Terror Reign in Somalia
Al-Shabaab is an insurgent and militant group based mainly in Somalia. It has close relations with Al-Qaeda. For more than a decade now, al-Shabaab and the Somali government have been fighting in the Somali Civil War. Al-Shabaab’s terror reign in Somalia needs to end by combatting the economic instability and poverty that allow it to continue.

Al-Shabaab’s Origin

Al-Shabaab emerged in 2006 as a splinter group of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that had taken control of Mogadishu and de facto control of Somalia from the Somalia government. In response, the Somali government backed an Ethiopian invasion that defeated the ICU. The Somali people’s resentment of the Ethiopian invasion and the ICU defeat led to an opening for al-Shabaab and its terror reign in Somalia.

By 2008, al-Shabaab took control of southern Somalia and gained dominance by seizing multiple territories throughout the country. In 2012, al-Shabaab officially aligned itself with Al-Qaeda and became Al-Qaeda’s representative in East Africa.

Poverty Leads to Recruitment and Abduction

A lack of economic stability drives terrorism in Somalia. Al-Shabaab capitalizes on the fact that poverty, unfortunately, aids the recruitment of militant groups. Since about 67% of Somali youth are unemployed, many young men join militant and insurgent groups like al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab provides a monthly salary that exceeds the average Somali per capita annual income of  $400. Teenagers that are 14 years old and younger are al-Shabaab recruits. In fact, 70% of al-Shabaab’s recruits are under the age of 24 and the median age for recruits is 17.

In addition to this, children between the ages of nine to 15 have been forcibly recruited into al-Shabaab. Since 2017, al-Shabaab has abducted children, predominantly from pastoral and rural areas, to be frontline fighters. Al-Shabaab also forced Islamic teachers and elders in Somalia to recruit children from school and arm them with military-grade weapons.

Famine and Drought Displacement Led to Al-Shabaab’s Recruitment

The Somali government’s lack of response to famine and drought has also allowed al-Shabaab to exploit poverty in Somalia. In May 2022, the United Nations Refugee Agency reported that the 2.97 million Somalis displaced due to drought, violence and food shortages led to extreme overcrowding in refugee camps. Refugee camps are often used as hunting and recruiting grounds for terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab since they are remote and far away from authorities like police officers.

Support from the United States and the International Rescue Committee (IRC)

After President Trump withdrew all military support from Somalia, in May 2022, President Biden redeployed special forces into the country to help assist the Somali government in its war against al-Shabaab. He also approved a Pentagon request to target specific al-Shabaab leaders as part of the counterterrorism strategy.

In addition to the renewed United States support in the fight against Al-Shabaab’s reign of terror, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one organization that is currently helping Somalis get back on their feet economically from the effects of war, drought and food shortages. Since 1981, Somalia’s been receiving aid from the IRC which supports 280,000 Somalis annually.

Since drought is a huge issue, the IRC launched the Building Resilient Communities in Somalia to help educate families about disaster preparedness and financial resilience. These IRC programs mainly target female-led households so that females can learn how to build financial resilience during catastrophes, especially droughts. More than 1,400 Somali families received emergency cash for basic needs from the IRC. The organization has also provided business start-up grants and entrepreneurship training.

Looking Ahead

If Somalia cannot resolve its economic instability, al-Shabaab probably cannot be successfully defeated. Severe poverty is one of the primary reasons why so many young men join al-Shabaab. Joining an insurgent group should never have to be in any child’s future. Children in Somalia deserve better. They deserve a stronger and safer future where al-Shabaab no longer exists and economic instability is no longer a problem for their nation. The support from the U.S. and the IRC should help put Somalia in a better position to combat both poverty and al-Shabaab’s terror reign.

– Yonina Anglin
Photo: Flickr

Unemployment in South AfricaUnemployment in South Africa reached new highs at the end of 2021, equating to more than 7.9 million individuals between October and December 2021. Typically, high unemployment rates spur predictions of economic decrease and little mobility for the coming fiscal year. The finance ministry expects South Africa’s economic growth rate to reach 2.1% in 2022, however, experts say this is insufficient “to make a meaningful dent in unemployment and poverty.” Despite the economic downturn that South Africans face, especially South African manufacturing and construction workers, there is some hope.

History of Unemployment in South Africa

Unemployment in South Africa has an extensive history and myriad reasons. The unemployment rate is dependent on which unemployment type one is referring to. There is the “standard definition” by which people between 15 and 64 actively search for employment while without a job for a specific time. Then, the expanded definition of unemployment refers to the unemployed “who have stopped looking for work.”

By the end of 2021’s third quarter, unemployment in South Africa stood at 34.9%, according to the standard definition, but stood at 46.6%, according to the expanded definition. Countless factors contribute to unemployment in South Africa. The most significant factors stem from the nation’s “legacy of apartheid,” shortages of jobs and “slow economic growth.”

