the CDC assists government staff on effective and efficient techniques to investigate the conditions and cases of a disease outbreak. Moreover, the CDC also provides guidance and instruction on how to respond to public health threats. Policymakers have referenced medical studies to help them make better-informed decisions about introducing vaccines and other interventions. All of this, to improve disease treatment in Bangladesh.

The Impact of COVID-19

Currently, it is these services that the nation looks toward in hopes of dealing with the ongoing, new coronavirus pandemic. The virus has had a dramatic, negative impact on Bangladesh on many fronts. There have been nearly 17,000 deaths within the past few months — with the first cases being detected in early March 2020. The nation’s economy has also taken a massive hit. The annual economic growth had remained steady at around 7% for the past decade. However, now it suddenly dropped to an estimated 2%. This could potentially prove problematic for plans to increase domestic aid. Less trade and resources mean that loans would have to be taken out, to support citizens. This, alongside the projected $250 million required for clinical testing and equipment.

Vulnerable, Rural Populations: A Potential Solution

Bangladesh is working with other research centers to push for potential treatments and research on the virus. Since more than 63% of the population lives in rural areas, the situation is complex. For example, typical prevention methods in place, world-wide, such as lockdowns and social distancing will not be viable in the long-term. Many citizens are poor farmers and will be unable to provide for themselves and their families if quarantining persists for months at a time. However, a potential solution is on the horizon. With the help of the armed forces, it may be possible to install a system of clean and non-contact rationing, to provide people with the supplies and food they need. In theory, such as service could also provide medical supplies to hospitals, volunteer groups and other medical centers working on disease treatment in Bangladesh.

The economic situation of Bangladesh makes plans for dealing with the coronavirus tenuous at best. However, through their strong connections to research institutions and global organizations dedicated to providing support for these scenarios, disease treatment in Bangladesh can still be managed. Regardless of the large scale of diseases and pandemics.

Aditya Daita
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in EstoniaIn the mid-90s and early 2000s, Estonia, a country in Northern Europe, oversaw a housing reform. This reform sought to improve the living conditions for Estonians and reduce the number of people who were experiencing homelessness in Estonia. Here’s the situation today:

6 Facts About Homelessness in Estonia

  1. A small percentage of Estonians are homeless – The Institute of Global Homelessness reported that around 864 Estonians were homeless in 2011, which amounts to 0.06% of the population. However, in 2018, the European Journal of Homelessness estimated that 1.5% of Estonians are homeless, which amounts to between 1,900 and 2,100 people.
  2. Unemployment can be a major influence on homelessness in Estonia – A 2014 study in the European Journal of Homelessness found that 5.5% of Estonians are unemployed (2% of which reside in Tallinn, the capital.)
  3. Alcohol dependency can inhibit self-subsistence – The percentage of Estonians who are homeless with mental health issues is increasing, and some of these issues may result from alcohol dependency, alongside other factors. Alcoholism can make it more difficult for people who are trying to gain self-sufficiency.
  4. Testing (for respiratory diseases such as COVID-19) is insufficient for homeless shelters in many European countries – People in shelters who test positive for airborne illnesses must be isolated, according to a report by members of the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless (FEANTSA), yet self-isolation is not always easy in shelters. In an Estonian shelter, after one individual in the shelter tested positive for COVID-19, testing was made available for the other residents, and 56% of those who lived in the shelter tested positive as well. FEANTSA argues that “housing must be reaffirmed as a human right” in order to help those who are experiencing homelessness in Estonia.
  5. Certain shelters and programs provide the homeless with residential services – Shelters like the one in Nõmme District in Tallinn provide the homeless in Estonia with a resocialization plan where residents work on gaining work skills to be able to afford residential spaces of their own. Half of the shelter’s residents pay their own fees that they gained from employment to stay in the shelter, and if a resident cannot pay, the city pays on his/her behalf. This plan lasts for six months, though residents are allowed to stay for longer if they aren’t able to afford their own place of residence at that time.
  6. Housing has improved for Estonians since the 90s – In 1989, there were more households in Estonia than there were residences. From 1994-2004, a housing reform took place, and by 2011, the number of residences was 16% greater than the number of households. Though factors such as rising rental costs can still make it hard for a struggling family to afford to live in their own residence, living conditions have improved overall.

As Estonia’s government has been working to reduce homelessness, programs that have helped reform housing have been effective in reducing homelessness in Estonia since the 1990s. Yet there is still work to be done – lessening the situations which cause homelessness is imperative.

Ayesha Asad
Photo: Unsplash

Corruption in Lebanon
On the evening of August 4, 2020, a column of smoke loomed menacingly over Beirut’s vast horizon, foreshadowing tragedy in shades of gray and black. Flashes of white and glimpses of smoldering orange interrupted the inky cloud as it climbed to ever-greater heights. With a deafening blast, a massive shock wave consumed the city in the smoke and terror of 3,000 metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate. In a matter of seconds, the detonation inflicted an estimated $15 billion in property damage. Far more priceless, the human toll of the explosion stands at least 200, with thousands more wounded. In the tearful wake of the blast, the Lebanese people are hemorrhaging hope. Yet the horrific explosion is not merely a chance disaster: it is a symptom of the corruption in Lebanon that is eating the country from the inside out.

History of Corruption in Lebanon

Lebanon has long endured institutionalized corruption. Its current government system formed after the previous regime’s ineptitude eroded national security to the point of civil war. The war lasted from 1975-1990. The conflict occurred between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Christian groups backed by Israel and Syria, with both seeking political control over Lebanon. After 25 years of fighting, over 100,000 killed and thousands more uprooted, the conflict finally ended with the signing of the Taif Accord. This accord shaped the constitution into a document conducive to graft.

A government system that allotted public offices to major religious groups supplanted years of instability. This new framework nurtured the sectarianism that still dominates Lebanon’s politics today. Additionally, the presence of extreme polarization favors patronage over democracy. The champions of the civil war quickly grabbed power of the nascent government, bringing with them their blatant, unchecked corruption.

How Corruption in Lebanon Exacerbates Poverty

For years, Lebanon’s political leaders have enjoyed glittering affluence despite the country’s abysmal underdevelopment. Widespread embezzlement and underfunding of vital public services have gravely fractured Lebanon’s rickety foundation. In particular, a series of recent catastrophes have drawn international attention to the injustices long borne by the Lebanese people:

  1. Economic Crisis: A dire economic crisis has been ravaging the country for months. With a debt-to-GDP ratio of 170%, Lebanon is the world’s third most indebted nation. Even prior to COVID-19, one-quarter of the population was unemployed, and hyperinflation was driving prices to astronomic levels, dragging more and more citizens into poverty.
  2. Lack of Basic Services: Lebanon’s politicians have chosen personal enrichment over public welfare, leading to dismal internet connectivity, insufficient health care, contaminated water and unreliable power sources. Moreover, in the absence of infrastructure, sanitation deficiencies recently culminated in a massive accumulation of waste that attracted global coverage.
  3. Natural Disaster: A series of fierce wildfires in October 2019 sparked public outrage when fire departments proved ineffective in extinguishing the blaze. The destructive calamity called attention to the severe underfunding of Lebanon’s crisis response teams.
  4. COVID-19: The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has heightened unemployment, inflation and poverty. Consequently, the country experienced increased food insecurity and risk of famine, with the three-quarters of the population on track to require food handouts by the end of 2020. The pandemic has strained limited health care institutions, depriving thousands of vital treatment and underscoring the government’s neglect of public services. Overall, COVID-19 has delivered incredible hardship to a country already saturated with adversity. The blame for Lebanon’s innumerable development problems falls upon its leaders’ ineffectual leadership. Their failure or refusal to address long-standing infrastructural shortcomings in favor of self-indulgence has put the country on the brink of collapse.

Forces for Change

Despite the widespread corruption in Lebanon, downtrodden citizens and empathetic foreigners are striving to implement much-needed reforms.

Public outcry has led to numerous recent power shifts. In October 2019, massive demonstrations, set off by a proposed tax increase, united Lebanon’s diverse political sects against government abuses. This monumental display of solidarity ultimately ousted then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his administration and led to the induction of Hassan Diab.

The international community has joined this fight against corruption in Lebanon. On August 9, 2020, a global summit of donors authorized $298 million to directly help the Lebanese population. This relief package suggests a departure from previous payments of aid to the government. This practice fostered embezzlement by leaders and eroded the regime’s accountability to the public. Fortifying their stance against corruption, the forum also announced that Lebanon must enact long-overdue reforms to qualify for further funding.

