Skateboarding is creating changeA skateboard for most children in the U.S. is just another toy, hobby or sport, but halfway around the world in Bangladesh, a simple skateboard deck and four wheels is becoming a beacon hope for the future. The organization Bangladesh Street Kids Aids (BSKA) for ten years now has used skateboarding as a way to connect with street children of Bangladesh.

There are approximately 600,000 children left homeless or at-risk on the city streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, the country’s capital. And the harsh reality of the everyday lives of street children is reflected in the staggering 1.56 million children predicted to live on the streets by 2024. Most of these children face hunger, extreme and dangerous work conditions, drug abuse and a refusal of education on a daily basis. Many are forced to beg for food and in the entire country of Bangladesh, there is a daily average of 75 women and children sex-trafficked.

BSKA identifies these children and attempts to provide them with different resources that will guide them on a path of success through skateboarding, mentorship and education. There is a dark history of treating street children in Bangladesh as “non-human beings.” So another goal of BSKA is to instill a sense of confidence and interpersonal skills in the children that will allow them to be safe and successful in their futures and functioning members of society.

Different Ways BSKA is Making Change Through Skateboarding

  1. Skateboarding Lessons: BSKA’s skateboarding program is the second most popular service the organization offers, with their Drug Awareness and Mentorship program being the most popular. Skateboarding is creating change in the country of Bangladesh because the sport teaches discipline and determination. BSKA aims to provide its members with different skateboarding tricks within the program to boost their confidence in learning new skills, and the organization has seen many members now interacting with their community empathetically since participating in the program.
  2. Drug Awareness/Mentorship Program: According to the Bangladesh Human Rights Forum, 85% of street children in Bangladesh abused drugs in 2018. Now, skateboarding is creating change in the lives of these children because BSKA has taken it one step further and created a Drug Awareness/Mentorship Program. The program recognizes the exposure and proximity young children have to harmful drugs and began to educate their participants on the risks and consequences of drug abuse. Many street children have parents that abuse drugs themselves, which put them at a higher risk of drug use in general because of its accessibility. Also, many street children specifically in Dhaka, become addicted to inhalants to ease hunger aches and other pains. One of the most prevalent inhalants street children in Dhaka are addicted to is sniffing dendrite or glue. BSKA’s drug awareness program provides education on the adverse effects of this drug abuse and created an alternative outlet through sports teams to promote health and fitness for the country’s youth.
  3. Education: Street Children in Bangladesh are an extremely marginalized social group that lacks basic education. Many children cannot afford to attend a private school and most are often classified as “working” children and in turn, refused a public education. One of the most significant barriers street children face is that there is not a policy in Bangladesh’s government that requires 100% of children to be enrolled in school, and the National Child Policy 2011 and National Education Policy 2010 of Bangladesh exposed this flaw in the education system.

Now skateboarding is creating change in 800 Bangla children’s’ lives daily. Since the beginning of this year, BSKA has seen tangible improvements in the lives of street children through their education programs. Most of their participants are currently attending private schools, writing their names in Bangla and English, utilizing BSKA’s tutoring services and improving behavioral tendencies.

Skateboarding is becoming a popular phenomenon around the world and is recognized by millions as a legitimate sport. The 2021 Tokyo Olympic is even going to include skateboarding as an Olympic game. But BSKA sees that skateboarding is merely a stepping stone for underprivileged children and that this sport will lead them to more opportunities on a path of success and confidence.

Josie Collier
Photo: Flickr

Drug Reform in Southeast Asia
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has set forth its own sustainable development goals to reduce global poverty systematically. The third objective of its mission is to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages,” and Target 3.5 within that states its intent to “strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug use such as opium and heroin.” In suit with this target, the UNODC has recently progressed drug reform in Southeast Asia.

Taking Action

In Bangkok on November 19, 2019, the UNODC concluded a two-day meeting with ministers and other government officials from Mekong countries including Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The collaboration between the six states and UNODC produced the establishment named The Mekong Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Drug Control. The sole purpose of the November discussion among these states was to confer over the implementation of necessary legislation that focuses on drug reform in Southeast Asia.

The current illicit substance situation in the Mekong countries is primarily the selling and use of methamphetamine in either pill or crystal form. China and Thailand make up significant shares of the global methamphetamine market (a USD $61.4 billion market) with the largest seizures of the illicit substance reported there. Another concern is the trafficking of precursor chemicals necessary to concoct these synthetic drugs and emerging new psychoactive substances (NPS). On a global level, Mekong countries and China, in particular, have become the largest suppliers of NPS as a result of their advanced chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Illegal horticulture for opium also continues at high levels in this subregion of Asia.

Progress Against New Psychoactive Substances

Previously initiated drug policies have kindled substantial efforts to combat the war on drugs in the Mekong. Record high seizures of substances have occurred in most recent years. In 2018, Thailand law enforcement seized 515 million methamphetamine tablets, which is 17 times greater than the amount for the entire Mekong region 10 years ago. Moreover, Thailand authorities captured more than 18 tons of crystal meth, resulting in a larger number than what authorities found in East and Southeast Asia combined five years ago. The Thai government implemented suppression campaigns along the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand) borders, forcing the trafficking routes to its western border, by the Andaman Sea through Laos and Vietnam. These areas have had seizure numbers in the first half of 2019 that already surpass the 2018 totals.

While significant headway has occurred, the UNODC and MOU know continued actions need to happen to increase the suppression of narcotics within the region. UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, explains, “the epicenter is North Shan in Myanmar, with active supply routes in and out. And the organized crime syndicates behind the trade have demonstrated they can maintain production even if labs are seized, and that new precursors can be used when others are unavailable.” Consideration of all the relevant circumstances for the illicit substances in Mekong countries is essential when countries and organizations formulate further drug reform in Southeast Asia.

The two-day negotiations in Bangkok are proof that the governments of the six states plan to keep moving in a forward direction. Jeremy Douglas added that the consensus from the meeting is to “emphasize dampening market demand through preventive education and addressing health, harms and social consequences, by increasing cross-border operations, joint training and justice cooperation, and continuing to support impoverished opium farmers in Myanmar and Laos to transition away from the drug economy.”

Eyes on Organized Crime

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam made a statement in Bangkok addressing organized crime’s hand in its drug problem, “Organized crime takes advantage of gaps and vulnerabilities that result because of uneven law enforcement capacity and coordination problems. The Mekong MOU helps by providing a framework through which we can deliver a more coherent regional approach.”Organized crime in this subregion of Asia is its government’s new primary focus. It is evident that in future years, there will be a global reduction in illicit drugs, specifically in methamphetamine and NPS, due to the continuing drug reform in Southeast Asia.

Ariana Kiessling
Photo: Flickr

 

drug trafficking and poverty
People who live in low-income communities often face different types of challenges than those who live in more comfortable economic situations. People who live in poverty-stricken areas often do not have access to proper education, clean running water, shelter, food or health care. Along with the lack of basic humanitarian needs is the instability of life and income. All of these factors come together into the complex relationship between drug trafficking and poverty.

El Chapo

Those who live in poverty may be in vulnerable situations that lead to their participation in the drug trade. Some examples have proven that exposure to drugs and drug trafficking can influence adolescents into doing and selling drugs. Lastly, the fact that these people do not have a stable form of income also leads them to drug trafficking because of the fast and vast amounts of money that can come from selling drugs.

Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán, also known as El Chapo, is one of the world’s biggest drug lords. American actor Sean Penn was pictured with Guzmán in 2016 when they sat down for a seven-hour-long meeting. Even though Penn’s intention was to start a conversation about the war on drugs, he actually discovered the impact that Guzmán’s drug trafficking activities had on his community and personal life.

Raised in a very humble and very poor Mexican family, Guzmán grew up on a ranch called La Tuna that offered no job opportunities. The only way his family was able to survive and have food on the table was because of the growth and sale of marijuana.

Guzmán acknowledged the way that drugs ruin human lives in the sense that poverty pushes individuals into the drug trade, but it does not stop there. This destruction consists of violence and conflict, which adds on to this vicious cycle of people falling into the drug trade in exchange for money to live. Writer for the Guardian, Nick Croft, said that “poor development fuels conflict, which fuels the drug trade, which fuels conflict, which fuels poverty.”

The Unexpected Outcome

When a person has no way to make money to maintain themself or their family, drug trafficking can often seem like the fastest and easiest way to make up for those financial losses. It is interesting to see the way that Guzmán’s drug trafficking activities actually helped his town rather than tainting it. His drug deals offered many people in the area job opportunities that were not present before. It also created a safe environment for those living nearby because of the massive power Guzmán had in the drug community. Everyone had a sense of stability because of the illegal trade activity that was going on around them, and it is this paradox that highlights the complexity behind the relationship between poverty and drug trafficking.

These people who have nothing, and often do not receive anything to help themselves, increasingly must choose between two lives. One is a life full of hard work with little to no returns of money, leading to a lack of education, water and food. Meanwhile, the second is a life of illegal activity that could possibly shed light on the daily hardships that those in impoverished areas face.

What the Research Says

A study by Joshua Okundaye, Drug trafficking and addiction among low-income urban youths: An ecological perspective, provides an analysis of drug use, drug trafficking and drug addiction among low-income youths living in urban areas.

It demonstrates the way that people living in poverty can be more vulnerable to drug-related situations because of the interactions within the microsystems and mesosystems they live in. Microsystems refer to “the family, the classroom, the neighborhood, the community center and the playground” while mesosystems are the “interrelationships between two or more of the microsystems.”

By looking at drug trafficking through this ecological perspective, one can see the way that this relationship is all about the point in which “independent systems or groups meet and interact.” It is exactly this point that differentiates socioeconomic groups. Those living in areas where poverty levels are higher are more prone to becoming involved in drug dealing than those who live in more privileged areas.

The finding of this study is that after evaluating the young people studied and the facts, drug trafficking is the main source of behavioral issues. With the elements of parental drug use, communication with local dealers, the number of times people ask young people to participate, age and the actual size of the person, drug trafficking becomes a key component in poverty.

The relationship between drug trafficking and poverty is very complex in the sense that it puts families and individuals in positions where they have to choose between life or death. In this case, life is the sense that one can either remain in their impoverished life while death is where if they do not take on this illegal activity, they will die with the few resources they have.

– Isabella Gonzalez Montilla
Photo: Flickr

Growing Cannabis Industry In recent years, the United States and countries around the globe have legalized medical marijuana. Several states in the U.S. have gone further and decriminalized the recreational use of cannabis. Growers and distributors of cannabis in the U.S. and Canada have been capitalizing on the growing cannabis industry. Doors have also been opening for companies based in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries like Jamaica, Colombia and Uruguay.

According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of the world’s population uses marijuana for medicinal remedies. People know Latin American and Caribbean countries for their expansive farms and high levels of agricultural exports. Cannabis companies can leverage these existing production and distribution channels to their benefit. Ideal climate conditions coupled with increasing investment flows have positioned South America and the Caribbean for explosive growth. Some estimate the industry to grow to $55.8 billion by 2025.

Jamaican Agribusiness Shifts Priorities

In 2015, Jamaica became one of the first countries to decriminalize marijuana. Jamaicans can possess up to two ounces of marijuana. A license to grow marijuana costs $300 and allows citizens to cultivate five cannabis plants. The government is taking proactive steps to capitalize on the growing number of countries legalizing the use of marijuana by supporting local companies and universities in their research and production.

In September 2019, Jamaica’s Ministry of Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, announced it would be partnering with Harvard International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute (HIPI). Through this partnership, HIPI will conduct research on the pharmacological benefits of cannabis. Jamaica aims to capitalize on this partnership and use it as an opportunity to grow and develop its national marijuana industry.

The Alternative Development Programme (ADP), a new government program in Jamaica, has the purpose of helping farmers benefit from the growing cannabis industry. The purpose of the program is to assist farmers in their transition from small-scale farming to large-scale farming to supply large international companies.

Uruguay’s Trailblazing Stance on Marijuana

In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. Combating gang violence was one of the Uruguayan government’s top motivators behind legalization. Despite it being well-known as one of Latin America’s safest countries, Uruguay’s crime rate has been steadily on the rise. By targeting drug cartels’ highest source of revenue, the government hopes to curb the growing violence stemming from the illicit drug trade.

Fotmer Life Sciences is a cannabis cultivator based in Uruguay. In September 2019, Fotmer became the first company to legally export medical cannabis from Latin America. Its first export partner was Australia, and Fotmer also trades with Germany and Canada. Diego Oliviera, the head Uruguay’s national drug agency, hopes to expand Uruguay’s place in the marijuana industry by expanding exports from solely marijuana plants to finished products, like oils. Although Uruguay is home to three other marijuana-based companies, Fotmer is the only company with a license to process and export the marijuana flower and products for direct consumption.

Marijuana as Colombia’s New Most Popular Export

Colombia, known for its petroleum and coal supply, can attribute 57 percent of its total export value to just that. Coffee and spices make up an additional 6 percent of exports due to Colombia’s ideal climate and 12 hours of daylight year-round. It is looking to attract cannabis cultivators using the same ideal conditions as a selling point and viable alternative to growing in countries like Canada and the United States, where people have to spend significant amounts of money on greenhouses for colder seasons.