Unemployment began to drop in South Africa after 2002 when the nation’s unemployment rate was about 34% if using the standard definition. It fell to 22%, the lowest percentage for decades, in 2008, but then, the unemployment rate began to rise again over the years. The 2008 recession hit the global economy and impacted jobs worldwide. South Africa has yet to recover from its losses in 2008. Furthermore, COVID-19 exacerbated the economic downturn and unemployment issues in South Africa.

COVID-19’s Impact on Construction and Manufacturing Workers

Specifically, the losses seem to be impacting the construction and manufacturing industries most in South Africa. Across South Africa, all the provinces had more than 1.3 million employees in the construction industry in the first quarter of 2020. By the last quarter of 2021, the construction industry lost at least 25,000 jobs.

Manufacturing in South Africa is suffering just as much economic downturn as construction, though, having lost 80,000 jobs in the last quarter of 2021. The manufacturing sector faced a 3.3% economic contraction in 2008. Like many areas of South Africa’s economy after the recession, manufacturing is still working to bring back more jobs and support all its workers. Though the outlook may be grim, critical steps can address South Africa’s unemployment drop.

How South Africa Can Recover

According to the standard and expanded definitions of unemployment, South Africa has many courses of action that can help those facing unemployment. The most significant hope across South Africa is that the government will intervene and create policies to help all business sectors in South Africa, not only construction and manufacturing.

There are hopes that more trade in 2022 with the U.S. and China will secure enough work for the country to help the manufacturing industry rebound.

Experts predict that the construction sector will bounce back. Projections indicate that the industry will “rebound in 2022 and expand by 9.1% in real terms.” Then, the construction sector will “stabilize at an annual average growth of 3.1% between 2023-2025, although output will not return to pre-pandemic levels during the entire forecast period.” Government investments in large-scale projects will support this recovery.

Presidential Employment Stimulus

The South African government initiated the Presidential Employment Stimulus (PES) in response to COVID-19’s impact on employment in South Africa. Overall, the program’s “aim is to create jobs and strengthen livelihoods, supporting meaningful work while the labor market recovers.”

The government implemented the PES in October 2020 to provide economic support to publicly-funded jobs. The stimulus has two phases. Phase 1 worked with regional and national departments to invest in job creation to provide the unemployed with new skills in jobs that could lead to long-term employment. As of January 2022, the PES created more than 673,000 jobs while supporting more than 140,000 livelihoods. Youths made up 85% of the program beneficiaries and females made up 63% of all program beneficiaries.

Officially, Phase 2 is currently in progress with no specific end date as yet. Overall, the PES is beneficial to South Africa in combating unemployment. PES encapsulates several different unemployment-fighting programs in South Africa, which serve to boost the economy and reduce poverty.

Looking Ahead

Several strategies have the potential to decrease unemployment and, in the long run, reduce poverty. In April 2020, the poverty rate in South Africa stood at 55.5% and the predicted economic growth in 2022 is only 2%, which would not significantly improve South Africa’s poverty levels. However, if the government continues to prioritize programs to provide employment opportunities and fund projects to ignite growth in struggling sectors, 2022 may hold greater improvements.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Argentina’s Informal Peso
Argentina’s informal peso, its ”dolar blue,” weakened drastically at the end of October 2021 and hit its all-time inflation high. The country’s risk rating increased by 19 points. The economic downturn arrived weeks before Argentina’s November 2021 elections, and economic improvement is long overdue.

What is the Dolar Blue?

The “Dolar Blue” is the unofficial rate of buying or selling physical United States dollars (USD) in an unofficial financial market in exchange for Argentine pesos. The transactions occur without the assistance of a banking institution or government oversight. Many transactions for Argentina’s informal peso occur right in storefronts or in the street.

In October 2021, the exchange rate hit 195 pesos per one USD. The exchange rate is typically greatly valued because this trade rate results in more pesos to the dollars for tourists and vice versa for those looking to use pesos.

In 2019, the Argentine peso lost value during an economic crisis due to suspending debt payments while the debt continues to climb for Argentina. The government had to act quickly to stabilize the peso. Since then, the Argentine government has slowly placed restrictions on the dolar blue to prevent any weakening of the formal peso.

What is a Country’s Risk Rating?

A risk rating is the measurement of the potential for non-payments on international loans that companies made to companies within the country being rated or to the countries themselves. It is the measurement to see how close a country is to defaulting on loans. Typically, the factors that lead to an increased risk rating are out of a countries’ control. However, the risk rating is the calculated risk that international businesses would undertake when dealing with the measured country. The higher the number, the greater the chances of business deals collapsing.

