Natural Disaster Aid in Paraguay
The landlocked Republic of Paraguay is prone to a wide range of natural disasters. Floods and droughts affect the most benighted areas of the country. Fortunately, both national and international agencies are taking action in aiding the local population, working through COVID-19 preventive measures that have delayed the arrival of natural disaster relief packages.

Natural Disasters in Paraguay

Paraguay experienced its worst floods in 2015 and 2019. Since then, the country has confronted subsequent natural disasters in the regions of Boquerón, Presidente Hayes and Alto Paraguay, with more than 2,400 families and 80,000 individuals affected. Even though Paraguay is one of the most humid countries in the region with a fairly high precipitation rate, climate oscillations have been destabilizing already vulnerable communities. As a country relying primarily on crops and cattle raising, fluctuations in climate and natural disasters can prove fatal for the rural population, not only putting the local economy at risk but also increasing the chances of infections through water-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya.

As the South American country that has experienced the steepest exponential economic growth in the last thirty years, Paraguay has taken long strides to increase income per capita and reduce inequality. However, most of its economy is commodity-based, which makes it extremely sensitive to fluctuations in climate. Floods tend to be an especially dire calamity since they directly affect the agriculture, animal husbandry and hydroelectric energy industries.

Increasing Climate Resiliency

According to the World Bank, Paraguay ranks 95 out of 181 countries in the 2019 Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative. This renders the country fairly vulnerable to climate catastrophe, primarily because of a lack of response and strategic planning. Climate indexes such as this one serve to acquire relevant diagnoses and eventually form sector-specific policies that can aid development outcomes.

It is necessary for the national government to take action to increase climate resiliency by adopting adaptation implementation efforts. Policymaking is crucial in this area, prioritizing investments for more efficient climate mitigation techniques in vulnerable rural areas.

A Four-Part Plan

The Paraguayan government has been taking action against these threats. The Ministry for National Emergencies (SEN) alongside the country’s National System of the Environment (SISAM) have devised a comprehensive plan to diminish natural disaster impact in Paraguay. The plan has been included in Paraguay’s Sustainable Development Goals for disaster risk reduction and consists of four parts:

  1. Understanding the extent of damage that natural disasters may cause. This includes encouraging research for preventive purposes and using ancestral indigenous techniques in farming to reduce the environmental impact that slash-and-burn techniques have on climate catastrophe.
  2. Increase governance in areas prone to natural disasters. The government is committed to creating laws related to aid in cases of floods and droughts, and beginning to build sound infrastructure to easily aid affected areas.
  3. Invest resources in building said infrastructures, such as roads and municipal buildings that can withstand harsh environmental conditions. This goal also expects to increase cooperation between national and regional authorities for quick aid relief.
  4. Ameliorate time of response by authorities and communities. This means not only investing in disaster-proof establishments but also empowering individuals and promoting universal access to reconstruction and rehabilitation.

International Assistance

In addition to the government, international aid organizations are also providing natural disaster relief to Paraguay. For example, USAID has been active in Paraguay since 2004, providing aid in the aftermath of 10 disasters. The World Bank has also been focused on helping Paraguay improve disaster preparedness. The organization has identified research gaps within Paraguay’s climate disaster response, including climate variability and water resources. Additionally, the World Bank has led economic-environmental feasibility studies, which are currently lacking. These efforts are all designed to ensure Paraguay has the resources necessary to overcome natural disasters.

Alongside conscientious data-gathering for the prevention of natural disasters and natural disaster relief, international assistance is crucial: it has not only proven helpful during calamitous environmental instances but also during a yellow fever outbreak, the subsequent seasonal dengue epidemic and COVID-19. Moving forward, USAID, the World Bank and other international organizations must continue to prioritize addressing natural disasters in Paraguay.

Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Microcredits for womenUnlike some of its geographical neighbors, Paraguay adopted quick and strict measures against the COVID-19 pandemic when it first struck the South American nation in early March 2020. The contagion was under control at first and grew at a relatively low rate. However, the quarantine measures affected Paraguayan women in the workforce in particular. Microcredits for women in Paraguay underwent implementation to help small business owners and women working in the agricultural sector who COVID-19 impacted.

Job Loss for Paraguayan Women

For over 200,000 Paraguayan women, following the security measures could mean losing their jobs without the compensation of social security nets. The vast majority of women who work informally (that is, receiving pay daily as laborers, rather than receiving a stable salary) risk getting the COVID-19 virus or getting laid off.

The situation was especially dire for rural and indigenous women, who make up the largest percentage of the informal employment sector. Fortunately, Paraguay has put a lot of fiscal effort in relief for those finding themselves in precarious employment situations. It has allocated over $2.5 billion to mitigate the crisis. It will send economic relief to the communities that the pandemic has affected the most.

Recovery for Paraguay and Microcredits for Women

More than $970 million is going toward the financing of new credits for those working in the informal sector. This plan, Ñapu’ā Paraguay (Recovery for Paraguay), is focussing on granting relief checks. In addition, the plan attends to people who, because of their day laborer conditions, cannot afford to work from home.

This government plan is especially targeting women, under the name of Kuña Katupyry (Skilled Women), where microcredits for women go to small business owners and women working in the agricultural sector. These microcredits offer flexibility for payments and applying for group loans. In this situation, a whole community becomes responsible for paying the loan on time.

What has been remarkable about these loans is that they require little to no paperwork, are accessible and grant women economic independence and empowerment. In some cases, they become free from compromising situations at home where violence towards women is ever more present. The Kuña Katupyry loans benefit women ranging from ages 18 to 75. The loans have been vital in keeping afloat agricultural production. With the COVID-19 crisis, the need to maintain a sturdy local food production became more evident.

Over 1,200 women living in rural Paraguay have already been benefited from this program. It emerged in early 2020 to combat the effects of the pandemic. Many more guilds formed by women have signed up for benefits, including artisans and women working in the tourism sector.

Moving Forward with the Program

Kuña Katupyry plans on expanding to more rural sectors this year so more women can be beneficiaries of this initiative. It is not only relevant for informal individual workers, but also for families and communities in Paraguay. As a country relying heavily on the unorganized labor sector, these types of microcredits for women are not only commendable but essential.

Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Paraguay
The landlocked country of Paraguay, located in south-central South America, currently faces authoritarian rule and turbulence. These recent troubles have contributed to the long history of poverty in Paraguay. Since the 1860s, the country has participated in three different major wars in South America. It also experienced a civil war in the 1940s which given the Paraguayan people a strong sense of fear and unwillingness to express themselves freely. This sentiment has only recently begun to diminish in the early 21st century.

Background

The citizens and inhabitants of Paraguay are less diverse and more ethnically homogenous than in other South American countries. Most are of European and Guarani descent. Rivers are very important to the country’s economy, as they support the function of many hydroelectric power plants. Paraguay is one of the best producers of soybeans, and many parts of the country are flourishing, where fertile soil allows for diverse diets and high standards of living.

While the country has been making a lot of progress in the 21st century in its efforts to combat poverty, economic distress continues to be a major issue. Leading up to the year 2017, there was actually an increase in poverty rates. Even though the country performed better economically overall, the total poverty rate that year rose from 26.6% to 28.8%. Even extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day, increased in this period.

Those numbers are heartbreaking because it shows a reversal in the steady decline of poverty rates in Paraguay in the years prior to 2016. To put this into perspective, in the five years previous, the poverty rate declined from 31.37% to 26.58%. This sudden worsening was unexpected as the South American region was collectively making progress in the fight against poverty. However, things have changed since then, and poverty in Paraguay is showing signs of improvement.

Path to Progress

Some think that changes in poverty in Paraguay are the result of the government shifting its focus to extreme poverty. People in extreme poverty may not have the most basic necessities, such as food, shelter, sanitation, and medical services. Jose Molinas, the Minister of Technical Planning, has admitted that there is a goal of reducing the extreme poverty rate to three percent. However, there is no goal to address the total poverty rate, leaving some impoverished people neglected.

Alicia Bárcena, the Executive Secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), stated that a lack of investment, extensive divisions in class structure, and limited productivity gains are threatening the region’s ability to reach the poverty reduction goals agreed upon by U.N. members in 2015. Perhaps by addressing these issues, then, and by giving attention and care to the total poverty rate as opposed to only extreme poverty rates, the country can see a decline in poverty rates.

In fact, progress is already being made, with the poverty rate going down from 24.2 to 23.5 between 2018 and 2019. This is due in part to the ongoing support from other countries and aid organizations.

The Australian embassy in 2019 initiated the Direct Aid Program (DAP). DAP provides small grants for over 80 countries worldwide, including Paraguay, funding non-governmental organization initiatives to aid these countries. It supports things like providing education for the youth, including vocational and sex education. Other initiatives include promoting the economic development of women to achieve gender equity, as well as infrastructure projects for indigenous peoples. One such initiative, Poverty Spotlight, helped 30,000 Paraguayan families leave poverty through higher income generation. Continued support of programs and initiatives like these will help maintain the country’s progress and gradually eradicate poverty in Paraguay.

Fahad Saad

Photo: Flickr

7 Facts About Healthcare in ParaguayIn recent years, Paraguay has improved its infant mortality rate, healthcare facility spending and health care resources. Yet, there is still much to do to improve healthcare in Paraguay. Here are seven ways the Paraguayan government is working to improve healthcare in Paraguay.

7 Facts about Healthcare in Paraguay

  1. Paraguay has far fewer healthcare workers than needed to provide adequate care for patients in rural areas. In fact, 70% of healthcare workers are allocated in the city of Asunción despite only 30% of the population living in that area.
  2. The World Bank approved a loan to Paraguay to help improve its healthcare structure. In May of 2019, the World Bank approved a $115 million loan to allow Paraguay to develop health treatments for mothers, newborn children and people who suffer from chronic health conditions. With the help of this loan, the quality of healthcare will increase in Paraguay in the coming years.
  3. The current life expectancy for people in Paraguay is 74.1 years. In 1990, the life expectancy in Paraguay was 68.5 years. Innovations in medicine, an increase in healthcare spending and resources have all contributed to the increase in the Paraguayan life expectancy. Although Paraguay has increased its life expectancy in the last 30 years, the country still has a long way to go to meet the life expectancy of more developed nations.
  4. The average amount spent on healthcare per capita in Paraguay is cause for great concern. In 2017, the average healthcare spending per capita for one year was $381. This number is a fraction of what developed nations spend on healthcare. As middle and lower-income Paraguans do not have the financial resources to pay for healthcare, they do not go to doctors or hospitals unless it is necessary. Lack of doctor visits and preventative care will cause further health issues and the onset of chronic health conditions for Paraguans in the future.
  5. Paraguay has very few hospital beds compared to the beds needed to care for the sick population. Paraguay has about one hospital bed per 1000 people, which is almost a third of the hospital beds the United States has. Having enough hospital beds is essential to caring for the vulnerable population, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Paraguay is in urgent need of more hospitals. Paraguay is building contingent hospitals to help care for more sick patients, but these hospitals will only help with the hospital bed shortage in the short term.
  6. Paraguay still has a relevantly high infant mortality rate. As of 2019, the infant mortality rate in Paraguay was 16.6 infant deaths per 1000 live births. This is almost three times the infant mortality rate of the United States. Most of the infants died of diseases such as pneumonia, the flu and diarrheal diseases.
  7. Paraguay does not have sufficient mental health resources. In Paraguay, there are only two mental health hospitals, no mental healthcare plan for adolescents and no stand-alone laws for mental health issues. Currently, 908,117 people in Paraguay suffer from mental health issues. To help the mentally ill population, Paraguay needs more resources to finance more mental health institutions. Paraguay also needs to create mental health plans and institute laws to help the mentally ill.

Overall, Paraguay has made many improvements over the years, including infant mortality rate, healthcare spending and resources. However, Paraguay is still far from being caught up with higher-income nations. With the help of foreign aid and instituting more health care policies, Paraguay may develop a stronger healthcare system. In the coming years, Paraguay will hopefully eradicate diseases prevalent in the country and establish a better system to help with the medical needs of the population.

Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in ParaguayParaguay is one of the smallest countries in South America but is still home to more than seven million residents. Many Paraguayans residing in the landlocked region struggle to survive, with nearly 17% of the population living in poverty. The poverty rate is even higher among rural and indigenous communities. As a result, hunger in Paraguay continues to be a significant problem.

The Causes of Hunger: Exports and Inequality

A prominent yet paradoxical cause of hunger in Paraguay is its growing export rates. As the UN reports, “Only 6% of agricultural land is available for domestic food production, whilst 94% is used for export crops.” While the country produces considerable agricultural resources each year, exporters ship most of this produce and livestock overseas and leave very little in the country. This lack of domestic production means that many Paraguayans cannot afford expensive imports. As a result, many must contend with food insecurity and hunger in Paraguay.

To make matters worse, the divide between the wealthy and the working class in Paraguay is drastic. Roughly 3% of the population owns more than 85% of its land and resources. This unequal distribution of land and resources leaves small landowners impoverished and unable to compete, with many turning to urban areas in search of marginal work.

Agricultural Industry

The Paraguayan agricultural industry’s oligarchical nature makes it challenging to reallocate Paraguay’s land and natural resources. The 3% of landowners hold tremendous financial and political influence in the country, making it difficult for the Paraguayan government to reallocate resources or reappropriate land toward domestic production. The extremely wealthy are also only interested in producing a handful of different crops that do well in the global market.

However, this makes Paraguay’s economy and exporting gains very dependent on a temperamental world market. The market’s fluctuations can be particularly tricky and potentially harmful for the underserved and impoverished in the country, who are already struggling to survive. Without much opportunity for social mobility, those threatened by hunger in Paraguay must routinely find cheap alternatives to sustenance. High-quality, nutritious food remains an unaffordable commodity for many Paraguayans.

Hunger and Malnutrition

Poverty leads to food insecurity and malnutrition, two issues symptomatic of hunger in Paraguay. As nutritionist Nadia Quintana notes, “About 15% of Paraguayan children suffer from malnutrition. And that is if you do not count the children from indigenous groups. According to a United Nations estimate, if we include indigenous tribes, more than 45% of Paraguay children are at risk of hunger or malnutrition. But the problem is not lack of food. The problem here is poverty and lack of work and education. And housing is very precarious.”

While instances of undernutrition and starvation are trending downward, malnutrition and obesity rates are rising in Paraguay as poverty forces impoverished citizens to subsist on cheaper, less nutritious foods. These low-nutrient, high-calorie options may be cheap, but they have had an outsized impact on an average Paraguayan’s diet. Residents are in an impossible situation, forced to choose between going hungry or eating foods correlated with increased vulnerability to chronic diseases.

Global Pandemic and Rising Unemployment Rates

The COVID-19 global pandemic has further complicated hunger in Paraguay. While the small Latin American country was one of the first to begin quarantining measures to counteract the March 2020 outbreaks, the nationwide lockdown has crippled many of the country’s workers. Although the country has the fewest coronavirus cases in the region, many of its workers have lost their primary sources of income. The loss of employment means that nearly 60% of the population is without access to any benefits or financial support during the ongoing pandemic.

According to the Guardian, though the government has secured $1.6 billion in pandemic crisis loans, a tiny percentage of Paraguayans have received the promised $76 and food packs. As a result, the dependence on cheap, non-nutritious foods and correlated instances of malnutrition and obesity continue to rise. Rising unemployment rates and lack of federal support will inevitably exacerbate the ever-present issues poverty of hunger in Paraguay.

Indigenous Communities and Hunger in Paraguay

Among the most affected by poverty, pandemic and hunger in Paraguay are indigenous peoples with minimal economic and social resources to combat their current circumstances. Under the lockdown, many are unable to secure food and must rely on communal meals and donations to survive. The Paraguayan government has offered aid but has struggled to deliver it as it has to the rest of its people. Amnesty International has partnered with local initiatives to lobby for sufficient assistance to these indigenous communities waiting and hungry for action.

Moving forward, the Paraguayan government faces an uphill battle in providing its citizens with adequate resources to sustain healthy diets. The government finds itself in a difficult place as it struggles to assist and feed its people amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, especially as its workers are out of jobs. With so much of its economy tied to a small minority of extremely wealthy agricultural exports, Paraguay must find a way to help those who are not part of the top 3%, especially those living in indigenous, underserved and impoverished areas. Though extreme poverty trends downward, malnutrition and obesity will continue to characterize hunger in Paraguay.

Andrew Giang
Photo: Flickr

SDG Goal 14Paraguay, a landlocked country in central South America, relies heavily on the Paraguay River for water and marine resources. The river is vital for Paraguayans but is becoming increasingly vulnerable to pollution and overdevelopment. This led to the achievement of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The Paraguay Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and the city of Asunción started the Asunción Green City of the Americas — Pathways to Sustainability project. It was started to protect the river and to help reach U.N.’s SDG Goal 14 in Paraguay called “life below water.”

Purpose of the Sustainable Development Goals

The UN introduced its 17 SDGs to lay out a blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future by 2030. Together they work to address social, economic and environmental challenges that the world faces and move towards a sustainable future. Goal 14 is to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. With more than three billion people dependent on marine resources globally, this goal is essential to a sustainable future.

Water quality, area of protected space, biodiversity threats and levels of overfishing and other indicators measure SDG Goal 14. Paraguay has struggled with water quality. Although it has some protected wildlife reserves near water, many species are critically endangered and biodiversity has been decreasing.

About the Paraguay River and Asunción

Paraguay is a landlocked country. As a result, achieving SDG Goal 14 in Paraguay requires protecting its freshwater and river systems. The Paraguay River flows from north to south throughout the entire country. It plays an important role in the freshwater system and its health is vital to the achievement of SDG Goal 14 in Paraguay. Farmers and fishermen rely on the river and it provides a significant portion of water to the Pantanal, the largest tropical wetland in the world.

Additionally, in recent decades the river has suffered from increased levels of development and pollution due to things like untreated sewage and garbage entering the river. Poor infrastructure and management of waste lead to these items entering the river system. This harms habitat and reduces water quality. These problems are particularly prevalent in the city of Asunción. Asunción is the capital of Paraguay located on the western side of the nation. The city sits on the bank of the Paraguay River and is home to a rich variety of bird species including many migratory birds during parts of the year. The wetlands near Asunción support many other species and protect the city from flooding. The river and wetlands benefit the community by providing a source of jobs including fishing and tours as well.

The Health of the Paraguay River

Furthermore, the health of the Paraguay River near Asunción has been a concern of the community for decades. Untreated sewage as well as garbage from many landfills make their way into the river. In 2005, the Ecological Reserve of Banco San Miguel and Bahía de Asunción was created to protect the wetland ecosystem along the river. It was also a place for endangered migratory birds to rest.

The creation of the reserve was an effective first step. However, the measures taken were insufficient. Few resources were used to reverse the existing damage. With the health of the river decreasing, Paraguay was not on track to meet SDG Goal 14 by 2030. The Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development teamed up with city officials from Asunción. With support from the U.N., it created the Asunción Green City of the Americas — Pathways to Sustainability project.

The plan aims to address multiple issues including waste management, transportation and habitat protection in order to benefit the people and wild animals near Asunción. Improved bus systems as well as walking and bicycling networks would benefit the communities of Asunción and reduce harmful emissions. Better waste management will reduce citizens’ exposure to harmful chemicals. It will also help preserve the health of the river and wetland ecosystem.

 

Overall, adequate protection and maintenance of the ecological reserves on the river along with improved waste management and transportation are important. With them, the Paraguay River can maintain its essential role for ecosystems and the people of Asunción. The Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development needs to continue to work hard to protect the Paraguay River and help achieve SDG Goal 14 in Paraguay.

William Dormer
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Paraguay's COVID-19 ResponseParaguay is a landlocked country in South America surrounded by Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina. As many South American nations grapple with the spread of the coronavirus, Paraguay appears to have control of the disease. In total, the country has only had a few dozen deaths from the disease. Here are five facts about Paraguay’s COVID-19 response efforts.

5 Facts about Paraguay’s COVID-19 Response

  1. Paraguay, with a population of about 7 million people, has had about 5,338 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 49 deaths. This is drastically different from its neighboring countries of Bolivia and Brazil. Bolivia has about 11 million inhabitants, with 76,789 recorded cases and 2,977 deaths. Similarly high, Brazil has a population of roughly 210 million, with about 2.71 million confirmed cases and 93,616 deaths.
  2. According to epidemiologist Dr. Antonia Arbo, the reason that Paraguay’s COVID-19 response has had success in mitigating the effects of the virus is because of the stern measures put in place by the government as well as the “good behavior” from its citizens.The government of President Mario Abdo Benítez was one of the first in the region to implement containment measures after just the second confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 10.”
  3. Unlike other responses, Paraguay’s containment measures are effective due to the “fast and forceful” nature in which authorities acted. The country was in a consistent lockdown from March 20 until May 3. During this time, the Ministry of Health increased testing and improved contact-tracing capabilities. This allowed the country to initiate a “gradual reopening program.” Additionally, the country is still maintaining precautions even while they ease social distancing restrictions. Masks are still mandatory and medical professionals conduct temperature checks in the entrances to public spaces.
  4. Despite these successes in Paraguay’s COVID-19 response, the country’s economy has definitely suffered. In January, prior to the pandemic, most predicted the economy to grow as agriculture began to bounce back following the droughts and floods of 2019. Since then, however, the lockdown has severely impacted the country’s economy. There was a stark decrease in overall consumption, investment, imports on capital goods, tourism and trade. Though it is difficult to accurately predict the exact impact of the recession, experts predict that the GDP will decrease by 5% in 2020.
  5. The pandemic halted a project between Paraguay’s government and the Food and Agriculture Organization, which would have provided more opportunities for rural communities. Many Indigenous community members in Paraguay live in abject poverty and have no choice but to earn income through marijuana crop cultivation. Unfortunately, this has resulted in severe deforestation. The joint plan, named the Poverty, Reforestation, Energy and Climate Change (PROEZA) Project, intends to provide aid to these vulnerable, low-income families. However, this project has halted for the time being due to the pandemic.

Going forward with Paraguay’s COVID-19 response, as the country’s economy prepares to reopen, Paraguay is working to reduce the deficit and repair the damage to public finances. It is hopeful that with the implementation of social plans for low-income households, Paraguay will be able to truly prosper.

Shreeya Sharma
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in ParaguayParaguay has undoubtedly experienced economic growth in the 21st century, resulting in an average GDP increase of 4% in recent years. Living conditions have generally improved in the past two decades, with a rising middle class and enhanced means of access to safe drinking water, especially within historically marginalized rural areas. Nevertheless, poverty and income inequality have remained serious obstacles to welfare in Paraguay, as made evident by a consistently high GINI coefficient above 45 and a deep rural-urban economic gap. Although the country has seen undeniable economic growth, homelessness in Paraguay remains a problem.

While it is estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic will result in a GDP decline of 1.2% in 2020, Paraguay is expected to shortly return to its pattern of economic growth. This is particularly given to the country’s low case and death rates compared to fellow Latin American countries. Even so, the national poverty rate is expected to worsen due to the country’s vulnerability to the global economy and to the COVID-19 induced recession. A poverty rate exceeding 24% will exacerbate housing insecurity and homelessness in Paraguay.

Homelessness in Paraguay

A concrete estimate of Paraguay’s homeless population does not exist due to factors ranging from the individuals’ mobility to simply the lack of research efforts conducted to establish this figure. However, the Inter-American Development Bank approximates that 43% of Paraguayan families live in inadequate housing. While many of these families may own a physical home, these spaces often lack proper sanitary conditions, access to technology and space.

Flooding has been a major issue over the past decade resulting in the displacement of tens of thousands, particularly affecting impoverished citizens living by the Paraguay River near the national capital, Asunción. In 2015 alone, 50,000 Paraguayans were dislocated from their homes as a result of a disastrous flood. The inadequate assistance from the government has resulted in large protests stemming from affected populations. Housing insecurity, as a consequence of floods and various land ownership issues, has resulted in protestors occupating Asunción’s main square to demand that the government address Paraguay’s housing crisis.

The government’s corruption has indeed resulted in the removal of vulnerable families from their homes. Moreover, according to Habitat For Humanity, 1.1 million houses are needed in Paraguay to harbor those who flood into cities from rural regions— an estimate which only continues to rise. Low-income Paraguayans are desperate for improved housing security.

Civil Society Projects Addressing Paraguay’s Housing Insecurity

Due to the lack of action by state actors, various NGOs and grassroots organizations have taken it upon themselves to address homelessness in Paraguay and the country’s root causes of poverty. Here are just a few of the efforts being done to confront the crisis.

Habitat for Humanity has constructed and repaired homes for low-income families at low and affordable rates. Offering this assistance has helped address the issue of a lack of and/or unsafe housing in urban areas. Such initiative has provided homes for over 4,500 families over the past 22 years.

Fundación Paraguay is an enterprise partnered with the Homeless World Cup that incentivizes schooling as well as provides assistance to schools with predominantly low-income student populations. The organization’s entrepreneurial education program has helped over 100,000 marginalized children and women, providing them with a knowledge base critical for their own socio-economic growth and housing security.

Conclusion

Unsafe housing and homelessness remain a major problem in Paraguay as a result of natural disasters, increasing urbanization, corruption and exacerbated poverty due to COVID-19. Non-state actors have played a major role in providing technical support and housing aid to marginalized populations. However, building improved government response to floodings and overpopulation is imperative for improved living conditions.

Breana Stanski
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Paraguai
Healthcare in Paraguay has improved tremendously over the past decades. The life expectancy of both males and females has increased by about 10 years since 1990. In the same period of time, the mortality rate of children under 5 years old decreased from 34.6 deaths to 14 deaths per 1,000 live births. Still, many communities remain underserved and face the repercussions of limited access to healthcare.

The Rural-Urban Divide

The improvements in Paraguay’s healthcare system have occurred mostly in urban areas. This makes sense considering that more than 60% of Paraguay’s population lives in the urban perimeters of Asunción and Ciudad del Este. In fact, about 70% of healthcare workers operate within the Greater Asunción area.

In contrast, rural populations do not receive the same access to healthcare. While the more rural regions located to the West of Asunción represent 61% of the national territory, only about 31% of the national paved road network reaches these regions. As a result, transportation from isolated rural communities to urban areas with better access to healthcare is not an easy feat.

The Family Health Units and Coverage

In 2008, the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare created family health teams to carry out healthcare in a coordinated, comprehensive and continuous manner. Each team is organized in Family Health Units (USF in the Spanish acronym) and serves the populations to which they are assigned. These teams must provide consultation, home care and ongoing medical evaluation to their communities.

While USFs have successfully improved the health of urban populations, they have largely left behind those who live outside of urban centers. For example, only about 50% of the Alto Paraguay residents have USF coverage.

The following reasons help explain this disparity in USF coverage between city and country areas:

  • Rural areas generally have low population density and exist between small towns. Therefore, providing USF coverage to many rural communities can be inefficient and challenging.
  • Many healthcare workers who are originally from rural areas often decide to either move to urban areas or leave Paraguay completely due to the poor working conditions and precarious employment contracts.
  • There are few incentives for healthcare workers to practice in rural areas.

As a result, rural areas, where poverty rates are the highest, are also most susceptible to experiencing USF shortages.

The maternal mortality rates (MMRs) by region reflects the disparity in USF coverage. In 2015, the rural areas of Boquerón, Amambay and Canindeyú recorded MMRs of 347, 190 and 167 per 100,000 live births, respectively. This data stands in stark contrast to the average MMR of the entire nation which is 132 per 100,000 live births. Clearly a significant imbalance in healthcare access exists between geographic locations in Paraguay.

Addressing MMR in Rural Communities

Several initiatives emerged to address this problem, although some deemed some of them unsuccessful. The Maternal Health and Child Development Project, which operated from 1996 to 2004, aimed to improve the health of mothers and their children in underserved areas. As the World Bank notes, the outcomes of this project were unsatisfactory.

A joint project between the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) is currently in effect with the goal of strengthening the care of mothers and children and improving responses to obstetric emergencies. PAHO and the WHO implemented this project in 19 municipalities across Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay, reaching approximately 400,000 people. It is too early to discern the impact of this project as it only emerged in 2017. Nevertheless, since it only serves a few municipalities in Paraguay, many rural, underserved Paraguayan communities have not received the assistance necessary to improve their MMR.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

In spite of the challenges Paraguay faces in terms of its healthcare system, the country has kept COVID-19 under control in rural and urban communities alike. As of July 19, 2020, there have been confirmations of 3,721 cases and 31 deaths in a country with over 7 million people. One can attribute this successful containment of the virus to the government’s quick and effective response. The first COVID-19 case in Paraguay received confirmation on March 7, 2020, and the country went into full lockdown on March 20, 2020. While the country is not in the clear yet, Paraguay is among the most healthy South American countries with regards to COVID-19.

Bringing Healthcare to Rural Areas

The situation for rural regions, however, is not hopeless. Since urban areas observed significant successes in healthcare through the implementation of the USFs, one could reasonably apply similar tactics to rural areas. Having said that, the biggest hurdle in bringing healthcare access to rural areas will be providing incentives for healthcare workers to settle in areas with low population density.

Luckily, in 2010 the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare launched a rural internship program that incentivizes doctors to work in rural areas. As a result, the concentration of healthcare workers in rural areas should increase as more doctors graduate from medical school.

Nevertheless, the Ministry must continue to pay special attention to rural areas, especially those where impoverished and indigenous people reside. The healthcare system has historically underserved these communities while urban, wealthier communities continue to experience improvements in healthcare. In order to provide healthcare for all residents of Paraguay in an equitable manner, the government must ensure that all Paraguayans can receive the same basic healthcare regardless of geographic location.

There are certain challenges that should receive special attention as Paraguay continues to improve its healthcare system for residents. Many regions still struggle with maternal mortality, especially in rural areas. In addition, viruses that mosquitoes transmit, such as Zika, chikungunya and dengue, cause intermittent regional epidemics. Lastly, about 18,000 people in Paraguay live with HIV or AIDS. However, given the government’s swift and effective response to COVID-19 as well as the success of USFs across the country, these challenges certainly are not insurmountable. If USFs expand significantly into underserved areas, Paraguay should be better able to effectively handle these health challenges.

– Alanna Jaffee
Photo: Flickr

Hydroelectric Power in ParaguayHydroelectricity is one of the few renewable energy resources that can be used to generate electricity. Many countries around the globe have used hydroelectricity to varying degrees. One country that has used this form of renewable energy to a largely successful degree has been the South American country of Paraguay. Hydroelectric power in Paraguay has proven quite successful.

Turning to Hydroelectricity

Paraguay uses massive amounts of hydroelectric power to produce much of its electricity. There are a few key reasons why Paraguay turned to hydroelectricity in the first place. One is that the country wanted to simply “increase domestic energy consumption”. Prior to this Paraguay was reliant on oil and diesel imports. Another reason Paraguay turned to hydroelectricity was out of an agreement that it made with Brazil in 1973. The result of this agreement was what became the Itaipu Dam, which was built on The Parana river.

The Itaipu Dam provides a large amount of hydroelectric power in Paraguay. In 2018, it produced 90.8% of the electricity for Paraguay. The Yacyreta Dam was also built for similar reasons. The dam was built in 1973 out of an agreement between Paraguay and Argentina to share the dam. The Parana River, where these dams are located, and the Paraguay River form what is called the Plata River basin, which runs along “Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay.”

Along with The Itaipu Dam and The Yacyreta Dam, Paraguay also has the Acaray Dam. All three of these dams contribute to providing hydroelectric power in Paraguay. Paraguay’s electricity is 100 percent produced from ample renewable resources within the country. In 2018, only 35% of the power production from hydroelectric resources was needed to meet the country’s domestic demand.

The Economy in Paraguay

The excess energy was then exported by Paraguay to other countries. Because of this excess supply of electricity, Paraguay is the fourth largest country to exports electricity. Of the country’s overall GDP, about 7.1 percent of it was attributed to electricity. The fact that Paraguay is able to meet its energy needs with hydropower and then use what electricity it has left over to sell to other countries is most beneficial to its economic situation. The three dams in the country also provide people with jobs.

Despite this abundance of hydroelectric power though, the domestic economy of the country still suffers system losses. The country is also strongly dependant on its agricultural sector, which can be unreliable depending on the weather. However, the situation is not entirely bleak. The Columbia Center on Sustainable Development has offered solutions to this problem. In the future, Paraguay can use its excess electricity to continue to diversify its economy. Doing so would also help in the further reduction of fossil fuel consumption. The country could also use past revenue streams to help predict the best way to maximize revenue in the future.

Hydroelectric power in Paraguay might not be seeing extreme economic gains yet. However, it is providing the country with a sustainable energy source. With the suggestions made by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Development, it is possible that it could improve even further in the future.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr