Key articles and information on global poverty.

Child Poverty in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is among one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, child poverty in Nicaragua impacts one out of two children. Nicaragua’s population is young; out of 6 million people, 2 million are school-age children. To tackle the issue of child poverty, the Nicaraguan government has promised to create more access to education, sanitation and food security.

Nicaragua has a long history of chronic poverty. For much of the 20th century, the country was under a dictatorship. A revolution beginning in the late 1970s further decimated the well-being of many throughout the 1980s. The revolution ended with thousands dead and a need for Nicaragua to rebuild itself.

Child Poverty in Nicaragua

Child poverty in Nicaragua remains a critical issue. According to UNICEF, 50% of Nicaraguan children live in poverty, with 19% of them in extreme poverty. Furthermore, child poverty is much more prevalent on the Atlantic coast of the country. About 58% of children on the Atlantic coast had completed six years of primary education as opposed to 72% for the country as a whole. Moreover, 500,000 Nicaraguan children do not attend school at all, mainly because of the cost of education and the need to support their families.

When families need financial support, many children and adolescents have no choice but to enter the workforce. An estimated 250,000 to 320,000 Nicaraguans are child laborers. Some children work in sugar cane fields and mines, creating a dangerous work environment for them. In addition to child labor, human trafficking is a growing issue impacting young girls.

Preventing Child Labor

To curtail child poverty, the Nicaraguan government has signed agreements to make sure companies do not hire child workers. In 2019, the Nicaraguan government and private employers have signed 6,129 cooperative agreements that prevent the hiring of children laborers. The U.S. Department of Labor has found that the Nicaraguan government has done little to actually reduce young children in the workforce. However, the international community has been pressuring the country to be more aggressive in diminishing child labor.

Improving Education

An area of increased government involvement is in educational spending. Accepting the help of supranational organizations, such as The World Bank, the country has invested in education. The Alliance for Education Quality Project for Nicaragua has helped fund the training of primary school teachers and the construction of forty schools. Over 1,250 teachers received mentoring and more than 9,000 pre-school teachers obtained training. Additionally, the project supplied materials and equipment for the staff and students. Construction of most of the schools occurred in rural areas, improving these communities’ access to education.

Reducing the Infant Mortality Rate

The infant mortality rate is high, with child poverty in Nicaragua being the culprit. According to UNICEF, 74% of Nicaraguans use standard sanitation services and 52% have access to clean drinking water. Furthermore, 40% of children under 5 are malnourished. The Nicaraguan government and The World Bank have created strategies to tackle these issues. The Sustainable Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) Sector Project (PROSASR), provided rural communities with adequate infrastructure for sanitation. Furthermore, access to food and clean drinking water has also seen improvements. The Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast Food Security Project has invested in agricultural and fishery techniques for farmers and improved socio-environmental practices. Impacting mostly rural communities, food security increased with 33% of beneficiaries being the youth.

Political and economic instability, stemming from the civil war, has created chronic child poverty in Nicaragua. Nonetheless, Nicaragua has implemented changes, with the help of the World Bank, to decrease the child poverty rate.

– Andy Calderon
Photo: Unsplash

organizations helping LebanonOn August 4, 2020, one of the largest peacetime explosions to ever occur happened in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut. More than 2,700 pounds of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Port of Beirut. The explosion killed many and left others in serious conditions. People lost their homes, livelihoods and lives in seconds. Beirut was already struggling through an economic crisis and grappling with COVID-19 along with the rest of the world. Several organizations have been on the ground since the explosion. Here are three organizations helping Lebanon recover from this disaster.

Government mismanagement and rampant corruption already plague the lives of Lebanese citizens. Furthermore, COVID-19 has only exacerbated all of the country’s issues. Subsequently, the people are likely to continue to question authority after reporting revealed that the store of ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion had been sitting in city warehouses for more than six years near a highly-populated residential area. With the explosion, economic crisis and pandemic, people in the country need help.

3 Organizations Helping Lebanon

  1. The Lebanese Red Cross: The Lebanese Red Cross is providing ambulance services to citizens who have been seriously injured from the blast. Unfortunately, limited resources mean that at least one in five emergencies is left untreated. Every year, the organization responds to more than 140,000 calls. Those who are concerned and able can donate to the organization to help facilitate these services here. With the decimated major port in Beirut, Lebanese citizens have lost a major source of goods, including food. Food prices are expected to increase as a result.
  2. The United Nations’ World Food Programme: The United Nations’ World Food Programme is providing necessary sustenance to those in Beirut who may need it at this time. And as a result of the blast, many have lost their primary source of income, leaving them to go hungry without any alternative resources. The WFP provided 50,000 people with “cash assistance” in September. The families received a little more than $1,000 a month for six months. The organization is accepting donations here.
  3. The Amel Association: The Amel Association is a non-profit that helps with physical and psychological health. One day after the explosion, the organization mobilized in Beirut to help. It is providing food and hygiene kits as well as medical support. It is currently accepting monetary and other forms of donations. The organization operates a few primary health care centers in the city. These are continuously in need, even months after the explosion as people slowly begin recovery. This is especially true for those who suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries. The Amel Associations is accepting donations here.

Those affected in Beirut now must try to recover and move on from this disaster. As Lebanon finds itself in a time of need, those who can contribute to this worthy cause should do so. These three organizations helping Lebanon exemplify just how to provide in a time of need.

Tara Suter
Photo: Wikimedia

Period Poverty in Sri Lanka
Located off the southern coast of India, Sri Lanka is home to almost 22 million people, 52% of whom are female. Despite its small geographic size, the country ranks 73 on the Gender Inequality Index, but behind that figure stands a monthly challenge for the nearly 12 million women and girls – having their period. This article will explore period poverty in Sri Lanka as well as three initiatives aiming to combat it.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty refers to the lack of education on menstruation, as well as having little to no access to essential sanitation for basic hygiene during the menstruation period. These factors frequently result in social stigmas that exclude women from basic activities, such as attending school or work and can lead to physical health risks. Period poverty in Sri Lanka takes the form of association with the impurity of the body. The subject is taboo, creating a culture of fear and misinformation. In a survey from 2015, 66% of girls were unaware they were going to have a period until their first one occurred. When they did have their period, more than a third of the girls reported missing one or two days of school to avoid embarrassment and stigma. However, over the past decades, three initiatives to eliminate period poverty in Sri Lanka have emerged.

3 Initiatives to Eliminate Period Poverty in Sri Lanka

  1. Sinidu: A new, local and affordable pad has entered the market. Inspired by the Indian social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham’s low-cost pad-making machine and funded by the SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council (SCWEC), Sinidu, an organic pad, sells in Sri Lanka at a third of the cost of competitors. A pack of 10 imported pads costs upwards of R.s, 200-250, and commercially-produced pads are not much better at R.s. 150-200. The national minimum wage of Sri Lanka is R.s. 10,000. Given that the average woman uses 20 pads per month, or spend about R.s. 400, they spend about 4% of their salary on the necessity. For comparison, the average household expenditure on meat is 4.8%. At R.s 60 per packet, Sinidu has decreased expenditures related to pads to 1.2%.
  2. Reduced Taxes on Sanitary Products: Taxes on sanitary napkins has significantly decreased. Until 2018, sanitary napkins received a tax of 101.2% of their sales price. For low-income Sri Lankans, the tax significantly impacted their ability to afford the napkins. Only 30% of Sri Lankan women could afford to use sanitary napkins, meaning 70% of women had to use cloth, which, when not sanitized properly, can lead to health risks such as reproductive and urinary tract infections. However, after the social media outrage in September 2018, the Minister of Finance repealed the 30% import tax.
  3. Free Sanitary Napkins: Awareness of women’s rights issues – including addressing period poverty – is increasing. During the 2019 presidential election, presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa attempted to win over women voters by promising free sanitary napkins to all women and girls. Though he faced criticism and the country ultimately did not elect him, he successfully called attention to the issue of period poverty in Sri Lanka.

Period poverty in Sri Lanka remains a challenge. However, through these three advancements, access to sanitary napkins in Sri Lanka has improved.

– Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

The One WaSH National ProgrammeGlobally, at least 2 billion people do not have access to clean water. The ability to access clean water supplies and sanitation is a vital aspect of a country’s development. Improved water supply and sanitation positively affect economic growth and poverty reduction as water is essential domestically and agriculturally. Furthermore, clean water and sanitation are imperative to human health. Contaminated water can cause diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and typhoid. The issue of clean water is present worldwide and demands preventative action. Thankfully, the One WaSH National Programme is here to help.

Ethiopia is one country where the water crisis needs to be addressed. Close to 33 million people in Ethiopia lack access to a safe water supply and nearly 89 million don’t have access to basic sanitation. This lack of access is responsible for 90% of diarrheal disease occurrences, which is a leading cause of child mortality in Ethiopia. To fight this, the Ethiopian government along with partners developed the One WaSH National Programme in 2013. The goal was to drastically improve access to safe water and sanitation services throughout the country.

The ONE WaSH National Programme

The One WaSH National Programme aims to improve the health and well-being of communities in rural and urban areas. Their strategy to achieve this is to increase equal and sustainable access to clean water supplies, sanitation services and good hygiene practices. As explained by the IRC, “It combines a comprehensive range of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions that include capital investments to extend first-time access to water and sanitation, as well as investments, focused on developing the enabling environment, building capacity, ensuring the sustainability of service delivery, and behavioral change. It has rural, urban, institutional WaSH and capacity building components.”

Impacts of The Programme

Phase one of The One WaSH National Programme in Ethiopia began in October 2013 and lasted till July 2017. It boasted great results. In four years, 18.7 million people gained access to water supplies and the practice of open defecation reduced from 44% to 29%. Additionally, 1,280 school WASH facilities were constructed.

The One WaSH National Programme approved its second phase in 2018. This time, the overall growth and transformation of the program was the main target for improvement. Another objective was to diminish vulnerable infrastructure in drought-prone areas in Ethiopia. Doing so would create a climate-resilient water supply system that provides the community with safe and sustainable access to water. Results for this second phase are still being collected as it was expected to run through July 2020.

The Importance of Clean Water in Poverty Reduction

Access to basic water and sanitation are vital parts to improving the economy. As such, it is essential for eradicating poverty. Many health issues faced by the poor arise because of the consumption of contaminated water. Increased availability of basic water and sanitation services can aid in general public health and assist in reducing health care costs.

The ONE WaSH National Programme has not completely satisfied their goals of extending safe water supply to 98% of the country’s rural population and 100% of city dwellers. Nevertheless, they have made many great strides toward improving sanitation services. Overall, the program has contributed significantly toward improving the standard of living within these Ethiopian communities.

The ONE WaSH National Programme and similar endeavors have the power to greatly improved the population’s access to a safe water supply and reduce poverty in Ethiopia and worldwide.

Caroline Dunn
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in the United KingdomHomelessness around the world is a symptom of the violation of human rights that does not discriminate between individuals in developed or developing countries. Oftentimes, homelessness can lead to the inability of accessing other basic human rights like the right to work, education and privacy. This reality is especially the case for the homeless population in the United Kingdom. Homelessness in the United Kingdom affects nearly 280,000 people, with even more at risk due to lack of documentation. In the U.K, there are three classifications for homelessness: rough sleepers, statutory homelessness and hidden homelessness.

Rough Sleepers

Rough sleepers are defined as the most visible form of homelessness because these individuals are seen sleeping on the streets. Consequently, rough sleepers are the main image the general public has of homelessness. Most individuals who are classified as rough sleepers struggle with physical or mental health complications. These individuals are at a much higher risk of being in danger or susceptible to violent attacks by hostile aggressors. In 2019, there were nearly 4,266 people estimated to be rough sleepers on a single night, and the majority of the rough sleepers in England are men over the age of 26.

Statutory Homelessness

Statutory homelessness refers to households and families that approach their local authorities for assistance when they find themselves at risk of being homeless. Local authorities have a duty to provide accommodations for those in need of housing assistance. However, not everyone is qualified for the statutory homeless criteria, and are therefore unable to gain housing assistance.

It is worth mentioning that single people are significantly less likely to be considered in priority need of housing accommodations. In 2018, nearly 57,890 households were accepted as homeless in England.

According to Homeless Link, a nonprofit organization that campaigns for policy changes and advocates for services that benefit the homeless population, there are a myriad of reasons why individuals are classified as statutory homeless. These reasons can vary from repossession of mortgaged homes, loss of rented accommodations, violent relationship breakdowns with partners or parents who are unable or unwilling to continue providing accommodations. There are four main groups that are given priority accommodations and assistance. These are households with dependent children, pregnant women, those in an emergency and those considered vulnerable.

Hidden Homelessness

The third classification of homelessness is defined as hidden homelessness. The hidden homeless are not entitled to or do not seek out housing assistance. Consequently, they are not counted in official statistics. Most of these people find shelter in hostels, squatting, or couch-surfing in the homes of friends and families. As a result of the complications and inaccuracies of reporting homelessness to officials, it can be difficult to define a standard rate of homelessness in the U.K. In other words, the true level of homelessness is higher than the recorded 280,000 people documented as homeless.

What’s Being Done

With the COVID-19 pandemic on the rise, homelessness in the United Kingdom has declined significantly as authorities take the necessary precautions to mitigate the risk of contracting the disease. This is done by isolating vulnerable populations by providing supportive accommodations for homeless people. According to government statistics, more than 90% of rough sleepers have been offered accommodation where they can remain safe and are able to protect themselves during the pandemic.

By ensuring rough sleepers are cared for, the rate of COVID-19 symptoms amongst the homeless population will continue to decline. This will protect these vulnerable people while reducing the burden on hospitals. While homelessness in the United Kingdom remains a pressing issue, the government is proactively working to help homeless people.

Serena Brahaspat
Photo: Flickr

Guinea Worm Disease
“[I want the] last guinea worm to die before I do.” Jimmy Carter may soon get his wish. The former President of the United States has spent the last 30+ years on a number of humanitarian missions through his namesake nonprofit—The Carter Center—but people may undoubtedly see one particular mission as ranking among its magna opera. That mission is to eradicate Guinea worm disease (GWD), and frankly, those worms are unpleasant at best.

What is Guinea Worm Disease?

GWD is a parasitic infection in which extremely small worms enter the human body through contaminated water, leading to crippling, painful blisters about a year later when the matured female worm emerges. It has been infecting people since ancient times, and in the mid-1980s, an estimated 3.5 million cases existed across at least 20 countries, including 17 in Africa. In 2019, however, there were only 54 cases in humans.

Success in Reducing GWD

This is thanks largely to the efforts of The Carter Center, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. This partnership has been leading the charge against the disease both in introducing preventative measures in hotspots on the ground in Africa and by raising awareness in the developed world since 1986. Since no vaccine or other modern treatment exists for Guinea worm disease, The Carter Center’s strategies most often include working with health ministries and community-based volunteer groups in order to stop the spread of GWD and bring attention to it via health education.

The attention is important because of the rapid ability of the disease to spread. One missed case can lead to 80+ new infections over one year and delay a country’s ability to control the disease for just as long. This is partly why the WHO has strict criteria when assessing the disease in a given area.

When Can One Consider a Country Free of GWD?

A country must have zero new cases for at least three years for it to receive a declaration of being free of GWD. Despite the rigorous criteria, some countries continue to encounter problems confronting the disease. Chad, for example, has reported almost 2,000 infections in dogs in 2019—a testament to the disease’s stealth and endurance over the years.

In fact, “years” may be an understatement—GWD has emerged in Medieval Middle Eastern and Ancient Egyptian texts under a variety of labels, with some Egyptian mummies even showing evidence of the worm’s presence in their remains. The Old Testament even refers to it as a ‘fiery serpent’ (citing the on-fire feeling when the creature emerges through the skin).

The Correlation Between GWD and Sanitation

In more recent years, the disease received highlight in the early ‘80s as an international threat to clean water—which is where the fight to eliminate the disease originated. Even today, GWD exists primarily in countries—notably Chad and Ethiopia—that consistently rank among the poorest in the world (and are thus most lacking in access to clean water).

The Carter Center has sought to combat this shortfall as well, specifically by introducing a straw-like pipe filter that allows people in affected countries to drink from any water source without fear of contamination.

The eradication of the disease would mean the end of widespread, debilitating illness across several predominantly African nations. Although the fight has gone on for decades, the organizations working to eliminate it now say that the end is in sight. Even Jimmy Carter made his wish—that GWD would go before him—as he was battling cancer a few years ago.

Now, the eradication of all diseases of this sort will be the target of the U.S.’s End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act, which entered into law earlier in 2020. The goal of the act is to facilitate and coordinate an effective, research-based international effort to end neglected tropical diseases, such as GWD, with special emphasis on impoverished nations.

If the world meets international goals, GWD would become the second human disease (behind smallpox) and the first parasitic disease to experience eradication. It would also be the first disease to disappear without the use of a vaccine or medicine.

– Bardia Memar
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Thailand
In Thailand, about 610,000 people are victims of modern-day slavery. According to the Global Slavery Index, about one in 113 among its 69 million population was prey to human trafficking as of 2018. There are steps the Government of Thailand can take to end human trafficking in Thailand. While some have made progress in reducing the human trafficking trade, urgent government action is necessary to impact Thai citizens and migrant workers widely.

Challenges Eliminating Human Trafficking in Thailand

A big part of the country’s prevention efforts must involve the protection of migrants. Thailand’s population has about 4.9 million migrants – making up 10% of its workforce – according to the United Nations. Most individuals migrating to Thailand are from poorer neighboring countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia, and are, therefore, more vulnerable to trafficking.

The country passed The Royal Ordinance on Management of Migrant Workers in March 2018, which requires employers to cover recruitment fees and transportation costs for migrant workers in Thailand. These transportation finances include the arrival and return home of employed migrant workers.

However, the country has not defined or enforced the regulations on these fees well. According to 2019’s annual Trafficking in Person’s Report from the U.S. Department of State, several recruitment agencies and brokers still required workers to pay for their recruitment fees and transportation costs. Four of the “67 migrant worker recruitment agencies” that the government reviewed were still violating the law in 2018.

The Government of Thailand’s Efforts

Due to the rise in human trafficking in Thailand in recent years, the Government of Thailand is making significant efforts to meet the standards for eliminating human trafficking. Key strategies include more victim identification, as well as normalizing more anti-trafficking policies. Other important factors involve training officials in victim identification and using interview techniques that allow victims to have a safer environment to report to. The government also increased efforts to raise awareness of the issue, organizing campaigns through all forms of media – newspapers, television, radio, social media, billboards and handouts – to alert the public about the seriousness of the issue.

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) created hotlines for citizens to report human trafficking in Thailand anonymously where operators spoke 12 different languages. In 2018, the MSDHS prosecuted 63 cases from the 161 calls related to possible trafficking crimes.

The Government of Thailand has policies in place to protect victims of human trafficking. People identified as trafficking victims are viable to receive help from the Thailand government, which includes staying at a shelter and receiving compensation through a state fund. Victims also qualify for legal aid while awaiting trial to give evidence or returning home. In 2019, The Government of Thailand provided legal and social services to 12,857 migrant workers who were vulnerable or otherwise affected by human trafficking in Thailand.

The USAID Thailand Counter Trafficking in Persons Project

Other programs work with the Government of Thailand to reduce human trafficking in Thailand. The USAID Thailand Counter Trafficking in Persons Project “works to decrease trafficking and better protect the rights of trafficked persons in Thailand by reducing demand for using trafficked labor and strengthening protection systems for survivors.” One of the key goals of the organization is finding and removing barriers in identifying victims of human trafficking, which it partners with the Government of Thailand to accomplish.

The International Labor Organization (ILO)

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is an NGO that works with countries on several workplace-related issues, including human trafficking in Thailand. Since its creation in 1919 at the Treaty of Versailles, the organization has set out to set labor standards and create programs for all.

Over the past years, the ILO has joined forces with the European Union and the Government of Thailand through the Ship to Shore Rights Project to support the Thai seafood and fishing industries in complying with international labor standards, offering protection from illegal labor. According to its 2020 report, it has stepped up its work with the Project and has implemented an approach to address major gaps, including the improvement of representation for Thai workers.

In January 2019, the Royal Thai Government ratified the ILO Convention on Work in Fishing, which provides standards for recruitment and placement to work onboard a fishing vessel, as many people in Thailand undergo trafficking for the seafood industry.

Thailand became the first country in Asia to ratify the law, reflecting the organization’s belief that people can accomplish universal and lasting peace only if it is based on social justice. Though it may be easy to focus on the negative, it is important to note that steps are emerging to reduce human trafficking in Thailand. Thailand still requires improvements, but one should not ignore its efforts.

– Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

NGOs Save Thousands in the Philippines
Just a few weeks after Super Typhoon Goni made landfall on the morning of November 11, 2020, Typhoon Vamco hit the Philippines. These tropical storms have destroyed homes, lives, livelihoods, essential infrastructure and families. Without a doubt, the results of these storms have been calamitously tragic. However, NGOs provide inspiration and hope in their work for the victims of these tropical storms. NGOs have saved thousands in the Philippines.

 VAMCO and Goni’s Destruction

 On November 1, 2020, super Typhoon Goni made landfall on Catanduanes’ island before moving north-west over Manila with reported wind speeds of 140mph. Goni – locally referred to as “Rolly”- is one of the most powerful storms to hit the Philippines in over a decade. A few days after the storm hit the Philippines, the damage was staggering: reports determined that the storm killed 16 people, demolished thousands of homes, destroyed tens of thousands of farmers’ crops (estimated damage of $36 million to crops alone) and affected over 2 million people.

Although less intense, Typhoon Vamco had winds measured at 90mph when it made landfall in Patnanungan. Although hard to separate the damage from these two storms, reports stated that Typhoon Vamco – locally known as Ulysses – has killed at least 67 people, cut power to millions, caused 100,000 evacuations and destroyed over 26,000 homes.

Flooding Exasperates the Catastrophe

Unfortunately, as the government can better assess the damages and missing people, and gather an overall better understand of the situation in the coming weeks and months, the financial damage and number of people displaced and killed will grow. However, what might prove to enlarge the numbers more than a better understanding of the situation is the flooding and significant landslides.

As of Nov. 18, the flooding is the worst in recent memory and has affected eight regions and 3 million people, with 70 dead. Two-story-high flooding that has caused power outages has either separated many from their homes or trapped them on their roofs, further disrupting rescue efforts. Although flooding has receded, many villages are still only reachable through the air.

Perhaps the worst affected area is the Cagayan Valley in northeast Luzon; of the 28 towns in the Cagayan province, 24 are underwater from severe flooding. Explaining this disproportionality in flood damage is the fact that a dam in the Cagayan Valley, the Magat Dam, had seven of its gates break open following the storm, causing mass amounts of water to pour into the valley (the dam released near two Olympic sized pools of water per second). Here, over 20 people have died while affecting nearly 300,000 people as what looks like a brown sea of dirty water and debris submerges the valley.

NGOs Step Up for Thousands

In the face of all this destruction, one can find hope in the work of NGOs. NGOs have saved thousands in the Philippines who were either trapped on rooftops or in evacuation centers after losing everything they have ever owned.

For instance, CARE is an organization providing aid during the flooding. It is primarily working in Amulung and Gattaran, assisting in rescue efforts and providing resources such as food, hygiene products, shelter repair kits and sanitation materials.

The Philippine Red Cross is deploying utility vehicles to ferry thousands so that they do not become stranded in flooded towns. Stories have even surfaced of Red Cross workers treading through floodwater with torches searching for stragglers and missing people. The organization provides relief materials to those it does save including tents, generators, food, cooking equipment and tarps. Additionally, as a preventative measure, the Philippine Red Cross evacuated people and animals to evacuation centers while also prepositioning emergency response teams in vulnerable areas.

UNICEF has also done life-saving work. Just a day before Vamco made landfall, UNICEF launched “its Super Typhoon Goni/Rolly appeal amounting to $3.7 million.” With this amount raised, UNICEF has supported the most vulnerable communities in gaining access to water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, education, health and protection services.

Vamco and Goni are tragedies that have negatively affected countless lives through displacement, death and the destruction of their home and valuables. Nonetheless, the optimist can find inspiration in the fact that: NGOs have saved thousands in the Philippines.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Mental Health in Turkey
Turkey is a country with a population of 82 million that is situated in both the continents of Europe and Asia. Turkey has held eight elections in the last five years, endured a failed coup attempt, transitioned to an executive presidential system and has a struggling economy. Inflation has risen as well as unemployment in recent years. Turkish psychologist Ahmet Özcan has said that people have suffered from social isolation and shown symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety due to political polarization and violence. Despite the need, mental health in Turkey has lacked resources and care options.

Statistics Regarding Mental Health Care in Turkey

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that in 2011:

  • About 2.13 psychiatrists per 100,000 people were available.
  • About 1.62 psychologists per 100,000 people were available.
  • Approximately 0.76 social workers per 100,000 people were available.

To put these statistics in perspective, European countries have a significantly higher ratio of mental health care professionals.

  • Finland has 47 psychologists per 100,000 people.
  • The Netherlands has 30 psychologists per 100,000 people.
  • Greece has 14 psychologists per 100,000 people.
  • Denmark has 10 psychologists per 100,000 people.

Mental Health Services Decline Worldwide During COVID-19

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the world has seen a decline in mental health. The effects of bereavement, isolation, rising poverty and fear are causing an increase in substance use, insomnia and anxiety as well as triggering mental health conditions. A World Health Organization survey from June to August 2020 evaluated how mental, neurological and substance use services have changed throughout COVID-19, which services the pandemic has disrupted and how countries are adapting to these adverse challenges. The results showed an overwhelmingly high disruption of mental health services in the 130 countries that participated in the survey including:

  • Reports of 67% disruptions to counseling services.
  • Reports determining 65% disruptions to critical harm reduction services.
  • Statements of 60% disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people.
  • About 78% partial disruptions to school mental health services.

Fighting the Toll on Mental Health in Turkey with Hotlines and Online Counselling

A study determining depression and related factors in a society that COVID-19 affects found that in Turkey, the pandemic has caused mild-level depression across all socio-demographic groups. However, the results of the study also concluded that depression levels were significantly higher in the 18-29 year age group, women, single people and those living in poverty.

While many high-income countries have tried to mitigate the reduction in mental health services and increasing mental health problems with telemedicine or teletherapy, less than 50% of low-income countries have reported deploying these tactics.

Turkey is one low-income country that stands out in its effort to provide easy access to teletherapy from the increased anxiety, fear and negative feelings due to COVID-19. After March 2020, the government launched psycho-social support programs in every province. Turkey set up hotlines to address the various emotional impacts of COVID-19, as well as psychiatric guides for health care workers under risk of infection. There are more than 2,200 volunteers for the hotline, including psychiatry experts, social workers and health professionals from non-governmental organizations. The hotline has served more than 2,000 people according to professor Ejder Yıldırım, a director of the program. The system is set up so hotline workers make three calls to applicants at the first stage of therapy. In the second stage, hotline workers make around five calls over a period of five weeks to follow-up with patients.

The Coronavirus Online Mental Support Program

In Istanbul, Turkey’s most populated city, the local health authority has launched a Coronavirus Online Mental Support Program in addition to the hotline. As of August 2020, more than 1,100 people have used the online support system during the pandemic for issues related to COVID-19, natural disasters and crises.

While the world struggles to deal with the emotional and psychological impact of COVID-19, mental health in Turkey has highlighted the importance of having readily available resources in mental health care, especially in low-income countries.

– Charlotte Severns
Photo: Flickr

AI Usage in Agriculture
Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to computer systems that can perform tasks that would normally require humans, including visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and language translation. AI development has exploded within the last several years, and industries are beginning to adopt such systems to increase productivity and address challenges to growth.

The agricultural sector is one industry that is benefitting from the implementation of AI technology, and people are discussing and enforcing new applications for this technology every day. Several companies, such as IBM, FAO and Microsoft, are developing forms of AI that promote sustainable ways to achieve food and nutrition security. Currently, there are three main applications of AI usage in agriculture. 

Present Applications of AI in Agriculture

  1. Agricultural Robots – Some are using robots to perform essential and time-consuming agricultural tasks at a faster pace. For example, robots can harvest produce at a faster rate than human laborers with significantly reduced physical toil. One company that creates such robots is Harvest CROO Robotics. The company’s most recent development is a robot that picks and packs strawberries; it can harvest eight acres of berries a day and replace 30 human laborers per machine. By utilizing these robots, companies can improve productivity and increase yield.
  2. Crop and Soil Monitoring – Using image recognition, AI can use cameras to analyze soil quality and identify possible defects and nutrient deficiencies. Tech startup PEAT has made strides in soil monitoring AI in its development of Plantix, a deep-learning application that correlates foliage patterns with soil defects, diseases or plant pests. This application allows farmers to identify issues with soil quality quickly, allowing them to address any issues before the crop experiences damage.
  3. Predictive Analytics – These AI systems analyze data to make predictions about future outcomes. In agriculture, predictive analytics can improve market recommendations, pest modeling and crop yield predictions. This valuable information provides farmers with more certainty in their product outcomes while also cutting back on resources that they lose due to unforeseen circumstances. Precision Farming is one company that uses data from satellites and drones, such as temperature, precipitation and solar radiation, to predict weather conditions and plant nutrition.

Working Towards Sustainable Development

AI use in agriculture is allowing farmers to be more precise in their crop cultivation, producing a higher crop yield and quality. Agricultural robots optimize human activity and improve working conditions for farmers, while crop and soil monitoring and predictive analytics systems allow farmers to use resources more efficiently. This promotes sustainability in agriculture, as more successful produce outcomes cause farmers to waste fewer resources. 

 These AI systems contribute greatly to soil and water conservation. The Agricultural Stress Index System (ASIS), an indicator developed by FAO, is a computer that uses satellite technology to monitor areas that are highly susceptible to drought and water stress. Drought is the most damaging natural disaster to livelihoods, especially in developing countries. Therefore, predicting and addressing conditions of drought before they cause large-scale damage not only conserves water in times of need but protects human livelihoods. The implication of this is that more farmers, especially in developing countries, will have the means to support themselves and their families.

Fighting Food Insecurity

Prior to the spread of COVID-19, 135 million people were battling food insecurity. Now, the pandemic has exacerbated this problem affecting agricultural yields and livelihoods. The pandemic has impacted regions that normally depend on imports to support their populations the most, including Africa and island states.

Therefore, AI usage in agriculture in these regions can make a significant difference for populations that may already be struggling. FAO’s WaPOR portal monitors water usage through remotely sensed derived data over Africa, allowing for water and land productivity assessments. Saving valuable resources makes a crucial difference for countries that must rely more on domestic materials due to the present circumstances.

In addition, the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) is implementing a tracking unit that is collecting data to expand remote food security monitoring to 40 countries. The map quickly identifies food security emergencies and allows for quick response, helping humanitarians make evidence-based decisions on how and where to address food insecurity that could be damaging a population. By decreasing the time it takes for people to address these issues, the WFP is able to amend food insecurity for more regions in a shorter period of time and prevent them from deteriorating into situations of malnourishment. 

With all the strides that have already occurred in AI and its applications, it is easy to forget that the technology is new and has vast untapped potential. As the industry continues to develop, farming will expand as AI usage in agriculture overcomes more issues challenging greater yield, sustainability and food security.

– Natasha Cornelissen
Photo: Flickr