Desired Effect of Legalization on Crime

In Colombia, the laws regarding marijuana are not as progressive as those in Uruguay. People can possess small amounts of marijuana and medicinal use is legal, but recreational use remains a criminal act. Similar to Uruguay, the Colombian government hopes that legalizing cannabis use will decrease gang and drug-related violence.

Drug- and gang-related violence is second to cancer as a leading cause of death in Colombia. It is too soon to tell whether legalization has had an impact on crime, but the strategy is to crimp revenue streams of gangs by making the illicit marijuana market. Now that it is legal for marijuana to grow for medicinal purposes, cannabis industry workers hope to attract investors. The Colombian Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) has 29 member companies who have invested over $600 million in the construction of medical marijuana facilities.

It is becoming increasingly popular for Latin American and Caribbean countries to capitalize on the opportunities that arise from the growing cannabis industry. As more and more companies look to locate their farms to the Caribbean and South America, LAC countries are seeking to benefit by coupling foreign investment with academic and industrial research in the hopes of reaping socio-economic dividends for everyone.

– Desiree Nestor
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Palau
Palau is a small country in the Pacific Ocean that attracts tourists from all over the world with its amazing scuba diving sites, stunning rock islands and gorgeous beaches. With a population of about 21,000 people, Palau is continuously working towards improving life on the island by bringing focus to some of its biggest issues such as lack of funding for non-communicable diseases, and drug and alcohol addiction in children and adults. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Palau.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Palau

  1. According to the CIA World Fact Book, life expectancy in Palau was 70.4 years for men and 77 years for women as of 2018. The life expectancy has stayed relatively the same over the years with only a two-year decrease since 1995.
  2. The leading causes of death in Palau are non-communicable diseases (NCD) with cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes being the four main causes of death in the country. Because of the lack of funds going into the prevention and treatment of these diseases, President Tommy Remengesau Jr. signed a law in 2016 to set 10 percent of the revenue raised from alcohol and tobacco taxes aside to finance NCD prevention.
  3. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease which can cause high fever, headache, vomiting and skin rash. Palau is no stranger to this disease and the Ministry of Health has been educating and bringing awareness to the public ever since its biggest outbreak in 2008. In December 2018, the Ministry of Health reported its first-ever cases of the Dengue Serotype 3 virus which the small country had never seen. It immediately issued an alert and urged the public to search for and kill mosquitos in and around homes, wear clothes to cover skin and use bug repellant. Fortunately, the country did not report any deaths from dengue fever and it had only 250 cases as of June 2019.
  4. Both children and adults in Palau have a dependence on drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. The country has created many educational efforts and protective laws for children, but despite these efforts, 70 percent of children chew on a drug called betel nut. The betel nut which has been a part of cultural practices since the 1970s is a popular and accessible drug on the island. According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, ingesting this drug can lead to oral cancers, stomach ulcers and heart disease when used regularly.
  5. Estimates determined the infant mortality to be 14 deaths to 1,000 live births as of 2015 in Palau, which was a 55 percent decrease since 1990.  Palau’s National Health Profile explains that 75 percent of expecting mothers used betel nut and tobacco during their pregnancy between 2007 and 2013. These were the main causes of the high rate of preterm complications that resulted in deaths of newborns. Along with these two risks, the health profile also highlights that overweight and obese mothers had a higher risk of preterm delivery as well. Because health services have become more available, mothers are now receiving education and given prenatal care preventing the infant mortality rate from going up.
  6. Health care and health services are becoming accessible to more and more families and children which has caused the mortality rate to decrease on the islands. Obesity still remains a problem for 24 percent of children, though. Many children do not have any knowledge of good eating habits and do not participate in any physical activity. Humanium reports that only 10 percent of children are eating fruits and vegetables in Palau.
  7. Palau reportedly has approximately 300 children with special needs on the registry with the Health Department but only around 189 are receiving special education services. Most special needs kids will receive health care, education and social services up until the age of 21. Once they reach 21 years of age there are not many resources on the small country to assist them in adapting and transitioning into the adult life which leaves these families without any aid.
  8. Although crime rates are low in Palau, emergencies do happen and getting help from police officers or medical personnel can be very difficult. The ability for police officers and ambulances to respond to crimes and medical emergencies can sometimes be very limited because of the lack of essential equipment, response vehicles and roads on the island. Ambulances often do not have proper equipment or staff. In rural areas receiving ambulance services is much more limited.
  9. Pollution affects 25 percent of the available drinking water in Palau. Groundwater pollution is caused by poorly maintained septic tanks and saltwater intrusion while land-based pollution, gasoline and oil from motors and ships impact coastal waters. Due to the ongoing development of the country, further pollution from sewages, chemicals and oil spills will be unavoidable if people do not control them which could greatly affect the country’s population.
  10. Seventy-one percent of the population in Palau live in urban areas on the islands of Koror and Airai. People without land rights must lease houses from the government which are usually one or two-story homes made of wood or cement with tin roofs. Living conditions are improving, however, due to the work of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the National Development Bank of Palau. They have been working together to create homes which will use less energy and reduce dependence on petroleum fuels that are imported to the island every year. Although this is an ongoing project having built only 60 homes, the improvement in living conditions will not only help the environment but also the people of this small country.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Palau show progress within its 340 islands. Government officials are putting many efforts into fixing the issues that Palau and its people are facing. By creating programs to help aid the disabled, providing education on health issues, passing laws to receive the funds necessary for treatments and starting new projects such as the building of energy-efficient homes, Palau is on the right track to bettering life on its islands.

