dual outbreaksSince the wake of COVID-19, countries all over the world are slowly beginning to mend their fractured economies and healthcare systems. While some countries can start picking up the pieces, others just cannot catch a break. Papua New Guinea is a country that finds itself in a unique and desperate health crisis with dual outbreaks. On top of COVID-19, the country was also hit with a return of polio. Australia is coming to the aid of its neighbors with a massive financial assistance plan.

The Resurgence of Polio in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the pacific region. The country was declared officially polio-free 18 years ago, but in 2018, the virus was rediscovered in a six-year-old child. Shortly after, the virus was also found in multiple other children from the same general area. Polio is especially harmful to children under 5 and can lead to lifelong paralysis. The country is vulnerable to disease outbreaks due to the lack of proper sterilization and cleaning practices. However, there is also a unique layer of security against the outbreak because Papua New Guinea is a remote island that is cut off from the mainland of Australia.

Humanitarian Aid for Polio Outbreak

A few months after the polio outbreak, the Australian government stepped in and responded by giving $10 million to Papua New Guinea’s polio immunization crusade. A few weeks later, another $6 million was donated to the GPEI (Global Polio Eradication Initiative), which was followed by an additional $15 million dedication in November of 2018. An interview was conducted with Rachel Mason Nunn, an experienced social development worker in Papua New Guinea. Mason Nunn stated “We have a window right now to invest heavily in infectious diseases in PNG. Australia should continue to invest in health care in PNG, if not just because it is the right thing to do, but because helping our region acquire strong health systems is a vital element of Australia’s own health security.” Currently, Australia gives the highest contributions to Papua New Guineas’ struggling healthcare system.

COVID-19 Aid

In an extreme case of bad luck, Papua New Guinea has now experienced two disease outbreaks within two years of each other, polio and COVID-19. In a frantic request for aid, the government has reached out to the World Health Organization (WHO) in an effort to take some weight off its already overburdened healthcare system. Once COVID-19 spread to the country, a struggle with limited numbers of testing kits prompted the WHO to assist by deploying medical staff and distributing essential medical supplies.

Dual Outbreaks Plague Developing World

Thanks to the generous donations from contributors like the WHO and Australia, millions of child polio vaccinations have been given as well as sufficient supplies of COVID-19 test kits. For a country that is still dealing with diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS and polio on top of COVID-19, the people of Papua New Guinea are pushing ahead. The dual outbreaks in Papua New Guinea serve as a global reminder that other preventable diseases should not be neglected in the fight against COVID-19 and that international aid is essential now more than ever.

– Brandon Baham
Photo: Flickr

Energy Poverty in Africa
Africa is only responsible for 3.2% of energy usage within the global landscape. Africa suffers from energy poverty, or the lack of access to modern energy services, despite the natural abundance of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. With the potential to generate up to 11,000 GW of electricity, the continent has the means to utilize solar power, wind energy, natural gas, hydroelectricity and fossil fuels and eliminate energy poverty in Africa.

Challenges for Energy Access in Africa

Despite the potential energy Africa has access to, several factors prevent a permanent resolution to energy poverty in Africa. The primary reason comes from federal involvement in energy generation and distribution, or the lack thereof. Poor planning and distorted energy regulation led to persistent electricity inconsistencies in different regions, leading to the state allowing monopolies to run resources without initiating proper federal oversight. To accommodate for the lack of power, many locals turned towards fossil fuels, such as gas and oil, which are unsustainable and environmentally insufficient.

This was common throughout Africa, as many African governments reluctantly accepted the privatization of energy industries. For example, Nigeria’s government split up its central power system and divided it between two private bodies of supply chains and private investors. The government kept control of the national grid system, which receives generated power and facilitates distribution to each private sector. This essentially means that the generation and distribution of energy are privatized, but the government holds the transmission and division of that energy.

Some see this system as problematic because the government holds too much power between the two privatized entities. This makes these privatized entities seem less susceptible to market incentives and like rather corrupt political policies. It defeats the purpose of privatized sections, which should normally encourage competition between private organizations and work towards innovation and consumer efficiency. However, this system does the opposite, and limits the energy capacity to one segment, leaving any excess to waste.

Repercussions of Poor Energy Access

Considering this inefficient system of energy distribution, the repercussions have created a large contrast between certain regions and social groups. Urban areas have access to 70% of the total energy supply in comparison to the rural usage of 20% or less. Other disparities exist between genders and age groups, as women and children in Africa suffer from respiratory diseases that directly link to energy poverty. For example, poorly designed cooking devices that stem indoor biomass cooking have shown causation to health consequences.

The Effect of COVID-19

COVID-19 has also contributed to the increase of energy poverty in Africa and will continue to have negative effects on Africa’s recovery. The virus not only caused 6,524 deaths in Africa out of 175,503 confirmed cases but also continues to threaten Africa’s access to proper sanitation and clean cooking facilities. The pandemic has also halted global intervention to increase energy efficiency, because a majority of resources are largely going toward the COVID-19 response. Considering energy poverty in Africa stems from the lack of political reforms and the pandemic, how can Africa address the issue?

Solutions

John Ifediora, a professor of economics emeritus at the University of Wisconsin System, as well as a researcher, law attorney and economist, suggested several political changes to combat energy poverty in Africa. He highlighted the significance of regulating and normalizing the use of solar power and wind energy and lessening the reliance on fossil fuels to provide sustainability within local communities.

He also suggested that governments reform their cooperation with private companies, taking advantage of their economic tendencies and competitiveness. By allowing one private organization to take over sections of Africa and facilitate the generation, transmission and distribution of energy, self-regulation will develop among those companies as they keep to affordable prices, energy commerce and competitive innovation.

Dr. Vera Songwe, the U.N. Undersecretary-General and expert on Africa, also added that certain global programs are working to implement assistance to promote energy access in Africa. Global Commission to End Energy Poverty, Economic Commission for Africa and global projects such as Start-Up Energy Transition Programme are constantly working to implement an efficient energy distribution system for Africa.

Energy poverty in Africa is a major factor that hinders the progression of health, economy, education and agriculture, and fuels global poverty in general. Though it is crucial for Africa’s political policies to address and respond to this issue, more organizations are working to combat energy deficiency and implement self-sustainable solutions to help locals in the long-run.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Malaysia
Period poverty in Malaysia has caused a wide health gap for its lower-income families, but recent action by local organizations and legislation has sought to bring change.

Period poverty describes the inaccessibility of menstruation products and washing facilities to those who menstruate, often resulting in missing school days and job opportunities. Over 500 million women and girls face period poverty across the globe each month. While there are no exact statistics on how many people experience period poverty in Malaysia, organizations such as the NGO MyCorps Alumni and All Women’s Action Society have stepped up to tackle the problem and help those in need.

Accessibility to Supplies

For those who cannot afford the cost of menstruation products every month, many turn to using alternate methods that can pose harm. Malaysia’s National Population and Development Board reported that lower-income women may use coconut husks or newspapers for their periods. Local organizations have stepped up to tackle period poverty in Malaysia in order to supply sanitary products to all who need them.

The Malaysian NGO MyCorps Alumni created the Bunga Pads initiative in July 2019, creating a program to provide sanitary pads to lower-income female students. Fitriyati Bakri, the creator of the initiative, received inspiration from a trip to Bangladesh where she spoke with a few school girls and learned of their struggles attending school while they had their periods. Bakri created a program for Bangladeshi women by teaching them how to make reusable pads and brought it back to Malaysia when she realized how prominent the issue was in lower-income communities. The pads comprise of environmentally friendly bamboo material and can last a person 3-5 years of use.

Movement Restrictions

Malaysia’s Movement Control Order to help contain the COVID-19 outbreak has increased the difficulty of women and girls attaining the products that they need. Restrictions consist of limited travel and only leaving for essential items, of which sanitary pads are not included.

The All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) of Malaysia set out to provide much needed sanitary products to women who were unable to obtain them due to restricted movement. AWAM emerged as a women’s rights organization, educating and providing resources for women’s health, domestic violence and sexual harassment.

Kotex Malaysia donated over 500 pads to AWAM for its 35-year anniversary dinner. Though the dinner was canceled due to COVID-19, AWAM was able to distribute the pads in the Dun Kampung Tunku. These pads will allow increased mobility to those unable to acquire them as essential items.

Legislation

An additional obstacle to period justice in Malaysia is the taxation on menstruation products. The added cost makes it more difficult for lower-income women to buy them.

The Malaysian government removed the tax on menstrual products such as tampons and sanitary napkins on June 1, 2018. The tax on period products in Malaysia came into effect in 2015 but met with some online backlash from girls and women across the country insisting the tax would reduce accessibility to low-income households.

Malaysia joins multiple countries that have recently repealed their taxes on menstruation products, including Australia, along with India and Canada. Scotland recently became the first country in the world to provide free period products for the country. The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill passed on Nov. 24, 2020, ensuring that schools, universities and local authorities must provide period products to those who need them.

Although Malaysia has not passed a similar bill, lawmakers in the country are calling on their government to provide research into period poverty within the nation. Hannah Yeoh, Deputy of the Women, Family and Community Ministry, called on the Education Ministry to research how period poverty affects women and girls’ education and health in November 2019.

While Malaysia still has some ways to go regarding period poverty, it has made strides towards period justice at both the local and legislative levels.

– June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

Kandari is Providing Aid
The government of Bangladesh confirmed its first COVID-19 cases on March 8, 2020. As cases rapidly increased, so did the number of families living below the poverty line. Two months later, a second disaster struck — Cyclone Amphan. The United Nations projected that 500,000 families lost their homes. Moreover, it destroyed the structure of the Deluti Secondary School in Bangladesh, the only school within a 50-mile radius. Kandari, a local nonprofit, plans on rebuilding it with the help of volunteers and donations. Additionally, Kandari is providing aid pertaining to feeding families and providing quality education during the present challenges of COVID-19 and the destruction from Cyclone Amphan.

About Kandari

Afsara Alvee, a 27-year-old from Khulna, was living in the United States when her mother called and told her that she and Afsara’s younger brother received positive tests for COVID-19. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Afsara said that they were able to recover from home, but she knew there were many other families in Bangladesh suffering the same fate under worse conditions. In response, she founded Kandari, a nonprofit that provides resources to low-income and middle-class families that COVID-19 affected in Bangladesh.

“When their paycheck stops coming, that’s the time it hits,” Afsara said. “Because of their social status, it’s hard for them to ask for help. They never thought of going to a food bank because of the shame. But we can provide them food for at least a week or so.”

Kandari is providing aid by feeding families. Afsara oversees 17 volunteers who have been delivering food, including rice, lentils, chickpeas, oil and onions, to about 1,400 families since the start of the pandemic. Her goal is to reach 4,000 families but obtaining funding has been a challenge. When crowdfunding runs out, she spends her own money to keep Kandari’s efforts going.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bangladesh reached 495,841 and 7,156 deaths on December 16, 2020, according to Johns Hopkins University. Although many countries were not prepared for a global pandemic, Bangladesh must also recover from Cyclone Amphan.

Providing Quality Education

Another way Kandari is providing aid, next to ensuring food security, is by working toward granting quality education. One in four people is illiterate in Bangladesh according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. Afsara said that children who must help their families with labor or have disabilities have rarely had access to education even before COVID-19 and Cyclone Amphan forced schools to close. Her proposed education program would help provide textbooks and lunches to children in orphanages or ones whose parents are day laborers.

Cyclone Amphan hit the Deluti Secondary School particularly hard. No other schools exist in a 50-mile radius and about 202 students attended the school before the pandemic. Kandari plans on rebuilding the school and has raised $865 of its $7,000 goal on GoFundMe.

“Our slogan is there is no tomorrow because there is no tomorrow. If you see that someone needs help, if you think something bad is going to happen, then you should do something today to prevent that,” Afsara said.

Plans for the Future

Kandari means “helmsman,” someone who would guide and work selflessly to reach a destination. Afsara hopes to extend her mission to other parts of the world as well.

“We don’t want to just help today, we want to help with something that’s going to impact that person who may impact the economy and definitely impact our whole society,” Afsara said.

Afsara’s latest project, A Touch of Warmth, will give hundreds of people on the streets of Bangladesh in Dhaka, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Jessore and Bandarban blankets to cope with the winter months. She said she is always looking for more volunteers and donations to contribute to Kandari’s ongoing efforts.

– Maya Gacina
Photo: Afsara Alvee, founder of Kandari

Create Sustainable Change
A new resource center in Jua Kali, Kenya is using the community to maximize its impact and create sustainable change. It is working with government and school officials to provide free, life-enrichment services not previously available to locals.

Although Kenya boasts one of the fastest-growing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, 36.1% of Kenyans live below the national poverty line, according to the latest report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. The Leo Project targets Kenyans aiming to empower marginalized communities.

But how does one accurately identify what a community needs to empower itself and create sustainable change? The team at The Leo Project has come up with a simple solution: just ask. By working with community leaders, schools and locals, The Leo Project has created a model of community-driven, positive social change centered on the idea that Kenyans know best what Kenyans need to create sustainable change.

The Leo Project

Jessica Danforth, executive director of The Leo Project, founded the organization in honor of her best friend Caitlin O’Hara who died of cystic fibrosis in 2016. The mission of the project is to move beyond the limits of a traditional classroom. Moreover, it intends to provide supportive services and create opportunities not traditionally available to vulnerable populations in Nanyuki, Kenya.

Schooling in Kenya is highly focused on students passing two standardized examinations that determine whether they can progress to the next level of education. As such, formal classroom settings tend to only offer subjects or activities pertaining to standardized exams. To address this issue, The Leo Project partnered with two local primary schools to teach students computer skills, digital literacy, coding, music and art. It also worked to provide them with tutoring, a library, counseling and mindfulness services.

“I think part of the reason that we opened the project is to open kids’ eyes to different opportunities that there are available for them,” Danforth said in an interview with The Borgen Project.

Danforth explained that children in Kenya often want to become lawyers, doctors or accountants because they do not have exposure to the alternatives. Part of the mission of The Leo Project is to give them exposure to opportunities in fields such as graphic design, art, coding or therapy.

Creating Sustainable Change Through Community Participation

Since the resource center’s opening in January 2020, The Leo Project’s mission and services have evolved based on conversations with community leaders and members, resting on the idea that Kenyans know what Kenyans need. The Leo Project uses these conversations to both confirm that Kenyans need the services it plans to offer and to discover new areas to dive into.

During pre-opening meetings, heads of schools expressed the need for literacy classes, because parents would come to them unable to read their child’s report card, Danforth said. The Leo Project’s numeracy and literacy classes emerged from this conversation.

Mental Health Services

According to government statistics, around 11.5 million Kenyans have suffered from a mental illness at least once in their lives, but cultural stigmas surrounding mental health prevent people from seeking help and create a lack of qualified professionals who can provide treatment. In Kenya, there are only 88 psychiatrists and 427 psychiatrist nurses trained in the mental health field. As a result, when Danforth and the team approached community leaders and heads of schools about the mental health services they planned to offer, leaders jumped at the idea.

Engaging the Community

“Spending time with the community and actually getting them very involved and hiring people from the local community and not trying to impart our beliefs or our views as an American, I think, is really important,” Danforth said.

Additionally, Danforth explained that the fact that The Leo Project is not a school or government entity has allowed it the freedom to pilot programs, react to real-time feedback and adapt as necessary without the hindrance of bureaucratic red tape.

“We’re hoping that The Leo Project becomes a place where the community can sort of unite as a whole,” Danforth said, “and we’re hoping to educate as many people as possible.” To reach more people, Danforth hopes to replicate this model across Kenya with the first step being to conduct more fieldwork and data analysis in other communities to better understand their needs, noting that every community is different.

The Leo Project currently partners with the Africa Yoga Project, Daraja Academy, Flying Kites and Education for All Children is looking to expand its partner base. The creation of sustainable change in a community is a large-scale project. The more people and partners working on a project, the broader the knowledge-base that shapes that change and the more effective it becomes. As a result, the goal is to partner with as many organizations as possible and, by doing so, make The Leo Project more sustainable in the long run, Danforth said.

The COVID-19 Shift

The Leo Project is located just outside Nanyuki, Kenya and was serving around 4,000 beneficiaries until the coronavirus pandemic hit. Despite having closed its doors in March 2020, The Leo Project has transitioned to providing relief services to its community and those farther away.

Other educational organizations in Kenya have made a similar shift in activities in response to the pandemic. Danforth and The Leo Project team have been in contact with partner organizations to discuss both strategies for aid and best practices in this new environment, applying the project’s pre-pandemic model of communication to ensure a positive impact and basing pandemic-time services on community need.

Danforth explained to The Borgen Project that people had issues getting incorrect information about COVID-19 in Kenya from social media platforms. In an effort to combat this, The Leo Project created an online learning platform where Kenyans can access factual information about the virus. Through this platform, the center has also continued its adult literacy and numeracy, financial literacy and computer classes.

How The Leo Project Inspires Other NGOs

The organization has had a number of other NGOs reach out about using the model for their own projects post-COVID-19, Danforth said. With the help of chiefs, community leaders, government officials and locals, The Leo Project has been distributing two-month supplies of food to the most vulnerable families in the surrounding communities. As of Aug. 18, 2020, The Leo Project reached over 1,000 families and plans to continue this until January 2021 when Kenya has scheduled the reopening of schools.

When the pandemic hit, The Leo Project also hired local women to make masks for distribution and built hand-washing stations throughout Jua Kali and in surrounding communities.

The organization’s model of community participation to create sustainable change has driven its efforts during the pandemic, as it has worked with local leaders, community members and partner organizations to aid Kenyans through the crisis.

– Olivia du Bois
Photo: Jessica Danforth of The Leo Project

AI Usage in Agriculture
Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to computer systems that can perform tasks that would normally require humans, including visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and language translation. AI development has exploded within the last several years, and industries are beginning to adopt such systems to increase productivity and address challenges to growth.

The agricultural sector is one industry that is benefitting from the implementation of AI technology, and people are discussing and enforcing new applications for this technology every day. Several companies, such as IBM, FAO and Microsoft, are developing forms of AI that promote sustainable ways to achieve food and nutrition security. Currently, there are three main applications of AI usage in agriculture. 

Present Applications of AI in Agriculture

  1. Agricultural Robots – Some are using robots to perform essential and time-consuming agricultural tasks at a faster pace. For example, robots can harvest produce at a faster rate than human laborers with significantly reduced physical toil. One company that creates such robots is Harvest CROO Robotics. The company’s most recent development is a robot that picks and packs strawberries; it can harvest eight acres of berries a day and replace 30 human laborers per machine. By utilizing these robots, companies can improve productivity and increase yield.
  2. Crop and Soil Monitoring – Using image recognition, AI can use cameras to analyze soil quality and identify possible defects and nutrient deficiencies. Tech startup PEAT has made strides in soil monitoring AI in its development of Plantix, a deep-learning application that correlates foliage patterns with soil defects, diseases or plant pests. This application allows farmers to identify issues with soil quality quickly, allowing them to address any issues before the crop experiences damage.
  3. Predictive Analytics – These AI systems analyze data to make predictions about future outcomes. In agriculture, predictive analytics can improve market recommendations, pest modeling and crop yield predictions. This valuable information provides farmers with more certainty in their product outcomes while also cutting back on resources that they lose due to unforeseen circumstances. Precision Farming is one company that uses data from satellites and drones, such as temperature, precipitation and solar radiation, to predict weather conditions and plant nutrition.

Working Towards Sustainable Development

AI use in agriculture is allowing farmers to be more precise in their crop cultivation, producing a higher crop yield and quality. Agricultural robots optimize human activity and improve working conditions for farmers, while crop and soil monitoring and predictive analytics systems allow farmers to use resources more efficiently. This promotes sustainability in agriculture, as more successful produce outcomes cause farmers to waste fewer resources. 

 These AI systems contribute greatly to soil and water conservation. The Agricultural Stress Index System (ASIS), an indicator developed by FAO, is a computer that uses satellite technology to monitor areas that are highly susceptible to drought and water stress. Drought is the most damaging natural disaster to livelihoods, especially in developing countries. Therefore, predicting and addressing conditions of drought before they cause large-scale damage not only conserves water in times of need but protects human livelihoods. The implication of this is that more farmers, especially in developing countries, will have the means to support themselves and their families.

Fighting Food Insecurity

Prior to the spread of COVID-19, 135 million people were battling food insecurity. Now, the pandemic has exacerbated this problem affecting agricultural yields and livelihoods. The pandemic has impacted regions that normally depend on imports to support their populations the most, including Africa and island states.

Therefore, AI usage in agriculture in these regions can make a significant difference for populations that may already be struggling. FAO’s WaPOR portal monitors water usage through remotely sensed derived data over Africa, allowing for water and land productivity assessments. Saving valuable resources makes a crucial difference for countries that must rely more on domestic materials due to the present circumstances.

In addition, the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) is implementing a tracking unit that is collecting data to expand remote food security monitoring to 40 countries. The map quickly identifies food security emergencies and allows for quick response, helping humanitarians make evidence-based decisions on how and where to address food insecurity that could be damaging a population. By decreasing the time it takes for people to address these issues, the WFP is able to amend food insecurity for more regions in a shorter period of time and prevent them from deteriorating into situations of malnourishment. 

With all the strides that have already occurred in AI and its applications, it is easy to forget that the technology is new and has vast untapped potential. As the industry continues to develop, farming will expand as AI usage in agriculture overcomes more issues challenging greater yield, sustainability and food security.

– Natasha Cornelissen
Photo: Flickr

Canada’s Foreign Aid
In 2019, the last year Canada released a complete set on Canada’s foreign aid budget and distribution, its budget increased by 4.9% from the previous year to $4.6 billion. The top five countries that Canada distributed aid to were Ethiopia ($203 million CAD) followed by Bangladesh ($199 million CAD), Afghanistan ($197 million CAD), Syria ($150 million CAD) and Mali ($140 million CAD). Canada has consistently taken part in providing foreign aid during this time period when global health is almost an unavoidable topic and has been one of many countries to step forward to combat the pandemic. Here are five successes of Canada’s foreign aid.

5 Successes of Canada’s Foreign Aid

  1. COVID-19: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has not only helped fight the virus globally by limiting case counts in its own country, but also by providing funding to vital health organizations and countries. For example, the Canadian government has provided $2 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) to assist with vulnerable countries’ preparation plans. Additionally, Canada has further committed $50 million to the WHO, continuing to help with global health efforts surrounding the effects of COVID-19. Canada has also provided China with 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment to help squash the outbreak at the epicenter. Finally, the government is also collaborating with international health regulators like the European Medicines Agency and the United States Food and Drug Administration to find suitable countermeasures to the virus and help vaccine development.
  2. Global Poverty Reduction: Canada’s foreign aid has also gone toward global poverty reduction over the last 30 years. For example, Canada launched the Development Finance Institution as part of Export Development Canada with the aim of increasing private sector investment in developing nations. The government committed $300 million toward this program and the private sector funding will prioritize initiatives in the private sector to back women and youth-led movements. The Canadian government is also trying to create more responsive programs like challenges, micro-funding and other incentive-based funding schemes.
  3. International Disarmament Efforts: Canada also uses its foreign aid in a leadership capacity to guide international disarmament efforts. The country made these strides following the 2001 9/11 attacks that sent shockwaves around the world. For example, Canada was one of the founding members of the G8 Global Partnership Against the spread of weapons and Material of mass Destruction initiative, originally receiving a budget of $20 billion over a 10 year period. Additionally, the former G8 partnership turned G7 led collective has further provided $25 billion in concise and clear programming to aid in disarmament efforts worldwide since the group’s original founding in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Canada has also made a flagship-level contribution with the G7 led Global Partnership program by personally contributing $1.5 billion in projects to aid disarmament methods.
  4. Refugees: Canada is also implementing some of its foreign aid work back home by helping relocate refugees from Iraq and Syria to Canada. In fact, the country welcomed 25,000 refugees by February 2016, along with a further 25,000 refugees by the end of 2016. Canada has also either processed or is still in the midst of processing all the privately sponsored Syrian refugees who applied for amnesty by March 31, 2016.
  5. Sanitation: Canada’s foreign aid has also gone to international clean water measures. Some of Canada’s more notable support projects in developing nations include providing $40 million in funding to the African Water Facility, creating water infrastructure in post-war countries. Canada also gave $17.9 million to Ghana’s Enhanced Wash which allowed communities and schools better water, and the ability to practice better hygiene and further sanitation. Finally, in Peru, Bolivia and Burkina Faso, Canada supplied $17 million to the Food Security Innovation and Mobilization Initiative which allowed communities in these countries to have access to innovative technology. Some of this new technology included water pumps, but altogether the technology aided food security during the dry season.

While Canada has been a major player and helped many nations through foreign aid, Canada is still failing to meet the 0.7% Gross National Income (GNI) target G8 countries committed to by some distance, with only 0.27% GNI committed as of 2019. Canada still has room to improve, not just to alleviate global poverty, but to make good on the promises it made as part of the G8.

Sean Armstrong
Photo: Flickr

Alleviate Poverty in Syria
Syria has been in a state of civil war for nine years, since March 2011. Dire consequences meet civilians from all sides; from danger and violence if they stay and closed borders due to an overflow of refugees if they try to leave. Due to this humanitarian crisis, poverty has affected more than 83% of the population. In this same vein, 8 million Syrian children are in need —both inside and outside the country. As of April 2020, the WFP reported that the cost of a staple basket of food has risen by 111% in comparison to the previous month, due to Syria’s COVID-19 crisis. With these factors at play, initiatives to alleviate poverty in Syria are a welcome respite.

While it may seem that good news is hard to come by, there are a few initiatives in Syria working against the effects of high poverty rates. They tackle these issues from several angles, such as rewriting stereotypes, entrepreneurial education, resource allocation and community development. Here are four initiatives that are working to alleviate poverty in Syria, today.

4 Initiatives to Alleviate Poverty in Syria

  1. MeWe International and the #MeWeSyria Movement: Rewriting Stereotypes – MeWe International Inc. aims to rewrite the narrative about poverty in Syria and Syrian refugees. By using communication skills and narrative interventions as tools, it encourages and promotes healthy psychological skills, leadership efforts and community engagement. The training networks are hosted within Syrian communities and gear toward refugee youth and caregivers, especially within the facets of mental health. Storytelling is a tool MeWe International uses to help people to heal, grow and dream of a better future within communities in poverty in Syria.
  2. The Remmaz and Mujeeb Programs: Entrepreneurial Education – Programs from 2016 and 2017 are continuing to focus on equipping the younger generations in Syria with the knowledge and skills they need to rebuild their country and support their communities. Leen Darwish founded Remmaz, which teaches students how to code. “This programme is providing young people in Syria with critical business, leadership and entrepreneurship skills and directly linking them to opportunities to generate income,” says Bruce Campbell, UNFPA Global Coordinator for the Data for Development Platform. Aghyad Al-Kabbani, Eyad Al-Shami and Zeina Khalili co-founded Mujeeb, an AI program that creates customer support chatbots in Arabic. Al-Shami quoted, “On the human side, it’s hard. It’s not about building the next Google. But I want to exist. I want to do something.” Their hard work has led not only to easier online communication for people in Syria but also to a great success story for other young, Syrian entrepreneurs. This is a great example of how to alleviate poverty in Syria from the inside.
  3. United World Food Program Initiatives: Resource Reallocation – The World Food Program USA (WFP) has brought a few innovative solutions to Syria that have improved quality of life and the procurement of resources. Technology has been a valued instrument through NGOs like WFP. Moreover, the extension of aid is very much necessary to alleviate poverty in Syria. To counter the needs of 11.1 million people, iris scans prevent robbery while truck convoys carry supplies to hard-to-reach communities. Furthermore, both bakeries and greenhouses (under construction) increase the flow and availability of food. The WFP feeds more than 4.5 million people inside Syria and more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees every month. By addressing hunger on this scale, the most essential needs of the poor are met. Further, they can slowly grow and rebuild their homes and businesses.
  4. UNDP Leaving No One Behind Resilience Program: Community Development – The 2018 Resilience Program based in Syria focuses on four large-scale areas to alleviate poverty in Syria. The initiative works to promote self-reliance through socioeconomic recovery, improving the quality of basic services. Also, it aims to reinforce social cohesion in the community and strengthen local partnerships. The interventions were able to reach around 2.8 million people and contributed directly to around 111,000. The area-based approach rated certain geographical areas by need and ensured that the most crucial needs were met first. The communities with the highest beneficiaries include Aleppo, Al-Hakaseh, Rural Damascus and Lattakia. One of the projects included the improvement of basic services to crisis-hit areas, and these services included:
    • Solid waste and debris management;
    • Repair of water, sewage and electricity networks;
    • Rehabilitation of local businesses;
    • Supporting clean and renewable energy sources; and
    • Emergency repair of electricity and infrastructure.

Washing Away the Stain of War

Two million Syrians alone have benefited from the improvement of basic services. The remnants of war and violence are being cleaned up and removed. Moreover, the stones in the debris that were removed from Bab Al-Hadid were collected on-site. Notably, these stones will be reused in future rehabilitation projects in the same area.

After nine years of civil war and the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, the contributions of these organizations provide relief to Syrians.

Savannah Gardner
Photo: Pxfuel

Diabetes and COVID-19
Africa has a total of 1,067,573 confirmed COVID-19 cases spanning across 47 affected countries. The continent has not seen a dramatic spike like the rest of the world, but COVID-19 poses a serious complication for Africa’s other prevailing pandemic — diabetes. An estimated 19.4 million adults across 48 sub-Saharan countries have diabetes. This far exceeds COVID-19 cases and persists as a problem for Africans in general. South Africa’s dual epidemics of diabetes and COVID-19 may prove to be a challenge for the country. However, the situation is not completely bleak. Effective actions are taking place to help those suffering from both illnesses.

Diabetes and COVID-19

Diabetics who are well-managed are at a lower risk of suffering from the disease COVID-19. In contrast, patients who do not manage well are more likely to experience fluctuations in blood glucose readings and an increased risk of complications related to diabetes. For those with co-morbidities, such as heart disease — the chance of becoming seriously ill if they develop COVID-19 is much higher. As with most viral infections, the body has a difficult time staving off infections. These infections can cause internal swelling or inflammation, which can exacerbate further complications.

Type 1 diabetics contracting a viral infection are at a higher risk for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can cause septic shock or sepsis in  COVID-19 patients. Moreover, those with type 2 diabetes share this increased risk of getting severely ill.

Impact on South Africa

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, diabetes ranked among the world’s leading causes of death. In South Africa, the number of diabetics is still unknown, as an “accurate current date on the prevalence of diabetes in South Africa is quite difficult to find as there are no recent robust studies in all provinces in South Africa.”

Since July 16, 2020, approximately 42% of diabetic patients with COVID-19 have died from the virus. While this data does not indicate that diabetes creates a higher risk of contracting the illness, it does demonstrate that a higher risk of becoming severely ill upon infection. In the Western Cape, 52% of COVID-19 deaths were diabetics. Those with inadequate blood glucose control had an increased chance of infection.

One apparent reason that many diabetics in South Africa have succumbed to the virus is due to patients delaying hospital care until becoming seriously ill.

Diabetes Action Plan

The Western Cape has taken significant measures to create more promising outcomes for people living with diabetes. The Department of Health, for instance, has committed to contacting all known diabetics and assisting with COVID-19 symptom monitoring, diabetes management and early admission into hospitals.

This intervention has proven successful. As department spokesman Mark Van der Heever stated, “out of the 63 [patients receiving government intervention], three of the admitted patients have died, 40 of the admitted patients have been discharged and the remaining 20 patients are not in clinical distress.”

Diabetes Focus

Sweet Life, is an NGO at the forefront of the diabetes epidemic in South Africa. Notably, it has amassed a following of 22,000 members in its Facebook Community. The organization aims to deliver information and guidance to those living with diabetes in South Africa. Also, it has created a partnership with the National Department of Health (NDoH) to achieve this goal.

Sweet Life works with the Diabetes Alliance to deliver training and education to those in need. The Diabetes Alliance was formed in September 2019. It has been instrumental in unifying companies, organizations and associations in the fight for effective diabetes management. The Alliance has partnered with the NDoH to create an education project to help healthcare providers and patients learn more about diabetes. Moreover, these initiatives have compiled helpful tips and information for those impacted by diabetes and COVID-19.

Prevention is Key

Diabetics living in South Africa can remain healthy during the pandemic by ensuring their conditions are properly managed and monitored. Maintaining notes of blood glucose readings, regular exercise and healthy diets should be sufficient to stave off serious complications.

South Africa’s dual epidemics of diabetes and COVID-19 have undoubtedly taken a toll on the nation. However, with effective intervention programs from organizations like the Department of Health, there is hope that the country will continue to see improvement among diabetic patients.

Michael Santiago
Photo: Flikr

Action in Lebanon
When people think of poverty in the Middle East, they may not always picture Lebanon. The country Lebanon is a small yet very ethnically diverse nation in the Middle East. Sunni and Shia Muslims, Maronite Christians and other groups populate it. Ethnic divisions and sectarian power struggles led to a civil war that lasted 15 years. While the war was ultimately ended and a new republic formed, divisions remain. Now, positive action in Lebanon is essential for the nation, region and the global community’s well-being.

Lebanon in the 21st Century

Political divisions deepened when on Feb. 14, 2005, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri, died in a car bombing assassination. Two movements formed in the wake of this tragedy. One was the March 8th Alliance, led by current President Michel Aoun and supported by Hezbollah. The other was the March 14th Alliance led by Rafic’s son Saad Hariri. Each side receives backing from different, foreign nations. Moreover, the current political struggle reflects a greater proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

A new government formed in 2016 and power has since been shared between the factions of Hariri and Aoun. While this has led to a more peaceful nation, it has also caused political paralysis — choking the economy. The government has also been plagued with corruption. In this same vein, protests in 2019 led to the resignation of Saad Hariri as prime minister and the formation of an anti-corruption panel.

Despite this, the country continues to suffer from a government stagnated by political divisions and corruption. Despite Lebanon’s status as one of the Middle East’s wealthier countries, its people do not benefit from that wealth. Almost 50% of the country’s population now lives below the poverty line. Furthermore, with the spread of COVID-19, the country’s economic crisis will only worsen.

Why People Should Act

A recent explosion in Beirut (Lebanon’s capital) is just the latest crisis in a country beset with political and economic strife. Many countries in Europe have already pledged aid to the people of Lebanon. It is imperative that the U.S. also take action in Lebanon. Not only does the U.S. have an obligation to help people in need, but also keeping Lebanon from further destabilizing will be essential in ensuring a more peaceful Middle East. If Lebanon’s government collapses, then the country could have a repeat of the civil war with different militant groups emerging and vying for control. Poverty would increase, many Syrian and Palestinian refugees in the country would become displaced. Tragically, more deaths would result from sectarian violence.

However, if the U.S. takes action in Lebanon, the U.S. itself benefits as well. By helping Syrian refugees in the country, Americans would be able to prevent the influx of refugees in the U.S. Lebanon is also a strong importer of U.S. goods. Rescuing its economy from collapse would advance U.S. trade policy and generate more prosperity for both nations.

Who is Helping?

There are currently many groups helping by taking action in Lebanon, right now. One such group is the nongovernmental organization, Humanity and Inclusion. It has been working to better the lives of people all over the world with disabilities as well as economic vulnerabilities. When it began in 1982, its goal was victim assistance, but it has also become responsible for preventing injuries through weapon and landmine clearance, risk education activities and much more. Since 1992, it has been working in Lebanon, engaging in helpful practices such as post-surgical physical therapy and psychological first aid. Its work is very impactful, lasting throughout the decades. In 1997, it received the Nobel Peace Prize for its work to ban landmines. In 2019, it reached more than 2 million people in 63 different countries.

Other great ways to get involved include staying informed and educating others about Lebanon. It is never too late to make a difference.

Isaac Boorstin
Photo: USAID