Roads in Latin America
In 2010, the United Nations declared the Decade of Action for Road Safety, calling upon governments to take the actions necessary to reduce the 1.3 million annual traffic deaths that plague modern society. For Latin America in particular, where 60 percent of roads remain unpaved and the rate of deaths from traffic fatalities stands at twice that of high-income regions, this was and is an incredibly pressing issue. That is why, as the Decade of Action for Road Safety comes to a close in 2020, it is important to reflect on what governments have done to build safer roads in Latin America, and how they can continue to carry the torch in securing the future of the region’s most vulnerable.

Taking Action on the Ground Level

Efforts to improve road safety have traditionally fallen into one of a few categories. Awareness campaigns, such as Salvador, Brazil’s Life Not Traffic program, invest heavily in training drivers on proper road etiquette, as well as lobbying for stricter drunk-driving laws. For Salvador and other Latin American cities, in particular, educating the youth through programs like “child drivers of the future” is also a major priority, as traffic deaths are the leading cause of death for Latin Americans ages 15-29.  So far, the results of these efforts are striking. In just eight years since its initial launch, Life Not Traffic has contributed to a 50 percent drop in traffic fatalities in Salvador.

Structural solutions, on the other hand, focus on pinpointing areas of improvement in regard to material conditions on the road, as well as looking at safer and more efficient ways to control the flow of traffic. The construction of roundabouts to replace traditional four-way intersections, for instance, has led to a 50-70 percent drop in traffic fatalities and a 30-50 percent drop in traffic injuries. Meanwhile, increased investments in speed and red-light cameras are also yielding promising results.

Structural solutions can also bring economic benefits, such as in the case of Tocantins, Brazil, where times of rain have historically inhibited the region’s road network, depriving Tocantins’ residents of access to Brazil’s urban population centers. To combat this issue, the World Bank has funded the construction of more than 700 concrete bridges in cooperation with local authorities, which has both increased employment and the average wage of the region’s agricultural workers. Safer, more reliable roads have also meant a rise in the percentage of children attending school in Tocantins, which has had the added effect of opening up more work opportunities for Tocantins’ female population.

Obstacles to Improvement

The World Bank’s work in Tocantins is a particularly salient example in this case, as it highlights the traditional obstacles to improving Latin America’s road infrastructure, as well as the steps necessary to overcome them. For one, there is the problem of geography. Where conditions in European and North American nations are, for the most part, agreeable to road building, tall mountains, thick jungles, expansive deserts and urban centers hamper Latin America. These, in combination with the region’s low population density, have made road-construction very costly.

However, while geographic conditions certainly make the task of building better roads more difficult, the real crux of the issue lies in the lack of funding that Latin American governments are able to devote to infrastructure. Estimates from the Inter-American Developmental Bank indicate that the region faces an annual infrastructure-spending shortfall of around $100-150 billion, due to regional governments’ issues with fiscal deficits and mounting public debts. As a consequence, programs aimed at both improving and expanding the region’s road networks frequently go underfunded, leading to the need for foreign aid and investment.

Foreign Aid Successes

Indeed, recent years in Latin American have seen an increasing number of successes in road improvements due to foreign aid, though economists estimate that still more aid is necessary before Latin America will be able to bring its infrastructure on par with the rest of the world. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, for instance, has provided $26.8 billion in infrastructure-related loans to Latin America since 2005, including financing a major highway in Bolivia that should bring significant economic benefits to the region after its completion in 2021. The United States, for its part, has also recently launched a new initiative to encourage more private U.S. financial investment into Latin America’s roads and other infrastructure.

In addition to building new roads, many new organizations have also taken root in the region with an eye on other means of improving road safety. The Latin NCAP is one such organization, launched under the umbrella of the U.N.’s Decade of Action for Road Safety, which has published over 100 safety assessments for new vehicles since 2010, helping to keep Latin America’s drivers safe before they even step in the car.

While much work remains when it comes to building safer roads in Latin America, it is undeniable that foreign aid has led to major improvements for the region’s inhabitants.

– James Roark
Photo: Pxfuel

5 New Technologies in Latin AmericaSilicon Valley may be the world’s tech Mecca, but technological innovation isn’t restricted to the San Francisco Bay. Latin America is in the midst of a technological revolution. Nations like Argentina, Columbia and Mexico are continuing to invest in IT infrastructure and modernize STEM education standards. Latin American nations now rank higher than China and India in English fluency, making the region an appealing prospect for outsourcing IT services. Latin governments recognize the economic potential in new technology: Argentina’s Program AR ensures public school students learn to program while Columbia’s Plan Vive Digital finances 80 percent of tuition and fees for IT students. Those investments are paying dividends. Here are five new technologies in Latin America.

5 New Technologies in Latin America

  1. Clic Educa (Chile): Clic Educa is a modular e-learning platform developed in Chile. The program measures students’ emotional states and behavioral patterns and provides instructors with customized feedback. Teachers can modify Clic Educa’s curriculum and learning materials to best suit their needs. They can even design lesson plans for students with learning disabilities or other conditions.
  2. Emiti (Mexico): Emiti is a startup headquartered in Guadalajara, Mexico. It created a health-monitoring smartwatch for eldercare purposes. The watch includes an emergency button, and it automatically detects if the wearer is undergoing a medical emergency. Sudden falls and cardiac irregularities are among the conditions the device will detect.
  3. Biofase (Mexico): Environmental sustainability is a hot topic in the current zeitgeist. Chemical engineer Scott Munguia founded Mexico’s Biofase in 2014. It is a bioplastics firm that converts avocado seeds and synthetic organic compounds into plastic goods. Biofase uses only inedible food waste to manufacture its products. Its bioplastic degrades naturally, so the company’s operations do not contribute to food shortages or greenhouse gas emissions via waste incineration.
  4. Emi Labs (Argentina): Artificial intelligence and machine learning are transforming business and technology worldwide, and Argentina is no exception. Emi Labs utilizes a virtual AI assistant to automate rote tasks necessary to HR operations such as screening resumes and scheduling interviews.
  5. La Casa Uruguaya (Uruguay): La Casa Uruguaya is an environmentally friendly construction project aiming to revolutionize the housing market by designing sustainable smart homes. These energy-efficient houses use solar energy, recycle water and employ a sensor network to regulate temperatures and lighting. La Casa Uruguaya’s homes are surprisingly affordable. They range in price from $50,000 to $90,000 and are installable in just 15 days.

These five new technologies in Latin America are but a few examples of the region’s ongoing tech boom. Latin America’s rapidly growing middle class offers entrepreneurs a consumer base for their products. Digital transformation is well underway. Internet penetration rests at 57 percent, but 70 percent of citizens subscribe to mobile plans. On average, Latin Americans log on to the internet for longer lengths of time than anyone else in the world. The next Silicon Valley may well rest south of the border.

– Dan Zamarelli
Photo: Newsroom

Helping Latin American Coffee Farmers
The Arbor Day Foundation is an organization that plants trees in order to mitigate the effects of global warming. Its aim is to plant 100 million trees around the world by the year 2022. However, it does not limit its goals to stopping climate change. In fact, by planting coffee trees in South America, the Arbor Day Foundation devotes its time to helping Latin American coffee farmers earn a fair wage.

About the Arbor Day Foundation

The Arbor Day Foundation’s main mission is to stop climate change by planting as many trees as possible around the world. Much of its focus is on encouraging people in the United States to purchase trees to plant in their backyards. However, it also partners with international corporations, such as Rain Forest Rescue, to replant and restore forests around the world. The Arbor Day Foundation’s ultimate goal is to plant 100 million trees by 2022.

While the Arbor Day Foundation’s main focus is on preventing climate change from getting worse, it also acknowledges that trees are important to communities. Part of this acknowledgment involves teaching people in impoverished countries more sustainable ways to use trees to make money. In addition, Arbor Day offers income to any locals who are willing to plant trees. For example, impoverished families in China can distribute and plant wolfberry trees to make a little extra money.

The Arbor Day Foundation Coffee

One of the Arbor Day Foundation’s many causes is helping Latin American coffee farmers grow sustainable coffee. The Foundation does this by helping the farmers plant trees in the Amazon Rainforest. The coffee beans from these trees grow in the shade of the surrounding trees, which helps them get more moisture and ultimately enriches the soil and produces better-tasting coffee. It also allows local farmers to make more money. The farmers have to learn more sustainable growing methods in order to avoid losing the land to soil degradation. By growing their coffee in the shade, they can keep their land and sell more, better quality coffee beans than they could otherwise.

The Arbor Day Foundation’s method of growing coffee also motivates local farmers to reforest areas that had previously been deforested for various reasons. Peruvian farmer Amaro Chasquero Jaramillo is currently growing both young coffee plants and young trees. His ultimate goal is to reforest the area with the coffee trees in the shade of the other trees. He hopes that, in addition to increasing his income, his efforts will also protect local wildlife from further man-made harm.

The Arbor Day Foundation sells three types of coffee on its website, all of which originate in impoverished countries. The medium-roast Arbor Day Blend and the darker Italian Blend both originate from the Cajamarca Region in Peru. The La Sombra Blend, another medium blend, originates in La Chiapas, Mexico. All three blends cost $11.99 for a one-pound bag and members of the Arbor Day Foundation receive a 20 percent discount and a free mug.

The Arbor Day Foundation’s Goal

The Arbor Day Foundation’s main goal is the reforestation of the world and the mitigating of global warming. In the process, it helps the poor in impoverished countries learn to grow crops more sustainably and earn more money. In particular, the Arbor Day Foundation is helping Latin American coffee farmers earn a fair wage. Coffee farmers in Latin America learn to grow their beans in the shade of surrounding trees, thus producing better quality coffee and ultimately letting them turn more of a profit.

Cassie Parvaz
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Technology in Mexico
Mexico’s image tends to receive negative portrayal in news reports depicting violence and crime. However, advancements of technology in Mexico provide an alternate image of the country as a pioneer in the Latin American technological scene. Here are five key facts that represent the country’s incredible achievements.

Guadalajara is a Growing Tech Hub

Located in Jalisco, Guadalajara presents itself as Mexico’s own Silicon Valley due to its massive community of 600 tech companies, 35 design centers and four research centers. With this cluster of tech companies, Jaslico exports more than $148 billion tech products to global consumers.

Guadalajara houses 13 universities such as Tecnologico de Monterrey, which graduates 85,000 students in IT yearly. This is especially notable considering that the city has 78,000 employed IT professionals, 57 percent of whom come from Guadalajara, presenting an excellent investment into the growth of the Mexican IT community for a sustainable tech hub.

Technological Outsourcing and Nearshoring Favors Mexico’s Location

Up until the 1990s, outsourcing in Mexico existed mostly in manufacturing capacities, such as Ford manufacturing at the south of the border. Now, thanks to the startup movement in the 2010s, Mexico is also an outsourcing hub for nearshoring. This is the process of conducting business operations in a nearby country that shares the same time zone. This results in convenience, consistency and better collaboration. For example, border neighbors such as the U.S. and Mexico adopt this relationship in software development companies such as ITexico, which have relationships with U.S. clients such as McDonalds and IBM. With low labor costs and a thriving technological community, companies such as ITexico with revenues of $5 million view Mexico as a great source of outsourced nearshoring.

Technology in Mexico Receives Vast Amounts of Venture Capitalist Investments Yearly

From 2014-2016, the U.S. invested nearly $120 million into 300 Guadalajara startups. In 2017, out of all Latin American countries, Mexico received one-quarter of total investment at $80 million in funding for 59 venture deals. Viewing investments from a grander scale, nearly 1,900 venture capitalists received $22 billion in investments between 2010 and 2018.

Investments per company vary between $80,000 – $120,000. Companies such as Voxfeed provide investors with a great return on investment considering its $2 million in revenue.

Such financial growth benefits the Mexican economy as it is currently the world’s 11th largest economy. It has the potential to gain $245 billion GDP by 2025, and the possibility of being the world’s largest economy by 2050.

Fintech Growth in Mexico Surpasses Other Latin American Countries

In 2017, Mexico led Latin America with the growth of 80 Fintech companies in 10 months, amounting to a total of 238, and ahead of Brazil which had 230. In 2018, Mexico retained its lead with 394 Fintech startups, still ahead of Brazil which had 380.

Fintech is continually growing thanks to entrepreneurship to create Fintech startups, as well as low banking and lending. For instance, 44 percent of the population does not use any banking products.

In this sense, growth not only increases the size of this sector but also aids the Mexican population in becoming more financially secure with platforms like Konfio that assists individuals and businesses with access to affordable loans.

Aside from Fintech expanding the function of technology in Mexico, investors such as Goldman Sachs view the sector as an opportunity for growth. Just recently, in September 2019, Goldman Sachs invested $100 million into Konfio, a small business loan lender. This allows $250 million in loans to 25,000 companies.

Technology in Mexico Advances With New Urban Landscapes

As Mexico advances technologically, the city landscape in Guadalajara does so to sustain a future generation of tech. As part of the 2012 Ciudad Creativa Digital project, the city has undergone construction to reinvent the historic district of Parque Morelos with the aim of creating a more urban, media/tech center and a 21st-century creative workspace. Developers envision Guadalajara with new educational and cultural institutions such as the Digital Creative Institute, as well as a Middle School in Visual Arts. On a cultural scale, institutions such as The Mexican Marketing Museum and Media Center engage the public to learn more about media. Outdoor theatres, pools and playgrounds provide a recreational experience.

By investing in this new landscape, Mexico will tap into the $1.5 trillion media and entertainment sector. Allowing more revenue, jobs and new technology to overall ensure a durable urban fabric to foster the growth of media in Mexico.

These five facts prove the successes of technology in Mexico in the forms of a new tech hub, nearshoring, venture capital investment, Fintech growth and a media/tech-oriented environment. Such successes in investing and growing a solid tech foundation will allow the country to sustain a future in the continuously digitizing world.

– Elizabeth Yusuff
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

5 Women Fighting Poverty in Latin America
Around the world, women bear the brunt of poverty. Specifically in developing countries, women hold the responsibility of household welfare and the gendered division of labor; in their attempt to manage both, women face the absence of autonomy and economic opportunities.

Here are five women fighting poverty in Latin America. These women are working hard to ensure their rights and the rights of thousands of people in their countries who are living in poverty.

Mariana Costa Checa

A businesswoman from Peru, Mariana Costa Checa is the brain behind Laboratoria. Laboratoria is a web-based education startup that uses online boot camps and corporate training programs to train women in the tech industry. The goal of the company is to enable women of all income levels to train for and connect with and work at tech jobs that have an impact at the systematic level. By providing women with a source of income and the knowledge to pursue various careers, Mariana has established a company that has the potential to draw hundreds of women, and their households, out of poverty.

Claudia López

Another one of the women fighting poverty in Latin America is Claudia López, who was elected as mayor of Bogotá in Colombia’s October 2019 election. This event marked a historic first for the country as Claudia López is the first woman, and the first gay woman, elected as mayor. In Colombia, the mayor of Bogotá holds a high position, often considered the second most important politician in the country after the president. López has reached a milestone for women, and she promises to continue fighting for women by providing educational opportunities and opening up more job opportunities.

López also prioritizes fighting corruption, ending child labor and putting more police officers on the streets. With her victory, the country has a chance to put an end to some of its most ongoing and pressing issues.

Erika Herrero

As the chief executive officer of Belcorp, Erika Herrero Bettarel has been making waves in the beauty industry and the community of women. Belcorp is a multi-brand corporation that specializes in beauty products and services based in numerous countries around Latin America. Belcorp believes that women are a major driver of positive social change, and the company aims to bring women closer to their idea of beauty and fulfillment. With Erika’s help, Belcorp has been able to help support over 1 million women in terms of receiving income, flexible working hours, appropriate training, social protection and micro-life insurance.

Belcorp has also facilitated over 1,600 scholarships for young Latin American girls and trained over 18,400 low-income adult women in areas of personal development, violence prevention and economic development. Erika Herrero says that by capitalizing on the importance of the beauty industry, she is able to use Belcorp to open up more networks and job opportunities for women in Latin America, promising women a better future by helping to end their poverty.

Lynne Patterson and Carmen Velasco

Co-founders of Pro Mujer, Lynne Patterson and Carmen Velasco, are leading women’s development through social entrepreneurship. Patterson and Carmen’s work has provided women in Latin American with health, microfinance and training services that are typically out of reach to women of low-income families. Pro Mujer works with over 277,000 women across five Latin American countries to help diagnose and treat health problems such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Individuals in poverty are at high risk for these chronic diseases due to economic problems.

When individuals in poverty are struck with illnesses that go untreated, their condition further deteriorates, perpetuating the cycle. Pro Mujer promotes healthy behavior among clients by holding meetings, offering health counseling and education and using innovative and financially sustainable health models to diagnose and treat illnesses. By offering below-market prices for its services, Pro Mujer is giving sophisticated health care to those in poverty.

 

Women may still carry the weight of poverty, but there are many women fighting poverty in Latin America. Mariana Checa, Claudia López, Erika Herrero, Lynne Patterson, Carmen Velasco and countless others are making a significant difference with their work. As women continue to make progress in Latin America, the region has high hopes of economic growth.

Shvetali Thatte
Photo: Pixabay

Top 6 Water NGOs in Latin America

A number of countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region are experiencing water crises which present an obstacle in achieving the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to clean water access by 2030. Fortunately, there are a number of organizations actively working to help them get there as quickly as possible. Keep reading to learn more about the top six water NGOs in Latin America.

Top 6 Water NGOs in Latin America

  1. Founded in 2007, Water Charity’s first project focused on improving the health of garbage dump workers by providing water filters in Guatemala City. Since then, the NGO has executed numerous water missions throughout 12 Latin American countries, among other projects worldwide. Each of its projects is innovative and tailored toward the specific needs of the communities in which they work. For instance, through the Dajabon Latrine Project in rural northwestern Dominican Republic, 110 families now have access to safe and sanitary latrines. Moreover, the initiative strives to educate families on the importance of health and hygiene given Dajabon’s poor education system.
  2. Living Water International in Mexico has been working to improve water access, hygiene and sanitation throughout the country’s poorest and often most rural communities. With operations spanning from water systems to hygiene education, the organization aims to focus on the marginalized regions of southern Mexico. Living Water’s “Lazos de Agua” program from 2013 to 2016 promoted WASH (“water, sanitation and hygiene) services to 68,000 beneficiaries in Oaxaca and Puebla. The organization’s projects, such as a new initiative to serve beneficiaries in 65 Mexican rural communities, continue to emerge across the nation and beyond.
  3. blueEnergy knows that the most efficient way to create change is through community consultation and working with local actors. Recognizing the context of a changing climate, blueEnergy has delivered water and sanitation to more than 30,000 people in marginalized regions of Nicaragua. Regarding a recently built water filter, Victorio Leon, a resident of Bluefields, Nicaragua only had positive feedback. “This filter has helped me economically and helped me avoid being sick a lot of the time… now we know we can drink this water with confidence.” Indeed, according to the World Bank, lack of water and sanitation results in a loss of 0.9 percent of Nicaragua’s GDP. Promoting health, and ultimately economic opportunity is among blueEnergy’s primary goals.
  4. WaterStep recognizes that making a true difference in developing countries requires planning for the long-term. For this reason, the nonprofit educates vulnerable communities on why and how to use safe water solutions such as bleach making as well as how to use WaterStep’s on-the-ground technologies. One of its ongoing projects includes that in Ecuador, which began following the country’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2016. Thousands of Ecuadorian survivors were misplaced and lacked any source of clean water. WaterStep responded to the situation by implementing water technologies and training people in refugee settlements on how to use this equipment.
  5. Water For People has targeted Honduras’ marginalized and rural regions such as Chinda and San Antonio de Cortés, since 1997. The NGO invests in public and private sectors alike to provide proper water and sanitation solutions. Since the nineties, Honduras has seen success not only in meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the percentage of people lacking clean water by 50 percent. Moreover, at least 84 percent of the rural population now have access to improved water. Grassroots efforts such as those by Water For People are making clear steady strides towards achieving SDG goal six: providing clean and safe water to all regions.
  6. Solea Water acknowledges the clear inequalities between rural and urban Panama. While Panama City has seen outstanding economic growth in recent years, in marginalized indigenous areas, extreme poverty affects nine in 10 inhabitants. Consequently, clean water access remains a critical issue in these regions. One of the organization’s many projects includes work in Sinai, Panama, where seven in 10 people lack safe drinking water. In addition to implementing a municipal water system which utilizes sustainable technologies to pump water, the organization has supported WASH education to locals. Solea Water’s goals of better health, education and overall improved standards of living within regions like Sinai are made a reality through the organization’s tireless dedication.

What Happens Now?

While access to water has improved in poor and marginalized regions in-line with the decrease in global poverty, disparities remain. These disparities are clear between regions, where 94 percent of citizens in the United States and Europe have access to safe drinking water compared to 65 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. Moreover, even larger disparities can be seen within a given region, such as the gap between urban and rural regions within Latin America. While 96 percent of citizens living in the Dominican Republic’s cities can obtain piped water, less than 25 percent of Dominicans in rural areas have this same access.

While the fight to universalize access to clean water and sanitation remains a pressing matter, these top six water NGOs in Latin America present the importance of civil society’s proactive planning, hard work and progress.

– Breana Stanski
Photo: Flickr

 

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in South America
The poverty that affects so much of South America comes from a history of colonialism, which has left the region with extractive institutions including weak states, violence and poor public services. In order to combat these issues, it is vital to understand these top 10 facts about poverty in South America.

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in South America

  1. Dependence Theory: According to the Council of the Americas, the South American economy is suffering from the U.S.-China trade war, a drop in crude oil prices and generally worsening economic conditions throughout the region. This poor economic performance has been present in the region for a long time. NYU Professor Pablo Querubín noted in a lecture that this is largely due to Dependence Theory. This theory argues that poorer countries and regions will have to specialize in raw materials and agriculture due to the comparative advantage other countries and regions have in producing industrialized products such as computers, advanced technology and services. Therefore, because Latin America has a comparative advantage in producing agricultural products and oil, it will have much greater difficulty moving into the industrial sector.
  2. The Reversal of Fortune Theory: The South American economy has also had such a difficult time growing because of the history of colonialism and extractive institutions. Professor Pablo Querubín also referenced the Reversal of Fortune Theory which explains how the pre-Columbian region of South America was so much more wealthy than pre-Columbian North America, yet those roles have reversed in the modern era. The reason is that South America put extractive institutions into place to send wealth back to Spain rather than “promote hard work or to incentivize investment, human capital, accumulation, etc.” Yet, in areas with low population levels, such as pre-Columbian North America, settlers had to establish inclusive institutions “designed to promote investment, effort, innovation, etc.”
  3. Political Instability: Political consistency has been rare in the history of South America. New leaders would often change the constitution when they entered office to better suit their political wishes. In fact, while the U.S. has only ever had one constitution with 27 amendments over the course of about 200 years, Ecuador had 11 separate constitutions within the first 70 years of its history. In Bolivia, there were 12 within the first 60 years. This instability and very quick political turnover have been detrimental to the steady growth of the economy and confidence in the government. Understanding the effects of this issue and the other top 10 facts about poverty in South America are integral to fighting poverty in the region.
  4. Inequality: Inequality is incredibly high in South America. As a result, the incredibly wealthy can afford to use private goods in place of public ones. For example, the rich use private schools, private health insurance, private hospitals and even private security forces instead of relying on the police. Therefore, there is very little incentive for the wealthy to advocate for higher taxes to improve public goods such as public education, police or public health initiatives. As a result, the public services available to the poor in Latin America are extremely lacking.
  5. Education: Education in South America is full of inequality both in terms of income and gender. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment, an institution which evaluates teenagers on their educational performance in key subject areas, most countries in South America perform below average. In one evaluation it determined that the highest-scoring country in South America, Chile, was still 10 percent below average. Furthermore, poor educational performance highly correlates with income inequality.
  6. Indigenous Women and Education: In addition, indigenous women are far less likely than any other group to attend school in South America. According to UNESCO, in Guatemala, 70 percent of indigenous women ages 20 to 24 have no education. The issue of unequal education spreads further to affect women’s livelihoods and presence in the South American workforce. According to the International Monetary Fund, about 50 percent of women in Latin America and the Caribbean do not work directly in the labor force. However, the International Monetary Fund also noted that “countries in LAC [Latin America and the Caribbean] have made momentous strides in increasing female LFP [labor force participation], especially in South America.”
  7. Teenage Pregnancy: One major driver of the cycle of poverty in South America is the persistence of teenage pregnancies which lead to impoverished young mothers dropping out of school and passing on a difficult life of poverty to their children. The World Bank reported that Latin America is the second highest region in terms of young women giving birth between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. Furthermore, a study called Adolescent Pregnancy and Opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean interviewed several South American teen mothers including one who noted that sexual education was not the problem: “We knew everything about contraceptive methods,” she said, “but I was ashamed to go and buy.” Thus, the study advised that in addition to preventative methods for pregnancy such as education and the distribution of contraceptives, there needs to be action to “fight against sexual stereotypes.” Fortunately, there are activist campaigns such as Child Pregnancy is Torture which advocates for raising awareness about the issue of child pregnancy in South America and encourages the government to take steps such as increased sex education, access to contraception and the reduction of the sexualization of girls in the media.
  8. Food Insecurity: Hunger is a growing issue related to poverty in South America. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 39.3 million people in South America are undernourished, which represents an increase by 400,000 people since 2016. Food insecurity in the region as increased from 7.6 percent in 2016 to 9.8 percent in 2017. However, the issue is improving with malnutrition in children decreasing to 1.3 percent. Additionally, there are many NGOs such as the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Action Against Hunger and Pan American Health Organization of the World Health Organization (PAHO) that are implementing vital programs throughout the continent to fight hunger.
  9. Migration: The economic instability and rising poverty in South America have caused many people to migrate out of the region. Globally, 38 million people migrated out of their countries last year with 85 percent of that 38 million coming from Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr. Manuel Orozco from the Inter-American Dialogue think tank stated that “The structural determinant is poor economic performance, while demand for labour in the United States and the presence of family there encourages movement.”
  10. Violence: The high level of violence in South America exacerbates the cycle of poverty in South America. Fourteen of the 20 most violent countries in the world are in South America and although the region only contains eight percent of the world’s population, it is where one-third of all murders take place. Dr. Orozco went on to say that “There’s a strong correlation between migration and homicide. With the potential exception of Costa Rica, states are unwilling or unable to protect citizens.”

Fighting poverty in South America is dependent upon an understanding of the history and realities of the region. Hopefully, these top 10 facts about poverty in South America can shed light upon the cycle of poverty in the region and how to best combat it in the future.

– Alina Patrick
Photo: Flickr

Slums in Latin AmericaCurrently, one in seven people worldwide lives in a slum. By some estimates, this number will rise to one in four people by the year 2030. A slum can be defined as housing with no land permits, inadequate access to basic services (water, toilets and electricity), unsafe components (broken windows, dirt floors and leaks) and an overcrowded population. These 10 facts about slums in Latin America explain how people are affected by these poor living conditions.

10 Facts About Slums in Latin America

  1. Rapid Urbanization: South America has historically been dominated by rural living. However, in more recent years, the cities of South America have seen a rapid rate of urbanization. Urban living now supports 82 percent of the population. When people move from the countryside to the city in large numbers, there are often not enough resources to support everyone. As a result, people resort to constructing illegal housing to survive.
  2. Millions Affected: In Latin America, approximately 117 million people survive in poverty. Most of these people survive in slums just outside major metropolitan areas. These cities include Mexico City, São Paulo, Bogota, Rio de Janeiro and Lima.
  3. Neza-Chalco-Itiza: On the cusp of Mexico City rests Neza-Chalco-Itiza, one of the largest slums in South America and the fourth largest in the world. With a population of 1.1 million people, the slum is filled to the brim. People flooded to the city after World War II in hopes of work, but they found poverty instead. Today, the slum has developed a systematic way of living that mimics life inside the major city.
  4. Favelas: Some of the most infamous slums can be found in Brazil. In Portuguese, slums are called favelas. Most favelas in Brazil can be found in the areas surrounding Rio de Janeiro. More than 11 million people live in this type of housing.
  5. Entrepreneurship: While slums can be a source of hardship and poverty, they can also be the birthplace for many entrepreneurs. With so many people struggling to survive, some take it upon themselves to create businesses out of the little resources that they have. For example, Bistrô Estação R&R is a bar inside a garage in Rio de Janeiro. These small businesses bring people together in their communities and can help boost the economy.
  6. Widespread disease: Slums are often a breeding ground for disease. With a lack of proper sanitation and people living in such close proximity, illness develops fast and spreads even quicker. Tuberculosis is just one example of a disease that has spread in slums. In Peru, 60 percent of tuberculosis cases in 2011 were reported from the slums surrounding Lima. Luckily, organizations such as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have hosted several government interventions to advocate for development plans.
  7. Drugs, gangs and violence: With a lack of central authority, slums are more susceptible to drugs, gangs and violence. Many of the world’s most infamous drug lords originate from these areas and threaten the local community. While police intervention sometimes occurs, often these communities are ignored. In 2015, 47 of the 50 most murderous cities were found in Latin America.
  8. Upgrading housing: With the aim of improving housing for communities living in slums, several nonprofits, such as TECHO, have advocated for the improvement of infrastructure. TECHO’s policy is that slums of 10 or more families who lack one or more necessities, such as water or sewage, qualify for aid. In several of TECHOs projects, houses have been reconstructed using pinewood and tin. Families who received this assistance have stated that their quality of life has effectively improved after the refurbishments.
  9. Pride: While slums can be riddled with poverty and crime, they are also filled with pride. In a 2013 study, 85 percent of favela residents said that they like where they are from. This could largely be attributed to the communities formed within these tight housing situations and the entrepreneurship that binds people together.
  10. Slum tourism: Slum tourism is when travelers visit impoverished populations in order to see the areas. The practice began in the 1800s when wealthy Londoners would pay to see a lifestyle that was so drastically different from their own. Slum tourism can have negative effects on a community for multiple reasons. For one, it promotes the wealth gap by separating the wealthy from the poor. In addition, poverty tourism does not necessarily benefit local areas. If tourists pay larger organizations to conduct the visit rather than community members, the money will not reach the slums. On the other hand, poverty tourism that challenges negative stereotypes and is led by slum residents can aid in the growth of the local economy.

By looking at these 10 facts about slums in Latin America, it easy to see how these living conditions can damage a person’s health and wellbeing as well as how the residents of these slums are struggling to survive. However, by upgrading communities and being conscious tourists, these areas can be uplifted and improved, helping the one-seventh of the world that lives in slums.

-Anna Melnik
Photo: Flickr

Global Snakebite StrategyThe World Health Organization (WHO) members gather annually at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. This year’s diverse topics included snakebites.

The WHO is not always known for speedy results, due to the massive, worldly scale that this organization deals with. But snakebites was a topic that was quick to strike back. Just one year after the World Health Assembly urged resolution to this issue, WHO has launched a new strategy for snakebites and the venoms that cause potentially deadly harm to its victims.

Symptoms of Snakebites

According to the WHO, snakes bite an estimated 5.4 million people around the world each year. Of those estimated, approximately 138,000 people die each year. This new strategy looks to cut 50 percent of snakebite deaths and disability by the year 2030.

Snakebites are a common occurrence in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This is a commonly neglected public health issue, especially in impoverished areas of all countries listed above. The only known validated treatment for a snakebite is passive immunotherapy with the specific and effective animal-derived antivenom. These antivenoms are not always accessible, nor readily available in developing areas of these countries.

When a venomous snake bites, the victim has less than half an hour to receive the antivenom, without serious consequences. Serious adverse effects include swelling, pain, and bruising around the bite area, numbness, elevated heart rate, constricted airway, blurred vision, nausea, diarrhea, convulsions, fainting, tissue necrosis, and death. All of these listed symptoms can be from the bite of a venomous snake.

The Global Snakebite Initiative

The global snakebite strategy, or the Global Snakebite Initiative lead by the World Health Organization sets a multicomponent strategy in place in order to improve the availability of safe and effective antivenoms at a global level. The initiative is based on four key steps needed in order to improve these conditions caused by venomous snakes, according to the WHO.

  1. Preparing validated collections of specific venom pools from the most medically dangerous snakes in high-risk regions of the world.
  2. Strengthening the capacity of national antivenom manufacturing and quality control laboratories, and establishing new facilities in developing countries through technology transfer.
  3. Getting established laboratories to generate antivenoms for various regions of the world.
  4. Getting government and relevant health organizations to give snakebite envenoming recognition within national and international public health policy frameworks.

According to the WHO, there should also be actions to improve health information systems, accessibility of antivenoms, proper training of medical and nursing staff, and community-based education. This multicomponent strategy would involve stakeholders on many different levels and would improve antivenom availability globally.

This global snakebite strategy targets countries and communities that are heavily affected by snakebites. The program will work with the affected communities to ensure that through their health systems, safe and effective treatments will be offered to all community members. Complete cooperation, collaboration, and partnership between all levels of government and health organizations will accomplish this.

A Solid Foundation

A 28-member panel of global experts in relations with WHO regional offices, science and research communities, health foundations, advocacy groups and stakeholders developed this strategy. Viewing this issue at a global level improves community education and first response. This strategy also commits to engaging communities in order to achieve these goals.

WHO will work with specific countries to strengthen health systems geared towards improving health and well-being and reducing inequity for community members. The main objective for this global snakebite strategy is to ensure accessible, affordable, and effective treatments using the antivenoms.  A streamlined method of supplying and distributing of antivenoms will be prioritized. Along with all of these steps, WHO will encourage research on new treatments, diagnostics, and health device technology that can improve the treatment outcomes and make for quicker recovery times.

WHO’s global snakebite strategy has implemented multiple factors in order to achieve the goals set forth. Commitment from around the world including health, government, and scientific organizations alike, will need to work together through various aspects for the Global Snakebite Initiative to be effective immediately. Following the steps laid out by the WHO, paralyzation and deaths caused by snake envenoming can be reduced in high-risk countries, and ensure its community members safe, efficient, and effective treatments.

– Quinn McClurg
Photo: Flickr

JCWO and FJC Provide Health Care
Latin America’s abundance of natural resources has been the main source of income for its economies. Production of copper, oil, coffee, sugar and other valuable commodities have made countries in Latin America key players in the global marketplace. Yet, the region faces significant economic challenges and a large part of its population lives in extreme poverty today. Venezuela is a clear example of this. Even with some of the largest oil reserves in the world, its economy has suffered; as of 2018, inflation was at 130,060 percent and its economy shrunk by 22.5 percent since 2017. Infrastructure and public services have deteriorated, and health care has been one of the most affected sectors. The declining state of public health institutions affects the most underprivileged Venezuelan populations since they cannot have access to proper care and treatment. To fill the demand for accessible, reliable medical care, many non-governmental organizations have come to action to help patients in need across the country. In particular, the Jacinto Convit World Organization (JCWO) and Fundación Jacinto Convit (FJC) provide health care to the needy relating to diagnosing and developing treatments for cancer patients.

The Problem

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, rates of extreme poverty rose from 9.9 percent of the Latin American population to 10.2 percent. Access to proper health care is of the utmost importance to all populations, especially those in economic trouble. The survival rate for cancer is highest when those affected receive an early, precise diagnosis. Yet, in many countries in Latin America, the public health care system cannot provide this. This is where organizations like the Jacinto Convit World Organization come into play.

JCWO and FJC

Many organizations around the world, such as the Jacinto Convit World Organization in the United States and Fundación Jacinto Convit in Venezuela, are committed to creating scientific and health-centered programs that target the most underserved and underprivileged populations, mainly in developing countries. The sister organizations received their names from the late Dr. Jacinto Convit, a leading medical researcher and humanist who introduced vaccines and treatments that helped poverty-stricken communities. 

In an interview with Ana Federica Convit, the president of JCWO and granddaughter of Dr. Convit, she described the need to promote scientific solutions and health assisting programs in poor developing countries where patients have limited access to health services. She notes that “JCWO and FJC work to improve the lives of underprivileged and underserved populations that lack access to adequate diagnostics and innovative or even conventional cancer treatments.” The Molecular Diagnostics Program has already reached, “eight of the main health centers in Venezuela,” and outreach continues to spread across the country and eventually to other nations of the region that can benefit from this program.

The Two Programs

JCWO and FJC provide health care to the needy by focussing on providing cancer patients with access to specialized tests through the Molecular Diagnostics Program (MDP) and personalized therapeutic options through the Cancer Immunotherapy Program (CIP). Currently, the MDP has performed 1,950 diagnoses for 390 pediatric and adult patients, indirectly benefiting 1,560 relatives of patients. For the CIP, stage IV breast cancer patients will receive a new therapeutic vaccine in upcoming clinical trials.

The MDP “provides free access to early, precise and personalized diagnosis in various types of cancer and infectious diseases such as HIV.” The program performs highly specialized tests like genetic alterations that medical professionals do not offer anywhere else in Latin America. To date, the program has treated more than 390 patients mainly in extreme poverty.

The CIP “works on advancing the development of a personalized breast cancer immunotherapy designed by Dr. Convit during his last years of life.” This treatment aims to use the patient’s immune system to attack tumors and prevent the disease from recurring. This treatment is currently in process to begin clinical trials. Ana Federica describes the importance of this therapeutic vaccine, saying that “it is a simple, low cost, and potentially safe and effective therapy that is targeted to underprivileged patients who many times cannot access other treatments due to their high costs.”

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a crucial role in solving critical needs around the world, especially in developing countries with poorer conditions. JCWO and FJC provide health care to the needy and have committed to expanding their programs and uniting efforts with all sectors to continue to serve impoverished communities on both a local and international scale. With efforts like these, underserved and underprivileged communities can access the health care they need. 

– Andrew Yang
Photo: Flickr