Information and stories on development news.

Ecovillage ProjectsEcovillages focus on the regeneration of the social, cultural, ecological and economic aspects of communities around the world. It is an approach that aims to achieve sustainable development goals by eradicating poverty. Every Ecovillage is conceived and planned by the people living within the community; therefore, each development fits the area’s unique circumstances, customs, traditions and values. Ecovillage projects are constantly operating and developing as they seek to rehabilitate the environment and reconstruct communities’ very conceptions of social interaction.

Global Ecovillage Network

Founded in 1995, the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) is an alliance of communities and individuals committed to sustainability and eco-restoration. Through this network, Ecovillages and those working on Ecovillage projects exchange education, technology, information and plans. Although GEN has multiple goals, all of its initiatives are centered around restoration through interactions with people and the environment.

Some of GEN’s main focus areas include human rights, global interaction, cultural inclusion, local influence and the shift to restoration and sustainability. Ecovillages are centered around community action, and GEN is committed to helping members of those communities become influential decision-makers in the issues that affect them.

3 Ecovillage Projects Changing the Face of Poverty

Many villages have developed to represent the diverse circumstances under which an Ecovillage lifestyle can thrive. In fact, some have even earned titles as recipients of the Hildur Jackson Award. This recognition is named after one of the founders of GEN, and provides $3,000 in recognition of Ecovillage projects that have been especially influential in their impact, permanence and scope. Here are three such Ecovillage projects changing the face of poverty.

  1. Colombia. The Nashira Ecovillage in rural Colombia is a matriarchal society composed of many families. Born from victims of domestic violence and displacement, the members of Nashira Ecovillage have eradicated crime and violence by removing all male violators and creating an environment concentrated on support and combined effort. Each member of the community is appointed into one of eight units that contribute to the daily life and welfare of their environments and the people living within them. These units take on tasks such as cultivating local organic crops or working in solar-powered kitchens. The village is equipped with a recycling center, bike-powered showers and composting toilets, and leisure time is spent enjoying sustainable activities like pottery.
  2. Mexico. Bioreconstruye, one Ecovillage in Mexico, prioritizes collective interests and participation from local communities to respond to post-disaster hardships such as the 2017 Puebla Earthquake that damaged families and homes. This initiative reconstructs communities by implementing building techniques with minimal environmental impact to provide strong and resilient homes, whether they be temporary or permanent. Community centers are also a large focus of development for Bioreconstruye: in addition to providing workshops for the community, these facilities serve as a temporary shelter for refugees.
  3. Kenya. The Organic Technology Extension and Promotion of Initiative Centre (OTEPIC) implemented an Ecovillage project aiming to reduce maternal deaths in Sabwani, Kenya. This initiative helps build birth centers that provide a financially accessible and safe method of giving birth. At-home births remain high-risk, and some women face impeding accessibility barriers when considering hospital wards. The community’s Ecovillage project has enabled women to give birth in the presence of a midwife while surrounded by their loved ones. OTEPIC also provides special pre- and post-natal training, such as safe food preparation for mother and child.

The Global Ecovillage Network poses the question “How can we live high quality, low impact, lifestyles that heal and restore, rather than destroy our environment?” As demonstrated by the Ecovillage projects in these three countries, communities worldwide have already taken steps to answer this question and are providing hope for a poverty-free, resilient and sustainable world.

– Amy Schlagel
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Latvia
After the Great Recession of 2008, Latvia saw a large rise in its homeless population. After a 389% increase in homelessness from 2009 to 2017, the nation recorded 6,877 homeless people, three-quarters of whom are concentrated in Riga. Data from 2018 also displays that the majority of subjects living in shelters are pre-retirement, ages 41 to 61. Coupled with its lack of affordable housing and deteriorating household economic situation, Latvia has long struggled to provide organized and well-funded state programs to its homeless population. As the government continues not to act, many citizens struggle against addiction, health problems, a weakening economy and stereotypes that exacerbate homelessness in Latvia.

Why Latvia Has Been Unsuccessful So Far

Latvia’s main weakness within its programs is the lack of national and state support. Measures to address homelessness in Latvia are left entirely to the local authorities, which are often inadequate and only provide low-intensity aid. For example, shelters do not offer essential and progressive services such as transfers to temporary or permanent accommodations, making it difficult for individuals to leave shelter systems. Latvia dismisses this issue to such a great extent that has yet to even recognize a formal definition of homelessness in its legislation. The nation’s poor funding and organization, as well as the exceedingly small size of its housing stock, causes the ineptitude of homeless prevention. Municipalities provide social housing exclusively, though some larger governments have formed specific companies to maintain and manage public stock.

