camel_mongolia
Up until about 1990, Mongolia never faced any fears of living in poverty. Rural land specifically, and the large volume of land has been Mongolia’s source of food security and livelihood for centuries.

Mongolia owns approximately 838,853.13 square miles of land in which much of it is desert, but the arable land is quickly becoming depleted, polluted, or turned to desert.

Currently, 33% of people in Mongolia are poor, and over half of the country’s population is living in rural areas. This quickly happened after Mongolia’s large farms became private and hundreds of herders became unemployed and without government benefits.

Most of the rural poor live nomadic lifestyles, moving from area to area with their families in order to feed cattle and find food. Some families live in soums, or villages consisting of multiple families, and some rural families, particularly the nomads, live in tents known as ger. The benefit of living in soums is the ability to obtain some form of education, health services, and essential necessities.

Those living in rural areas rely on their animals for food and making money.

With much of the fertile land being utilized for feeding cattle, there has been a severe increase in land degradation. Mongolia has yet to find strengthening mechanisms for sustainable land management or a method to control desertification. Without these forms of protection, Mongolia is at an increasing risk of losing what little remains of one of their most needed natural resources: fertile land.

Desertification brings with it many struggles; drought and causing land to become irreparable are among the worst-case scenarios. With more and more of the land being overgrazed, little land will be left for agriculture, herding, and living. Mongolia is already naturally a very dry climate with little rainfall and plant growth, which is only worsened by the constant migration, over-cultivated land, and now competition for natural resources.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, Scoop World
Photo: Stephane L

South Africa_struggles
On March 6 and 7, South Africa experienced mass rolling blackouts. The state owned utility company Eskom, which supplies 95% of the country’s energy supply, had to impose the power shortages after heavy rains made much of the coal at power stations too wet to burn.

Eskom has stated that “Customers can expect two to four hours of blackout at a time.” Additionally, it has requested that large industrial customers reduce their energy consumption by 10%. Many large firms have switched to generators for their power but many smaller enterprises have had no alternative to Eskom’s energy.

Domestic users were also asked to cease all non-essential functions and turn off appliances such as swimming pool pumps and water heaters.

While the recent blackouts are the third energy emergency in two weeks, South Africa had not experienced severe energy shortages since 2008. However, the 2008 blackouts cost the economy billions of dollars as factories and mines had to close, South Africa’s credit rating was downgraded and investment flowed out of the country.

Business organizations have already begun warning of the potential risks of the most recent blackouts.

Naren Rau, CEO of the South African Chamber of Commerce warned that “If we are looking at power constraints of about a day or two, then our losses would be in the lower billions, but if you’re looking at power constraints of a week or more, it’s going to escalate very fast.” Additionally, officials at London-based Nomura International PLC, have estimated that the power outages may hurt the South African Economy at a rate of .2% of gross domestic product per day.

The blackouts are representative of larger problems facing South Africa. Poor funding has plagued Eskom and the state-owned company is struggling to meet the demands of a population that will double in the next 15 years to nearly 100 million people. It has recently begun building three new coal-fired stations, one of which should have opened in December 2013, but fell behind schedule because of disputes with contractors and labor unions.

Because of its heavy depended on coal and its struggles to increase capacity and meet rising demand, South Africa has begun evaluating expanding into nuclear energy and shale gas.

Eskom’s ability to meet South Africa’s rising energy demands will play a large role in determining the country’s future.

Currently, 31% of South Africans–about 14.5 million people–live below the poverty line. These citizens are not able to cope with the effects of mass power losses as easily as their richer counter parts. In order to protect this most vulnerable part of the South African population, Eskom must correct its structural inefficiencies and increase its energy capacity.

– Martin Levy

Sources: BBC, Bloomberg, CIA Factbook
Photo: Positively Parkinson’s

hunger_rwanda
The Republic of Rwanda is a small sovereign state in the Eastern part of Central Africa. Rwanda ranked at 166 of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index in 2011. Rwanda also has the highest population density in the region with 416 people per square kilometer.

Low income, limited natural resources, and food and water insecurity pose a problem for citizens in Rwanda every day. In the years following the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, international rebuilding efforts have been on the ground trying to make sustainable changes to alleviate some of the hunger and water issues.

Here are five facts that explain the state of hunger in Rwanda and how it may change in the coming years:

  1. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide marked the end of the ceasefire signed the year before that stopped the fighting of the Rwandan Civil War. The war began between two ethnic groups the Hutu and Tutsi. The Genocide began when the plane carrying the Hutu supported president Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down and he, along with several other members of the government, were killed. The genocide lasted 100 days and an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed. The fallout from the Rwandan Genocide is the cause for much of the instability in the region that lasts today.
  2. Secondary school attendance in Rwanda is one of the lowest in the world and the literacy rate is 55%.
  3. Approximately 65% of the population has access to safe, clean drinking water
  4. 45% of children under 5 years of age are malnourished.
  5. Over 67,000 refugees from neighboring countries currently reside in Rwanda.

Even though there is a lot of strain on the country today, organizations have been working with the government to address one of Rwanda’s major problems: food insecurity. Agriculture was the country’s main sector before the genocide, and since then, major efforts have been made to make it profitable one more.

Updating the agricultural practices is what the World Food Programme credits with directly reducing the number of food insecure people.

The country hopes that with the reliance on agricultural programs it will improve its GDP to US$900 by the year 2020, up US$380 from its current GDP. Rwanda was also the first country to sign the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), meaning that addressing malnutrition and food insecurity is one of the government’s main priorities.

Even though Rwanda still has a long way to go, the government has been taking steps in the right direction that could provide a template for other countries in the region to follow.

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: World Food Programme, World Vision
Photo: Rising Continent

malnutrition

Kinshasa, DR Congo

The second largest country in Africa and is located in the middle of the continent. Since the 1990’s the country has been in a state of political unrest and civil war which is the cause of many of the other problems in the region, such as disease, food insecurity, human rights violations, and violence against women.

Here are four issues that contribute to nearly 6.3 million people remaining food insecure and over half of the children under the age of 5 classified as malnourished in the DR Congo:

  1. Political instability between the government and several militia and rebel groups. Peace talks have been ongoing since 2009 with little progress. Since 1998, 5.4 million people have been killed. Less than 10% were killed during the fighting, instead the majority have died from diseases and malnutrition.
  2. 2.7 million people are internally displaced within the DRC as a result of the civil war. 1.6 million are in the North and South Kivu region, where much of the heavy militia activity takes place. There are an additional 116,000 refugees from neighboring countries currently living in the DRC. The large number of displaced people and perpetual fighting in the country has led to a high rate of abuse and sexual assault of women and children. It is estimated that 400,000 women between 15 and 49 were raped between 2006 and 2007. This is the equivalent of 48 women being assaulted every hour.
  3. 3.71% of the population lives below the poverty line, meaning they live on less than two dollars per day.
  4. Rampant infectious diseases are common across the country such as Malaria, Dengue Fever, Typhoid Fever, and HIV/AIDS. The ministry of health said that Malaria was their number one disease concern and in 2011 alone there were 4,561,981 reported cases.

– Colleen Eckvahl 

Sources: The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict , WFP, WHO
Photo: This is Africa

typhoon_recovery
It’s been more than 100 days after the devastating Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines and recovery efforts are still underway for those who have been displaced from their homes.

The storm, one of the most powerful ever recorded, hit the archipelago on November 8th, killing nearly 6,000 people and displacing 4.1 million.

A government-led recovery effort, known as the Strategic Response Plan (SRP), was launched following the typhoon. The plan covers the next twelve months and requires $788 million, of which 45% has already been received.

Along with these typhoon recovery efforts, the United Nations and its affiliated partners have helped to provide food, medicine, water, and sanitation and hygiene assistance to those affected. Tents and tarpaulins have been distributed to approximately 500,000 families, but many more still remain without shelter.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Philippines, Luiza Carvalho notes that, “the need for durable shelter for millions of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed is critical.”

In Tacloban, a city of 250,000, major typhoon recovery efforts have been underway to pump money back into the local economies. Coconut farmers and fishermen represent the backbone of the economy in this area but their livelihoods have been severely threatened by the storm. In response, the UN development programme has recently implemented both short-term and long-term plans to help farmers get back on their feet.

Oxfam has noted that the Filipino government has been slow to deliver funds for agricultural and reconstruction support.

Thanks to generous donor contributions, great things have been achieved in the relief phase of the recovery effort. In the coming weeks, it is critical that the international community continues to provide support to those whose lives have been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.

In a recent UN statement, Carvalho noted, “the Filipino people should be commended for the pace of progress that we have seen in the first 100 days. But we cannot afford to be complacent.”

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: The Guardian, UN
Photo: Aljazeera

Development_in_Afghanistan
With the intention of improving and stabilizing Afghanistan’s economy following the withdrawal of American and international forces, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) revealed a plan to provide almost $300 million in assistance aid on January 10, 2014. The plan addresses development in Afghanistan across the agricultural, trade and education sectors and includes provisions to ensure the proper allocation of funds.

Tumultuous tension plagues the U.S.-Afghan relationship, yet Larry Sampler, head of USAID programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, argues that the plan’s programs are the best chance for Afghanistan to move ahead with an economically-founded faith in the future.

Of the nearly $300 million for development in Afghanistan, $125 million over a five-year period will provide Afghan farmers access to the research and technology necessary for superior crop yields and market expansion. In the same five-year time span,  $92 million partnered with three U.S. universities will serve as means to a technical training education program in fields particularly desired by Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Additionally, $77 million will be directed over four years to involving Afghanistan in the World Trade Organization through a better business environment that will attract increased foreign investment. Sampler emphasizes his goal for Afghanistan to enter on a path of respect and equality, and of economic stability and self-sustaining democracy. He hopes for the country to reach this goal within 10 years and addresses the need for cooperation within Afghanistan.

In January, the U.S. cut civilian aid for Afghanistan in half, citing concerns about fraud, incorrect allotment and corruption within Hamid Karzai’s regime. In the face of the negative light this has cast on the USAID plan, Sampler plans to provide an outline of monitoring techniques posited in collaboration with each aid program to avoid corruption. Sampler does, however, give credence to the obstacle of the Afghan government.

As U.S. forces withdraw from the country, USAID will rely more and more on Afghan troops to provide the environment previously afforded to the agency’s staff. Further complicating the issue, Karzai has repeatedly refused to sign a security pact that would allow for a small portion of U.S. troops to remain and assist in development. Without this helping hand, the fate of the USAID plan will be dependent on cooperation with the Afghan government sooner than expected.

According to U.S. officials these new initiatives will not be affected by January’s budget cut, as the money can be set aside and allocated accordingly over the four-year or five-year time span. Despite the many hurdles USAID faces, the newly proposed plan presents a method for Afghanistan to reach its economic, educational and social potential.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Bloomberg, NPR, Reuters, New York Times
Photo: Politicker

Scandinavia_Norway_Europe
When it comes to quality of life, there are few countries that can supersede America in terms of luxury, comfort and overall well-being. Not even Canada or Britain exceeds the United States in quality of life. However, Norway, an oil-rich country situated in the Scandinavian Peninsula, undeniably outstrips the American standard of living.

The United States has a lower per capita GDP than Norway with a GDP of 51,749 compared to 99,558, respectively, and is also home to one of the most pressing income distribution gaps in any industrialized nation, surpassed in income inequality by only Russia and Mexico.

Due to America’s cavernous income inequality, the poorest 38% of Norwegians are better off than the poorest 38% of Americans despite an overall lower average per capita GDP. According to Syracuse University professor Timothy Smeeding, the United States relies heavily on the markets to an extent that social safety nets are neglected, unlike Norway, which focuses more resources on providing aid to the poor.

This is not to say that America completely disregards its poor. To clarify, the United States has initiated its portion of socially-oriented acts, such as its attempt to reform the welfare system during the past two decades.

However, while the number of individuals on welfare was reduced from 5 million to slightly over 2 million, the welfare poor were downgraded into the working poor. Although welfare reform was rooted in good intentions, the lack of government safety nets defeated the purpose of the entire act.

Although the discovery of oil on the land in 1969 had transformed Norway, more than just an abundance of the valued natural resource buttresses Norway’s economy. Norway’s success has been attributed to what many call the “Norwegian Model”– a model of running a welfare state in which resources are carefully monitored, preserved and kept up-to-date.

While the United States ranks among one of the wealthiest nations in the world, it has stayed remiss in establishing social safety nets, particularly for the less economically-advantaged subsection of the population. Due to the lack of social safety nets, America hosts one of the largest global income inequality gaps, and is ultimately surpassed by the tiny welfare state of Norway in terms of quality of life.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Infoplease, CS Monitor, World Bank, News in English
Photo: The Telegraph

Beat_Making_Labs_Initiative_PBS_Music_Culture
What had once been a course on music production and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has now become one of the most innovative global outreach programs in current times. Founded by Stephen Levitin, Doctor Mark Katz and Pierce Freelon in 2011, awareness and support for Beat Making Lab was originally gleaned through crowd-sourcing.

However, Levitin, Katz and Freelon gleaned more than just funds–they also attracted the attention of PBS Digital Studios, which agreed to document the efforts of Beat Making Lab in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Panama and Ethiopia.

Beat Making Lab collaborates with global communities in order to achieve cultural exchange, innovation and inspiration. Beat Making Lab, an enterprise of the production company ARTVSM LLC also partners with PBS Digital Studios in order to donate equipment such as laptops and software to global communities. The studio also shoots music videos with the selected community in order to create a weekly web-series with PBS.

For example of how Beat Making Lab has spread its message of global collaboration and peace through art is evident in Ethiopia, last summer, Beat Making Lab trained a group of 18-25 year old students in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The group was taught how to blend modern hip-hop beats with traditional Ethiopian rhythms in order to convey messages regarding pressing political and health issues in their homeland.

One of the many goals of Beat Making Lab is to provide youth around the globe with the tools and information necessary to become entrepreneurs of their own. In order to ensure that the knowledge provided during the two week session is not lost, students are requested to keep training other members of their community.

A former Beat Making Lab student, DJ Couler, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, stated that ““when the instructors return to the United States, for us that will not be the end. It will be more like a continuation, or even a beginning for us because we will be able to teach others how to create their own beats.”

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Beat Making Lab, Beat Making Lab- 2, PRI
Photo: Okay Player

top_global_healers_humanitarians_academics
Each year, Foreign Policy compiles a comprehensive list of the most prominent figures in various areas of global thinking–artists, decision-makers and advocates alike–honoring them for their respective accomplishments. This year, widely known names such as Edward Snowden, Rand Paul and Vladimir Putin appeared on the list, all claiming their earned places within modern day history.

Following are all the selectees from the “Healer” category, each with a sentence description – as presented on the Foreign Policy website – and a short motivation for why these people deserve to have their names on the list. Here are the top global healers:

Dr. Caroline Buckee – “for using metadata to fight disease.”

Buckee pioneered the idea of using cellphone data in order to track human movement in malaria-infested zones, thus helping understand the epidemiology of the disease. In modern day society, mobile phones are spreading across the third world, making for an efficient and easy marker. Buckee’s research, published in 2013, covers crucial data collected from over 15 million cellphones.

Anand Grover – “for going to the mat with Big Pharma.”

A human rights lawyer and United Nations affiliate, Grover won a case against the Swiss company Novartis, which was at the time attempting to patent its cancer drug Glivec for consumption in India. Thanks to Grover’s efforts, the generic version of this effective, leukemia-battling treatment can be acquired for a price 92 percent cheaper than previously marked, thus introducing affordable medication for the poorer Indian population.

Michael Faye, Paul Niehaus, Jeremy Shapiro and Rohit Wanchoo – “for trusting the poor to spend their money wisely.”

Four economists co-founded the organization GiveDirectly, which focuses on allocating funds directly to those in need. With headquarters in Kenya, GiveDirectly transfers donations received online into pre-selected, poverty-stricken households. Rather controversial in nature, this approach has so far witnessed success.

Hannah Gay, Katherine Luzuriaga and Deborah Persaud – “for bringing us closer to a cure for HIV.”

A pediatrician and two researchers who developed an aggressive treatment which, for the first time in history, managed to cure a newborn child of HIV. Their work is the basis potentially eradicating the death sentence of HIV in the future.

Homi Kharas – “for charting a path to the end of poverty.”

Lead author in a post-Millennium Development Goals regime panel, the former World Bank economist has put tremendous efforts into anti-poverty planning. Kharas and his peers are currently aiming to end extreme global poverty by 2030.

Erica Chenoweth – “for proving Gandhi right.”

Arguing for the success rate of non-violent conflict, Chenoweth has compiled a data set ranging from the years of 1945 to 2006 that examines effectiveness of various political strategies. Applying the data to current events such as the issues with Syria, she is pioneering a revolutionary approach to political issues.

Sanjay Basu and David Stuckler – “for warning that austerity can be deadly.”

Epidemiologist and physician at Stanford and political economist/epidemiologist at Oxford respectively, these two men have come together in analyzing the effects of economic rigidity on public health in recent times. Compiling large amounts of data, they published the book “The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills.” Their argument supports better funding of public health during economically severe times.

Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir – “for showing how scarcity changes the way you think about everything.”

Harvard economist and Princeton psychologist, these two men co-authored the book “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.” Raising empathy for the poor, the book discusses the “scarcity trap,” and how not having enough resources changes the way people think.

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: Foreign Policy, MIT Technology Review, Managing Intellectual Property, Times Higher Education, The Washington Post, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Give Directly
Photo: World Bank

India_Technology
It is an accepted fact that poverty is the root cause of malnutrition. Over 42% of the Indian population lives on less than $1.25 a day. However, if farmers could increase their output and earn more from what they already have through the use of innovative technology, food insecurity could decrease and that same dollar and a quarter could go much further.

Technology can help farmers to augment their knowledge of which crops to produce for the best return, find the most effective farming practices and make plans based upon weather forecasts.

The e-Choupal initiative is one way that technology is being used to give farmers the information they need to be more successful. The aforementioned benefits of technology are all accounted for on the e-Choupal platform, even enabling buyers to come to the farmers instead of having to haul the produce to market, where oftentimes traders manipulate the market in order to exploit the farmers out of their proper earnings.

The initiative also provides access to storage services and agricultural equipment in addition to other important assets for rural farmers. The e-Choupal network has expanded to 6,500 centers synchronizing the efforts of 40,000 villages to produce greater quantities of better produce and profit.

In this same vein of increased technology and higher profits, organic farming is a possible venue poor farmers could explore. Organic produce consistently garner high prices, the demand for which is only rising. The only constraints are the ones that the e-Choupal network is already helping to eradicate, at least in India, including lack of technical expertise and insufficient market knowledge.

Another example of innovative agricultural technology is the use of drip-irrigation, which cuts water use by 40%, and saves the equivalent of 10 million households water expenditures per year. Much in the same way, the e-Choupal initiative has created a network where over 25,000 small farmers have organized a supply chain that has augmented their average annual incomes by a very significant $1,000.

India is a country of fertile lands and capable farmers. Technology is the catalyst that promises to drive the more than 400 million people living on less than $1.25 a day out of poverty.

– Jordan Schunk
Sources: The Huffington Post, New Indian Express, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: The Fourth Revolution