Demanding Change

As the world demands change for Lebanon, recent headlines have chronicled the country’s myriad crises. The blast in Beirut is no different than these struggles: it is a product of the political abuse that has crippled Lebanon for years. The port authority seized the ammonium nitrate that exploded in 2013 and left it “awaiting auction” or a spark to ignite it, whichever came first. Early investigations have revealed the government’s full awareness of the compound’s improper storage: it just did not do anything about it. Instead, the government ignored repeated warnings from experts and postponed handling the issue to a later date. Tragically, chemistry beat them to it.

Once again reminded of the lethal consequences of inaction, protests previously hampered by COVID-19 have revived. These impassioned riots led to the resignation of Diab’s government on August 10, 2020. This event threatens to magnify the country’s instability. Despite widespread anxieties, however, Diab articulated his intention to “stand with the people,” a move that, if adopted the world over, may finally heal Lebanon’s long-borne suffering.

Rosalind Coats
Photo: Wikimedia

Global MarketAfter ten years of negotiation, the European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) came into action on August 1, 2020. The deal will reduce tariffs by 99% over the next 10 years and will provide relief from the economic drops caused by COVID-19. The market contains over 500 million individuals and is valued at 18 trillion USD. The trade relationship will enable Vietnam to compete in the global market better, especially against markets like Japan and South Korea. Currently, out of all of the countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Vietnam is the European Union’s (EU) second-largest trade partner behind Singapore. Compared to its regional rivals of Indonesia and Thailand, Vietnam has a stronger trade relationship and involvement in the global market.

Vietnam and the EU Ties

For exports, Vietnam relies on the EU as its largest partner. Vietnam’s exports to the EU are larger than any other ASEAN country. A World Bank study found that from 2001 to 2018, Vietnam’s exports to the EU have grown annually at an average rate of 16%, gaining it a trade surplus over the EU. According to the European Commission, these exports are mostly textiles and clothing, agriculture products like coffee, rice, seafood, electronic products, telephone sets and more.

As the agreement is implemented, both countries could see a rise in GDP and new job opportunities, amongst other positive effects. More immediately, Vietnam’s GDP will increase by 2.18-3.25%, said the Ministry of Planning and Investment. Unlike most countries, Vietnam will see positive economic growth this year – estimated to be up by 4.8%, according to a study by the World Bank. In 2030, Vietnam will see a 6.8% growth in its GDP.

Both countries will have large growths in their exports. The EU could see a $16.9 billion per year increase in exports by 2025. Vietnam is expected to increase exports by 42.7% in the first five years of the deal, mostly in farm produce, manufacturing and services. Additional domestic reforms by Vietnam could raise productivity and further increase GDP by 6.8% in the next 10 years.

Vietnam’s Participation in Global Value Chains

As Vietnam increases trade with other countries through agreements, it will become more involved in the global market. Further globalization will also push Vietnam to participate more in global value chains (GVCs), shifting away from the manufacturing market from China. The bilateral treaty signed between Vietnam and the EU will also ensure that electronics and electrical equipment (a large portion of current imports) comes to Vietnam exclusively from the EU.

Due to this shift, the EU has increased its foreign direct investment in Vietnam. The EU already was the largest foreign investor in Vietnam, with a total of 6.1 billion euros endowed as of 2017, mostly into processing and manufacturing. This investment will go towards new jobs and increased productivity by reducing the number of imports to Vietnam and shifting towards in-house production for higher gains.

To be eligible to avoid tariffs, Vietnamese products must not contain imports from other countries. In addition, agriculture must meet requirements for sanitation, meaning farmers will have to refine their growth system. The deal places especially tight regulations on the quality of agricultural and manufactured products shipped by Vietnam, pushing technological developments in order to avoid drops in efficiency.

Poverty Reduction

Over the past two decades, Vietnam has made steady progress in reducing extreme poverty. From 1992 to 2018, Vietnam’s GDP per capita increased by more than four times, pulling extreme poverty rates from 52.9% down to 2% of the population. EVFTA will continue this trend. A World Bank Study found that EVFTA is expected to reduce extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day) by 0.1-0.8 million people by 2030, 0.7% more than the poverty-reduction rate without the agreement. Overall, this will amount to an 11.9% decrease. In addition, poverty at $3.20 per day is expected to reduce from 8% to 3.5%.

