Social Inclusion
Latin America is known for its poor record of income equality, but the 2014 Social Inclusion Index from Americas Quarterly reveals that in terms of civil, women’s and LGBT rights, several Latin American nations outstrip even the United States.

The Index pulls together data on 21 different variables, including GDP growth, enrollment in secondary school, access to housing and formal employment, financial inclusion by gender and political rights, to name a few.

The Social Inclusion Index approaches development from a multidimensional perspective, considering many factors that go beyond the scope of cut-and-dried economic growth.  This year’s report is the third in the Americas Quarterly series and it reveals an encouraging amount of poverty reduction and social inclusion in the region.

Uruguay remains at the top of the Index, receiving high scores in women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights and formal job access. According to the Index, the U.S. lags behind four Latin American countries on women’s rights, including Uruguay, Costa Rica, Argentina and Peru.

Argentina and Costa Rica are tied in second place, scoring well due to high spending on social programs and women’s rights. The United States falls into fourth place because, although its social spending is the highest in the region, murder rates, particularly femicide, remain high, as well.

The report also points out that some of the region’s larger economic powers like Brazil and Mexico could greatly improve their scores by placing more emphasis on women’s rights, access to education and access to formal jobs. For example, only 37 percent of the working population in Mexico has access to formal employment. Increasing this number has great potential to reduce poverty.

Significant economic growth and increasing stability in Latin America means that more and more people are emerging from poverty and entering the middle class. This trend is allowing for important conversations on social inclusion to take place.

There are still many gaps in security, gender equality and inclusiveness in Latin America. The region remains the planet’s murder capital and violence against women is rampant. Yet the Social Inclusion Index does reveal positive change and provides valuable direction for further progress.

-Kayla Strickland

Sources: Americas Quarterly, VOXXI, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Global Public Square

Development in Latin America
Multidimensional poverty is a widespread problem throughout Latin American and the Caribbean, marked by deficiencies in education, health and standards of living. In 14 countries in the region, close to seven percent of the population is familiar with this degree of poverty and an additional 9.5 percent stands on the brink.

United Nation Development Programme expert Alfredo González stated that “there are 45 million people that are living at the limits of their capacities and could fall back into poverty if faced with a negative shock.”

Such a shock could be caused by anything from a financial crisis, such as Argentina’s newest default debacle, to environmental catastrophe, seen in severe flooding and droughts throughout the region.

The UNDP reports that, while Latin America continues to enjoy the greatest amount of human development of any developing region in the world, this progress is being threatened by inequality and a lack of access to formal employment.

In fact, since 2008, the region’s progress toward human development has slowed by 25 percent according to UNDP figures.

The UNDP’s yearly Human Development Index, calculated based on a combination of factors including life expectancy, educational opportunity and purchasing power, rates the long term human development of every nation on a scale of zero being the worst to one being the best.

Chile, Cuba and Argentina topped the region’s HDI charts with respective scores of 0.82, 0.81 and 0.80, while Haiti, Nicaragua and Honduras came in last place.

This year’s HDI report highlights the important role formal employment plays in human development in Latin America. Increased incomes, gainfully employed youth and increased labor regulation are all benefits that communities stand to gain from better access to full employment.

Liliana Rendón, economics professor at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, observes that “the poor do not only suffer from an income deficit; poverty also includes shortcomings in healthcare, education and other problems. Income must translate into wellbeing, taking social, environmental and policy aspects into consideration.”

In order to make strides toward greater wellbeing the UNDP recommends that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean push for policies that facilitate universal access to social services, which, in turn, may serve to bolster formal employment and lift more people out of poverty.

-Kayla Strickland

Sources: Independent European Daily Express, Nearshore Americas, Buenos Aires Herald
Photo: The Guardian

debt crisis
For the second time in 13 years, and the eighth time in its national history, Argentina is defaulting on internationally held bond payments. The default has been accompanied by negotiations in New York between Argentina’s economy minister, Axel Kicillof, and U.S. bond holders, raising considerable disagreement concerning hedge funds, external bonds and what the word “default” actually means.

No agreement has yet been reached, and the Republic of Argentina is now considered to be in selective default, having failed to pay interest on some of its debt.

Attorney Daniel Pollack, the court-appointed mediator during the proceedings in New York, outlines what this means for the various parties involved:

“Default is not a mere ‘technical’ condition, but rather a real and painful event that will hurt real people: these include all ordinary Argentine citizens, the exchange bondholders (who will not receive their interest) and the holdouts (who will not receive payment of the judgments they obtained in court).”

Pollack goes on to observe that “the full consequences of default are not predictable, but they certainly are not positive.”

These economic decisions made by South America’s third largest country certainly have noticeable effects on the pockets of its citizenry.

Argentina’s 2001 default involving $95 billion worth of failed payments on internationally-held debt triggered a nationwide recession and sparked deadly violence. It was during this period of economic hardship that cartoneros started filling the streets of Argentina’s cities.

The cartoneros spend their days pulling large carts through city streets, collecting paper, cardboard, glass and other recyclable materials. Each evening they exchange their harvest at a wholesaler, receiving 6 pesos, equal to about 75 cents, for every 10 kilograms of material they collect.

The cartoneros have become a symbol of economic crisis in Argentina. Their presence is a reminder that the country’s national debt crisis does have consequences for its citizens – in the case of Argentina, financial blows over the past two decades have cast many middle class families into poverty and made life even harder for those already struggling to make ends meet.

Kayla Strickland

Sources: Deutsche Welle, Financial Times, Business Week, Business Week 2
Photo: Treehugger

food insecurity
A study done by Oxfam finds that large agricultural companies are displacing small farmers in Latin America, creating food insecurity and hindering community development.

Latin America is a region rich with fertile land for crops. Enough food is produced every year to ensure each individual has enough to eat, but the crops are not reaching the hands of its hungry farmers.

The central-west region of Brazil produced 78.5 million tons of soybeans and maize in 2013, a record for the country. Most of the crops, however, did not return to those who farmed them, but were exported to produce biofuels.

Agribusiness has not only had a negative effect on Latin America’s hungry, but also on the environment. Natural resources are contaminated and soil is becoming infertile. As a result, food prices have increased.

Agroecology is emerging as an answer to the problems agribusiness creates. Defined by Agroecology in Action, it is “concerned with the maintenance of a productive agriculture that sustains yields and optimizes the use of local resources while minimizing the negative environmental and socio-economic impacts of modern technologies.”

In other words, agroecology is an interdisciplinary approach to agriculture that takes into account communities, social conditions, environmental health and production. At its base are small farmers,  a sector agribusiness has ignored.

The largest supermarket chain in Ecuador decided in 2002 to make a shift from 2,500 small producers to 250 large producers. This move has caused many families who hold small farms to suffer.

“I used to work in a big farm, applying pesticides,” says Emilia Alves Manduca, a farmer in the central-west region of Brazil, “I had to go to the hospital twice because of the side effects.”

Manduca spoke at an agroecology conference, where she shared the success story of her community, Mato Grosso. By moving away from the monoculture design of big agriculture business, and growing more than 30 types of crops with no pesticides, Mato Grosso became a self-sufficient community and brought itself out of poverty in six years.

As the Guardian writes, “the problem of hunger [in Latin America] is not due to lack of food, but a lack of access for the poorest.” Agroecology ensures that land and healthy agricultural practices are accessible to all levels of society, including the poorest. The result will be more communities like Mato Grosso.

“Agroecology is the only viable option to meet the region’s food needs in this age of increasing oil prices and global climate change,” says Miguel Altieri, professor of Agrecology at the University of Berkeley.

– Julianne O’Connor

Sources: Agroecology in Action, Oxfam, The Guardian
Photo: The Alternative

The World Bank reports that low teacher effectiveness causes children attending public schools in Latin America and the Caribbean to miss the equivalent of one school day every week. Public education in Latin America is plagued by teacher absenteeism, low pay and poor school leadership; all contribute to this troubling inefficiency.

Latin America has enjoyed significant growth in recent years, paving the way for the reduction of poverty and inequality, yet in order for the region’s economic engine to continue running efficiently, its youth must have access to educational resources.

The recent World Bank study, “Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean,” draws on data from over 14,000 classrooms in seven countries in the region. It seeks to determine how teachers, who make up 20 percent of Latin America’s labor force, can improve their performance given the significant role they play in regional economic development.

Barbara Burns, the author of the report, states that “virtually all countries in the region appear trapped in a low-level equilibrium of low standards for entry into teaching, relatively low and undifferentiated salaries, weak instruction in the classroom and poor educational outcomes … moving to a high-level equilibrium will be difficult but it is an effort that the region can’t afford to postpone.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, a standardized assessment of students on a global scale, reveals that Latin American and Caribbean children fall short in the middle-income category, yet researchers estimate that if Mexico raised its PISA performance to the level attained by the average German student, the country’s gross domestic product could jump two percentage points.

The World Bank publication determines that public schools in Latin America need better and younger teachers. Teacher salaries in the region are consistently lower than salaries in other professional fields, meaning motivation can be lacking. Additionally, data from university entrance exams show that although students pursuing education degrees receive high levels of formal education, they have been found to possess weaker cognitive skills.

The good news is that teacher quality has become a major development focus of Latin American countries in recent years, while researchers and academics are communicating just how essential education is to continued economic development and poverty reduction.

Kayla Strickland

Sources: Kansas City infoZine, Plano Informativo
Photo: Plano Informativo

Our knowledge of HIV/AIDS is continuously expanding 30 years into the AIDS epidemic. Researchers are discovering that–given the right treatment and precautions–people living with HIV can greatly reduce the risk of transmission to partners and can even safely conceive and give birth. Yet many health care providers in Central America are misguidedly pressuring HIV-positive women into sterilization.

Tamil Kendall, a Harvard School of Public Health research fellow with 10 years of experience in gender and HIV in Latin America, reports that “health care providers [in Central America] are expressing the view that living with HIV means that you don’t have reproductive rights, that you can’t choose the number and spacing of your children, that you can’t choose the contraceptive method that you would like to use.”

Kendall is the driving force behind a recently-published study on health care practices in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua, one which reveals antiquated attitudes toward HIV and troubling reproductive rights violations throughout the region.

The results show that, out of the 285 women studied across the four Central American countries, 23 percent have been pressured by health care professionals to go through a sterilization procedure. Rates in individual countries range from 20 percent in Nicaragua to 28 percent in Mexico. Additionally, only half of the women surveyed reported being told that an intervention in the form of antiretroviral drugs exists, which can reduce mother-to-child transmission of the virus by 98 to 99 percent.

Women with HIV are coerced by doctors and nurses unethically. Kendall reports that one Mexican woman was sterilized while under anesthetics during a Caesarian section. Another young mother from El Salvador claimed that doctors refused to perform a Caesarian until she consented to sterilization. Many women are told that another pregnancy will result in their own or their child’s death.

Kendall’s study reveals that socioeconomic status and ethnicity do not play a part in this kind of discrimination and that it is driven solely by an HIV-positive diagnosis.

Yet amid this troubling news, there is reason for optimism. As Kendall observes, “There is some promising research… indicating that health care providers are becoming increasingly aware of the possibility of preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission as well as sexual transmission with antiretroviral therapy—and that this knowledge is starting to transform attitudes.”

Moving forward, she recommends that health care providers be held accountable for their actions in courts, and that policy makers become aware of new research on HIV/AIDS and begin investing more in reproductive health and women’s rights.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, Harvard School of Public Health
Photo: Fabulous-City

Dangerous Roads
A recent study by the University of Michigan has found that Africa, Latin America and the Middle East host the world’s most dangerous roads, and that traffic accidents in developing nations claim more victims than in wealthier countries.

Similar conclusions have recently been drawn by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) which specifically examined this year’s mortality rates due to traffic accidents in Latin America. The FIA study reports that Brazil has the worst record, at 20 traffic-related deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

FIA regional representative Leandro Perillo of Argentina observes that “the biggest problem we face [in Latin America] is the lack of enforcement of the rules.”

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) sees dangerous roads as a serious development issue in Latin America, reporting that “at 17 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, this region’s roadway fatality rate is nearly double that of higher income countries.”

Leading reasons for this discrepancy besides lax law enforcement include roadways clogged with bicycles, motorcycles and all around bad driving. Anyone who has traveled throughout Latin America understands that traffic lights, lane markers and warning signs are more like suggestions than rules. Poor infrastructure, including the infamous baches (potholes that many times resemble sinkholes) and lomadas (mountainous, unmarked speed bumps,) can also play a part in driving accidents.

Automobile wrecks take more lives in Latin America each day than does HIV/AIDS, and road incidents kill 100,000 people every year in Latin America and the Caribbean. Additionally, car crashes have become the leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 and 29.

Injuries due to poor roads and bad drivers also have a high social and economic cost. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that Latin America loses two percent of its GDP to traffic accidents each year.

Speaking on the importance of road safety in Latin America, IDB Transport Division Chief Nestor Roa states that “when it comes to improving road safety, isolated efforts will only get us so far. Curbing our region’s high traffic death rates requires making this issue a priority for our national development agendas and committing everyone to achieve this goal.”

The IDB is becoming more involved in the region’s transportation situation, performing vehicle evaluations and overseeing the design of better roadways. The institution states that successful confrontation of this issue will require “the coordination and collaboration of virtually all sectors of society, from governments to schools, NGOs, motor vehicle manufacturers, drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians.”

Although road safety is not typically seen as a central development concern, addressing this issue will help pave the way to a safer and healthier future for developing nations.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Global Post, University of Michigan, Inter-American Development Bank
Photo: GravityBolivia

The 44th General Assembly of the Organization of American States convened in Asunción, Paraguay at the beginning of June to discuss regional issues and development. The main themes throughout the Assembly were social inclusion and indigenous rights, which are deep issues that have long held Latin America back from healthy democratic, economic and social advancement.

Several countries are leading the march toward greater social inclusion, especially for indigenous populations. Indigenous rights, including self-determination, autonomy, territorial and natural resource rights and recognition of indigenous tongues and official languages, have been written into the Constitution of Bolivia.

Across the border in Paraguay where the OAS Assembly took place, the indigenous Guaraní language shares official status with Spanish. Paraguay is the only Latin American country where a majority of the population, 90 percent in this case, speaks a single indigenous language. This is a significant accomplishment considering indigenous peoples only make up about five percent of the population. Guaraní is treasured and spoken by street vendors, rural campesinos, businesspeople and government officials alike.

In countries like Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador, indigenous groups are not only tolerated, but they play an integral part in the social fabric of the nation. Their rights are inscribed into law by the state and respected.

Yet the region still has great potential for improved social equality. “About a third of Latin America’s population lives in households with an income of between $4 and $10 dollars a day,” reports OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. “They have escaped the poverty that still afflicts more than 167 million Latin Americans, but to call them the ‘middle sector’ makes no sense. In truth, they are the millions of ‘not poor’ people, who occupy an income level that keeps them extremely vulnerable.”

Insulza points out that certain groups, including women, indigenous peoples, migrants, Afro-Americans, the poor and the disabled start from a disadvantaged position, which translates into unequal access to services, education and employment.

In order to continue producing the kind of growth praised by the OAS, the governments of Latin America must pursue policies that promote social inclusion over simply economic advancement.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Deutshe Welle, U.S. Department of State, The New York Times
Photo: OAS

food for the poor, inc.
Food for the Poor, Inc., or FFP, is a Christian-owned and operated nonprofit community dedicated to feeding the poor in Latin America and Caribbean countries.

The nonprofit believes in the power of prayer and donations or gifts to help feed starving children in 17 different countries in order to make their lives better one day at a time.

FFP’s ministry reflects their belief in God’s unconditional love; they inspire trust and faith, and embrace all people, regardless of race or status. It is their belief that Christ is alive and well in their ministry, and that they can best serve him by assisting those in greatest need.

FFP began their work in Coconut Creek, Fla., and it is their current headquarters where they hold daily prayer services. They encourage all members and volunteers of the nonprofit to pray for those in dire need daily because prayer is a fundamental part of their ministry.

The nonprofit also sends out monthly devotionals and weekly prayers in order to set their volunteers and members on the right path as to who has the greatest need. They take prayer requests through the postal service, by telephone and by email in order to best serve the people for whom they pray daily.

FFP addresses issues such as starvation, deforestation, lack of education and many other hardships that may be detrimental to the well-being of the countries they serve.

The nonprofit uses donations and the prayers and faith of their members to help put an end to the largest issue of global poverty. Through donations of gifts, people can help someone eat, get out of poverty or stop deforestation of the rainforests in Latin America.

The charity is in good standing and has great ratings on nonprofit tracker websites. According to Charity Navigator, they put nearly 96 percent of all gifts or donations received toward programs to put an end to global poverty, deforestation and more.

Through the power of faith, donations and prayer, FFP provides a fresh new perspective on how to go about providing aid to those in need.

— Cara Morgan

Sources: Food for the Poor, Charity Navigator
Photo: Empire Press

Global Poverty Statistics
According to the Global Poverty Statistics for 2013, nearly half of the world’s population, (that’s more than 3 billion people,) can live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, which is less than $1.25 a day.

As of 2013, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, there are roughly 870 million people on the planet who suffer from chronic malnourishment; this is a large part of what makes up global poverty. This means, that 1 in 8 people suffer from not having enough food to eat.

However, there was some good news for malnourished and impoverished people in Asia and the Pacific. Asia saw new socio-economic advancements in 2013, which decreased those who suffered from severe malnourishment by 30 percent.

Latin America and the Caribbean also saw improvements in 2013. The chronic malnourished of Latin America and the Caribbean fell from 65 million to 49 million. That means where there used to be 15 percent of the population suffering from undernourishment, there is now only 8 percent of the population suffering.

In Africa in 2013, however, the number of people hungry and chronically undernourished grew by 2 percent over the period of a year. The conditions of neither the African people nor their economic status has improved much in the past several years. In this case, the number of chronic malnourished people rose from 175 million in 2013, to 239 million in 2013.

More women are hungry than men; 60 percent of women go hungry to 40 percent of men. Many women who are pregnant will still be malnourished due to a lack of maternal care being offered in their countries. This means, annually, 240,000 women will die in childbirth.

According to global poverty statistics from UNICEF, one billion children in the world today are faced with extreme global poverty, and 22,000 will die each day due to the impoverished conditions of their countries.

Due to global poverty, many children and their families cannot afford vaccinations that would fight off and prevent disease. This means, thousands, if not millions, of children will die this year alone due to preventable causes such as malaria, polio or hunger.

As the World Food Programme said, “The poor are hungry and their hunger traps them in poverty.” Hunger is the number one cause of death in the world, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

According to the global poverty statistics of 2013, malnourishment is one of the most dangerous things facing the world’s impoverished peoples. Starvation, malnourishment and unclean drinking water kill more people than almost anything else in the world. Every single one of those problems is preventable through advocacy and donations.

According to poverty facts, 1.6 billion people, or a quarter of the entire world’s population, lives without electricity in addition to facing extreme poverty and hardship.

The world’s poor should not have to live in a world of darkness and fear of where their next meal will come from. Every single problem the impoverished world faces can be prevented through advocacy and donations.

 — Cara Morgan

Sources: DoSomething, The Hunger Project, World Hunger
Photo: Flickr