The Republic of Rwanda is a small sovereign state in the Eastern part of Central Africa. Rwanda ranked at 166 of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index in 2011. Rwanda also has the highest population density in the region with 416 people per square kilometer.

Low income, limited natural resources, and food and water insecurity pose a problem for citizens in Rwanda every day. In the years following the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, international rebuilding efforts have been on the ground trying to make sustainable changes to alleviate some of the hunger and water issues.

Here are five facts that explain the state of hunger in Rwanda and how it may change in the coming years:

  1. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide marked the end of the ceasefire signed the year before that stopped the fighting of the Rwandan Civil War. The war began between two ethnic groups the Hutu and Tutsi. The Genocide began when the plane carrying the Hutu supported president Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down and he, along with several other members of the government, were killed. The genocide lasted 100 days and an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed. The fallout from the Rwandan Genocide is the cause for much of the instability in the region that lasts today.
  2. Secondary school attendance in Rwanda is one of the lowest in the world and the literacy rate is 55%.
  3. Approximately 65% of the population has access to safe, clean drinking water
  4. 45% of children under 5 years of age are malnourished.
  5. Over 67,000 refugees from neighboring countries currently reside in Rwanda.

Even though there is a lot of strain on the country today, organizations have been working with the government to address one of Rwanda’s major problems: food insecurity. Agriculture was the country’s main sector before the genocide, and since then, major efforts have been made to make it profitable one more.

Updating the agricultural practices is what the World Food Programme credits with directly reducing the number of food insecure people.

The country hopes that with the reliance on agricultural programs it will improve its GDP to US$900 by the year 2020, up US$380 from its current GDP. Rwanda was also the first country to sign the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), meaning that addressing malnutrition and food insecurity is one of the government’s main priorities.

Even though Rwanda still has a long way to go, the government has been taking steps in the right direction that could provide a template for other countries in the region to follow.

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: World Food Programme, World Vision
Photo: Rising Continent

In a Cold War-style competition between the U.S. and Russia, Ukraine’s ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych insinuates that the West, for now, holds the upper hand. Yet saying so could fuel the Russian fire to turn back the current state of affairs.

The conflict began when Yanukovych refused to sign a free-trade agreement between Ukraine and the E.U., instead leaning on inevitable trade ties with its Russian counterpart to the East. Many Ukrainians did not see the appeal. On February 21, in response to violent protests and backlash, Yanukovych gave up responsibility for his country.

Purporting to support a peaceful transition in Ukraine, President Barack Obama and senior officials discussed the situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aides. The main effort emphasized a multibillion-dollar aid package for Ukraine with the International Monetary Fund. Various governments in the European Union support this endeavor, or at least intend to contribute economically to peace in Ukraine.

Ultimately, the goal is to keep Russia from sending troops into the country. Interference by Russia in order to restore a pro-Russian government in Ukraine would be detrimental to all parties involved. United States national security advisor Susan Rice emphasized on an episode of Meet the Press that Russian interference “would be a grave mistake.” Likewise, British Foreign Secretary William Hague stressed the importance of persuading “Russia that this need not be a zero sum game.”

The U.S. and Russia, according to Rice, share hopes for a unified, independent Ukraine that is capable of exercising freedom amongst its people. Obama and Putin jointly aim to see the agreement of February 21 carried out in peaceful terms. Constitutional reforms, near-term elections and a government to bring together the unified desires of the Ukrainian people shall be implemented in due process. These efforts shall reflect “the will of the Ukrainian people and the interests of the United States and Europe,” said Rice.

While Rice did not mention Russian interests, one might hope that continued violence is not among them. Perhaps diplomacy can win this war.

– Jaclyn Stutz 

Sources: Businessweek, Foreign Policy, New York Times, Wall Street Journal
Photo: BASIC

wealth gap
According to a study by the the Brookings Institution, the gap between the rich and the poor is the largest in some of the richest American cities. The Associated Press quoted the Brookings study saying, “The economic divides in Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington, New York and Los Angeles are significantly greater than the national average.”

Senior fellow at Brookings Alan Berube said that a relationship exists between inequality and economic success since the aforementioned cities “are home to some of the highest paying industries and jobs in the country.”

Berube argues that many of these cities have a widening gap between rich and poor people due to their public housing and the services that attract low-wage workers. But according to the AP, “the findings come at a delicate moment for the country, still slogging through a weak recovery from the Great Recession.”

The United States is undoubtedly going through some tough times. But how is the country’s income inequality compared to other nations?

The Washington Post claims the way in which income inequality is measured is going through some changes. For many years, economists often relied on the Gini coefficient to measure the income distribution throughout nations. However, others argue the Palma ratio should be adopted instead. Unlike the Gini coefficient, this formula makes it easier to measure the gap between rich and poor people in societies.

The U.S. ranks “well below every other developed society measured,” the Post suggests after analyzing 86 nations with the Palma ratio. “It’s one spot below Nigeria, which has some of the worst political corruption in the world and in 2012 saw nationwide protests over perceived income inequality.

In other words, despite America’s having more economic equality than most of the world, it is still placed “at the bottom end of the developed world.” Nevertheless, of the 50 biggest cities in the U.S., the AP said only 18 of them experienced inequality that was statistically significant since the recession occurred. However, this was largely due to the declining incomes of the poorest residents of these cities.

Allowing this pattern to continue will be detrimental to American societies in the long run. Therefore, to prevent the wealth gap from expanding in prosperous U.S. cities and to avoid the potential dissent that such inequality caused in other global cities, Washington needs to come up with a plan to make America less unequal.

Juan Campos

Sources: AP, The Washington Post

Global governance
On February 11, The Lancet and the University of Oslo issued a joint commission calling for a political commitment to reform the current system of global governance in favor of one that prioritizes human health over wealth. The Commission of Global Governance for Health brought together 18 leaders of research and policy-making, drawn from a number of different backgrounds, to draft the report.

Data was gathered for two years on how socioeconomic inequality between nations is exacerbated by a system of global governance run by a handful of the wealthiest nations. This imbalance of political power between nations is exactly what the commission is trying to fight.

The main agenda it promotes is that health equity should be a top priority of all political, economic and social sectors.

Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, notes, “Economic growth alone will not deliver good health to the most vulnerable sectors of society without addressing the intertwined global factors that challenge or destroy health lives.”

The commission identifies seven areas where political and economic injustice affects population health:

  • The global financial crisis and ensuing austerity policies
  • Knowledge and intellectual property
  • Investment treaties
  • Food security
  • Transnational corporations
  • Migration
  • Armed violence

Within these areas, there are five key “dysfunctions” that are preventing improvements in health outcomes. They are:

  • Democratic deficits (“the exclusion of civil society and marginalized populations from national and global decision making”)
  • Weak accountability (“inadequate means to constrain power”)
  • Institutional “stickiness” (“decision-making processes that fail to adapt to the changing needs of people”)
  • Inadequate policy space for health (“health concerns are too often subordinated to other objectives, such as economic growth and national security”)
  • Absence of international institutions to protect and promote human health

So where does this leave people?

The Commission makes it quite clear that all of these challenges can only be addressed by moving beyond the health sector. In order to promote human health and address global inequities, they argue that people need to reform their current system of global governance in a number of ways:

1. Create a multi-stakeholder platform on governance for health (“a place for deliberation and debate to strengthen accountability for health”)
2. Form an independent scientific monitoring panel (“to measure and track progress in overcoming the political, economic, and social determinants of adverse health outcomes”)
3. Organize health equity impact assessments of all policies and practices
4. Strengthen existing mechanisms to protect health and build commitment to global solidarity and shared responsibility

It is the hope of the Commission of Global Governance for Health that this report will bring health inequities between nations to the forefront of global policy.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: Medical News Today, The Hindu
Photo: Masafumi Matsumoto

Citizens of the European Union (EU) have successfully gathered groundbreaking support towards establishing unconditional basic income. A petition for the unconditional basic income initiative began in 2013 and it has spread widely. The petition has officially gained 285,041 signatures from EU citizens across 28 countries.

The movement fell short of their goal to reach the one million signatures needed for the European Commission to “win their consideration of unconditional basic income as a new form of ‘emancipatory welfare.” However, the initiative was brought to Switzerland, where it managed to get 100,000 signatures.

Unlike the United States—where most legislation has to pass through representatives to be implemented—popular initiatives in Switzerland are able to gain more ground. The proposal is also possible because the Swiss political system allows for a very direct form of democracy. Moreover, unconditional basic income is part of a larger movement across the globe to address the pressing issue of rampant economic inequality.

The people of Switzerland have been successful in introducing legislation that would limit the salary of CEOs to “12 times the salary of the lowest paid employee.”

Considering how unconventional the proposal is—in which the suggested amount of $2,800 a month would be unconditionally provided to the people of Switzerland—gathering the votes required is considered to be a long shot. But, the movement represents a rapidly growing public concern.

It aims to account for some of the 21st century problems that arise due to a capitalist mode of economy.

For instance, the unconditional basic income initiative would allow for jobs to be distributed more widely and equally. Currently, France has three million people who are jobless and five million people working more than necessary. This sort of unequal employment distribution in France is also evident across nations on an international scale.

There is an element of controversy to the movement though, where debates regarding human rights and entitlements circulate the issue. The initiative reflects a strong public opinion however, in which human nature is regarded as creative as opposed to lazy. It would allow for people to have the tools to realize their potential and have a dignified existence, rather than being left out of what society has to offer.

As stated by a leader behind the unconditional basic income initiative, “This would lead to a paradigm change.”

Jugal Patel

Sources: Business Week, Forbes, Basic Income, Business Insider
Photo: RT

Nearly 143,000 people have signed a petition to have the UK divert some of the international development budget to assist British families affected by serious floods that have hit part of the region. The petition states, “I strongly urge you to divert some of the 11 billion pounds spent per year on overseas aid to ease the suffering of UK flood victims, and to build and maintain flood defenses to prevent a repetition of this crisis.”

The petition started by the Daily Mail quickly caught the attention of high profile celebrities and community leaders. David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, rejected the petition saying that “money is no object” when it comes to the flood victims. A poll, also administered by the Daily Mail, found that 73% of people polled think that overseas aid should be redirected.

Global poverty experts around the world immediately voiced their outrage at the campaign, calling it ‘outrageous.’ The campaign was also called irresponsible and some accused them of misrepresenting the issue and politicizing poverty. Etharin Cousin, the executive director of the World Food Programme said that the campaign was an example of an, “anti-aid agenda is an extremely worrying minority view.”

Many experts took issue with the characterization the campaign used making it seem like in order for citizens in the UK to get aid, international aid should be cut instead of extending help to both.

They also remained hopeful that this is just an example of a fringe view that does not represent the majority of the population. Justin Byworth, chief executive of the World Vision, called the Daily Mail’s actions ‘inexcusable’ and that, “The reality is we live on a small planet…Food security in one part of the world means security in another part.

We are hopeful that the government will recognize the need to support both populations.”

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Huffington Post, Daily Mail
Photo: This Is Money

Most people have heard of TOMS shoe company, or even own a pair of TOMS themselves. The shoes are comfortable and casual as well as fashionably cute for everyday wear. In addition, for every pair of shoes purchased from TOMS, another pair is given away to someone in need.

The company has recently been criticized for hurting economies struggling against poverty by taking away business with their shoe give-aways.

A for-profit company, TOMS’s mission is to help societies that are lacking in basic supplies such as shoes. They have announced their plan to produce one third of shoes in the countries in which they donate the extra pair.

Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoe company, has stated that the company is looking forward to helping solve more global issues such as clean water, nutrition and education. The company is examining ways to expand their product lines and business model to help further improving the quality of lives of those suffering from poverty around the world.

TOMS website shares how providing shoes to children helps give them the ability to go to school, to work and to participate in their communities without fear of injury and illness that can easily happen with bare feet.

Shoes are a basic need for everyone, and having kids in school, working and being healthy is a huge factor in breaking societies out of poverty.

The TOMS team calculates how many pairs of shoes they sell and match that number in pairs that they will give away.

Partners that operate community health programs in foreign countries work with TOMS to figure out sizes, quantities, and delivery costs. TOMS covers all of the shipping and distribution, and corrects their methods based on feedback from their ‘giving partners’ that are actually working in the societies TOMS donates to.

More and more companies are beginning to realize that making a positive difference in the lives of others is actually a very profitable venture. More than a billion people are living on less than two dollars per day, and that is a huge customer base for a company to cater to.

Viewing the world’s poor as a market share is an innovative and successful way to start a business and simultaneously free people from the cycle of poverty.

The cycle is often perpetuated by illness, malnutrition, unemployment and lack of medical care; these are problems that businesses can solve with new products and services. TOMS is only one of the companies that is thriving in the business world and helping people who really need it every step of the way. Additionally, TOMS personalizes their shoe donations for the different countries they assist. In January 2014, members of the company visited Tanzania and learned that almost half of the residents are under the age of fourteen years old.

This helps them decide types and quantities of shoes to distribute to Tanzania versus another country with alternative statistics. The more successful TOMS becomes, the more people across the globe are receiving shoes and the ability to walk to a better future on their own.

– Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources: The Huffington Post, Toms, Toms Stories
Photo: Forbes

With the intention of improving and stabilizing Afghanistan’s economy following the withdrawal of American and international forces, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) revealed a plan to provide almost $300 million in assistance aid on January 10, 2014. The plan addresses development in Afghanistan across the agricultural, trade and education sectors and includes provisions to ensure the proper allocation of funds.

Tumultuous tension plagues the U.S.-Afghan relationship, yet Larry Sampler, head of USAID programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, argues that the plan’s programs are the best chance for Afghanistan to move ahead with an economically-founded faith in the future.

Of the nearly $300 million for development in Afghanistan, $125 million over a five-year period will provide Afghan farmers access to the research and technology necessary for superior crop yields and market expansion. In the same five-year time span,  $92 million partnered with three U.S. universities will serve as means to a technical training education program in fields particularly desired by Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Additionally, $77 million will be directed over four years to involving Afghanistan in the World Trade Organization through a better business environment that will attract increased foreign investment. Sampler emphasizes his goal for Afghanistan to enter on a path of respect and equality, and of economic stability and self-sustaining democracy. He hopes for the country to reach this goal within 10 years and addresses the need for cooperation within Afghanistan.

In January, the U.S. cut civilian aid for Afghanistan in half, citing concerns about fraud, incorrect allotment and corruption within Hamid Karzai’s regime. In the face of the negative light this has cast on the USAID plan, Sampler plans to provide an outline of monitoring techniques posited in collaboration with each aid program to avoid corruption. Sampler does, however, give credence to the obstacle of the Afghan government.

As U.S. forces withdraw from the country, USAID will rely more and more on Afghan troops to provide the environment previously afforded to the agency’s staff. Further complicating the issue, Karzai has repeatedly refused to sign a security pact that would allow for a small portion of U.S. troops to remain and assist in development. Without this helping hand, the fate of the USAID plan will be dependent on cooperation with the Afghan government sooner than expected.

According to U.S. officials these new initiatives will not be affected by January’s budget cut, as the money can be set aside and allocated accordingly over the four-year or five-year time span. Despite the many hurdles USAID faces, the newly proposed plan presents a method for Afghanistan to reach its economic, educational and social potential.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Bloomberg, NPR, Reuters, New York Times
Photo: Politicker

Turkmenistan is home to the world’s fifth largest estimated natural gas reserves but despite its gas wealth, many of Turkmenistan’s people remain poor.

The country is still recovering from its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The economy remains undeveloped because many foreign investors keep their distance. Turkmenistan produces about 70 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year and about two-thirds of its exports go to Russia.

Turkmenistan opened major gas pipelines to China and Iran, thus breaking Russia’s monopoly on its exports.

The Turkmenistan government wants to make its country stronger in the areas of investment, innovation and entrepreneurship. Small and medium-sized enterprises have already seen the financial benefits of efforts by the government to enact poverty-reducing legislation. Further, legislation in the public sector will also contribute to development in Turkmenistan.

The Asian Development Bank’s strategies for Turkmenistan focus on two main aspects: 1) the development of transport and energy infrastructure to enhance regional connectivity; and 2) policy and capacity building technical assistance, including clean energy and finance sector development.

The ADB and the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) have supported various projects for development in Turkmenistan including a regional railway project.

The North-South Railway Project will make it possible for Turkmenistan to capitalize on its potential for natural gas exports. ADB is considering financing The Afghanistan-Turkmenistan Regional Power Interconnection, which aims to quadruple electricity exports from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan by 2028.

The Bank also supports the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) Natural Gas Pipeline Project, which will enhance the coordination of the CAREC program in Central and West Asia.

Gas used to be free for Turkmenistan’s people but President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov is now going to have meters installed in households to regulate the amount of free gas. The president said he hopes the meters would encourage people to consume energy more efficiently.

Households will receive 50 cubic meters of gas per person per month, with any additional usage being charged at the equivalent of about $7 per thousand cubic meters. The elimination of these gas subsidies is not a popular idea among Turkmenistan’s people, but it will help add to the national GDP while Turkmenistan is working to open more pipelines to export its gas to other countries.

– Haley Sklut

Sources: BBC, Asian Development Bank, Business News Europe
Photo: USAID

The Chinese occupation of Tibet has been going on since 1949. The Tibetan people, under command of the “Holy Dalai Lama,” have been attempting to win back their freedom and independence through non-violent means. All over the world, international networks of people have been forming Tibet Support Groups, or TSG’s.

The support groups serve as initiatives that raise awareness among foreign nations and generate support and aid towards freeing the Tibetan people.

China is trying to gain membership status in the United Nations Human Rights Council, but the nation has an ongoing ban on all information concerning the exiled Dalai Lama. Although the Central Tibetan Administration and the Dalai Lama believe they can solve the oppression of the Tibetans and still remain a part of China, anti-Tibet propaganda still runs throughout the occupied territory.

Jiang Zemin was the former President of China, replaced this year by Xi Jinping. The previous leader was under investigation for crimes against Tibetan humanity, but the Spanish Government abruptly let the situation drop without consequences and the oppression continues today.

In January, the Intercontinental Hotel Group was issued a complaint by Tibetan protesters for plans to construct a high-class hotel in occupied Tibet. The Intercontinental Hotel Group has yet to respond to this complaint, and the U.N. Global Compact (UNGC) has given them a deadline to answer these complaints.

The UNGC was an initiative signed by the Intercontinental Hotel Group that serves to provide the most honorable and genuine business practices among companies with holdings in multiple countries. Another complaint with the hotel in Lhasa involves the main executive being corrupt and participating in fraudulent business dealings, but so far nobody has responded to any of the issues raised.

The Dalai Lama is adamant about solving Tibet’s problems through non violent means as a way to bolster the Buddhist way. The Chinese wants to build water powered projects on the large Brahmaputra river that originates in Tibetan India.

In a article, the Dalai Lama said, “The mighty Brahmaputra river, which flows through many parts of India and southeast Asia, has its origin in Tibet. The success of the Tibetan movement is an imperative for saving the environment and ecology of the entire world.”

The struggle against Tibetan oppression in China, especially its non-violence, is an important lesson for everyone to learn. The Tibetan movement is trying to prove that morally sound, peaceful, and righteous action against an enemy can be just as effective and more beneficial to everyone. Politicians, leaders and citizens on all sides of the earth can use this information to their advantage and take it forward into the future that we all share together.

– Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources:, Business Standard,
Photo: Telegraph