Inflammation and stories on Democratic Republic of the Congo

Volcanic Eruption in the DRCOn May 22, 2021, the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo erupted. Hundreds of thousands of people experienced the aftershocks, including contaminated water and structural damage. The destruction of water infrastructure means 500,000 people now lack access to a safe water supply. In a press release, USAID announced that it would be committing $100,000 worth of humanitarian aid to secure clean and safe drinking water for citizens affected by the volcanic eruption in the DRC.

History of Mount Nyiragongo

The Nyiragongo volcano stands almost 12,000 feet tall on the eastern border of the DRC in the strip of Virunga Mountains, a chain of active volcanoes. The volcano is one of the most active in the world and has the largest, most active lava lake. Nyiragongo has erupted several times since 1884, with the most severe eruption occurring in 1977, taking up to 400 lives. The most recent eruption before 2021 occurred in 2002, resulting in about 100 deaths and displacing up to 400,000 people.

The Aftershocks of the 2021 Eruption

The 2021 volcanic eruption in the DRC led to about 32 deaths and thousands of displacements. On May 30, 2021, in a period of just 24 hours, 92 aftershock earthquakes and tremors occurred but only about four were felt by citizens. For safety purposes, more than 400,000 people were evacuated from the North Kivu area.

Cholera, a diarrheal infection caused by drinking contaminated water, is an increased threat since the eruption.  Natural disasters often increase the risk of epidemics, especially those transmitted via contaminated water. The eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in the DRC caused the destruction of a vital water pipe and damaged a water reservoir. The damage cut off water access for about 500,000 people.

On June 7, 2021, UNICEF and partners announced that they were working to restore the water supply to the area. For temporary water access, UNICEF “installed 15 emergency station chlorination points” close to Lake Kivu. UNICEF also committed to assisting a task force by “supporting installation of 1,500 meters of pipe on top of the lava to replace pipework that has melted.”

The Hope of Crisis Assistance

Prior to the 2021 volcanic eruption in the DRC, the nation was already struggling with a humanitarian crisis, following years of political violence and conflict. At the beginning of 2021, the United Nations predicted that 19.6 million people in the DRC were in need of humanitarian assistance. With more than five million displaced persons and the highest recorded levels of food insecurity before the eruption even took place, the humanitarian crisis in the DRC has only grown. The U.N. requires financial assistance from the international community in order to comprehensively address the crisis in the DRC.

The United States serves as the largest donor to the DRC, providing more than $130 million worth of humanitarian assistance in 2021 alone. The U.S. commitment of $100,000 for water security initiatives in the DRC will aid the efforts of organizations such as UNICEF, protecting the well-being of vulnerable Congolese people.

– Monica Mellon
Photo: Flickr

Residents of GomaOn May 22, 2021, Mount Nyiragongo erupted close to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s city of Goma. The active volcano’s worst eruption was in 1977, a catastrophe that left more than 600 people dead. Nyiragongo’s volcanic activities have ignited fear in the residents of Goma who are already enduring the impacts of poverty stemming from years of civil war in the country.

The 2021 Volcanic Eruption

The Goma Volcano Observatory is responsible for monitoring the Mount Nyiragongo volcano. However, ever since the World Bank cut its funding in 2020, the observatory “lacked the funding, resources and infrastructure necessary to closely observe the volcano and forecast major eruptions.” From October 2020 to April 2021, the observatory did not have an internet connection “to conduct comprehensive seismic checks on Nyiragongo.” Due to a lack of forecasting ability, the observatory could not predict the eruption and warn residents to evacuate.

Following a government directive, after the eruption, the residents of Goma were evacuated in the thousands. Villagers who lived close to the city of Goma fled to the city center. The lava flowing out of the mountain’s crater threatened access to the airport in Goma and one of the main roads, further limiting evacuation routes.

