Information and stories on development news.

Kounkuey Design InitiativeKounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) is a nonprofit founded in 2006 by Harvard graduates who sought to combat “poverty, environmental degradation and social isolation.” The inquiry directed the focus of the graduates to Nairobi, Kenya, the birthplace of KDI co-founder, Arthur Adeya. Working with residents of an informal settlement called the Kibera slum, the graduates had an opportunity to put their skills to use in a community impacted by poverty, environmental destruction and social inequalities. While engaging with the realities of the slum, KDI was able to create a community model where the voices of Kibera residents contribute to the design process. By involving the voices of the community, KDI brought the definition of Kounkuey to life. After all, the Thai concept of Kounkuey means “to get to know something intimately.” KDI looked to address the common problem of flooding in Kibera, among other issues.

Flooding in Kibera Slum

According to UN-Habitat, Kenya’s Kibera slum is the second-largest informal settlement in Africa. The estimated population in the almost 555 acres of informal housing ranges from 350,000 to one million people. The high population density coupled with “unplanned and crowded” housing as well as inadequate infrastructure makes the Kibera slum extremely vulnerable to flooding as a result of drainage issues.

The World Bank Group reports that Kenya is highly vulnerable to “climate hazards” such as drought and floods, “which cause economic losses estimated at 3% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).” Poverty and poor infrastructure are the major reasons why floods are extremely devastating in the Kibera slum. Since women and children are more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty, flooding in the Kibera slum impacts them significantly by destroying women’s kiosks and exposing children to water-borne diseases.

The poverty in the Kibera slum makes it more difficult for the dwellers to cope with flooding. Most of the residents survive on just $1 a day. The high unemployment rate in Nairobi makes it difficult for those trying to secure jobs in order to survive. According to a 2012 survey, 50% of the population experienced unemployment. Floods have major economic consequences, and for people already living in poverty, the impacts of floods exacerbate poor living conditions.

A survey conducted in the Kibera slum highlighted that half of the respondents’ homes were flooded in the 2015 rainy season. In May 2021, four people died near the Kibera slum due to flooding. The flooding has become increasingly dangerous, but for residents of the dense Kibera slum, moving to higher ground is easier said than done.

The Kibera Public Space Projects and Floods

The Kounkuey Design Initiative started the Kibera Public Space Projects in 2006, aiming to build spaces that could meet the residents’ social and economic needs. There are about 12 projects, including a project that involves constructing bridges over rivers prone to flooding. Not only are the 12 projects vital for protecting people from the impacts of flooding but the projects also protect the socio-economic well-being of the residents of Kibera.

The Kibera Public Space Projects hope to reduce the fatal impacts of flooding, among other goals. The projects involve a series of goals that aim to bring the community together, create efficient drainage and improve social conditions. For instance, some public spaces incorporate “gardens and playgrounds with sanitary blocks, laundry spaces and educational facilities.”

The Kounkuey Design Initiatives addresses flooding in Kibera slum while fostering social inclusion. Using creative design-oriented solutions, KDI addresses issues impacting impoverished areas. The innovative efforts of KDI contribute to overall poverty reduction in Kenya.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Myanmar
Myanmar, once known as Burma, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia with a population of around 52.4 million people. Of the population, 26.6 million people are women. Over the last decade, Myanmar has embarked on an accelerated socioeconomic and political transition. However, it has fallen short in correcting the gender inequality ravaging the nation’s laws and policies. Despite the country’s development, there is still room for improvement in upholding women’s rights in Myanmar.

Gender Disparity in Myanmar

Global indices and national data show the disparities between Myanmar citizens on the basis of sex. The 2020 Gender Inequality Index ranked Myanmar 147 of 189 countries, while the 2021 Social Institutions and Gender Index identified Myanmar as the eighth-most discriminatory country out of nine Southeast Asian nations.

Despite the country’s 2008 Constitution guaranteeing equal rights and equal legal protection to all persons, a subsequent report from the CEDAW Committee voiced concerns. Namely, the constitution contains references to women mostly as mothers. This reinforces their stereotypical role as caretakers in need of protection. It also states that “nothing in this section shall prevent the appointment of men to the positions that are naturally suitable for men only.” Despite equal rights in areas such as inheritance law or marital property, Myanmar’s deeply rooted patriarchal values still shape families and restrict women’s participation in all levels of decision-making.

Key Areas of Discrimination

One area that severely limits women’s participation in decision-making is economic activities. According to the 2014 census, only 50.5% of working-age women were part of the labor force, nearly 34% less than men. Moreover, women tend to have employment in lower-skilled jobs and lower-level posts, which suggests that Myanmar’s society values men’s work more than women’s and pays accordingly, creating a gender wage gap.

Other key areas of concern include the high maternal mortality ratio and insufficient access to reproductive health services. As of 2017, Myanmar had the highest maternal mortality ratio in Southeast Asia, with 282 per 100,000 live births. One can mainly attribute these maternal deaths to Myanmar’s crumbling healthcare system.

Hospitals lack basic equipment because of funds that the military junta appropriate, resulting in poor coverage of reproductive health services. In fact, to date, there is very little known about the patterns of maternal health service utilization in Myanmar. High fertility rates and delays in reaching emergency care also contribute to the problem. A further concern is the heightened discrimination of women in ethnic minority groups. Also worrisome, the most impoverished rural areas suffer from an exacerbation of these issues.

Action to Improve Women’s Rights in Myanmar

Several organizations are now taking action to improve women’s rights. A top priority is educating people on the importance of women’s rights and addressing the surrounding myths and misconceptions. Of these organizations, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is extremely important. As a governmental organization working toward gender equality, it launched the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (2013-2022) to promote and protect women’s rights in Myanmar.

The plan, which aligns with the 12 areas outlined in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, presents a significant strategic opportunity to integrate women’s rights in Myanmar’s reform agenda. Although Myanmar is not yet at the level of its Southeast Asian neighbors, women’s political participation has increased since the plan’s implementation. According to the Department of Social Welfare, 10 domestic vocational centers were established to support women’s development and security in top conflict areas.

The Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association, which emerged in 1991 to promote the quality of family life, is Myanmar’s largest NGO. It is also the leader in providing sexual and reproductive health services across the country to more than 200,000 clients annually. Additional bodies include Myanmar’s Women Entrepreneurs Association (MWEA), a strategic alliance established in 1995.

The MWEA is composed of more than 1,600 businesswomen highlighting the capabilities of Myanmar’s women entrepreneurs. The MWEA actively engages foreign donors and potential investors to create business opportunities for women entrepreneurs. An example of this is the 2020 India-Myanmar agreement to create a roadmap for collaborative opportunities between women entrepreneurs of both countries.

A Hopeful Future for Women’s Rights in Myanmar

All of these organizations and measures advocate for the advancement of women’s rights in Myanmar. The most crucial areas are improving women’s education and health, advancing women’s roles in the economy and ending violence against women. The progress of these bodies and organizations reflects Myanmar’s evolving socioeconomic landscape.

However, these gains have been under threat since the military takeover in February 2021. But, while the military junta attempts to regress the country back to its repressively patriarchal roots, the women of Myanmar are on the front lines, representing 60% of protestors and some 80% of the movement’s leaders.

Myanmar’s women embrace the opportunity to not only change the present after a long history of military oppression but also secure a brighter future. Although Myanmar has a long way to go before it reaches gender equality, these protests make it clear that Myanmar’s women are the voice of the revolution, committed to achieving gender equality.

– Alejandra del Carmen Jimeno
Photo: Flickr

Globalism Reduces PovertySeveral factions surround globalism, some cite statistical reduction in poverty, while others decry effects on local communities. As in all reductive thinking, oversimplification misstates the complexity, succumbing to the facility of a universal perspective. What is absolutely clear, however, is the initial decades of global trade created categorical winners and losers — the most impoverished 5% gained $.07 in daily income, while the top 1% averaged $70. The theory that globalism reduces poverty is multifaceted, and such, globalism is best described as a “two-way street.”

Global Inequality

As the global pool of wealth undeniably grows, financial resources are increasingly concentrated among a powerful economic cadre, actually increasing global inequality. Subsequently, inter-national economies are seeing more parity, but intra-national wealth distribution is increasingly unequal.

Absent the economic investment from global trade, however, developing nations struggle to modernize. Lacking foreign capital investment to create sustainable industries, an estimated 95% of Indian youth are forced into informal child labor. In the nation-state equivalent of “Sophie’s Choice,” governments are forced to participate while the premise that globalism reduces poverty remains dubious.

