The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon
The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon has internally displaced half a million people. Many are seeking refuge in forests with little access to medical care and portable water. Only recently has the world acknowledged the crisis, despite three years of growing human rights abuses driving the country to the brink of civil war.

The Makings of a Disaster

French and English are the official languages of Cameroon, which consists of 10 semi-autonomous regions. However, the Northwest and Southwest English-speaking regions have felt marginalized by the central government for decades.

Anglophones make up 20 percent of the population and have long complained of few job opportunities and the predominance of Francophones. When the government assigned French-speaking teachers and judges to anglophone schools and courts, anglophone lawyers and teachers felt that it violated their rights, leading to peaceful protests in 2016.

Government security forces responded by killing four protestors and arresting around 100, including several anglophone leaders. The government even banned civil society groups seeking a peaceful solution.

Escalating the Crisis

In 2017, an anglophone separatist group declared a new independent state called Ambazonia. In a pro-Ambazonia demonstration, security forces killed 17 people. The Borgen Project interviewed Mausi Segun, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Africa, who said, “If anyone is putting the abuses on both sides on a scale, the government has the upper hand. They have the most effective military equipment.”

Security forces have killed unarmed civilians and burned down villages. Meanwhile, authorities are arresting civilians on suspicion of supporting or belonging to the separatist movement. A number of those held on suspicion are undergoing torture.

Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, a Regional Director at the National Democratic Institute told The Borgen Project that authorities are catching civilians in a web of violence and mistaken affinity. “They can be arrested for not having their identification card,” he said.

As authorities hold anglophones in detention without trial, lose property and loved ones, resentment and distrust in the government is growing, fueling the grievances of the separatist movement. “We’re concerned the government is throwing the military, and arms and ammunition at a problem that is beyond just a military one,” Segun said.

Armed separatists have committed unlawful abuses as well, including killing security forces, kidnapping students and burning down approximately 36 schools. The International Crisis Group reported the killing of 235 soldiers, along with 1,000 separatists and 650 civilians.

Although one can blame the Anglophone Crisis on a failure of governance, Fomunyoh said that it is no longer a governance issue, “It’s now one of political insecurity.”

International Response

Cameroon now has the sixth-largest displaced population in the world. A wider conflict could threaten the entire region, impacting bordering countries such as Chad and Nigeria, who are fighting Boko Haram alongside Cameroon.

In March 2019, after three years of growing systematic violence, the U.N. human rights chief told the Cameroon government that its violent response will only fuel more violence and the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) held its first meeting on the crisis in the following May. The E.U. called on Cameroon’s government to initiate a dialogue with armed separatists and Switzerland agreed to act as a mediator.

Fomunyoh said that countries may have been slow to respond because they expected African organizations to intervene. The African Union (A.U.) is one such organization, which has intervened in precarious situations before, including South Sudan’s recent crackdown on protestors. The A.U. called on Sudan to restore civil law and expelled the country from the Union. Although the A.U. has endorsed Switzerland’s peace talks, it has yet to take further action.

Solutions

Fomunyoh said that there are three divided propositions to the Anglophone Crisis, “The Amba boys who want separation, those who want a federation and those who believe the status quo is fine the way it is,” however, the first step should be to end this violence.

All parties need to agree to a cease-fire, separatists need to allow children to go back to school and the government should release anglophone prisoners so they can be part of finding a solution. Although the idea of federalism has almost become taboo, Human Rights Lawyer Felix Agbor Nkongho strongly believes it would appease all sides.

“People would have a separation of powers. People would have the autonomy,” said Nkongho. However, the government has made promises in the past it did not keep.

Cameroon’s previous federation dissolved in 1972 under the same government. So, promises to implement any agreement will not mean anything unless the government regains trust. Segun believes this can start by holding those guilty of human rights abuses accountable. “To sacrifice justice on the order peace would only lead to more violence and a crisis later, if not immediately.”

Preventing a future crisis also requires healing from the trauma, which is Fomunyoh’s biggest concern. If the country does not make investments in healing, it could threaten future security by creating an environment where corruption thrives.

“When you have dead bodies in the street when that becomes the norm, then other abuses like assault, rape, theft, are pale in comparison,” said Fomunyoh. The Anglophone Crisis can become much direr and have unintended long-lasting consequences.

International solidarity helped South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. The AU and UNSC helped resolve Côte d’Ivoire’s post-election crisis. There is no reason that Cameroon cannot stop its Anglophone Crisis.

Emma Uk
Photo: Flickr

 

Venezuela's Failing Economy
People know Venezuela as one of the most diverse environments in the world because of its natural features, landscape and wide range of wildlife. Venezuela has massive oil reserves and ranks in the top list among countries such as Saudia Arabia, Canada and Iran, making it the most urban country in Latin America. However, in only approximately six years, the country has seen a drastic economic decline. Venezuela’s failing economy has placed the country in headlines across the world. This article will highlight a few casualties resulting from Venezuela’s financial crisis, as well as evaluating its causes.

The Impacts of Venezuela’s Economic Crisis

The extended effects of Venezuela’s economic crisis are hitting those who choose to remain in the country the hardest. Venezuela’s failing economy has led to a severe shortage and rationing of resources, including food, water and electricity. Despite the country being oil-rich, many Venezuelan’s are questioning why they are struggling. “It’s so unfair; we are such a rich country. It’s not fair that this is happening,” Jakeline Moncada told the Washington Post.

Many turn to natural water reserves despite safety concerns as these reserves often come from sewage drains leading to the spread of preventable diseases. Meanwhile, frequent power outages have caused water sanitation facilities to cease proper function. Physicians have noticed an increase in illness that commonly results from contaminated water and food, such as amoebiasis.

Estimates determine that more than 60,000 Venezuelans who started treatment for HIV now lack access to antiretroviral medications as a result of Venezuela’s failing economy. Many Venezuelan’s that could afford medical services before, now experience challenges attempting to access medical and health services. As a result, those dependent on medications must make costly trips to neighboring countries or hope to find donated medicines from organizations outside of the government.

As Venezuela’s economy has drastically decreased, a survey that the country’s top universities conducted estimated that more than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line. As the country experiences hyperinflation of 1.7 million percent, many families cannot afford to feed themselves more than one meal a day. Various organizations have ceased publishing the statistics of the country after specific data showed significant negative changes. For example, The Health Ministry stopped reporting data in 2017 after reports indicated a high rise in infant mortality rates. After the inflation rates suddenly rose, Venezuela’s central Bank discontinued publishing its figures in 2016. In this instance, Venezuelan organizations stopped sharing information once the statistics showed unfavorable characteristics.

Accessibility

Venezuela’s failing economy has led to difficulty accessing resources like medicare, and as a result, nearly 10 percent of the Venezuelan population is emigrating to other countries. Although Venezuelans are having a few problems getting out of the country, there has been a more significant challenge getting resources in. The military has restricted many resources from passing through its borders or at least the areas where they have the right to. The Pemón community, which borders along Brazil, has spoken in support of permitting assistance through its territory. This region, known as La Gran Sabana, also contains the only paved crossing between the two countries.

When Nicolás Maduro became president in 2015, many nations did not consider him the country’s leader but rather Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader. As a result, Maduro severed the remaining diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the U.S. as well as ceasing the accessibility of aid into Venezuela. Maduro has resisted outside assistance, describing the efforts as the United States desiring to meddle in Latin American affairs. However, many believe that the sudden decline results from mismanagement of funds and corruption.

Venezuela has several countries willing to provide support as it endures this period of financial difficulty. It will only receive this aid if its government allows, though, as it regulates the resources that pass through its border. Once nations can establish a common interest and agree on how to address the issue, Venezuela’s reconciliation can begin.

Kimberly Debnam
Photo: Flickr

 

Ecological Approach to Diminish Poverty in China
Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, many successful efforts have occurred in recent years to diminish poverty in China, such as taking an ecological approach. One such effort is the approach of creating jobs for impoverished citizens through the implementation of land protection programs. The Chinese government is treating poverty in China and environmental sustainability issues simultaneously. As the Chinese government designated, impoverished people are those earning approximately $1.10 per day. Comparatively, the International Poverty line, established by the World Bank in 2015, rests at earning $1.90 per day.

This ecological approach to reducing poverty in China resulted in a decline of more than 800 million people, who were previously living below the national poverty threshold, since 1978. In the year 2018, President Xi Jinping and his administration enabled 13.86 million people to rise out of poverty. In 1990, China rose from a 0.502 human development index value to 0.752 in 2017.

Rural Poverty in China

For Chinese citizens living in rural and remote areas, poverty mitigation has become much slower. Currently, 16.6 million rural citizens continue to live in poverty.

President Xi Jinping and his administration are combining the impending issues of rural poverty with another pressing matter, environmental decline. The Chinese government was among the first to incorporate the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a national action plan. One of the United Nations’ goals is to completely eradicate poverty by 2030.

Grasslands Protection as a Solution for Poverty

A significant part of China’s sustainable development plans is the protection and development of grasslands within the nation. Grasslands comprise 63% of China’s green vegetation but 70% of these areas are moderate to severely degraded. One can attribute the decline of Chinese grasslands to erosion by both wind and water as well as the changing environmental conditions. The uncontrolled grazing of livestock causes additional damage. The deteriorating grasslands largely overlap with impoverished rural communities within the same region of western China.

In Qumalai, a county in China’s western Qinghai province, people are constraining the grazing of cattle and sheep, which constitute the region’s largest industry, as a side effect of grassland protection efforts. In response, the Qinghai Forestry and Grassland Bureau has assisted in creating jobs in the form of grassland guardians for approximately 49,000 registered impoverished people within Qumalai. Each member of this workforce has the potential to earn around $260 per month. A more permanent solution with a larger potential comes in the form of establishing a Chinese herb plantation in Qumalai’s Maduro township.

In 2005, the restoration of grasslands in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region improved grass coverage to 100%, which enables the survival of animals on lands designated for grazing. For locals in the region, subsequent animal products added the addition of 300 yuan to the average annual income per person. The region is additionally able to replenish the local economy with more than 4 million yuan annually through the harvest of dried hay.

Since 2016, China has been working with its 13th Five-Year Plan to address poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability. Present efforts focus heavily on the impoverished rural fraction of Chinese citizens. Between 2018 and 2020, about $31 billion will go toward remedying poverty in China.

– Bhavya Girotra
Photo: Flickr

People Fleeing Central America
Many know Central America for its flourishing biodiversity and near-constant geological activity. This region is comprised of seven countries including Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are three countries that form the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA). Recently, the world is paying attention to the number of people fleeing Central America to surrounding areas like the U.S.

Every year, an estimated 500,000 people flee to Mexico to escape the NTCA. As involuntary witnesses to intense violence and economic instability, hundreds of thousands of citizens of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala choose to make the perilous journey north in hopes of finding safer, more peaceful living conditions. Immigration through the U.S.-Mexico border is not a recent or new development. Migration levels are increasing rapidly each year. Many asylum seekers are women and children searching for a life without senseless violence.

The three countries of the NTCA are extremely dangerous, and all rank within the top 10 for homicide rates and dangerous gang activity. In 2015, El Salvador became the world’s most violent country, rampant with gang-related violence and extortion. Though El Salvador no longer holds this title, high levels of poverty and violence continue to cause a rise in people fleeing Central America.

Poverty in Central America

The NTCA includes three countries that are among the poorest in the western hemisphere. Though Latin America has seen improvement in the distribution of wealth among its citizens, many still face the devastating effects of economic inequality that plagues the region. In 2014, 10 percent of citizens in Latin America held 71 percent of the region’s wealth. As a result, one in four people live in poverty, concentrated in rural areas. The most oppressed of this population tend to be women and indigenous peoples.

Economic migration has long been a factor surrounding discussions on immigration. People often choose to live and work in places with more prosperous economic opportunity. In rural areas of the NTCA, the need for more economic opportunity leads to people fleeing Central America. Sixty percent of people living in rural regions of the NTCA is impoverished.

Unprecedented Levels of Violence

Violence within the NTCA remains a leading cause of migration to the Mexican border. Because of the high poverty level across this region, governments do not have enough funds and are rampant with corruption. Many flee from senseless, violent crimes, including gang activity, kidnapping and brutal homicides, which law enforcement does not always punish.

Gang activity within the NTCA also causes citizens to flee. Women and children are at the highest risk for rape and kidnappings. People commit gender-based violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to coerce or intimidate others. Many children make the trek to Mexico alone because they are desperate for asylum to avoid gang recruitment.

Providing Aid to the NTCA

As witnesses to the traumatic violence raging throughout the NTCA, many people fleeing Central America are in dire need of medical and mental attention. Since 2013, Doctors Without Borders has provided more than 33,000 health consultations to those fleeing from the NTCA. Care includes treatment for victims of sexual abuse and diseases caught along the way.

Additionally, Doctors Without Borders, the International Crisis Group and the U.N. Refugee Agency have made strides urging host countries, like the U.S., to provide protection rather than detaining asylum seekers and sending them back. This strategy would reduce illegal entry and allow host countries to manage the influx of asylum seekers.

– Anna Giffels
Photo: UN

Fighting Corruption in the Northern TriangleThe Northern Triangle, consisting of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, is home to some of the highest levels of political and economic instability in the world. The nations of the Triangle (Or NTCA, Northern Triangle of Central America) are characterized by high rates of poverty and gang violence. Subsequently, this is exacerbated by rampant corruption, from local to national levels. This instability, along with the hazards of living in a poverty-stricken region, has led to an increase in the outflow of migrants from the Northern Triangle into the United States.

Nevertheless, things are getting better. With the Northern Triangle having received more international attention in recent years and immigration issues leading American political discourse, the underlying problems of the region are coming to light. Some U.S. and United Nations’ programs are successfully circumventing government channels to provide aid directly. However, other initiatives are attacking the problem of corruption at its source. Fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle requires a longterm method addressing the economic insolvency of these countries. Here are five ways the world is fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle.

5 Ways the World Is Fighting Corruption in the Northern Triangle

  1. Guatemala and the CICIG
    Guatemala hosts one of the most effective and successful anti-corruption NGOs in the region. The U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity (known as CICIG, per its Spanish initials) was implemented in the early 2000s to address the rampant corruption sprouting up in the wake of Guatemala’s civil war. The commissioner, Iván Velásquez, is a distinguished veteran of Colombia’s criminal justice system, where he worked to expose links between paramilitary groups and public officials—an identical background to the types of corrupt practices that burden Guatemala’s public sector.
  2. Identifying Criminal Ties to Government Officials in the NTCA
    In a list released in early May 2019, the U.S. Department of State has named over 50 senior government officials in the NTCA as guilty of corruption. This list includes officials in the orbit of all three countries’ presidents, some of whom are direct relatives. Representative Norma Torres (D-CA) noted that the release of the list was a step in the right direction, forward progress for the Trump administration recognizing the severity of corruption in the Northern Triangle. While many of the anti-corruption bodies operating in the NTCA need international backing to be as effective as possible, the State Department’s list indicates the U.S. has not completely voided its assumed role as stabilizer in the Western Hemisphere.
  3. Slow but Steady Progress in El Salvador
    Like the rest of the NTCA, El Salvador ranks low in global measures of corruption and impunity for government officials. However, the country’s most recent attorney general, Douglas Melendez, made it his mission to attack the systemic and embedded corruption permeating the government. While he was recently forced out of office by the national legislature, Melendez successfully prosecuted three former presidents and his own predecessor as attorney general. His failure to secure reappointment reflects both El Salvador’s closed-door (and thus inherently political) process of selecting an attorney general, and a backlash of the country’s political elite against his progress fighting corruption.
  4. Experts Discuss Corruption and Human Rights in the NTCA
    In May 2019, a panel of experts led by the nonprofit, Inter-American Dialogue, discussed the current initiatives fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle, and how they could benefit from expanding their focus to include human rights. Guatemala’s CICIG was brought up, as was the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). A major point of emphasis was the commonalities across all three countries, specifically the way in which corrupt kleptocratic networks are indirectly committing human rights violation by embezzling money earmarked for public services. The discussion lauded the work of CICIG and MACCIH in Guatemala and Honduras, respectively, and emphasized the need for a similar external agency in El Salvador.
  5. MACCIH Brings its Twelfth Major Case to Court in Honduras
    The Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) has been operating since April 2016, presumably inspired by the success of CICIG in Guatemala. Unlike CICIG, which is a U.N.-backed Commission, MACCIH is organized by the Organization of American States, an international charter that was created in the late 1800s. Through the OAS, MACCIH can share investigation data with other member states, which is particularly effective when investigating transnational organization—namely, drug cartels. In May 2019, MACCIH brought forward its twelfth integrated case, this time addressing a federal-level scheme to launder millions in cartel money.

Fighting corruption in the Northern Triangle is not linear. Pushback from political and business elites has been a significant problem both for MACCIH in Honduras and for El Salvador’s nascent anti-impunity work. This is to be expected of any anticorruption initiative, however, as it deals with the removal of power and resources from officials that abuse them. Flagging programs within the member states of the Northern Triangle only emphasize the need for robust foreign support, which the U.S. continues to provide.

Rob Sprankle
Photo: Flickr

migration of peopleDr. Ermitte Saint Jacques is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Florida. Her primary focus is the transnational migration of people and globalization. Dr. Jacques sat down with the Borgen Project to discuss the state of the migration of people and some of the misconceptions that follow in their paths.

Limited Economic Opportunities

Dr. Ermitte Saint Jacques has found in her research that the migration of people provides benefits for both the migrants and the countries involved. “Many people migrate for a livelihood,” said Dr. Jacques. “If people can’t seek a livelihood in their own country, they travel abroad.” Migration enables people to maximize their opportunities. When prospects aren’t working out in one country, they have the capability to go to the next.

Many migrants return to their home countries after finding successful jobs; it’s often seasonal and not permanent. For example, in 2017, 4.4 million people immigrated to a country within the European Union. Of that, two million migrants were from non-EU countries. However, more than three million reported leaving the EU that same year. As of Jan. 1, 2017, non-EU immigrants made up only 4.2 percent of the EU population.

Supply and Demand

Businesses demand the need for workers, and migrants fulfill some of these demands. “It’s important to recognize the contribution immigrants have,” said Dr. Jacques. “Some immigrants come to open businesses, some come to be laborers.” Often, those who are here as laborers, fulfill an important function that might otherwise go unfilled. Many misconceptions about laborers revolve around them taking important jobs from citizens or living off of government aid.

“We need to push back against the rhetoric of migrants coming to steal work, get on welfare, etc.,” said Dr. Jacques. “Everything can cross borders except people, and that’s very problematic. Mobility for people is a problem.” Dr. Jacques hopes more countries will follow suit with the European Union’s policy on open borders and the Schengen Agreement. Signed in 1985, the Schengen Agreement eliminates internal borders to enable migrants to travel freely among countries in search of economic opportunities. Only four of the 26 members of the Schengen Agreement are not part of the EU.

Poverty and Migration

Poverty poses a problem in that it hinders many people’s ability to migrate because they simply don’t have the funds to leave. So, impoverished people often lack the opportunities that migration offers. People who don’t have the resources to migrate either need a social network that can provide access to the ability to migrate or they must enter a cyclical travel and work pattern. They travel as far as they can and work for a bit before traveling again until they finally end up where they want to be.

“We are not talking about people fleeing turmoil or fearing for their life,” said Dr. Jacques. “They are not refugees or seeking asylum. They are typically economic migrants seeking work.” Migrants are different than immigrants. Immigrants move from one country to another to live; whereas migrants typically move from one country to another for economic reasons, and often, the move is temporary.

People emerge from poverty by seeking better opportunities elsewhere, and migration enables them to do so. It is an investment for those who are struggling. “Migration is necessary for people to escape from the horrendous cycle of poverty and finally be able to maintain a livelihood,” said Dr. Jacques. The more people understand about the migration of people, the easier it will be to dispell the misconceptions.

Jodie Filenius

Photo: Flickr

Development Through Economic StabilityThe U.S. currently sends more than half of its exports to developing countries. Supporting development through economic stability in these nations, as well as at home, has become crucial.  With more of these exports going to developing countries, supporting economic development in these struggling areas is symbiotic, as reducing poverty creates opportunities for all.

Fostering development and reducing poverty in these countries can go hand-in-hand with supporting business domestically. Thus, the action both in the U.S. business and political communities has begun.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce staunchly supports an international affairs budget known as the “Function 150” account. This account, representing less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget, funds diplomatic advocacy for policies that open markets to foreign and U.S. business.

The Effect Of International Aid

This form of aid works to stabilize foreign economies through trade. It allows the U.S. to provide not only funding for global development, but also an incorporation of these developing countries into the U.S. market.

By relying more on the U.N. and NGOs for health, education and humanitarian programs, USAID can focus on multilateral development banks to foster structural economic programs. Diplomatic support for these programs in developing nations, which consume more than 50 percent of U.S. exports, will help sustain the U.S. economy as well as stabilize struggling foreign economies.

Economic stability is a vital piece of the development and sustainability agenda that Congress has been putting into place for years now. Although it is not the only solution, funding international economic stability can reduce poverty by promoting business and providing jobs both internationally and domestically.

The Plan For The Future

On March 13, 2017, an executive order for a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing gave the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 360 days to present a plan to the president.

By June 30, all federal agencies were to submit a drafted plan to the OMB and by the fall to include such plans in their 2019 budget submissions.

A reorganization of the national budget allows for the creation of an independent cabinet-level department for the international budget that would emphasize multilateral development banks as one of the vital aspects of international sustainable development. This department would allow funding to be allocated in whatever direction the donor wanted.

By supporting development through domestic and international reform and reorganization can not only promote global economic and trade opportunities, but also reduce poverty through economic business trade. It is the promotion of development through economic stability.

Tucker Hallowell
Photo: Flickr

Afghanistan Is PoorDespite an influx of international aid, 39 percent of Afghans live in poverty, and this number is increasing. A shocking 1.3 million more people are poor in Afghanistan today than in 2012. Why is Afghanistan poor? The country has experienced conflict since the Soviet Union invaded in 1979. Political transitions within the country also cause insecurity. Most households in Afghanistan are not established enough to cope with economic shocks or natural disasters. About 20 percent of Afghans live just above the poverty line and slight economic shocks could drive them into poverty.

One answer to the question ‘why is Afghanistan poor?’ is that the economy is too small for the growing labor force. Many workers are illiterate and looking for low skilled jobs, but there are not enough of these types of jobs. In 2016, Afghanistan’s GDP growth was 1.2 percent. While this was an increase, it is not enough to bring workers out of unemployment. Economists estimate that GDP growth needs to be eight percent to successfully employ the Afghan work force. Unfortunately, continuing conflict and insecurity within the country makes this growth unlikely.

Rural Afghanistan is poor due to its dependence on agriculture and informal labor markets. Low investments and natural disasters have hurt the agriculture market that most Afghans depend on for employment. Natural resources necessary for successful agriculture are lacking in Afghanistan. Compared to its population, there is little farmable land. Precipitation is scarce and there is insufficient irrigation infrastructure. In addition, the country has faced multiple debilitating droughts since 1999.

In rural areas, small-scale farmers and herders, landless people and women who are heads of households bear the largest burden of poverty. Women in Afghanistan face increased inequalities because they have less access to education and health services. A lack of skills or a medical condition can keep women out of the workforce. Widows account for a large population of the poor in Afghanistan. Due to fighting within the country, there may be over one million widows in Afghanistan. Most of these women have children to support. Unfortunately, the patriarchal society excludes them from many social and employment opportunities, so most become beggars.

Many countries and organizations have poured aid into the country. However, it does not seem to be helping. The inequality between the rich and poor in the country is increasing. Much of the aid went to build schools and hospitals, increase public services and repair infrastructure. While these human services are important, the agriculture sector continues to struggle, and rural households don’t have protection from economic shocks. In addition, the government did not always distribute funds fairly throughout the country.

Why is Afghanistan poor? Afghanistan is poor due to continuing shocks to the country, and it is necessary to build programs to insulate households from economic instability.

– Sarah Denning
Photo: Flickr

Italy's Birth RateItaly’s birth rate has continued to drop, according to the most recent report from the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT). This is the second year in a row that the national number of births has dipped to fewer than half a million. The birth rate is currently at 473,438.

In 2015, the country saw its fertility rate plunge to its lowest since the Italian modern state was formed in 1861. The national average birth rate of 1.35 children per woman is significantly less than the average for women across the European Union at 1.58.

Political analysts have cited the spikes in poverty and unemployment rates among the youth as possible factors that may have spurred the decline of Italy’s birth rate. Even though the birth rate has been steadily decreasing since its peak during the 1960s, it has fallen significantly years after the 2008 global financial crisis. From 2008 to 2013, Italy passed through its longest and deepest economic recession; as an effect, the national unemployment rate grew from 5.7 percent in 2007 to 13 percent in 2014.

The aftershocks of the recession hit young Italians the hardest. As the country starts its path towards economic recovery with increasing in small increments of the GDP and a gradual decrease in the unemployment rate, Italy’s youth fall deeper into poverty. A 2017 report from Caritas, an Italian Catholic organization focused on social development in the country, reveals that one out of 10 young Italians are now poor, a stark contrast from the two percent poverty rate in 2007. Moreover, close to one of five young Italians are neither employed nor in the workforce, almost double the EU average at 11.5 percent. Youth unemployment, consistently high since the economic downturn in 2008, is still at 37.8 percent, the third-highest in the European Union.

The youth who are more fortunate to be employed, often either have irregular contracts or earn significantly less than their older colleagues. According to the Employment and Social Developments in Europe (EDSE) review published by the European Union (2017), 15 percent of Italian employees aged 25 to 39 have irregular contractual work, while workers aged under 30 earn 60 percent less than workers over 60.

The lack of financial security has had a marked impact on Italy’s youth, who with the uncertainty in the job market have opted to stay home until they are financially and professionally stable. Italians now leave home and have their first child at the age of 31 or 32, five years after the average European.

Members of the Italian government have recognized the interrelation between the decline in Italy’s birth rate and the increase in poverty and unemployment rates among Italy’s youth. “[With] no guarantee of income for citizens, most will not think about starting a family,” Italian health minister Beatrice Lorenzin said in 2016. Young Italians, suffering from the lowest wages in Europe and rising poverty rates, seem to know better than burdening themselves with trying to provide for dependents with their meager incomes.

Bella Suansing

Photo: Flickr

Psychological_Effects_of_Poverty
Bradley Ariza, a man living in the U.K. with his girlfriend and children, is stressed all the time. In addition to constant hunger and insecurity, he needs to carefully calculate every calorie he eats to make sure he has enough, and count every penny he spends to ensure that his finances remain in order. He feels the constant pressure to maintain certain living standards for his family. Poverty becomes a “physical and psychological condition,” not just an economic one.

Studying the psychological effects of poverty is not usually met with enthusiastic approval. In the past, such research was often tainted with racism. It was also accused of being a way of blaming the poor for their behavior. Sometimes it has been seen as unnecessary because of the belief that although the poor are more deprived, they are happier. However, scholarly and public opinions are becoming increasingly more open to studying the effects of poverty on psychology and behavior. It is slowly beginning to be seen as a way to tackle poverty.

Poverty creates a “mindset of scarcity,” as behavioral economists Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir have termed it. People are more likely to focus on current, pressing issues rather than long-term ones, even if they might be as important to their well-being. For instance, Indian farmers might prioritize their coming harvest over vaccinating their children. Some researchers have even found that the IQ of Indian sugarcane farmers falls just before their harvest.

Studies have already shown that poorer people have elevated levels of stress, and it is also widely known that stress is linked to depression. Depression, which causes absenteeism and lower levels of productivity, costs the U.S. and U.K. up to one percent of their GDP each year. People who are suffering from extreme stress and depression are less likely to make long-term investments in their health and education. They are more inclined to seek short-term rewards rather than long-term ones because they find it harder to delay gratification. These psychological effects of living in poverty make it more difficult for people to climb out of it.

Researchers are now exploring whether lowering stress and depression can improve people’s mental states enough so that they make better financial decisions and are more motivated about their future. When they are offered more psychological-centered treatments, such as therapy or counseling, people might be more likely to build a path out of the poverty trap. Studying this connection could also help explain why aid sometimes does not seem to work as it should. Microloans, for instance, might be financially helpful, but the added stress to repay loans might make poorer people’s lives worse.

Direct aid, instead of microloans, might be more beneficial. Johannes Haushofer, founder of the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics, has started studying how stress affects one’s ability to make good financial decisions. He found that giving unconditional cash transfers to families lowered their levels of depression and stress. In turn, they were more likely to make long-term, thought-out financial decisions. The effects were especially prominent when the cash transfer was a big enough size and given to women.

Radhika Singh

Sources: Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, Harvard
Photo: The Prisma