The Devastation of the Eruption

According to ReliefWeb, the eruption resulted in about 30 deaths and almost half a million people were left without access to water due to damaged water infrastructure. Without proper water sources, people are prone to infectious water-borne diseases. Some citizens were burned by the lava and others experienced asphyxiation from volcanic gases. ReliefWeb reported that about “415,700 people have been displaced across several localities in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and across the border in Rwanda.” Aside from the destruction of infrastructure that occurred, people converging in large numbers to evacuate heightened the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The Positive Impact of Organizations

Despite the devastation caused by the volcanic eruption, various groups were quick in their response, preventing further disaster. ReliefWeb provided frequent updates on the situation, enabling organizations and individuals to take precautionary and calculated steps during evacuation.

The UNHCR was among the first organizations to respond to the volcanic eruption in Goma. The organization, in collaboration with others, looked to aid the displaced in Goma by providing shelter and relief items. Reduced funding significantly impacted these efforts. Nevertheless, the UNHCR provided “soap, blankets, solar lamps, plastic sheeting and sleeping mats to 435 vulnerable families,” in the Congolese town of Sake. The UNHCR also established four shelters to temporarily house more than 400 displaced people in Sake. On June 7, 2021, the prime minister of the DRC “announced the progressive return of displaced people to Goma.”

Residents of Goma Return Home

Displaced citizens have gradually returned to resettle in Goma. In early June 2021, the prime minister of the DRC spearheaded the phased return of thousands of people as seismic activity reduced considerably. The government provided buses to help people return to Goma. The government also declared the airport safe for landing, which further facilitated the delivery of international humanitarian aid.

Slowly, the city is returning to normalcy. Businesses are reopening and vendors are back on the streets of the city. The groups of people who took refuge in Rwanda also returned. Thousands of people have returned home to rebuild their lives and reconstruct the areas destroyed by lava flow.

Even in unprecedented natural disasters, organizations can help to avert worst-case scenarios. From the volcanic eruption, it is clear to see how funding cuts can lead to severe consequences. The situation has emphasized the importance of funding to the Goma Volcano Observatory and the significance of early warning systems.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Flickr

Human trafficking in the Republic of the CongoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is an African country that is home to more than 105 million people, forming the second-largest country on the continent. The DRC is rich in natural resources such as coal, gold and petroleum, which provide the country with economic sustenance. However, human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo stemming from governmental corruption and internal conflicts continues to plague the country.

Economic Background of the DRC

Economic growth in the DRC decreased from 4.4% in 2019 to merely 0.8% in 2020. The slowed growth rate correlates with limitations related to COVID-19. Private consumption, government investment and non-mining sectors dipped because of pandemic-related complications and limited government spending. The Democratic Republic of the Congo falls in the bottom 10 countries in the Doing Business 2020 annual report. The Human Development Index (HDI), which measures holistic standards of living, placed the DRC in the bottom 15 countries for 2020.

The pervasiveness of poverty in the DRC is reflected in the estimated 73% of Congolese people who lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2018. About one in six people living in conditions of extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa are from the DRC, with more than four in 10 Congolese children classified as malnourished. The Human Capital Index (HCI) indicates Congolese children operate at roughly one-third of the potential productivity possible with full education and complete health. The DRC ranks below average in the HCI compared to other sub-Saharan African nations.

Human Trafficking in the DRC

In a 2019 report, the U.S. Department of State classified the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a Tier 3 nation in its handling of human trafficking. The classification is due to the Department of State’s determination that the DRC “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.”

While the Congolese National Army (FARDC) showed no cases of child recruitment for the fourth year in a row, the FARDC is said to have recruited child soldiers through partnerships with local militias. The Congolese government reported additional cases of sexual violence but did not differentiate sex trafficking crimes from general sexual violence crimes. Furthermore, there continues to be a lack of victim identification procedures and criminalization of trafficking crimes.

The U.S. Department of State recommends several mitigation methods for handling human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. Some overarching recommendations include efforts to “develop legislation that criminalizes all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties which are sufficiently stringent.” Additionally, the U.S. Department recommends the use of “existing legislation to increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict and adequately sentence traffickers, including complicit officials.”

United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking in the DRC is not going unnoticed. In 2020, the United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking announced its commitment to a short-term program to deliver humanitarian aid to human trafficking victims or those who are fleeing crises. For the DRC, the project focuses on “supporting underage girls trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation in artisanal mining zones in Kamituga, Mwenga territory, South Kivu province in eastern DRC.” Additionally, the project will provide clothes, shelter and mental support to trafficked women and young people in the DRC.

US Assistance

In 2020, the U.S. ambassador to the DRC, Michael Hammer, initiated a $3 million program with the U.S. Agency for International Development focusing on combating human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. The program prioritizes three tasks:

  1. Create effective anti-trafficking legislation and initiatives.
  2. Gather and communicate data on human trafficking.
  3. Reform “existing legal and medical services for victims of trafficking.”

The program also aims to strengthen prosecution efforts against human traffickers, reflecting the recommendations of the U.S. State Department. “The best way to prevent trafficking is to hold those responsible for it to account and to end impunity for this heinous crime,” said Ambassador Hammer at the program’s introduction. Hammer believes that the program, along with increased accountability for human traffickers, will provide pathways for development, security and humanitarian progress in the DRC.

International aid and development programs from prominent figures such as the U.S. can aid in eliminating practices of human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. With international assistance, human trafficking may no longer be a prevalent humanitarian problem for Congolese people.

Jessica Umbro
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Belgium’s foreign aid
Today, Belgium’s foreign aid program is one of the most generous in the world. In 2020, Belgium allocated 0.47% of its gross national income to official development assistance (ODA), putting it squarely within the ranks of the world’s most generous givers. But, what is just as impressive as the extent of Belgium’s foreign aid is the effective system Belgium has for allocating aid. Belgium does its best to make sure that every euro has the maximum impact.

Avoiding Past Mistakes

Belgium’s foreign aid program was not always a model system. During the Cold War, led by geopolitical interests, Belgium gave vast amounts of money to the corrupt ruler of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu used the aid to serve his personal interests and little aid went toward helping Congolese people. Today, the Belgian government is far more careful in ensuring that its foreign aid goes directly to its target.

The Belgian government lists independence and neutrality as two of its main foreign aid objectives. Independence refers to the idea that “bodies involved in humanitarian aid are not bound by any other political decisions and actions taken by the donors in the field.” This concept aims to prevent politicizing interference. Neutrality indicates “that no party involved in armed or unarmed conflict may receive preferential treatment in the context of humanitarian aid.” Both of these concepts help ensure that aid always goes where it is most needed rather than being a political tool.

The Distribution of Aid

Today, Belgium still directs large amounts of aid to the DRC. The DRC “receives a quarter of bilateral aid” from Belgium. This is in part because of Belgium’s dark colonial history in the country and also because of the intimate regional knowledge Belgian developers now have. As a result of all its investment, Belgium has become a leader in the fight to reduce poverty in the DRC, where a lack of infrastructure and constant conflict plunged 73% of the population into extreme poverty in 2018.

Focusing the lion’s share of its money on a single country has enabled Belgium to use its limited resources to maximum effect, alleviating food insecurity for many Congolese people and funding education, among many other projects. Another way Belgium ensures effective foreign aid is by maximizing the reach of its monetary contributions. Much of Belgium’s bilateral aid goes to international funds that can allocate money on a much smaller level. The most important of these groups are civil society organizations (CSOs).

CSOs are small volunteer organizations that address the specific needs of particular communities, much like NGOs. By diverting a significant portion of money to CSOs, Belgium is able to operate on both a small and a large scale, targeting both governments and smaller communities. The advantage of Belgium’s multilevel approach to foreign aid is obvious: taking multiple avenues toward aid ensures that no person or group ends up behind.

A Model for Other Countries

The Belgian foreign aid system is not without flaws. Impressive as its numbers may be, Belgium’s foreign aid has so far failed to reach its goal of 0.7% of GNI. In 2003, Belgium’s foreign aid reached 0.6% GNI but declined in subsequent years. Despite not yet reaching its foreign aid target, the Belgian foreign aid strategy has led to great success and serves as a model for other wealthy countries to emulate.

Thomas Brodey
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 and poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The intersection of COVID-19 and poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has worsened health and economic crises. In 2019, after years of political dissent, Félix Tshisekedi became president of the DRC. Prior to 2019, the nation had faced human rights violations as the previous president, Joseph Kabila, delayed elections and violently squandered peaceful protests to maintain his power beyond the constitutional two-term limit. Kabila killed hundreds of civilians in his quest to stay in power. Rebel groups have also displaced citizens and targeted healthcare workers for decades. Because of those groups and a new and fragile government, the DRC was particularly vulnerable to both COVID-19 and high poverty rates. Here is some information about the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the DRC.

COVID-19 and Poverty in the DRC

When the coronavirus first appeared in the DRC, restrictions provided hope that conflicts would pause in the name of public health. However, rather than being able to safely receive necessary medical attention, persisting conflicts displaced at least 300,000 Congolese in Ituri Province. The mass displacement of Congolese made social distancing guidelines difficult to uphold, increasing individuals’ susceptibility to the virus. As of July 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported there have been 43,333 confirmed coronavirus cases and 973 deaths in the DRC since January 2020.

The pandemic reinforced the link between poverty and disease in the DRC. The DRC has the third-largest population of people in poverty globally – an estimated 73% of Congolese lived on less than $1.90 per day in 2018. Furthermore, particularly high numbers of people in the eastern part of the country are battling preexisting conditions ranging from diabetes and high blood pressure to Ebola, putting them at an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19. In a study of 766 COVID-19 cases in the DRC, only 2.6% of patients with mild or moderate health conditions died from the virus, compared with 45% of patients with a severe condition. The DRC’s struggle against other public health issues exacerbates the threat of COVID-19, especially among those living in poverty.

Economic Growth During COVID-19 Pandemic

In addition to the threat of increased COVID-19 cases and deaths, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the DRC has thus far been drastic. In 2020, the unemployment rate reached 4.6%, a 10.17% jump from the previous year. As of October 2020, expectations determined that COVID-19 would push approximately 4 million people into poverty by the end of that year.

The DRC’s rate of economic growth fell from 4.4% before the pandemic to 0.8% in 2020. The contribution of extractive industries such as mining to the DRC’s economic growth fell from 0.28% in 2019 to 0.17% in 2020. Attempts to contain the virus via government restrictions also impacted the manufacturing and commerce sectors. According to the African Development Bank Group, non-extractive sectors’ contribution to economic growth fell from 4.1% in 2019 to -1.9% in 2020. However, recent analyses are pointing toward a relatively quick recovery in 2021 and 2022.

Vaccine Rollout in the DRC

Vaccine rollouts are increasing globally, a trend that predictions have determined could continue. At the G7 Summit in 2021, the United States shared its plan to donate 19 million vaccine doses to the WHO initiative COVAX, which will distribute them to low- and middle-income countries. In March 2021, the DRC received 1.7 million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses from COVAX, but returned them due to potential health concerns. Around the same time, many European countries had also suspended the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of possible blood clots. In early July, the health minister of the DRC reported the country was in its third wave of COVID-19. Donating new vaccine doses to the DRC is vital.

Community Efforts to Increase Vaccination Rates

Even with vaccines available, Congolese must elect to receive them. Bélle-Surprise Makaya, a health worker native to North Kivu, advocates for vaccines in local communities. She and colleagues initiated their campaign in April 2021, when the first shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines arrived in the DRC.

Makaya recognizes many Congolese people’s anxiety about receiving the “jab.” She told Gavi, an organization that works to provide immunizations to low-income countries, that she is “committed to dispelling such hesitations.” Makaya notes that her coalition has led to higher turnout among local populations and not just healthcare workers.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the DRC has been drastic. However, initiatives like COVAX are providing vaccines, and Congolese people are learning why they should receive the vaccine. More vaccinations will not only slow the spread of the virus, but will also aid economic recovery as the country will spend less money on public health. Economic recovery is undoubtedly on the horizon in the DRC as long as vaccine rollout continues.