Relative and Absolute Poverty

Early returns from globalism showed a reduction in extreme poverty from 36% to 19% between 1990-2008 and capitalists trumpeted imminent eradication of poverty by the benevolent “invisible hand” of market forces. Undoubtedly a monumental achievement, millions have benefited from access to foreign markets.

As always, the devil is in the details. Poverty is an indiscriminate measure, a theoretical categorization defines the powers that be. For the World Bank, poverty is a function of daily income. But, between 1990-2018, the threshold indicating extreme poverty has preposterously risen a mere $0.90 while global GDP grew by $60 trillion during the same period. Given such disproportionality, it is difficult to see how globalism reduces poverty.

Global Poverty or Global Inequality

Ambiguous poverty metrics belie a true consequence of globalism, that the top percentile claimed more than 60% of growth. To retain these substantial gains, it is the providence of influential international corporations and institutions to promote globalism. Exceedingly fungible, poverty metrics become a prism through which various interests and policymakers justify exploitative agendas, often accompanied by stifling conditionalities.

As the International Monetary Fund and European Union counsel draconian measures to fledgling economies, local “governments often find it politically easier to cut the public expenditures for the voiceless” impoverished as connected wealthy classes are “disinclined to share in the necessary fiscal austerity.”

Equally as true in developing nations, entrenched hegemonies have little incentive to shoulder the burden of globalism and frequently siphon economic growth for personal enrichment. Irresponsible stewardship of finances and resources, as always, disproportionately affects voiceless and impoverished communities.

Generations after the ouster of foreign monopoly United Fruit Company from Latin America, indigenous farmers’ share of profit is essentially stagnant as corrupt domestic entities pocket revenue. Globalism reduces poverty only when sufficient protection is guaranteed to populations most at risk of exploitation and achieved only when international, federal, corporate and municipal institutions communicate with disenfranchised communities.

Paternalism in South Africa

Under the best of circumstances, sudden inundation of investment and foreign influence is devastating. For countries without robust legislative institutions, it is cataclysmic. The hyper-racialized-apartheid bureaucracy of South Africa was particularly ill-prepared for the rapid modernization required by globalism.

Despite democratic revolution, political bodies could not address the dual responsibilities of erasing paternalistic and racist policies while simultaneously reentering international trade. After centuries of protectionism and isolation, South African society was a manicured house of cards temperamentally opposed to foreign influence.

The draconian society, which enslaved the Black majority, created a delicate homeostasis and the post-apartheid government was manifestly incapable of protecting the citizenry as globalism began in earnest. A systematically underprivileged class was ripe for exploitation.

Skills-Based Bias

During apartheid, underpaid, low-skill labor provided the engine for economic growth in South Africa. Known as “lumpenproletariat,” these peri-urban shantytown workers relied on the largesse of landed aristocracy for survival.

As a matter of course, economic opportunities through education represented an existential threat to White hegemonies. Because “it is surely the lack of opportunities of the less advantaged that is the real concern” in reducing poverty, undereducated South Africans were dispositionally unable to profit from economic growth.

Compounded by exclusion from land ownership, Black South Africans possessed neither the capital nor the skills for socio-economic gain. Various policy initiatives for Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) have targeted inequality, but generations of subjugation cannot be erased during the short lifespan of South African democracy.

Case Study: South African Winemakers

Overregulation and heavy subsidies throughout the 20th century created an extremely inefficient South African wine industry. Traditional focus on bulk production for domestic markets encouraged widespread plantation of high-yield, low-quality cultivars that were antithetical to international demand for higher quality. With a contorted supply chain entirely unfit for global competition, South African winemakers responded by replanting 50% of vineyards between 1990 and 2005.

To finance these changes, producers required foreign investment. At the behest of multinational distributors, conglomeration through a spate of mergers destabilized traditional market structures — the consolidation of Distillers and Stellenbosch Farmers Winery eliminated 2,000 jobs alone.

Moreover, a weak currency forced producers to rely on foreign capital for infrastructure improvements to replace apartheid-era slave labor. As South African winemakers became increasingly dependent on external financing, mechanization reduced permanent employment by 60%.

The Unequal Distribution of Benefits

Nonetheless, foreign investment allowed the wine industry to grow. Exports increased tenfold during the 90s, and by 2002, South Africa was the fastest-growing sector in the all-important British market. Representing 45% of domestic exports, the fortunes of South African winemakers were existentially linked to unpredictable foreign markets.

But, native producers have seen little benefit. As of 2018, the average return on investment for those costly infrastructure upgrades is an abysmal 2%. And after three decades of democratic rule and countless land reforms, Black ownership in the wine industry is 3%. However, a goal of 20% by 2025 was established in 2007.

A Two-Way Street

In the hyper-competitive wine trade, “survival is not made any easier by the fact that globalization is a two-way street.” The South African wine industry is just one example of countless local communities at the mercy of free markets.

Nonetheless, increased trade and economic growth from globalism affect poverty. The 21st century will be judged by how well the fruits of international wealth are distributed to the most vulnerable populations. As early growing pains subside, poverty eradication is within grasp if the world so chooses.

Kit Krajeski
Photo: Flickr

Water Filters to EthiopiaIn 2012 and 2014, NativeEnergy visited Ethiopia to assess the water situation and determine the viability of water filters. According to NativeEnergy, about 65% of people in the Sidama Zone of Ethiopia are forced to utilize “unclean water sources.” In 2019, about 98.52% of people in Sidama voted for it to be an autonomous, self-governing state. In June 2020, the state became independent. However, the people of the Sidama Zone and other rural areas in Ethiopia face serious issues regarding access to clean water sources. To address this issue, the Desert Rose social enterprise is providing water filters to Ethiopia.

Water Studies in Ethiopia

According to Water.org, only around 42% of Ethiopians have access to clean and safe water sources. In rural areas of Ethiopia, access to clean water is even more limited. Severe climate conditions and political issues largely contribute to Ethiopia’s water shortages. Many rural Ethiopians resort to collecting water from water sources that are often contaminated and only serve to spread disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) outlines the consequences of drinking unclean water. Contaminated water sources lead to the spread of diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Agriculture is central to the lives of almost 95% of people in Sidama. Since agriculture plays a significant role, water is needed for a thriving agricultural industry that supports food security and livelihoods in Sidama.

Desert Rose

Desert Rose is an Ethiopian-based social enterprise that has focused on community development through engineering consulting in rural Ethiopia since 2008. Thomas Berger, a swiss anthropologist, and British engineer, Andrew Smith, established Desert Rose as a force for social good. Desert Rose has come up with a water filter solution to ensure Ethiopian people in rural areas like Sidama have access to clean water.

The water filter called Minch is able to mechanically remove 99.9% of E. coli bacteria. There is no need for chemicals and the filter is much more effective than conventional biosand water filters. The Ethiopian government tested the filter. It is simple to use, “lasting up to two years in rural areas and up to five years in the towns.” The low-cost filter targets impoverished communities in Ethiopia. The water filter is produced entirely in Ethiopia, enabling the company to save on costs and keep the water filter affordable to all. The filter also has “an internal 15-liter water reservoir” to protect water from contamination during storage.

The Minch water filter provides a form of water purification for Ethiopian households who cannot afford to boil water due to the high cost of firewood. After three years in development, by 2019, Desert Rose produced 1,000 water filters. Oxfam bought 50% of these filters for use in its humanitarian efforts. With funding and support, the Minch water filter has the potential to reach large-scale production so that all Ethiopians can have access to clean water.

Water for All

Since water access and poverty are linked, better water access means reduced poverty. According to the United Nations, water is essential for socio-economic development and plays a significant role in decreasing “the global burden of disease and improving the health, welfare and productivity of populations.” With companies and organizations working to improve water access in Ethiopia, poverty in Ethiopia is reduced.

– Jacob Richard Bergeron
Photo: Flickr

Algbra is Bridging the Gap Algbra is a “global digital program” for the “unbanked and underserved.” Algbra is bridging the gap in financial inclusion by bringing financial security to developing countries. The emergence of cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology has spawned endless opportunities within the financial industry. Although these accomplishments are impressive, a shocking 1.7 billion people worldwide are still without access to bank accounts. Banking services offer a convenient and secure money management method, a luxury unattainable for many of the world’s impoverished. Millions of people in developing markets are excluded from the financial system due to “insufficient income levels and market discrimination.” Exclusion from financial services prevents an accumulation of savings, investable funds and asset growth. New World Group vows to bridge the financial inclusion gap in developing countries with the innovative global digital platform, Algbra.

The Algbra Fintech Platform

Algbra is the new London-based fintech platform designed to create a multi-faceted, fair and viable banking experience that fulfills the needs of low-income consumers. The company raised £3.75 million in funds for the Algbra platform, with the aim of educating and uplifting underserved and minority populations so that people can move toward financial freedom.

Algbra is also the first platform of its kind to offer services in consideration of faith-based values. This is a more appealing option for those following the Islamic faith, an unbanked demographic of nearly 800 million people. Some of the products offered by Algbra include “current accounts, foreign exchange, remittances and rewards, with lending products to follow shortly thereafter.”

Algbra’s Impact on Global Poverty

In a study involving 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, researchers looked at the impact of financial inclusion on poverty levels among low-income households. Using data from 2011, it was concluded that financial inclusion significantly decreased poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by “providing net wealth and larger welfare benefits” for impoverished people.

On May 19, 2021, Algbra announced its partnership with the Patchwork Foundation, a British organization dedicated to advocating for underprivileged and minority communities to partake in issues of democracy and civil society. Through this partnership, Algbra and the Patchwork Foundation will empower promising young leaders with financial literacy skills and other essential skills. These skills will help the youth become informed policymakers capable of establishing practices that promote social and economic inclusion.

It is important for Muslim women to have a share in financial resources and the opportunity to participate in society’s advancement, all while adhering to Islamic teachings. This is instrumental to economic prosperity for developing countries with large Muslim populations.

However, the World Bank found that the Middle East and North Africa, which are predominantly Muslim regions, have the most significant gender gap in bank account ownership. In these regions, a whole 65% of women are without a bank account compared to 48% of men. Zeiad Idris, CEO of Algbra, believes empowering women by facilitating access to financial services is instrumental to increased economic growth.

How Algbra is Bridging the Gap

The financial industry lacks services that meet the faith-based needs of consumers. As a result, many Muslims limit their usage of financial services. A 2018 Thomson Reuters report indicates that religious considerations prohibited 34% of Afghan individuals and 27% of people in Iraq and Tunisia from utilizing financial services. However in Muslim-majority nations like Jordan, providing Shariah-compliant lending products (loans aligned with religious principles) raised application rates from 18% to 22%, according to a study by Professor Dean Karlan of Yale University.

Shariah compliance prohibits profiting from items or services with the potential to cause harm to people or the environment. Additionally, investors must avoid enterprises that deal with “weapons, alcohol and gambling.” Algbra provides solutions for Muslim consumers who seek Shariah-compliant banking services and solutions. The solutions are also beneficial for environmentally conscientious consumers who are mindful of financial imprints.

The Future of the Financial Industry

Adam Sadiq, CEO of New World Group, explains that a significant amount of people in impoverished nations “face financial exclusion because they cannot open an account at a traditional brick and mortar bank. As a result, they are unable to enjoy the opportunities made possible by economic growth, and in many cases, remain stuck in the poverty trap.” Algbra is bridging the gap in financial inclusion as the latest financial technology innovation aimed at resolving these difficulties through faith-based and inclusive banking services.

Tiara Tyson
Photo: Flickr

Women's International Work
U.N. Women, an entity of the United Nations, strives to improve gender equality and the empowerment of women around the world. Specifically, U.N. Women’s international work involves collaboration with governments and societies to create real change. The organization creates change by working to reform, implement and secure policies, programs, resources and legislation to ensure the rights of women and girls are upheld globally.

UN Women’s International Work

U.N. Women not only works on gender equality in the world but also inside its organization. For example, U.N. Women employs more than 3,000 people of 150 different nationalities in 90 geographical locations, working together on global challenges and initiatives. About 74% of employees are female and employees are supported by staff resource groups such as the Youth Council and the LGBTQI Network. U.N. Women believes that diversity and inclusion create the best workforce and a safe space. This allows room for respect, professionalism and integrity.

U.N. Women began its work in January 2011. The entity brings together four United Nations offices prioritizing gender equality. This includes The U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues, the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) and the U.N. International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW). U.N. Women supports the development of gender equality policies and provides technical and monetary support to help countries with their gender equality goals. The entity holds the United Nations as a whole “accountable for its own commitments on gender equality” through ongoing monitoring and assessment.

Issues Impacting Women

U.N. Women’s gender equality work contributed to landmark agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The organization emphasizes that gender inequality is a problem in every society due to its deeply rooted history. Globally, women do not always receive equal opportunities to men.

Gender wage gaps still exist and women frequently experience discrimination when attempting to garner employment and while working in the workplace. Women lack access to basic necessities such as essential healthcare and education. Women also severely lack representation in politics and economics even though they are significantly impacted by these decisions. However, U.N. Women works to give women and girls a voice at all levels on issues that affect them. In the greater scheme of global poverty, women are disproportionately affected by poverty.

Carol Cassidy

Carol Cassidy is a human rights journalist who has worked on and off with U.N. Women for seven years. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Cassidy explains that that U.N. Women’s focus is international. Cassidy states, “U.N. Women’s major focus is combating violence against women worldwide. Violence takes many forms, from selective abortion, lack of education for women and girls, lack of opportunities for women outside of housework” and more. Cassidy says further that the organization is interested in initiatives that address poverty and violence.

The organization’s main mission is not to overtake projects or programs women have created, but to provide funding and support to allow the programs to flourish. U.N. Women looks to enhance accountability and involve women in general decision-making and conversations within their communities. U.N. Women has worked with countries all around the world, from South Africa to Ukraine. Cassidy was drawn to the organization because she shares similar goals, morals and ethics.

Empowering Women Globally

Cassidy’s past work with U.N. Women includes supporting women’s economic rights in post-conflict zones such as Gaza, Uganda and Sri Lanka. Cassidy recalls a specific example of supporting women. In Gaza, unemployment rates skyrocketed during the war and women came together to build and run a bakery. Women were able to bake goods to sustain families in the community. U.N. Women supported these women by providing funding.

U.N. Women strives to create a world where women have the same opportunities and protections as men. U.N. Women’s international work has helped bridge gender barriers to close the gender inequality gap around the world.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Flickr

How Costa Rica’s New Infrastructure Will Help Reduce PovertyOn May 4, 2021, President Carlos Alvarado addressed Costa Rica with the State of the Republic, a yearly analysis of the country’s accounts, progress and goals for the future. In his speech, he discussed the various infrastructure projects set to begin in Costa Rica. The projects will create opportunities for employment and reduce poverty across the country. President Alvarado’s plan for Costa Rica’s new infrastructure projects responds to the current economic crisis in the country. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, poverty in Costa Rica has hit an all-time high since 1992, with 26.2% of families in the country experiencing household poverty.

New Infrastructure to Reduce Poverty in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s economy is sustained by tourism, a sector that hit a sharp decline as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, Costa Rica’s “economy shrank by 4.5%” while unemployment rose by 6%. The various infrastructure projects which President Alvarado discussed aim to decrease poverty in the country and help bring Costa Rica out of its economic slump.

  1. Road Infrastructure. In his address, President Alvarado emphasized the need for improving roads and bridges across Costa Rica. He remarked that the Government intends on accessing a loan in order to treat all roads in the country with an asphalt seal and improve bridges across Costa Rica. The transformation of Costa Rica’s road infrastructure is a considerable undertaking that would provide thousands of people with jobs. Improving roads will lead to decreased congestion and facilitate transportation throughout the country. This directly benefits Costa Ricans and increases their access to jobs, which would greatly decrease the country’s record-high levels of poverty.
  2. Educational Infrastructure. Another key subject that Alvarado touched upon is the need for equal education opportunities for Costa Ricans. Investing in education infrastructure will help achieve this goal. Education for all Costa Ricans is important because education breaks cycles of poverty. Educating impoverished people on nutrition, health and safety can help them improve their living conditions. Additionally, educating children will provide them with the knowledge and skills to secure future employment and lift their families out of poverty.
  3. Land for Indigenous Groups. President Alvarado has a special recovery plan for indigenous territories. In the State of the Republic, he pledged monetary funding to address the inequities indigenous Costa Ricans experience due to existing legislation. The indigenous groups in Costa Rica have historically been subjected to slavery, displacement and exclusion and are disproportionately affected by poverty. Ensuring indigenous land rights are protected and prioritizing aid for indigenous people’s development would help reduce poverty across Costa Rica.
  4. Public Transportation. President Alvarado discussed an initiative to transition to electric mobility. The President “requested the support of Congress to approve a project to modernize public bus transport.” Additionally, the Costa Rican President introduced the Greater Metropolitan Area Electric Passenger Train, which is expected to generate almost 2,670 jobs, ignite economic growth and attract investors to the country. Another railway project that the President presented to Costa Rica is the Limon Electric Freight Train (TELCA). The construction of public transportation projects will provide Costa Ricans throughout the country with jobs and facilitate transportation between communities in order to spur economic growth.

Costa Rica’s commitments directly benefit citizens and the economy. Costa Rica’s new infrastructure projects show the country’s commitment to developing Costa Rica and reducing poverty.

– Eliza Kirk
Photo: Flickr

New Deal for Africa There is a growing international appeal for “A New Deal for Africa and by Africa” in the wake of slow pandemic recovery and a growing debt crisis. French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a Paris-based summit on May 18, 2021, calling for a new way forward for Africa. Joined by African and European leaders, the summit aimed to address the worsening debt crisis across the African continent.

A Call for International Camaraderie

Highlighting recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as a key issue, Macron urged leaders to foster a sense of international camaraderie. Macron argued that for there to be a steady return to normal, there must be a collective effort to repair the global economy. Additionally, he advocated that countries adopt a new perspective recognizing the interconnectivity of regional economies. In short, Macron stressed that the health and stability of Africa will determine the health and stability of the world.

As the pace of recovery becomes glaringly disproportionate between nations of varying economic status, Macron stressed that it would not only be unethical to leave Africa behind, it would also be to the detriment of the greater international community. Macron explicitly called for a waiving of patents on COVID-19 vaccines to speed up Africa’s recovery.

Africa’s Debt Crisis

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that Africa’s debt crisis, now nearing $300 billion, will increasingly burden the continent. This crisis will continually arrest economic development in Africa and African nations will fall further behind other nations.

The pandemic has greatly exacerbated this issue. Slow vaccine distribution and lack of pandemic relief packages have led many African nations to fall further behind in development. If the situation continues, experts warn that up to 39 million Africans could fall into poverty before the year ends. Macron highlighted how an increase in poverty rates among Africans will ultimately threaten both international market growth opportunities and international security.

In 2021, the IMF recognized the sub-Saharan region of Africa to be the slowest growing on the planet in terms of GDP. The IMF voiced concern that the pandemic has undone years of economic construction and development for the region. The organization, comprised of 190 countries, fears that the pandemic’s effects will harm poverty reduction efforts for years to come.

A New Deal for Africa

After defining the severity of Africa’s debt crisis, the summit moved on toward establishing solutions. World leaders at the summit agreed a two-pronged approach toward economic recovery was necessary.

Firstly, the summit agreed that the slow vaccine rollout must be addressed. To do this, patents forbidding African manufacturers from concocting their own supplies of effective vaccines must be lifted. The patents had forced African nations to purchase their doses from the patent holders, such as Pfizer, only deepening the debt crisis. Macron states that he hoped to have 40% of all Africans vaccinated by the end of 2021. Secondly, members of the summit agreed to allocate more than $30 billion worth of relief from the IMF to nations in Africa.

In some areas of Africa, vaccine supply is so low that the World Health Organization recommended prioritizing the first dose only in order to partially vaccinate as many people as possible. As of early May 2021, six nations in Africa still had not received any doses and eight other African nations had already exhausted their supply.

Macron advocated for $100 billion to be allocated to the “New Deal for Africa” and wants wealthier nations to donate their IMF relief to Africa. Some members of the summit pushed for even more. For instance, the prime minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, stressed the need for a total restructuring of the debt system in Africa. The summit paved the way for further discussions to help support Africa.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

Costa Rica’s SuccessWhile numerous well-publicized problems plague many Latin American countries, especially in Central America, Costa Rica’s success as a nation stems from several factors. For decades, Costa Rica has had a more open political system and provided a better quality of life than its neighbors. Costa Rica is considered one of the happiest and most sustainable countries in the world. As news stories of Central America are often negative, Costa Rica provides a success story that inspires hope.

Political Stability and Representation

Since 1949, Costa Rica has maintained a stable and democratic government. Therefore, Costa Rica has avoided the political and gang violence that other Central American countries struggle with. Costa Rica has a strong constitution that enshrines many democratic rights, ensuring that rights are not eroded and that Costa Rican people are represented. Many people credit democratic values for Costa Rica’s success.

Costa Rica’s government has gained a reputation in Latin America for its socially progressive policies. Moreover, these politics led to much greater female representation in government than in many comparable countries. The nation has had a female president and has a very high proportion of women in its legislature. Women now comprise 45.6% of the legislature, which is the ninth-highest in the world.

The Economy, Education and Healthcare

Costa Rica has one of the most developed economies in Latin America. The economy is generally stable and had not experienced a significant downturn in decades until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The poverty rate halved in the past two decades and the country maintains a strong export economy. The country grows at an economic rate of 2.5%  annually. Costa Rica’s success in the economic realm is also because the government does not have an army, freeing up funds to spend on social programs and development.

Costa Rica is considered an upper-middle-income country with the lowest poverty rate in Central America. About 20% of the country earns less than $155 a month, pushing them into the poverty category. In terms of the international poverty line, less than 2% of Costa Ricans are considered impoverished —  an impressive accomplishment.

Costa Rica has a high-quality education system and its citizens have a high reputation for being well-educated. Education in the country is sufficiently accessible. Furthermore, according to the World Economic Forum, Costa Rica invested 8% of its GDP into education in 2019. Costa Rica has the second-highest life expectancy in North America, just behind Canada. Furthermore, the country’s robust healthcare system is considered to be one of the best in Latin America.

Happiness and Sustainability

Costa Rica was ranked the most sustainable and happy country on Earth by the Happy Planet Index. The country’s commitment to green energy and environmental sustainability can provide an example for the rest of the world. Costa Rica generates more than 99% of its energy from renewable sources, primarily relying on hydropower. It has also reversed deforestation and designated one-third of its land as protected natural reserves. This environmental protection preserves the country’s beauty and supports the tourism industry, a vital part of the economy.

Clay Hallee
Photo: Flickr

Land grabbing has been a problem in Colombia for several decades, particularly for those living in rural areas. A mixture of political and business corruption, rebel groups, paramilitary organizations and drug smuggling has led to the displacement of many Colombians from the properties they own or inhabit. At their peak, land grabbers of varying organizations illegally held almost 15% of the land in Colombia. As a result, between 6 and 7 million people have had no choice but to leave their homes in search of alternative dwellings. As of 2011, that has all begun to change with land restitution efforts.

Law 1448

In 2011, Colombia introduced Law 1448, also known as the Victims and Land Restitution Law. The objective of the law is straightforward: return illegally held land to its rightful owners. As a direct result of the law, the government established a Land Restitution Unit. This unit aids Colombian citizens in the court system to help them understand how they can file for land restitution. The law also provides some leeway for those who might no longer have the physical documents that prove they own the land, which is frequently the case.

Resolution 181

Two years later in 2013, Colombia also passed Resolution 181. This law is designed to prevent land grabbing in the future. It helps new landowners properly obtain titles and registration documents to ensure that their land cannot be illegally taken or abused. It is another law that works at the judicial level to give proper guidance to those who might not be well versed in property law and related regulations. Both of these laws are designed to work in conjunction with one another to look after those living in impoverished and/or rural communities. They ensure that if and when land grabbing issues do arise, the courts will be able to review official documentation that clearly proves who owns what.

Technology Helping These Efforts

In addition to these laws, the National University of Colombia has designed a system that is significantly safer for storing land-related documents. Land titles and registrations now go directly into a blockchain designed exclusively for property owners. Blockchain technology is highly regarded as being the safest way to save information since everything is decentralized. That means that no single entity controls the data. In a blockchain, every user can see any new or old activity and monitor if something looks suspicious.

Hacking a blockchain is extremely difficult and no one in history has ever managed to do so. Hacking a blockchain is so difficult because any time a new block is created, there is information that links it back to every existent block. So if a hacker wants to change the code of a block in order to sign over a land title to himself rather than the intended owner, every single block in the chain needs to be manipulated to agree with that change. It also needs to be done before anyone notices that a change has occurred. There could be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of blocks in the blockchain for Colombian property ownership.

Next Steps

Colombia is moving in the right direction. Law 1448, Resolution 181 and blockchain implementation have been vital to land restitution efforts. Since 2011, rightful owners have reclaimed over 740 thousand acres of previously stolen land. While that number might sound large, more than 5 million acres of land still remain in limbo. To make land restitution efforts as effective as possible, Law 1448 and Resolution 181 must be enforced far beyond 2021. The proper framework is in place, but the Colombian government has to remain active in helping its citizens reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

– Jake Hill
Photo: Flickr