Most shelters in Riga have limited services that only provide basic emergency shelter and minimal support-worker time. Displaced individuals thus struggle to re-establish themselves in society and find sufficient private housing, leaving them stuck in public housing systems. Those with alcoholism or other addictions may use detox and rehab programs that Latvian social services provide, but these interventions are costly at €200 for 28 days with an additional €50 per month for accommodation.

Discrimination Against the Homeless

A pervading culture of discrimination also limits opportunities for displaced citizens. In 2018, Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji, the official news portal of Latvian radio and television, reported a case of blatant prejudice towards 43-year-old homeless man Gunārs. Gunārs did not qualify for free healthcare, as he was the victim of an inventive tax evasion scheme that firms targeting the homeless used. However, even after Gunārs offered proper payment and was proved a registered patient, the doctor still denied him treatment by claiming his intoxicated state was in violation of code and removing him from the premises. The news source’s further investigation revealed mistreatment towards alcoholic clients at the Red Cross shelter on Gaizina street, which limited drunk individuals to stay on the first floor where they faced verbal and physical abuse by guards and even preachers.

Persons without tax-paying families are also unable to claim financial assistance, as applications of welfare for homeless citizens can only occur through the head of the household based on additional household costs. Latvian citizens returning from abroad are also subject to police inquiry and assessment to determine whether people have a genuine reason to be homeless.

A recent video campaign that the local transport authority in Riga released encourages this anti-homeless sentiment by urging passengers who encounter homeless individuals on their commute to call the police to arrest them. The advert repeatedly plays on the screens of buses, trams and trains throughout the city that advise citizens to identify homeless individuals through their “odor.”

Initiatives to Reduce Homelessness in Latvia

Fortunately, Latvia has taken steps to improve conditions for its homeless citizens. The Riga Central Library, for example, started an initiative in 2017 by collaborating with a local day center to serve as an easily accessible intermediary for homeless clients seeking social needs. The library also solicits food, toiletries and supplies for the homeless; offers brochures, posters and handouts that describe the services available within the library/community; and offers assistance in public service application forms, as well as time to discuss with lawyers, social workers and career consultants.

According to the 2019 ESPN Thematic Report on National Strategies to Fight Homelessness and Housing Exclusion, the government aims to develop a uniform housing policy that improves insufficient social housing, develops affordable quality housing support mechanisms, expands the range of services offered to homeless individuals and prevents homelessness through increased material support. Additionally, the plan strives to ensure that national and local governments designate fiscal funds to make this goal a reality. Statistics from 2019 showed a 3% decrease in Riga’s homeless population in comparison to the previous year, which could indicate that these projects had some positive impact.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has also hastened the Latvian government to take more direct action. To prevent further evictions, the Riga municipality has guaranteed both minimum income benefits and housing benefits for its population. Citizens can also request food from the city’s six food dispensers. In addition to increasing funding for social services provided to homeless and vulnerable persons by €93,320, the Riga Municipality has demonstrated initiative in enforcing hygiene to stop the spread of COVID-19 in shelters by increasing funding to the Blue Cross Men’s Shelter of the Evangelical Christian Church by €4,211 to install five toilets and two disinfection tables.

These new policies could indicate a shift toward greater direct government funding and organization to help homeless persons. By aiming to reduce both shelter occupation numbers and rates of poverty in the next decade, the elimination of homelessness in Latvia is possible.

– Christine Chang
Photo: Flickr

Energy Poverty in Greece
Greece is addressing energy poverty and its variety of adverse effects on households using innovative approaches. With 58% of Greek households identified as lacking efficient energy, this issue has significantly impacted the overall physical and mental well-being of its citizens. Cardiac issues, respiratory illnesses and mental health stressors due to unaffordable energy bills demonstrate the need for innovations in poverty eradication in Greece.

Energy Poverty Among Vulnerable Populations

According to the European Union Energy Poverty Observatory, energy poverty impacts 50 to 125 million people within the European Union population. In fact, in Greece, 90% of households lack sufficient energy. The inability to obtain adequate energy to power appliances, electricity and air conditioning systems demonstrates the true impact of insufficient energy access. Due to low incomes, poor-quality housing and high energy prices, innovations in poverty eradication in Greece are critical.

Innovative Energy Initiatives Create Jobs

Since its transition to renewable energy in the 1990s, Greece has faced unforeseen obstacles due to government legislation, business regulations, investor subsidies and funding deficits. Since 2010, modifications of such initiatives have led to progressive developments and growth opportunities.

Some expect that innovations eradicating poverty in Greece through renewable energy could boost employment and economic opportunities. In fact, projections have determined that job openings including electro-mechanics, construction and energy farm installation could contribute to 50% of these potential opportunities. Job generation will increase household income and minimize the inability to afford adequate energy by reducing unemployment and creating growth.

Global Organizations Addressing Energy Poverty

Greece has demonstrated its commitment to resolving energy poverty among vulnerable households. In 2015, the state formed a partnership with Greenspan Greece to develop the Solarize Greece Campaign, which promotes renewable energy in an effort to alleviate energy poverty. This initiative involved the installation of photovoltaic systems in low-income family households. By 2018, Greece was able to increase renewable energy production to 20% of the gross energy consumption.

With hydroelectricity, wind power or photovoltaic sources generating 29% of energy, the country exhibits dedication to developing renewable energy technologies to combat environmental challenges.

Innovations in Renewable Energy Production

Plans to increase renewable energy sources in Greece are in the works. Using renewable energy production, the country will continue to progress in its fight to eradicate poverty. The Ministry of the Environment and Energy of Greece proposal, for instance, will include two production units and three reservoirs to expend energy from renewable sources. This system is expected to enhance pumping production and efficiency, performing 70.1% faster over the next 50 years.

Energy reform within Greece must remain a priority to rectify the social, economic and environmental destruction that energy poverty causes. Through the development of innovative energy technologies, Greece is making strides to achieve 60% of renewable energy sources by 2030. These actions will reduce the use of harmful coal technologies used to generate electricity by shifting to solar energy and pumped storage. Given the benefits of renewable energy in reducing household energy poverty, Greece is becoming a role model for other nations in protecting its people.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

homelessness in armenia
Though there is little data on homelessness in Armenia, existing research indicates that it is a serious problem affecting many Armenians. Homelessness is apparent across the country, especially in the capital city of Yerevan. However, more research is necessary to fully understand the gravity of homelessness in Armenia and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted it. Here are five facts about homelessness in Armenia.

5 Facts About Homelessness in Armenia

  1. There is no official data on homelessness in Armenia. In 2014, Hetq Online published an article estimating that 1,000 people are homeless in Yerevan. Homelessness does exist elsewhere in Armenia, but a lack of data on the topic implies that the issue is not getting the attention it needs. In light of the worldwide economic challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, it seems likely that the problem has gotten worse since Hetq’s report in 2014.
  2. There is only one homeless shelter in Armenia. The shelter, called the Hans Christian Kofoed homeless shelter, has a capacity of approximately 100 people. When compared to the estimated number of those homeless in Armenia, it is clear that a single shelter is not meeting the country’s needs. Though the work of the Hans Christian Kofoed shelter is helpful, it is only able to house 10% of the Yerevan homeless population on any given night.
  3. Demands on the shelter fluctuate by season. An Armenian news outlet called Panorama.am reported that the demand for the shelter rises each September as homeless people seek protection from colder weather. The publication also explained that the homeless population has been increasing in recent years as a result of “poor social conditions and low wages of the people.” In light of the COVID-19 crisis and ongoing conflict at the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, it is particularly important to monitor the growing rate of homelessness more closely.
  4. The Armenian government has no system for counting homeless persons. When the USSR broke down in 1991, Armenia gave up the registration system that previously helped it keep track of housed versus homeless individuals. This means there is no official way to know how many Armenians have no formal residence. As a result, homelessness in Armenia is largely undocumented.
  5. There are many factors that contribute to homelessness in Armenia. These factors include the fall of the USSR, the 1988 earthquake, an influx of refugees and landslides. From natural destruction to refugee crises, the issues causing homelessness in Armenia are important to recognize.

Solutions

There are several organizations working to combat homelessness in Armenia. The Armenian Relief and Development Association has worked to create temporary shelters for homeless families and individuals. Similarly, the Armenia Fund’s Gyumri Housing Project works to secure housing for families in Gyumri, Armenia’s second-largest city. The project works to purchase and furnish apartments and give them to families experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.

Those who are homeless in Armenia suffer from a lack of shelters and other forms of relief, but they also suffer from invisibility. Uncounted and under-researched, they are largely unseen by the international community. Relief organizations provide crucial support, but more is necessary to make the suffering of Armenia’s homeless quantifiable and visible. What the world cannot see, count and understand, it cannot fix.

– Sophia Gardner
Photo: Flickr

Combating Sweatshop LaborThe fashion industry is built upon the exploitation of cheap labor from developing countries. As a result of latent consumerism and a desire to mass-produce clothing for wide consumption, the fashion industry continually employs outside labor to make clothing that is designed to fall apart so consumers keep buying more. These companies often have no regard for the treatment of their workers. A common misconception about sweatshop labor is the idea that it can alleviate poverty. In reality, it perpetuates existing cycles of poverty by only giving workers enough money for food and lacking a long-term solution for eradicating poverty. Many workers in countries like Bangladesh or Cambodia earn less than one dollar per day and struggle to pay bills, despite working more than 40 hours a week. While more brands have committed to moving away from fast fashion practices in recent decades by opening up about where their garments are made, many companies are still using sweatshop labor to make clothing because of its cheap price. According to Camille Segre-Lawrence, “unhealthy and unsafe working environments are paired with low or unlivable wages and child labor….large corporations cover their stories up.” Lawrence is a Textile Development major at the Fashion Institute of Technology and advocates for sustainable clothing production that does not contribute to fast fashion. Around 168 million children under the age of 18 are forced to work in sweatshops. However, three organizations are working on combating sweatshop labor.

National Labor Committee

The National Labor Committee is an organization committed to educating consumers about the horrors of the fashion industry by posting articles on its website. It also provides resources to help consumers trace where popular brands manufacture their garments. As mentioned previously, the enhanced scrutiny by consumers has forced various brands to disclose where and how their garments are being made, leading to increased transparency of their business practices. “The fashion industry needs to recognize that it’s up to corporations to fix these issues,” says Lawrence. The National Labor Committee is doing just that by highlighting the human rights issue of sweatshop labor through articles.

Fair Labor Association

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) seeks to end sweatshop labor on a similar scale by holding companies accountable for the manufacturing of their products through educational resources. However, this organization is unique in that it partners with universities and companies across the country to train workers and encourage schools to buy ethically made products. Many schools like Princeton and Arizona State University are FLA partners, and the FLA’s reach has only expanded since starting in 1999. Organizations like the FLA have increased awareness of the fast fashion industry, leading to a rise in sustainable fashion. Furthermore, many students across the country have started to campaign for ethically made apparel and furniture for their universities.

United Students Against Sweatshops

Also focusing on the trend of outreach, this organization—also known as SAS—encourages students across the US to take action to end sweatshop labor by creating clubs on their campuses. United Students Against Sweatshops partners with the WRC to ensure that suppliers are meeting regulations and using transparency in their manufacturing processes. Over 250 schools across the U.S. and Canada have SAS branches on campus, which further spreads this company’s reach.

 

The common trend of these organizations combating sweatshop labor is their national scale and specific focus on the biggest consumers of fashion goods: young adults and college students. By spreading awareness about the hazards of sweatshop labor against the trend of increasing outsourced labor, consumers are becoming more informed of how their spending habits can exacerbate poverty and abuse in developing countries throughout Asia and Africa. These organizations are paving the way for developed countries like the US to end sweatshop labor by exposing the harmful conditions endured by sweatshop workers. Encouraging universities and companies to negotiate with large corporations to improve working conditions is a major step in the right direction towards eliminating fast fashion and alleviating global poverty.

– Xenia Gonikberg
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Nepal
Just like the rest of the world, COVID-19 is significantly impacting Nepal. With an actual existing poverty rate of 25.2% and low literacy rates of 75.1% for males and a 57.4% rate for females, the pandemic has further challenged Nepal through forced school closings and shortages of necessary household items. In particular, period poverty in Nepal has become a dilemma for many Nepalese women and girls. The lack of access to menstrual sanitary products as well as the cultural stigma of chhaupadi, an outdated tradition of isolating menstruating women and prohibiting them from touching others and communal objects, combine to make period poverty in Nepal a pressing issue for women.

The Problem: Existing Stigmas and Disparities

The Nepali government technically outlawed chhaupadi in 2005; however, 18 women died because of chhaupadi since this policy’s creation. Additionally, a 2019 study found that 77% of west-central Nepali girls had undergone menstrual exile. In the context of the pandemic, discriminatory ideals are on the rise. Many fear that contact with menstruating women increases the risk of contracting COVID-19. Traditionally, a majority of girls receive menstrual hygiene products from schools. Without access to school due to the pandemic lockdown, however, many Nepalese girls have been deprived of essential resources like tampons. These closings increased demand for sanitary products in retail stores, causing many businesses to deplete their inventories following the announcement of quarantine quickly.

This deficiency forced women to begin relying on unhygienic alternatives such as old pieces of clothes and even leaves to manage their periods. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, roughly 83% of women used alternate forms of hygiene rather than a sanitary pad, while only 15% used actual hygienic pads. Furthermore, 47% of girls admitted to missing school because of menstruation. The use of these unhygienic methods increases the risk of reproductive tract infections as well as cervical cancer. Around 77% of young girls claimed that, due to hygiene products’ lack of accessibility and affordability, they resorted to making their pads.  The financial difficulties that COVID-19 has created have only exacerbated the inability to purchase sanitary pads.

Organizations Helping to Overcome Period Poverty in Nepal

Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) is pouring its efforts into combating period poverty in Nepal by educating young girls on how to make reusable, hygienic and sanitary pads. VSO initiated a program called Sisters for Sisters that paired young Nepali girls with mentors. Before the pandemic, this mentorship program had informed 2,000 girls on how to construct their sanitary pads. These pads can last up to five years, making this solution appealing to the majority of Nepali families. The Sisters for Sisters program has also focused on debunking discriminatory menstruation ideology.

Action Aid is another organization working to combat period poverty in Nepal. This organization distributes sanitary menstrual kits following emergencies or disasters, with a commitment to helping every woman and girl manage their periods safely. The organization’s efforts to tackle period poverty include various tactics. Similar to the Sisters for Sisters campaign, Action Aid trains girls to make their reusable sanitary pads. It also offers educational services better, informing girls about their periods and how to navigate menstrual cycles healthily. Finally, Action Aid aims to eliminate period shaming ideologies such as chhaupadi in Nepal.

Hope for a Better Future

Period poverty is a continual issue for many impoverished countries with preexisting discriminatory stigmas surrounding the topic, and the pandemic has only amplified these issues. With the help of organizations working to aid women and girls in their communities and eradicate period poverty in Nepal, however, there is hope for a safer and more sanitary future.

– Adelle Tippetts
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in KrygyzstanA small, landlocked state in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan was formerly part of the Soviet Republic with a volatile past and an uncertain future. While the country has had consistent economic growth since gaining independence in 1991, 22.4% of its population still live below the poverty line. Additionally, Kyrgyzstan struggles with internal ethnic conflict, unstable relations with neighboring countries, demographic trends in emigration and geographic weaknesses. This article will explore the many factors contributing to poverty in Kyrgyzstan, as well as the steps the country—and the world—are taking to solve it.

Geographic Disadvantage

Geography is an undeniable factor in determining the wealth and strength of a country. Unfortunately for Kyrgyzstan, geography has played a significant role in ensuring that the state is politically disconnected and economically restrained. Mountains, valleys and basins dominate Kyrgyzstan’s geography. Together, the Tian Shan and Pamir mountain ranges account for roughly 65% of the country’s land. Urban areas are located in the valleys separating the mountains, with agricultural production mainly in the Fergana Valley to the northeast.

Kyrgyzstan’s political borders are the result of Stalinist intervention that purposefully divided ethnic groups in order to create conflict. This political division, combined with mountains separating populations, created an unstable and disconnected region. Kyrgyzstan contains few navigable rivers and is geographically landlocked, forcing it to depend on other countries to transport goods to global markets. Furthermore, Kyrgyzstan’s geographical location is too close to Russia and China to warrant a significant Western investment. Kyrgyzstan can only overcome its geographic weaknesses with favorable trade deals and investment in transportation networks that connect the country to the outside world.

Economic Weakness

With a GDP of $8.5 billion and GDP per capita at $1,323, Kyrgyzstan’s economy lacks the natural resources and industrial diversity to thrive in the global economy. While GDP growth is consistently 4-5% annually, the country’s poverty rate has remained relatively stagnant since 2009. This stagnation is the result of the lack of job creation and wage growth in the country. Corruption and difficult business conditions have kept away investors, while the stronger Russian market exacerbates the trend of emigration.

The economy is dominated by mineral extraction, agriculture and animal domestication—sectors that are unlikely to grow in the coming years. Economic activity is so isolated in Kyrgyzstan that the Kumtor gold mine alone creates approximately 8% of the country’s GDP. However, there is hope for the economy in the tourism and hydroelectric power industries. With proper investment, Kyrgyzstan’s dams and mountain views could be the needed catalyst for economic diversification.

Political Instability and Corruption

Kyrgyzstan’s experience as a former member of the Soviet Republic has created a culture of political instability since the country achieved independence in 1991. Border wars over the Fergana Valley resulted in an atmosphere of suspicion in the region and led to the elections of nationalist strongmen in Kyrgyzstan. This social upheaval continued until 2010 when the nation adopted a parliamentary constitution with significant checks and balances. Even today, Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian state where the president is limited to a single term.

Despite progress in balancing branches of government, the new system was unable to calm the ethnic and regional tensions that had been simmering for decades. Additionally, corruption continues to harm Kyrgyzstan’s courts and business reputation due to the lack of accountability institutions. Businesses routinely pay off judicial officials and civil service personnel in order to earn tax abatement and political favors. The government has responded with reforms intended to improve Kyrgyzstan’s business environment but still lacks the ability to vet judicial appointments. With officials more interested in securing their own fortunes than the country’s well-being, it is clear that the political system perpetuates the cyclical poverty in Kyrgyzstan that plagues the country.

Demographic Trends

Understanding the demographics of a country can be essential in gauging future economic performance and societal progress. Kyrgyzstan has a population of approximately 6.5 million people, of which a majority are Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Uighurs, Tajiks or Russian. While roughly three children are born to every Kyrgyz woman, the population growth rate remains around 1% due to significant emigration. The stronger Russian and Kazak markets, combined with a significant Russian minority ensures that this trend will continue into the next decade, curbing economic growth in the country. The urban and rural divide is also striking.

Only 35.6% of Kyrgyz peoples live in urban areas in comparison to the worldwide average of 55%. This statistic speaks to the weaknesses of a decentralized state lacking infrastructure investment. Additionally, the presence of minority groups from other Central Asian nations is the primary reason for the continuing tension in the region. Kyrgyzstan’s efforts at private industry reform have combatted the emigration trend to some extent. However, addressing Kyrgyzstan’s lack of centralization can only occur through infrastructure investment; a policy that requires significant capital in a mountainous nation.

Solutions

Despite the many dimensions of poverty in Kyrgyzstan, government reforms and international institutions alike have made significant progress in addressing this problem. The country has employed a multi-pronged approach to alleviating poverty in Kyrgyzstan and addressing shortcomings in the economy and government. Some of the policy proposals include reforming legal and regulatory institutions, developing the private sector, improving infrastructure and revamping social services. As many of these proposals are capital-intensive, Kyrgyzstan has turned to international financial institutions for funding. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank support important infrastructure projects in the country, including hydroelectric dams that power much of the region. The Asian Development Bank has been especially beneficial to Kyrgyzstan, with assistance reaching $2.13 billion on 192 projects.

While Kyrgyzstan has made progress in recent years, addressing poverty in Kyrgyzstan depends on whole scale reexaminations of the role of the private sector and courts in civil society. With support from the international community, targeted investment and governmental integrity, it is completely possible for Kyrgyzstan to overcome its many challenges.

Matthew Compan
Photo: Flickr

Engineers Against Poverty
Engineers Against Poverty mobilizes engineers around the globe to fight poverty through more effective, transparent and equitable infrastructure development. Founded with an engineering focus, the U.K.-based group has expanded its work to improve ways of life in low- and middle-income countries by advocating for ethical working conditions, mitigating the effects of climate change and reducing poverty worldwide. As a massive infrastructure funding gap stands in the way of global poverty relief, Engineers Against Poverty works to empower a multi-sector network to improve infrastructure policy and practices.

Infrastructure and Global Poverty

Engineers and infrastructure development play a vital role in the fight against global poverty. According to the Asian Development Bank, poverty reduction requires not only well-governed economic development, but also improved infrastructure for irrigation, electricity, water and sanitation and other basic needs. In 2016, Our World in Data reported that 40% of the globe experienced water scarcity and 13% of the world did not have electricity. In 2015 and 2016, one-third of the global population did not have access to an all-weather road. Engineers Against Poverty explains that infrastructure will play a vital role in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which were released in 2015 to be achieved by 2030.

“For EAP, its goal is to scale up influence on global infrastructure policy and practice to promote sustainable social, climate and economic impacts that contribute toward the elimination of poverty,” Engineers Against Policy Senior Communications Manager Charlotte Broyd said.

The Infrastructure Funding Gap

One of the greatest barriers to global poverty reduction is a massive infrastructure funding gap. At the 2015 release of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the World Economic Forum reported the infrastructure funding gap would prove the biggest challenge to meet the SDGs. The World Economic Forum explained that there exists a $15 trillion investment gap between the money needed and the existing funding to reach “adequate global infrastructure by 2040.” This gap, Engineers Against Poverty explains, must be tackled as a “governance challenge.” Up to one-third of global investment in infrastructure is lost to mismanagement in governance, particularly in low-income countries.

Broyd commented, “There is a role for many stakeholders in addressing the infrastructure investment gap (governments, international organizations as well as donors). For donors specifically, they can help by recognising the importance of transparency and accountability in the infrastructure sector and the need for support to initiatives and others promoting these principles. This is particularly important in the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis where any economic loss must be minimized.”

The World Bank has identified collaboration between the private and public sectors as a key approach to closing the infrastructure funding gap. The former managing director of the World Bank explained at the release of the SDGs that to help mitigate these investment hazards, investors and donors must make more comprehensive investments in policy, insurance, regulation and more to make their investments effective.

Engineers Against Poverty’s Infrastructure Transparency Initiative

Engineers Against Poverty’s global Infrastructure Transparency Initiative (CoST) is key to closing this infrastructure funding gap. CoST, which currently works in 19 countries, encourages collaboration between civilians, engineers and policy-makers to work toward “improving transparency and accountability in public infrastructure” to reduce investment losses to mismanagement and corruption.

CoST has already seen success in many countries, including Thailand, where transparency, competitive bidding, decreasing contract prices and more efficient fund management have saved the country $360 million in infrastructure spending since 2015. In Afghanistan, CoST-prompted contract reviews saved the country $8.3 million in just one year for road-network maintenance.

The initiative focuses on increasing infrastructure project transparency by improving data disclosure, ensuring data is accessible to the public, creating social accountability for decision-makers and empowering civilians and communities to advocate for better infrastructure governance and delivery. By 2018, CoST had helped disclose data on around 11,000 projects through accessible platforms. CoST has also established legal mandates and disclosure commitments with governments in many countries.

“Our experience indicates that informed citizens and responsive public institutions help drive reforms that reduce mismanagement, inefficiency, corruption and the risks posed to the public from poor quality infrastructure,” the CoST website explains.

A key feature of CoST is citizen engagement and media attention, which enables civilians to hold their policy-makers accountable and make the infrastructure funding gap a priority for civil society. “CoST has enabled citizens to advocate for quality infrastructure through community events in several of its countries including Uganda, Ghana, Malawi and Thailand,” Broyd said. “Simply by raising the issues affecting them, citizens give the media powerful stories to report, which has generated much good publicity.”

CoST therefore illustrates the importance of involving citizens in solving poverty locally, nationally and globally. The combined efforts of engaged civilians and Engineers Against Poverty stand to make important headway in the fight against global poverty.

Emily Rahhal
Photo: Pixabay

Homelessness in GhanaGhana has a population of 30.4 million people, and over 100,000 of these people are homeless on any given night. Though most of the population does have access to safe, affordable housing, not every Ghanaian does. Here are five facts about homelessness in Ghana.

5 Facts About Homelessness in Ghana

  1. Around 39% of Ghana’s urban population lives in slums. This equates to roughly 5.5 million people. Poor households and domestic violence victims are at higher risk for homelessness. In urban areas, single women with children are also at risk for homelessness. Obtaining ownership of a house can be difficult for some women because in matrilineal tribes when a man dies, there are limits for women regarding inheritance of spousal property.
  2. In urban areas, there is a shortage of housing. These shortages are caused by a lack of adequate financing, costly building materials and delays in getting permits to build. It is also challenging to gain access to urban land in order to build there. There are not enough governmental rental properties available, and those that do exist are mostly inhabited by government workers.
  3. COVID-19 has made things worse. Many homeless Ghanaians cannot comply with lockdown orders, and do not always have access to masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. Their previous jobs of carrying shoppers’ wares or helping to load passengers became obsolete during the pandemic. Some volunteers are helping to distribute food and water to the homeless, though others argue that the government should distribute raw ingredients and money instead of cooked food.
  4. Housing policies and programs are being implemented. One such project is the Tema-Ashaiman Slum Upgrading Facility (TAMSUF). This project aims to upgrade slums, develop low-cost housing and facilitate urban development projects. TAMSUF completed its first housing project in 2011, which involved constructing a building that contained 31 dwelling units and 15 commercial shops. In addition, it also involved a commercial toilet and bath facility. TAMSUF also constructed a sanitation facility containing six bathrooms, which can hold 12 people. Similarly, The Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor Fund (G-FUND) seeks to grant homeless Ghanaians access to funds in order to provide for themselves. Created in 2010, this fund provides low-income households in Ghana with credit for housing and business development. This funding also improves infrastructure.
  5. The Urban Poor Fund International is working to improve living conditions. UPFI has built over 60,000 houses and improved 3,000 dwelling units in various countries. Examples of their projects include a community-led waste management initiative and also a housing construction in Amui Dzor, Ashaiman, in Ghana. The Amui Dzor housing project has housed 36 families and provided many dwelling units, bathrooms and rental stores since its creation in 2009. One of the project’s most famous sponsors was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Many of Ghana’s homeless require help from the government and housing projects to get back on their feet. Efficient rental control laws and housing for low-income individuals are just some of the many policies that can help lower or diminish rates of homelessness in Ghana.

– Ayesha Asad
Photo: Flickr

COVAX InitiativeThe COVID-19 pandemic arrived on the world scene at an inopportune time in terms of international relations, given the current state of global division and isolationist nationalism. Cooperation between nations is extremely important in containing a pandemic. However, this sentiment was sparse during the early stages of the virus’ spread due to the prevailing geopolitical climate. Now that COVID has expanded across the world and endangered millions, international cooperation is perhaps more important than ever in the urgent search for a vaccine. The World Health Organization, GAVI and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) have united to form the COVAX Initiative: a program providing promise for both global teamwork and COVID mitigation.

What is the COVAX Initiative?

According to the WHO, COVAX is a coalition designed to “…accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.” The goal of the COVAX Initiative is twofold: to facilitate the creation of a vaccine and to ensure any eventual vaccine is made available to as many people as possible, regardless of national identity or socioeconomic status.

While many wealthy countries may succeed in vaccinating their populations without assistance from COVAX, all nations would still benefit from the Initiative: recent events have proven that in order to guarantee true safety from COVID-19, the disease must be eradicated worldwide. Thus, it is in everyone’s interest to provide access to as many people as possible. COVAX is working to create a coalition of member nations, both wealthy and poor, to achieve this mission.

Current Member Countries

A total of 172 countries have joined the COVAX Initiative so far. 80 wealthy countries have made commitments to the Initiative, including the UK, Norway and Japan. Additionally, 92 lower-income countries including Afghanistan, the Philippines and Yemen have become involved. According to the Director-General of the WHO Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, COVID presents a challenge that necessitates an unprecedented level of international cooperation.

Life-Saving Potential

COVAX aims to deliver two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021. Currently, the COVAX Initiative has nine vaccines under development and is evaluating nine more. According to the WHO, these innovations imply that the Initiative has “…the largest and most diverse COVID-19 vaccine portfolio in the world.”

Healthcare workers will recieve the first round of vaccinations; higher-risk patients will receive the second round. Member nations will recieve doses in amounts proportional to their population. To ensure widespread delivery of the vaccine, the Initiative plans to help fund infrastructure development as necessary in poorer member countries.

The COVAX Initiative is built on the idea that, for anyone to be safe from COVID-19, everyone must be safe. The Initiative represents a positive step towards international cooperation, a crucial aspect of effectively eradicating this destructive and deadly pandemic. Once a functional vaccine is in circulation, the world’s poor will likely have the least access. This structural inequity means that projects like COVAX could save countless lives and prevent future resurgences of COVID.

– Dylan Weir
Photo: Wikimedia