As Reuters reported, the risk rating for Argentina expanded 19 points when Argentina’s informal peso reached its all-time high of 1,672. It is essentially Argentina’s credit rating, but the higher the number, the lower the chance for foreign investment opportunities. This new risk rating could lead international companies or loan businesses to avoid working in Argentina or setting up loans there.

Without additional investment, the job market could have few opportunities to develop new jobs. There is little chance that unemployment rates could decrease.

Why Did this Economic Crash Happen and What Does this Mean for Argentina?

The two main factors causing the current economic crash are the country’s upcoming elections and growing inflation. The majority of surveyed Argentineans’ stated that their largest concern was the economy. Argentina has a history of economic downturn during periods of change in political leadership and growing economic fears. Argentina’s informal peso and formal peso have fallen in the past during periods similar to what the nation is experiencing now.

The drop in Argentina’s informal peso means economic growth has stagnated once again. Financial experts predicted Argentina’s impending devaluation of its formal currency, which appears to have started with the devaluation of its informal peso. With the devalued informal peso, battling inflation rates, four out of 10 Argentines live in poverty and have few means of escape.

Argentineans in poverty are struggling with the prices of necessities and with inflation. This is impacting both formal and informal pesos and the outlook is dour, according to The New York Times. Argentina’s informal peso brought tourists and new businesses to the country to support local Argentine companies and operations. With a destabilized and devalued the informal peso, more Argentineans are at risk of losing income. The devaluation of Argentina’s informal peso and widening country risk signals a long way to go before returning to a stable economy.

Is the Outlook Truly Grim?

The outlook is not entirely dismal. As grim as things look for Argentina economically, there are ways forward with the devalued informal peso.

In September 2021, Argentina reported economic growth. The poverty rate decreased slightly, which came as a pleasant surprise to many. In the first half of 2021, the poverty rate decreased to 42% and shows signs of continuing to decrease. Many did not expect the growth, given the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the growth signals that there is a chance for improvement despite the downturn of the peso and the risk rating.

In the weeks following the elections, the economy is likely to stabilize again. After the 2019 election, while the pesos’ exchange rates were still higher than average, they stabilized briefly. However, the recovery was short-lived due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the economy has struggled to restabilize. In the days since the COVID-19 pandemic first impacted Argentina, the economy has been slowly stabilizing and working towards recovery.

 After the 2021 November elections, there is a good chance for economic recovery and stabilization. Argentina’s informal peso could recover and the risk rating could decrease. The economy could revitalize with new business and partnerships.

Support for Argentina

Argentina has faced economic issues for several years, but they are not alone and receive help from many organizations, including The Working World (TWW). Brendan Martin founded TWW after witnessing the result of the Argentinean economic difficulties. The efforts on the ground that individuals made to start businesses and launch democratically operated businesses boosted the economy, and TWW decided to continue supporting this trend.

TWW works by partnering with businesses interested in furthering their workers’ rights to make decision-making processes more equitable. The organization designs loan packages to give the loans to pre-set projects that are in the hands of workers and repayment requires minimal interest.

TWW is a registered nonprofit organization in both the United States and Argentina. It understands the various currencies in Argentina, the exchange rates and the impacts both have on the Argentine economy.

Around the time TWW formed in Argentina and began democratizing businesses and stabilizing the workforce, the informal and formal peso stabilized in the exchange rates. Since then, TWW has expanded operations to more countries to transplant these business models and provide job security in countries. One example is Nicaragua or areas hit that hurricanes hit in the U.S. while maintaining some operations in Argentina.

TWW’s work has been invaluable in stabilizing the economy and workforce. The economic difficulties that inflation and political instability caused are manageable, largely because of nongovernmental organizations like The Working World.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Unsplash

Elderly Poverty Rate in Romania
The elderly poverty rate in Romania is a challenge to not only the elderly population but also the country itself. Romania’s poverty rates for retired individuals and elders over the age of 65 have increased drastically from an already high level.

The Issue

Romania’s elderly at-risk poverty rate reached a record high of 25.1% in the year 2020, whereas it was previously 14.4% in 2012. Additionally, 24.5% of elderly women in Romania are under the poverty line with a pension, comparable to the record high of 25.7% in 2016 and a record low of 22.1% in 2010. Comparably, males with pensions reached a record high of 18% in 2020 and a record low of 7.9% in 2012.

These statistics present an evident truth; as the years pass in Romania, the elderly poverty rate is quickly rising. This leads poor elders to search for work to make enough money to survive, which they often do not have the qualifications for. In the end, impoverished elders rely on pension payments, which some do not even qualify for, while others struggle to survive below the poverty line.

Romania’s Health Care System

Romania has a dual health care system. Similar to countries such as Australia, it has both a private and a public health care system. However, its system differs from others when it comes to the government’s involvement. Romania’s government spends an average of 4% of the country’s GDP on health care, which is one of the lowest rates in the EU. The government does not fund private healthcare, thus leading those in poverty towards government-funded health care, which has proven to be inadequate. Furthermore, those who do pay for private health care do not always get a better deal. Since the government is uninvolved financially, private hospitals can overcharge patients exorbitant amounts for as little as a consultation.

Also, since the year 2007, about 15,700 Romanian medical experts from both private and government-funded institutions left the country to pursue a better salary in other European countries. With a sub-par salary for Romania’s government-paid doctors (some specialists receive as little as $350 a month), Romanian doctors often resort to bribery, in which they charge patients additional fees for even the simplest consultations.

In terms of the elderly poverty rate in Romania, it is clear that either of the two options for health care in Romania can be costly, and their physical health frequently undergoes neglect. As of 2020, only 23.4% of Romanians over the age of 65 would rate their health conditions as “good” or “very good,” while the EU average is almost double this, at 41.1%. Additionally, 66.7% of these people reported issues with walking, and 51.9% with vision problems, which they cannot treatments for. In comparison, only about 40% of adults over the age of 65 in the United States have a disability.

The Pension Problem

Romania’s pension system is likely to face challenges due to the country’s aging population. Romania is facing a demographic challenge, with a population decline of approximately 25% from 21.4 million in 2008 to approximately 15 million in 2050. Though Romania will most likely face additional challenges as a result of the projected population drop, one major issue could be pensions.

Furthermore, the proportion of elderly people in Romania could reach 29.9% by 2050, subsequently leading to a strain on the pension system. With an aging population, more people will require pensions, putting the government in a dilemma about whether to pay the full amount necessary. As proven with the health care system that the Romanian government provided, the corrupt country will not be eager to allocate so much money to pensions.

Having said that, Romania does have a solid pension system in place, which is based on citizens’ contribution to the economy over a minimum contribution period of 15 years. However, a growing elderly population could cause the country’s pension system to crash according to projections, potentially impacting the elderly poverty rate in Romania.

Lastly, another issue with the Romanian pension system is the fraud that seems to consistently reappear throughout the years. One of the greatest scandals occurred in 2009, in which Romania reported $7.15 million in pension fraud. Resolving an issue like this would require stronger pension security and a potential re-evaluation of the pension granting system.

People Against Poverty

People Against Poverty is an NGO that works in six countries, including Romania, to reduce poverty levels. It has been working to reduce poverty in Romania since 2003 and has hosted a variety of projects, including an Agricultural Project which provides resources for people in Romania who live in rural communities. NGOs like People Against Poverty are extremely important when considering poverty reduction in entire countries, and the implementation of its programs can help in solving Romania’s elderly poverty issue.

Elderly poverty in Romania has been an increasing problem within the past decade, and will likely continue to be one into the future. It remains in the hands of the Romanian government to solve this problem before the elderly population reaches a peak. However, hope exists that the population will regulate itself, or that the economy will open more jobs for impoverished elders. With the help of NGOs like People Against Poverty and the growing economy in Romania, there is certainly hope that the elderly poverty rate will decline over the upcoming years.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Unsplash

Death of President Moise
Early on the morning of July 7, 2021, someone assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moise in his home. The entire Caribbean nation is in shock as it now does not have a leader during its most trying times. With the death of President Moise, the political and economic unrest in the country may only grow.

Who was Jovenel Moise?

President Jovenel Moise was a Haitian politician who rose to power in the country in the 2016 election. Moise’s win underwent debate because of his early actions both inside and outside of the political sphere; most of the controversy started after he won the presidency with less than 18% of the popular vote. However, he took office in early 2017 despite the allegations against him.

During his reign as the 58th president of Haiti, Moise ruled the nation as a “cold-blooded dictator” according to The New York Post. After Haiti’s parliament disbanded, Moise continued to rule without holding elections for the country after his term ended in February 2021. While Moise tried to increase his power, human rights violations ran rampant across the island. Some thought that Moise’s administration and street gangs carried out many of these violations. These attacks on Haitian citizens left hundreds dead and thousands displaced. Some also accused Moise of arresting his political opponents for attempting to start a coup. Moise also had seven different prime ministers during his career, announcing the rise of the last one the day before his assassination. The Haitian ambassador to the U.S., Bocchit Edmond, stated that Moise’s rule was “among the worst in recent memory.”

The Death of Jovenel Moise

After many years of political unrest, gunmen attacked the president one early July morning in 2021. CNN stated that the assassination was a “highly coordinated attack by a highly trained and heavily armed group.” The Haitian government is seeking the shooters while the entire country has entered “a state of siege” which prohibits travel in or out of Haiti and installs martial law.

Reportedly, the assassins were members of a local gang who the current political and economic climate of Haiti angered. Reports have stated that the police are looking for someone who has “high-caliber” weapons and who speaks both Spanish and English. The assassins have claimed to be members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, but this has not yet received confirmation.

