positive covid-19 storiesThe COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the world. While many countries have been devastated, three countries have positive COVID-19 stories: New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam. Here are their positive COVID-19 stories and the lessons they learned from their experiences.

New Zealand

The pacific island nation of around 5 million people had a couple of different strategies in its response to COVID-19. In particular, unity within New Zealand and the nation’s neighboring countries played a big role in the country’s success against the virus. New Zealand offered to help its neighboring countries to prepare for the pandemic. To do so, the country offered health training and made sure that its island neighbors had supplies to fight the virus. Importantly, this unity in New Zealand bridged across political party lines when needed. This resulted in a massive stimulus package passed just weeks after the country’s first case. The stimulus totaled NZ$12.1 billion, around 4% of the country’s GDP. Included in the stimulus package is support for businesses, support for testing and health services and payments to those who couldn’t work because of the virus.

Caution also plays a big part in New Zealand’s success against the virus. The first case of the virus was detected on 28 Feb. 2020. Even before that, however, the government took measures to limit the possible damage of COVID-19. When New Zealand only had 283 cases, the government ordered all non-essential workers to work from home to limit the virus’s spread.

Moreover, the government came up with a four-level alert system to help people know how the virus is spreading. Level one means the disease is contained in New Zealand and level four means community transmission is happening and the disease is not contained. Given how much time the country has spent in the lower levels, its represents one of many positive COVID-19 stories that the whole world can learn from.

Thailand

Thailand is one of the countries that have positive COVID-19 stories. The Asian country of almost 70 million people was designated a success by the WHO. The economy of Thailand is one that is heavily built on tourism, with one-fifth of GDP coming from the tourist sector. However, since the virus has spread, the government of Thailand has had to make economic sacrifices to protect public health. The country had to close its borders to certain travelers, including many Chinese provinces. In addition, Thailand postponed many sporting events and held them without fans to slow the spread of the virus. In particular, Bangkok was in a partial lockdown with only essential services remaining open. Slowing down activity does hurt the economy, but it eases the blow of the virus.

Thailand has also mobilized more than 1 million health volunteers to help respond to the virus. In addition, the government’s health officials have taken the side of precaution throughout the pandemic. This includes rigorous hygiene and wearing face masks at all times. Moreover, Thai people have generally followed the advice of medical professionals, which has contributed to the Thailand’s COVID-19 success story. The Thai government also has one centralized administration, which helped with communication and organization throughout the pandemic.

Vietnam

Vietnam is also among countries with positive COVID-19 stories. Vietnam’s actions to deal with the virus came early and were aggressive, taking place before the virus even entered the country. This early and decisive action is one of the measures that helped Vietnam early on and controlled the virus’s spread. In early January 2020, Vietnam was already preparing for drastic action before there was a recorded case in the country.

Vietnam enacted travel restrictions, closed schools and enacted a rigorous contact and tracing system, while also canceling public events. Governmental communication was upfront and transparent. Consequently, this helped with public compliance to slow the virus outbreak. Vietnam has been one of the best countries in regard to wearing a face mask, which helps slow the spread of the virus. A coordinated media effort throughout Vietnam has also helped the public and government be on the same page in response to the virus.

Another reason Vietnam has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 is its testing. The country tests everyone in quarantine whether they have symptoms or not. This helps slow the spread of the virus, because not everyone who is infected shows symptoms. As a result, younger people who may be infected but don’t have symptoms don’t infect those who may be at higher risk of death to COVID-19. While there was no nationwide lockdown, Vietnam did impose containment on certain areas to reduce the spread of the virus. In February 2020, when a small handful of cases were in the area of Son Loi, the government sealed off the area to prevent the spread of the virus.

What We Can Learn from These Countries

These three countries show positive COVID-19 stories despite a situation that has turned negative in so many countries. A few similarities have emerged between the countries and their success. One is the unity between government and people, which is important to building communication and trust. When citizens trust their government and can easily access clear guidelines, they are more likely to comply with health measures to reduce the spread of the virus. Another similarity between these countries is that it’s better to be cautious rather than reckless. This helps to slow the spread of the virus and make it easier to track. With all the hardship and destruction brought on by COVID-19, these countries with positive COVID-19 stories show how to keep as many people as safe as possible.

Zachary Laird
Photo: Pexels

HelpAge InternationalThe World Bank estimates that the number of people living below the global poverty line, or those who live on less than $1.90 a day, has decreased by nearly 40% since 1990. This is largely due to the efforts of the United Nations and other global partnerships. Although these organizations are making outstanding progress, one demographic remains in seemingly inexorable poverty: the elderly. Fortunately, organizations like HelpAge International focus on helping elderly people around the world overcome poverty.

Many elderly people have little ability to provide for themselves. A lack of income, support and resources, may keep them in poverty. This is particularly prevalent in low-income countries. Especially during COVID-19, elderly people need more help than ever as they are at greater risk for infection and death. While more organizations are recognizing challenges facing older populations worldwide, their assistance is not enough to give the elderly the stability they need to lead healthier lives. This is where HelpAge International steps in.

Aging in Poverty

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Program on Ageing (UNDESA), the average poverty level for populations over 75 years old in OECD countries, or members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is 14.7%. This represents a 3.5% increase in poverty compared to those who are between 66 and 75, an astonishing rate for the world’s most prosperous nations in terms of world trade and investment. Statistics are unclear regarding elderly poverty rates in developing countries due to a lack of consistent data collection.

However, UNDESA explains that the “absence of social protection systems [in low-income countries] … are usually not sufficient to guarantee adequate income security.” Social protection systems are vital for the elderly who reduce their work hours as they age or stop working entirely due to dementia or other health conditions. Without those systems, they are left alone in inescapable poverty. What is more concerning is that the number of people across the world who are 80 years old or more is surging. An estimated 434 million people will reach this age group by 2050, two-thirds of whom will reside in underdeveloped nations. Therefore, poverty rates among elderly populations will not only become more severe, but they will also become more widespread, creating an even greater need for assistance programs.

HelpAge International

After witnessing older refugee abandonment during the Somalia and Ethiopia wars, Sir Lesley Kirkley, Chair of Help the Aged’s Overseas Committee, and Chris Beer, the organization’s future CEO, formed HelpAge International in 1983 with the goal of creating a solid global support system.

The project initially began in Canada, Colombia, Kenya, India and the United Kingdom but has since spread to include 80 countries. Eye and community care were the initial priorities, but HelpAge International’s mission has evolved into delivering all necessary resources to help elderly men and women overcome poverty. The organization aims to create an inclusive, non-discriminatory environment for all older adults. Here are some of HelpAge International’s contributions and accolades.

  1. In 1999, HelpAge International distributed recommendations that specifically addressed elderly care during emergency response situations.
  2. In 2002, HelpAge aided in the formation of the United Nations Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, a plan focusing exclusively on elderly development, health and prosperity progress. The plan also aims to create sensitive and sympathetic environments for older adults.
  3. Also in 2002, HelpAge International launched an education initiative intended to teach the elderly about their rights, social pensions, access to healthcare and lobbying opportunities.
  4. In 2007, HelpAge participated in Age Demands Action, a global initiative to mobilize the elderly to express their policy and issue concerns to their governments.
  5. In 2012, HelpAge received the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, recognizing the organization for its efforts in reducing global human suffering.
  6. Since 1980, HelpAge International has performed more than 45,000 surgeries in India alone aimed at restoring sight to the elderly.

COVID-19 Response

Elderly people have suffered the most from COVID-19, with more than 50% of deaths occurring in people aged 65 years or older since mid-April 2020. Underlying health conditions and lack of access to care and information cause many COVID-19 deaths in Venezuela and Jordan. HelpAge Venezuela is focusing its efforts in La Guajira, an underdeveloped and overpopulated area that rarely receives humanitarian aid. In partnership with Humanity and Inclusion and Pastoral Social, HelpAge is providing psychosocial support and COVID-19 awareness classes to the elderly via radio in order to reach remote populations.

The organization coordinated a more detailed and widespread response in Jordan by implementing several preventive and protective measures. HelpAge is serving elderly Jordanians by monitoring food and medicine deliveries across communities, delivering hygiene kits, providing financial assistance and conducting weekly remote outreach programs. All together, these actions affect more than 5,000 people. For its outstanding impact, the government of Jordan recognized HelpAge International as a crucial COVID-19 first responder and acknowledged its unique dedication to solely serving the elderly.

Impact

In its nearly 40-year existence, HelpAge International has changed thousands of lives worldwide, focusing on those neglected by other aid organizations. Seventy-three-year-old Salem Thyab Al Salaimeh of La Guajira, Venezuela expressed his gratitude to HelpAge for finally providing him and his family with protection, safety and comfort. Neither he, his 110-year-old mother nor his fellow elderly siblings had ever been helped by any organization until HelpAge began operations in Venezuela. Hopefully, as HelpAge International grows, more elderly people like Salaimeh and his family will receive the proper care, support and attention they deserve in order to escape poverty. By overcoming the poverty-induced challenges that hinder their ability to survive, the elderly will have greater potential to remain healthy and thrive.

Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Crisis
The migrant crisis in Italy is prevalent; Italy receives more asylum seekers per year than any other European country. Since 2017, over 192,000 individuals have sought refuge in Italy by crossing the Mediterranean in informal vessels and ships organized and manned by non-governmental organizations. Many migrants who make the perilous journey from the coast of North Africa to Italy land at the small island of Lampedusa, the southernmost area of Italian territory, located just 70 miles from the coast of Tunisia.

At the peak of the crisis, hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghanis and Libyans crossed into Europe to seek asylum. However, Italy’s strategic location near the coasts of Tunisia and Libya led to a continuous increase in attempted landings. These two locations are common debarkation points for Middle Eastern and North African migrants. According to Reuters, from August 2019 to July 2020, over 21,000 individuals successfully reached Italy’s southern shores. These figures represent an increase of 148% from the previous year.

Additionally, E.U. regulations regarding the resettlement of asylum seekers place high financial and administrative burdens on Italy. The 1990 Dublin Regulation is a law for E.U. member states which forces migrants coming to the European Union to make their application for asylum in the first country where they arrived. This legislation disproportionately affected the Italian government in comparison with its northern European neighbors.

Migrants and the 2018 Elections

The E.U.’s perceived ambivalence towards Italy’s economic burden and the peak of the European migrant crisis in 2017 created tension. These factors created a perfect storm for the victory of right-wing political leader Matteo Salvini and his Lega party. Salvini’s message on the campaign trail, that of blocking migrant arrivals in Italy and a renegotiation of ties to the European government in Brussels, struck a tone with many dissatisfied Italian voters in the north of the country where anti-immigrant sentiments remain common.

As minister of the interior, Salvini fulfilled his electoral promise, continuing his hardline position regarding the migrant crisis in Italy. During his tenure, the Lega leader utilized Italy’s military vessels to prevent ships carrying migrants from docking in the country’s ports and cut off funding for social programs that provide vital assistance and resources for newly arrived asylum seekers.

Looking Forward

The Lega-led government collapsed in 2019. The liberal government that succeeded it altered the dynamics of the Italian government’s role in the migrant crisis. Salvini heavily criticized the E.U. government for its laissez-faire approach to Italy’s economic and organizational woes during the migrant crisis. In contrast, the current Italian government is much more open to collaboration with Brussels. An agreement reached at the end of 2019 between Italy, Germany and France allowed for the relocation of migrants rescued at sea throughout the E.U., thus moving away from the controversial Dublin Regulation.

Even under the new liberal government in Rome, deportations of recently arrived migrants have continued into the present. However, the current national policy regarding asylum seekers differs from the issue’s handling under Salvini; instead of directly blocking migrant vessels and NGOs from docking in Italian ports, the government is directly lobbying with Tunisia to incentivize the North African country to control illegal migration from its borders by threatening cuts to development aid.

The economic and social catastrophe of the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the new Tunisian policy and continued deportations. The country faced an administrative breakdown during the spring and found a need to centralize government resources towards the virus. These factors led to the closure of numerous refugee facilities in southern Italy. Furthermore, the new liberal government had, for the first time, deployed military ships to stop migrants from Tunisia in order to maintain Italy’s national quarantine.

Although the country has policies in place to ensure all incoming asylum seekers are quarantined before entry, the fear of new cases being brought into the country as well as additional stress on an already damaged economy may lead to increased support for Salvini’s policies in the future.

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

One important organization lobbying for the rights of migrants seeking refuge in Italy and the E.U. is the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC primarily assists in the safe movement of asylum seekers. It organizes funding for secure ships and professional sailors to transport migrants across the Mediterranean. Furthermore, the IRC was instrumental in the development of Refugee.Info. This online site serves as an informational tool on how to apply for asylum. It also details statistics regarding the issue of migrants in Italy. Lastly, the IRC provides mental and physical health services for newly arrived migrants in the collection facilities in southern Italy. Though COVID-19 has posed many challenges to the migrant crisis in Italy, there are organizations making a difference.

Jason Beck
Photo: Wikimedia

Mercy Corps Supporting Girls' Education
Amid COVID-19, rural communities continue to face economic, health and safety concerns. From misinformation to improper sanitation, pastoral communities require immediate assistance to not only survive, but thrive. Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organization, has stepped in to support these communities’ most vulnerable members. In recent months, the NGO has shifted its priorities; now, Mercy Corps is supporting girls’ education more than ever.

The Mission of Mercy Corps

In addition to reducing poverty and oppression through sustainable community building, Mercy Corps recently established a Resilience Fund to combat COVID-19’s effects. Mercy Corps explained that its funding will “provide emergency supplies, food and clean water” to developing countries like Colombia, Yemen and Nepal. However, donations go beyond monetary support as the organization targets public health concerns and stimulates economic recovery through education.

To protect pastoral communities, Mercy Corps supplies counseling stations, hand-washing training and sanitary facilities for nursing mothers and children. It also provides food when local markets close and funnel donations directly to at-risk families. To stimulate economic growth, Mercy Corps’ supports farmers, small businesses and girls’ education.

A New Focus: Girls’ Education

Recently, Mercy Corps made girls’ education its top priority as it “produces exceptional gains in areas of health, infant mortality and economic well-being of families.” However, the consequences of the pandemic forced many rural communities to relegate girls’ education to a lower priority. When countries like Kenya closed their borders, cities also shut down their schools. In turn, young women returned to their families and household chores.

Mercy Corps projects that the pandemic will significantly affect learning within rural communities. UNICEF organizations like Voices of Youth understand that education can delay young women’s marriages: each year a woman remains a school, she receives greater opportunities for personal growth and employment. However, Mercy Corps, and perhaps even Voices of Youth, fear that COVID-19 will increase the number of high school dropouts and consequently increase the rate of child marriages.

In the face of economic uncertainty, Mercy Corps supports girls’ education and aims to prevent its disappearance from public consciousness. Small donations and public outreach will counteract the pandemic’s effects and return young girls to safe, supportive environments that nourish their learning potential. The Resilience Fund will also maintain the Mercy Corps’ STEM program, which helps women in Nepal and Yemen complete their education through invaluable tutoring programs.

Cooperating with Communities to Increase Impact

Mercy Corps values girls’ education as a resource for development and hints at its potential social effects. However, UNICEF believes local communities must provide women access to quality education in three concrete ways:

  1. Low-Cost Education at Convenient Times. UNICEF argues that women’s education should be free or cost relatively little. School hours should be flexible so girls can maintain commitments to their families, complete their chores and finish their assignments. If families worry about the loss of income, schools should compensate community members by providing young girls with scholarships or stipends.
  2. Female Teachers and Schools Close to Home. Girls’ safety remains an everyday concern for most parents. Schools with women teachers can eliminate this stress and ensure that girls succeed without external pressures. Schools within walking distance of home also ensure the safety of young girls by reducing exposure to dangerous areas.
  3. Empowering Curricula. Because girls’ education has the potential to “enhance women’s self-esteem,” their course curricula should “avoid reproducing gender stereotyping.” Building a woman’s skills and self-confidence transforms her into a better worker, citizen and parent—all invaluable outcomes that extend far beyond graduation.

If rural communities consider UNICEF’s recommendations and remain open-minded to the benefits of girls’ education, the Mercy Corps Resilience Fund will serve a greater purpose. The Resilience Fund will stimulate economic development and encouraging proper hygiene. It will also counter COVID-19’s effects and ensure that girls’ education becomes a worldwide priority. Mercy Corps is supporting girls’ education to provide hope for economic viability in the next generation of women.

– Kyler Juarez
Photo: PickPik

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