– Jannette Aguirre
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Estonia
Estonia, a beautiful, Baltic country with a historically turbulent background, is a striking model of a nation that refuses to let adversities stand in the way of its mission for improvement. Despite Estonia’s many challenges over the last two decades, it continues to prove that positive change is possible, no matter how small. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Estonia demonstrate the most notable progress the country has made in pursuit of a longer and higher quality of life for its people. 

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Estonia

  1. As of 2018, the life expectancy for Estonian women was 82 years, while it was 72.3 years for men, adding roughly three years to the lifespans of both genders since 2008. While these numbers are still slightly below the EU average for 2018 (84 years for women and 79 for men), Estonia has made quite a dent in its life expectancy gap over the last decade.
  2. Preventable diseases largely affect low life expectancy in Estonia. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for killing three in five women and nearly half of all Estonian men. Various types of cancer account for the deaths of 22 percent of women and 27 percent of men, making it the leading cause of death in Estonia.
  3. In the last decade, Estonia’s Parliament introduced initiatives to address the number of deaths resulting from risky behaviors like alcohol abuse, injectable drug use and smoking. Initiatives involved a national Drug Prevention Policy and public awareness campaigns on the harmful effects of alcohol use and smoking. Daily smoking is down to 17.2 percent in 2018 compared to 30 percent in 2001. People who used injectables for at least three years decreased from 21 percent in 2005 to eight percent in 2011. Alcohol abuse is still alarmingly high, though, and accounted for 21.4 percent of all casualties in 2015 despite awareness campaigns and restrictions on alcohol sale and increased excise taxes.
  4. The Estonian Government approved a National Health Plan for 2014 through 2020 to improve the quality and accessibility of health care institutions. To ensure all socioeconomic groups had access to the same quality of care, Estonia opened a national health insurance fund for patient reimbursements, required doctors and pharmacists to prescribe the most affordable medication available and launched an online platform to ensure that the health care system remained as transparent as possible.
  5. Estonia launched an e-prescription service alongside its National Health Plan. By 2011, the medical field issued 84 percent of all prescriptions digitally with a 90 percent satisfaction rate. This digital shift also benefited pharmacies, cutting staff costs related to incorrect prescriptions by 90 percent and putting considerable savings back into the national health fund in order to further improve life expectancy in Estonia.
  6. Around 44,000 people or 3.4 percent of the Estonian population lived in absolute poverty as of 2017. Low income and poorly educated populations in Estonia were 50 percent more likely to develop respiratory diseases and 40 percent more likely to develop hypertension than those operating at the highest levels of income. But, social transfers in the form of benefits and pensions saved 22.8 percent of the population from slipping into poverty in the first place.
  7. Estonian’s who go on to earn a university degree may live 14 years longer than those who only attain lower secondary educations. In 2014, 90 percent of Estonian adults between the ages of 25 and 64 had achieved upper secondary or tertiary forms of education. This number is comparatively much higher than the OECD average of 75 percent.
  8. Economic growth in Estonia is directly related to the country’s astonishing technological advancement since 1991. This advancement has played a major role in creating jobs in Estonia. According to The World Bank, over 14,000 new tech companies registered in Estonia in 2011, a 40 percent increase since 2008. High-tech companies also account for 15 percent of the country’s GDP.
  9. In an effort to combat high unemployment among Estonian youth, the country established ENTRUM (Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme). The program aims to encourage creativity, problem-solving skills and knowledge of risk management. Between 2010 and 2012, over 1,000 teens participated in the program. Former participants went on to create 59 new businesses, the most successful employing upwards of 60 people.
  10. Estonia boasts a massive network of over 33,000 registered nonprofit organizations acting as service providers for citizens. These organizations employ 28,000 Estonian, making the nonprofit sector responsible for the paid employment of four to five percent of the national workforce. 

Despite its turbulent past, Estonia has proven over the last two decades that it is capable of great improvement. These improvements come in the form of technological advancement, transparent and efficient health care and government initiatives focused on accessing all citizens and ensuring they receive the care they need. 

Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Belarus
Belarus is a former member of the Soviet Union, located between Russia, Poland and Lithuania. Like most post-Soviet states, Belarus has experienced substantial economic and societal problems since attaining sovereignty. The country has developed under a dictatorship and today Belarus has virtually full employment and an official poverty rate of less than six percent. However, the country still faces significant obstacles to public health and economic development. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Belarus

  1. There is a Stark Gender Gap: The first of the 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus is that the average life expectancy is 73 years, but there is a significant disparity in life expectancy between males and females. While women in Belarus have an average life expectancy of 79 years, men in the country live until only 67.8 on average. Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Belarus. While a genetic predisposition is typically the leading risk factor for non-communicable disease, lifestyle choices are commonly to blame in Belarus. The biggest risk factors for both Belarusian men and women are alcohol consumption, tobacco use and a lack of exercise.
  2. Alcoholism is a Major Problem: Belarus is one of the heaviest alcohol consuming countries in the world. In 2010, Belarusian males consumed an average of almost 29 liters of pure alcohol per capita annually. By 2016, this number was down to 18 liters per capita, which was still triple the global average. Alcohol abuse has concrete consequences for life expectancy in Belarus as alcohol consumption was the cause of over half of liver disease in Belarus in 2016.
  3. There is a Culture of Male Tobacco Use: Almost half of all adult men in Belarus smoke daily, while less than 10 percent of women do. Despite laws establishing an age minimum of 18 for purchasing tobacco, one in every 20 boys between 10 and 14 years old identified themselves as daily smokers in 2016 alone. That same year, tobacco use related to over a quarter of deaths from non-communicable diseases among males in Belarus.
  4. Men Often Die Early: Premature death is very common, particularly among males, skewing data for the average life expectancy for men in Belarus. In contemporary Belarus, an average of close to 40 percent of men dies prematurely between the ages of 30 and 70. Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in Belarus, accounting for almost 90 percent of all mortalities and the vast majority of premature deaths.
  5. Belarus Guarantees Health Care: The Constitution of Belarus guarantees that the government will provide free, accessible health care to all Belarusians. This does not translate into universally free health care but does include free emergency care, vaccinations, hospital stays and childbirth. According to the 2019 Bloomberg Health Efficiency Index, Belarus ranks within the top 50 most efficient health care systems globally.
  6. Suicide is Prevalent: In 2019, Belarus had the fifth-highest suicide rate in the world. Further, men were reportedly six times more at risk than women. This is largely linked to alcoholism, which is far more common among Belarusian men than women.
  7. Premature Death Hurts Economically and Demographically: According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization, the loss of productivity and government expenditure associated with premature deaths cost the Belarusian economy over five percent of its GDP every year. Belarus is one of the fastest shrinking countries due to its net population decline of 750,000 since 1990.
  8. Substance Abuse is a Rural Problem: Rural regions of Belarus, particularly those bordering Russia and Lithuania, experience many alcohol-related deaths at a disproportionate level. This is largely due to increased poverty, which fuels the widespread production of homemade alcohol. One of the first-ever studies on rural alcoholism and homemade alcohol took place in 2016, but due to its significant impact on life expectancy in Belarus, as well as its unregulated nature, the government has made the alcohol black market a legislative priority.
  9. Many Slavic Countries Have Similar Problems: Russia, Belarus’s closest ally, has higher rates of suicide, substance abuse and premature mortality than its neighbor. It has a similar gender gap in life expectancy and is also experiencing a decline in population. Belarus’ cultural, political and geographic proximity to countries like Russia, which have similar cultures of unhealthiness, strengthen may of its problems.
  10. The Government Has Made Steps: The government of Belarus has taken action recently to improve the country’s health standards. In 2018, the World Health Organization reported that the total alcohol consumption per capita had fallen to just 10 liters. In February 2019, the Belarusian president instituted new regulations on the tobacco industry in order to decrease its use, particularly around children.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Belarus show that the tradition of substance abuse impacts the country’s life expectancy gravely, which Belarus largely ignored until recent years. Belarus’ robust health care system shows that the government has an interest in public health. Until recent years, state-run and international health organizations alike had difficulty combating the country’s culture of unhealthiness. This has become a clear governmental priority as reflected in the gradual shift toward more restricted access to tobacco and alcohol.

Since 2015, more studies on alcoholism in Belarus have published than ever before, and the issues of premature death and life expectancy have become common pieces of the national dialogue. Although Belarus has not yet definitively solved the problem of premature death and substance abuse, the country is certainly on the right path to reversing its health trends.

Daniel Rothberg
Photo: Flickr

midterm elections in the Philippines
Millions of voters marched to the polls on May 13, 2019, for the 2019 midterm election in the Philippines. More than 18,000 government positions were up for election, but all eyes were on the Senate race due to its influence on President Rodrigo Duterte’s authoritarian agenda.

All 12 Duterte-backed Senate candidates won by a landslide, demonstrating the popularity of President Duterte’s policies. Three candidates in the spotlight were former special assistant to President Bong Go, former police chief and the architect of Duterte’s drug war, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, and Imee Marcos, the daughter of the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.

The Consolidation of Power

The results indicate that the destructive drug war plaguing the Philippines is far from over. So far, the conflict has resulted in a total of 22,983 deaths since Duterte took office in 2016, according to the Philippine National Police. This statistic includes suspected drug users, drug pushers and civilians living in impoverished communities, all of whom the President and his police force see as collateral damage.

During Duterte’s war on drugs, not a single drug lord received apprehension. Further, the drug war has not effectively reduced drug use or decelerated the drug trade in the Philippines. On the contrary, the drug war has caused the prices of methamphetamines, or shabu, to lower by a third of the original price, increasing the accessibility and prevalence of the drug.

Additionally, Duterte’s policies include reinstating the death penalty and lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 years old. Before the midterm elections, a portion of the Senate did not approve of Duterte’s policies, resulting in political gridlock. Now, Duterte’s newly-consolidated legislative power gives him the upper hand in following through with these policies.

Duterte’s High Approval Rating

Despite Duterte’s undemocratic tactics, his approval rating remains high at 81 percent. Duterte has garnered support for his strongman leadership and his promises to keep the streets safe. His popularity reveals the nation’s fragility and puts into question the stability of the Philippines’ political structures.

The Opposition

The opposition still holds a stake in the political landscape despite the lack of congressional representation after the midterm election in the Philippines.

The opposition includes key figures such as former Senator Leila de Lima and Rappler journalist, Maria Ressa. Duterte has imprisoned both Lima and Ressa in order to silence their critiques against his administration, but human rights groups are dedicated to releasing them from prison, claiming that they received conviction without a fair trial. These human rights groups include the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and FORUM-ASIA, and they are determined to hold the Filipino government accountable for all human rights violations.

Efforts abroad are also looking to combat the Duterte administration, such as the Malaya Movement. The Malaya Movement is a U.S.-based organization that organizes events such as rallies and summits and mobilizes individuals to petition against the drug war and government corruption in the Philippines. Its mission is to broaden the opposition against Duterte’s policies and endorse freedom and democracy in the Philippines.

– Louise Macaraniag
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Latin American Drug Cartels Target Impoverished Children

Drug cartels are a rising problem everywhere, especially for those that are in poverty. Children, specifically children in poverty, are generally the most vulnerable population anywhere in the world. Latin American drug cartels target impoverished children specifically due to their innocence and willingness to obey. Although this situation seems unfixable, people are uniting together against Latin American drug cartels, providing much needed hope.

The Situation

In Latin America, 43 percent of children live in poverty. These children’s come from families with no money for food, clothing or shelter. Cartels know the struggles of these children, so they offer them work. Because many feel they have no choice but to accept work from Latin American drug cartels, 80 percent of children under 25 agree to work for them.

Young children in Mexico and other Latin American countries draw less suspicion than older individuals and are willing to work for little money. As a result, the cartels use them in every way possible. Cartels often send children unaccompanied to push drugs across borders. Subsequently, border security will help unaccompanied children, thus enabling drug traffickers to smuggle drugs across borders.

How Countries Combat Drug Cartels

Luckily for these children, countries are taking steps to eliminate cartels. Recently, Mexico initiated a joint investigative team with the U.S. to fight against drug cartels. The U.S. and Mexico have worked together to combat cartels since the 1970s. For instance, one program, the Merida Initiative, worked to stop the flow of illegal weapons from the U.S. into Mexico and, subsequently, Latin American cartels. Similarly, the U.S. and Mexico offer amnesty to drug dealers in exchange for information.

This new joint investigative team is based in Chicago and directly targets cartel finances. Cartels survive by distributing goods to suppliers and laundering money. Therefore, disrupting their finances and cracking down on money laundering will drastically slow their production. In doing so, the team intends to weaken and ultimately stop Latin American drug cartels.

How Nonprofit Organizations and KIND Help

Nonprofit organizations band together to help the children that drug smugglers employed previously. One organization in particular, KIND, is dedicated to offering such help. KIND protects children’s rights when unaccompanied children are detained by the U.S. and when they are on the move. KIND ensures detained children receive necessary legal aid, especially as these children are burdened with an immigration system they do not understand.

With the U.S. and Mexico targeting drug cartels’ financial assets and nonprofit organizations providing the necessary help, there is hope to eliminate drug cartels and keep vulnerable children safe. The U.S. and Mexico, along with nonprofit organizations, are executing solutions to keep drug cartels away from children and shut them down altogether.

– Emme Chadwick
Photo: Pixabay

Drug Use in MexicoSouth of the border of the United States of America, the United States of Mexico is trying to stay afloat from rapid increase and usage of drugs throughout the country. However, current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has officially declared the end of the country’s war on drugs. In fact, he has declared peace over the nation. Below are some important facts about drug use in Mexico.

Drug Use in Mexico: The Numbers

Based on drug sales alone from Mexico to America, Mexican drug cartels take in about $19 billion to $29 billion annually.

In the time span of five years, nearly 48,000 people have been killed in suspected drug-related violence. In addition, there has been an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 killed due to the War on Drugs. This is since the beginning of Calderon’s presidency.

The War on Drugs and Civilian Defense

Recently, a force called autodefensas (autodefenses) has popped up around the country to help with the defense against drug cartels on their communities.

At the start of President Felipe Calderon election, he sent over 6,000 soldier’s into the state of Michoacán to help fight against the drug cartels that were ravishing Michoacán. As a result, this action began the War on Drugs.

From the start of the War on Drugs, civilians have formed their own ways of defending their country and communities. In fact, the movement of autodefansas doubled within seven years, starting at 250 members and reaching to 600 by 2013.

Next, the cartels are prone to ravish a community by exploiting business owners and forcing payments on the town without legal reasons for doing so. This keeps the cycle of poverty within the country swirling, certainly making it harder for people to break free of drug use or to make profits from their businesses.

The autodefensas groups formed out of a need to protect and supervise their neighborhoods from the corruption of the drug cartel. With men such as Alfredo Castillo, the Security Commissioner for the state of Michoacán, and Estanislao Beltran, they are attempting to break the cycle of the War on Drugs. Additionally, they hope to again be able to use their profits and agriculture to profit the well-being of their state and country.

Drug Use in Mexico

In 2016-2017, a national survey was done on Drugs, Alcohol, and Tobacco Consumption (ENCODAT) to determine the highest states of drug use in Mexico.

Top Five Highest States of Drug Consumption:

  1. Quintana Roo
  2. Jalisco
  3. Baja California
  4. Coahuila
  5. Aguascalientes

The survey consists of data from the age range of 12 to 65 per state. It concludes with the top three drugs (in no particular order of highest to lowest per state) to be marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines.

Finally, the earliest age of drug use, on average, begins at the age of 17 for men and 18 for women.

How is Mexico Moving Towards Decreasing Drug Use?

ENCODAT is an organization that desires to bring awareness to the people about the effects of drugs. Additionally, the organization wants to advocate for the effects of the body. It also aims to implement life-long strategies that will improve each community.

Forums are set in place to discuss specific detriments to the body and community. ENDOCAT wants to bring about and encourage public spaces that are safe for both children and adults. They also want to change the perception that drug use is merely a criminal act. They aim in drug use being perceived as a health problem that needs treatment and care.

Through ENCODAT and awareness of the War on Drugs, drug use in Mexico can continue to decrease. Mexico is projected to no longer be one of the leading countries of drug use in the world.

– Hannah Vaughn
Photo: Flickr