Looking Ahead

The death of President Moise has left Haiti in greater turmoil than ever before. With no clear replacement in sight, the already fragile nation is on the brink of collapse. The nation has seen an immense rise in kidnappings and murders associated with gang violence. Approximately 60% of Haitians live in poverty without access to welfare. Over 4 million Haitians do not have ready access to food and thousands of children are experiencing malnutrition. The country has also faced many disease outbreaks including COVID-19 and cholera which have further dampened the situation. Recent natural disasters left the island in disparity and with a wide economic gap between the poorest and richest in the nation. With the head-of-state dead, conditions could worsen as the country recovers from closed borders and lower tourism rates.

However, human rights conditions could improve after Moise’s passing. Expectations have determined that anti-government protests could decrease as the nation recovers from the assassination. According to Human Rights Watch, under Moise’s rule, political killings and torture happened often. The criminal justice system has also been under scrutiny due to false incarcerations, sexual assault and poor prisoner hygiene. With the death of President Moise, these conditions in the country will hopefully improve once Haiti garners new leadership.

While it is unsure how Haiti will find a new president, new Prime Minister Ariel Henry is the assumed leader of the island nation at this time. Henry will hopefully have a positive impact on the nation during this trying time because of his past with the cholera epidemic and fight against the country’s poverty epidemic. Although his political future remains uncertain amidst recent allegations, Henry’s presence could help aid conditions for Haitian citizens.

Solutions

Currently, there are many charities and organizations working to help Haiti. Habitat for Humanity, a housing organization that helps those without shelter, has operated in Haiti for many over 27 years, mostly working in hurricane disaster relief. Habitat for Humanity in Haiti has rehomed many and countless others have received aid via food drops. Just in 2021, Habitat for Humanity has sworn to help rebuild a majority of the 12,000 houses which an earthquake destroyed. It is also operating search and rescue teams in the area.

KORE, a charity focused on Haitian aid, is working to improve the agricultural system of the nation to build a better economy. KORE first emerged in 1988 and works directly with farmers to improve livestock quality and production. It also helps the malnourished population of Haiti directly.

The work of KORE and Habitat for Humanity has been extremely beneficial to Haiti. Hopefully, through their continued aid, conditions in the country will improve through these trying times.

Laken Kincaid
Photo: Unsplash

Karoshi Culture in AnimationJapan, known for its global economic power, has started developing solutions to Karoshi, or death by overwork. This phenomenon started in the late 1960s and gained media traction in the 1990s when several company executives died suddenly. Karoshi culture in animation, specifically, is a significant issue as workers experience unlivable wages and long hours.

How Prominent is Karoshi Culture?

The Hitotsubashi Journal of Social Studies suggests that the exploitation of Japanese workers is a Western disease that has caused as many deaths as motor vehicle accidents. This issue is specific to Japan because of the “workaholic” mindset of the Japanese economy. On average, Japanese workers do 100 to 200 more overtime hours than other developed nations.

Karoshi’s Effect on Animators

Karoshi culture in animation largely has to do with wage theft and overwork. In 2010, a 28-year-old animator committed suicide shortly after he quit his job. The animator worked hundreds of hours of overtime without pay for several months. An online journal that the animator kept documented that he had only taken three days off in 10 months and worked as late as 4 a.m.

Young workers are consistently the most exploited demographic as highly sought out animators still work for abysmal wages. The median wage for animators in 2019 was $36,000, with many low-end illustrators making as little as $200 per week. Comparatively, the average animator in the United States makes between $65,000 to $75,000.

Companies can get away with this because many animators are self-employed or freelance workers. Employees receive pay on a per-project basis, which means that employers can refuse to pay animators if they do not complete more work. This financial insecurity often drives workers to suicide or the hospital. Many workers have died from heart attacks or strokes.

Karoshi and the Japanese Economy

Many animators must choose between their job and starting families. Animator Ryosuke Hirakimoto told The Japan Times that he had never made more than $38 a day. He ultimately quit after his first child was born. Hirakimoto “started to wonder if this lifestyle was enough.”

Animators leaving, either by death or by choice, could ultimately hurt the global anime market. Most anime production is based in Tokyo and the industry is worth more than $20 billion. Anime provides great economic prosperity for Japan. The global pandemic has only increased sales and streaming as more individuals seek entertainment while stuck indoors.

Alongside workers leaving, the lack of pay means a lack of contributions to the economy. Animators will likely choose to spend their money on necessities because they cannot afford luxuries.

Recent Progress

Japanese citizens recently developed an organization called the National Defense Counsel for Victims of KAROSHI. It offers consultations on compensation for work-related stress, diseases, disabilities or death. Much of the organization’s work is dedicated to preventing Karoshi and helping those affected by Karoshi.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Japan reported that the average citizen worked 1,598 hours in 2020. This prompted the Japanese government to introduce a plan to encourage businesses to offer four-day workweeks.

Since overwork and pay discrepancies are leading causes of the phenomena, the implementation of a four-day workweek could solve many issues stemming from Karoshi culture in animation. Japan recommends that companies reduce their hours or keep better track of overtime to promote the educational and familial prospects of employees.

Moving Forward

Japan’s Karoshi culture in animation will not resolve easily. There is a lot that requires addressing beyond the economic factors, including the social stigma of taking time off. The next move for the government is implementing legislation to solidify shorter workweeks as the population ages and shrinks. 

– Camdyn Knox
Photo: Pixabay

Resilience During COVID-19 in IranJust south of the Iranian capital Tehran lies the metropolitan city of Qom. In late February, citizens in Qom became ill with COVID-19. Within weeks of the global spread, Iran became one of the first global hotspots outside East Asia, alongside Italy. The socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic created a dual crisis that threatened to exacerbate COVID-19’s impact on Iran. In 2018, the Trump Administration announced its intent to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal, following the successful negotiation of the agreement by the prior Obama White House. The unilateral U.S. withdrawal led to the reimposition of sanctions on Iran, crushing the economy and sending unemployment skyrocketing. In 2018 and 2019, the Iranian economy experienced annual contractions of more than 6%.

Against this backdrop, ordinary citizens took to the streets demanding sweeping change to the government in the biggest protests since the founding of modern Iran. The government responded with force. Hundreds of protestors were killed and the entire nation underwent a total internet blackout that lasted days.

With the country already wobbling from economic and political pressure, the pandemic hit at the worst possible time. As a result, many expected COVID-19’s impact on Iran to be outsized. Instead, the nation showed a shocking level of resilience that befuddled experts.

Economic Rebound

At first, COVID-19’s impact on Iran appeared to be nothing more than an accelerant to the generally negative undercurrents impacting the economy. A widely cited report by the Iranian Parliament Research Center foresaw a dramatic increase in poverty in 2020. By the end of the year, 57 million Iranians were expected to be below the poverty line. Moreover, as major economies across the world experienced sharp contractions, IMF analysts saw a similar fate in store for Iran. According to predictions, the Iranian economy would shed 5% of its size in 2020.

However, the opposite occurred. The Iranian economy actually expanded for the first time in years. Despite the crippling blow of U.S. sanctions and a global economic calamity, Iran posted a GDP growth of 1.5%. In many ways, this turnaround resembled a unique occurrence in China. In 2020, China also registered positive GDP growth, the only large economy to do so. But China had controlled COVID-19, whereas Iran was still struggling with its outbreak. The ability of the capital Tehran to manage its economy relatively well amid greater uncertainty was impressive.

But all was not well in Iran. Deaths from COVID-19 spiked across the country and satellite images confirmed the construction of massive buriel pits. By mid-July, almost 90,000 deaths were recorded in Iran. However, this is believed to be an underestimation. Data from the University of Washington confirms more than 200,000 excess deaths for the same period.

Vaccines Requested and Delivered

To get out of its current situation, Iran needs vaccines. In this arena too, recovery promises to be much faster than initially predicted. The refinement of COVID-19 vaccines, which was expected to take years, was released in months. The current challenge is the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. As of mid-July, only 5% of the Iranian population have received one dose of the COVID-19 jab and just 3% are fully vaccinated. But philanthropy is coming to the rescue. In the United States, a group of philanthropists is planning to send 150,000 Pfizer doses to Iran. Abroad, countries like Russia and China have promised to donate vaccines as well.

The road to normalcy will be difficult for Iran. But a strong global recovery has the potential to bring Iran to success.

– Zachary Lee
Photo: Flickr

Demining in ColombiaThe Colombian people and economy have suffered greatly from landmines placed around the nation in the 1990s by guerrillas, paramilitary organizations and drug traffickers. One estimate finds that mines are responsible for “12,000 injuries and deaths” since 1990. Their looming presence continues to hinder access to education, healthcare facilities and essential services. Governments and NGOs are having a difficult time with demining in Colombia due to the irregular and unpredictable placement of the mines. This complication makes funding for demining in the 63% of Colombian municipalities currently plagued by mines an international priority.

How Landmines Impact Civilians

Armed groups have targeted largely rural areas in mine placement. While mines were intended to harm military personnel, civilians in the rural communities have predominantly faced the tragic consequences. The lingering threat of hidden mines hinders daily life and safety in many municipalities. Due to landmines, communities suffer sudden deaths and mutilations even as Colombia progresses to a time of peace.

