Hungary’s Improving EconomyThe Central European country of Hungary is a fairly small nation that has had high rates of poverty in the past. In 2007, 29.4% of Hungarians were at risk of poverty and that number rose to 34.8% in 2013. Despite these high poverty risk rates, the country has had success in reduction. The poverty risk rate reduced down to 18.9% in 2019. Hungary’s improving economy is fueled by new policies and support from other nations.

Increasing Consumer Spending

Part of the reason Hungary has struggled to develop a productive economy dates back to the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. Hungary implemented many reforms such as the privatization of businesses that were once state-owned. Hungary began to cut funding to social programs as well. Despite living conditions deteriorating, Hungary was able to improve these conditions with its policy implementations and growing exports. Since then, Hungary has adopted a multitude of policies to help improve its economy.

Before the 2018 election, the country tried to increase its amount of consumer spending by implementing an increase in the minimum wage. Hungary’s government also reduced income tax by 1%. The Hungarian government implemented these strategies to encourage Hungarian citizens to put money back into the economy and keep Hungarian businesses operating.

European Commission Support

When COVID-19 swept the globe, many nations had to implement lockdown measures to protect their citizens and stop the spread of the virus. Because of Hungary’s struggling economy, the nation required financial assistance from the European Commission. In 2020, support came in the form of €1 billion. The monetary assistance aimed to provide Hungarian companies the help they needed to survive during COVID-19.  The assistance applied to all companies —  micro, small, medium and large. Certain businesses have a cap on how much of this aid they can access. Monetary support of up to €100,000 is available to businesses working in the agricultural production sector whereas up to €120,000 is available to businesses working in the fishery and aquaculture sector. The assistance excludes companies that were already in economic hardship on December 31, 2019. The monetary assistance ensures that Hungary’s improving economy does not lose progress due to COVID-19.

The Future

Due to policies that were implemented by Hungary’s government and support from the European Commission, Hungary’s improving economy has not been as harshly damaged. However, despite this assistance, the GDP of Hungary has still suffered just as other global GDPs have suffered. But, the future of Hungary’s economy is not as bleak as it may seem. It is expected that the GDP of the nation will grow by 3.5% in 2021, and by 2022, the economy is expected to return to the level it was at prior to COVID-19. While Hungary’s economy is far from perfect, it has no doubt made substantial improvements in recent years.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Kwanisa FoundationWhile COVID-19 casts a new set of challenges for poverty in South Africa, two extraordinary women are showing the power that a grassroots foundation has in the fight against poverty. COVID-19 has had disastrous effects on poverty in South Africa, leaving many South Africans unemployed and unable to secure basic needs such as food and clean water. The Kwanisa Foundation aims to assist South Africans in need.

COVID-19 in South Africa

Surprisingly, in an analysis done by Global Food Security, food security issues caused by COVID-19 in South Africa are not related to supply, logistics or distribution. Food insecurity is due to a collapse in earnings.

A recent study conducted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), concluded that 34% of households are expected to fall out of middle-class status and into the vulnerability of poverty. The same study predicts that the South African economy will contract anywhere from 5-8% in 2020. Furthermore, the economy will likely recovery slowly through 2024.

The adverse health effects of COVID-19 and economic disruptions put South Africa’s food security in jeopardy. Shocks in the system due to COVID-19 have resulted in a complete stop of household income for many families, income that is vital for purchasing food.

Although the South African government has provided relief funds, it has not been enough to curb the effects of the pandemic. With the loss of income resulting in food insecurity, social protections and grassroots efforts are vital to providing short-term relief.

The Kwanisa Foundation

Providing much-needed short-term relief is exactly what Kopano Tsengiwe and Nwabisa Mpotulo, both from Johannesburg, set out to do by founding the Kwanisa Foundation. Starting in March 2020 when the nation went into lockdown, the Kwanisa Foundation has been providing food to families in need.

Delivering food packages around their community, consisting of dry and canned goods and even hygiene products such as toothpaste, the Kwanisa foundation has empowered those in the community to help in any way they can.

By developing these grassroots programs that draw in help from those who can give it, the Kwanisa Foundation has put an increased emphasis on outreach directed toward the youth of South Africa.

The goal is to build a network of individuals who can pool together resources and skills in order to develop and improve local communities.

The co-founders first met at the University of Pretoria and both worked at the nonprofit called Blue Palm. In an attempt to continue their philanthropic efforts, the two co-founded the Kwanisa Foundation whose mission is to empower disadvantaged youth to become advocates for change within and outside of their communities.

Other Initiatives

The Kwanisa Foundation’s efforts do not stop at food drives. Looking to empower the youth of South Africa and address unemployment, skills development workshops target students in underprivileged schools. These workshops include university readiness training and career counseling to help prepare the youth for their futures ahead.

Another youth-driven project is the Light in a Home Mission. This project looks to improve the living conditions and access to resources for the 2.3 million orphaned children currently living in South Africa. Orphans receive basic necessities and administrative help such as applications for grants and tertiary institutions.

Other community-driven projects championed by the Kwanisa Foundation include sanitary pads and toiletry drives, school shoes and stationary drives as well as blanket drives.

Instead of just hoping for change, Tsengiwe and Mpotulo are stepping up and creating change with a grassroots effort to help end poverty in South Africa.

Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

USAID Programs in Ukraine
Seven years after the onset of the conflict in Crimea, President Joe Biden reaffirmed the United States’ support of Ukraine in the country’s ongoing struggle with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula. President Biden’s statement in support of those in the country working, “towards a peaceful, democratic and prosperous future,” comes as USAID programs in Ukraine continue to help deal with the aftermath of the conflict while also assisting with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and other healthcare issues.

USAID Relief During the Crimean Conflict

The Russian occupation of Crimea and the ensuing discord in the region have resulted in over 3,000 civilian deaths and led to 1.5 million people becoming internationally displaced persons. As a result of the continuing effects of the hostilities in Eastern Ukraine, USAID has partnered with the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union to assist in helping victims of the conflict with legal matters.

In January 2021 alone, the partnership addressed 393 appeals for legal assistance. This followed a year in which the partnership addressed over 300 appeals for legal assistance each month on subjects ranging from illegal detentions and torture, reimbursement of damages and legislation related to social protection.

Similarly, USAID has also continued to support the U.N.’s efforts to help the populace in Eastern Ukraine. Since 2014, USAID programs in Ukraine have provided more than $88 million in aid towards providing food, shelter, protection and other forms of relief to affected people in the region.

USAID Healthcare Support in Ukraine

In 2021, USAID began participating in the U.N.’s 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine by supporting eight non-governmental organizations in their efforts to protect vulnerable populations in the area including the elderly, children and people in remote communities. The U.N. plan aims to provide aid to 1.9 million of the most vulnerable people in Eastern Ukraine in order to help improve their living conditions and assist in key areas like healthcare and sanitation during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. USAID supports multiple areas of the plan including cash assistance and pandemic response programs.

One such program that has received support is WASH, an initiative to provide sanitation awareness, education and access to vulnerable communities including children and families. The U.S. government gave $6.9 million to WASH in 2020 to help the program achieve those goals through tactics like the distribution of hygiene commodities and the installation of public handwashing stations.

Pandemic Relief

USAID’s pandemic relief extends beyond U.N.-related initiatives as well. Thus far, the United States has given $29 million worth of aid to Ukraine to help combat the spread of COVID-19. That aid has helped provide key medical equipment and supplies to the country. For example, the U.S. embassy in Ukraine announced in February 2021 that USAID provided $1 million worth of oxygen stations to 15 different Ukrainian hospitals in order to treat severe COVID-19 cases.

Additionally, USAID programs in Ukraine have targeted healthcare issues in the country beyond the pandemic. This includes initiatives such as USAID’s new partnership with Ronald McDonald House Charities to support family healthcare in the country through efforts like a national education program to improve Ukraine’s medical systems. This joint effort marked the first partnership between USAID and Ronald McDonald House Charities, a nonprofit that currently operates in five public hospitals in Ukraine.

Through programs and initiatives like these, USAID continues to work towards its goal of helping facilitate a secure, healthy and self-reliant country for the Ukrainian people in the midst of the ongoing Crimean conflict.

– Brett Grega
Photo: Flickr

Colombia’s indigenous people An effort to bring virtual education resources to Colombia’s indigenous people helps students learn in their native language and creates opportunities for them to break the cycle of poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has created food insecurity and economic challenges for many indigenous communities in Colombia and Latin America. Education has also undergone disruption as 137 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean are staying home from school. Fundación El Origen is addressing this lack of education during COVID-19 by bringing virtual learning to indigenous children in Colombia.

COVID-19’s Impact on Colombia’s Indigenous People

In Colombia, the economic toll of the pandemic has hit the indigenous people of Colombia especially hard. Across Colombia, an estimated 1.5 million indigenous people account for 3.4% of the total population, according to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).

The largest indigenous group in Colombia, the Wayuu people, live predominantly in the region of La Guajira in northern Colombia along the border of Venezuela.

The pandemic has been so detrimental to the indigenous people of Colombia because it has shut down the tourism sector and 90% of people in La Guajira work in informal sectors like tourism. At the same time, remote work or school is nearly impossible as only 10% of people have access to the internet.

Fundación El Origen: Virtual Learning

Fundación El Origen is trying to break the cycle of poverty by making virtual learning an option for all students and by focusing on other educational challenges faced by indigenous and rural youth living in La Guajira. Spanish is the official language in Colombia, however, estimates have determined that people speak 70 different indigenous languages in the country. This presents a challenge to indigenous students who may have grown up speaking a native language and then have to attend classes that teachers teach in Spanish.

To even the playing field for indigenous students, especially during the pandemic, Fundación El Origen has supplied students with tablets that offer instruction in their indigenous wayuunaiki languages. Roughly 260 children from the Wayuu tribe of La Guajira received tablets.

The tablets use a virtual learning program called O-Lab. This program teaches students in Spanish and in their native language. Moreover, it works without an internet connection.

“They have to adapt to an education system that was not made for them,” said Tania Rosas, executive director of Fundación El Origen, in an interview with The Borgen Project.

In Colombia, more than 100,000 kids dropped out of school during 2020, largely because of the financial hardships of the pandemic, Rosas said. The problem is daunting and organizations like Fundación el Origen can only help a small portion of students in need. So far, Fundación el Origen has brought online learning to 2,000 children and hopes to reach even more children in 2021.

Access to virtual learning is the latest education barrier but education is not a new fight for the indigenous people of Colombia or Fundación el Origen.

The Importance of Education for the Indigenous

“We have been fighting for many years to have the rights to our lands and have the right to access quality education for our communities,” Rosas said. Rosas sees education as the best way for Colombia’s indigenous people to have a voice in government and for an entire community to leave poverty.

“If we give them access to education programs to help them understand those problems and create solutions, we are eventually ensuring access to sustainable development in their communities,” she said. “We think that education is the best way to empower them and give them the tools to ensure sustainable development.”

Laney Pope
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in The Dominican Republic
HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic is on the agenda of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and HIV/AIDS has been the focus of the Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections 2016-2021. The goal of the plan is to end HIV/AIDS in many regions of the Americas, including the Dominican Republic, by 2030.

From 2010 to 2019, HIV cases have reduced to 13 a year and the number of deaths has gone down by 4,000 over the years. Female sex workers are a portion of the population the epidemic affects; they accounted for 37% of new infections in 2019. Less than 30% of individuals do not know they have an infection and about one-third receive a late diagnosis. Over 200,000 were getting antiretroviral treatment in 2019.

HIV Diagnosis Decline

HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic has seen an advancement in health through more testing and the option of antiretroviral treatments. The options of PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and PEP, post-exposure prophylaxis, have contributed to the decline of infections. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a dent in the success of the decline of HIV/AIDS.

The pandemic is changing the social landscape and interaction of people through social distancing measures. Access to medical personnel has also experienced strain because of rising and new COVID-19 infections. When comparing 2019 to the current pandemic, the diagnosis of HIV has reduced by the thousands in the Dominican Republic. According to PAHO, “Self-testing is a key strategy for reaching the U.N. goal of having 90% of people with HIV know their status.”

PrEP and PEP

PrEP and PEP are two types of antiretroviral treatments that people can use to prevent HIV transmission. Individuals can take the antiretroviral treatment PrEP before HIV infection and it is available through two brands. Meanwhile, one can take PEP after an HIV infection and must take more than one medication. The CDC suggests that individuals consult with a doctor for more information. While both treatments are important, PEP offers more because sexual assault victims can use PEP or those who had a workplace accident. Advisories state that one should take PEP within three days of a dire situation and complete treatment within a month. Both treatments are highly effective with PrEP reducing HIV transmission from sex by 90% and PEP reducing risk by 80%.

HIV Self-Testing Market

The HIV self-testing market looks promising on a global scale especially with  HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic. Globally, there is a necessity and high demand for rapid diagnosis of HIV in many regions including Latin America. Self-testing is a better alternative because one can do it privately and it is less risky because it will prevent exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic. The self-testing market will grow more between 2020 and 2025. Self-testing will experience a great impact through government investments in healthcare worldwide. The HIV self-testing kit collects samples through blood, saliva and urine. In HIV testing, blood samples provide the most accurate read. According to MarketWatch, “The self-testing market in Latin America is anticipated to reach a value of 51.24 million USD in the year 2025.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic. However, despite HIV/AIDS’ prevalence, antiretroviral treatments and opportunities to self-test should result in improvements.

– Amanda Ortiz
Photo: Flickr

Eliminating Childhood Poverty
Compassion International is a child-advocacy ministry that pairs people with children living in areas of extreme poverty in order to release those children from all of poverty’s aspects. What makes the organization so unique is its strict focus on children, with the hopes of eliminating poverty in their lives by the time they reach adulthood. Its impact has been massive with a high success rate: children in its programs are 75% more likely to become leaders in their communities and 40% more likely to finish secondary education. Moreover, they are more likely to spend thousands of hours in safe programs. The organization that is garnering recent attention from professional athletes has been working toward eliminating childhood poverty for years.

How Compassion International Began

Rev. Everett Swanson founded Compassion International. He was troubled by the masses of war orphans he saw living on the streets in South Korea. Another morning, Rev. Swanson saw city workers throwing rags into the backs of trucks, which turned out to be the frozen bodies of the orphans on the street. When Rev. Swanson returned to the United States, he told people of what he saw and encouraged them to donate so they could sponsor the orphans and work toward eliminating childhood poverty. Within 10 years, Compassion International helped 108 orphanages and homes in South Korea by donating funds to purchase rice and fuel.

Compassion International’s Mission

The nonprofit uses a ministry-based program in order to release children from poverty. This includes helping with child development, which the organization believes will provide the children with the skills to succeed. Compassion International’s programs begin as early as when the child is in the womb, aiming to eradicate poverty from their lives by young adulthood. Primarily, the work it does is through child sponsorship, but it has implemented initiatives that help babies and mothers in order to develop future leaders and meet critical needs as well.

The Fill the Stadium Initiative

Compassion International works with thousands of churches in 25 countries across the globe. One initiative it is running in the United States currently is the Fill the Stadium initiative. Due to COVID-19, 70,000 children and their families who are in Compassion Programs are in extreme poverty. Athletes such as Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum and Jaccob Slavin have donated and joined the leadership team, encouraging fans to donate if able. The recommended donation amount is $500, around the same price as a game-day experience for a group of four. About $500 provides a year’s worth of essential food, nutritional supplements, hygiene essentials and medical screenings for COVID-19 for a family and their children. So far, the Fill the Stadium Initiative has “filled” 47,587 seats to provide essential care and support for these families in crisis, raising $23 million from athletes and national leaders. Due to COVID-19, a halt to in-person sporting events has occurred. The hope is that the money a family would spend on a game would go toward those in need instead.

Former Quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals and team member for the initiative, Carson Palmer pledged to donate $300,000 and challenged others to match his donation. “This is an incredible opportunity for American families to help children who are in dire straits and truly fighting for their lives,” said Palmer in an interview with Fill the Stadium.

A Look into Compassion International’s Impact

In 2020, Compassion International surpassed $1 billion for the first time in the history of the ministry. That year alone, Compassion International served 2.2 million children across 8,000 frontline partners. Since 1952, the sponsorship programs have impacted the lives of over 4.2 million children.

Because of the work of Compassion International, partners across the world have obtained access to hygiene kits, lifesaving surgeries, academic scholarships, classes, bathrooms, emergency food and water, electricity and countless other life-saving services. The organization will continue to strive toward eliminating childhood poverty, and especially aiding children the pandemic has hit hard.

– Jai Phillips
Photo: Flickr

Food Waste During Pandemic
The Philippines’ state of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on farmers. While the new coronavirus guidelines halted city life, they were particularly damaging for individuals living in the lower-income rural parts of the island nation. Farmers primarily inhabited these regions of the Philippines and the new guidelines resulted in their isolation along with their farming businesses’ isolation from the major cities they feed. Luckily, a farmer rose to the challenge to tackle food waste during the pandemic.

COVID-19 Measures

When the first case of COVID-19 broke out in the Philippines in December 2019, the Filipino government had a severely delayed response over the course of four months which led to high and widespread transmission rates throughout major cities such as Quezon City and Manila. The spread quickly reached rural areas and had infiltrated much of the country before the Filipino government took action. Because the response was so late, it had to be immense. In turn, the Philippines declared a state of emergency and granted Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers by mid-March; Duterte treated the pandemic as war and took warlike measures to fight the virus by using ex-military leaders to spearhead the pandemic efforts. Under this new state, Filipinos had to enter strict curfew and lockdown, and the country mandated the use of masks and shut down commercial roads, transportation and businesses.

Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Farmers

Just as the Philippines entered a state of emergency and lockdown took place, many of the Filipino farmers were harvesting the products of the dry season. Without the pandemic, these farmers would typically gather their crops and utilize commercial routes to bring them into the bigger cities. In these urban areas, the farmers would be able to sell their products to larger markets where the farmers could make a larger profit while simultaneously feeding the cities. However, the coronavirus lockdown in the Philippines shut down the major commercial traveling routes, effectively cutting farmers off from their major source of income. Moreover, lockdown prevented farmers from selling off their crops which resulted in a major food waste during the pandemic.

From March 2020 to May 2020, farmers amassed their Spring crops and eventually had to dispose of them due to a lack of consumers. Consequently, massive amounts of edible food underwent destruction while people in the urban areas did not have access to fresh produce. Moreover, Filipino farmers lost tremendous amounts of money by not being able to sell their fruits and vegetables.

Unfortunately, the government leaders did little to assist the movement of produce from rural areas to big cities and largely left Filipino farmers at a loss of money for months. This was particularly detrimental for the farmers because they were losing income while already living in a low-income area; in turn, the farmers’ access to additional job and income opportunities did not exist and made the farmers more vulnerable to falling into deep poverty. Moreover, these farmers became extremely susceptible to the coronavirus as they did not have access to medical resources or personal protective equipment or the money to obtain any medical resources. The pandemic created an extremely unique predicament for the farmers as they were left to fend for themselves against income loss and the spread of the virus.

However, a youth-led initiative fought food waste during the pandemic by providing an avenue of opportunity for these farmers to produce, harvest and sell their products in a manner where they would not experience exposure to the coronavirus while simultaneously maintaining their main source of income.

AGREA: The Road Ahead

Filipino farming organization AGREA saw the struggle that Filipino farmers were facing at the hands of the pandemic and decided to take action. Spearheaded by AGREA CEO Cherrie D. Atilano, AGREA sought to minimize food waste during the pandemic by creating alternative methods for farmers to transport and sell their produce.

Atilano and AGREA organized the #MoveFoodInitiative for many rural villages which sought to engage local communities in the efforts to fight food waste during the pandemic. The initiative mobilized youth food producer groups and local trucker groups which helped ship food from the local farmers to markets in the larger cities. Consumers of these products can easily access a list of fruits and vegetables with their respective prices on an order form, a method of contactless shopping that protects both the producers and the consumers.

AGREA’s #MoveFoodInitiative has become wildly successful as it has helped over 7,000 Filipino farmers reach and sell over 160,000 kilograms of fruit and vegetables to over 50,000 families across the Philippines. Additionally, AGREA has been able to utilize the surplus produce by donating the food to local kitchens that feed frontline medical workers who are fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

While the pandemic temporarily brought a stop to the businesses and livelihoods of many lower-income farmers and created massive food waste, AGREA’s quick work provided relief for farmers, food for consumers, and initiatives for youth groups to strengthen Filipino communities during these trying times. Due to her immense and important work in decreasing food waste during the pandemic, Cherrie d. Atilano has received the title of the Filipina U.N. Summit Food Systems Champion.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Yemen
Mental health in Yemen requires attention due to the country’s ongoing troubles. For six years now, Yemen has been facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world—more than 80% of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children who have no hand in the fight for power and status. To make the matter worse, the outburst of COVID-19 drove the country into “an emergency within an emergency.”

Only half of Yemen’s health facilities are capable of functioning in the worst of circumstances, and amidst the shortage of masks, gloves, clean water and sanitation, the number of cases rose up to 2,221 as of February 25, 2021, with 624 losing their lives due to the lack of supplies to treat the virus. The country is facing a huge crisis, and the crisis is affecting the mental health of its citizens as much as their physical bodies. Amidst the lack of functioning facilities and death surrounding them from every direction, the increased pressure on the Yemenis worsened their mental health further. Here is some information about mental health in Yemen.

Mental Health in Yemen

Due to the crippling stress on the backs of the Yemeni people, an estimate of one in five people in Yemen suffer from a mental health disorder, according to a study that the Family Counselling and Development Foundation conducted in 2017; this includes depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Moreover, due to the lack of education and facilities, the number of psychiatrists is small with almost 0.2 psychiatrists per 100,000 people as of 2016. This amounts to 40 psychiatrists for the entire population. Additionally, to add to the misery and the deteriorating mental health in Yemen, some of the few existing mental health services closed due to the pandemic.

UNFPA and Psychological Support Centers

However, amidst all the odds, and all the difficulties that Yemen is facing in trying to stay afloat, UNFPA has not ceased to offer its mental health services to the survivors of gender-based violence and improve the mental health in Yemen. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the United Nations sector that works
to protect youth’s potential and ensures that every childbirth is safe.

In the beginning, social workers carried out the work, however, in 2018, the UNFPA offered its help and assistance through psychological support centers as well. These centers were capable of providing “specialized and clinical mental health care, including through telephone assistance.” Currently, even during the coronavirus outbreak, six UNFPA- supported psychological centers are operating and helping those in need—the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid provides support to two of these centers that provide crucial assistance to the Yemenis when they need it most.

Due to the increased demands for mental support, UNFPA increased the number of counselors available for people’s convenience. The counselors became available to deliver telecounseling services via 18 toll-free telecounseling hotlines in order to assist survivors of gender-based violence and educate the population on COVID-19 prevention. The results were so impressive: nearly 18,000 people received specialized psychological support through the toll-free hotline from 2018. Moreover, more than 25,000 survivors of violence received psychological support in the form of in-person counseling. UNFPA aims to help assist 5.5 million people via essential and life-saving services by 2019.

The Internationational Organization of Migration (IOM)

Moreover, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) provides a safe place for children to escape from the blood and hunger in the country they must reside in—a place to feel a sense of normalcy and to live in the beauty of their childhood, even for a few hours. The children participate in a variety of activities to help them learn and play, such as storytelling, artwork and more.

Beginning in March 2016, IOM offered community-based psychosocial support to nearly 400,000 children. More than half of these children watched their homes getting destroyed and had to live in informal sites.

Yemen has been facing a depilating economic and social crisis until now, and this has been affecting mental health in Yemen every day. However, with the help of various organizations, the citizens of Yemen will receive sufficient treatment and care to help rebuild their country gradually.

– Reem Agha
Photo: Flickr

Access to Water and Sanitation
The U.S. investments that have been working toward improving access to water and sanitation have been particularly focussed on building a more water-secure world during the coronavirus pandemic. So far, the pandemic has affected the lives of billions all over the world and the most vulnerable in particular, already struggling with health and sanitation challenges. According to the OECD, before COVID-19, the African continent had already faced a slowdown in growth and poverty reduction. The organization added that “the current crisis could erase years of development gains.”

The pandemic could impact people already struggling with hunger and poverty. Several international organizations estimated that the number of starving people could have increased to 132 billion by the end of 2020.

To support countries struggling with water and sanitation access during the global pandemic, USAID re-configurated the priorities the Water for World Act of 2014 listed.

How does the global pandemic challenge water security and, in turn, how does USAID respond to these challenges? Before tackling these two questions, this article will give a brief background on the Water for World Act of 2014 and discuss its reconfiguration in light of the recent events regarding sanitation.

The 2014 Water for World Act and WASH Programs

The Water for World Act of 2014 is a reform bill that emerged from the 2005 Water for the Poor Act which made water, sanitation and hygiene – conveniently called WASH – top priorities in the federal foreign aid plan. In an attempt to make data more transparent, optimize aid strategies and improve water support, Congress voted for the Water for World Act in 2014. However, in 2020, the pandemic accelerated the need for global access to water and sanitation.

To address this concern, USAID re-designated 18 high-priority countries according to criteria such as lack of access to water, inadequate sanitation conditions and opportunities to make progress in these areas. Some of the high-priority countries are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, India, Kenya and South Sudan. In doing so, USAID intended to leverage WASH programs and enable vulnerable populations to have continual access to clean water during this critical period.

Current Challenges to Water Security

Access to water and sanitation is a basic human right and the current pandemic underscored the emergency to settle this right in the most vulnerable countries. Populations receive daily reminders to wash their hands and keep a healthy diet to prevent the propagation of the virus and save lives. However, the lack of clean, drinkable water is not only amplifying the already precarious living conditions of vulnerable populations, but it is also making it harder for these countries to stop virus transmission.

COVID-19 tends to affect vulnerable populations the most: poor communities, minorities and people living in crowded areas. According to UN-Habitat, it is clear that the pandemic affects the world’s most vulnerable populations the hardest because they lack sustainable access to water and sanitation.

For instance, India is the second-leading country in the world for most cases of COVID-19. It had almost 11 million cases on February 21, 2021. This number directly links to the country’s crowded rural areas and the lack of access to running water. At the end of 2020, more than 21% of the Indian population showed evidence of exposure to the virus. Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees living in a refugee camp are crowded with a population density four to seven times more than New York City, putting them in high-risk situations.

How WASH Programs Help

WASH programs helped high-priority countries respond to the pandemic in 2020. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, USAID and the World Bank financed WASH campaigns to improve the population’s handwashing behaviors.

Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, they collaborated with the local authorities to improve access to water and sanitation in health care facilities. In Haiti, WASH services included purchasing chlorine to clean water and installing water supply in markets, health centers, orphanages and prisons. According to the World Bank report, ensuring that these countries have safe access to water and sanitation is a necessary medium-term response to the pandemic.

US Investments and Improving Access to Water and Sanitation

U.S. investments aim to provide financial support for water service providers. For instance, in June 2020, USAID partnered with UNICEF in Mozambique to provide subsidies covering the cost of private water providers.

USAID also financed programs that relay information about handwashing. In April 2020, U.S. investments financed radio campaigns in Burkina Faso promoting a new handwashing system expanding access to hygiene in more areas. Data has shown that these programs made a difference in terms of transmission. In fact, transmission levels went down in both Mozambique and Burkina Faso from June to December 2020.

USAID also focused on health care facilities and on supporting health care workers in priority countries by training and protecting them. WASH programs trained more than 16,000 workers in diverse locations such as Senegal, India, Bangladesh, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. USAID support in Senegal was one of many successes: 447 officers and 549 health workers received training while the programs also resulted in the installation of 497 public handwashing stands in health facilities and high-risk places. They also distributed 2,423 handwashing kits to families with COVID-19.

Looking Ahead

Despite the crises of the past year, one can spot at least one positive outcome: global leaders have had to rethink access to water and sanitation. The pandemic increased global awareness about the importance of water and sanitation security, all over the world. U.S. investments to improve water and sanitation accessibility under the Water for World Act provide help during sanitary and water emergencies, even during these challenging times. The recent update about the high-priority status for designated countries is not the only positive news on the horizon. USAID administrator John Barsa has also signed the Sanitation and Water for all World Leaders call to action. His signature confirms what many have come to realize over the past year; international collaboration is key to fight the pandemic and secure better living conditions for all.

– Soizic Lecocq
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Herders and Poverty
Mongolia is situated in Central Asia and is landlocked by Russia to the north and China to the south. The country has a rich history that remains shrouded in mystery for many people. Its vast landscape consists of mountains, pastures and deserts. As a result, the geography creates suitable conditions for migrant herders to carry out their traditions. Sheep, camels, cattle, yak, goats and horses have provided for nomads for thousands of years.

History of Mongolia

Outer Mongolia used to be a part of the Mongolian Empire while Inner Mongolia was a province of China. The split of Mongolia developed first from internal strife within the Empire.  Genghis Khan ruled in the eastern territory for 34 years. The Manchus people ruled during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Through alliances with Chinese administrators, the Ming dynasty was able to start expanding its power. By 1700, the Qing dynasty gained full control of Mongolia. To alleviate tensions, the Manchus used strategies to pacify the Mongol Khans. The two groups proposed intermarriage between the two groups in order to stabilize the country. In 1945, Western powers recognized the sovereignty of Mongolia, while Inner Mongolia remained a province of China.

Poverty in Mongolia

There are two main factors that explain the decline of the herding economy: The end and privatization of livestock cooperatives and state farms and climate change. As a result, the socio-economic repercussions rapidly created a new underclass of extremely impoverished families. These families are predominantly unemployed migrant herders with few livestock to support them. In 2017, environmental challenges dealt a fatal blow to the last surviving migrant herders. Thus, around 600,000 migrant herders seeking employment flocked to Ulaanbaatar with their families. Due to their lack of income, many families had to live in yurts around the urban centers.

In an interview, Altansukh Purev told the Guardian, “We lost all our animals […] 39 out of 40 cows, almost 300 sheep. The cows wandered far away in the snow and never came back. And when we got up one morning, all the sheep had frozen to death. We had lost everything so we decided to leave immediately for Ulaanbaatar.” Migrant herders are particularly vulnerable to the “dudz,” an unusual weather pattern marked by dry summers and extremely frigid winters.

Aid for Mongolia

Mongolia experienced a period of recovery when mining sectors, tourism and trade partners brought substantial revenue.

More recently, USAID has reached out to Mongolia during the COVID-19 pandemic to implement strategies for sustainable growth. According to USAID, the Mongolian economy needs to move away from heavily relying on extractive industries and begin expanding its smaller business sectors. To date, USAID has provided more than 500 groups and cooperatives with technical assistance.

Additionally, Australia has awarded scholarships to 62 Mongolian students to receive higher education in Australia. A technical school in the south Gobi serves as a model for Technical and Vocational Education through competency-based training curricula. Australia also extends its assistance to target sustainable growth, safety regulations in the mining sectors and geoscience.

Migrant herders are finding more opportunities to improve their income, education and health through aid Mongolia has received. Although many migrants cannot go back to herding, training and education allow them to provide for their families.

Elhadjoumar Tall
Photo: Flickr