Every day, 600 million Africans live in the dark with no access to electricity, which is making it difficult for students to read, clinics to properly store vaccines and businesses to operate outside of natural light hours.

The energy crisis in Africa, particularly in the Sub-Saharan countries, leaves many people in poverty. In a place where work stops when the sun goes down, it is hard to advance in the workplace, which is making employment opportunities scarce. And, when power is available, it is often unreliable and can cause power outages.

Senegalese pop-star Akon, in partnership with Give1 Project and Africa Development Solutions Global Corporation, aims to give electricity to one million households in nine West and Central African countries by the end of 2014.

The Akon Lighting Africa project involves installing solar equipment in rural households in Senegal, Mali, Guinea Conakry, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo and the Ivory Coast.

Originally from Senegal, Akon, whose real name is Aliaune Badera Thiam, is on tour of the beneficiary countries to meet with presidents and leaders.

“We wanted to focus the project on rural areas because we often forget that our parents in these remote areas need electricity,” Akon was quoted saying after meeting Burkinabe President Blaise Campore.

The project also aims to improve education quality and sustainable infrastructure. Improved electricity would lengthen hours of education, allowing students the opportunity to succeed.

Akon was born in St. Louis to two musician parents; he spent much of his childhood in Senegal. Despite living in the United States, Akon keeps his homeland in the forefront of his business ventures.

He started a charity in Africa that aims to empower youth by promoting health and education. The Konfidence Foundation concentrates its efforts in Senegal and West Africa, but Akon hopes the foundation will serve as an international platform to empower individuals, communities and nations.

Akon Lighting Africa is the pop star’s most recent project that aims to help Sub-Saharan African countries become self-sufficient. The sustainable energy project has a mission to help the infrastructure, education and economy of the beneficiary countries.

– Haley Sklut

Sources:  Africa Review, World Bank, Konfidence
Photo: Trace

young migrants
On February 14th, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) released the 2013 World Youth Report, aimed at addressing the significant impact of young migrants on both origin and destination countries. The report also highlights the specific concerns, challenges and successes faced by migrants across the globe.

Whether it be for work, study or family reasons, voluntary migration continues to increase every year. The UN estimates that there are 232 million international migrants worldwide, representing 3.2% of the world’s total population. More than 30% of these migrants are considered youth migrants under the age of 29 and approximately half of these are female.

Youth migration has a significant impact on not only individual lives, but also global economies. Many young migrants leave their country of origin in search of better job opportunities and often send remittances home to benefit their families. These individuals improve their financial situations while engaging in economic transactions that will benefit their destination country.

However, countries of origin often suffer the negative effects of “brain drain,” or human capital flight. This is the process by which professionals, often in the fields of health or education, leave developing countries in search of a higher salary and better living conditions.

The report also goes into detail about the specific struggles and opportunities that young migrants can face.

In the preparatory stage, migrants cited the difficulties they faced in obtaining accurate information about their intended destination, as well as in obtaining needed documents and making travel accommodations.

On arrival, migrants noted experiencing both culture shock and loneliness. Often communication barriers had to be overcome and in the long term, many faced both stereotyping and discrimination.

The report notes some recommendations made by migrants to ease the transition from origin to destination country. Among these is the development of tools to assess the readiness of a migrant and to help facilitate decision-making and planning. They recommended peer-to-peer initiatives, pre-departure orientation programs, and awareness-raising campaigns.

Despite these challenges, many young migrants have become exemplary examples of what can be achieved in the face of adversity.

As the report notes, “their capacity as agents of social change and development should not be underestimated.”

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: UN News Centre, United Nation Regional Information Centre for Western Europe
Photo: Caritas

repatriation companies
Migrant workers are a common sight among the busy streets of Singapore; they have been essential to the growth of the impressive buildings that paint the skyline. But like many countries that rely on migrant workers, abuse does rear its ugly head.

Many workers who make their way to Singapore seek money that simply is not available in their home country. Typically, they sign a contract, allowing them to reside in the country for a specific period of time.

Workers who do not wish to leave are put in the hands of companies that specialize in corralling migrant workers and forcibly removing them from the country. Many of these companies have been known to use intimidating and sometimes violent tactics.

Bapari Jarkir, a Bangladeshi migrant worker, encountered the employees of a repatriation company at the point of a knife. His employer wanted to expel him off his job as a welder, but he refused due to the high amount of debt he incurred while moving to Singapore.

He was escorted to the office of a repatriation company, where he was forcibly detained for several hours until he agreed to sign a document saying he was responsible for paying his $3,900 bond that each construction firm must give up to the government for each migrant worker. The bond money is usually returned to the company once the migrant worker leaves the country.

Should a migrant worker fail to leave the country once their contract is up, the construction firm is levied with a sizeable fine. The bonds the companies hand over to the government combined with the risk of facing fines has resulted in a profitable market for repatriation companies. Horror stories have also been reported detailing the expulsion of workers from Singapore should any health issues occur.

Construction companies are typically responsible for insuring their workers and paying medical expenses should they arise. A Bangladeshi worker named Shagar faced deportation following a work related injury.

After he hurt his leg while carrying heavy tile, he pursued compensation through his employer. After being summoned to the foreman’s office, he encountered two large men who escorted him to the headquarters of a repatriation company. The company informed him he was being placed on a flight back to Bangladesh. Luckily, he was able to remember a lawyer’s assistant’s number and was provided assistance.

The issue of Singapore’s repatriation companies has even garnered the attention of the United States government. In its 2013 Report on Human Trafficking, it confirms the experience of Bapari and Shagar at the hands of repatriation companies. It notes instances of workers being “seized and confined” against their will and threatened into leaving the country.

While Singapore is a very modern and stable nation, it needs desperate reform of its labor laws concerning migrant workers; specifically the bonds the government requires from every firm employing migrant workers, which has created a market for these repatriation companies to flourish. Singapore experienced its first riot in 40 years involving disgruntled migrant workers; a clear sign that change is needed.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: CNN, Bloomberg
Photo: UNHCR

Citizens of the European Union (EU) have successfully gathered groundbreaking support towards establishing unconditional basic income. A petition for the unconditional basic income initiative began in 2013 and it has spread widely. The petition has officially gained 285,041 signatures from EU citizens across 28 countries.

The movement fell short of their goal to reach the one million signatures needed for the European Commission to “win their consideration of unconditional basic income as a new form of ‘emancipatory welfare.” However, the initiative was brought to Switzerland, where it managed to get 100,000 signatures.

Unlike the United States—where most legislation has to pass through representatives to be implemented—popular initiatives in Switzerland are able to gain more ground. The proposal is also possible because the Swiss political system allows for a very direct form of democracy. Moreover, unconditional basic income is part of a larger movement across the globe to address the pressing issue of rampant economic inequality.

The people of Switzerland have been successful in introducing legislation that would limit the salary of CEOs to “12 times the salary of the lowest paid employee.”

Considering how unconventional the proposal is—in which the suggested amount of $2,800 a month would be unconditionally provided to the people of Switzerland—gathering the votes required is considered to be a long shot. But, the movement represents a rapidly growing public concern.

It aims to account for some of the 21st century problems that arise due to a capitalist mode of economy.

For instance, the unconditional basic income initiative would allow for jobs to be distributed more widely and equally. Currently, France has three million people who are jobless and five million people working more than necessary. This sort of unequal employment distribution in France is also evident across nations on an international scale.

There is an element of controversy to the movement though, where debates regarding human rights and entitlements circulate the issue. The initiative reflects a strong public opinion however, in which human nature is regarded as creative as opposed to lazy. It would allow for people to have the tools to realize their potential and have a dignified existence, rather than being left out of what society has to offer.

As stated by a leader behind the unconditional basic income initiative, “This would lead to a paradigm change.”

Jugal Patel

Sources: Business Week, Forbes, Basic Income, Business Insider
Photo: RT

When economic crises, military conflict and general mayhem plague the continents, few people consider the impact such events may have on the communities located in the South Pacific. Over 10 million people populate the 3,500 islands scattered across the Pacific Ocean, an extremely large number of whom suffer from debilitating disease and poverty.

Save for the extreme natural catastrophes that seem to constantly plague the Philippines, the high rates of poverty, poor education and abysmal health of Pacific islanders fails to gander consistent international attention.

To illustrate the severity of the problem, here are nine facts to learn about poverty in the South Pacific.

1. 38 percent of Papua New Guineans live below the National Basic Needs Poverty Line, which means 2.7 million people are unable to buy sufficient food and meet basic requirements for housing, clothing, transport and school fees. Even more alarmingly, 61 percent of the populace does not have access to safe drinking water.

2. Pacific islands are disproportionately affected by global disasters. A 2012 World Bank study revealed that of the 20 countries in the world with the highest average annual disaster losses scaled by gross domestic product, eight are Pacific island countries: Vanuatu, Niue, Tonga, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Marshall Islands and the Cook Islands.

3. Literacy rates are a persistent concern, especially on the Solomon Islands, where only 65 percent of the adult population (330,000 people) can read.

4. Pacific Islanders may be notorious for their love of canned meats like spam and corned beef, but what is not widely discussed is the debilitating effects such imported goods have on their health. As of 2007, eight of the 10 heaviest countries were located in the South Pacific. Nauru, the world’s smallest republic with just over 9,000 inhabitants, earned the number one spot with over 90 percent of their adult population considered obese.

5. Human rights violations also remain high in the pacific. Amnesty International recently reprimanded Papua New Guinea for burning a woman alive amid allegations of sorcery. Although the 1971 Sorcery Law has been repealed, which criminalized sorcery and could be used as a defense in murder trials, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in 2012 found that sorcery allegations are often made to mask the abuse of women.

6. Domestic abuse and gendered violence is also a concern but inconsistent reporting makes it difficult to pinpoint exact levels of abuse. In the first National Study on Domestic Violence in Tonga, conducted in 2009, results found that 45 percent of Tongan woman reported having experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse in their lifetime.

7. Pacific Islanders are at high risk for Neglected Tropical Diseases, which commonly affect the world’s poor, women and disabled. Hookworm, leprosy, scabies and Japanese encephalitis are among the most prevalent; these adversely affect worker productivity, pregnancy outcomes and child cognition and development.

8. In 2010, Oceania unemployment rates reached 14 percent, while the United States average in the same period came in at 9 percent.

9. Since the mid 20th century, approximately 9.2 million people in the Pacific region have been affected by extreme events, resulting in 9,811 deaths and $3.2 billion in damages.

Pacific island nations’ small size, limited natural resources and great distances to major markets makes them particularly vulnerable to external crises and thus results in extremely volatile economies. Greater commitment to development initiatives will enable Oceanic nations to handle stresses caused by external forces and eventually strengthen the autonomy of the respective nations.

– Emily Bajet

Sources: University of Hawaii, Asian American For Equality, Oxfam, The World Bank, The World Bank News, Poodwaddle, Australia Network News, Australia Network, The New York Times, PLOS, Samoaobserver, Matangitonga, Labour
Photo: IFAD

Poverty in Israel
Poverty in Israel? Yes. Israel has one of the world’s more advanced economies. It has a vibrant service industry and the recent discovery of immense natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, which have been estimated to hold billions of dollars of natural gas make Israel’s economic future look quite bright and prosperous.

Given all of this, one would not expect Israel to have the highest poverty rate among developed countries.

The Israeli National Central Bureau of Statistics published a study in which it noted that Israel’s poverty rate stands at 20.9 percent among countries who are members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD.) This places Israel as the country with the highest rate of poverty of the member countries. Israel also placed fifth out of all member countries in terms of income inequality.

While many countries have been hit hard by the global financial crisis, according to the OECD’s report, one of the reasons for Israel abnormally high poverty rate is due to the fact that a large majority of those of the working age in Israel do not in fact work.

The numbers are surprising: about 40 percent of Israeli’s between the ages of 15 and 64 are not working. By comparison, 33 percent of those in other OECD countries are not working.

The number of those in poverty is also expected to rise as Israel plans to cut benefits for child allowances as well. According to the OECD report, 30,000 to 40,000 more children will be placed under the poverty line. This all come on the heels of criticisms of the Benjamin Netanyahu administration due to lavish spending on various items. One particular example given by the Huffington Post is Netanyahu’s spending $127,000 of public funds on a sleeping cabin while visiting London.

The Netanyahu administration has also shot up spending by 80 percent since taking office in 2009, according to the Huffington Post.

The natural gas reserves that have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean are likely to give Israel a boost in both its overall economic rank and the number of jobs it creates.

According to Forbes, it will likely bring over $60 billion in the next 20 years.

Israel is one of the more wealthy countries in the world, and with its natural gas fields in the works, it stands to fundamentally change the shape of both Middle Eastern economics and politics the world over. However, as Israel moves forward with this significant improvement in its countries, it cannot forget its citizens who are falling under the poverty line.

Arthur Fuller

Sources: Forbes, Haaretz, OECD, The Times of Israel, Forbes, CIA World Factbook, New York Times, Huffington Post
Photo: Two Rivers