The number of people thrown into life as a refugee has increased from 21.3 million people in 2015 to 26.4 million refugees in 2020. While there is no current worldwide count for 2021, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is predicted to increase the number of refugees forcibly displaced by at least 515,000 people.

What is Life as a Refugee Like?

Refugees often stay in refugee camps, which provide a haven from the violence or disaster they were facing at home; however, the conditions in these camps are far from comfortably livable. Life as a refugee often includes overcrowding, a lack of food and water and a lack of sanitary methods of eliminating human waste. Refugees may be displaced for 10-26 years on average. In 2016, Brookings reported that “only 2.5% of refugees were able to return to their home countries” and only .001% became naturalized citizens in their countries of asylum.

On average, one out of three refugees suffers from mental health challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. These mental health challenges cause some to turn to drug use and fosters a dangerous environment in which sexual abuse and assault are rife. A 2017 UNICEF study of the Central Mediterranean refugee crisis highlights that “nearly half of women reported sexual violence and abuse throughout their journeys.” Given the nature of the topic and the fact that not all refugees worldwide had input, this statistic is not entirely representative of the refugee population but does give an idea as to some of the dangers of life as a refugee.

Action to Aid Refugees

Groups such as the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Rescue Committee work to ensure that refugees get essential assistance by providing access to food, clean water, sanitation, healthcare and shelter. The U.N. Refugee Agency employs more than 17,878 personnel working in 132 countries and had more than 20 million refugees under its mandate as of 2019. Its budget in its first year was $300,000 which has since grown to $8.6 billion in 2019. Furthermore, the International Rescue Committee has made a vast impact in the Syrian region (Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon) and Afghanistan in particular. In the Syrian region, the committee has more than 2,000 aid workers and volunteers working to provide access to healthcare, clean water, education and the protection of women and children. Similarly, Afghanistan provides aid to more than 4 million people in approximately 4,000 communities. The organization’s work here promotes healthcare and sanitation in addition to reconstruction projects and education. Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Pakistan are among the top countries regarding how many refugees they host.

Additionally, with the number of Afghan refugees that could arise as a result of the Taliban’s take-over, President Biden approved up to $500 million on August 16, 2021, from the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund to aid in evacuation and finding refuge. Additionally, in July 2021, Congress passed $1 billion of aid to Afghans for evacuations and visas. Some Democrats in Congress want to add to this amount and “are discussing putting money to help resettle Afghan refugees in the $3.5 trillion tax and spending package.”

How Refugees Affect Poverty in Countries of  Asylum

Some citizens in host countries feel that refugees drain host state resources, overexert healthcare facilities, crowd schools and deplete the host state economy. The money host countries spend to aid refugees is high, but the benefit of adding refugees to the economy as refugees recover and rebuild a life in their host countries can far outweigh this. An economic impact study of three Congolese refugee camps in Rwanda in 2015, published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences makes this clear, stating that “an additional adult refugee receiving cash aid increases annual real income in the local economy by $205 to $253, significantly more than the $120-$126 in aid each refugee receives.”

The Connection Between Poverty and Refugees

Refugees face life-threatening poverty in which they lack access to proper food, sanitation, healthcare and many other necessities. The reality of life as a refugee fosters conditions for extreme poverty as refugees are often forced to flee their homes rather quickly with few or no personal belongings. Host countries that are still developing often take in refugees. While this puts a strain on host countries and temporarily increases poverty, when refugees receive the right tools to succeed, they return more money to the economy than they cost. Thus, in order to break this cycle of poverty within refugee communities organizations like the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Rescue Committee are working to provide the support refugees need to assimilate into life in the places they seek asylum.

– Lily Vassalo
Photo: Flickr

Every Last One CampaignWorld Vision is a humanitarian organization established in 1950 to help vulnerable people “reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.” Since its start, World Vision has assisted in several crises throughout the world such as the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa in the 1990s. In 2015, World Vision launched a campaign known as Every Last One. The campaign spans eight years and amounts to $1 billion. Overall, its goal is to provide relief, assistance and opportunities to approximately 60 million vulnerable people worldwide by 2023. The aid seeks to empower people “to lift themselves out of poverty.”

Campaign Context and Details

World Vision notes that around 689 million people all over the world live in extreme poverty. This specifically translates into subsisting on less than $1.90 a day. The COVID-19 epidemic has introduced additional challenges to vulnerable people across the globe. According to the World Bank, the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially thrust 150 million people into extreme poverty by the close of 2021. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse decades of poverty reduction progress globally as well as strides made in education and health.

For this reason, the humanitarian organization has framed its Every Last One campaign in terms of “life, hope and a future.” The life aspect involves providing people with “access to clean water and essential healthcare” services. Hope refers to training and equipping teachers, parents and pastors with the skills and resources needed to “protect children from violence” and supply emergency relief aid to people facing natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.

Finally, the concept of a future focuses on economically empowering people to create “improved and resilient livelihoods” through education initiatives, books and training as well as recovery loans for those affected by the pandemic. In all its work, World Vision strives for gender equality, acknowledging that empowering girls and women is essential for reducing global poverty. To date, the call for donations and investments continues.

Financial Transparency and Accountability

World Vision has provided evidence that the Every Last One campaign is economically viable. On its website, the humanitarian organization has posted its financial reports and financial highlights of 2020 as a gesture of accountability. These highlights indicate that the organization has dedicated 88% of its operating expenses toward initiatives that help “children, families and communities in need,” with the remaining 12% set aside for management and fundraising efforts.

Moreover, the organization’s financial reports indicate that it received a grand total of $1,233 million in revenue in 2020, the majority of which came in through “private cash contributions.” It has also worked on decreasing overhead expenses by 3% from 2019 through improved stewardship practices. These figures indicate that World Vision has a sustainable system in place to make the most impact and ensure that disadvantaged people receive the most benefit.

Contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals

World’s Vision’s Every Last One campaign may prove instrumental in assisting the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The U.N.’s target to end global poverty by 2030 is the first among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicated in the United Nations’ Agenda. The Agenda itself recognizes that meeting such a goal within the given time frame would require massive global mobilization and collaboration among various groups and organizations. Therefore, World Vision’s own initiative may play a significant role in realizing the U.N. SDGs.

– Jared Faircloth
Photo: Flickr

military robotsResearchers have recently discovered that military-designed robots have the ability to save lives. Humanitarian assistance through robots can help tackle poverty and provide support to those in need on land, air and sea. These robots are especially important in impoverished, war-ridden areas. Overall, robotic resources can help tackle crises that would otherwise be dangerous, deadly or impossible for humans to enter.

Terrestrial Robots

Terrestrial military robots, also called throwable robots, serve as life-saving engines on land. The robots work by entering confined spaces, searching through debris and disposing of bombs and hazardous waste. Throwable robots are light, easily transportable objects that are shock-resistant and often remote-controlled. The robots are designed to enter tight spaces and transmit live audio and video to users. Footage from throwable robots can help rescue teams locate people who are trapped in confined spaces and monitor their wellbeing until the civilians reach safety. Currently, more than 550 U.S. law enforcement agencies and military units use throwable robots to assist in their missions and help preserve human life.

Bomb squads also use military robots to locate, defuse, detonate and dispose of bombs. Occasionally, bomb squads deploy throwable robots before bomb disposal robots to inspect the scene and search for potential bombs. Amid war and natural disasters, terrestrial military robots can offer ample humanitarian assistance. The military robots can douse fires, enter small spaces and search through rubble without experiencing the harm of smoke, dust or extreme heat. The future of terrestrial robots is promising as recent innovations of better sensors and robust agility will elevate the technology to the next level.

Aerial Robots

Aerial military robots impact people’s quality of life in areas hit badly by natural disasters. One example illustrates drones transporting humanitarian aid and collecting data to assist in natural disaster recovery. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) started using aerial robots in 2012 to measure the extent of displacement and physical damage from natural disasters in Haiti. Furthermore, the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières have used aerial robots to deliver medical supplies to Papua New Guinea and Bhutan.

Aerial robots can also assist in search and rescue efforts in a similar way to terrestrial robots. In war and disaster zones, aerial robots can quickly locate people in need of medical assistance. Drones are often faster and more affordable than other modes of transportation. In many circumstances, drones can capture higher quality data better than humans, for instance, detailed aerial view photographs of flood zones and refugee camps. Aerial robots can also protect humans from entering dangerous situations. Alongside terrestrial robots and bomb disposal robots, drones can scope out potential explosives and identify the best strategy for removing the explosives.

Maritime Robots

Nicknamed “robotic lifeguards,” maritime military robots can save lives at sea. In 2016, a fast-swimming maritime robot named Emily saved more than 240 refugees from drowning on the coast of Greece. Maritime robots have the potential to endure extreme temperatures and are not vulnerable to exhaustion, allowing these robots the capability to become highly effective lifeguards in the future. Additionally, maritime robots are significantly faster than human swimmers. With this ability, robots can use heat sensors to quickly locate people underwater. In shipwrecks or other sea accidents, maritime robots can carry several people to shore. Maritime robots are still relatively rare, but as they become more popular, the robots can be especially effective in places like the Mediterranean Sea where refugees are frequently at risk of drowning.

Overall, robotics technology has the potential to transform disaster and crises relief efforts. Able to withstand vulnerabilities that humans cannot, these robots illustrate the increasingly important role of technology in rescue, relief and aid endeavors.

Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr

Humanity and Hope UnitedHonduras has a notorious reputation for high levels of global poverty and corruption. However, one charitable organization is on a mission to improve living conditions in the country. The Humanity and Hope United Foundation is working to reduce poverty from the ground up. In an interview with The Borgen Project, the Foundation’s director of trips and Honduran volunteers, Caleb Mejia, provides insight into the organization’s mission.

Obstacles in Alleviating Poverty

Honduras has been in the process of democratization for 40 years after being under strict military rule. Despite this transition, coups and widespread distrust in government officials are still prevalent. One contribution to this was the Iran-Contra Affair. Although the country avoided the direct conflict that fell upon its Nicaraguan neighbors, negative impacts still ensued. The CIA-backed anti-communist forces in Honduras violently targeted local Marxist groups and committed human rights abuses. As a result, a lack of confidence in officials surfaced. Political instability has certainly contributed to heightened levels of poverty in Honduras.

Natural disasters also impact Honduras’ ability to grow. Category 5 Hurricane Mitch made landfall in Honduras in 1998, leaving thousands dead. In addition, agriculture and infrastructure were decimated, causing high levels of unemployment and poverty. Without sufficient resources or global support to prosper, Honduras struggled to bounce back from this particular natural disaster. Then, in 2020, Honduras was hit with the devastation of Hurricane Iota and Hurricane Eta, causing widespread homelessness and destruction.

Humanity and Hope United’s Mission

The Humanity and Hope United Foundation has been working first-hand to address Honduran poverty and its effects. To do so, the NGO partnered with the three Honduran communities of Remolino, La Cuchilla and La Coroza. Mejia told The Borgen Project that Humanity and Hope United makes “sustainable changes in rural and underserved communities in Honduras.” Mejia is a 23-year-old Honduran serving impoverished communities in Honduras. “We partner with communities to create jobs that will provide for them and their families,” says Mejia. Humanity and Hope United seeks to empower people and bring them closer to self-sufficiency. Currently, the organization is working on building walled homes in La Cuchilla. In addition, the organization is also bringing a playground to La Coroza and aims to create a chicken coop in Remolino.

Sustainable and Multi-faceted Solutions

“In order to pull people out of poverty, we must create sustainable changes,” states Mejia. A major emphasis of Mejia’s is that it is more beneficial to “focus on the needs of the individuals rather than just a single issue.” As an example, Mejia explains to The Borgen Project that the organization “entering into a random Honduran village with the mission to bring clean water may not be the best solution,” as opposed to other, more selective projects.

Mejia also says that “if they were also in need of more jobs, better education and houses, a single goal decided before arrival would not wholly support the village’s people.” Humanity and Hope United’s endeavors are “multi-faceted and well-rounded.” In its poverty reduction efforts, the organization seeks to “create a sense of ownership” in communities. Mejia notes that the populations “eventually become business owners, homeowners, high school graduates” and more.

Making the World a Better Place

Working for Humanity and Hope United, Mejia describes his role as a “dream job” where he is able “to create lifelong connections with people wanting to create a better world.” He explains further that his work has impacted his worldview, and as such, he sees the best in people, “understanding that everyone has a sacred story worth fighting for.” To emphasize the passion for his work, Mejia says, “Serving people with all my heart changed my life.”

Other examples of progress are seen in the La Cuchilla village. It used to lack clean water access, with homes constructed out of mud and sticks and 90% of children unable to attend school. Since the village’s partnership with Humanity and Hope United in 2017, crops and livestock provide jobs, income and food security, allowing for self-sufficiency. The village is working on obtaining more access to better healthcare, housing, classrooms and clean water.

Joining the Cause

Anyone is capable of joining the fight against global poverty and enacting meaningful, lasting change. Mejia’s advice for supporting the Humanity and Hope United Foundation “is to take the first step and visit Honduras.” Mejia emphasizes the importance of society “becoming a part of something bigger than ourselves.” He exclaims, “see the need with your own eyes, hear the stories that will impact your heart and let that goodness drive you to help others!”

By investing time, energy and money in organizations that aim to make the world a better place, an ordinary individual can make a significant impact in reducing global poverty.

– Lucy Gentry
Photo: Flickr

Residents of GomaOn May 22, 2021, Mount Nyiragongo erupted close to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s city of Goma. The active volcano’s worst eruption was in 1977, a catastrophe that left more than 600 people dead. Nyiragongo’s volcanic activities have ignited fear in the residents of Goma who are already enduring the impacts of poverty stemming from years of civil war in the country.

The 2021 Volcanic Eruption

The Goma Volcano Observatory is responsible for monitoring the Mount Nyiragongo volcano. However, ever since the World Bank cut its funding in 2020, the observatory “lacked the funding, resources and infrastructure necessary to closely observe the volcano and forecast major eruptions.” From October 2020 to April 2021, the observatory did not have an internet connection “to conduct comprehensive seismic checks on Nyiragongo.” Due to a lack of forecasting ability, the observatory could not predict the eruption and warn residents to evacuate.

Following a government directive, after the eruption, the residents of Goma were evacuated in the thousands. Villagers who lived close to the city of Goma fled to the city center. The lava flowing out of the mountain’s crater threatened access to the airport in Goma and one of the main roads, further limiting evacuation routes.

The Devastation of the Eruption

According to ReliefWeb, the eruption resulted in about 30 deaths and almost half a million people were left without access to water due to damaged water infrastructure. Without proper water sources, people are prone to infectious water-borne diseases. Some citizens were burned by the lava and others experienced asphyxiation from volcanic gases. ReliefWeb reported that about “415,700 people have been displaced across several localities in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and across the border in Rwanda.” Aside from the destruction of infrastructure that occurred, people converging in large numbers to evacuate heightened the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The Positive Impact of Organizations

Despite the devastation caused by the volcanic eruption, various groups were quick in their response, preventing further disaster. ReliefWeb provided frequent updates on the situation, enabling organizations and individuals to take precautionary and calculated steps during evacuation.

The UNHCR was among the first organizations to respond to the volcanic eruption in Goma. The organization, in collaboration with others, looked to aid the displaced in Goma by providing shelter and relief items. Reduced funding significantly impacted these efforts. Nevertheless, the UNHCR provided “soap, blankets, solar lamps, plastic sheeting and sleeping mats to 435 vulnerable families,” in the Congolese town of Sake. The UNHCR also established four shelters to temporarily house more than 400 displaced people in Sake. On June 7, 2021, the prime minister of the DRC “announced the progressive return of displaced people to Goma.”

Residents of Goma Return Home

Displaced citizens have gradually returned to resettle in Goma. In early June 2021, the prime minister of the DRC spearheaded the phased return of thousands of people as seismic activity reduced considerably. The government provided buses to help people return to Goma. The government also declared the airport safe for landing, which further facilitated the delivery of international humanitarian aid.

Slowly, the city is returning to normalcy. Businesses are reopening and vendors are back on the streets of the city. The groups of people who took refuge in Rwanda also returned. Thousands of people have returned home to rebuild their lives and reconstruct the areas destroyed by lava flow.

Even in unprecedented natural disasters, organizations can help to avert worst-case scenarios. From the volcanic eruption, it is clear to see how funding cuts can lead to severe consequences. The situation has emphasized the importance of funding to the Goma Volcano Observatory and the significance of early warning systems.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Flickr

Solidarity Work in ColombiaGuerrilla warfare has been particularly devastating to Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in Colombia. These groups number more than 1.5 million people and comprise 3.4% of the country’s total population. Of the 7.5 million internally displaced people in Colombia, there are 192,638 Indigenous people and 794,703 Afro-Colombian people. Organized crime groups and paramilitary organizations target both displaced populations. Dr. Jessica Srikantia suggests that some humanitarian aid is inadvertently escalating the problem because of its approach and suggests alternative methods for effective solidarity work in Colombia.

Harmful Instead of Helpful

The Borgen Project interviewed Dr. Jessica Srikantia, an associate professor at George Mason University who spent years participating in solidarity work in Colombia with Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. She witnessed firsthand the consequences of structural violence on vulnerable communities.

To combat the humanitarian crisis in Colombia, global aid organizations have primarily funded the Colombian government to support nutrition and economic development. Although these organizations may have good intentions, according to Dr. Srikantia, they may contribute to ongoing human rights violations. In a process she labels “self-interested aid,” these humanitarian organizations may be doing more harm than good.

A common form of damaging humanitarian intervention is the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into local agriculture. The use of pesticides and GMO crops threatens the biodiversity of countries like Colombia, home to more than 30 species of maize. Grassroots organizations are trying to eliminate the use of GMO crops. As an alternative, grassroots groups advocate for providing local farmers with access to seeds and funding to preserve and expand the existing crops.

“Decolonizing” Aid

To conduct her solidarity work in Colombia, Dr. Srikantia had to “decolonize” her mind by learning to understand what communities need rather than implementing western “developed” methods. She stresses the distinction between on-the-ground grassroots organizations and organizations that work from a distance through existing power structures.

The first type of organization works with communities to be self-sufficient and maintain their identity. The other type tries to assimilate communities into the global economy, which can be detrimental to local culture and identity. Real solidarity happens when an organization builds a relationship with a community, she says.

Dr. Srikantia’s solidarity work in Colombia took the form of an urgent action response plan. This included organizing people, calling Congress, raising awareness and actively working on the ground. She referred to what she was doing as “putting out fires.” She also lobbied for policy reform to prevent damage to vulnerable communities.

Reclaiming What is Sacred

Dr. Srikantia believes the key to ending human rights violations can be found when “we reclaim what is sacred.” In Colombia, she witnessed communities that lived with respect for the interconnectedness of all living things. The current global development paradigm focuses on privatizing to create wealth. A better method, however, is to help communities by allowing them to keep their cultural identities and current way of existing.

Dr. Srikantia suggests that instead of trying to integrate groups into the global economy, humanitarian organizations should teach them to be self-sufficient and help them be content with what they have. Instead of teaching insecurity, which will only harm vulnerable communities, people need to learn to reclaim what is sacred: living with respect for the interconnectedness of life.

– Gerardo Valladares
Photo: Flickr

USAID in Ethiopia
USAID is concerned about Ethiopia’s civil war as the severity of humanitarian assistance needed continues to rise in Tigray, Ethiopia. Millions of civilians are displaced, and health access is critically disrupted across the region. In response to these conditions, USAID in Ethiopia officially launched the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). This team intends to mediate assistance and data analysis to provide much-needed humanitarian aid. Tigrayans continue to endure a civil war that has left millions shackled to poverty, terror and a lack of proper assistance.

Tensions Create a Civil War

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) governs Tigray, the populous region in Northern Ethiopia. TPLF is a large political party that has militarily enforced the autonomy of Tigray for 46 years, as it seeks to make Tigray a separate kingdom. In 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overtook the election and proceeded to minimize the TPLF’s influence in ruling coalitions. However, federal troops met him with opposition in Tigray. In response, the prime minister launched a domestic law and order operation on TPLF on November 4, 2020. The operation was only set to last for five days. Yet, as tension grew, Ahmed joined military forces with Eritrea to disarm the TPLF troops. Eritrean forces committed the majority of the human rights violations that followed during the five-day operation that turned into a five-month war.

Disaster Assistance Response Team in Ethiopia

USAID in Ethiopia launched DART to assess conditions within the country. The organization reported, “[DART is] identifying priority needs for the scale-up of relief efforts and working with partners to provide urgently-needed assistance to conflict-affected populations across the region.” The population in Tigray is roughly six million. Approximately one million civilians require assistance amid the civil conflict, and four million require urgent food aid. As conditions and access allow, DART conducts humanitarian health programs around the regions. Red Cross assists by distributing medical supplies and essential medicines.

The Stance of Ethiopia’s Government

Some Ethiopians feel deceived by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Since the declaration of war on Tigrayans on November 4, 2020, Ahmed has used Twitter to state his stance against any mediation offers from neutral parties and the international pressure for an inclusive dialogue with all parties involved.

On November 28, 2020, Ahmed tweeted the victory of Ethiopia against the TPLF forces. He stated, “I am pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the Tigray region.” The Ahmed administration is reportedly rebuilding the region. However, the war has yet to cease. The following are current predicaments since November 4, 2020:

  • Reports of ethnic cleansing and sexual crimes have killed more than 52,000 Tigrayans.
  • Eritrean troops raped and killed in extrajudicial massacres. They also failed to exit Ethiopia following Ahmed’s victory announcement on November 28, 2019.
  • More than 61,300 Tigrayans have fled to Sudan as refugees. Of these refugees, 28% are children, and 4% are elderly.
  • As a result, women and girls reported rape cases and gang rape by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.
  • More than two million children remain cut off from emergency federal humanitarian assistance due to families suspected of TPLF ties.
  • The government concentrates resources on warfare; thus, food, water, electricity and other health benefits are extremely limited.
  • Civilians have limited media access. Reporters and journalists are killed or arrested if they do not abide by laws set by the nation.

Progress of USAID

DART has monitored the conditions in Tigray with uplifting progress. The U.N. reports that 16% of Tigray’s hospitals are functioning. Of those functioning, 22% offer vaccination services. Thus, by increasing analysis and focus on critical areas, DART has successfully secured numerous smaller regions in Tigray. Prime Minister Ahmed requested that the Eritrean troops evacuate Tigray due to increased rates of gender-based violence which generated concern for USAID relief workers. Food also remains a critical issue. Other relief organizations, such as the Catholic Relief Services, contribute food and other commodities, in addition to assistance from USAID in Ethiopia.

Ayesha Swaray
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in EthiopiaThe ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has become another challenge for Ethiopia as the East African country faces civil conflict, food scarcity and increasing poverty. For the first time in 22 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty globally may increase due to the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia has been substantial. Roughly 42% of registered businesses in Ethiopia’s capital closed down completely and other businesses saw drastically reduced or no income. The COVID-19 pandemic may potentially reverse Ethiopia’s poverty progress over the last two decades.

COVID-19 in Ethiopia

As of May 14, 2021, Ethiopia had almost 265,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and almost 4,000 recorded deaths, straining an already fragile health system and delaying access to other crucial medical care. The pandemic has also caused delays in distributing childhood vaccines for polio and measles. Furthermore, it is also likely to increase the morbidity rates of other common diseases. In April 2020, half of all households in Ethiopia saw their incomes reduce or disappear entirely. Urban areas were formerly the foundations for Ethiopia’s economic growth. These areas have been the most affected by COVID-19 as employment and income have fallen.

The economic setback of COVID-19 may have lasting repercussions for Ethiopia’s future. The pandemic’s impact on education has become an even more significant concern. Schools in Ethiopia closed in March 2020 and an estimated 26 million students lost access to primary and secondary education. Such a halt in education puts many children at risk of dropping out or being forced into child labor or child marriage. According to a survey in 2018, roughly 16 million children between 5 and 17 are involved in child labor across Ethiopia. While schools began to reopen in October 2020, there are still concerns over the lost time and how it might affect students’ success later in life.

COVID-19 and Civil Conflict

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia may be the highest in the Tigray region. Conflict erupted in November 2020 as tensions rose following a delay in national elections. By January 2021, about two million people were displaced by the violence, many of whom have fled to neighboring Sudan. The fighting has negatively impacted the availability of healthcare. At one point, only five out of 40 hospitals in the region were accessible. This dramatically increases the challenge of responding to the pandemic and makes it difficult to assess the full extent of COVID-19 in the area.

Food scarcity is another significant problem following extensive crop losses caused by swarms of desert locusts. Some farmers lost up to half of their harvests due to locust plagues. At the same time, the conflict has made it very difficult to procure food from outside of the region. Malnutrition is a real risk, especially for children. Many families are already experiencing decreased income and are unable to afford the rising food prices. The effects of the conflict, pandemic and food insecurity have placed an estimated 4.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian Aid

Through a partnership with the World Bank, the Ethiopian government has been able to fund a comprehensive response plan to improve the country’s ability to address the impact of COVID-19 on poverty. The Ethiopia COVID-19 Emergency Response Project’s primary focus is increasing resources and testing capacity. Now, there are 69 testing laboratories across Ethiopia. This is in addition to the establishment of contact tracing systems, 50 quarantine facilities, 332 isolation wards and 64 treatment centers. Public awareness and health education are prioritized with door-to-door campaigns to reach vulnerable populations.

It is also vital to stimulate the economy by focusing on supporting the small businesses that the pandemic has hit hardest in order to see true poverty reduction. Because of the uncertain nature of the outbreak, a recovery plan will have to be adaptable. Addressing poverty in Ethiopia, and Tigray specifically, will also require a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict in the region, an act that multiple world leaders encourage. These goals can mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia, furthering recovery progress.

Nicole Ronchetti
Photo: Unsplash

The Tigray Conflict
Thousands of refugees have fled the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia since early November 2020 to seek safety in eastern Sudan. This has resulted in a full-scale humanitarian crisis. Refugees, many of whom are children and women, have been arriving at remote border points that take hours to enter from the closest towns in Sudan. Most of them do not have any possessions and arrived exhausted from walking long distances over harsh terrain. The steady influx of daily arrivals is exceeding the existing capacity to provide assistance.

The Tigray Conflict

The Tigray conflict is an ongoing armed conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. According to the International Crisis Organization think-tank, the violence in Tigray has left thousands dead and sent tens of thousands of refugees into Sudan. Estimates have determined that the conflict has displaced more than 222,000 people, in addition to the 100,000 people who experienced displacement prior to the conflict. Moreover, the loss of livelihoods, destruction of homes and lack of resources have affected local neighborhoods. As a result, people living in those areas urgently need shelter, food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, as well as health and protection.

Humanitarian Efforts

While humanitarian efforts are emerging to provide aid after the Tigray conflict, they remain challenged by the insecurity and bureaucratic constraints throughout the region. As a result, it can be challenging for humanitarian groups to access countrysides as well as Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps.

The U.N. is working with Ethiopia’s government and all relevant interlocutors to aid in the safe passage of humanitarian personnel and the provision of supplies to all parts of the Tigray region. Meanwhile, health facilities in major cities are partially working with limited-to-no stock of supplies and the absence of health workers and facilities outside major cities are not operational.

In addition, UNHCR and Sudan’s Commission for Refugees are continuing to relocate refugees from the border to designated refugee camps. These are further inland in Sudan’s Gedaref State, in support of the government-led response in Sudan. Um Rakuba refugee camp is approaching its full capacity. UNHCR and its partners are swiftly relocating refugees to a newly opened refugee camp, Tunaydbah, in order to keep refugees safe and offer them better quality living conditions.

Humanitarian Funding

In 2020, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, launched an appeal for $147 million to support as many as 100,000 people fleeing Ethiopia’s Tigray region into neighboring Sudan. In its appeal document, UNHCR said that it took an anticipated increase of refugees into account during its planning. At the minimum, it planned to be able to help a total of 100,000 by April 2021, whereas at the maximum, it intended to be able to provide aid to an influx of 200,000 refugees.

In November 2020, UNHCR began airlifting aid to refugees, sending the first of four planeloads of supplies to Khartoum. One of the flights to Khartoum brought 100 tonnes from Dubai comprising mosquito net, blankets, plastic sheets, solar lamps, tents and prefabricated warehouses. The intention behind the appeal for $147 million was to fund UNHCR so that it could help Sudan manage the humanitarian crisis over the following six months.

Looking Ahead

CSW’s founder and president, Mervyn Thomas, urged Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, to prioritize the protection of refugees within Ethiopia’s borders. These refugees’ forcible return to a country that many deem to have committed crimes against humanity is an appalling violation of international law and humanitarian norms.

Abiy Ahmed needs to take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict and enter into meaningful dialogue with regional representatives who the people of Tigray recognize. People can also call on the government of Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Tigray immediately and end its egregious violations of the rights of Eritreans, both at home and abroad. More nations also need to step up their humanitarian support for the region, including Sudan, which is suffering the brunt of the refugee wave from Tigray.

Aining Liang
Photo: Flickr

Acute Hunger in the DRCAbout one in three people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) suffers from acute hunger, warns both the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). A WFP representative within the DRC states that the extent of food insecurity in the country is “staggering.” Armed conflict in the east, COVID-19 and economic decline are all contributing factors to the prevalence of acute hunger in the DRC.

March 2021 IPC Snapshot

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification has released a snapshot of the state of acute food insecurity in the DRC as of March 2021. The snapshot estimates that about 27.3 million people living in the DRC are suffering from crisis levels (IPC Phase 3 or higher) of acute food insecurity. The IPC scale ranges from acceptable (IPC Phase 1) to catastrophe or famine (IPC Phase 5). Between August and December 2021, the snapshot projects that roughly 26.2 million will be in high acute food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4). Furthermore, more than 5.6 million of these people will experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of acute food insecurity.

Organizations Provide Assistance

There are approximately 5.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) living within the DRC as a result of an ongoing armed conflict. The conflict in the eastern DRC consists of roughly 120 different armed groups, each displacing people and preventing access to workable fields. The DRC has 80 million hectares of farmable land, of which, only 10% is currently being used. The farmable land in the DRC has the potential to feed more than two billion people.

Organizations like the WFP and the FAO are both working in the DRC to help the vulnerable populations suffering from food insecurity. The WFP is working in the seven most populated provinces affected by the ongoing conflict. Furthermore, the WFP has been working with other organizations like the FAO to provide an emergency response by aiding farmers in improving their self-sufficiency, yield and resilience to shock. The WFP also addressed malnutrition by providing specialized food to children under the age of 5 and pregnant and nursing mothers.

Other programs include providing meals to students to encourage school attendance, empowering women and rebuilding local infrastructure to decrease vulnerability to disease and conflict. The FAO has been working to restore agriculture-based livelihoods and diversify local agriculture by training farmers, providing livestock and teaching sustainable farming techniques.

The Future of the DRC

Armed conflict and erratic rainfall coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have deteriorated the already difficult situation in the DRC. The number of people suffering from crisis level or higher acute food insecurity has risen from 21.8 million between July and December 2020 to 27.3 million people in the first half of 2021. The global humanitarian response to the ongoing crisis of acute hunger in the DRC has focused on strengthening agriculture in the country and combating malnutrition. The FAO is requesting $65 million in its 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan to continue supporting the Congolese people during their time of crisis. Continued humanitarian support is crucial to stabilizing the situation and ending acute hunger in the DRC.

Gerardo Valladares
Photo: Flickr