Yemen's humanitarian crisisCaught in a civil war rife with ongoing violence costing thousands of lives, Yemen is currently the most impoverished country in the Middle East and is experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis. Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is a matter of urgency as roughly 24 million Yemenis depend on foreign aid for survival.

Houthis Terrorist Designation

On January 10, 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Yemen’s Houthis group would be designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. The designation went into effect on January 19, 2021, only a day before the new presidential administration would see Pompeo exit his position. This decision has drawn international concerns and criticisms as it is feared that the label would pose major challenges to U.S.-Yemen relations.

As foreign aid must go through the Houthis in order to be allocated to the people of Yemen, this act would further complicate the distribution of essential aid from the U.S. and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Meanwhile, it has equally evoked a necessity to put the spotlight back on Yemen’s dire state of relentless and unforgiving civil war.

Conflict and Corruption in Yemen

Since North and South Yemen unified in 1990 to form the present state of Yemen, the country has struggled with internal unity due to the inherent religious and cultural divide among citizens. However, these differences became increasingly visible in 2014, when Yemen experienced a period of unrest throughout its population after Yemen’s president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, lifted fuel subsidies, threatening an aggravated state of poverty and food insecurity throughout the nation.

Frustrated with the pervasive corruption within the administration, widespread protests would encourage the Houthi rebels to consolidate power and take over Yemen’s Government the same year. In an effort to regain control over the region, Saudi Arabia utilized military intervention to overthrow the Houthis with the aid of foreign powers such as France, the United States and the United Kingdom. However, this conflict only set the stage for the calamity to come.

Since the Houthi takeover and the Saudi-led intervention, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has seen more than 200,000 fatalities recorded as a result of direct and indirect effects of the country’s civil war.

Signs of Promise

While the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization throws a wrench into the already complex relationship dynamic between the United States and Yemen, there are three signs of promise:

  • Following Pompeo’s announcement, the United States exempted organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations to continue essential aid to Yemen and allowed for exports of agricultural commodities and medicine.
  • On January 25, 2021, the United States approved a month-long exemption that would allow transactions to take place between the U.S and the Houthis.
  • The new secretary of state, under the Biden Administration, Antony Blinken, has pledged to review the terrorist designation of the Houthis — a reassuring statement for the stability of aid to Yemen’s people.

Despite this setback, the designation has nevertheless raised an opportunity to bring our attention back to Yemen’s tumultuous state. Revitalized efforts of diplomacy may inspire more substantial action in order to address Yemen’s growing humanitarian crisis.

Alessandra Parker
Photo: Flickr

Helping Hand“My favorite part of Helping Hand packing days is seeing everyone work together. The entire group helps each other with deciding which category an item should go into and where to find that category’s box.” In an interview with The Borgen Project, Bisma Ahmed talked about her experience participating in the packing events organized by Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD). “It makes me feel great knowing that children in need across the world will be wearing the very clothes I am packing.”

Helping Hand for Relief and Development

Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) is a nonprofit organization that fights global poverty by improving access to clean water, feeding the hungry, providing healthcare and rebuilding places affected by natural disasters. In addition to emergency relief, it also has long-term development programs. These include efforts to promote education and literacy, orphan support campaigns and rehabilitation and disability programs. In the 15 years that it has been in service, Helping Hand has worked in more than 85 countries across the globe.

Focusing on the Vulnerabilities of Asia and Africa

The main areas that Helping Hand addresses are countries in Asia and Africa as most of the 689 million people living below the poverty line are in these two continents. A few notable countries that have benefited from Helping Hand’s work include Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Somalia, Tunisia, Kenya and Haiti. The organization also provides benefits to refugees including the refugees of Rohingya, Syria and Palestine.

In 2019, through the long-term empowerment program, Helping Hand assisted 6,140 vulnerable people with skills development training in Pakistan, Jordan, Afghanistan and Kenya. In 16 different countries, 19,100 children, including orphans and refugees, received an education through Helping Hand scholarships and education programs. The organization also provided daily healthcare to 160,900 Rohingya refugees and benefited 1.2 million people through its water, hygiene and sanitation programs.

The organization’s recent campaigns include the Beirut Relief Fund, the HHRD COVID-19 Crisis Response, and most recently, Global Winter Revisions, a campaign allowing donors to send winter packages to places where they are needed most.

Packing Day: The Mid-Atlantic Region

Every year, the U.S. regions of Helping Hand set a goal for how many containers of clothes to send as aid overseas. The 2020 goal was to send 10 40-foot containers.

Now and then, the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region of Helping Hand has packing days where volunteers come together and sort donated clothes for shipment to the needy all around the world. Naveed Ahmed, the regional manager for Helping Hand’s Mid-Atlantic area, explained the benefit of the Helping Hand packing days. “The purpose is many, in my opinion. We’re engaging the local community and we’re opening our doors to show what Helping Hand is all about.” According to Naveed Ahmed, most of the success of the packing days comes from the organization’s personal connections with local donors, including large businesses and companies.

Helping Hand packing days have been going on in all of its U.S. regions since its founding in 2005. In 2019 alone, the $55 million worth of clothing items or in-kind gifts benefited 12 million people in 10 different countries.

The clothing items go wherever the team believes the need is. Helping Hand holds offices in Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Haiti and Kenya, making the organization fully part of the clothes distribution process. The teams in those areas inform the U.S. national team of the amount and types of clothing that are needed. The U.S. regions then start collecting, packing and sending the clothes out.

Typically, the packing events surround a specific global issue or national relevance. For example, the last packing event that the Mid-Atlantic region had was for Giving Tuesday. The packed donations went toward the Helping Hand Winter Relief Campaign. A week later, they had another packing event, this time dedicated to loading the boxes into the containers.

Packing for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The Mid-Atlantic region has a packing day for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January. “We usually like to have a day of service on that day,” Naveed Ahmed said. “Usually, students and volunteers from all over the state will come out and be part of the packing day. It is a great day to show appreciation to a great leader like MLK and for us all to do the part of service he and many others have done over decades.”

The efforts of Helping Hand give hope for the future, ensuring that the lives of struggling people around the world are made a little easier.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid in Nagorno-KarabakhNagorno-Karabakh is a region in the country Azerbaijan and is home to an Armenian majority. While the region is within Azerbaijan’s borders, Armenia has claimed the region for itself. The first intense conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region was in 1988 when the Soviet Union was nearing the end of its existence. Recently, conflict in the region began again in late September 2020 and lasted for about a  month until a ceasefire was brokered by Russia. Additional ceasefires were brought into fruition by France with the help of Russia and the United States. Despite the ceasefires, the conflict in the region is continuing. The fighting in the region has drastically impacted the civilian population of the region. This has in turn created a strong need for humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The European Union Assists

The European Union (EU) is actively providing aid to the civilian populace affected by the conflict and has done so since early October 2020. The initial amount of aid provided by the EU was €900,000. Then, in November, the EU commissioned an additional €3 million to the civilians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. According to the EU, this humanitarian aid will provide the necessary assistance that humanitarian organizations partnered with the EU need to carry out their duties. This includes providing food, winter clothing and medical assistance.

The United States’ Aid

The United States is also providing its share of financial assistance. In total, the United States has provided around $10 million in humanitarian assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan since the 2019 fiscal year. Of the $10 million, $5 million has been allocated to the International Committee of the Red Cross and similar humanitarian organizations to help civilians caught in the crossfire of the conflict. Assistance coming from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will also be used for humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh. The support these two institutions will be providing will come in the form of food, shelter and medical support for the people impacted by the conflict.

People in Need

There are also NGOs that have provided humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh as well. One organization, People in Need, has done just this. People in Need is an organization dedicated to providing immediate aid to countries should a natural disaster or war take place.

People in Need has provided support, not to Nagorno-Karabakh, but to the city of Goris in Armenia. People in Need directed its humanitarian aid to this Armenian city because many of the displaced civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh have gone there for refuge. The displaced people either move on or stay in the city. People in Need have been able to provide hygienic supplies to 1,200 displaced families in Goris. Additionally, People in Need have provided 480 children, 600 women and 110 seniors with their own individual hygienic kits. People in Need have also taken into consideration the psychosocial needs of children impacted by the conflict. To help these children, People in Need opened a child-friendly space in the city library where children can engage with other children and partake in other activities.

While the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh continues, international institutions, individual countries and humanitarian organizations are trying to provide all the support possible to help the civilians impacted by the conflict.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Iceland’s Foreign AidIceland, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, has a population of fewer than 400,000 people. The small Nordic island is home to some of the most sought after natural landmarks and tourist attractions such as the northern lights. Although small, the country has provided big backing to countries triple its size through its foreign aid programs. In 2008, Iceland experienced what economists considered to be the most severe economic downturn in its history. After years of hard work, Iceland was able to rebuild its economy and rebounded successfully. Aside from the financial crisis in 2008, the country has been able to maintain relatively low poverty rates with rates remaining at 0.10% from 2013 to 2015. Iceland has paid its good fortune forward by offering assistance to countries experiencing economic fragility. The Icelandic government is committed to fighting poverty by providing support to nations in need. The main objective of Iceland’s foreign aid pursuits is to reduce poverty and hunger while advocating for human rights, gender equality and sustainable development. Three countries, in particular, have been supported by Iceland’s foreign aid.

Syria

Syria has a long history of political turbulence with numerous uprisings dating back to the 20th century. One event, in particular, was especially tumultuous. In 2015, Syria had experienced a major political uproar in one of the largest and oldest cities in the country, Aleppo. “The Battle of Aleppo” began in 2011 in the city of Deraa. Citizens who opposed the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad decided to rebel. This led to a civil war between the Syrian government and protesters who the Syrian government referred to as rebels. The civil war that lasted six years had a detrimental impact on the citizens. There were massive food and gas shortages. Multiple buildings were victim to mass bombings, including schools and hospitals. Civilians were caught in the crossfire and suffered greatly as a result. Iceland stepped in to offer assistance and allocated $600,000 to support civilians impacted by the war in 2015. The country continued in its efforts by supporting Syria with $4 million worth of humanitarian aid in 2016.

Malawi

Malawi holds one of the highest rates of poverty in the world, at 51.5.% in 2016. Malnutrition and infant mortality impact Malawi’s 18.6 million population. The country has experienced notable economic growth in the past three years, with a 4.4% increase in economy in 2019. Unfortunately, these economic gains have been stalled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early November 2020, the Icelandic government donated $195,000 to the World Food Programme to assist with the COVID-19 response in Malawi.

Uganda

Uganda and Iceland established their relationship in the year 2000. The Icelandic government is committed to enhancing the livelihood of Ugandan fishing communities located in the Kalanga and Buikwe districts. Uganda is one of the largest recipients of Icelandic foreign aid with an annual distribution of $6 million. Iceland’s contributions have seen monumental success with safe water coverage now standing at 77%, up from 58% in 2015. The primary school completion rate in Buikwe is up from 40% in 2011 to a staggering 75.5%.

Iceland: A Foreign Aid Leader

While Iceland may be small in comparison to its peers, Iceland has been tremendously influential in its foreign relations. The three countries above are just a few of the nations that Iceland has assisted. Humanitarian efforts continue to provide support to countries in need through Iceland’s foreign aid.

– Imani Smikle
Photo: Flickr

United States-Based Nonprofits Labeled by the United Nations as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, more than 80% of Yemen’s population is experiencing starvation, displacement and disease while the country is on an economic decline. The crisis began in 2015 due to a civil war, and since then, many organizations have stepped up to support the people of Yemen. A few of these organizations are United States-based nonprofits that are assisting those suffering. in Yemen.

CARE

During the aftermath of World War II, Arthur Ringland, Lincoln Clark and Wallace Campbell founded this organization. Today, it has worked in more than 100 countries and has assisted around 90 million people. Each year, CARE assists 3.4 million people in Yemen, specifically those who are experiencing the worst of the crisis. The assistance includes water, food and sanitation services. CARE also puts a lot of energy into reproductive healthcare by training healthcare workers to deliver babies safely and provide proper care. It is also working to rehabilitate maternity wards. Other long-term stability programs that CARE is working on in Yemen include food security, water sanitation, hygiene, economic empowerment for women and education. Even though the Yemen crisis started in 2015, CARE has been working in Yemen since 1992, working against poverty and for social justice.

Humanitarian Alliance for Yemen

In August of 2019, four United States-based nonprofits announced they would be creating an alliance, dedicated to battling the crisis in Yemen, called the Humanitarian Alliance for Yemen. The four nonprofit organizations part of this project are Project HOPE, MedGlobal, Pure Hands and United Mission for Relief and Development (UMR). Both Project HOPE and MedGlobal are organizations that focus on providing different forms of medical and healthcare to those in need, while Pure Hands’ focus is more on alleviating poverty and providing economic and disaster relief. Lastly, UMR is an organization that provides relief through food, education and economic security programs.

Led by MedGlobal, the team launched a medical mission in November of 2019. The people of Yemen have been suffering from many diseases and the purpose of this mission was to treat the diseases and other medical issues civilians are affected with. The alliance sent a team of 23 members who traveled to different parts of Yemen providing relief services including surgeries and medical training. It also sent supplies of medication and surgery and medical equipment to different healthcare facilities within Yemen.

The alliance continues to work in Yemen, most recently working against COVID-19 and the consequences it has brought.

International Rescue Committee

Founded by the suggestion of Albert Einstein, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been helping people since 1933. Throughout the years it has assisted refugees and others experiencing disaster and conflict, in places all over the world. The IRC has been working in Yemen since 2012, providing clean water and other aid. The IRC is still assisting Yemen to this day. Its work includes providing different kinds of healthcare through medications and disease treatment as well as sanitation, water and nutrition, to almost a quarter of a million people. It also focuses on women’s reproductive health care and protection from gender-based violence. The IRC has also been working to improve education access to millions of children.

A unique aspect of the IRC’s efforts in Yemen includes advocacy. It has called for a cease-fire, improved humanitarian access and brought the issue to the attention of the international community in an attempt to encourage peace.

Helping Hand for Relief and Development

Though it has only existed since 2005, Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) has provided many kinds of relief to millions of people all over the world. HHRD is not working directly with Yemen, but it has taken
part in assisting the refugees from Yemen. In 2017, thousands of Yemeni citizens fled their hometown to Djibouti, a country located near Yemen, in northeast Africa. HHRD created the Yemeni Refugee Relief Fund to assess the needs of the Yemeni refugees and gather more information on their situation.

HHRD also sent emergency relief items and began to implement long-term sanitation, water, healthcare and hygiene programs. The team also met with the Department of Refugees Affairs Director to discuss plans for refugee relief.

Foreign Aid to Yemen

While some of these United States-based nonprofits were founded due recent to global issues, others came into existence due to global issues from many decades ago. These combined humanitarian efforts provide significant hope for the people of Yemen by providing foreign aid to the most vulnerable.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

Vital Relief to VenezuelaThe country of Venezuela has an economy that is extremely reliant on its oil sales. About 99% of its exports come from the sale of oil. The natural resource also takes up a quarter of Venezuela’s GDP. Such high reliance on this resource has caused the country economic hardship in recent years. The GDP of the nation shrank by two-thirds between 2014 and 2019. The struggling economy has been devastating for the citizens of Venezuela. It has caused five million Venezuelans to leave the country and flee to neighboring ones. As of 2020, 96% of Venezuela’s population live in poverty when measured solely according to income levels. Despite the dire situation in Venezuela, countries and organizations are trying to deliver vital relief to Venezuela.

USAID’s Assistance

USAID is working on behalf of the United States to provide aid that Venezuelans so desperately need.USAID has provided more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid to vulnerable Venezuelan communities. The monetary aid is used by NGOs and organizations to assist the Venezuelan people. The assistance these groups provide includes food, health and sanitation supplies. The COVID-19 pandemic that has swept across the world has worsened the situation for many Venezuelans. On top of the severe economic situation, Venezuelans are now dealing with the impact of a pandemic a well. USAID has adapted its efforts to help Venezuelans during COVID-19. The funding of USAID has allowed affiliated partners to provide important healthcare assistance for the delivery of vital relief to Venezuela.

The European Union Helps Venezuela

The European Union (EU) has been active in providing support for Venezuela in these trying times. Since 2018, the European Union has provided a total of €156 million to not only Venezuela but to the neighboring countries that Venezuelans have fled to. Similar to the way aid from USAID is carried out, the EU’s funding goes to partners that then use it to help the Venezuelan people. The partners of the EU include multiple U.N. agencies, international NGOs and the Red Cross. The partners of the EU provide the same type of assistance the USAID’s partners do. However, the EU notes that much of the supplies go to groups that are especially at risk. These groups include children that are under the age of 5, the elderly and the indigenous people of Venezuela. The EU also provided enough aid for 500,000 Venezuelan people in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The monetary support of the EU continues to help in providing vital relief to Venezuela.

NGOs Assisting Venezuela

Other small NGOs in Venezuela are trying to provide help to Venezuelans as well. Fundación Madre Luisa Casar, for example, has secured multiple donations to provide support to the Jenaro Aguirre Elorriaga School that is located in the slum called Barrio 24 de Marzo. Its goal is to make sure that the children are provided the education and human rights they need.

Hogar Bambi Venezuela also helps children under 18 who are unable to live with their families due to abuse, mistreatment or economic difficulties. These two NGOs are just a few of many that are making vital relief in Venezuela possible.

With all the humanitarian aid coming in to provide vital relief to Venezuela, it is hopeful that the country will soon be on its way to recovery.

– Jacob. E. Lee
>Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in MozambiqueThe state of healthcare in Mozambique has drastically changed in the last few decades. While Mozambique was once a country with little access to healthcare services, the country has decreased mortality rates since the launch of its Health Sector Recovery Program after the Mozambican civil war, with assistance from the World Bank.

History of Mozambique

The Mozambican civil war that took place from 1977-1992 had lasting effects on the country’s healthcare system and economy, resulting in limited funding for health services and insufficient access to care providers.

The Health Sector Recovery Program was launched in 1996 in order to refocus on funding healthcare in Mozambique, which desperately needed expanded resources to address the growing health crises. New health facilities were constructed throughout the country increasing accessibility to healthcare. The number of health facilities in Mozambique from the start of the civil war to 2012 quadrupled from 362 to 1,432 and the number of healthcare workers increased along with it.

Improvements to Healthcare and Accessibility

About 30 years ago, Mozambique had one of the highest mortality rates for children under 5 but was able to significantly reduce this number after the success of the Health Sector Policy Program. In 1990, this rate was 243.1 mortalities per 1,000 children. The rate has been reduced to 74.2 mortalities as of 2019. Maternal health was also targeted by the program, with increased health facility births from 2003 to 2011.

Conflict in Cabo Delgado

Despite these improvements to healthcare in Mozambique, Cabo Delgado, a northeastern province, is facing one of the worst healthcare crises in the country since violence struck the area in October 2017. Conflict between non-state armed forces clashing with security forces and other armed groups has caused more than 200,000 people in the area to become internally displaced. Coupled with the aftermath of Hurricane Kenneth, one of the strongest hurricanes to hit Africa, the area is facing severe food shortages and lack of shelter for people.

Cabo Delgado has also seen a rise in COVID-19 cases and other diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and measles, resulting from inadequate clean water and sanitation.

Intervention by UNICEF

On December 22, 2020, UNICEF shared a press release on the increased need for healthcare in Cabo Delgado. As the rainy season begins, there is an increased risk for deadly disease outbreaks. It appealed for $52.8 million in humanitarian assistance for 2021 projects aimed at aiding Mozambique.

UNICEF is expanding its water and sanitation response in order to prevent the outbreak of water-borne diseases like cholera and the further spread of COVID-19.

UNICEF also aims to give crucial vaccines to children in Mozambique, increasing its numbers from 2020. The 2021 targets include vaccinating more than 67,000 children against polio and more than 400,000 measles vaccinations. Children will also be treated for nutritional deficiencies from food insecurity and UNICEF plans to screen more than 380,000 children under 5 for malnourishment and enroll them in nutritional treatment programs.

Mental health support services will be provided to more than 37,000 children and caregivers in need, especially those experiencing displacement from armed conflict and those affected by COVID-19.

The Future of Healthcare in Mozambique

While healthcare in Mozambique has significantly improved in the last few decades, a lack of health services still affects the country’s most vulnerable populations. Aid from international organizations like UNICEF aims to tackle these issues to improve healthcare in Mozambique.

– June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid efforts in AfghanistanAfghanistan’s evolution after two gruesome decades of immense adversity has caught the attention of countries all over the world. The South Asian nation has made breakthroughs in infrastructure, getting millions of girls in school and improving community development. Nonetheless, foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan are still crucial for the further development of the country.

Foreign Aid Skepticism and COVID-19

The world wants to see Afghanistan succeed, but despite willing donors, definitive complications hinder the level of aid that Afghanistan is severely reliant on. The imminent withdrawal of U.S. troops has caused violence from the Taliban to spike while pressures of long-awaited peace talks between the two powers unfold, making donors wary of sending money that could be wasted due to corruption based on past events.

On top of that, COVID-19 is running rampant and bruising economies all over the world, cutting aid efforts in half compared to previous years.

Afghanistan’s rooted systematic issues will continue to undermine any reconstruction and development efforts unless a clear and mindful plan is made that addresses the topical concerns affecting the nation and motions toward this kind of growth are beginning to come to fruition. There are several important facts to note about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

Cuts to US Forces Links to Cuts Toward Aid

To end the United States’ longest war, the Pentagon announced that a cut to U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 will be underway by mid-January 2021. This decision has already sparked vigilance and tensions between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, as there is a great concern that the Taliban will feel invited to expand its influence and interfere with hopes of peace and progress. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, urges that Afghans are in “acute need” of humanitarian support, stating that nearly 300,000 Afghans have been displaced by conflict in 2020.

Deadly attacks on Afghan forces show the Taliban’s intentions during a time where peace talks are being strained after months of stagnance and it has made donors feel uneasy about whether the Taliban could abuse any funding meant for aid. Even amongst suspicions, foreign donors like Germany are still showing support, urging the international community “not to turn their backs on Afghanistan.”

Ensuring Prosperity is an International Effort

After 19 years of promised reforms and attempts to grow the economy after the U.S. ousted the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan will still be reliant on international support for the foreseeable future. Ministers from about 70 countries and officials from humanitarian organizations have pledged a total of $12 billion to the war-torn country over the next four years, at Afghanistan’s international donor conference held on Nov. 23 and 24 of 2020.

Germany has pledged $510 million in civilian assistance, the United Kingdom pledged $227 million in civilian and food aid, Norway pledged $72 million in development assistance and humanitarian aid and the United States pledged $600 million in civilian aid but made half of it conditional on the progress of Taliban peace talks. The U.S. was not alone in donating with specific conditions. All donors stressed that aid would only come as long as Afghanistan shows that it is committed to the peace process and that all parties to the Afghan conflict must respect human rights.

COVID-19 Causes Donation Restraints

Afghanistan is one of many countries taking an economic plunge due to COVID-19. The poverty level jumped from 54% last year to 70% during the pandemic, with more than half the population living on $1.14 a day, despite the billions of dollars devoted to the country over the last two decades.

A global pandemic combined with fragile circumstances emphasizes the need for foreign aid in Afghanistan, but with the heavy burden of COVID-19, most international donors have made significant restrictions on how much they can give. At the last donor conference in 2016, countries pledged a total of $15.2 billion for the years 2017-2020 compared to the $12 billion for 2021-2024.

Past Corruption is Obstructing Development

The U.S. government’s independent oversight authority on Afghan reconstruction, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reported on October 20, 2021, that $19 billion of the total $63 billion that the U.S. has spent on Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2002 was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

With corruption forming such a stain on Afghanistan’s reputation and leaving remnants of distrust amongst potential donors, it is apparent why obtaining the necessary aid for growth and development has been such a hindrance for the war-torn country. That is why it is vital to ensure that future investments being made toward reconstruction are not lost and exploited.

Prospects for Peace

The Afghan government and the Taliban have endured a three-month impasse regarding peace talks that were finally brought to a close on November 2, 2020. The Afghan government and the Taliban are now expected to implement an agenda on how they can be partners in developmental changes and advancing realistic and sustainable peace plans.

As the world carefully watches the peace talks unfold, there is hope for a new start. Afghanistan is ready to transform into what it has envisioned for decades, and with realistic compromises set in place, there is an assurance that donors and the international community will feel less wary about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

Electricity in VenezuelaOn March 7, 2019, Venezuela entered the worst power outage in the country’s history. Plunging all 23 states into darkness, the blackout lasted over five days in majority of the country. The economic losses triggered by this event exceeded $800 million and led to the deaths of an estimated 46 people. Electricity in Venezuela has since become a huge cause of concern for people.

Blackouts in Venezuela

Regrettably, this blackout was not an isolated incident, although it was the longest. Blackouts have become a routine aspect of Venezuelan life, dating back to as early as 2010. In a country where 96% of the Venezuelan population lives in poverty, these blackouts serve only to exacerbate the struggles of a vulnerable population. They strip people of access to basic necessities like water, food and fuel. Their root causes are often unclear although the key contributing factors are widely agreed-upon.

Understanding the Power System

In 2007, Venezuela’s private power companies were nationalized and transformed into one state-run monopoly known as Corpoelec. The company is underfunded, rife with corruption and unable to recover its own operating costs. The factors creating this untenable situation for Corpoelec date back even further to 2002 when national electricity rates were frozen. In Venezuela, “consumers pay only 20% of the real costs of producing power, delivering Venezuelans the lowest electricity prices in Latin America.” The drawback to these low rates is that energy is extremely overused and that Corpoelec is unable to generate sufficient revenue to fund infrastructure investments or even basic maintenance of its facilities.

Overdependence on Hydropower

The aforementioned problems are exacerbated by Venezuela’s near-complete reliance on hydropower from just one dam. The Guri Dam located in the eastern state of Bolívar accounts for 80% of the country’s electricity production and its systems are woefully neglected. The dam currently operates at a capacity considered unsustainable, “jeopardizing the machine room in the case of a flood,” according to experts. In a region where flooding is common, this is cause for concern.

Whereas other countries that rely heavily on hydroelectric power like Brazil and China have made large investments into other forms of energy, Venezuela’s ability to shift away from hydropower is crippled by underfunding, a lack of engineering power from within the country and corruption.

Corpoelec has stagnated progress as well. The company, “paid millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to political connections,” to maintain its dominance. Projects to build new dams and other forms of electricity production like thermal or wind have routinely been stalled due to a lack of funding and inadequate staffing.

The Cause of the Blackout

The March 7 blackout that heavily circulated the news was caused by a system failure at the Guri Dam. It was initially painted as a terrorist attack by president Nicolás Maduro, who tweeted, “The electrical war announced and directed by the imperialist United States against our people will be defeated.”

The Venezuelan president’s claim was that the U.S. had caused the power outage through a cyberattack on the hydroelectric plant. However, engineers who worked on the dam later clarified that the plant’s electronic monitoring system is not actually connected to the internet, proving a foreign attack to be an unlikely root cause. The plant has been poorly maintained and neglected for a very long time. In actuality, failure to properly manage the electricity grid may have caused a fire has been deemed the likely cause, and unfortunately, there is no quick-response system in place at the facility to protect its systems from damage.

The Future of Electricity in Venezuela

To ensure the return of consistent electricity to the people of Venezuela and protect against future blackouts, massive overhauls would be beneficial. However, such agendas seem unrealistic given the current economic and political climate in the country. Rather, a focus on increased upkeep and basic maintenance of power plants offers a more realistic path forward. This requires access for NGOs to bring in engineers and consistent revenue toward infrastructure repair. Without this basic funding and commitment from the government, the Venezuelan people will continue to suffer through blackouts.

– Scott Mistler-Ferguson
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in WalesWales, one of the four scenic countries that comprise the United Kingdom, has 25% of its population facing poverty. Around 200,000 children live in poverty in the country too, with 90,000 of these children enduring extreme poverty. As Wales struggles with poverty on a daily basis and searches for improvement, NGOs in the country are doing their part to combat poverty.

5 NGOs Fighting Poverty in Wales

  1. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is an independent NGO working to solve poverty in the United Kingdom and Wales. Through research, policy, collaboration and practical solutions, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation aims to inspire action and change inside of the United Kingdom. By shining a light on poverty in Wales while offering solutions of potential change, poverty in the country can be clearly addressed and better managed.
  2. The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD). CAFOD is an international NGO that reaches out to people living in poverty with practical help in the overall pursuit of campaigning for global justice. Through donations, campaigning and calling upon individuals to volunteer in both their local communities and internationally in Wales, CAFOD looks to immediately impact poverty with positive results. CAFOD is also a member of Caritas Internationalis, one of the largest humanitarian, development and social service networks in the world.
  3. The Trussell Trust. This is an NGO that supports a nationwide network of food banks that collectively provides emergency food and support to people locked in poverty. The Trussell Trust handed out 70,393 emergency food parcels in April through September through its 117 food banks that comprise the Welsh network of the NGO. Across the United Kingdom, more than 1.2 million emergency food parcels were distributed through the Trussell Trust’s network during the first six months of the pandemic.
  4. Save the Children. An NGO founded in 1919, Save the Children combats child poverty worldwide in the mission of keeping children safe, healthy and learning. The Wales sector of Save the Children works with education, social care and health partners to deliver a range of programs that directly benefit the livelihoods of children in Wales. Children growing up in poverty in Wales are deeply affected, and as they fall behind in school due to the limited income of their parents, the cycle of poverty continues. Save the Children directly combats this cycle in Wales, advocating to the Welsh government about the importance of childhood education.
  5. The Bevan Foundation. Located directly in Wales, this NGO is on the constant lookout to reduce poverty in the country through innovation and ideas. Working alongside the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to find new solutions to poverty, the Bevan Foundation has presented evidence to the Welsh Parliament’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee inquiry on the impact of COVID-19 on communities, poverty and housing. The evidence will be beneficial for implementing anti-poverty strategies in Wales. The Bevan Foundation has also advocated consistently for social security benefits that would alleviate poverty.

The Future of Wales

Wales, facing increasing poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, finds its poverty worsening among children of the country more so than adults. Amid this poverty, organizations are working to address the situation in different ways. With the help of more NGOs, poverty in Wales can see even better results by addresing the very core and cycle of it.

– Dylan James
Photo: Flickr