Period Poverty in KenyaPeriod poverty in Kenya, or poor access to menstrual hygiene facilities, products and education, marginalizes women. In the year 2016, “a report funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” noted that about half of Kenyan girls could not openly talk about menstruation due to a negative societal response to the topic. However, organizations and initiatives aim to combat menstrual stigma and fight period poverty in Kenya.

5 Solutions to Fight Period Poverty in Kenya

  1. Increasing Access to Sanitary Products. To fight period poverty in Kenya, it is important to ensure free or affordable access to sanitary products for all young girls. Access to menstrual products can keep girls in school, which will reduce the disproportionate dropout rates between boys and girls when transitioning into high school. In May 2021, a Kenyan citizen filed a petition to have the Kenyan government provide sanitary products in schools for free.
  2. Proper Policy Implementation. The government must properly implement policies that aim to combat period poverty. In 2017, the government of Kenya passed a law that would have seen all girls receive sanitary products for free while enrolled in school, but this law was not properly implemented. In addition, the government, where possible, must allocate more state funds to ensure more girls can access sanitary products regardless of economic status.
  3. Private Sector Involvement. Procter & Gamble, the company that produces the Always menstrual brand, created the Always Keeping Girls in School program to address period poverty in African countries. Since 2008, this program has donated more than 13 million pads to more than 200,000 girls in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Similarly, Bayer employees have shown initiative by providing free menstrual cups to girls in Kenya. Involving the private sector in the fight against period poverty would also help the Kenyan government implement its policies better.
  4. More Education Initiatives. Innovative programs focused on key populations have emerged to fight period poverty in Kenya. For example, the United Nations Population Fund partnered with a grassroots organization called This-Ability Trust, which has been providing menstrual education to those with disabilities. Puberty education is also crucial. Currently, only about 50% of girls are willing to openly discuss menstrual health matters in family settings. Breaking the silence by educating pubescent teens and adolescents on the importance of menstrual health will encourage them to approach their teachers, parents and guardians for further guidance.
  5. Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Lastly, aid is needed to help Kenya recover from the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic, which had indirect effects on period poverty. Quarantine measures in Kenya meant that women and girls could not access health services that provide sanitary products for free. Economic stresses also meant girls and women could not afford sanitary products. Organizations like Plan International have been able to lend a helping hand to girls who live in slums. Plan International distributed almost 3,000 sanitary products to women in Kenya’s Kibera slum in partnership with the Kenyan organization ZanaAfrica. Since 65% of women and girls in Kenya are unable to access sanitary products due to economic reasons, these humanitarian efforts help fight period poverty in Kenya.

Looking to the Future

By focusing on such solutions to fight period poverty in Kenya, the Kenyan government and nonprofit organizations can empower and uplift impoverished Kenyan women. Reducing period poverty in Kenya ensures that the lives of girls and women are not disrupted simply due to the inability to afford menstrual products.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Water Crisis in Kenya’s SlumsKenya, a country in East Africa, has a population of more than 50 million, with about 4.4 million people residing in the capital city of Nairobi. The combination of a dry climate and a rapidly growing population has caused a water crisis in Kenya’s slums, where citizens in poverty live in informal settlements without water infrastructure.

Origins of the Crisis

Urbanization plays a large role in the water crisis. While 90% of urban residents had clean water in 1990, this figure fell to 50% in Nairobi as the city’s population nearly quadrupled. The city began rationing water in 2017. The Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company estimates that supply still falls 25% short of demand. Informal settlements lack piped water and the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that water from vendors or surface sources often contains contaminants.

The Kenyan government struggles to address the water crisis in Kenya’s slums due to the informal nature of the urban settlements. Aid organizations and private nonprofits also fail to provide long-term relief, with more than 60% of water projects failing in their first year.

Well Aware Executive Director Kareece Sacco told The Borgen Project that “There’s the first water crisis that everyone is aware about that’s left people lacking access to reliable clean water. But the second one, as we have termed it, is the failure of the system.” Well Aware is a nonprofit with more than 70 successful water projects in East Africa.

In 2021, the organization plans to complete a new water project for the Ingrid Education Center in the Kayole-Soweto slum in Nairobi. Speaking on the systemic failures that perpetuate the water crisis, Sacco explained that “a lot of organizations doing similar work don’t have these long term relationships with these communities and they’re just not being empowered in the correct way to help maintain them [water systems].” Strengthening local partnerships with aid organizations empowers Kenyans in poverty to solve the water crisis in Kenya’s slums.

The Challenges

Without connections to a water source, residents of the Kayole-Soweto slum often trek long distances to provide water for their families. This chore falls mostly on women and girls, which worsens gender inequalities in the area. The World Bank interviewed residents of Kayole-Soweto, with many respondents reporting that they often resort to purchasing water at high costs from vendors who take advantage of this need. The vendors also sell water of questionable quality to slum dwellers for discounted rates, which causes health and sanitation issues throughout Kayole-Soweto.

The Impact of Local Partnerships

Aid and non-governmental organizations that effectively engage in local partnerships directly address these issues. For example, Well Aware maximizes its impact by partnering with local schools to drill wells, which increases education rates overall by 34% and increases education rates for girls by 58% on average.

Sacco told The Borgen Project that “if we do a drill at a school, most of the time, we’ll set up a kiosk at the road for the community to be able to come too.” This is how water projects with local partnership components make a larger impact. By engaging directly with local partners, projects to solve the water crisis in Kenya’s slums are more responsive to the needs of those in poverty.

Slums also struggle with incorporating traditional connections to water sources. Piped water requires large initial investments that individual households in slums cannot bear, and this has adverse health and sanitation effects. As a result, the decision to implement piped water systems in the slums of Kayole-Soweto and other locations favors landlords who pool money from multiple sources. This poses additional barriers to clean water for slum-dwellers in poverty.

Water projects that provide innovative solutions to the water crisis in Kenya’s slums circumvent traditional barriers to water access. For example, Stanford University water projects in Kenyan slums recognize the fact that around 70% of urban Kenyans own cellphones. Bearing this in mind, Stanford innovates apps and mobile services that help slum dwellers pinpoint water locations. Similar ideas come from courses at Stanford University that prioritizes local partnerships and requires in-person meetings in Kenya with local leaders. This demonstrates how local partnerships foster innovative solutions that accurately meet the needs of locals in poverty.

The Future of the Water Crisis in Kenya’s Slums

The water crisis in Kenya’s slums becomes more urgent as infrastructure fails to keep up with population growth. USAID reported that the Kenyan government drastically increased spending on the water sector as sufficient progress requires $14 billion in the next 15 years.

As a result, the Kenyan government needs international aid and private assistance from humanitarian organizations to bridge the gap. Current water project financing in the country consists of 64% donor funds. This creates an opportunity for donors to find new methods of delivering water access apart from traditional government-provided public goods.

Rapid urbanization in Kenya exacerbates the existing water crisis in the country. With many new arrivals to Kenya’s cities ending up in slums, inequality and failures of traditional water systems to adequately serve the needs of citizens in poverty have further worsened the water crisis. As donors continue to drive the financing of the water sector in Kenya, opportunity grows for innovative partnerships with local actors in Kenya’s slums. Kayole-Soweto exemplifies this by using conventional and unconventional tools for water access, including building wells on school land and incorporating cellphone technology. Local partnerships empower residents of Kenya’s slums to find the best solution to the water crisis for themselves.

– Viola Chow
Photo: Unsplash

Smart Tech Cities
Africa has become home to multiple smart tech cities. More than 15 tech cities have undergone introduction in Africa in the past decade, and three more cities are currently boosting the continent’s economy. Here is some information about the three new smart tech cities in Africa.

Mwale City

One of the smart tech cities is Mwale, a tech and medical city located between Butere Sub-county and Kakamega County in Kenya. The construction of Mwale started in 2014 and reached completion in December 2020, with a budget of $2 billion. Mwale city consists of five districts, and its construction occurred in three phases. The construction of the city occurred with sustainable energy, including solar street lights.

Mwale will also have amenities like a golf resort with more than 4,700 private residences, a Disney water park and the biggest convention center in the world. Additionally, people will be able to reach the city’s hospital via a cable car that travels along a serene aerial route from a private international airport.

When Mwale reached completion in 2020, it became home to more than 20,000 workers, 9,000 of whom are healthcare workers in Hamptons Hospital. The hospital has the capacity to serve 12,000 patients regularly. With the Kakamega County Healthcare Referral Program, the hospital also offers free treatment to Kakamega habitants.

Additionally, the smart tech city of Mwale has also seen a jump in land prices, benefiting 30,000 landowner inhabitants. The cost of one acre in 2014 was $1,500. One acre now costs more than $30,000, which makes landowning residents part of the middle class.

Mwale also has its own source of power, running on solar power and other energy sources. It also uses rainwater harvesting for drinking water.

Further, builders constructed the city’s 150 km of roads to accommodate all-weather standards. It also contains a connected system of installed bicycles and sidewalks that intersect the city to discourage motor vehicle transport and create a pollution-free environment.

Many anticipate that the smart tech city of Mwale will become one of the biggest cities in Africa in 15 years. It could become a leading economic hub not only in Western Kenya but also in the broader regions of East and Central Africa.

Konza City

The smart tech city of Konza is among the projects central to Kenya’s vision for 2030. This plan includes the goal of establishing Konza as a world-class smart city and a prime economic driver for the nation. The city will also create 200,000 jobs once its construction is complete.

Konza is located about 37 miles away from the nation’s capital of Nairobi on 2,000 hectares of land, and it has a total project budget of several billion dollars. The city will include four primary services: infrastructure, residential, city and business (local trade support).

In addition, Konza will collect data from smart devices installed in the city’s roads and buildings. To adapt services to Konza’s residents, a smart communications scheme will share the data and examine it with software. For example, pedestrian and vehicular traffic will undergo supervision with route sensors, which will also control the traffic lights.

Konza is currently in its first phase of construction on 400 acres of land. The intention of this phase is to host more than 30,000 residents. More than 300 investors have demonstrated interest in the city.

Diamniadio City

Another smart tech city, Diamniadio, is part of Senegal’s vision for 2035. The city is located 24 miles from Dakar, the country’s capital. The intention of Diamniadio is to lessen the population overcrowding in the capital while boosting the country’s economy.

Diamniadio has cost $2 billion so far and will include four areas of 1,000 acres each. One area will be the Ministerial City, which will include entertainment amenities, an international park and the Amadou Mahtar Mbow University (UAM). The city plans to host about 350,000 residents.

Diamniadio will also have an express train connecting to Dakar, the Dakar “Abdou Diouf” conference center, the Dakar Arena and a sports complex. Eventually, China will invest $105 million in the second industrial phase of the city.

Africa is now competing to lead the world in the cultivation of smart tech cities. Smart tech cities in Africa are attracting global giant companies, which will help grow its economy and accommodate the rest of the world.

– Zineb Williams
Photo: Flickr

Self-sustainability in EritreaSalesian Missions, an organization part of the Salesians of Don Bosco, has provided the Don Bosco Technical School in Eritrea with funding to buy two cows. The funding, which also enabled students to buy food supplies, will help the school work toward self-sustainability. In the future, the Salesian missionaries hope to gain funding to purchase two additional cows and renovate the barn housing the cows. The funding is part of a long-term self-sustainability project. Members of the school and the community have also been growing their own vegetables, selling milk and making furniture to sell. Self-sustainability in Eritrea is important as nearly 70% of Eritreans live in poverty.

Don Bosco Technical School

The Don Bosco Technical School is located in Dekemhare, 25 miles away from the Eritrean capital, Asmara. The education facility teaches technical skills in “automotive work, general metal, general mechanics, carpentry, building construction, woodwork or furniture making, electricity, electronics and surveying.” The school also teaches courses in information technology and academic subjects. After completing a course, students participate in “military training for six months” and the Eritrean government allocates jobs to them. Salesian Missions’ funding plays a vital role in the school’s flourishing self-sustainability project.

Salesians of Don Bosco and Salesian Missions

The Salesians of Don Bosco is a global Catholic organization founded by an Italian Catholic priest, Don Bosco, to “serve the young,” especially impoverished and marginalized people. It is now the second-largest order within the Catholic Church. Salesian Missions, its U.S. developmental branch, is made up of more than 30,000 religious members dedicated to serving the world’s most impoverished people. Salesian Missions’ overall goal is to equip children with the skills needed to secure employment and achieve self-sufficiency in order to break cycles of poverty.

Poverty and Agriculture in Eritrea

Eritrea’s economy depends, in part, on agriculture. While agriculture makes up about one-third of the country’s economy, it accounts for about 63% of total employment. Eritrea’s agriculture sector is highly dependant on rainfall, making it a volatile sector due to increasing droughts.

According to the World Population Review, 69% of Eritrea’s population lives in poverty. Eritrea ranks fifth for global poverty, behind only South Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar and Guinea-Bissau. Due to high rates of poverty, self-sustainability in Eritrea is the surest means of survival.

Eritrea is also known for its strict government. Dubbed by many as the “Africa’s North Korea,” Eritrea has been subject to several U.N. and EU sanctions, some of which have been lifted. However, Eritrea was recently hit with sanctions for human rights violations tied to the conflict in Ethiopia. As an isolated nation, Eritrea is cut off from many of the advantages of globalism and does not enjoy the same opportunities for global trade.

A Future of Self-Sustainability

Because of its high poverty rates and struggling agricultural sector, any funding into agricultural resources greatly helps the citizens of Eritrea, allowing them to work toward self-sustainability and thrive for far longer than short-term food aid would allow. Salesian Missions is doing important work since self-sustainability in Eritrea is vital for the survival of many.

– Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccines for SomaliaIn March 2021, COVAX helped secure the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines for Somalia. According to The New Humanitarian, Somalia has one of the weakest healthcare systems in the world. Before the pandemic, Somalia was already struggling with political and economic concerns. The added effects of COVID-19 have significantly impacted the country.

COVAX Donation and Vaccine Hesitancy

More than 300,000 COVID-19 vaccines first arrived in Somalia on March 15, 2021. Donated by COVAX, a global effort to provide equitable vaccine coverage, the doses will prioritize “frontline workers, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions.” UNICEF reports that Somalia is one of the first African countries to receive vaccine donations through COVAX, an important act as the country moves into a new wave of infections.

Misinformation has contributed to vaccine hesitancy in Somalia, which may adversely impact a successful vaccination rollout. Somali people working in the medical field are making efforts to combat misinformation and build vaccine trust to ensure vaccine hesitancy does not present a barrier for Somalia.

COVID-19 in Somalia

COVID-19 cases in Somalia stand at more than 13,000 as of April 30, 2021, with more than 700 deaths. COVID-19 deaths and infections in Somalia are low compared to other African countries and the rest of the world, but slow vaccination rates are making it harder to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. More than a year after the first reported case of COVID-19 in Somalia, Somalia is facing a peak, with a death toll far higher than the peak of 2020. Only about 0.8% of 15 million Somali’s have been vaccinated so far.

The first cases of COVID-19 in Somalia were mostly travel-related cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the past year, the WHO and partners have helped strengthen Somalia’s COVID-19 response by providing critical resources. These efforts contributed to creating three COVID-19 testing labs in Somalia. Furthermore, “73 rapid response teams were deployed for COVID-19 case investigation, alert verification and sample collection.” More than 7,000 healthcare workers received COVID-19 health training and 76 oxygen concentrators were provided to health facilities, among other efforts.

Vaccination Efforts for Preventable Diseases

Before the onset of COVID-19 in Somalia, WHO started the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), which aims to vaccinate Somali children against eight preventable diseases. This program helped control the 2017 and 2018 measles outbreaks in Somalia and helped citizens keep up with routine immunizations, mitigating the spread of common diseases across the country. In 2019, the initiative trained healthcare workers from more than 700 health centers in immunization practices and procedures.

Call to Action

As COVID-19 continues to threaten the world, vulnerable populations in developing countries are most at risk. Recognizing this fact, in June 2021, President Biden announced a plan to donate 500 million COVID-19 vaccines to countries in need through COVAX. The international community needs to come together in a collaborative global effort to ensure disadvantaged countries receive sufficient COVID-19 vaccines.

Monica Mellon
Photo: Flickr

impact of conflict on poverty
Conflict can be a catalyst for an array of poverty-related events. It can impact poverty by depleting resources, interrupting supply chains, destroying infrastructure, taking lives and much more. Unfortunately, this trend has held in the country of Mali, which currently shows the significant impact of conflict on poverty.

Conflict Background and Economic Impact

The Mali War is an ongoing conflict that began in January of 2012. Since then, violence between the North and South of Mali has ebbed and flowed in severity but never subsided. Malian people, including the Tuareg, in the North of Mali, have expressed resentment and concern, as they feel that governmental groups and political factions have been neglecting their concerns and treating them unfairly. Ethnic divides, fundamentalist fighters and an unstable political system are a few issues that have caused this conflict.

There have been thousands of deaths and thousands of more people fleeing the conflict. As mentioned previously, many connect the weak economic sector in Mali to the outbreak of unrest and violence. Almost cyclically, this violence is now negatively impacting the economic sector. Before the conflict broke out, tourism accounted for more than 40% of Mali’s GDP. Researchers estimate that 8,000 people lost their job due to the drastic decrease in tourism after the conflict began. The economic connection highlights the ranging impact of conflict on poverty.

Many of those living in the North of Mali, mostly Tuareg and Arab groups, depend on the agricultural sector for their income. The government has invested very little in this sector and focuses primarily on tourism and the export of gold and cotton from the South. This has led many agricultural producers in the South to grow jaded towards the government due to their increased likelihood of experiencing extreme poverty.

The Impact on Public Health

Roughly 1 in 3 children in Mali are facing chronic malnutrition. An annual average of nearly four million people in Mali do not have access to an adequate amount of food. More than half of Mali’s children and young adults are illiterate and have been pushed out of school due to displacement. Many children in Mali are at great risk of being recruited into militant groups, further threatening their safety, educational resources, and ability to climb from poverty.

At its base level, the conflict in Mali threatens public health by the sheer loss of life it has caused. In 2018, hundreds of civilians were killed by armed groups. The byproducts of this violence caused even more people to experience extreme poverty, malnutrition and death. Additionally, more than 200,000 people have fled Mali altogether to avoid the violence. This stunts Mali’s economic growth, which reaffirms the dangerous impact of conflict on poverty.

Current Aid and Support Efforts

A military coup ousted the former President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, on August 19th, 2020. President Bah Ndaw became the interim leader of Mali and will hold the position until an election can be held. Some are hopeful that if a legitimate election can be held, much of the conflict in Mali will subside. In the meantime, many local and international nonprofit organizations have mobilized to aid in poverty-reduction efforts throughout Mali.

  1. For example, World Vision began providing aid in Mali in 1975, even before the conflict. In 2012 during the height of the conflict, World Vision provided aid in the form of food, clean water, and shelter to more than 150,000 people throughout Mali. Additionally, more than 60,000 children in Mali are currently benefiting from World Vision’s child sponsorship program. The program allows donors to provide monetary assistance to and communicate with an impoverished child. Many of these sponsored children in Mali reside within conflict-ridden areas.
  2. Peace Direct, another nonprofit organization, focuses on peacebuilding efforts in Mali. They support communities in their implementation of peacebuilding; in 2019 alone, they supported more than 20 projects throughout Mali. Peace Direct realizes the importance of community growth, both physically and emotionally, to peacebuilding. A lack of communal trust can be detrimental to poverty reduction, as teamwork makes progress more effective and efficient. Additionally, the building of trust and understanding among conflict groups is essential to support continued growth and stability throughout Mali. This trust will prevent future conflicts and allow Mali to focus on joint economic growth and poverty-reduction tactics throughout their country.

    3. “The Peacebuilding Stabilization and Reconciliation Project,” run through USAID, began in April of 2018 and is scheduled to be completed in March of 2023. This project focuses on rebuilding many of the conflict-ridden areas throughout Mali, providing rehabilitation resources to those impacted by the violence, increasing civic engagement and helping Mali’s government introduce barriers to prevent violent outbreaks in the future. USAID believes that providing community members with an active role in their governance will decrease dissent, enhance democratic values, reduce the likelihood of future conflict and decrease the joint poverty level throughout Mali. Success will also ideally increase GDP and overall well being while mitigating the impact of conflict on poverty in Mali.

The Future of the Region

The domino effect that violence can have on the prosperity of a nation is not a surprise. Violence decreases an individual’s ability to focus on economic growth or public health. It overtakes governmental initiatives and attention from the media, forcing poverty-related issues to take a backseat. The importance of the international community supporting peacebuilding efforts in Mali remains essential. The path toward peace will trickle-down benefits for many subsets of Mali’s society and will decrease the occurrence of extreme poverty throughout the nation.

Danielle Forrey
Photo: UN Multimedia

South Korea’s Foreign Aid
South Korea, or the Republic of Korea officially, is stepping forward as a global leader in delivering foreign aid. During the COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea’s foreign aid will amount to $400 million USD donated to programs dedicated to improving health in developing countries, according to South Korea’s fiscal chief Moon Jae-In in April 2020. In 2017, he was the chief of staff to President Roh Moo-hyun. The country has also enacted foreign aid by pledging to extend the due dates of international loans and payments.

Where South Korea’s Foreign Aid is Going

South Korea’s foreign aid has helped South Korea emerge as a world leader, and especially since the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) recruited it. Another thing that has helped South Korea emerge as a world leader was its swift detection, containment and treatment of COVID-19. South Korea lowered the number of cases in the county to 61 cases on October 24, 2020 – all without imposing a full lockdown.

In Tanzania, South Korean foreign aid is implementing a project to empower rural women. It will facilitate this project from 2020 to 2023, with $5 million USD. Agricultural facilities will undergo construction, and female farmers will receive marketing and technical education. This will improve women’s access to land. South Korea will also establish a center for victims of gender-based violence.

South Korea has undergone a radical transformation. It has gone from being a recipient to a significant donor of international aid. In the 1960s, South Korea received over $1,400 million USD in foreign aid. Decades later, in 1987, South Korea adopted democracy, and institutions received new designs to better serve the interests of the public. In 1987, it donated $25 million in foreign aid, but this does not include aid to North Korea, or else this amount would be far larger. This change was due to South Korea’s official adoption of democracy in 1987 when June demonstrations forced the government to announce democratic reforms. A free market allowed for competition, and therefore, innovation to take place, thus sustaining the economy and bolstering the GDP per capita, from $2,835 USD in 1986 to $13,403 USD in 1996.

South Korea as an ODA Donor

In 1987, South Korea became a donor for official development assistance (ODA). ODA is government aid to encourage the economic development of developing countries. In 1987, South Korea’s foreign aid totaled $25 million. Contributions steadily increased, with yearly percentage increases ranging from 30% to 79% in the next 20 years. It continues to flourish and thrive as an emerging significant country in global aid.

South Korea and the OECD

South Korea became a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) prestigious Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in 2010. The OECD is an international group of the biggest providers of assistance towards developing countries and the DAC is a forum to discuss issues of international aid focused on inclusive and sustainable growth.

In 2011, one year after becoming a member of DAC, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak stated that South Korea intends to give more aid to the world than what it has ever taken. To exemplify this promise, in 2015, Korea partnered with USAID to commit $5 million to the Ethiopian government to encourage its efforts to mitigate child and maternal death there. It mainly focused on heightening the numbers of healthy mothers and successful births, giving more access to application and acceptance of family planning, and increasing healthy birth rates.

South Korea also pledged in July 2020 to give $4 million in humanitarian assistance to countries in East Africa that experienced locust swarms, resulting in food crises for over 25 million people. The World Bank recommended that social and productive safety-net programs – a subset of social protection mechanisms – be instilled to bolster food and nutrition security. Safety nets include cash, social pensions, public works and school meal programs.

South Korea’s growth in foreign aid increased significantly after the county adopted democracy, and it became a member of the OECD. It is stepping forward as a global leader in delivering foreign assistance, as proven by its inclusion into the DAC. It is combating issues such as maternal deaths in Ethiopia and food scarcity in the East African region due to food scarcity caused by locusts.

– Madeline Drayna
Photo: Unsplash

Rift Valley FeverIn 1999, NASA scientists theorized that at some point soon, they would have the ability to track outbreaks (via satellite) of Rift Valley fever (RVF). This disease is deadly to livestock and occasionally, humans, in East Africa. They already knew the method needed but did not yet have enough data. NASA scientists had already surmised that outbreaks were directly related to El Niño weather events and knew that areas with more vegetation would breed more disease-carrying mosquitoes. To see the exact areas that would be most at-risk, satellites would need to track differences in the color and density of vegetation, from year to year.

Prediction of Rift Valley Fever

In 2006, NASA scientists predicted and tracked an outbreak of Rift Valley fever in East Africa. Unfortunately, even with intervention efforts, the 2006 outbreak led to the deaths of more than 500 people and cost the regional economy more than $60 million. This was due to export restrictions as well as livestock deaths. However, the aim of researchers was not to entirely stop that outbreak. The results of that mission gave researchers confidence that they could predict the next outbreak even better the next time.

Ten years later, the NASA team successfully predicted the location of the next potential outbreak and warned the Kenyan government before the disease could strike. Thanks to the combined efforts of NASA and the Kenyan government, Kenya saw no outbreak of Rift Valley fever in 2016. This, in turn, saved the country millions of dollars and protected the lives and livelihoods of rural farmers, throughout the country.

Focus on Cholera

With the success of Rift Valley fever prediction in 2006, NASA researchers became confident they may predict all disease outbreaks. Moreover, they believed they could halt them, using satellite technology. Researchers are especially focused on neglected diseases like cholera which are connected to environmental conditions and hit developing countries and impoverished people the hardest. Newer satellites add the ability to measure variables like temperature and rainfall. This enables researchers to use more than just the visual data, used in the initial Rift Valley fever predictions. Consequently, this significantly improves their models.

Cholera is perhaps the most promising disease, analyzed by new scientific models due to its scale. Nearly 3 million people contract and almost 100,000, die each year. Moreover, it spread directly links to weather events. There are two distinct forms of cholera, endemic and epidemic. Endemic cholera is present in bodies of water primarily during the dry season. Also, communities living along coasts are typically ready for the disease. Epidemic cholera comes about during extreme weather events like floods and inland communities are often unprepared for the disease. Both forms of the disease proved to be perfect candidates for modeling by disease researchers. In 2013, a NASA team successfully modeled cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh.

The Yemen Model

The real test of the NASA team’s predictive models would come in 2017. The use of the model in Yemen proved to work near perfectly. Researchers predicted exactly where the outbreaks would occur, nearly a full month in advance. The success of the model in impoverished and war-torn Yemen is especially notable. This is because it could mean less of a need for more expensive and dangerous methods of disease research. Instead, early warning systems are an implementable option. Even if they fail, medical professionals can send vaccines and medications to exactly the right locations. Cholera outbreaks and their disproportionate death rates among the global poor will hopefully soon be a thing of the past.

By halting outbreaks before they begin, international aid lends itself more efficiently. Information is valuable and the more information poverty-fighting organizations have, the better they can spend their dollars to maximize utility and help the most people. As satellite technology advances along with newer predictive models, preventing disease outbreaks could save developing economies and aid organizations hundreds of millions of dollars each year, along with thousands of lives.

Jeff Keare
Photo: Flickr

Kala Azar DiseaseKala Azar, the second-largest parasitic killer in the world after malaria, is quite deadly. Known as Kala Azar, Black Fever and visceral leishmaniasis, the disease kills 95% of its victims if left untreated. This “Poor Man’s Disease” can be very hypocritical. While this disease infects the poverty-stricken, the treatment is hard to come by, if not impossible. Even if the patient finds a doctor that can treat the disease, the price is astronomical. And sometimes, there is no stopping the contraction of the Black Fever.

The Spread

As the disease transmits through a sandfly bite, Kala Azar preys on the vulnerable. More than 1 billion people are at risk. East Africa, India and even some parts of the Middle East are endemic to Kala Azar. Poor housing conditions and lack of waste management in these countries cause an increase in the bloodthirsty sandflies’ breeding sites. This specific culprit is the female, Phlebotomine sand fly. While just one bite from it can put someone on bed rest for weeks, malnutrition only worsens the situation. For example, low vitamin D, iron and zinc can cause an infection to progress into disease much quicker. If Kala Azar killed the equivalent number of people in the U.S., it would be the third-largest killer, killing more citizens than those who die from strokes.

OneWorld Health

The real fighting began in 2003 with a collaboration between OneWorld Health, the WHO and a 4.2 million dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With this grant and WHO’s resources, OneWorld Health was able to start its final testing to find an affordable cure for Kala Azar and the disease it causes. They are reinventing an old medicine and turning it into the treatment now called paromomycin. “It’s not every day one can say an affordable cure for a deadly disease may be imminent and we believe our approach will be successful,” said Dr. Victoria Hale, founder and CEO of OneWorld Health. It is to be a 21-day treatment and it will be readily available in every Indian clinic and, hopefully, one day, everywhere.

Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi)

Unfortunately, nothing came of the OneWorld Health drug, paromomycin until February 2019. The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) is fighting to change that. In a press release on the DNDi website, they share that Wellcome, a U.K. based foundation aiming to improve health for everyone, committed 12.9 million dollars for the development of drugs for Kala Azar. They are essentially funding a program that will test pre-existing drugs (that never made it to the world) and choose one to put on the market. DNDi is hoping it to be an oral drug as the drugs taken to fight Kala Azar can be painful and “require patients to take toxic and poorly tolerated drugs — often over a long period and through painful injections,” as said by Dr. Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director of DNDi.

The Impact

There is an estimated 50,000 to 90,000 new cases each year. Most families of the infected do not even go to the doctor, knowing that they will not be able to pay for the treatment. While there are many organizations funding drugs to treat Kala Azar, the cure is not coming fast enough. The current treatment for this parasitic disease is not reasonable. How can a family that can barely provide for themselves spend thousands of dollars on treatment?

The prevention and an end to Kala Azar lie in our hands. Organizations need funding to take preventative measures like spraying for these deadly sand flies, monitoring the epidemics and educating the communities affected by the disease.

Bailey Sparks
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ethiopia's GERD
In 2011, Ethiopia announced plans to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the northwestern region of the country where the Blue Nile starts. As of July 2020, Ethiopia has reached the first-year target for filling the dam. Once finished, Ethiopia’s GERD will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa.

This project is the principal focus of the rising nation’s development initiatives. In 1991, the East African country was among the poorest in the world, having weathered a deadly famine and civil war during the 1980s. By 2020, Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, averaging 9.9% of broad-based growth per year. With the completion of the GERD, the Ethiopian government anticipates joining the handful of middle-income countries by 2025. Here are ten ways Ethiopia’s GERD will help to reduce poverty and transform the country.

10 Ways The GERD Will Transform Ethiopia

  1. The GERD will quadruple the amount of electricity produced in the country. The nation’s electric supply will increase from 1591 MW when plans for the dam were first announced to approximately 6,000 MW once finished.
  2. Millions of Ethiopians will have access to electricity for the first time. Currently, over 66% of Ethiopia’s 115 million citizens lack power. Once operational, the dam will provide electricity to over 76 million Ethiopians.
  3. The surplus electricity produced by the GERD will be a steady source of income. The enormous dam will generate 6000 MW of electricity, which is more than Ethiopia needs. The Ethiopian government expects to export power to neighboring nations, including Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan.
  4. Clean water provided by the GERD will lower the spread of illness. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to clean water is a timely concern to Ethiopian officials. Frequent hand-washing is essential to tackling a virus with no vaccine, but this cannot be done without clean water. The Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa has 4.8 million residents, all of whom are well-acquainted with periodic water shortages the city suffers. The completion of the GERD will decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19 and other contagious illnesses.
  5. The dam will greatly reduce sedimentation in the Blue Nile. Sedimentation poses a huge problem for farmers living in the area, as it clogs irrigation channels and hurts the efficiency of hydropower. The GERD will save the costs of building new canals and eliminate the need for new machines to be built.
  6. The GERD will also regulate the Blue Nile’s flow. The dam includes reservoir construction, which will weather the effects of drought and manage flooding during heavier rain seasons. This will provide farmers with a more uniform schedule, rather than being at the mercy of the elements, as it was in the past.
  7. Dam construction is a business that requires tons of manpower. Ethiopia’s GERD is predicted to create 12,000 jobs, which will stimulate both the local and national economy.
  8. The GERD dam will irrigate over 1.2 million acres of arable land. The fertilization of soil will guarantee a successful harvest for millions of farmers. This is crucial to ensuring the growth of Ethiopia’s economy, which is still mostly based in agriculture.
  9. The construction of the dam is transforming formerly arid land to be more useful for the country. The site of the dam was a region of lifeless land about 20km from the Ethiopian-Sudanese border. After the GERD is finished, the artificial lake will hold up to 74 billion cubic meters of water.
  10. Even before the conclusion of the dam’s construction, the GERD will produce electricity. After negotiating talks with Egypt, Ethiopia agreed to extend the filling of the GERD dam from 2-3 years to 5-7. Despite this lengthened timeline, the first of 13 total turbines will be in operation by mid-2021.

With the undertaking of this massive and controversial project, Ethiopia shows it has no intention of stagnating in its goal to reduce poverty. Once Ethiopia’s GERD is completed, Ethiopia’s economy will flourish and the dam will decrease poverty across the nation.

Faven Woldetatyos
Photo: Flickr