Vietnam has now broadened its poverty baseline from $1.90 to $5.50. From 2016 to 2030, developments caused by EVFTA will influence this poverty rate to drop from 29% to 12.6%, allowing Vietnam to achieve upper-middle-class status. In addition, the income gap between genders will be decreased by 0.15 percent. This difference affects low-income families the most, as they are traditionally involved in manual labor jobs where this is most prevalently seen.

This agreement will open up new territories for both the EU and Vietnam to expand into. Vietnam’s primarily agricultural economy might see large shifts into one of manufacturing and processing. This agreement is a stepping stone for Vietnam’s involvement in the global market, and it might be a sign of large changes to come.

Nitya Marimuthu
Photo: Pixabay

Increasing International PhilanthropyAs COVID-19 inspires increasing international philanthropy, trends in American and global giving create an opportunity for growth in the philanthropy sector. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that as of April 21, donor governments and multilateral organizations around the globe were responding to the coronavirus with $16.5 billion in completed international donations and aid, the biggest donors being governments, the World Bank and the Asian Development Fund.

The U.S. Philanthropic Efforts

The U.S. government had provided $2.39 billion in international aid as of April. As of August 12, Candid reported, an additional $13 billion in institutional and individual philanthropic donations had been given globally, with the biggest donations coming from Google, CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey and TikTok parent company ByteDance. The majority of funding, both philanthropic and from governments and multilateral organizations, have gone to disaster relief. COVID-19 is increasing international philanthropy efforts around the globe, and that trend has proven true of U.S.-based institutional and individual giving.

“To put this unprecedented commitment of institutional and individual philanthropy in perspective, the U.S. total alone of more than $6 billion is, according to Candid’s figures, more than double the entire campaigns for 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, Hurricane Harvey, the Ebola outbreak, the Haitian earthquake, and the recent Australian bushfires,” Andrew Grabois wrote in a blog for Candid.

COVID-19’s Impact on Donor Giving

A recent Fidelity Charitable study found that 79% of donors plan to either maintain or increase their existing levels of giving. 31% of donors will be giving money to international organizations as part of their COVID-19 philanthropy, following a significant decrease in donations to international charities in 2017. International affairs nonprofits, on the other hand, have consistently been steadily increasing. 69% of donors said they are “very” or “somewhat concerned” about how international aid organizations will suffer during the pandemic. 30% of donors say they are donating “to address the economic impacts” of COVID-19.

Betsy Morris of The Wall Street Journal reported that as coronavirus related philanthropy skyrockets, nonprofits unrelated to coronavirus relief have seen significant declines in donations and volunteer activity; 80% of nonprofits surveyed in June said that revenue had fallen since the pandemic started, and 70% had been forced to reduced their activity level. Donations to U.S. charities saw an 11% decline in March, and the outlook remains bleak as the pandemic continues; 72% of donors do not “expect their giving to return to prior levels.”

Shifting Philanthropic Sector

But the pandemic has also caused significant shifts in the philanthropy sector that could help pave the way to recovery; consulting company Mckinsey & Company explained that large-scale donations are also happening “at record speed, with fewer conditions, and in greater collaboration with others,” all of which can and should be long-term shifts in the philanthropy sector.

Donor institutions are addressing three main areas to address short- and long-term philanthropy challenges by adjusting grant practices to be easier and more accessible for grantees, increasing the “pace and volume” of philanthropic giving, scaling impact with partnerships and collaboration between individual and institutional donors, investment in grassroots and local leadership and providing support to the public sector. All these shifts will allow for this increasing international philanthropy and a more effective sector long after the pandemic has waned.

Emily Rahhal
Photo: Flickr

national hygiene program
Kenya’s National Hygiene Program (otherwise known as Kazi Mtaani) aims to help the hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Implemented in April 2020, the program intends to support the individuals and households that are struggling to find work as a result of the restrictions and other issues that the pandemic created.

Impact of COVID-19 in Kenya

Kenya has a population of 51.39 million people and a rapidly growing urban population, which is increasing by about 4.3% every year. As Kenya urbanizes at a quick pace, formal housing in urban areas of the country struggles to keep up with high demand. About 60% of urban households in Kenya live in a “slum,” because informal housing remains the only option for most people.

COVID-19 hit these poor households in Kenya hard, causing over 300,000 Kenyans to lose their jobs. In Kibera, a county in Nairobi and one of the biggest slums in Africa, a survey found that 90% of low-income residents said that they had lost their family income due to COVID-19.

What Is the National Hygiene Program?

The National Hygiene Program is an extended public works project that emerged as a response to Kenya’s growing unemployed population. The goal of the program is to employ young individuals from informal settlements whose former employment has been disrupted by the pandemic. The program also aims to focus on projects that create cleaner, safer communities during the pandemic.

People must meet a few requirements to be accepted into this program. One requirement is that individuals have to be over 18 years old and under 35 years old because the program’s target audience is Kenyan youth. However, there is some leeway in communities that COVID-19 restrictions hit hardest and where youths are less willing to work. Aside from age, other requirements include the possession of a valid Identification Card, registration with Mpesa — a mobile money transferring service — and a verifiable telephone number.

Phase I

The first phase of the National Hygiene Program acted as a pilot, lasting from April 2020 through June 2020 and employing over 26,000 people. Eight counties that restrictions hit the hardest were the first to implement the program. These counties include Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kisumu, Kilifi, Kwale and Mandera. In these areas, many people lost their daily wages, and businesses suffered because people could not afford to buy goods anymore.

Across these eight counties, the program targeted 29 settlements. The program paid workers about $1.03 per day, and they worked 22 days per month. In Phase I, the employees completed tasks like street cleaning, access path clearing, fumigation, disinfection, garbage collection, bush clearing and drainage cleaning.

Phase II

The second phase of the National Hygiene Program began in July 2020 and will run for six and a half months. The program has enrolled 270,000 workers and targets 1,200 informal settlements. Instead of employing workers for 22 days a month like in the first phase, the program’s 11-day rotation period will provide work for as many households as possible. Each worker has a daily wage of $0.78, and supervisors have a daily wage of $0.87.

In Phase II, workers will complete tasks like upgrading public sanitation facilities, creating or paving walkways, constructing community gardens and parks and repairing public buildings like offices and nursery schools.

As the National Hygiene Program continues, it hopes to cover all 47 counties in Kenya through later phases of the program. The program will allow Kenyans to escape unemployment while improving their communities, providing refuge from the destructive effects of COVID-19.

Sophie Dan
Photo: Flickr

Domestic Violence in Morocco
In Morocco, more than 50% of women have experienced violence. Among these women, only about 28% have sought help from others regarding their abusive environment. There is a new law put in place to criminalize violent actions against women. However, the government still needs to address several issues to protect women effectively from domestic violence in Morocco.

Laws to Protect Women Against Domestic Violence

The new law passed in 2018 outlaws some form of violent actions against partners and allows authorities to step into domestic affairs if it is necessary. This law spreads awareness and provides prevention measures. Abused women can file cases to charge abusive partners or family members. However, the law does not clarify what domestic violence is nor does it explicitly make marital rape a crime. Moreover, the law does not financially support victims or survivors of violence or any shelters for those who need housing after escaping from an abusive environment. The law requires police to be able to help abused women. However, they did not record statements of victims and made them go back to their partners in some cases. The law failed to create a system that checks if the authorities carry out their duties to protect the rights of abused women.

Vulnerable Women and Poverty

Poor women do not have access to education. As a result, they have to be financially dependent on their partners because they cannot find a job. These women tend to receive violence from their partner more passively than those who have jobs. Lack of education and jobs makes women vulnerable to abusive relationships because they feel no power to defend their rights and interests. Because of a lack of access to stable housing after escaping from an abusive situation, women are often forced to return to their abusive partners. Victims file criminal cases against their partners, but most of them drop cases because of the pressure from family or financial reasons. In the interview by UNFPA, Khadija tells her struggle about being financially dependent on her family after getting divorced from the abusive husband. She struggled with finding a job because of a lack of education.

Nongovernmental Organizations Help Abused Women

Several institutions and shelters exist in Morocco to help survivors of domestic violence. The Multi-sectoral Joint Programme is carried out by 13 national groups and more than 50 nongovernmental organizations. It provides legal and economic support for abused women. By 2010, they had 52 counseling centers in Morocco. Additionally, Fais entendre ta voix (Make Your Voice Heard) is a group working to empower women in Morocco. It offers legal help for women to defend themselves.

Effects of COVID-19 on the Victims

The COVID-19 lockdown prohibits individuals from going out without authorization. As a result, abused women cannot seek help. They have no choice but to stay at home where they face abuse. The number of calls to the hotline from abused women is about twice to three times more than before. After the efforts made by advocates, the authority made it possible to file domestic violence cases through phone calls and the Internet. This makes it easier for women who cannot go out to file cases. Poverty also plays a significant role in preventing abused women from seeking help because they do not have access to phones or technology. Therefore, the new tool to file complaints by phone and online help some victims. However, the COVID-19 lockdown still leaves impoverished women vulnerable.

The new law passed in 2018 is a big step to help vulnerable women in Morocco. Financial support and education for women can help to empower women more. Being financially dependent on husbands or partners makes it difficult for women to seek help or escape from an abusive partner. In the survey, more than 60% of men showed the possession of beliefs that women need to endure violence to keep family together. This shows the need to change social beliefs as well.

Sayaka Ojima
Photo: Pixabay

Coronavirus Data
Currently battling cholera, measles, ebola revival and the new coronavirus — the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is experiencing one of the worst public health crises in the world. The DRC has seen about 9,300 cases of coronavirus, a small number given its population. Roughly 90% of these cases are located in the Kinshasa Province,  which has a 2.3% mortality rate as of July 2020. At first glance, this number looks very small and suggests that the government has effectively prevented the spread of COVID-19. However, a hard look at coronavirus data in the DRC, reveals otherwise.

These numbers are misleading — given that over 50% of the countries’ population live in rural areas. These regions do not have the same access to testing equipment nor the technology that would provide valuable coronavirus data. As a result, the government’s main objectives now are to slow the propagation of COVID-19, support communities with insufficient medical infrastructure and strengthen the healthcare system. Mobile data is central to accomplishing these goals and avoiding further economic contraction.

The Need for Mobile Data in the DRC

Data is vital to limiting the spread of any virus, as it allows governments to obtain necessary health equipment for communities — based on existing medical infrastructure. Also, proper information enables health officials to warn at-risk citizens, promptly. Mobile data has five stages in the fight against COVID-19:

  1. Population mapping
  2. Plotting population mobility
  3. Adding data about virus spread
  4. Preparing logistics and health infrastructure
  5. Modeling the economic impacts

In countries where most of the population uses the internet, coronavirus data is available in abundance. This, in turn, allows such governments to progress through these five phases, quickly. However, the DRC’s ability to obtain and use coronavirus data is hindered by limited infrastructure. Only 17% of the country’s population has access to electricity. Furthermore, around 70% of the population lives in poverty. Therefore, only 4% can afford the internet.

Improving Information Accessibility

Recognizing its need for data to fight public health crises, the DRC is increasingly funding improved internet access. Most notably, the country partnered with Grid3, a company that helps governments collect, utilize and map demographic and infrastructure data. This results in better population estimates and enables the country to plot its healthcare centers concerning that data. Additionally, the DRC has partnered with various mobile operators, digital health specialists and public health NGOs to jumpstart its data-driven coronavirus policy project. Such projects have already produced promising results, such as mobile connectivity has risen by one million connections from 2019 to 2020.

Data Is the Key

Ultimately, data will be essential to tracking and predicting the spread of the new coronavirus as communities begin to open up. Better data will create more informed policies that will better protect the DRC’s fragile healthcare system and economy. Although the U.N. has said that 50% of all workers in Africa could lose their jobs because of the coronavirus, (putting millions more Congolese at risk of poverty) the DRC’s recent data collection efforts are promising for the future of poverty in the DRC. If the government continues to value mobile data and access to technology, poverty can be greatly reduced. Likewise, widespread electricity and internet availability, as well as the advent of a modernized, more resilient economy will increase the quality of life in the DRC.

Alex Berman
Photo: Flickr