Inflammation and stories on Housing

Hong Kong's Housing CrisisWhen people think of Hong Kong, they may imagine the towering skyscrapers that span over the cityscapes, the shiny new Porsches that people drive and the kind of lavish lifestyle that the million of ultra-rich people living there lead. Hong Kong is indeed the wealthiest city in the world. About 93 billionaires live in Hong Kong, and one in seven residents are millionaires. Despite the city’s wealth, Hong Kong’s housing crisis is a big issue.

Hong Kong’s Housing Crisis

While it is proud to be home to the wealthiest people in the world, inequality in Hong Kong is reaching its highest level in 45 years. One in five people in Hong Kong lives under the city’s poverty line. The richest households can make 44 times what the poorest family can scrape together.

The experiences of people on the two sides of the wealth spectrum are starkly different. Many consider Hong Kong the world’s least affordable city, having the most expensive property internationally for nine consecutive years. While the richest population continues to enjoy the luxury and wealth from its investment in real estate, the people at the bottom struggle to find shelters.

The housing crisis in Hong Kong is one of the most pressing issues that the city is facing. The average price of property reaches almost $3,200 per square foot, and an average home costs around $1.28 million. A tiny “nano apartment” can cost Hong Kong residents up to $500,000. The monthly rent for almost half of the city’s apartments is $2,550, which is 122 percent of what an average individual makes in a month.

Poor Housing Conditions

For people who cannot afford such exorbitant rents, they resort to fast-food restaurants, footbridges and illegal shacks under highways for shelters. At least 200,000 other Hong Kong residents are living in tiny subdivided flats, sharing facilities with many different households in apartments designed for one family.

These subdivided flats are so small and low-quality that people call them the infamous “coffin cubicles” because of their resemblance to coffin boxes. These lower-quality units may comprise of wire mesh instead of wooden planks, giving them the appearance of cages. Even the starting rent for these windowless cages can cost around $180 a month.

These tiny living spaces, often no more than 20 square feet, sit stacked on top of one another in cramped buildings. They barely fit one person in each unit, and there is no space for one to fully stretch out inside the space. A significant number of these living spaces are in breach of safety regulations, and one can consider the squalid living conditions of these tiny coffin boxes violations of human rights. These living situations are likely to have negative impacts on the physical and psychological well-being of the tenants, especially the elderly who live in solitude.

The alternative for these low-income families is to apply for public housing units. However, the supply cannot keep up with the demand. Many attribute the housing crisis in Hong Kong to the government’s decision to halt public housing construction planning in response to the 1997 financial crisis. The public housing construction level has yet to return to the pre-crisis level. The government’s Housing Authority garnered about 105,000 applications for flats. This is 50 times the supply. Similarly, the nonprofit Housing Society received about 88,000 applications for its public housing, which is 141 times its supply. Hundreds of thousands of applicants have gone on the waitlist with the average wait time of 5.5 years.

The housing shortage and astronomical housing prices are also likely the consequence of restrictive land usage regulations. The government owns all the land in Hong Kong but has zoned only 7 percent of the city’s land for housing. Developers have to pay the land premium, which costs a hefty amount, for the limited number of lands that the government leases each year. Developers would, in turn, set the prices of this housing sky-high to obtain profits. Investment in Hong Kong’s property is attractive for foreigners and especially Mainland Chinese who want a place for their capital, which drives up the demand for housing immensely.

The Solution

In response to Hong Kong’s pressing housing crisis, the government has announced plans to provide more affordable homes in the next decade. It plans to add 280,000 public homes and 180,000 private homes by 2027.

The straight-forward solution that the government proposed is to increase land supply. There is a plan for land reclamation to build 4,200 acres of artificial islands to meet the housing demands. The first island would create space for 260,000 flats, of which 70 percent would be public housing.

However, land reclamation is expensive, potentially destructive to the environment and could take decades to reach completion. The housing crisis in Hong Kong is in need of more immediate solutions. Some are in favor of rent controls in Hong Kong to keep the property price affordable.

In October 2019, the government proposed to redevelop about 700 hectares of unused private land for public housing in Hong Kong’s northern New Territories region. Several Hong Kong conglomerates have shown support for providing more affordable housing to alleviate the housing problem in the city. The New World Development announced its decision to donate three million square feet of farmland for public housing. It also shows a willingness to donate more land to other nonprofit organizations and charity that provides social housing. The Sun Hung Kai Properties also declared its aim to cooperate with the government to construct affordable housing on rural land zoned for subsidized housing.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Fiji
Despite significant progress, poverty in Fiji remains a serious problem. In 2013, almost 300,000 Fijians or 34 percent of its population lived below the national poverty line. Interestingly, of middle-income nations, Fiji’s national poverty rate trends high whereas its extreme poverty rate—which is 1.4 percent—is comparatively lower. Still, there is cautious optimism when considering the future of poverty in Fiji. After all, as a result of wide-scale efforts by both the government and various organizations, the poverty rate dropped from 40 percent in the early 2000s. In 2020, these groups continue to work towards a poverty-free future in Fiji.

5 Organizations Fighting Poverty in Fiji

  1. Caritas Australia: An originally Catholic organization that works across the Pacific, Caritas runs a variety of programs targeting the effects of poverty in Fiji. An example of one of its projects is the Tutu Rural Training Centre, where farmers learn a multitude of skills through a four-year course relating to agriculture technology. When Cyclone Evan hit in 2012—which caused $312 million of damage and killed 14 people—the center also provided plants for people to start regrowing their farms. Another program is the People’s Community Network, which works to improve the lives of squatters throughout Fiji and promote self-sufficiency. Thus far, the project has helped 500 families secure land.

  2. The World Bank: The World Bank has perhaps acted as the primary player in alleviating poverty in Fiji. The organization has provided loans to the Fijian government since the 1970s for more than 13 large-scale projects on issues such as improving transportation infrastructure and natural disaster relief. In 2019, the World Bank announced it would start loaning over $21 million annually for such projects with 0 percent interest. This money has ultimately been invaluable in helping Fiji become a more technologically advanced country and providing critical economic opportunities to Fijian people.

  3. Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS): The umbrella body of almost 500 grassroots organizations across Fiji, FCOSS has worked throughout the country connecting different groups and their projects together while coordinating with the government to ensure maximum productivity. Some of the programs that the organization embarked on to fight poverty include the Rural Women Initiative for Development & Education, which helps women obtain economic freedom, and HelpAge, which provides services to elderly individuals who the state often ignores.

  4. Peace Corps: The Peace Corps, an American volunteer organization run through the U.S. government, has worked in impoverished communities in Fiji since 1968, sending over 2,529 volunteers. These volunteers have worked on a variety of projects throughout this tenure, working primarily on conservation and resource management, teaching sanitation and safe water practices, and helping communities with economic development. These projects have proved invaluable in these poor communities. For example, in 2010, the Peace Corps conducted a large scale study and found that 87 percent of host communities saw improvement in their sanitation practices and 90 percent reported better environmental and livelihood security. Furthermore, when teaching business practices, 80 percent learned habits that helped them in their everyday lives. Clearly, the Peace Corps is providing crucial assistance in poor communities in Fiji.

  5. Habitat for Humanity Fiji: Another international organization fighting poverty in Fiji is Habitat for Humanity. The organization builds homes in Fiji where almost 140,000 people lived in poor housing conditions. Habitat for Humanity has served a large number of homes. The organization is evidently mitigating the effects of poverty in Fiji, although Fiji requires more work.

Clearly, while poverty in Fiji remains a serious problem, there are a variety of organizations leading the fight against it. With these organizations’ continued aid, poverty in Fiji will hopefully become a part of the past.

– Chace Pulley
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Germany
The latest stats by the Federal Association of Homelessness Help (BAGW) show that there were 678,000 homeless people in Germany in 2018. This figure marked an increase of more than 4 percent between 2017 and 2018. The majority of these people sleep in emergency quarters, while 41,000 sleep on the streets.

Causes of Homelessness

In Germany, there are several factors that contribute to homelessness. One is the decreased number of social housing units. Social housing units have reduced by 60 percent since 1990 as the government continues to sell its stock of housing units to private investors. Additionally, there has been a decrease in affordable housing, particularly in large cities and urban centers. Studies show that housing costs in Germany are among the highest in Europe. This affects those with incomes below the poverty threshold, as well as young people (ages 18-24). Munich is reported to have the highest prices for both renting and buying houses in Germany. Berlin, which is said to be at the center of housing shortages in Germany, could account for about 20 percent of the country’s homeless.

Finally, the increase in immigrants has greatly contributed to the rise of homelessness in Germany. The immigrants are from other European Union countries, particularly Eastern European, and are also refugees and asylum seekers. It is estimated that 440,000 of the homeless are migrants. The number of homeless people with migrant backgrounds rose by 5.9 percent compared to a 1.2 percent increase for those without a migrant background.

Housing Rights in Germany

In large cities and urban centers, such as Berlin and Munich, the homeless set up makeshift tent camps in parks and other open spaces. During the winter, in an attempt to avoid the adverse winter conditions, they relocate to U-Bahn (underground railway) stations. Law requires German municipalities to provide basic emergency accommodation to those at risk of homelessness. Various municipalities and NGOs are providing temporary and emergency housing services.

In addition, the Social Code in Germany stipulates that the risk of losing a home entitles the owner to some form of assistance. Covered by the municipalities, this could be a loan or allowance for rental debts. Of the 16 German states, only four of them have the right to housing enshrined in their state constitutions including Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg and Bremen. However, regulation throughout the country still establishes the right.

Current Efforts

In 2018, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to spend €6.85 billion on solutions to homelessness. She announced that the federal government would aim to build 1.5 million new housing units and 100,000 new social housing units by 2021. There are also more immediate relief efforts that individuals and German cities provided. For example, the city of Berlin is offering a warm hall in Kreuzberg as an alternative to the U-Bahn stations the homeless would stay in during the winter. Entrepreneur Matthias Müller is doing his part to help the homeless in Germany by introducing a shower caravan in Berlin. Matthias transformed a bus into the shower caravan, which is a unit with a sink, shower and toilet so that homeless women can maintain personal hygiene. The caravan is also accessible to people with disabilities.

Solutions

BAGW estimates that Germany needs 200,000 new affordable housing units each year to manage homelessness. The federal government, various municipalities and NGOs could also work together to emulate Finland’s Housing First approach. In this method, the goal is not to have temporary or emergency accommodation, but instead, permanent housing and needs-based support. This way, instead of just managing homelessness, Germany could end it completely.

– Sophia Wanyonyi
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions of the Muhamasheen
The Muhamasheen (the marginalized) pejoratively known as the Akhdam (servants) constitute a distinct community in Yemen that the broader Yemeni society consigns to the lowest part of the social hierarchy. Though Yemen has officially abolished its caste system, the legacy of centuries of discrimination persists today. Below are eight facts about the living conditions of the Muhamasheen.

8 Facts About the Living Conditions of the Muhamasheen

  1. Over 50 percent of the Muhamasheen population suffers from unemployment. Systemic exclusion from most employment in the agrarian sector, despite the community’s concentration in rural areas, contributes heavily to this unemployment rate. Muhamasheen workers compete for nomadic seasonal labor such as thrashing grain at harvest time. These deeply-embedded exclusionary practices cement the subordinate status of the Muhamasheen.
  2. Entrenched custom relegates urban sanitation jobs, such as street cleaners, to the Muhamasheen. Thus many urban Muhamasheen people encounter and treat waste products that higher castes view as contaminating and taboo. Inadequate compensation and the possibility of pretextual termination with little notice often awaits Muhamasheen sanitation workers employed by the municipal authorities in the cities.
  3. Inadequate housing, vulnerable to destruction by natural disasters, depresses the living conditions of the Muhamasheen. Rather than the solid and sturdy adobe construction characterizing traditional Yemeni home structures, many Muhamasheen reside in homes constructed from cardboard and thatch or even from sheets extracted from empty containers. Exposure to the elements, whether intense heat and cold or inundation during the rainy season, invariably characterizes life in these dwellings. Other Muhamasheen live in small and cramped concrete structures, the living conditions therein little better than those residing in makeshift cardboard structures.
  4. Southeastern Yemen’s October 2008 floods were particularly devastating to the Muhamasheen. In response, UNHCR provided shelters to Muhamasheen reduced to the status of internally displaced persons. The Yemeni NGO al-Dumir implemented this initiative, encompassing the construction of 100 two-room shelters, with financial backing from the Japanese government amounting to USD $300,224. Akhdam also received household items from UNHCR in the course of this relief program due to how flooding affected it.
  5. Regular exposure to the elements and inadequate access to clean water subject the Muhamasheen to increased health hazards. Respiratory and ocular infections and skin diseases all pose a greater risk to the Muhamasheen than to other groups. Muhamasheen children, many coming of age in lowland drainage areas or near landfills, are more likely to die of malaria and chronic infectious kidney disease than of other illnesses. Poor sanitation contributes to a high rate of infant deaths from parasites, while malnourishment worsens both maternal and infant mortality rates. The marginalization of the Muhamasheen limits the willingness of the health care sector to treat them.
  6. In 2014, a UNICEF study concluded that poor literacy rates pervade the Muhamasheen community. A survey sample consisting of 9,200 Muhamasheen households, encompassing 51,406 persons, yielded a literacy rate of one in five among Muhamasheen ages 15 and older. Survey data yielded school enrollment rates of two in four for youths between ages 6 and 17.
  7. In 2014, UNICEF and Yemen’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor administered a survey of 9,200 Muhamasheen households, which revealed significant inequities in education, sanitation, shelter and medical care. The following year, the government of Yemen began designing initiatives for the improvement of the social and economic standing of the Muhamasheen community. These ameliorative programs include the creation of family-targeted financial inclusion programs involving both the Social Welfare Fund Office in Taiz Governorate and nonprofit organizations such as Alamal Microfinance Bank. Other initiatives encompass enforcing the right of Muhamasheen children to attend school without discrimination and providing students with uniforms and school supplies.
  8. Testimony that WITNESS and the Yemeni NGO Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights obtained attests to the epidemic of public abuse of Muhamasheen women by non-Muhamasheen men. Out of this research, the organizations above filmed an award-winning documentary, “Breaking the Silence,” successfully spreading awareness of these endemic attacks. Given the Muhamasheen community’s limitations of access to the full weight of the justice system, such documentaries as “Breaking the Silence” play an invaluable role in revealing the systemic abuses contributing to the living conditions of the Muhamasheen.

The marginal living conditions of the Muhamasheen, a legacy of centuries of caste discrimination, remains a serious issue in Yemen. However, NGOs such as UNICEF have increasingly paid more attention to the community’s plight and designed initiatives to improve the living conditions of the Muhamasheen. These measures, alongside the awareness-spreading efforts of such organizations as WITNESS and the Yemeni NGO Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights, show that there is hope for the future of the Muhamasheen.

Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

poverty among Aboriginal AustraliansAboriginal Australians have faced discrimination, genocide and marginalization within their own lands since the British began their initial colonization of the continent in 1788. Aboriginals did not receive any credence in the eye of the Australian government until 1967. Because of this, poverty among Aboriginal Australians skyrocketed.

By simply removing the words “…other than the Aboriginal people in any State…” in section 51(xxvi) and the whole of section 127 of the constitution, the country finally saw Aboriginals as their own individualized people. They are now part of the census and the government can make laws specifically concerning Aboriginal issues. However, even with the government’s recognition of these peoples did not eliminate the discrimination and inequality they often face from the government and society. Here are eight facts about aboriginal Australians’ quality of life.

8 Facts About Aboriginal Australians’ Quality of Life

  1. Today in Australia, a mere 3.1 percent of the Australian population is indigenous. Even though they make up so little of the population, however, 19.3 percent of Aboriginal Australians live in poverty compared to 12.4 percent of other Australians.
  2. Only 4.8 percent of Aboriginal peoples have employment within the upper salary levels in Australia. This low percentage may link to pervasive racism within the country. Nineteen percent of Australians believe they are casual racists but refuse to change. Twenty-six percent of Australians have anti-Aboriginal concerns. Meanwhile, eleven percent of Australians do not think all races are equal. There does seem to be a changing tide, however, as 86 percent of Australians believe that Australia needs to do something to fight the pervasive racism in the country.
  3. There have been significant improvements and money allocations towards the betterment of the indigenous communities in Australia in recent years. In 2017, $33.4 billion went toward government expenditure on indigenous Australians, a 23.7 percent increase since 2009 (taking into account inflation). That is $44,886 per indigenous person or two times the amount of direct government expenditure on non-indigenous peoples. However, Aboriginal peoples are still more than twice as likely to be in the bottom 20 percent for equivalized gross weekly household income. High unemployment and lasting impacts from colonialism have caused low income in Aboriginal homes.
  4. Today, people often find that Aboriginal communities in non-rural areas live off welfare in crowded housing. About 20 percent of Aboriginal Australians living in non-rural areas were living in overcrowded accommodations in 2014 and 2015. In remote or very remote areas of Australia, the overcrowding was almost 40 percent. Overcrowding can often lead to a faster spread of illness in these communities. The proliferation of disease in overcrowded spaces creates a significant financial burden on families who must then seek treatment for their ailing loved ones. However, Australia has put multiple initiatives into place to address and resolve these issues. In 2008, the Federal government started and funded the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.
  5. From 2014 to 2015, three in 10 Aboriginals (29 percent) 15 and over experienced homelessness for a portion of time. Homelessness prevents individuals not only from human, tribal and societal interaction but can also often prevent them from being active members in the workforce, and therefore, the economy. Aboriginal peoples 15 and over in remote or very remote areas experienced homelessness in their lifetime at a 3 percent increase from non-remote Aboriginals (32 percent).
  6. Aboriginal Australian children between the ages of 5 to 17 are committing suicide at a five times higher rate than non-indigenous peoples in Australia. There is a direct link between the suicide rate and the crushing poverty in these communities and failing government-funded aid services. People have called upon the Australian government to either increase spending on indigenous peoples’ aid or to even wholly reconsider its tactics. As of 2019, the Australian government has implemented restrictions on takeaway alcohol, broadening education initiatives and developing further cultural healing projects.
  7. More than 28 percent of Australia’s prison population was Aboriginal in 2016, which is a shocking fact as less than 3 percent of Australia’s population identifies as indigenous. This widespread incarceration significantly impacts rates of poverty in the Aboriginal community. When one removes a person from a home–that statistically is likely to suffer overcrowding and have underprivileged individuals–they remove supporting income from an already disadvantaged family.
  8. People widely acknowledged that limited completion of education, and more specifically, secondary education, have close ties to poverty for Aboriginal Australians. In previous years, Aboriginal peoples were less likely to obtain a Year 12 or equivalent level of education; 45 percent of Aboriginals achieved this level of education in 2008. However, the gap is closing fast, and as of 2014-2015, records indicate that that percentage has risen to 62 percent of Aboriginal peoples obtaining their Year 12 level of education.
Though the gap between non-indigenous and Aboriginal people ages 20 to 24 with post-school qualifications has not changed, the number of indigenous peoples in this age range who have received a secondary education has doubled since 2002.

NASCA

NASCA, or the National Aboriginal Supporting Chance Academy, is a nonprofit that works directly within indigenous communities doing mentoring, education and development programs. Its initiatives seek to create empowerment and movement from within these communities and alleviate poverty among Aboriginal Australians. Each year, over 1,200 indigenous youths directly benefit from the organization’s work.
In 2018 alone, the program delivered a total of 6,006 educational and health program hours, and attendance in its northern territory program schools saw a 33 percent increase in school attendance. Its work is seeking to create pride in communities and put into motion change that will bleed into the higher political and social sphere of Australia.

Australia has so long ignored its Aboriginal community on both a social and governmental level, so it is a welcome and pleasant change to see so much work on behalf of an underprivileged group of people. Though there is still far to go, some are taking steps both within and outside of the community to build up the visibility and civil rights of the Aboriginal peoples and their needs. Poverty among Aboriginal Australians has set them back long enough. Though they are undeniably Australian, they are fiercely and independently Aboriginal peoples with a right to civil liberties, native land and socioeconomic equality.

– Emma Hodge
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Palau
Palau is a small country in the Pacific Ocean that attracts tourists from all over the world with its amazing scuba diving sites, stunning rock islands and gorgeous beaches. With a population of about 21,000 people, Palau is continuously working towards improving life on the island by bringing focus to some of its biggest issues such as lack of funding for non-communicable diseases, and drug and alcohol addiction in children and adults. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Palau.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Palau

  1. According to the CIA World Fact Book, life expectancy in Palau was 70.4 years for men and 77 years for women as of 2018. The life expectancy has stayed relatively the same over the years with only a two-year decrease since 1995.
  2. The leading causes of death in Palau are non-communicable diseases (NCD) with cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes being the four main causes of death in the country. Because of the lack of funds going into the prevention and treatment of these diseases, President Tommy Remengesau Jr. signed a law in 2016 to set 10 percent of the revenue raised from alcohol and tobacco taxes aside to finance NCD prevention.
  3. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease which can cause high fever, headache, vomiting and skin rash. Palau is no stranger to this disease and the Ministry of Health has been educating and bringing awareness to the public ever since its biggest outbreak in 2008. In December 2018, the Ministry of Health reported its first-ever cases of the Dengue Serotype 3 virus which the small country had never seen. It immediately issued an alert and urged the public to search for and kill mosquitos in and around homes, wear clothes to cover skin and use bug repellant. Fortunately, the country did not report any deaths from dengue fever and it had only 250 cases as of June 2019.
  4. Both children and adults in Palau have a dependence on drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. The country has created many educational efforts and protective laws for children, but despite these efforts, 70 percent of children chew on a drug called betel nut. The betel nut which has been a part of cultural practices since the 1970s is a popular and accessible drug on the island. According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, ingesting this drug can lead to oral cancers, stomach ulcers and heart disease when used regularly.
  5. Estimates determined the infant mortality to be 14 deaths to 1,000 live births as of 2015 in Palau, which was a 55 percent decrease since 1990.  Palau’s National Health Profile explains that 75 percent of expecting mothers used betel nut and tobacco during their pregnancy between 2007 and 2013. These were the main causes of the high rate of preterm complications that resulted in deaths of newborns. Along with these two risks, the health profile also highlights that overweight and obese mothers had a higher risk of preterm delivery as well. Because health services have become more available, mothers are now receiving education and given prenatal care preventing the infant mortality rate from going up.
  6. Health care and health services are becoming accessible to more and more families and children which has caused the mortality rate to decrease on the islands. Obesity still remains a problem for 24 percent of children, though. Many children do not have any knowledge of good eating habits and do not participate in any physical activity. Humanium reports that only 10 percent of children are eating fruits and vegetables in Palau.
  7. Palau reportedly has approximately 300 children with special needs on the registry with the Health Department but only around 189 are receiving special education services. Most special needs kids will receive health care, education and social services up until the age of 21. Once they reach 21 years of age there are not many resources on the small country to assist them in adapting and transitioning into the adult life which leaves these families without any aid.
  8. Although crime rates are low in Palau, emergencies do happen and getting help from police officers or medical personnel can be very difficult. The ability for police officers and ambulances to respond to crimes and medical emergencies can sometimes be very limited because of the lack of essential equipment, response vehicles and roads on the island. Ambulances often do not have proper equipment or staff. In rural areas receiving ambulance services is much more limited.
  9. Pollution affects 25 percent of the available drinking water in Palau. Groundwater pollution is caused by poorly maintained septic tanks and saltwater intrusion while land-based pollution, gasoline and oil from motors and ships impact coastal waters. Due to the ongoing development of the country, further pollution from sewages, chemicals and oil spills will be unavoidable if people do not control them which could greatly affect the country’s population.
  10. Seventy-one percent of the population in Palau live in urban areas on the islands of Koror and Airai. People without land rights must lease houses from the government which are usually one or two-story homes made of wood or cement with tin roofs. Living conditions are improving, however, due to the work of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the National Development Bank of Palau. They have been working together to create homes which will use less energy and reduce dependence on petroleum fuels that are imported to the island every year. Although this is an ongoing project having built only 60 homes, the improvement in living conditions will not only help the environment but also the people of this small country.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Palau show progress within its 340 islands. Government officials are putting many efforts into fixing the issues that Palau and its people are facing. By creating programs to help aid the disabled, providing education on health issues, passing laws to receive the funds necessary for treatments and starting new projects such as the building of energy-efficient homes, Palau is on the right track to bettering life on its islands.

– Jannette Aguirre
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan, a Eurasian country of 9.2 million people, has a total life expectancy between 69 and 75. Despite being an oil-rich nation on the rise, Azerbaijan continues to struggle with poverty within its borders. Political corruption and the lack of free speech among its media have also been concerns. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Azerbaijan.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Azerbaijan

  1. In 2018, Azerbaijan’s average life expectancy was 70 for men and 76 for women, a significant increase from 60 and 66 in 1990. The male population has a higher mortality rate than the female population. While 8 percent of women die before the age of 60, 17 percent of men will die before then from causes including cancer, parasitic disease and circulatory and digestive diseases. Azerbaijan introduced plans to develop its domestic pharmaceutical sector in 2017, which will allow the country to be less reliant on exported goods and increase local health care reforms. Easier access to medicine locally would allow for longer life expectancy and access to care for diseases.
  2. Azerbaijan introduced a program in 2014 to provide additional training to medical professionals and increase medical staff, thus increasing the quality of service and raising awareness for health. This program, the State Program to Improve Health of Mothers and Children, contributed to the rise of life expectancy and the country currently uses it. Training doctors with increased medical services quality is an important step to improve health care in Azerbaijan.
  3. Azerbaijan‘s median ages are 30 for men, 33 for women and 31 overall as of 2018, with 6 percent of its population within retirement age (65 and older). Only about 13 people for each 1,000 reach the age of 80 or beyond in Azerbaijan. Currently, many citizens over the age of 65 are working due to the government’s lack of insurance implementation for accidents and low pension rates. Azerbaijan has introduced customary health insurance in 2016 via a pilot program within select regions. The State Agency for Mandatory Health Insurance monitors it which emerged in the same year. Many expect the program to reach other regions of the country throughout the coming years. The Azerbaijani government has also recently passed an amendment that would increase pensions by 48 percent for an estimated 36,000 people and increase customary insurance policy enforcement in an attempt to alleviate concerns for both the retirees and the injured.
  4. The rate of death in Azerbaijan as of 2018 is seven out of 1,000 people and the primary causes of death are diseases within the circulatory system (such as heart failure). There are about three doctors for about every 1,000 people in Azerbaijan as of 2014, which is not quite enough to serve those in need. The Azerbaijani government has taken steps to rectify this, including requiring all hospitals to implement a mandatory health insurance system to increase productivity and help patients in a timely manner. This is part of the customary health insurance program that Azerbaijan is currently rolling out in select parts of the country. As health care programs improve, the care people will need should be available as the insurance policy continues to move across Azerbaijan.
  5. The State Housing Construction Agency began a subsidized affordable housing system in 2017 which allows citizens to select apartments with a mortgage from a government-approved bank. The investment will allow individuals to own a place in healthier environments and better maintain housing care. Affordable housing is beneficial for people to save money as well.
  6. According to the Azerbaijan National Nutrition Survey from 2013, 22 percent of children between 6 to 23 months have adequate nutrition in their diet despite the fact that 93 percent of households currently have access to safe drinking water. The government revised food standards in 2016 that requires all providers to properly label their products to help parents pick the right item for their child’s nutrition needs. Azerbaijan intends the new labeling to increase nutrition in what it expects to be a healthier generation of children.
  7. Azerbaijan has begun to build new rehab centers for drug users and increase the quality of drug combating classes in August 2019 due to a rise of drug users since 2010. The country has been a notable transit for drug trafficking for many years, making drugs a possible risk to people’s life expectancy. Access to rehabilitation centers will allow citizens to overcome drug addiction that has been a growing concern over the years.
  8. The poverty rate dropped from 40 percent in 2000 to 8 percent the following year after heavily investing in health care and education as well as increased pensions and salaries across the nation. These investments allowed citizens to remained healthy and children to be able to learn on a much grander scale. Increased salaries and pensions also allow for greater personal spending and investments to bolster the national economy.
  9. The Azerbaijan 2020 project puts a strong emphasis on increasing the investment of health care to improve technology and services for diseases, surgery and childcare. This initiative is a part of a major plan to push Azerbaijan forward and increase the life expectancy. Sustainable health care is a priority to maintain current rates.
  10. Education will also receive investment in the Azerbaijan 2020 initiative by investing in and building technology. The increased focus on education allows children to gain access to a better understanding of their surroundings. The technology will also expand the teacher’s ability to pass down knowledge to their students.

Despite the current concerns of corruption within the government, these 10 facts about life expectancy in Azerbaijan show that it has taken steps to improve the life expectancy of the population. Programs designed to invest in the medical and education fields should grow the country further. Continued improvements over the course of these programs are crucial to Azerbaijan’s development as a nation.

– Henry Elliott
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Armenia

The Armenian Relief and Development Association (ARDA) focuses on one mission: to help impoverished Armenians. ARDA has helped Armenians in many aspects, including the building and restoration of medical clinics and schools. The organization has also created and provided resources for educational programs, widow and orphan programs and feeding programs.

However, its biggest project revolves around reducing homelessness in Armenia. Many apartment buildings were damaged during the 1988 earthquake, and there were not enough resources for rebuilding and restoration, which left thousands of Armenians without a home.

“According to the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, of the approximately 800,000 families living in Armenia, about 40,000 are without permanent shelter.” Their solution was to use metal shipping containers as what was supposed to be a temporary shelter. However, this “temporary shelter” has been their home for over three decades. These “homes” are basically just protection against the elements, as they do not have a bathroom or a kitchen. Also, temperatures within the containers reach below the freezing point during the winter and are extremely hot during the summer. Thousands have died within the confines of these “homes.”

ARDA knew it had to find a solution to this on-going problem. The solution came in four phases and utilized a simple building material: polystyrene foam (more popularly known as Styrofoam).

The Four-Phase Project

In 2007, ARDA, together with the Armenian Center for International Development, sent faculty and students from Point Loma Nazarene University to northern Armenia to execute their four-phase plan.

The first phase involves the building of homes using inexpensive yet sturdy materials including polystyrene molds. The molds, which are hollow, “interconnect like Legos to make the exterior walls of the home.” Once the foundation is put into place, rebar for stability and wiring for electrical outlets are put into the molds, after which the cement is poured in. Each mold is 16 inches tall and eight inches wide. These molds result in much more energy-efficient homes, as they require 44 percent less energy for heating and 32 percent less for cooling.

After phase one is complete, the next step involves some research: trying to find a local manufacturer that can create these molds cheaply. “Each of the structures built during the trip cost an estimated $20,000. That doesn’t include labor, land, and extra materials, which were mostly donated.” Being able to acquire these materials at a reasonable rate is an important step in the continued building of these houses and reduction in homelessness in Armenia.

Once a manufacturer is procured, ARDA moves onto phase three, which results in more long-term benefits. This phase focuses on the creation of a business model that sustains production and creates jobs in the area. This is accomplished by building a Trade and Technology Center on the same site as the homes. Steve Lazarian, director of ARDA at the time said: “the center would provide education and training for the local community in various trades, including home construction.” These skills, which are essential to becoming self-sufficient, will assist Armenians in the transition out of temporary shelters and into permanent homes.

The success of the first three phases of the project will gauge whether the fourth phase is necessary. If they are successful, phase four will be the implementation of the project in other poverty-stricken countries worldwide.

Benefits of Polystyrene Foam

Using this technique, a new home could be built in about one month. This is much shorter than the six to 12 months it takes when using traditional building methods. Also, the polystyrene blocks are mold and earthquake resistant. This is an important factor in a country that is still reeling from the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.

Other Important Projects

ARDA’s Angel Home Health program provides social services to fifty families. Of those fifty families, sixty-five percent graduate out of the program, acquiring the skills they need in order to take care of themselves.

Patrick Hovsepian, Operations Manager of ARDA, spoke of a woman named Eliza who approached ARDA for help after her husband passed away at a young age. She was left homeless and was unable to care for their baby. ARDA gave her a job as a Teacher’s Aide in their preschool. Through hard work and determination, Eliza eventually became the director of that same preschool.

What’s in Store for the Future?

Though the polystyrene blocks have proven to be an exemplary building component, ARDA is already looking for better materials, with hopes of building houses at an even faster rate. According to Hovsepian, ARDA is working toward securing an architect and building a 3-D printing factory in Armenia. With this new technology, houses can be built within one week, which will not only provide homes, reducing homelessness in Armenia, but it will also create thousands of jobs.

What do Potential Donors Need to Know?

When asked what people might not be aware of regarding the living conditions in Armenia, Hovsepian stated, “People don’t seem to understand just how impoverished these cities are. These people look just like us, but they’re living in devastating situations.” He also mentioned that many people think their small donations might not make a big difference. “A little bit here is a lot over there. It only costs $360 a year to sponsor a child, which helps pay for food, clothes, and education for an entire year.”

ARDA has been helping the poverty-stricken communities of Armenia for decades but its work is nowhere near completion. Armenians who have been living in containers that were not meant for habitation will soon be able to live in actual houses, complete with plumbing and heating, improving the situation of homelessness in Armenia. With ARDA’s help, there is hope that Armenians will emerge from poverty and become self-sustaining.

– Sareen Mekhitarian
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan, a country rich with gas and export struggles, corruption and poverty. The country is located in Central Asia and shares its borders with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Afghanistan and has been independent since 1991. Meanwhile, the life expectancy in Turkmenistan has been on a steady rise within the last decade. Here are the top 10 facts about life expectancy in Turkmenistan.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Turkmenistan

  1. The life expectancy in Turkmenistan is around 68 years. According to the BBC, the average lifespan for women is 71 and 64 years for men. The country’s life expectancy ranks four years lower than neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, while it ranks five years lower than the world average life expectancy.
  2. Turkmenistan suffers from a high mortality rate which affects overall life expectancy. The World Health Organization states in its “Highlights on Health in Turkmenistan” report written in 2005, that “As could be expected, excess mortality is due to communicable, respiratory and digestive diseases.” The two highest causes of death are infectious and parasitic diseases.
  3. Water resources are rather scarce because desert covers a lot of Turkmenistan. In fact, it is one of the most water-deficient countries in the world. The government tried to create projects, such as the creation of parks, to make cities appear greener. The plan backfired because these plants required a large amount of water. Seventy-one percent of the population has access to drinking water, while 29 percent of the population still lacks clean water.
  4. Turkmenistan has 22 physicians per 1,000 people within a given population. The former president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, tried to make changes to the health care system and citizen’s lifestyles and has been encouraging spending on public health and healthier lifestyles. A lack of doctors takes its toll on rural communities, while limited access to sanitary water increases the chances of becoming sick. While urban areas have modernized hospitals, care can be expensive. Meanwhile, rural communities suffer from old equipment and shortages in medicine which could affect life expectancy statistics as well.
  5. Turkmenistan is a healthy nation. The government focuses on nutrition through private agriculture and food production. It tries to create healthy lunches in schools by banning unhealthy foods and drinks. Some noncommunicable diseases affecting the population comes from malnutrition, such as raised blood pressure, blood glucose and blood cholesterol. These can be life-threatening diseases.
  6. Housing in Turkmenistan differs from other countries in their structures. People often live in yurts due to weather conditions or economic reasons. The yurts surround cities and traditional families heavily populate them. Houses do exist but the monthly rates tend to be higher than the people’s wages. Yurts are a more affordable form of shelter considering the increase of food and gas prices.
  7. The infant mortality rate in Turkmenistan is 33 deaths per 1,000 births, which ranks the country number 55 in the world. The maternal mortality rate is 42 deaths per 100,000 births, which places Turkmenistan at 104 in the world.
  8. The literacy rate in Turkmenistan is 99.7 percent for people ages 15 and older. Most students spend up to 11 years in school. The government is trying to reform the educational system to be more effective for students. Its main goal is to get everyone into the local workforce and have it perform internationally as well. Children receive a basic education that fits the needs of the government or specific jobs that they can work internationally. It does not necessarily include a well-rounded course curriculum.
  9. Turkmenistan has a high poverty and corruption rate. The given wages are not nearly enough to cover common products. The further away from the center of Ashgabat that people live, the fewer resources they have available to them. Those who live in urban cities have more access to natural resources. Those living in rural communities have less, especially when it comes to natural gas.
  10. The crime rate in Turkmenistan’s cities is low compared to the surrounding countries. Towards the border, the crime rate grows due to terrorism and the drug trade. The cities set a curfew for 11 p.m. to lower crime at night.

Though these 10 facts about life expectancy in Turkmenistan put things into a grim perspective, the government is doing what it can to change the future. If the government successfully reforms Turkmenistan’s education system, allowing for a workforce that can compete internationally, people could raise their living standards, and potentially, the country’s life expectancy as well.

– Christina Atler
Photo: Flickr

Inequality in South Africa
Despite the institution of racially inclusive democracy, inequality in South Africa persists decades after the end of apartheid. According to a 2018 report by The World Bank, South Africa is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world. Inequality has gone up since the end of Apartheid in 1994 and remains high.

The Situation

In 2015, South Africa had a Gini coefficient of 0.63, the highest in the world. Also in 2015, the top 10 percent of earners controlled 70 percent of the wealth in South Africa, while the bottom 60 percent had 7 percent of the wealth. Fifty percent of South Africans earn $5 per day. Despite the official end to apartheid and the holding of multiracial elections, inequality in South Africa continues to operate on racial lines. Black South Africans mostly make up the lower class.

A significant wage gap also exists between segments of the population. There is a very small middle class with workers in either very high paying jobs or very low paying jobs. The high paying jobs earn on average five times the amount of lower-paying jobs. Therefore, a small segment of the population has similar income to those in developed countries, while low-wage laborers have wages comparable to ones in low-income developing countries.

Inequality in South Africa

High unemployment and low economic mobility mark inequality in South Africa. Unemployment reached 27 percent in 2017.

Poverty is high for a middle-income country and is a particular problem for black South Africans, the uneducated, the unemployed, female-led households, large families and children. Poverty also has a significant geographic indicator, a relic of the apartheid era. Poverty runs high in regions that people oppressed during apartheid, particularly the homelands, land set aside for black South Africans. Although the likelihood of living in poverty depends, to some extent, on race and gender, research indicates that skills and labor market factors play a significant role, which indicates that public policy has the potential to reduce poverty.

South Africa’s poor public education system means that skilled and professional labor is in short supply. Reforming the education system to make students better prepared to join the workforce could reduce poverty significantly.

Land Rights

Inequality in South Africa continues to connect to land rights even after the end of official segregation. Many black South Africans live in slums, which numbered 300 in 1994 but 2,700 in 2019. These underfunded living quarters stem from the 1960s when the apartheid region uprooted many black residents from their homes and sent them to live in isolated townships. The forced relocations meant many had to spend the bulk of their income on transportation and had to go to underfunded schools which did little to prepare students for the job market, contributing to the cycle of poverty.

Most relocated families have never been able to return home even after the end of apartheid, as prohibitively high costs keep them out of the big cities and in impoverished outskirts. Many have to commute from the outskirts of the town to jobs in the city; the commute can cost $3 a day out of an average wage of $10 a day for a service worker. Sending a child to a school in the city to avoid the poorly performing township schools also incurs costs.

Efforts to Eliminate Poverty in South Africa

Many tracts of public land lay empty, presenting opportunities for building housing. Reclaim the City has been working to stop the privatization of empty government land. It has moved over 1,000 people into abandoned government property such as hospitals, utilizing a law that says people cannot evict citizens if they lack a better alternative. Additionally, groups like the Social Justice Coalition are working to improve informal settlements where people already live by building amenities and securing formal occupation rights.

Additionally, the South African government has taken steps to reduce inequality with the implementation of the National Development Plan 2030 (NDP). The NDP seeks to end poverty within the country by 2030. The policy focuses on “drawing on the energies of its people, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state, and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society,” according to the National Planning Commission’s NDP Executive Summary.

– Clarissa Cooney
Photo: Wikimedia Commons