– Krystal Koski
Photo: Flickr

Alternatives to Cobalt MiningAs the demand for electric cars increases, so does the need for the controversial car battery mineral: cobalt. Cobalt is an essential mineral in lithium-ion batteries. These batteries help power “electric cars, computers and cellphones.” The demand for cobalt is steadily increasing with the rising sales of electric vehicles, which promises a positive environmental impact. However, cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has seen frequent cases of child labor, accidental deaths and violence between miners and security personnel of mining companies. Tesla, the best seller of electric cars in 2020, is looking for alternatives to cobalt mining with plans to eradicate the mineral from its batteries entirely.

Problems in Cobalt Mining

More than 70% of global cobalt comes from the DRC. Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is responsible for producing 15% to 30% of Congolese cobalt. Over the years, human rights activists have reported strong concerns of human rights violations in mining operations. Activists have pressed for urgent attention and alternatives to cobalt mining.

In 2018, roughly 60 million Congolese people lived in conditions of extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.90 a day. Because of this poverty, ASM cannot be entirely shut down as it is the primary source of income for many Congolese people. Furthermore, removing ASM is impossible because of its involvement in the complexity of the cobalt supply chain.

Miners in the DRC, including children, work in harsh and hazardous conditions. About 100,000 cobalt miners use hand-operated tools and dig hundreds of feet underground. Death and injury are common occurrences and extensive mining exposes local communities to toxic metals that are linked to breathing problems and birth defects.

Tesla’s Plan

Panasonic, Tesla’s battery cell supplier, wants cobalt-free batteries to be ready and available for Tesla cars within the next two to three years. The cathode of lithium-ion batteries used to consist of 100% cobalt. Over the years, Panasonic has reduced the amount of cobalt to 5%. Although reducing the use of cobalt improves the environment and decreases the cost of production, it also makes batteries more difficult to produce.

Panasonic recently partnered with Redwood Materials. Redwood Materials is a recycling startup that was established by J.B. Straubel, former Tesla chief technical officer. The startup recycles battery scraps and electronics to save and reuse materials such as “nickel, cobalt, aluminum, copper” and more. As part of the partnership, Panasonic would like to reuse these materials in its battery manufacturing.

Tesla is making efforts to look for alternatives to cobalt mining. However, a massive increase in the production of batteries has created a higher demand for the mineral. In 2020, Tesla secured a deal with Swiss mining giant Glencore. Although Glencore gets most of its cobalt from the DRC, Tesla has stipulated in its contract that suppliers use “conflict-free” minerals. The contract states that it is essential that the minerals procured “do not benefit armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Until Tesla can run its own battery manufacturing or until Panasonic can effectively produce cobalt-free batteries for Tesla’s electric vehicles, the company will have to continue procuring cobalt for its batteries from the DRC.

Solutions to Corruption in Cobalt Mining

While Tesla’s plan for cobalt reduction in its batteries is a promising start in the search for alternatives to cobalt mining, there is also the solution of “ASM formalization.” Some companies have used ASM formalization to regulate their cobalt sourcing. Different methods of this formalization include:

  • Putting forth regulations for mining methods and working conditions.
  • Establishing ASM regulations with fundamental stakeholders for mine safety and child labor and ensuring that cobalt is obtained responsibly.
  • Formally recognizing ASM and monitoring compliance with regulations to ensure human rights are protected.

The DRC government has put in place a Mining Code and has designated specific areas of land for ASM. However, full implementation of ASM formalization will require the aid of private companies. Although regulating the mining industry in the DRC is challenging, there are several ASM formalization pilot projects that the country can learn from. With the help of these projects and the support of companies like Tesla, the DRC is on its way to addressing the root causes of human rights issues in the mining sector.

Addison Franklin
Photo: Flickr

Acute Hunger in the DRCAbout one in three people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) suffers from acute hunger, warns both the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). A WFP representative within the DRC states that the extent of food insecurity in the country is “staggering.” Armed conflict in the east, COVID-19 and economic decline are all contributing factors to the prevalence of acute hunger in the DRC.

March 2021 IPC Snapshot

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification has released a snapshot of the state of acute food insecurity in the DRC as of March 2021. The snapshot estimates that about 27.3 million people living in the DRC are suffering from crisis levels (IPC Phase 3 or higher) of acute food insecurity. The IPC scale ranges from acceptable (IPC Phase 1) to catastrophe or famine (IPC Phase 5). Between August and December 2021, the snapshot projects that roughly 26.2 million will be in high acute food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4). Furthermore, more than 5.6 million of these people will experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of acute food insecurity.

Organizations Provide Assistance

There are approximately 5.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) living within the DRC as a result of an ongoing armed conflict. The conflict in the eastern DRC consists of roughly 120 different armed groups, each displacing people and preventing access to workable fields. The DRC has 80 million hectares of farmable land, of which, only 10% is currently being used. The farmable land in the DRC has the potential to feed more than two billion people.

Organizations like the WFP and the FAO are both working in the DRC to help the vulnerable populations suffering from food insecurity. The WFP is working in the seven most populated provinces affected by the ongoing conflict. Furthermore, the WFP has been working with other organizations like the FAO to provide an emergency response by aiding farmers in improving their self-sufficiency, yield and resilience to shock. The WFP also addressed malnutrition by providing specialized food to children under the age of 5 and pregnant and nursing mothers.

Other programs include providing meals to students to encourage school attendance, empowering women and rebuilding local infrastructure to decrease vulnerability to disease and conflict. The FAO has been working to restore agriculture-based livelihoods and diversify local agriculture by training farmers, providing livestock and teaching sustainable farming techniques.

The Future of the DRC

Armed conflict and erratic rainfall coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have deteriorated the already difficult situation in the DRC. The number of people suffering from crisis level or higher acute food insecurity has risen from 21.8 million between July and December 2020 to 27.3 million people in the first half of 2021. The global humanitarian response to the ongoing crisis of acute hunger in the DRC has focused on strengthening agriculture in the country and combating malnutrition. The FAO is requesting $65 million in its 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan to continue supporting the Congolese people during their time of crisis. Continued humanitarian support is crucial to stabilizing the situation and ending acute hunger in the DRC.

Gerardo Valladares
Photo: Flickr

The World Bank's Projects Adapt to COVID-19The World Bank is a global financial institution that provides funding to low- and middle-income nations to aid in development. Since its inception, the World Bank has always been focused on sustainable solutions to the problems facing developing nations. For many countries and organizations, COVID-19 has been a massive unexpected barrier to the progress being made. Through 2020 and into 2021, the World Bank has had to adapt its existing projects and new endeavors to operate with COVID-19 in mind.

The Ghana Accountability for Learning Outcomes Project

The Ghana Accountability for Learning Outcomes Project, or GALOP, was established in 2019 with the goal of improving the quality of low-performing schools in Ghana and ultimately improving education equity. GALOP operates in 10,000 schools in disadvantaged areas, implementing measures to improve the quality of education and the presence of accountability. The project benefits more than two million students and tens of thousands of teachers.

Since COVID-19 struck and majorly disrupted education systems and school attendance, the project has been adjusted to remain as effective as possible. Notably, it has expanded its benefits for children with disabilities, for whom education is less accessible than ever. The World Bank is responding to the consequences of COVID-19 on the school system to provide more appropriate aid where necessary.

The Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend Project

The Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend Project, which has been active since 2014, is also being adapted to compensate for the impacts of the pandemic. The goal of this project is to empower African women and increase their accessibility to health services. A substantial part of its mission involves education and raising awareness about female empowerment.

The World Bank has been presented with a significantly heightened issue compared to when it took this project on more than five years ago. Domestic violence rates have increased, girls’ enrollment in schools is lower than ever and much progress in the way of female empowerment seems to have been undone by the pandemic. In response to this, the World Bank project has shifted its focus primarily to young girls and women at risk of violence. These are two groups whose hardships are most exacerbated by COVID-19. The World Bank recognizes that and has adjusted its actions to prioritize those most at-risk.

New Projects

In addition to revising and expanding existing projects, the World Bank has taken on many new projects specifically to help relieve the consequences of COVID-19. The organization has played a large role in providing vaccine accessibility to developing countries and has provided significant funding for its member nations to assist in mitigation and COVID-19 relief efforts.

Some projects, like Building Back Better, were created to provide support for impoverished communities so that they cannot only recover from the global health crisis but to maintain the progress made prior to it. Building Back Better focuses on implementing solutions that are sustainable and will be functional long-term within developing nations.

Other projects, like the Kinshasa Multisector Development and Urban Resilience Project, known as Kin Elenda, focus on problems that existed prior to COVID-19 but have been exacerbated by the crisis. In particular, Kin Elenda targets accessibility issues present in urban neighborhoods in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is providing solutions that are rooted in resilience and introducing equity to these urban areas.

In an April 2021 conference, India’s Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman urged the World Bank to continue funding at this level, which is considered a “crisis response.” It is clear that the organization’s targeted efforts are providing genuine relief during this crisis, and the countries impacted would benefit from the continuation of these efforts.

The World Bank is dedicated to ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. While the global crises presented by COVID-19 have exacerbated many of the issues that contribute to poverty, the international organization has proved that it will continue to fight for its mission. The World Bank’s success in fighting the pandemic has presented evidence of poverty solutions that are both sustainable and adaptable.

– Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

Uganda and Universal Basic Income
Uganda is a southeastern African country neighboring Lake Victoria, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania. Its population sits below 50 million people and although it has been one of the poorest countries in the world as of 2012, the U.N. determined that it made enormous leaps in eradicating poverty thanks to ambitious ideas and thoughtful programs. For example, Eight, a Belgian pilot project, highlighted the effectiveness of universal basic income (UBI) in places where extreme poverty is a problem. The Borgen Project spoke with Eight, which enacted its first program in 2017 and showed the rest of the world just what Uganda and universal basic income might mean to the fight against global poverty.

How Eight Began

Maarten Goethals and Steven Janssens founded Eight in 2015 after finding poverty in their travels hard to swallow. “We see a lot of inequality and that is so unfair. A lot of people think poverty is a character problem, but it’s a money problem.” That unfairness inspired them to develop actionable solutions and experiments. In this case, they launched a basic income pilot program in Busibi, a remote village, in 2017. The idea was simple; give every inhabitant (about 150 people) 16 euros per month and children 8 euros per month. with no strings attached. The money would transfer to mobile bank accounts that the people of Busibi could access by telephone.

While some might believe this to be a futile attempt at utopia, the academic literature supports this kind of unburdened cash transfer system as a means of raising communities out of poverty. The Borgen Project has profiled universal basic income programs in the U.K., India, Iran, Kashmir and other places. All this research leads to one conclusion: when people receive money and freedom of choice, they make remarkably astute decisions. As co-founder Steven Janssens said in his interview with The Borgen Project, “people deserve to be trusted.” Likely because of the freedom and dignity it allows, UBI yields remarkable results in lifting people out of poverty. Without mandates, universal basic income restores agency and allows people the opportunity to insist on what is right for themselves.

What it Became

Eight’s pilot program took place over the course of two years from 2017 to 2019 and immediately showed the work ethic of the villagers. Inhabitants built businesses and sent kids who would otherwise be working to school. Maarten Goethals noted that “Shops started up in the village and a new dynamism arose.” Free money worked, as Rutger Bregman said in his 2014 book “Utopia for Realists.” It turns out that eradicating global poverty is much easier than many think tanks make it out to be.

Ortrud Lebmann, chair of labor relations at Helmut Schmidt University, conducted landmark research about those who live in poverty and their “restricted opportunity to choose among different ways of life.” His research, in essence, confirms what Eight intended to study. The Eight pilot project proved just how necessary and effective freedom of options are for those with inadequate resources. Janssens noted how bizarre of a concept UBI was to many in Uganda and elsewhere. “The people of Busibi reacted with a kind of disbelief… That they would receive money without conditions. Aid is always project-oriented.” By lifting the onus of conditions, the environment improved.

The Results

After two years, the data appears irrefutable. Most people in the group spent around 50% of their money on food, investments, clothes, health and education. Self-reported happiness improved by 80%. Only 50% of children in the village went to school before the unconditional cash transfers began compared with 94.7% after. Twenty businesses populated the town compared to the two that stood before the program. All markers of poverty declined with the advent of cash and choice.

Eight now plans to bring its ambitious idea that began with Uganda and universal basic income to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “EIGHT wants to find out if the people from the villages close to a mine can be given more choices.” The question is not only if it will work (the evidence suggests it will) but how it might work in a place where children work in mines and risk their wellbeing for a dangerous but lucrative practice. Will unconditional cash transfers facilitate less child labor in these mines? Previous experiments tend to predict just such an outcome.

For now, there is a film about Goethals and Jansens’s project entitled “Crazy Money,” set to debut later in 2021. What Eight did with Uganda and universal basic income was nothing short of revelatory. Although UBI is not new, this is further proof it represents an actionable solution against global poverty. Maarten Goethals and Steven Janssens provided more evidence for choice, dignity and compassion for those who live in poverty.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr

Chakabars ClarkeEntrepreneur Chakabars Clarke runs an uplifting and particularly active Instagram feed based in Ghana. His account @chakabars produces content on pan-Africanism, spirituality and education, millennial humor and vegan lifestyle. His content also includes his own first-hand contributions to improving the lives of under-resourced global communities. Although one million Instagram users follow his posts, Clarke asserts that his mission is not about fame or money, and, the sustainable changes he is making prove so. In an interview with Black Entertainment Television (BET), he maintained that his primary objective in creating a media presence was to achieve social justice. Clarke stated, “My overall goal is to try and create as many economies based on abundance, rather than economies that are based on scarcity.” He says further, “I want to get back to us not just trying to build a large Instagram following or building a big business to make money but, rather, build the future of humans.”

5 Successes of Influencer-Activist Chakabars Clarke

  1. Spartanfam. Clarke started Spartanfam after he served four years of active military duty in Iraq. The fitness program aims to promote bodyweight training that gets you fit without the use of expensive equipment. Similar to the content on Clarke’s Instagram account, the site promotes a 100% plant-based lifestyle.
  2. IHeartAfrica. IHeartAfrica is an organization created by Clarke in 2016. Its work is “centered on the promotion of holistic self-sustainable development that creates an environment that is optimal in establishing a thriving community.” IHeartAfrica currently works with schools, orphanages, medical clinics and voluntary organizations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jamaica and Ghana. The organization raises funds that go toward sustainable construction and medical supplies as well as educational, recreational and vocational programs and materials.
  3. Building an Ecovillage. One of Clarke’s projects in progress is the construction of an ecovillage for orphaned children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo living in inadequate conditions in orphanages. On the fundraising page for the ecovillage, Clarke describes how the project was born out of leftover funds raised by IHeartAfrica. He also explains that he bought six acres of land for an ecovillage that will house children from an orphanage and people in the surrounding area.  He states that the orphaned children will eventually inherit the land and the village. Clarke is consistent in his transparency with the allocation of his projects’ funds.
  4. The 2019 Global Good Award. Clarke won BET’s Global Good Award in 2019. The nomination is a recognition of “public figures who use their platform for social responsibility and goodness while demonstrating a commitment to the welfare of the global Black community.” The award is a major achievement for Clarke as it puts him among the ranks of celebrities such as Akon who won the award in 2017.
  5. Fruits n’ Rootz. Clarke started Fruits n’ Rootz with the aim of delivering healthy produce while creating funds for his volunteer projects. The company sources high-quality, sustainably harvested, natural products. Most of the items sold on the online shop are fruits, although, sea mosses and detox teas are also for sale at fruitsnrootz.com. The company also provides nutritional education such as the best fruits for women’s health and the benefits of sea moss. A share of 20% of the company’s profits goes toward IHeartAfrica’s actionable causes.

Clarke’s various contributions and entrepreneurial projects show that he is not just about making a name for himself. Clarke is committed to safeguarding the future of low-income and historically neglected people across the globe. By working to preserve schools and orphanages, build medical centers and improve the lives of people in low-income communities in Africa and elsewhere, Chakabars Clarke proves that being an activist is so much more than just having an online presence.

Eliza Kirk
Photo: Flickr