COVID-19 and Global Poverty
Since early 2020, the entire globe has been battling the COVID-19 pandemic and attempting to address the outbreak properly. Most of the world’s population is currently under some form of social distancing as a part of a response to the outbreak. From scientific research to increased travel restrictions, almost every country is working on ways to boost the economy while managing the spread of the virus. However, COVID-19 has affected much more than the economy. Here are four ways COVID-19 and global poverty connect:

4 Ways COVID-19 and Global Poverty Connect

  1. The Consumption of Goods and Services: For most developing countries struggling with poverty, much of their economies depend on commodities, such as exports. Food consumption represents the largest portion of household spending, and the increase in food prices and shortages of products affect low-income households. Countries that depend on imported food experience shortages. The increase in food prices could also affect the households’ inability to access other services such as healthcare, a major necessity during this time. These are two significant connections between COVID-19 and global poverty.
  2. Employment and Income: The self-employed or those working for small businesses represent a large portion of the employed in developing countries. Some of these workers depend on imported materials, farming lands or agriculture. This requires harvest workers and access to local farmers’ markets to sell produce. Others work in the fields of tourism and retail. These fields require travelers, tourists and consumers — all of which lessen as COVID-19 restrictions increase. Without this labor income, many of these families (now unemployed) must rely on savings or government payments.
  3. Weak Healthcare Systems: This pandemic poses a major threat to lower-middle-income developing countries. There is a strong correlation between healthcare and economic growth. The better and bigger the economy, the better the healthcare. Healthcare systems in developing countries tend to be weaker due to minimal resources including beds, ventilators, medicine and a below-average economy. Insurance is not always available for low-income families. All of this affects the quality of healthcare that those living within the poverty line receive. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Public Services: Low-income families and poor populations in developing countries depend on public services, such as school and public transportation. Some privatized urban schools, comprised of mainly higher-income families, are switching to online learning. However, many of the public rural schools receiving government funding do not have adequate resources to follow suit. This could increase the rate of drop out. Moreover, it will disproportionately affect poorer families since many consider education an essential incentive for escaping poverty. Aside from school, COVID-19 restrictions could prevent poorer families from accessing public transportation. For developing countries, public transportation could affect the ability of poorer families to access healthcare.

Moving Forward

There are many challenges that families across the globe face as a result of COVID-19. Notably, some organizations have stepped forward to help alleviate circumstances. The World Bank, Care International and the U.N. are among the organizations implementing programs and policies to directly target the four effects of COVID-19 mentioned above.

For example, the World Bank is continuously launching emergency support around the world to address the needs of various countries in response to COVID-19. By offering these financial packages, countries like Ethiopia, which should receive more than $82 million, can obtain essential medical equipment and support for establishing proper healthcare and treatment facilities. These financial packages constitute a total of $160 million over the next 15 months as a part of projects implemented in various countries, such as Mongolia, Kyrgyz Republic, Haiti, Yemen, Afghanistan and India.

Nada Abuasi
Photo: Flickr

innovations in poverty eradication in ethiopiaEthiopia, officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is located in East Africa. It has historically struggled to keep a majority of its population out of extreme poverty. In 1995, 71.1% of Ethiopia’s population lived on less than $1.90 a day. However, thanks to innovations in poverty eradication in Ethiopia, this figure has decreased to 30.8% as of 2015. The top innovations in poverty eradication in Ethiopia include economic development plans and the expansion of social services. Foreign aid from allied nations, like the U.S., has helped make these innovations in poverty eradication in Ethiopia possible.

Economic Development Plans

The main mechanism for successfully reducing poverty in Ethiopia is its chain of innovative economic development plans. Beginning with the Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP) in 2005, Ethiopia has implemented a series of these plans. Each last five years in order to adapt to the new market. In 2010, the First Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP I) replaced the PASDEP. The Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II) succeeded this plan in 2015.

The GTP II remains in place but is nearing the end of its five-year installment. The plan doubled down on the previous strategies’ prioritization of human resource and infrastructure development. As such, it has sustained economic growth in Ethiopia. This was most evident in Ethiopia’s huge spending increase in the education sector. Roughly one quarter of the nation’s total expenditures go toward education and training. Importantly, this far surpasses the allocated budget in every other nation in the region. Access to “universal primary education” also rose exponentially—an important milestone for the country. In addition, the plan called for large investments in roads, railways, power and agriculture.

The plan also focused on industrial development, strengthening the manufacturing industry to increase economic growth. Analyst for the Development Initiatives, Peace Nganwa, writes that “interventions that increase economic growth also contribute directly to poverty reduction.” Since the GTP II’s implementation, Ethiopia’s GDP has grown substantially. The total GDP grew from $64.6 billion in 2015 to $96.1 billion as of 2019, a whopping 48.8% increase.

Expansion of Social Services

Ethiopia’s focus on improved social services has dramatically increased the welfare of its citizens. Besides education, health, transportation, energy infrastructure and water and sanitation have expanded greatly. Health coverage in particular has been a priority for Ethiopia in the past few years. Substantial increases to healthcare funding brought Ethiopia’s access to health coverage to 98% in 2018. This was an important mark to hit, especially before the coronavirus pandemic reached the country.

Furthermore, water scarcity has historically been problematic for Ethiopia. The nation accounts for 7.5% of the global water crisis, affecting more than 62 million citizens. However, Ethiopia’s focus on the issue has helped reduce it significantly. This work has brought the country’s access to potable water to 66%. All of these social service expansions contributed to increasing the overall life expectancy of Ethiopians. Specifically, it now rests at 64.6 years.

International Assistance

Foreign development assistance made these innovations in poverty eradication in Ethiopia possible. In 2010, for instance, the $3.5 billion Ethiopia received in total foreign donations covered more than half of its spending. The largest contributor to this was the United States, giving $875 million.

As the nation plans another five years of poverty eradication measures, it faces one of the hardest challenges the world has come by: COVID-19. Ethiopia has proven that it can strategize to eradicate poverty within its borders. However, it needs assistance from foreign nations to make it truly achievable, now more than ever in the face of a pandemic.

– Asa Scott
Photo: Wikimedia

Hunger in ParaguayParaguay is one of the smallest countries in South America but is still home to more than seven million residents. Many Paraguayans residing in the landlocked region struggle to survive, with nearly 17% of the population living in poverty. The poverty rate is even higher among rural and indigenous communities. As a result, hunger in Paraguay continues to be a significant problem.

The Causes of Hunger: Exports and Inequality

A prominent yet paradoxical cause of hunger in Paraguay is its growing export rates. As the UN reports, “Only 6% of agricultural land is available for domestic food production, whilst 94% is used for export crops.” While the country produces considerable agricultural resources each year, exporters ship most of this produce and livestock overseas and leave very little in the country. This lack of domestic production means that many Paraguayans cannot afford expensive imports. As a result, many must contend with food insecurity and hunger in Paraguay.

To make matters worse, the divide between the wealthy and the working class in Paraguay is drastic. Roughly 3% of the population owns more than 85% of its land and resources. This unequal distribution of land and resources leaves small landowners impoverished and unable to compete, with many turning to urban areas in search of marginal work.

Agricultural Industry

The Paraguayan agricultural industry’s oligarchical nature makes it challenging to reallocate Paraguay’s land and natural resources. The 3% of landowners hold tremendous financial and political influence in the country, making it difficult for the Paraguayan government to reallocate resources or reappropriate land toward domestic production. The extremely wealthy are also only interested in producing a handful of different crops that do well in the global market.

However, this makes Paraguay’s economy and exporting gains very dependent on a temperamental world market. The market’s fluctuations can be particularly tricky and potentially harmful for the underserved and impoverished in the country, who are already struggling to survive. Without much opportunity for social mobility, those threatened by hunger in Paraguay must routinely find cheap alternatives to sustenance. High-quality, nutritious food remains an unaffordable commodity for many Paraguayans.

Hunger and Malnutrition

Poverty leads to food insecurity and malnutrition, two issues symptomatic of hunger in Paraguay. As nutritionist Nadia Quintana notes, “About 15% of Paraguayan children suffer from malnutrition. And that is if you do not count the children from indigenous groups. According to a United Nations estimate, if we include indigenous tribes, more than 45% of Paraguay children are at risk of hunger or malnutrition. But the problem is not lack of food. The problem here is poverty and lack of work and education. And housing is very precarious.”

While instances of undernutrition and starvation are trending downward, malnutrition and obesity rates are rising in Paraguay as poverty forces impoverished citizens to subsist on cheaper, less nutritious foods. These low-nutrient, high-calorie options may be cheap, but they have had an outsized impact on an average Paraguayan’s diet. Residents are in an impossible situation, forced to choose between going hungry or eating foods correlated with increased vulnerability to chronic diseases.

Global Pandemic and Rising Unemployment Rates

The COVID-19 global pandemic has further complicated hunger in Paraguay. While the small Latin American country was one of the first to begin quarantining measures to counteract the March 2020 outbreaks, the nationwide lockdown has crippled many of the country’s workers. Although the country has the fewest coronavirus cases in the region, many of its workers have lost their primary sources of income. The loss of employment means that nearly 60% of the population is without access to any benefits or financial support during the ongoing pandemic.

According to the Guardian, though the government has secured $1.6 billion in pandemic crisis loans, a tiny percentage of Paraguayans have received the promised $76 and food packs. As a result, the dependence on cheap, non-nutritious foods and correlated instances of malnutrition and obesity continue to rise. Rising unemployment rates and lack of federal support will inevitably exacerbate the ever-present issues poverty of hunger in Paraguay.

Indigenous Communities and Hunger in Paraguay

Among the most affected by poverty, pandemic and hunger in Paraguay are indigenous peoples with minimal economic and social resources to combat their current circumstances. Under the lockdown, many are unable to secure food and must rely on communal meals and donations to survive. The Paraguayan government has offered aid but has struggled to deliver it as it has to the rest of its people. Amnesty International has partnered with local initiatives to lobby for sufficient assistance to these indigenous communities waiting and hungry for action.

Moving forward, the Paraguayan government faces an uphill battle in providing its citizens with adequate resources to sustain healthy diets. The government finds itself in a difficult place as it struggles to assist and feed its people amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, especially as its workers are out of jobs. With so much of its economy tied to a small minority of extremely wealthy agricultural exports, Paraguay must find a way to help those who are not part of the top 3%, especially those living in indigenous, underserved and impoverished areas. Though extreme poverty trends downward, malnutrition and obesity will continue to characterize hunger in Paraguay.

Andrew Giang
Photo: Flickr

poverty reduction through microloans

Poverty reduction through microloans has been a successful strategy in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Between 2007 and 2016, Tanzania’s poverty rates have decreased from 34.4% to 26.8%. Consequently, microloans have become a necessity for low-income earners whose businesses are apart of informal sectors.

MYC4 is an online platform that helps individuals loan money to small enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa. Mads Kjaer, its chief executive, describes the importance of microcredit by stating how “people need access to capital to grow their informal and formal businesses that offer them a regular income and enable them to lead decent lives.”

As a result, governments now appreciate the impact of microfinance. They are encouraging investments by opening up the industry to foreign capital and improving policing mechanisms for customer protection. With micro and small enterprises making up approximately 32% of Tanzania’s GDP, microcredit strategies have played an essential role in reducing poverty through progressive business approaches.

New Microfinance Act in Tanzania

In 2018, the parliament of the United Republic of Tanzania passed a Microfinance Act that illustrates the framework under which microfinance institutions operate. The Act allows for enhanced regulation of the microfinance sector for the mainland of Tanzania and Zanzibar. But with only 16% of Tanzania’s population banked, 27% is financially excluded. Microfinance options and the accessibility of mobile money have expanded financial inclusion to nearly half of Tanzania’s population. For example, as of 2017, financial NGOs, mobile money and microloan providing institutions served 48.6% of the population.

Nonprofits that are Helping

Opportunity Tanzania, a nonprofit organization that provides loans, savings, and insurance to impoverished entrepreneurs, has helped over 3,625 clients in Dar Es Saalam. Its microfinancing services provide entrepreneurs and their families with a path out of poverty. Only 20% of Tanzania’s population has access to a formal bank within an hour’s walking distance of their home. Therefore, Opportunity Tanzania is now working to build a regulated bank that will offer clients savings products and provide them with a secure place to store their money.

The International Labour Organization [ILO], in collaboration with the UN joint program on Youth Employment, established a five-day training program for financial service providers to create outreach strategies that will educate youth on microfinance resources.

High population growth and substantial poverty are still present in Tanzania. However, the expansion of microloan services play a crucial role in supporting entrepreneurs and creating more job opportunities for youth. In short, poverty reduction through microloans is an important avenue for growth in Tanzania.

Erica Fealtman
Photo: Unsplash

Zero Poverty in Wake Island
Wake Island is a small landmass resting between Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands. The Spanish discovered the island in 1568 and received its name from William Wake, a British Captain who came across the island in 1796. It covers a total of 6.5 square Km, which is approximately 11 times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC. This island boasts an impressive statistic: there is zero poverty on Wake Island.

Wake Island’s Background

In 1899 the U.S. created a cable station on the island after seizing it from Spain. In 1941, the country then constructed an air and naval base. However, the Japanese stole it shortly after, forcing the U.S. to bomb the island until Japan surrendered. By 1945, the U.S. recaptured Wake Island. During World War II, the island served as a military landing strip for the Pacific region. Wake Island is a National Historic Landmark due to its involvement in WWII. It has been under preservation by the National Preservation Act since 1966 and is protected by the United States Air Force. The U.S. government maintains the Island for emergency landings.

Reasons for the Absence of Poverty

However, Wake Island has no indigenous people: the only residents on the island come from the United States government and are contractors or military personnel. The sparse population watches over the facilities and airfields. There is currently one military doctor on the island for emergencies. There are no commercial flights to or from Wake Island, making it accessible solely to military personnel. The only telecommunication systems on the island are the Defense Switched Network circuits off the Overseas Telephone System (OTS), located in the Hawaii area code.

Approximately 150 people live on Wake Island as of 2019. Wake Island’s small perimeter does not have the structure or capabilities to hold more people. Thus, the small population creates the condition of zero poverty in Wake Island.

The U.S. regulates, and the present military personnel manages the island. The U.S imports all of the island’s food and manufactured goods for the limited population. By having the food and products imported, Wake Island has a lower possibility of falling into poverty. The island’s currency is in U.S. dollars due to its status as a United States territory. With the U.S. defensive base and government support, the island stays out of poverty.

Environmental Impacts on the Economy

In 2006 a super typhoon almost hit Wake Island, carrying the potential to devastate the island. The government evacuated all residents, but due to the storm’s size, there was a possibility of severe damage. The storm could have destroyed the island’s economy; however, despite the storm’s 155 miles per hour winds, no significant impact affected the military base or buildings. With wreckage of only trees, power lines and rods, the island was fortunate to escape destruction narrowly.

Since 2006, there have not been any storms or other major disasters to threaten the island’s economic status. The island also did not contribute to any wars: following WWII, the island sat peacefully with zero damage. This overall safety has significantly contributed to the absence of poverty in Wake Island.

– Mackenzie Reese
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Mongolia
Mongolia is a landlocked nation in East Asia, caught between Russia to the north and China to the South. Since transitioning into a capitalist democracy in the 1990s, it has become one of the region’s fastest-growing economies. However, Mongolia is held back by various issues such as poverty and uneven economic growth. Here are five facts about poverty in Mongolia:

Five Facts About Poverty in Mongolia

  1. Poverty Rates: According to the World Bank, 28.4% of Mongolians lived below the poverty line as of 2018. The Mongolian Poverty Line is defined as living off 166,580 Tugrug ($66.4 USD) per month. A further 15%  are considered vulnerable to falling into poverty due to unforeseen events. Taken together, these statistics show that two out of every five Mongolians live in or close to poverty.
  2. High Inflation: Mongolia has been experiencing rapid inflation over the past few years, compounding the issues surrounding poverty in Mongolia. Inflation rates increased from 0.73% in 2016 to 7.26% in 2019. This financially strains vulnerable communities who already struggle to provide for necessities. High inflation notably impacts the urban poor more than the rural poor; while the urban poor need to buy all their food, many rural herders and farmers can produce much of their own food and gain greater profits from increased prices.
  3. Uneven Economic Growth: Mongolia’s GDP has grown in the past few years, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has benefited. Approximately one-third of Mongolian GDP growth comes from mining, which only employs about 6% of the total population and relies heavily on foreign investors. Rural areas are experiencing continuing economic growth due to increased livestock prices, as well as higher rates of consumption and decreasing poverty rates, as opposed their urban counterparts. This is most evident in the rates of herders who fall below the poverty line. According to the World Bank, “Herders were among the poorest in 2010, but now only one in three herders are estimated to be poor.”
  4. Rural v. Urban: This uneven economic growth can best be seen in the divide between the rural and urban poor. While poverty percentages have decreased in rural areas, the rate of urban poverty has remained unchanged. As previously stated, those in rural areas are experiencing economic growth while the urban poor are trapped in stagnation. Rural poverty decreased from 34.9% in 2016 to 30.8% in 2018, while Urban poverty hovers just above 27%. While the rural poverty percentages are still higher, it’s important to keep in mind that 63.5% of the poor live in cities.
  5. Poor Living Conditions: Due to the country’s nomadic past, gers (traditional Mongolian tents), are still widely used throughout the country. These structures are cheap compared to apartments and other housing arrangements, with both the rural and urban poor living in them. A reported 57% of all poor Mongolians live in gers. However, most gers lack many modern necessities such as insulation and running water. This exacerbates the fact that nine in 10 poor Mongolians lack access to various basic infrastructure services like sanitation and heating. The central government is continuing to address these issues and is attempting to move those living in gers into more modern housing.

The Good News

Mongolia has been experiencing nearly 30 years of economic growth and social development. Many experts describe Mongolia as “The Wolf Economy” due to its massive growth and supply of natural resources. The nation has tripled its GDP since 1991 with help from international groups and smart government investments. Healthcare industries have seen a massive improvement, with Mongolia seeing declines in maternal and child mortality rates. The government has also instituted various programs to help people out of poverty in Mongolia and raise the general standard of living. The United States has provided aid and development funds to help strengthen the Mongolian economy and promote democratic political reforms. As a result, the US is Mongolia’s fourth-largest import partner, valuing more than $200 million dollars in items such as machinery and consumer goods. Various American businesses also operate within Mongolia such as Visa, Caterpillar Inc. and GE.

– Malcolm Schulz
Photo: Flickr

E-commerce in AfricaAfrica’s recent growth in online technology has allowed the continent to join in on a new, digital economy. There are an estimated 264 start-ups in Africa as of January 2020. Currently, these e-commerce startups in Africa are active in at least 23 countries and are projected to expand into the rest of Africa.

The Importance of E-Commerce

The growth of e-commerce in Africa opens the door to new jobs. By 2025, Africa could see as many as three million jobs emerge from digital markets. These jobs would focus directly on online marketplaces, online services and other byproducts of economic activity.

Moreover, this new market will allow rural communities access goods that were previously inaccessible, helping establish the continent’s growing consumer class. According to the UNCTAD, Africa’s number of online shoppers has increased by 18 percent every year since 2014, six percent higher than the world average.

While e-commerce in Africa generates greater consumer gains, the young entrepreneur also benefits from this emerging market. Particularly, it opens the door to new revenue-generating jobs.

Challenges Facing E-Commerce in Africa

Although the future of e-commerce in Africa is bright, there are challenges blocking this booming market. Most of these are logistical. For instance, many countries in Africa lack proper national address systems. This complicates the delivery of purchased goods. Additionally, road conditions are less than ideal for deliveries. Deliveries are often delayed or canceled due to traffic jams, resulting in a loss of revenue.

Another significant challenge comes in the form of weak internet connections and an overall lack of trust in internet payment. Africa’s internet penetration rate falls at a median of 41 percent, meaning that less than half of the continent has internet access. For those who do, the absence of consumer protection makes it difficult for consumers to pay in any way besides ‘cash on delivery.’ Additionally, only 10 to 15 percent of those living in Africa have a bank account. As a result, 90 percent of online purchases are paid in cash. This, coupled with a lack of trust due to a history of scammers, complicates the success of e-commerce in Africa.

Solutions to E-Commerce Issues in Africa

Some large e-commerce players are taking steps to improve the road networks and overall infrastructure in Africa. Companies, like Jumia and Zipline, are implementing techniques in drone delivery to combat these logistical challenges. Further, Safe.Shop South Africa, a new trustmark, has worked to increase trust between consumers and online stores. Safe.Shop allows e-merchants to be verified by lawyers against South African laws and the standards of the trustmark. Once verified, the e-merchants carry the trustmark as a guarantee that their business is legitimate.

The Future of Africa’s E-Commerce

Although Africa still faces logistical challenges, the future looks bright for the continent’s role in e-commerce. The World Economic Forum supports the UN’s statistics regarding the increase of jobs by 2025. As of September 2019, the WEF created an agenda for the future of e-commerce in Africa.

This agenda highlights that seven growing internet populations are found in Africa, giving e-commerce the support it needs to grow throughout the continent. With this in mind, the WEF calls for entrepreneurs, negotiators and regulators to work together to build e-commerce in Africa. By joining forces, these actors are aiming to create jobs across the continent and to increase Africa’s presence in the global economy.

Overall, e-commerce is positively impacting Africa’s economy and infrastructure. The work being done to help standardize addresses, increase internet access and create better road networks is helping increase the continent’s standard of living. In turn, these changes are creating new opportunities for those living in Africa.

– Ariana Davarpanah

Photo: Pixabay

Venezuela’s Rum
Extended hyperinflation continues to cripple Venezuela’s economy with prices of basic groceries skyrocketing to five times the monthly minimum wage from 2015 to 2017. Estimates determined that extreme poverty in Venezuela in 2016 was 82 percent. Yet, there is a shimmer of light with potential economic growth through Venezuela’s rum industry.

Fall in Whiskey Sales

For a long time, people have seen Scotch as a status symbol in Venezuela and often only for the upper-class to enjoy at home or for middle-class friends to have on a night out. In 2007, Venezuelans consumed over three million boxes of whiskey, fifth in consumption worldwide and priced at nearly $151 million in imports. In 2009, imported Scotch whiskey outsold Venezuela’s rum sales nearly two to one.

However, with hyperinflation setting in, reaching over 60,000 percent in 2018 and almost 350,000 percent in 2019, imports experienced restriction and the tightening of currency controls, putting whiskey out of reach for many. At the black market rate, a bottle of Chivas Regal 18-Year-Old Whiskey costs $31, more than the country’s monthly minimum wage.

Rise in Rum Sales

The popularity of whiskey began declining in 2013, with a 29 percent drop in sales. At this point, the country had only recently crossed the hyperinflation threshold of 50 percent, while Venezuela’s rum sales increased by 22.6 percent. During that same time period, domestic rum production increased from 15.8 million to 21.8 million liters.

In addition to the rising cost of imports, the government’s recent introduction of relaxed regulations and loosening price controls has bolstered domestic rum production. This has led to Santa Teresa, one of Venezuela’s rum distilleries, to become the first in the country to release a public offering in 11 years, selling one million shares on January 24, 2020. With banks hesitant to lend, public offerings provide alternative forms of capital that can allow businesses to grow and become more competitive in the global market.

Project Alcatraz

Project Alcatraz, a recreational rugby initiative, launched as a means of rehabilitation and to serve as a deterrent for gang violence after gang members broke into the grounds of the Santa Teresa rum distillery. Now, Project Alcatraz includes vocational training, psychological counseling and formal education, reaching roughly 2,000 adolescents and a few hundred inmates.

Additionally, experts believe that the project has led to a drop in the murder rate of the local municipality. In 2003, the year the project originated, there were 114 murders per 100,000 people; as of 2016, that number had dropped to 13 per 100,000 people.

Cocuy

Venezuelan rum has not been the only liquor that has seen recent success in the country. Cocuy is a liquor similar to that of Mexican tequila because it comprises of fermented agave plants. Cocuy has a long history in the country, with indigenous groups originally making it 500 years ago. The country reportedly outlawed the drink prior to 2006 to boost Venezuela’s rum and beer production and sales. Cocuy production companies regained licensure, resulting in the drink gaining popularity throughout the years. This once stigmatized drink meant for the poor and less refined is now one of choice primarily because of its low price point.

While the rise in domestic liquor sales may be seemingly insignificant, the growth of any domestic industry can play a critical role in the reversal of the economic climate of an impoverished nation. Venezuela’s rum revolution in the past decade could turn the country’s economy around.

– Scott Boyce
Photo: Pixabay

 Homelessness in South Korea
It is easy to dismiss homelessness in South Korea, as the nation ranks as one of the top 20 economies in the world. High-tech society can overshadow the unfortunate reality that many of the homeless face in South Korea. In 2017, the South Korean government estimated that there were more than 11,000 homeless people in South Korea. This is not a surprise to many South Korean. When walking in Seoul for an extended amount of time, it is common to come across the homeless.

Factors that Contribute to Homelessness

  1. Housing Index: While homelessness in Seoul has dropped significantly, from 4,505 people in 2014 to 3,478 in 2018, there is still a sizable homeless population in Seoul. A variety of factors contribute to homelessness in South Korea. The rapid rise in housing prices all around the country is making owning a home more difficult for many Koreans. The housing index, a trend of average housing prices across the country, in South Korea is on a constant rise. The housing index rose from 33.60 points in 1987 to 100.20 points in 2019. This lack of affordable housing is one of the factors that contributes to homelessness in South Korea.
  2. Financial Bankruptcy: Financial bankruptcy is another leading cause of homelessness in South Korea. According to a study by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, 24 percent of the homeless lost their homes due to snowballing debts. The study stated that the average age of homeless people in South Korea is in their mid-50s.
  3. Alcoholism: For the homeless who suffer from alcoholism, receiving support can be especially difficult. Mr. Lee, a homeless in Seoul who was interviewed by South China Morning Post, testified to this issue. Since many homeless shelters have a zero-tolerance policy toward alcohol, many of the homeless elect to live on the streets. When questioned about why he left the homeless shelter, Mr. Lee said, “I used to receive support from organizations, but I stopped going to these centers because there was no freedom there.” This further reflects the prevalence of alcoholism among the homeless in South Korea.

Government Efforts to Reduce Homelessness

The South Korean government is making positive steps toward reducing homelessness in South Korea. In Seoul, the homelessness problem is still easy to spot; however, the homeless population is in a steady decline. A 2017 assessment by the Seoul government found that there had been a 30 percent decrease in the homeless population in Seoul since 2010.

South Korea’s commitment to supporting the homeless is also very public. With the election of President Moon Jae In, the Ministry of Welfare announced an expansion to assisting the homeless. The South Korean government pledged to increase the supply of housing for the homeless, creating jobs and providing job training programs for the homeless.

Currently, the city of Seoul is running an outreach program. Simin Chatdongi or “People Visiting Their Neighbors” is a program that encourages citizens to alert the authorities about their neighbors who might be on the verge of becoming homeless. Citizens who want to participate can sign up for the outreach program online or visiting a program booth at a residents’ assembly or neighborhood festival. As of Dec. 2019, the program gathered 8,563 reports.

 

Homelessness in South Korea is caused by many factors, including the housing index, financial bankruptcy and alcoholism. However, the South Korean government’s commitment to helping its less-fortunate populace leaves a silver lining to this otherwise bleak reality. Many in South Korea look forward to the positive changes that are to come for the homeless.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr