Latin American Water ScarcityIn Latin America, the health and well-being of rural communities are threatened by water scarcity and poor sanitation. In recent decades, the number of people facing water scarcity has declined. Unfortunately, with 36 million people currently lacking access to clean water in Latin America, water scarcity is an issue that is just too prevalent. EOS International aims to address Latin American water scarcity by providing simple and affordable solutions to increase access to clean water.

Causes of Latin American Water Scarcity

While many factors contribute to the water crisis, the outsized role of climate change cannot be ignored. Recent increases in extreme weather events including flooding, hurricanes and droughts threaten the water supply of many Latin American countries. For example, in Peru, flooding left water treatment plants full of rocks and debris, clogging the water supply. Consequently, authorities made the decision to restrict water usage in the Peruvian cities of Lima and Arequipa.

On the other end of the spectrum, drought threatens Bolivia’s water supply, which is significantly rainfall-reliant. Extreme weather conditions, however, are not the only factors threatening clean water access for Latin Americans. Misguided governmental decision-making exacerbates the problem. Most consequentially, increases in deforestation, mining and the creation of mega dams have exacerbated the occurrence of extreme weather patterns. In turn, these developments often harm the water supply in many Latin American countries. Of particular concern in Peru, international mining companies polluted waterways and “hijacked” the water supply, harming the livelihoods of farmers in the region.

In other countries, the biggest threat to the water supply is agribusinesses with undue control over water allocation. This synergy of extreme weather conditions, extractive industries, agribusinesses and governmental inaction still threatens rural families in Latin America who lack access to clean water.

Health and Water Scarcity

Water scarcity poses a direct danger to human health. The most harrowing outcome is waterborne illnesses, primarily diarrheal diseases, which are too often fatal. Waterborne illness is responsible for one in nine child deaths around the world. The pollution in the water itself is an environmental hazard. The Pan American Health Organization estimates that in children younger than 5 in the Americas, close to 100,000 die from such pollution annually.

Water Scarcity Hinders Poverty Reduction

Not only does water scarcity threaten the health of rural communities in Latin America but it is also a major obstacle to poverty prevention. Without clean water, it is nearly impossible to stay healthy enough to manage a job, go to school, construct a home or undertake other essential endeavors necessary to pull oneself out of poverty.

When women have to travel long distances to collect water, they waste hours of time and energy that can otherwise go toward more productive endeavors such as education and paid employment. Areas lacking clean water are also more vulnerable to food insecurity as it is more difficult to grow sufficient crops to feed the populous. Food security, education and employment are all key to poverty reduction, however, a lack of access to water presents a barrier to these outcomes.

Efforts to Alleviate Water Scarcity

Organizational efforts play a role in driving the decrease in overall water scarcity. EOS International is one such organization. EOS stands for “Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability.” The organization’s work aims to empower rural families in Central America by facilitating access to clean drinking water through technological advances and education.

As part of this goal, EOS volunteers help rural communities to safeguard clean water. The volunteers regularly test water quality and then treat unsafe and contaminated water, usually with chlorine tablets. The volunteers then monitor the water system over time, providing chlorine tablets to communities when required. Not only does EOS provide base-level support but it also manufactures and installs simple technologies that provide long-term support for the water supply. Since its establishment in 2008, EOS has installed more than 2,000 simple, affordable and “locally serviceable technologies” in Central America.

The organization also supports economic growth and income generation in communities. EOS International has “provided clean water services including training, education and support for 1,169 communities,” positively impacting more than 500,000 people. Furthermore, the organization’s “50 chlorine distribution centers have created income-generating opportunities for local entrepreneurs.”

Looking to the Future

EOS International has made a measurable impact on the health of rural Latin Americans. The organization has installed technologies that provided lasting clean water access to more than half a million people in Honduras and Nicaragua alone.

EOS International’s successes in combating Latin American water scarcity are not possible without the support of donors and volunteers. The implementation of technologies is done in large part by people willing to give their time to support rural families. Nonprofits make a measurable impact in the lives of countless families facing water insecurity. However, their work is not possible without generous contributions of time and monetary support. EOS International’s efforts are an example of the vital work being done by nonprofits to combat global poverty.

– Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr

collaboration among young girlsThe 18-year-old new pop sensation and Disney+ star, Olivia Rodrigo, made a name for herself in the pop music industry. Her song “drivers license” debuted at number one for nine straight weeks. Rodrigo is the first Asian American woman to reach #1 on Apple Music. With more than 13.4 million followers on Instagram, Rodrigo used her platform to advertise her personally designed T-shirt, “Spicy Pisces,” in March 2021. Rodrigo has donated all of the proceeds to a program called Plus1, which in turn, benefits another program called She’s the First (STF). STF supports grassroots organizations that encourage collaboration among young girls and supports girls’ rights.

Plus1, Olivia Rodrigo and She’s the First Collaborate

Plus1 collects money through live concert ticket sales and initiates partnerships with another organization of an artist’s choice. It donates a fraction of money collected from each purchased ticket to the partner organization. Then, the two organizations create a campaign for social media.

The artist’s music tour spotlights the impact of the partnership. Plus1 executes the social media campaign, coordinates volunteers and reports the partnership’s impact on communities. Through this process, fans can continue to contribute to the artist’s selected cause. Plus1 continued to support its partners despite the challenges of the pandemic. After creating the T-shirt, Rodrigo donated all of the proceeds to Plus1 and supported STF despite the restrictions on live events.

Rodrigo’s Donations Actionized at She’s the First (STF)

STF operates on the basis that too many girls are discounted from holding leadership positions, denied the right to an education and forced into marriage. Its goal is to strengthen collaboration among young girls and support girls’ rights. The STF coalition offers funding and training to grassroots organizations that work to educate young girls living in poverty in Africa, Latin America and South Asia.

Additionally, the STF annual conference, otherwise known as Girl’s First Summit, assists adults in gaining knowledge about child protection, designing programs centered around girls and being successful in “feminist mentorship.” Moreover, the girl-led incubator program trains and sponsors young female leaders who have created projects that aim to serve young girls. The girls learn about how to develop an organization and strengthen their leadership from a feminist standpoint.

STF has also launched social media challenges #GirlsGetLoud and She’s a Girl First, which helped to overturn a law that prohibited pregnant girls from going to school in Sierra Leone. The organization reaches approximately 138,000 girls in 26 different countries yearly through campus communities, toolkits, training and partner programs. In the past decade, STF has reached roughly 167,000 girls, more than 100 organizations and 240 practitioners.

Women’s Empowerment

Rodrigo created a personal T-shirt design and used her newly acquired fame to support young girls’ education through Plus1. Many of these girls live in poverty in Africa, Latin America and South Asia. The organization assists music artists in donating financially to an organization of their choice. Rodrigo chose STF, which works toward strengthening collaboration among young girls and lends support to their right to an education. STF supports grassroots organizations that work to educate young girls in more than 11 different countries. STF also assists adults who work with girls daily in designing programs that benefit girls. In addition, STF sponsors young leaders who create projects that aim to serve young girls in communities.

Overall, the efforts of Rodrigo and committed organizations help empower young women, giving them a chance at a life outside of poverty.

– Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

USAID hurricane preparation effortsBefore hurricanes arrive, aid organizations such as USAID work to prepare for the natural disasters. USAID hurricane preparation efforts for the Atlantic hurricane season include ensuring that the organization itself and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean have the supplies and knowledge needed to minimize the impact of hurricanes. With the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season underway, USAID’s preparation efforts will help communities, especially those most impacted by poverty, recover from the aftermath of hurricanes.

The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast

June 1 marked the start of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season with the arrival of the first Atlantic hurricane, Hurricane Elsa. According to AccuWeather meteorologists, Hurricane Elsa is one of seven to 10 hurricanes expected for the year 2021. Meteorologists believe three to five of these hurricanes will qualify as major hurricanes — hurricanes with wind speeds more than or equal to 111 miles per hour.

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season forecast predicts a season with above-average intensity, but meteorologists do not forecast a record-breaking season. As with the 2020 hurricane season, COVID-19 presents a challenge for evacuation and relief efforts.

The increased poverty levels in Latin America and the Caribbean also create a new challenge for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Extreme poverty levels increased in the region during 2020 due to COVID-19, with approximately 12.5% of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population currently living in extreme poverty.

People living in poverty face more barriers in recovering from the impact of hurricanes because they lack access to financial resources that could help them rebuild and seek assistance after hurricanes land. Furthermore, impoverished countries usually lack resilient infrastructure and housing, making these countries more vulnerable to damage and destruction.

Off-site USAID Preparation

Effective USAID hurricane preparation efforts require the agency to accumulate the supplies needed to help people affected by hurricanes. USAID maintains supply stockpiles in the U.S. state of Miami, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Pisa in Italy. By maintaining these stockpiles, USAID can distribute supplies as needed.

USAID hurricane preparation efforts also include testing temporary shelter in simulated hurricane conditions offsite before taking it to disaster-prone areas. Testing housing helps ensure that people impacted by hurricanes receive shelter that is safe and resilient to natural disasters.

On-site USAID Preparation

USAID hurricane preparation efforts also involve working with people on-site in communities at risk of hurricanes. USAID trains meteorologists, educates people about individual safeguarding measures to take to stay safe during hurricanes, stations experts in the Caribbean and Latin America and sends teams to disaster sites before hurricanes make landfall. All these actions help minimize the impact of hurricanes. To create teams that are familiar with the region before disasters happen, USAID stations long-term consultants, advisers and program officers in Latin America and the Caribbean.

USAID’s onsite work in Latin America and the Caribbean creates a network of people prepared to respond to disasters. As of May 2019, USAID trained 70,000 people in the region on disaster response. USAID provides disaster management teams with the necessary information to evacuate regions before flash floods begin, the most life-threatening aspect of hurricanes, by training meteorologists to evaluate the risk of flash floods.

Hurricane preparation saves lives by ensuring that physical and human capital is in place to respond to hurricanes and their after-effects. The Atlantic hurricane season continues until November 30, 2021. With the dedication of organizations such as USAID, disaster response in developing countries is strengthened and the impacts of natural disasters are mitigated.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

genetically modified seedsMany countries in Central and South America are home to strong agricultural economies. Since the 1990s, the growing use of genetically modified seeds has challenged traditional forms of agriculture. Companies such as DuPont, Syngenta and Bater sent these seeds to Latin America. Since this introduction, Latin American agribusiness has become largely dependent on genetically modified seeds. Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay are home to roughly 120 million acres of genetically modified crops. Promises of greater yields and less work fuel this upsurge. To understand the effects of genetically modified seeds and how farmers are gaining support, The Borgen Project spoke to Aimee Code, the pesticide program director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Prosperity

Two key factors explain the effect of genetically modified seeds on poverty. The first is dependence. Code explains that “many GMO seeds are intrinsically linked with pesticide use.” Code explains further that pesticide dependence can be dangerous as “this traps farmers in a cycle of needing the pesticides and needing these seeds… it becomes more and more expensive and uncomfortable.”

The difference between this cycle of seed use and traditional methods is stark as genetically modified seeds require the user to buy new seeds each year rather than harvesting and using older seeds from past harvests as is traditional. Farmers are unable to reuse genetically modified seeds and plants because they do not own them; the seeds belong to the company that sells them.

Not only do crops themselves threaten farmers’ prosperity, but the system of genetically modified agriculture also fuels poverty. With the introduction of genetically modified seeds came the promotion of farm consolidation, meaning that fewer farmers are necessary. As a result of this farm consolidation, around 200,000 agricultural producers in South America “have lost their livelihoods” in the last two decades.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Health

“The amount of data is woefully inadequate on the health effects experienced by these farmers out in the fields,” shares Code on the issue of health in Latin America. However, even ordinary individuals can draw conclusions just from the nature of these practices. The link between genetically modified seeds and health is best explained by the pesticide use required for these crops.

Because farmers must store pesticides in the crops’ area, the pesticides constantly endanger people living around farms. To highlight the commonality of these exposures, Code reflects on her experience working in Honduras. She says, “A young man offered me water to drink out of an old pesticide bottle.” She explains the link to poor health by concluding that “these are exposures that shouldn’t be happening.”

Along with pesticides sprayed on crops, Code explains that “the seeds are often coated with pesticides, making the seeds themselves dangerous depending on the handling practices.” Unfortunately, many farmers cannot access ample personal protective equipment to protect themselves from dangerous chemicals.

Exposure to the seeds and pesticides is grave as long-term effects can include respiratory problems, memory disorders, skin conditions, depression, miscarriages, birth defects, cancer and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. In the short term, these pesticides can result in nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, anxiety and cognitive harm.

Solving the Problem

The effects of genetically modified seeds remain prominent in the lives of many Latin Americans. However, ongoing solutions aim to mitigate the effects. Code explains that the two most important ways to reduce the spread of genetically modified seeds and crops are education and regulation. As the pesticide program director for the Xerces Society, she works with farmers to implement more sustainable practices.

The Xerces Society is not the only organization working to spread awareness of the value of non-GMO crops. Civil society and social movements throughout Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala have mobilized people to protect seeds and the heritage of agricultural practices. These movements are vital for boosting confidence in traditional practices, challenging narratives created by genetically modified seed companies.

Governments from across Latin America have also stepped up to help reduce the use of these seeds. Countries such as Guatemala and Ecuador have implemented full and partial bans on genetically modified seeds. Most recently, Mexico passed legislation to ban the use of transgenic corn and phase out glyphosate by 2024. These mark positive steps as government regulation can stop the trend of high-risk genetically modified seeds that have trapped many farmers. Such legislation will protect food sovereignty and the health of farmers in Mexico.

More legislative measures and actions are required to eliminate the effects of genetically modified seeds in Latin America. However, recent years have seen immense progress in efforts to reduce the seeds’ prevalence through policy action and awareness.

– Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr

direct aid in El Salvador
On May 1, 2021, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador removed the nation’s attorney general and all members of its Supreme Court. This sudden action sparked concern regarding the separation of powers in El Salvador’s government, with human rights organizations viewing it as a power grab by the country’s president, Nayib Bukele. USAID acted on the concerns by pulling all foreign aid funding previously dispersed through the Salvadoran government. The funding is now promised as direct aid to El Salvador’s civil society groups. Direct aid in El Salvador will ensure the most vulnerable El Salvadorans receive the help needed.

USAID Projects in El Salvador

USAID’s most recent foreign aid projects in El Salvador are designed to address the root causes of migration from Latin America to the United States. In January 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that set aside $4 billion to address immigration from the Northern Triangle countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The order states that improving livelihoods in these countries eliminates the need for migrants to flee to the United States. In May 2021, USAID launched an official Northern Triangle Task Force. The task force laid out a strategy for improving livelihoods by targeting three areas:

  1. Prosperity – USAID will fund economic development to prevent poverty in El Salvador. This strategy includes improving infrastructure, investing in higher-value industries to create job opportunities and fostering entrepreneurship. The Salvadoran organizations receiving aid to implement these programs are primarily private sector actors.
  2. Security – USAID will target crime and corruption as another root cause of migration. This strategy includes increasing government transparency and making justice systems more responsive to citizens’ needs. Originally, the governmental National Civil Police and Institute for Access to Public Information were involved with the implementation of USAID projects related to this target. However, the shift to direct aid requires non-governmental organizations in El Salvador to replace government actors.
  3. Governance – USAID aims to make governments in the Northern Triangle more effective at responding to citizens needs. This strategy includes increasing accountability for government spending, improving government delivery of services and promoting citizen engagement with democracy. Civil society is the main recipient of direct aid for this purpose.

Civil Society in El Salvador

Direct aid in El Salvador builds upon a preexisting robust civil society landscape. Civil society in El Salvador first rose to prominence in the 1960s by providing humanitarian services. The Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s saw the organizations taking on economic and social welfare work to replace overextended governments. The constitution of El Salvador protects the right of assembly and the Ministry of Interior and Territorial Development registers civil society organizations under that protection. Previous administrations promoted the creation and smooth functioning of civil society organizations. However, President Bukele mistrusts civil society organizations and his government stigmatizes them.

Civil society organizations previously received direct aid in El Salvador from USAID. In 2020, $7.5 million out of $60 million in USAID funding for El Salvador targeted improving governance and involving civil society. Experts had been lobbying for civil society organizations’ increased involvement with the distribution of aid long before President Bukele incited USAID’s action and many activists in Latin America praised USAID’s adjustment. Activists expressed hope that civil society organizations from other countries in the Northern Triangle would also secure larger roles in upcoming projects.

Strategy for El Salvador

While foreign aid from the United States circumvents the Salvadoran government, foreign policy officials continue to pressure the Bukele administration to restore the separation of powers. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Costa Rica in June 2021 for an annual meeting with the member states of the Central American Integration System. During the gathering, Blinken met privately with the Salvadoran foreign minister to discuss the issue of aid. The Biden administration also decided to bypass the lengthy appointment process for an ambassador to El Salvador and instead sent former U.S. ambassador Jean Manes to El Salvador as charge d’affaires to handle diplomatic relations with El Salvador immediately.

While the programs in El Salvador that will receive direct aid are currently unspecified, the United States has successfully committed domestic private actors to invest in El Salvador. For example, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that Microsoft will give internet access to three million citizens in the Northern Triangle countries, including El Salvador. This demonstrates how private actors fulfill roles that governments traditionally perform, such as infrastructure expansion, when governments fail to provide services. USAID hopes to utilize civil society organizations to run similar programs for democratic reform in El Salvador.

Moving Forward

The Salvadoran government’s decision to remove its top judiciaries led USAID to retract its trust in the country’s government with regard to aid funding. USAID chose civil society organizations to receive aid instead and also set aside direct aid to further democratic reforms. Official plans for redirected aid funding have yet to be released, but U.S. government officials have historically seen success in engaging private actors in tasks that governments usually complete. As the United States continues to pressure the Salvadoran government to increase accountability, foreign aid to El Salvador fosters more civil society engagement.

Viola Chow
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Healthcare Reform in Latin America
One-third of the population in Latin America does not have access to permanent healthcare, meaning healthcare services and benefits are inaccessible to approximately one in every three people. Statistics have shown that less than 30% of the population in Andean and Central American countries have social security coverage. Meanwhile, 70% lack any type of access to basic health services and 17% of women endure childbirth unassisted. Healthcare reform in Latin America has become the focus of various organizations who have made it their mission to make healthcare accessible and affordable to the people in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Columbia and Chile.

Organizations Working to Increase Accessibility to Healthcare

The International Labour Office (ILO) is an agency that aims to provide and enhance social protection for all. The Panamerican Health Organization is responsible for pushing countries to reform their healthcare systems. It also aims to ensure that everyone has access to healthcare. Both agencies have partnered to carry out an action plan – the Action Plan for the Americas – that will take place over the course of five years to find new ways to provide healthcare services and benefits to the excluded portions of the population. This plan aims to implement a micro-insurance system that has been successful in Central American countries. This system helps to decrease social exclusion and increase the quality of care that people receive.

Program SUMAR is a national program that has the goal of creating subsidized health insurance for the uninsured in countries like Argentina. It aims to do this by strengthening the insurance scheme and implementing a result-based approach that uses financial incentives to promote advancement in certain regions. It aims to close the gap between the medically, financially and physically possible with available resources, and reduce disparities in effective coverage. Another goal that this program implemented is to build a primary care-oriented system that makes families and communities its priority by promoting universal coverage and access to services and benefits.

Poverty and How it Affects Access to Healthcare

The System for Selecting Beneficiaries of Social Spending (SISBEN) uses qualitative and quantitative data to analyze and measure poverty in multiple different countries. The SISBEN Index takes into account different variables to determine economic needs within communities and create accurate changes and target different problems that exist within countries’ economic systems. After using the SISBEN method in Columbia’s system, the poor population in this country experienced a positive effect in the sense that economic barriers to basic healthcare services that existed before remarkably decreased. The healthcare gap between economic classes decreased because of universal healthcare and more insured and uninsured people were able to receive healthcare. Additionally, higher percentages of people are using ambulatory services, taking sick children to receive treatment and enduring childbirth in the presence of a healthcare professional.

While the world grows richer, large populations of the world continue to suffer from preventable and treatable sicknesses. This notion helped spark change and systemic reform. Many organizations mobilized and launched different operations aimed at improving these systems, centralizing healthcare reform in Latin America as a priority. There is a rise in the accessibility of healthcare services and benefits to impoverished populations as well as an increase in the life expectancy of people who inhabit these countries.

– Annamarie Perez
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccination in UruguayAt the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uruguay had some of the lowest infection rates in Latin America. On June 30, 2020, Bloomberg reported that while its bordering country Brazil had 1.34 million total cases, Uruguay had only 932 cases. Now, about a year later, COVID-19 vaccination rates in Uruguay are among the highest in Latin America, with more than four million doses received by citizens.

Impacts of COVID-19 in Uruguay

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uruguay’s unemployment rates have increased dramatically. In March 2020, more than 86,000 citizens applied for unemployment insurance. Before the pandemic, applications averaged 11,000 per month. A complete vaccination rollout is critical for Uruguay’s citizens to return to work.

Uruguay has already started to reopen businesses, but since only about half of the country has been vaccinated, infections are increasing. In order to avoid another shutdown of the country and another fall in employment, efforts for COVID-19 vaccination in Uruguay need to receive continued support and funding.

Vaccine Success

On June 8, 2021, Uruguay released reports about the success of the Sinovac Biotech vaccine along with more information about the Pfizer vaccine. According to Reuters, Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% successful in preventing intensive hospitalization and death. Further, the vaccine reduced COVID-19 infections by 61%. The Pfizer vaccine was 94% effective in preventing intensive care hospitalization and death and 78% effective in reducing COVID-19 infections.

Increasing COVID-19 Cases in Uruguay

COVID-19 vaccination in Uruguay has been very successful so far, with 52% of the population given at least one dose of either the Sinovac, Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines. Despite this success, Uruguay is also facing a crisis as COVID-19 infections skyrocket.

For several weeks in late May and early June 2021, Uruguay had one of the highest global COVID-19 related death rates per capita. In the last week of May 2021, the small nation of just 3.5 million residents recorded an average of 55 deaths per day. Many experts blame public health guidelines that have become increasingly lax as the pandemic continues. Not enough of the population is vaccinated to support the less restrictive public health measures and Uruguay is now rushing to further increase its vaccination rates.

Global Support

The United States is working with COVAX to improve the vaccine rollout around the world, which might help Uruguay. COVAX is led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the World Health Organization, Gavi and UNICEF. Its goal is to vaccinate at least 20% of every participating country’s population by the end of 2021. NPR notes that it may not be able to meet this goal due to the global vaccine shortage. Wealthier countries that have already secured enough vaccines for their populations need to step in to help struggling countries with vaccine donations.

Supporting the Global Vaccine Rollout

According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, there are many ways in which organizations can support the global vaccine rollout. First, it is important that there is a level of trust between citizens and the distributors of the vaccine. Many people are hesitant about vaccines because they do not necessarily trust the intentions of vaccine developers. With trustworthy messengers such as community leaders and trusted organizations working to combat vaccine hesitancy, people may be less reluctant to receive a vaccine.

Second, the delivery of vaccinations requires innovation. A major problem for those in rural and low-income areas is a lack of access. Many cannot travel far to receive a dose, therefore, investing in creative ways to deliver vaccines to remote locations is important. For example, implementing mobile vaccination sites.

Finally, supporting the training of local healthcare workers in contact tracing, COVID-19 education and vaccination means more people will be qualified to address the pandemic. Thus, COVID-19 vaccination in Uruguay can continue long after global organizations leave the area, ensuring efforts are sustainable. With private and public sector groups working together, combating the COVID-19 pandemic and improving global health is not a distant goal.

Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Argentina Lionel Messi, captain of the Argentina national football team and one of the highest-paid athletes in the world, fears contracting the coronavirus. His comment comes on the heels of Argentina’s withdrawal from Copa America because of a spike in COVID-19 cases. But, the pandemic has caused more than just football safety concerns. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Argentina has been harsh but the country is working to address these effects.

Spiking Cases

As Europe and the United States see a decline in COVID-19 infections, the virus’s new hot spot has become Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), 89% of total COVID-19 deaths in those regions have occurred in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Peru. As of July 2021, Johns Hopkins University reported that Argentina had seen more than 4.4 million COVID-19 cases and 94,000 deaths. Although lockdown measures remain in place, Argentina’s low vaccination rate presents an obstacle in battling COVID-19. As of July 2021, only around 9% of Argentina’s population is fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 and Poverty Rates

In the late 1990s, Argentina experienced an economic crash that pushed many people into poverty. From 1999 to 2002, the percentage of the population living on less than $5.50 per day rate rose from 28.5% to 49.9%. Over the next few decades, however, this trend saw improvements. Through social programs such as the Universal Child Allowance, a monthly stipend for unemployed parents of children younger than 18, the poverty rate decreased to 12.2% by 2018. However, the pandemic has driven poverty up again. By June 2020, the poverty rate rose to 40.9%, the highest since 2004, shortly after Argentina’s economic crisis.

Perhaps because Argentina was already in a recession when the pandemic began, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Argentina has been especially severe. The country’s unemployment rate rose from 9.8% in 2019 to 11.7% in 2020. The International Labour Organization (ILO) predicted that young women would face the highest unemployment rate. Therefore, industries with a large proportion of women workers, such as the tourism, hotel and restaurant industries, will have the most challenging recovery from the pandemic. Because of an already unstable economy, even the nearly $24 billion the Argentinian government spent on COVID-19 welfare programs was unable to pull citizens completely out of poverty.

Alleviating the Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Argentina

On June 11, 2021, Argentina approved the distribution of a single-dose vaccine that Cansino Biologics Inc. created. Cansino’s vaccine joins Argentina’s arsenal of approved vaccines, including the Sputnik V vaccine, the Sinopharm vaccine and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Inoculating a majority of Argentina’s population is not only the greatest weapon against COVID-19, but also reduces the burden of medical care and helps the recovery of a struggling economy.

Argentina is also making progress in improving its public healthcare system. In early 2021, the World Bank Board of Directors approved a $250 million U.S. loan that will aid 17 million Argentinians through a Supporting Effective Health Care Coverage project to optimize medical care access, improve the treatment of chronic diseases and offer maternal and child health support.

Argentina is a global leader in livestock production with approximately 700,000 square miles of pasture land and the United States engaged in nearly $24 billion worth of trade with the country in 2019. If wealthy countries like the United States invest in poverty reduction in Argentina, not only will Argentina’s economy improve but more business opportunities will open to the United States and the rest of the world.

Madeline Murphy
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

COVID-19 in Latin America
Latin America is a place of diversity, rich culture and history. However, Latin America is one of the most unequal regions in the world. The impacts of COVID-19 in Latin America have amplified these inequalities. 

Impact of COVID-19 in Latin America

The effects of COVID-19 in Latin America have been no exception to the gaps that exist in society. The role of public social protection policies is more necessary than ever, given the current growth of poverty and the increase in the social gap with the vulnerable population.

The Latin American region is one of the areas that the COVID-19 pandemic has most impacted. As of April 14, 2021, the region accounted for 19.3% of all world cases of COVID-19.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the region has experienced the worst crisis in the last 120 years, with GDP falling by 7.7% in the entire region during 2020. Likewise, the unemployment rate increased to 10.7% in 2020. The rise in unemployment caused an increase in poverty of up to 4.4 points, leaving per capita income at 2009 levels across Latin America. 

The Role of Social Protection Policies

The active involvement of governments and institutions is more necessary than ever so that the region does not experience another “lost decade.” There are numerous social protection mechanisms that, through public policies, can reduce or reverse the dramatic impact of the current crisis. Progressive taxes ensure the financing of social programs, including investment in education for the most vulnerable who may see the future threatened. Progressive taxes benefit the distribution of scarce resources. 

Conditioned social policies are some of the social protection instruments that Latin America needs. The empirical evidence says that states that invest the most in social spending are also the most prosperous. Furthermore, there is a positive correlation between HDI and GDP per capita with the percentage of GDP invested in social spending.

Some Answers

At the economic level, the governments of the region have implemented measures to support supply. Low-interest loans provide liquidity to companies. However, the measures adopted marginally do not foster too much demand in crisis and a radical increase in poverty. 

On the one hand, the implementation of subsidies and unemployment insurance by Latin American and Caribbean governments represents a safety net for many families. At the legislative level, the introduction of specific labor laws has been necessary. The regularization of teleworking has been another measure in order not to paralyze the economy. However, greater aid is necessary since digital democratization is not a reality in Latin America. Only 45.5% of the region’s households have a broadband connection. To generate a digital gap it is necessary to strengthen public investment.

Moving Forward

The Organization of American States (OAS) published “The Inter-American Democratic Charter: A Guide to Political Action to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic” in late May 2020. The publication served as a guide to economic and social recovery from a democratic perspective. Subsequently, there have been concerns about the inclusion of vulnerable groups in specific agendas.

The specific agendas underwent reorganization and now have fallen to the background. Although the government is taking necessary steps in social protection, the most disadvantaged should not be left behind.

The disadvantaged include citizens with full rights who are still vulnerable due to structural and historical inertia. According to the World Bank, working women were 44% more likely than working men to lose job positions. The same institution warns that the gender gap in labor force participation may mean an average loss of 14% of GDP in Latin America and the Caribbean as of March 2021.

The scenario poses many challenges ahead. More specific social protection policies are considered a moral duty and an investment by incorporating a large mass of work into the system that consumes and pays its taxes. In any democracy, all citizens must grow together.

– Guillermo Remón
Photo: Pixabay

traditionally excludedOne of the gravest mistakes made when discussing development initiatives is presuming to know what communities’ most relevant problems are without involving those experiencing them. The members of traditionally excluded communities have the necessary knowledge to not only identify the best solutions to the challenges they face but to articulate and call attention to these challenges in the first place. Including traditionally excluded communities in the innovation process is a key ingredient in tackling some of the biggest development challenges of today. IDB Lab is an innovation lab born out of the Inter-American Development Bank Group that aims to do just this, promoting solutions that have been developed with and for excluded communities.

Incubating Innovation

IDB Lab mobilizes financing, knowledge and connections to support creators of inclusive solutions geared to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. These innovative projects target people who are usually excluded from traditional markets. The projects also target populations made vulnerable by economic, social or environmental factors. Such people often do not get to participate in the decision-making process that influences public and private services designed in their favor. IDB Lab prioritizes the involvement of beneficiaries to ensure that relevant solutions are proposed and implemented.

Since 1993, IDB Lab has deployed more than 2,300 operations across 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries, amounting to more than $2 billion put toward development projects. These have included 161 loans, 144 equity investments and more than 2,000 technical cooperation projects. The creative thinkers who champion these ideas come from universities, non-governmental organizations, private firms, and importantly, excluded populations.

The Process

IDB Lab relies on crowdsourcing so that excluded individuals can voice their challenges as well as their preference and knowledge of solutions. Crowdsourcing is essentially gathering and applying the wisdom of a group, a practice that has become increasingly popular and feasible with the emergence of smartphones and social media.

Crowdsourcing fills knowledge gaps and the people in need of the solutions are engaged in it. IDB Lab follows a seven-step process when crowdsourcing data.

7-Step Crowdsourcing Process

  1. Excluded individuals voice their challenges
  2. The group of excluded individuals ranks these challenges
  3. Creative thinkers supply innovative ideas as solutions
  4. These ideas compete with one another and become solutions
  5. IDB Lab and partners fund the winning solutions
  6. Impactful innovations are generated
  7. The innovations developed ideally solve the problems

Informed Decisions, Effective Solutions

IDB Lab favors interdisciplinary collaboration as opposed to a single-sector approach, recognizing the complexities and varying perspectives present among the challenges faced by traditionally excluded communities. Technology facilitates inclusive communication, thus, the group has a strong tech basis. These technologies also ensure democratic and demand-driven development. Technology also offers efficient tools to tackle international development in inventive ways.

Successful social innovation requires sourcing and employing the knowledge of traditionally excluded populations. The more accurate the understanding of a community’s hardships, the more effective the proposed solutions are going to be. IDB Lab recognizes this. IDB Lab finds those who are experiencing hardship and offers them a voice. Crowdsourcing techniques enable IDB Lab to identify and support the development initiatives that are most relevant, inclusive and impactful.

Margot Seidel
Photo: Flickr