The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to nations all over the world, but especially in the global south. India, for example, has an enormous population of 1.3 billion people, with labor forces large enough to create the world’s fifth largest economy. However, as of September 3rd, total confirmed cases across the country had reached 3.85 million, with 67,376 total deaths. As COVID-19 spreads throughout India, it leaves behind long-term effects on issues from medical resources to economic scarcity. 

Income and Unemployment

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic in India, economic disparity existed in many forms. In 2019, the average per capita monthly income was approximately 10,534 Indian Rupees. To put this in perspective, 10,534 Indian Rupees equals $143.42 USD, meaning the annual income of the average Indian citizen was just $1,721.04. Over the past 5 years, India’s unemployment rate has been increasing steadily, but in April 2020, skyrocketed to 23.5%. Factories and construction sites, known for housing and feeding temporary employees, threw their workers onto the streets. 95% percent of employed women worked in informal positions, many let go as households and businesses determined outside workers were too dangerous. As restrictions are slowly lifting across the country, frightened people return to work, since the fear of starvation holds more weight than fear of infection. 

Lack of Medical Resources

For those in need of COVID-19 medical care, options for help are slim. According to reports from the New York Times, public hospitals are so immensely overwhelmed that doctors have to treat patients in the hallways. For those with non-COVID related medical needs, options are almost nonexistent. On March 24th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that to “save India”, a nationwide lockdown on all nonessential surgeries was necessary. For Ravindra Nath Singh, a 76-year-old man with Parkinson’s, this meant being discharged from the ICU in a hospital in Lucknow, just minutes after becoming stable on a catheter and feeding tube. For a young woman in New Delhi, this meant eight hospitals turning her away while in labor for 15 hours, only to die in the back of an ambulance.

Child Labor and Education

The spread of COVID-19 in India forced schools to shut down, proving unhelpful to their already existing struggle for attendance. According to a study in 2018 by DHL International GmBH, India hosts the highest population of uneducated children with an intimidating 56 million children not in school. As restrictions across the country lift, one of the biggest hurdles will be encouraging enrollment, especially with uncertain learning conditions. Enrollment hesitation enables another widespread issue in India: child labor. Experts claim the biggest spike in child labor is yet to come, as immense economic losses will compel large corporations to seek cheap labor.  

The lack of in-person education has also proven to have a significant impact on child mental health. 12-year-old Ashwini Pawar once dreamt of being a teacher, but now must reconsider her life’s ambition. In an interview with TIME magazine, she considers her family financial burdens, “even when [school] reopens I don’t think I will be able to go back…”. This mentality pushes concerns of economic inequality, as this pandemic might destroy great strides made over the past decade.         

Deaths and Infection Rates

In very little time, India has become the new epicenter of the Coronavirus. The daily number of confirmed cases shot from about 40,000 to 80,000 in just a few weeks. Unlike most of the world, this virus is heavily affecting the workforce demographic. More than 50% of COVID-19 deaths in India have occurred between the ages of 40 – 64, an interesting contrast to developed countries where 70% of deaths have occurred in age groups 70 and older. According to Sanjay Mohanty, a lead scientific author from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, this contrast is due to India’s age distribution. Mohanty states, “the median age in the country is 24 years and therefore more younger people are available for virus transmission…”. Unfortunately, the road to recovery is a long one, as millions of people are still susceptible to infection. 

The Good News

Despite the seemingly daunting situation, there are many reasons to have hope for India. Well-known charities such as Unicef and Give2Asia have focused aid on India, pushing their needs into the limelight. Newly-risen charities are also making impressive strides on the ground. Snehalaya ‘Home of Love’ is a charity based out of Ahmadnagar dedicated to feeding poor families during the pandemic. In Ahmadnagar’s 17 official slums, Snehalaya has fed over 17,000 families and raised over $80,000 of aid in just 6 months.

Hope also goes beyond organized help. As seen in various reports, neighbors are sharing all types of resources, from food to hygiene products. Global pandemic or not, India’s path to healing is futile without charity aid and attention.

—Amanda J Godfrey
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

10 Facts About COVID-19 in Impoverished NationsThe COVID-19 pandemic is affecting countries worldwide, but it has created an additional burden for impoverished nations. The novel coronavirus is creating new concerns for vulnerable communities and is making current issues much worse. Here are 10 facts about COVID-19 in impoverished nations.

10 Facts About COVID-19 in Impoverished Nations

  1. The global poverty rate is projected to increase due to COVID-19. Globally, 71 million people are going to be forced into extreme poverty because of the effects of the novel coronavirus. This is a 0.59% increase in extreme global poverty and the first increase since 1998.
  2. Only 0.01% of people in low-income nations have been tested for COVID-19. In contrast, high-income countries have a test rate of 5.2% and upper-middle-income countries at 2.2%. Due to the lack of healthcare funding and infrastructure, low-income nations cannot meet the high demand for testing. With little access to testing, people in lower-income nations are at a much higher risk of complications with COVID-19 going undetected.
  3. More people in low-income nations are experiencing an income decrease than high-income nations. According to a poll by BBC World Service, 69% of people in poor countries received a pay decrease while 45% of people in high-income countries reported a pay decrease. More specifically, 91% of people in Kenya, 81% in Thailand, 80% in Nigeria, 77% in South Africa, 76% in Indonesia and 74% in Vietnam reported negative financial effects due to COVID-19.
  4. Developing countries may not get the number of vaccines needed to vaccinate the population. The United States, Japan and the European Union pre-purchased a minimum of 3.7 billion COVID-19 vaccines. Developing nations do not have the funds to purchase these vaccines. However, with $5.4 billion, impoverished nations will have sufficient vaccines for their people. The international community has only given $1 billion to this cause, meaning only 10% of people in low-income nations will get a COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. The number of food-insecure people will double this year because of COVID-19. This means 265 million more people are going to have food insecurity by the end of this year because of the novel coronavirus.
  6. Millions of children do not have access to education due to COVID-19. Half of the students in sub-Saharan Africa have not had access to education since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, about 1% of students in the most impoverished countries have access to the internet for remote learning. As a result, the poverty cycle will continue in developing nations because children do not have access to education.
  7. COVID-19 is causing more conflicts in developing countries. Many conflicts have arisen in developing countries. Riots over food shortages, extremists using COVID-19 to gain control and violent protests against governments are just some conflicts happening because of COVID-19.
  8. Low-income nations do not have enough supplies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Impoverished communities lack masks, hospital beds, ventilators and other necessary supplies to treat and prevent COVID-19. Lack of healthcare funding causes low-income nations to not have enough hospital beds. Also, the high demand in high-income nations causes masks, testing kits and other supplies to be sent there first, thus leaving developing nations behind.
  9. Death tolls for COVID-19 in developing nations may be much higher than reported. The vast amount of people who live in remote areas in developing countries causes a lack of reported deaths. Hospitals are few in low-income nations, so many people die at home and are buried in remote areas without being recorded.
  10. Of $4.4 billion dedicated to a COVID-19 response by U.S. Congress, only 0.1% is being used for an international response. More monetary funding for developing nations could help these countries get COVID-19 prevention and treatment supplies. Also, funding could help low-income nations feed vulnerable groups.

COVID-19 is yet another barrier to ending global poverty and will be a struggle for impoverished nations to recover from. With the help of the international community, low-income nations may recover from COVID-19 and its secondary effects sooner.

—Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing global economic downturns, food insecurity and unemployment, many communities in developing countries have turned to small-scale farming and home gardening as a solution. When the pandemic took full effect in March 2020, an upward trend in gardening around the world followed. In developing countries where access to food was dangerously inhibited by the pandemic’s economic effects, embracing small-scale gardening became crucial. To navigate a food crisis, residents of various developing countries embraced gardening and its many benefits, plotting gardens wherever they could find land. In addition to helping communities survive a food crisis by staving off hunger and providing necessary nutrients, gardening also supports struggling local economies and improves mental health. Gardening is helping people survive a pandemic and has taken root to assist communities to cope with the crisis.

3 Places Where Gardening is Helping People

    1. Palestine: In Palestine, the recent farming initiative began when a municipality near Bethlehem reacted to surging unemployment and poverty rates by distributing various herb and vegetable seedlings for residents to plant in their yards. By June 2020, some produce was already ripe for picking. Noting the success of this effort, the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry distributed over one million seedlings and the Applied Research Institute in Bethlehem (ARIJ) contributed 40,000 seedlings. Residents that lack land are encouraged to move their gardening efforts to the roof and the ARIJ is instructing them on how to construct gardens with easily attainable equipment like water pipes. The ARIJ has also brought these gardening initiatives to refugee camps, helping them build planting boxes and even greenhouses so crops can be grown all year. By increasing home gardens, residents have been able to better sustain themselves and benefit from the satisfaction of harvesting from their own gardens.
    2. Lebanon: Prior to the pandemic, the Lebanese economy was already struggling and the added hardship of COVID-19 led to empty supermarket shelves. Since 2019, Lebanon’s currency has decreased in value by 80% and poverty has risen to over 50%. Following a massive explosion in Beirut on August 4, 2020, that destroyed Lebanon’s largest port, imports, which make up the majority of Lebanon’s food supply, are even harder to come by. However, similar to Palestine, officials have urged residents to take up gardening as a means to survive. Residents are utilizing plentiful family land or backyard spaces to plant vegetables and raise chicken and sheep and many are freezing food to prepare for a tough winter. In March 2020, the Ghaletna initiative was created to connect people to their land by teaching farming techniques and helping disperse surplus yield to families most in need. Beyond supplementing Lebanon’s food stocks, these gardens provide residents with a sense of comfort knowing that they no longer have to rely solely on imports. Likewise, this transition is prompting Lebanese people to embrace traditional, local foods.
    3. South Africa: In South Africa, gardening is helping people as well. A local farming initiative is not only helping its community by providing produce but is also helping the area’s economic recovery.  In the Uitenhage region, a small-scale farming effort called the Lima Gardening Initiative began when three men with no gardening or farming experience bought a plot of land just as lockdown took effect. Gardening efforts began with spinach, cabbage and beetroot but has expanded since March and locals are now able to purchase produce at affordable prices. In addition to supplying the community with easily accessible food, a primary goal of the Initiative is to encourage youth participation and change the idea that gardening is for the elderly. Once the produce is harvestable, the Initiative plans to employ the youth and help correct rising unemployment. Additionally, the group hopes to use the profit they attain from selling produce at affordable prices to open a soup kitchen and further give back to the community. Through these efforts, the Lima Gardening Initiative is helping a South African community adjust to the economic effects of the pandemic.

    Although these farming initiatives began out of necessity, people in Palestine, Lebanon, South Africa and other countries around the world are learning the benefits of gardening. Beyond coming into use in a time of economic crisis and food shortage, residential and small-scale gardening is helping to support local economies, employing those in need and providing gardeners with a sense of satisfaction and a safe haven.

    –  Angelica Smyrnios
    Photo: Flickr

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

Homelessness in the United KingdomHomelessness around the world is a symptom of the violation of human rights that does not discriminate between individuals in developed or developing countries. Oftentimes, homelessness can lead to the inability of accessing other basic human rights like the right to work, education and privacy. This reality is especially the case for the homeless population in the United Kingdom. Homelessness in the United Kingdom affects nearly 280,000 people, with even more at risk due to lack of documentation. In the U.K, there are three classifications for homelessness: rough sleepers, statutory homelessness and hidden homelessness.

Rough Sleepers

Rough sleepers are defined as the most visible form of homelessness because these individuals are seen sleeping on the streets. Consequently, rough sleepers are the main image the general public has of homelessness. Most individuals who are classified as rough sleepers struggle with physical or mental health complications. These individuals are at a much higher risk of being in danger or susceptible to violent attacks by hostile aggressors. In 2019, there were nearly 4,266 people estimated to be rough sleepers on a single night, and the majority of the rough sleepers in England are men over the age of 26.

Statutory Homelessness

Statutory homelessness refers to households and families that approach their local authorities for assistance when they find themselves at risk of being homeless. Local authorities have a duty to provide accommodations for those in need of housing assistance. However, not everyone is qualified for the statutory homeless criteria, and are therefore unable to gain housing assistance.

It is worth mentioning that single people are significantly less likely to be considered in priority need of housing accommodations. In 2018, nearly 57,890 households were accepted as homeless in England.

According to Homeless Link, a nonprofit organization that campaigns for policy changes and advocates for services that benefit the homeless population, there are a myriad of reasons why individuals are classified as statutory homeless. These reasons can vary from repossession of mortgaged homes, loss of rented accommodations, violent relationship breakdowns with partners or parents who are unable or unwilling to continue providing accommodations. There are four main groups that are given priority accommodations and assistance. These are households with dependent children, pregnant women, those in an emergency and those considered vulnerable.

Hidden Homelessness

The third classification of homelessness is defined as hidden homelessness. The hidden homeless are not entitled to or do not seek out housing assistance. Consequently, they are not counted in official statistics. Most of these people find shelter in hostels, squatting, or couch-surfing in the homes of friends and families. As a result of the complications and inaccuracies of reporting homelessness to officials, it can be difficult to define a standard rate of homelessness in the U.K. In other words, the true level of homelessness is higher than the recorded 280,000 people documented as homeless.

What’s Being Done

With the COVID-19 pandemic on the rise, homelessness in the United Kingdom has declined significantly as authorities take the necessary precautions to mitigate the risk of contracting the disease. This is done by isolating vulnerable populations by providing supportive accommodations for homeless people. According to government statistics, more than 90% of rough sleepers have been offered accommodation where they can remain safe and are able to protect themselves during the pandemic.

By ensuring rough sleepers are cared for, the rate of COVID-19 symptoms amongst the homeless population will continue to decline. This will protect these vulnerable people while reducing the burden on hospitals. While homelessness in the United Kingdom remains a pressing issue, the government is proactively working to help homeless people.

Serena Brahaspat
Photo: Flickr

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

Hajj Continued Despite COVID-19Mecca, the epicenter and fifth pillar of Islam, has hosted around 2 million Muslims in recent years. However, due to COVID-19, they had to downsize it in 2020. With 1.8 billion Muslims globally, Hajj is compulsory at least once in a lifetime. This year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia limited the annual pilgrimage to Muslim residents residing within the country. An estimated 1,000 Muslims attended in an unprecedented attempt to mitigate crowds and spread of the virus. The allotted amount of pilgrims grew to ensure Hajj continued despite COVID-19.

Umrah Suspended

Umrah is a voluntary pilgrimage that Muslims can take at any point and often lasts only two hours. Millions perform it annually due to its short duration and low cost. It is different from the Hajj, which is longer and compulsory for all Muslims but often limited by physical ability and finances.

In March, Saudi Arabia reported its first confirmed coronavirus infection in the kingdom. A man who traveled to Iran, which at the time was the viral epicenter in the region, returned to Saudi Arabia and was quarantined immediately after diagnosis. The kingdom responded to the increasing rate of infection by suspending Umrah until further notice. As of August, COVID-19 has delayed visits to the holy sites of Medina and Mecca for Umrah regardless of residency, visa or nationality. Furthermore, travelers who possess an Umrah visa will not be allowed entry into Saudi Arabia.

The Hajj Continued Despite COVID-19

As of August 14, Saudi Arabia has had nearly 296,000 COVID-19 cases with an excess of 3,338 victims. As a result, Hajj, the main event of the Islamic faith, will see a dramatic downturn in 2020 — the first in decades. Saudi Arabia has 29 million residents, yet only 1,000 Muslims were initially allowed to attend this year’s pilgrimage due to the pandemic.

Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten, Minister of Hajj and Umrah, stated that the 2020 pilgrimage will be exceptional due to the pandemic. However, he assured that the area would implement strict precautionary measures to ensure that pilgrims remained healthy during Hajj. The country also went through an intense selection process with a period of quarantine required upon entering the holy cities. The quarantine was mandatory upon entry and exit. The Hajj continued despite COVID-19, but officials wanted to make it as safe as possible.

The Turnout

The annual pilgrimage officially ended on Sunday, August 2, with a larger turnout than expected. Therefore, Hajj continued despite COVID-19. Authorities allowed 10,000 pilgrims to enforce social distancing among local Saudis and foreigners that attended. Authorities ensured safety by requiring pilgrims to don a face mask and an electronic wristband to track their movements. Following the pilgrimage, health officials administered coronavirus tests, and they required all attendees to quarantine. Additionally, Saudi authorities ordered thorough sanitation of the site to reduce any risk of contagion.

– Michael Santiago
Photo: Needpix

Tanzanian GovernmentOn October 23, 2020, Senator Mendez issued S. Res. 756, urging the Tanzanian Government to protect democracy in the wake of its upcoming election. The text outlines multiple infringements on the media since President John Magulifi was elected for the first time in 2015. Repressive laws such as the Media Services Act of 2016 and the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations Act of 2020 have curbed expression in the country.

Such laws have translated into multiple arrests and penalizations for journalists and bloggers who publish information deemed “biased” by the Ministry of Information. Headlines were made last year when two independent journalists, Erick Kabendera and Joseph Gandye, were arrested after opening reports into corruption in the government.

Tanzanian Government’s Coronavirus Response

The repression of free speech has become even more alarming during the pandemic. “Access to information is an essential part of the fight against COVID-19, yet the Tanzanian government is choosing to censor journalists and media outlets who report on the disease,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

According to the World Health Organization, the Tanzanian Government has not reported a single case of Coronavirus since April. North Korea is the only other country that has not provided data. Back in June, the President spoke of the power of prayer in eliminating the virus at a Church Service. “Corona in our country has been removed by the powers of God,” said Magufuli. Since the beginning of the virus, the President has fired health officials who issued warnings, suggested against the use of masks. Furthermore, he has supported an unproven herbal drink from Madagascar as a cure. The International community was quick to criticize the Tanzanian Government for denying the spread of the virus.

In July, journalist Ruud Elmendorp reported from inside the city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Elmendorp spoke with multiple locals who believed that there was no virus in Tanzania. He even visited graveyards, surprised to see there was no surge of activity for new gravesites. According to Elmendorp, the city was conducting business as usual. “The shops are open, there are street markets and there are men seated on the street having their conversations. There are the people with sewing machines, the street food kiosks, all connected by the hooting of passing cars and tuk-tuks,” Elmendorp reported.

Magufuli Re-Elected

A week after Senator Mendez issued S.Res. 756, President Magulifi was re-elected with a landslide vote of 84% in his favor. His opponent, Tundu Lissu, said his party’s agents were prevented from entering polling stations. The United States will now look at the question of election fraud. The Senate bill will task lawmakers with considering a review of the U.S. assistance to Tanzania “for the purposes of reprioritizing such assistance should neutral observers determine that the October 2020 polls do not meet internationally accepted standards for credible elections.” Among considerations, would be targeted sanctions and visa restrictions on actors involved in humans rights abuses.

The situation in Tanzania faces disputes over handling the virus, the role of the media and the vitality of electoral systems. The Tanzanian Government will be under further scrutiny if S.Res. 756 passes.

Miska Salemann
Photo: Flickr