floods in southeast asiaTraditionally, the people of Southeast Asia benefitted from small floods that enriched the soil and prevented bigger floods. However, human interference with the rivers has disrupted their natural ecological processes and increased long-term damage. The disruption of crops, destruction of land and the displacement of people due to flooding increases poverty, especially during Southeast Asia’s current economic crisis. Mitigating steps are necessary to prevent the harmful effects of floods in Southeast Asia.

Destructive Floods in Vietnam

In October 2020, heavy rains in Vietnam caused massive flooding that destroyed homes, land and agriculture. A massive 178,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 700,000 livestock fell victim to the floodwaters.

Described by the president of the Vietnam Red Cross Society as “some of the worst we’ve seen in decades”, the floods in Vietnam have affected around five million Vietnamese people, which will push more people toward poverty.

Urban Flooding in Cambodia

In Cambodia, cities such as Phnom Penh suffer from the effects of urban flooding. Urban flooding is unpredictable and has wide-ranging consequences, from the disruption of everyday life to the spreading of waterborne diseases. As is commonly associated with climate change, the poor are hurt the most by urban flooding, for their ability to prepare and recover from damages is significantly weaker than other classes.

Roughly 250,000 people living in Phnom Penh are living in informal settlements and deal with inadequate waste management and infrastructure. Stagnant bacteria-ridden water from floods can linger for eight months after floods, spreading a host of waterborne diseases to those in proximity. Furthermore, as the economy is projected to decrease by 4% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, poor people are increasingly likely to be trapped in cyclical poverty.

COVID-19 Stalls Decades of Growth

Despite decades of deadly civil war, Cambodia has made consistent progress towards reducing poverty before COVID-19. Over the past two decades, life expectancy has increased 10 years, poverty has been reduced from 47% to 13%, and growth in the country averaged out to 8%.  Additionally, the country lowered infant mortality rates from 10% to 2%.

While Cambodia’s COVID-19 cases are very low, with zero deaths thus far, the contraction of the global economic market has led to financial struggles for its citizens. The poverty rate is expected to balloon back up to 20% as a result of the economic crisis. The sectors hit hardest include the tourism and garment industries, where demand from its Western consumer base has drastically fallen.

Measures Against Floods in Southeast Asia

Although the nature of monsoons is unpredictable, the extent of the damage and destruction of floods can be mitigated. One recommendation is for Southeast Asian nations to commit to curbing emissions in order to combat climate change, which can increase the volatility of weather. Climate change reduces the ability for scientists to estimate long-term trends and build dams to control flood levels.

Additionally, the concept of leaving room for the river has become popular. This concept essentially promotes soft engineering, or removing human technology from rivers and allowing their ecological processes to be carried out naturally. Furthermore, allowing and managing small floods can benefit the land and those cultivating it while preventing big floods.

Though natural disasters cannot be controlled, efforts from organizations and governments may help the country’s resilience in the aftermath of floods in Southeast Asia. Such efforts can provide instant relief to affected people and may also help to alleviate overall poverty in the countries.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

NGOs Save Thousands in the Philippines
Just a few weeks after Super Typhoon Goni made landfall on the morning of November 11, 2020, Typhoon Vamco hit the Philippines. These tropical storms have destroyed homes, lives, livelihoods, essential infrastructure and families. Without a doubt, the results of these storms have been calamitously tragic. However, NGOs provide inspiration and hope in their work for the victims of these tropical storms. NGOs have saved thousands in the Philippines.

 VAMCO and Goni’s Destruction

 On November 1, 2020, super Typhoon Goni made landfall on Catanduanes’ island before moving north-west over Manila with reported wind speeds of 140mph. Goni – locally referred to as “Rolly”- is one of the most powerful storms to hit the Philippines in over a decade. A few days after the storm hit the Philippines, the damage was staggering: reports determined that the storm killed 16 people, demolished thousands of homes, destroyed tens of thousands of farmers’ crops (estimated damage of $36 million to crops alone) and affected over 2 million people.

Although less intense, Typhoon Vamco had winds measured at 90mph when it made landfall in Patnanungan. Although hard to separate the damage from these two storms, reports stated that Typhoon Vamco – locally known as Ulysses – has killed at least 67 people, cut power to millions, caused 100,000 evacuations and destroyed over 26,000 homes.

Flooding Exasperates the Catastrophe

Unfortunately, as the government can better assess the damages and missing people, and gather an overall better understand of the situation in the coming weeks and months, the financial damage and number of people displaced and killed will grow. However, what might prove to enlarge the numbers more than a better understanding of the situation is the flooding and significant landslides.

As of Nov. 18, the flooding is the worst in recent memory and has affected eight regions and 3 million people, with 70 dead. Two-story-high flooding that has caused power outages has either separated many from their homes or trapped them on their roofs, further disrupting rescue efforts. Although flooding has receded, many villages are still only reachable through the air.

Perhaps the worst affected area is the Cagayan Valley in northeast Luzon; of the 28 towns in the Cagayan province, 24 are underwater from severe flooding. Explaining this disproportionality in flood damage is the fact that a dam in the Cagayan Valley, the Magat Dam, had seven of its gates break open following the storm, causing mass amounts of water to pour into the valley (the dam released near two Olympic sized pools of water per second). Here, over 20 people have died while affecting nearly 300,000 people as what looks like a brown sea of dirty water and debris submerges the valley.

NGOs Step Up for Thousands

In the face of all this destruction, one can find hope in the work of NGOs. NGOs have saved thousands in the Philippines who were either trapped on rooftops or in evacuation centers after losing everything they have ever owned.

For instance, CARE is an organization providing aid during the flooding. It is primarily working in Amulung and Gattaran, assisting in rescue efforts and providing resources such as food, hygiene products, shelter repair kits and sanitation materials.

The Philippine Red Cross is deploying utility vehicles to ferry thousands so that they do not become stranded in flooded towns. Stories have even surfaced of Red Cross workers treading through floodwater with torches searching for stragglers and missing people. The organization provides relief materials to those it does save including tents, generators, food, cooking equipment and tarps. Additionally, as a preventative measure, the Philippine Red Cross evacuated people and animals to evacuation centers while also prepositioning emergency response teams in vulnerable areas.

UNICEF has also done life-saving work. Just a day before Vamco made landfall, UNICEF launched “its Super Typhoon Goni/Rolly appeal amounting to $3.7 million.” With this amount raised, UNICEF has supported the most vulnerable communities in gaining access to water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, education, health and protection services.

Vamco and Goni are tragedies that have negatively affected countless lives through displacement, death and the destruction of their home and valuables. Nonetheless, the optimist can find inspiration in the fact that: NGOs have saved thousands in the Philippines.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Benin's Health Care
The Republic of Benin is located in the western region of the African continent. The sub-Saharan country possesses a tropical climate and a population of approximately 12 million people. Benin’s economy highly relies on agriculture. Its production of cotton provides 40% of Benin’s GDP and 80% of its exports. Unfortunately, Benin is an impoverished nation with about one-third of the population living beneath the international poverty line. The citizens of Benin also experience many different issues regarding the handling of healthcare in Benin.

Lack of Resources

As of now, the government spends only 3.3% of the GDP on services relating to healthcare in Benin. The average life expectancy is around 60 years old. However, the infant mortality rate stands at 63 deaths per 1,000 births, while the maternal mortality rate stands at 500 deaths per 100,000 births.

Despite Benin’s relatively large size (about 110,000 square kilometers), there are only four hospitals within the national borders. A survey conducted in 1999 reported that for every 1,000 patients who arrived at hospitals to receive treatment, only 0.1 doctors and 0.2 beds were available. As a result, one of the primary methods to improve Benin’s health care is to hire and train more doctors.

Diseases

The Joint United Nations Program for HIV/AIDS states that anywhere from 38,000 and 120,000 individuals in Benin may be infected with the HIV/AIDS virus. These figures are comparatively lower than in other African countries, but the virus is still spreading among young adults. Waterborne diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera and meningitis have high risks and rates of infection. Typhoid Fever poses a highly dangerous threat in Benin, as only 23% of the population has access to adequate sanitation services. Further efforts need to emerge to improve the quality of drinking water. Until then, the citizens of Benin have to rely on boiling their water to remove bacteria.

Natural Disasters

In 2010, Benin experienced the worst series of flooding that it had seen in decades. The floods affected over 800,000 people and wiped away entire villages. Due to the lack of water clean-up and filtration, people were consuming water that overflowing latrines had contaminated. As a result, reports to hospitals determined that there were nearly 800 new cases of cholera. The disaster prompted the U.N. refugee agency to activate an emergency plan to help those the floods displaced.

Malnutrition

Despite Benin’s current progress in healthcare, child malnutrition still remains a critical marker of poverty and improper healthcare. Assumptions have also determined that over 25% of infants and children younger than 5-years-old suffer or die from malnutrition. However, the government of Benin has recently developed an innovative plan for improving child nutrition.

The new Early Years Nutrition and Child Development Project (EYNCDP) is the first step in a series of three operations that aim toward improving the delivery and quality of selected health and nutrition interventions throughout the country. This first project focuses on integrating early stimulation and learning, primary school feeding programs and policy improvement.

Nonprofit Aid

There is further hope toward improving the lives of the people in Benin. Since 1995, the nonprofit organization CARE has been working on projects to help families in Benin receive improved income and education. For example, CARE has organized programs to combat gender-based violence, provide access to better nutrition and improve Benin’s healthcare.

It also provides aid to communities plagued with frequent flooding. Additionally, CARE grants further assistance by helping local farmers in rural communities improve their income via loan associations. By aiding farmers with their loans and savings, CARE ensures that their families are able to make proper investments, and in turn, can buy better livestock, seeds and farming equipment.

Projects like CARE can go a long way to provide aid to people living in difficult conditions like those in Benin. Through its efforts to aid communities experiencing flooding, healthcare in Benin should improve.

Aditya Daita
Photo: Pixabay

Bangladesh eradicates poverty through flooding
Bangladesh, along with many other South Asian countries, is prone to flooding and increasing rainfall. For years, Bangladesh has suffered from one of the harshest torrential rains in the world. However, this year the country has experienced the worst of its effects. These torrential rainfalls lead to flooding in Bangladesh and this, in turn, has an adverse effect on poverty levels.

Monsoon Season in Bangladesh

In many cases, monsoon season in Bangladesh typically starts in June and can last for months, as situations worsen. According to satellite data, at least 24% of the land in Bangladesh lies submerged underwater, due to the rapid inundations. This environmental crisis affects at least 4.7 million people and most of them lose their houses and utilities. Specifically, people living along the Brahmaputra river are deprived of basic human necessities, such as food and shelter. This is because of the increased flooding this year, alone. For example, Tajul Isam, a local sharecropper, had to find creative ways to protect himself from the overflows of the Brahmaputra River, such as building bamboo sheds.

Assessing the Damage

Many officials claim the source of the floods is a result of the rampant rainfalls this past year. Through the analysis from a combination of satellites, many scientists also predict that Bangladesh will experience its longest flooding season since 1988. Again, this due to the recent, recurrent rainfalls. More than 1,200 kilometers of farmland is damaged, along with approximately 1.5 million houses affected. At least 100 people have died, either from waterborne diseases or drowning from the overflow of rivers, such as the Himalayas river and the Brahmaputra river. Fifteen districts are predicted to be affected by the rising water levels from other rivers — specifically the Padma, Ganges and Jamuna rivers.

Response to One of the Worst Monsoon Seasons in Bangladesh

Bangladesh and many others are initiating protocols in providing disaster relief funds and resources for the areas most affected by the monsoon season. The Humanitarian Coordination Task Team (HCCT) strategized plans to rehabilitate some of these damaged lands and provide people with resources. For example, they are currently transporting 14,000 tons of rice to over 33 districts. Additionally, they are giving over $870,000 for expenditures such as food, farming equipment and housing grants. Along with the expenditures — 50,000 farmers will receive $450,000 for tools such as fertilizers and seeds to compensate for their damaged farmland.

On top of the HCTT Response Plan, many other organizations are also taking charge to help victims of the flooding in Bangladesh. For example, the Need Assessment Working Group (NAWP) and the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) have provided at least 1,086 flood shelters to families. Specifically, these shelters went to those who lost their homes in the district of Jamalpur. Overall, however, the Start Fund Bangladesh — with the help of USAID and U.K. support — raised over $1 million to provide disaster relief in districts such as Kurigram, Gaibandha and Siraganji.

Although the government has issued many responses, smaller projects have also pursued action towards the recovery of damaged areas in Bangladesh. In particular, Friendship Organization has provided services and resources in impoverished areas— one of which is Bangladesh. As of now, they have had over 400 volunteers and 200 staff members assist in the emergency response for the monsoon season in Bangladesh. Additionally, flood shelters were provided for over 8,800 people through Friendship’s built schools and villages.

A Bright Outlook

Bangladesh has suffered through much environmental damage due to its drastic weather conditions. Nonetheless, many actors are pressing forward to ensure the safety of vulnerable communities. With the help of the Bangladeshi government and many NGO projects, Bangladesh will more than likely recover and replenish the resources that it desperately needs.

Aishwarya Thiyagarajan
Photo: Flickr

Natural Disasters in the Philippines
Every year, hundreds of natural disasters are reported worldwide. In 2019, 409 natural disasters occurred, many in the Asian Pacific region. Natural disasters in the Philippines are quite common and they pose great difficulties for islands with large populations and vulnerable infrastructure.

Geography of the Philippines

The Philippines is one of highest-risk countries for natural disasters. The nation’s location exposes it to storms that lead to floods, mudslides and typhoons. Additionally, the presence of offshore trenches such as the Manila Trench puts the Philippines at risk for tsunamis. Unfortunately, the list does not end there. The Philippines is also on top of the Ring of Fire, a path in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where there is a high risk for earthquakes and active volcanoes.

Infrastructure

The Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands, which poses many challenges to improving infrastructure. Natural disasters also disproportionately impact infrastructure in poverty-stricken areas. That being said, in the past decade, the Filipino government made strides to improve infrastructure and make the nation more disaster-ready.

In 2020, nearly a quarter of the Filipino government’s budget was allocated for infrastructure. President Rodrigo Duterte hopes to allocate 6% of the nation’s GDP to infrastructure by 2022. His “Build, Build, Build” program has played a large role in this increase of funds, which will be allocated to projects such as the Manila subway and other modes of transportation, water resources and energy.

The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) has outlined $2.5 million in funds being used for infrastructure projects in the Philippines. GFDRR focuses on understanding and reducing disaster risk, strengthening governance and improving recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. GFDRR currently has three active projects in the Philippines. First, the “Support to the Sustainable, Inclusive, and Resilient Tourism Project” is set to be complete in June 2021. The second project is “Philippines Disaster Risk Financing,” scheduled to be complete in August 2020. Finally, the “Support to the Earthquake-Resilient Greater Metro Manila Program” is set to be complete in September 2021.

Poverty Reduction

According to the World Bank’s October 2019 report, the Philippines is expected to sustain its progress in poverty reduction. The Philippines’ GDP growth was roughly 5.8% in 2019 and is expected to reach 6.2% by 2021. Many believe this growth is tied to transportation infrastructure among the Filipino islands. According to the 2013 Philippines Human Development Report, economic integration will be key to creating sustainable growth throughout all of the Filipino islands and reducing poverty in rural areas.

The main production sectors in the Philippines are electronics assembly, garments, footwear, pharmaceuticals, food processing, petroleum refining and fishing. Agriculture is also a significant sector; however, self-employed farmers are the most susceptible to geographic hardships from natural disasters. Additionally, many farmers struggle due to a lack of insurance, inadequate post-harvest facilities, inadequate irrigation techniques and limited access to the market as a result of poor transportation services.

To address these problems, the Philippine Development Plan for 2017-2022 plans to expand economic opportunities for those engaged in the agricultural sector, especially small farmers. This plan aims to get rid of irrigation fees for small farmers, pass the National Land Use Act to protect important natural lands, implement the Agrarian Reform Program to distribute land to landless farmers.

Conclusion

The Philippines is still considered at third world country according to its GDP, human development index, life expectancy and infant mortality rate. However, while the Philippines still has many structural issues inhibiting its growth, its progress over the last decade has been momentous. Equipping islands to handle natural disasters in the Philippines and supporting farmers are two key ways the country can reduce poverty and improve livelihoods.

Danielle Forrey
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in MadagascarMadagascar is an island of abundant resources and wildlife, yet remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The African country experiences high rates of poverty and vulnerability since it gained independence in 1960. It possesses a complex history of poor leadership, inadequate infrastructure and economic colonialism that continues to negatively affect its population today, specifically resulting in an issue with homelessness in Madagascar.

The Causes of Homelessness

Its geographical location off the Southern African coast makes Madagascar susceptible to natural disasters, such as severe hurricanes, floods and droughts. Unpredictable weather persists, not only destroying homes but also leading to detrimental effects on food supply, health pandemics and overall quality of life. More than 50 natural disasters have impacted Madagascar’s homelessness rate in the last 35 years.

For example, in 2019, a cyclone killed two people and left 1,400 people homeless. Two years prior, an even more powerful storm left 247,000 people without shelter. However, some villages like Antanandava rallied together to rebuild as a community.

Chaotic weather patterns also impact the key drivers of economic growth namely, agriculture, fishing and forestry. While agriculture can sometimes reap the rewards of extreme weather, like heavy rain on crops, droughts on the other hand dry up rice plants, leaving workers with a much lower income. According to a 2017 study, this inconsistent economic growth creates patterns of financial insecurity and failure to diminish the homeless population in rural communities.

Unequal Housing

While some are able to rebuild their homes after a disaster, others are left destitute. More than 65% of the population lives in rural areas, where poverty is significantly higher than in urban regions and where most of the working-age populace resides. Homes in rural communities are mostly built of local materials such as cheap wood or mud, leaving thousands of individuals homeless after one intensive environmental hazard. Southern and coastal areas are usually the first to get hit by a weather crisis, damaging homes instantaneously. This creates a widespread housing shortage and results in the displacement of many Malagasy people.

Solutions

In an effort to fight this consequence of poverty, homelessness in Madagascar has become a priority in the eyes of the World Bank Group which partners with other organizations to offer aid. The organization currently invests a combined $1.28 billion across all 15 of its programs working to reform multiple sectors of Madagascar, including energy, education and health crises. The WBG, in collaboration with the Country Partnership Framework, has created economic objectives to accomplish in its plan for 2017-2021. Some initiatives include strengthening households living in poverty and upgrading means of transportation and energy. In 2019, over 783,000 Malagasy families’ incomes stabilized, allowing them to start businesses and secure their residences.

In addition, aid from UNDP began in 2015 and the long-term goals include ending all poverty, generating universal access to clean water and nurturing sustainable communities. Achieving these goals will ensure that families will gain new homes of their own and be able to maintain them.

Homelessness in Madagascar is a complex problem with many economic and domestic factors contributing to the issue. It continues to be an urgent threat to the lives of its citizens, creating harmful short- and long-term effects. However, with the improvements made thus far, the future for Madagascar is hopeful.

 Radley Tan
Photo: Flickr

Flooding in Jakarta
Citizens of Jakarta rang in the new decade with fervor and enjoyment, accompanied by slowly rising brown floodwaters. The citizens ascended to the streets, but before long some found themselves swept up in one of Indonesia’s worst floods in the past 150 years – one that the country could not have prepared for. The floods have displaced over 400,000 people and 66 people have died within the first week of 2020. But importantly, this crisis of flooding in Jakarta has disproportionately affected the impoverished regions of the city, which received little public attention.

Increasing Population Affecting Poverty

Jakarta, like many quickly expanding metropolitan areas today, faces the challenge of a rapidly increasing population accompanied by many migrants to the city – a number which experts expect to reach 70 percent of Indonesia’s population by 2025. This rapidly expanding population makes it difficult for the current infrastructure and housing to adequately accommodate the increasing demand, therefore increasing construction rates and skyrocketing real estate prices. As a result, the poorest citizens are living dangerously close to areas that flood almost every year under normal conditions.

Adverse Weather Patterns Creating  an Impoverished Population

Unlike typical cities, half of Jakarta lies under sea level. The city has been sinking roughly 10 centimeters every year due to years of uncontrolled groundwater draining by large companies. This sinking conjoined with regular seasonal flooding creates enormous problems in terms of designing infrastructure. Further, increasingly dramatic typical weather patterns in Jakarta have made the extreme weather events less predictable, specifically flooding in Jakarta. The combination of dramatic weather events and poverty in Jakarta creates a cyclic system where temporary aid seems to be adequate when in reality it only serves as a temporary fix, allowing the cycle of destruction to propagate.

The government of Indonesia has taken measures to house displaced residents of Jakarta. Additionally, most of the electricity in the area is up and running again. However, the long term goals of President Joko Wikodo reflect a sentiment that does not seem to include the protection of citizens and the prevention of these incidents. Instead of continuing plans for a sea wall to protect the city from rising sea levels, President Wikodo intends to move the capital to a less populated, drier site on Borneo island. Though this might be a valid idea, this all but abandons the poorer communities in Jakarta, leaving these citizens behind without the resources to move.

Aid to Reduce Current Flooding in Jakarta

In the meantime, many aid measures occurred to help with the most recent round of flooding in Jakarta. All of the local shelters have sufficient food and medical supplies to harbor the 400,000 displaced people. Moreover, most of Jakarta’s citizens returned to their homes by the second week of January 2020. Aid methods, ranging from foreign financial and medical support to internal medical workers, continue to prove an effective yet temporary fix for the greater problem of the flooding in Jakarta.

– Anna Sarah Langlois
Photo: Wikimedia