The percentage of civilian landmine victims went up from 45% in 2019 to almost 70% in 2020 despite widespread extraction efforts. It is also important to note that civilian deaths and mutilations disproportionately affect indigenous populations of the rural areas.

Global Demining Efforts

The United States is currently responsible for most of the funding for global humanitarian demining. Since 1993, the U.S. has allotted $4 billion to “conventional weapons destruction efforts” internationally. In 2020, the United States set aside $228.5 million for humanitarian demining efforts across 40 nations, including Colombia. Similar funding has successfully removed 1.4 million landmines across 376 square miles of land since 2016.

The funding from the U.S. is essential for the success of demining efforts in Colombia and the U.S. plays an important part in rallying other nations to contribute. As of May 2021, Colombia is the second-most densely landmine-filled nation after war-torn Afghanistan. Given the dire need for extracting landmines in Colombia, the funding provided by the U.S. is necessary to achieve economic stability, community development and improved security.

The United States is not alone in funding demining efforts. Norway is also a strong leader in supporting demining in Colombia, investing $20 million from 2016 to 2020. The United States and Norway also successfully garnered further support from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, the European Union, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. The nations have all been collaborating since 2016 with the goal of ensuring Colombia is completely mine-free by the end of 2021.

Benefits of Demining

Some of the most prominent successes of this international cooperation appear in the municipalities of Nariño and La Unión, which are now completely clear of landmines. The two areas are home to more than 31,000 Colombians across 200 square miles, making the complete removal of landmines a significant victory for these communities.

In 2019, HALO (Hazardous Area Life-Support Organization) began a study to uncover the impacts of demining on local communities in Nariño and La Unión. Its study finds clear correlations between humanitarian demining in Colombia and socio-economic development that directly benefits the most financially vulnerable families.

Average housing values increased by more than 500% alongside a 38% increase in average household incomes. The study also found that 88% of newly cleared land was used productively for community development, agriculture and transportation. The communities consequently saw a return of 772 formerly displaced families as well as a substantial increase in household spending.

Beyond the quantifiable benefits to impoverished families, demining improves access to healthcare facilities, schools and other social services as previously dangerous land is clear for transportation.

Looking Ahead

Essentially, the U.S.-funded demining efforts prove to have strong economic benefits for many Colombian families, which include formerly displaced and homeless people who were most economically vulnerable. Demining successes in Colombia stand to show the significance of proper funding for humanitarian demining in order to protect impoverished populations and aid communities formerly devastated by conflict. Removing landmines has clear links to restoring security to communities trying to move past conflict and violence as well as improving economic stability.

While the recent successes from U.S. funding are promising, more funds are still needed to demine the rest of Colombia. Most importantly, the recent victories show the importance of increased funding for these efforts. Some areas, including Choco and Antioquia, have not seen the good fortune that Nariño and La Unión have and are still very much plagued by landmines. Further commitment, funding and assistance are a beacon of hope to impoverished or displaced Colombian families living in mine-strewn municipalities. U.S. funds and initiatives in Nariño and La Unión show the possibility of a mine-free future for the entirety of Colombia.

Jaya Patten
Photo: Flickr

Law in South Africa
The poorest citizens of South Africa are amidst a turning point in their history. In July 2021, stress from socioeconomic and pandemic-related challenges boiled to civil unrest after the July 2021 arrest of former president Jacob Zuma. The relationship between circumstances of poverty and conflict drives a volatile history of fragility and rule of law in South Africa and presents challenges to overcoming poverty in the nation.

The Link Between Conflict and Poverty

Poverty and conflict are inseparable resultants of each other: where there is poverty, the fragility and rule of law of a governing body are prone to violence. When more citizens are subject to poor living conditions, the likelihood of conflict is increased. A 2011 report on conflict and poverty describes poverty as a “causal arrow… to the conflict.” This means fragility and rule of law in South Africa are reliant on the improvement of poverty-related conditions. This is due to political promises that call for the end of poverty in the nation. Recent violence suggests that citizens living in poverty believe promises fall short of action. South African unrest in 2021 is anecdotal evidence of the connection poverty and conflict have with each other.

South African Frustration

A 2014 report describes South African citizens taking part in violence as “clamoring for the redemption of the promises made to them.” This description explains the circumstance by which fragility and rule of law in South Africa are affected. Unrest in South Africa explains that poverty plays a major role in exacerbating conflict and makes it clear South Africa has a fragile economy. Those taking part in the widespread unrest were not exercising a meticulously planned attack on the South African government. Rather, those who were looting were filling the absence of governmental aid in the first place. For example, the nation is dealing with a third COVID-19 wave along with rising unemployment. Frustrations in poverty response allowed for unrest to grow in the nation. Jacob Zuma’s arrest was a tipping point in the conflict already consuming lives in South Africa.

Addressing Poverty in South Africa

Poverty reduction efforts in South Africa are mixed. Frustration pointed toward the government reveals widespread poverty. The South African economy has slowed its growth in the past decade. Additionally, the nation has a wide economic disparity between citizens. This disparity is affecting fragility and rule of law in South Africa substantially. In a 2012 report, the Brookings Institution described the nation as “the most consistently unequal country in the world.” Development in the nation has left out a large portion of those living in poverty which means some forgo financial stability.

Regardless of South Africa’s scenario, a key in reducing poverty means improving fragility and rule of law. The 2011 World Development Report argues that “strengthening legitimate institutions and governance to provide citizen security, justice and jobs is crucial to break cycles of violence.” This is the goal of current institutions within South Africa. In 2015, the African National Committee, the ruling party of South Africa, adopted The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as an addition to its 2012 National Development Plan. The combined goals aim for the elimination of poverty and the reduction of inequality by 2030.

COVID-19 Complications

Progress in sustainable development has not substantially reduced poverty. Rather, the World Bank estimated that poverty increased by 9% due to COVID-19. An increase in unemployment from coronavirus lockdowns highlights the current challenges in reaching the same goals.

Pandemic-related challenges to reducing poverty point to the boiling of governmental control. An increase in household instability during COVID-19 affected fragility and rule of law in South Africa. This explains the recent conflict in the region. Reducing poverty means improving fragility and rule of law in South Africa.

Addressing poverty and economic disparity in South Africa means answering the roots of conflict. Frustrations with the South African government lie within the ability for individuals to have access to human necessities. Foreign assistance and continual support for South Africa’s SDGs can aid efforts to reduce conflict that induces poverty in South Africa.

– Harrison Vogt
Photo: Flickr

Lebanon’s economic crisisAn unprecedented economic crisis has gripped the nation of Lebanon for the last 18 months. Years of political instability propelled Lebanon’s economic crisis, however, 2020 worsened its struggling economy through two events: first, the COVID-19 Pandemic that asphyxiated economies worldwide and, second, the massive explosion in the Port of Beirut that detonated in early August. These two disastrous, high fatality events transformed a dire situation into Lebanon’s economic crisis.

The Crisis Reaches New Heights

Last year, Lebanon saw a surge in inflation rates accompanied by sharp spikes in poverty. As the crisis reached new heights, central banks stopped lending money to medium and small businesses. This decision increased an already harsh situation for working-class people in Lebanon. The World Bank estimates that over half of the nation’s population possibly lives below the poverty line. Access to food, water and other staples have become dangerously restricted for those most affected by this economic crisis.

The consequences of the Beirut blast reached national proportions for Lebanon. The level of urban reconstruction needed to repair the damaged portions of Beirut has added a significant strain on the other infrastructural demands. Services that have been affected include access to a consistent electrical grid and waste management system. On a local level, the blast devastated the immediate surroundings and the cost of reconstruction has mounted to several billion dollars.

International Aid for Lebanon

International groups launched a fundraiser for an aid initiative in December of 2020. These groups created an outline for recovery and a restructuring Lebanon’s financial sector to combat constricting debt and financial insecurity. However, The World Bank emphasizes the need to bolster Lebanon’s internal financial sectors to achieve economic stability. With this in mind, Lebanon will require international assistance to reach these goals.

Civil and Political Unrest

Before the Pandemic, Lebanon’s economic woes were entangled within a collapsing central banking system. Overloaded with debt and inflated liquidity, the central bank shut down, effectively denying the majority of Lebanon’s working-class access to bank loans and financial services. The collapse of the financial sector plunged swaths of Lebanon’s population below the poverty line. Demonstrations and other forms of civil unrest stretched security forces thin and established a new norm of chaos. In the midst of the social upheaval, the government fell apart, dashing hopes for a centralized internal reconstruction of the nation’s economy and infrastructure.

Political analysts blame both the country’s central bank and the Hezbollah party for the roots of the economic crisis. Furthermore, analysts insist that a solution cannot be implemented until both of these problems are addressed. Despite the current political instability of Lebanon and its failed efforts to reform its government, analysts fear that the nation may descend deeper into political division. If the structure of Lebanon’s government deteriorates to the point that a power vacuum becomes available, extremist groups will take advantage, which demonstrates a grave risk to global security.

Lebanon’s Future

As the political vacuum occupying Lebanon’s center persists, the nation looks ahead towards elections in 2022. The future of Lebanon relies on the consensus of multiple political factions. This could prove a tedious situation. Such mediation would weigh the fragile balance of international intrusion, whether from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or political incentives from the United States or Iran. The likeliest path for Lebanon will include a series of shortterm stabilization efforts that will impede the rate of economic collapse and look towards shoring up Lebanon’s financial sector. However, the longterm vision of Lebanon is still a matter of deep contention.

– Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr