Inflammation and stories on South America

Mental Health in GuyanaGuyana, an English-speaking country situated on the northern coast of South America, has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The country tallies about 29.2 suicides for every 100,000 deaths, a number surpassed only by Lithuania and Russia. This unsavory statistic can be an important indicator of a country’s relationship with mental health. The seven facts about mental health in Guyana show the variety of complex and interconnected factors that contribute to its high suicide rate.

7 Facts About Mental Health in Guyana

  1. Poverty in rural areas and alcohol abuse are major risk factors for poor mental health. While anybody can struggle with mental health, there are certain social patterns in Guyana that put some communities at greater risk for developing mental health issues like depression. Health workers have cited poverty in rural areas and the prevalence of alcohol abuse as possible factors that increase the risk of depression in Guyana.Rural poverty: About three-quarters of Guyana’s population lives in rural areas, both along the coast and in the interior. Of the 12 percent of people living in the rural interior, about 73.5 percent live in poverty and of the 60 percent of people living in rural communities along the coast, about 37 percent live in poverty. The poverty levels in these more remote communities are much higher than in urban areas, and they represent more dire situations as access to resources is more limited. About 70 percent of the country’s suicides take place in these rural areas.

    Alcohol abuse: Some health experts have suggested a link between alcohol abuse and poverty in rural regions of the country. An article by NPR cited Guyanese government psychologist Caitlin Vieira in saying, “In these rural communities, there is nothing to do but drink.” Alcohol abuse can have detrimental effects on mental health, especially if the consumer is already struggling. In the long-term, experts have suggested that dependence on alcohol can worsen mood disorders such as depression. In the short-term, excessive drinking lowers inhibitions and can result in impulsive suicide.

  2. There is a severe lack of trained mental health professionals. With very few healthcare professionals trained in mental health treatment and those who are trained working primarily in urban centers, Guyana’s most at-risk populations often cannot receive the care they need. Part of the reason there is so few people trained in this field is because Guyana has an extremely high emigration rate. With over 55 percent of the country’s citizens living abroad, there are typically not enough professionals in medicine generally to meet the population’s needs. Luckily, the government is mobilizing to address this issue. In 2015, Guyana pledged to a National Suicide Prevention Plan that aims to increase the number of trained mental healthcare workers. Over the past two years, about 120 medical doctors have received training for depression and suicide intervention and are now scattered across the country. The number of psychologists and psychiatrists in the country remains low, at around 27, but has increased from just seven in 2014.
  3. Access to treatment facilities is extremely limited. Along with the lack of healthcare professionals, access to adequate mental health treatment facilities in Guyana is very limited. There are only two inpatient rehabilitation facilities in the country, and only one allows women. While some people find it easier and more effective for trained healthcare workers to visit their communities, others benefit from and require the immersive atmosphere of inpatient care. More health workers are being trained, but presently there does not seem to be any plans to expand care and rehabilitation facilities.
  4. The stigma surrounding mental health stops many struggling citizens from seeking help. The stigma around mental health in Guyana is stubborn and pervasive. Especially in the rural communities where people are most at risk, talk spreads quickly and citizens avoid getting the help they need for fear of backlash from their neighbors. Part of the reason for this stigma involves the Mental Health Ordinance of 1930, which continues to serve as the legislative framework for mental health services. The document refers to people suffering from psychological disorders as “idiots” and “deranged,” language that establishes those seeking help for mental health issues as unwelcome outcasts. Some areas even attribute mental illness to witchcraft, further ostracizing those struggling. Fortunately, researchers at the University of Guyana are working to address the problem. To promote wellness, they plan to study and share “local practices for building community mental health resilience” among certain Guyanese neighborhoods. Because these stories and solutions are community-based and not focused on the individual, the study is expected to decrease the stigma around mental illness and promote collective acceptance.
  5. Fear of prosecution also acts as a deterrent for seeking help. Aside from stigma, fear of prosecution and mandatory enrollment in a treatment facility are other reasons why people do not get treated for mental illness. According to the NPR article, 85 percent of patients seeking treatment end up spending more than five years in psychiatric facilities with no legal protections outlining their right to leave or refuse treatment. People are scared that if they seek help, they will be sent away with no way to protest. Additionally, because suicide is illegal in Guyana, those considering taking their lives are sometimes fearful that a report will get them in legal trouble. The police operate the country’s suicide prevention hotline, a fact that intimidates many people, even though very few have been prosecuted. Many citizens suffer in silence for fear that there will be consequences if they seek help.
  6. East Indians have the highest suicide rate among ethnic groups in Guyana. According to the National Suicide Prevention Plan, East Indians made up about 80 percent of Guyana’s suicides between 2010 and 2013, even though East Indians make up just about 40 percent of the population. Some have considered the history of East Indians in Guyana an important indicator of why suicide rates are so high. When slavery was abolished in the 1800s, landowners enlisted indentured servants from India as the new form of cheap labor. Therefore, despite being the largest ethnic group, East Indians have always been associated with poverty and low status in Guyana.
  7. Progress is ongoing. In addition to the various aforementioned steps being taken to address mental health in Guyana, a non-profit organization called The Guyana Foundation has been instrumental in developing “sunrise centers” in communities with high suicide rates. These centers focus less on psychiatric treatment and more on community-based wellness programs to reshape suicide-prone areas from the ground up. Sunrise centers offer courses that teach valuable life skills, such as IT training, photography and music lessons, in order to increase economic opportunities and provide stress relief.

As a result of the efforts from non-profits and legislation like the National Suicide Prevention Plan, Guyana’s suicide rate has dropped from 44.2 percent in 2014 to just under 30 today. While it is clear that improvements are being made, the country still has a long way to go in holistically addressing mental health. An overhaul of the outdated legislative framework surrounding mental illness may be the next step towards improving mental health in Guyana.

– Morgan Johnson
Photo: Pixabay

 

Safe, Quality Drinking WaterOn May 24, 2019, thousands of residents from poor neighborhoods in Lima, Peru protested business litigation that has been obstructing their access to drinking water. The demand for safe drinking water, a necessity for any lifeform to thrive, is, unfortunately, a common obstacle in South America. Several countries struggle in providing this vital resource to its citizens, especially in rural areas with poorer communities. However, other countries are successfully paving a path to ensuring access to drinking water and sanitation facilities. Here are a few facts about safe drinking water throughout South America.

Access to Safe Drinking Water in South America

  • Peru: Thirty-one million people live in Peru, but 3 million don’t have access to safe drinking water, and 5 million people don’t have access to improved sanitation. While more than 90 percent of Peruvian residents have access to improved drinking water, in rural areas, access drops to below 70 percent. Likewise, urban areas offer sanitation facility access to 82.5 percent of the population, but barely over 50 percent of people in rural communities, highlighting the drastic disparity between socioeconomic and regional populations.
  • Brazil: Similarly, shortcomings in providing safe, quality drinking water exist in South America’s largest country, Brazil. With a population of 208 million, 5 million Brazilians lack access to safe drinking water, and 25 million people, more than 8 percent of the population, don’t have access to sanitation facilities. While 100 percent of the urban population has access to drinking water, in rural areas the percentage drops to 87. The numbers take another hit when it comes to access to sanitation facilities. Eighty-eight percent of the urban population has this access, but almost half of the people in rural populations lack proper sanitation facilities.
  • Argentina: A similar narrative occurs in Argentina, where urban populations might have decent access to safe, quality drinking water and sanitation facilities, but the numbers drop off concerning rural and lower socioeconomic communities which struggle in having their needs and demands addressed by the government. Typical causes for low-quality drinking water include pollution, urbanization and unsustainable forms of agriculture.
  • Uruguay: In stark contrast, Uruguay has available safe drinking water for 100 percent of urban populations, almost 94 percent in rural populations, over 96 percent for improved access to sanitation facilities for urban populations and almost 94 percent for rural populations. The World Bank participated in the success of transforming Uruguay’s access to drinking water, which suffered in the 1980s, by offering loans to the main utility provider. The World Bank and other developers financially assisted Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE), the public utility that now provides drinking water to more than 98 percent of Uruguayans, in addition to providing more than half of the sanitation utilities in Uruguay. In addition to finances, these partners aid in ensuring quality operation standards such as upholding accountability, preventing unnecessary water loss, implementing new wastewater treatment plants in rural areas and protecting natural water sources such as the Santa Lucia river basin.
  • Bolivia: Like Uruguay, Bolivia made recent strides in improving access to safe, quality drinking water. They began by meeting the Millenium Development goal of cutting in half the number of people without access to improved drinking water by 2015. President Evo Morales, “a champion of access to water and sanitation as a human right,” leads to a path for the next step which is to achieve universal access to drinking water by 2020 and sanitation by 2025. Bolivia also recently invested $2.9 billion for drinking water access, irrigation systems and sanitation. In 2013, Morales addressed the United Nations calling for access to water and sanitation as a human right. Dedicated to his cause, he leads Bolivia in surpassing most other countries on the continent in ensuring these essential amenities to his constituents.

Unfortunately, the progress of Bolivia and Uruguay doesn’t transcend all borders within South America, as millions still feel neglected by their governments due to not having regular, affordable, safe, quality access to clean drinking water.

– Keeley Griego
Photo: Flickr

Ecosia
As of 2015, less than one-third of our planet’s surface contains forests, and that percentage continues to decrease. According to the World Wildlife Fund, approximately 18.7 million acres of forest are destroyed annually. But a search engine called Ecosia is on a mission to help.

The Problem With Deforestation

Deforestation rates have slowed down somewhat since peak levels in the 1990s. Nevertheless, the Earth continues to lose this ecosystem at an alarming rate. Forests are home to an estimated 80 percent of the world’s non-aquatic species. The Amazon rainforest alone shelters an estimated 2,000 animal species and 40,000 plant species. As the world’s forests are gradually destroyed, millions of plants and animals lose their habitats. It is possible that, due to deforestation, countless species have gone extinct before they were ever discovered by humans.

In addition, forests play a number of roles in maintaining a safe and habitable environment. Forests are carbon sinks, meaning that they absorb large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, thereby helping to maintain a balanced and habitable climate. The loss of forests is responsible for at least 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to rising temperatures, extreme weather conditions and an increasing number of dangerous storms. These changes have the potential to make human life more difficult and dangerous, and people in impoverished countries often face the greatest risks.

What is Ecosia?

Ecosia is a web search engine founded in 2009 and based in Berlin, Germany. The brainchild of Christian Kroll, Ecosia was created as a “social business” with the primary objective of helping the world. For most businesses, profit comes first and service projects second. Ecosia has turned this order on its head.

Like other search engines, Ecosia makes money off of ads in internet searches. But unlike other engines, 80 percent of Ecosia’s revenue is used to plant trees in countries suffering from heavy deforestation and to fund reforestation projects. The search page also comes with a tree counter, allowing users to see how many trees their searches have planted so far.

As of 2018, Ecosia is contributing to reforestation efforts in 15 countries across Asia, Europe, and South America. Its projects target biodiversity hotspots containing a high number of plants and animals without alternative habitats. Many of these areas are at risk of disappearing. By reforesting these areas, Ecosia’s efforts are preventing countless species from going extinct.

Agricultural Benefits of Reforestation

Forests are vital to the health and safety of agriculture. Apart from maintaining a healthy climate and biodiversity, trees prevent erosion by holding soil. Without this protection from erosion, good soil is lost, and agriculture becomes significantly more difficult.

Trees also shield smaller crops from violent storms and channel nutrients to surrounding plants. They provide habitats for bees and other pollinators, facilitating natural fertilization of crops and plants. Perhaps most importantly, trees aid in precipitation. By drawing groundwater through their roots and evaporating it through their leaves, the water can return as rain. Not long after the reforestation project in Burkina Faso commenced, rainfall became more frequent in the semi-desertic area.

By setting the groundwork to create better and more sustainable conditions for agriculture, Ecosia is helping rural communities around the world improve their livelihoods.

Community Benefits of Reforestation

While reforestation efforts are inherently beneficial to the environment, Ecosia also ensures that local communities benefit from their projects. Many of the company’s efforts focus on planting trees that are useful to local farmers. One example is Ecosia’s project in Ghana, where more than 900,000 trees were planted along the Daka River. Most of these trees were fruit or nut trees. These trees not only helped restore and maintain the water level of the river but provided local people with food. Through the harvesting and selling of shea nuts, the plants also created new economic opportunities.

Finally, Ecosia projects bring communities out of poverty by employing locals to plant trees. The company provides a stable source of income for people in areas where jobs and money are scarce.

How to Help

Ecosia can be downloaded for free as an extension for browsers including Safari, Firefox and Google Chrome. It is also offered as an app on iOS or Android. So far, nearly 6 million people have begun using Ecosia, leading to the planting of more than 40 million trees. By 2020, the company hopes to have planted at least 1 billion, reviving broken habitats and contributing to a sustainable future.

Keira Charles
Photo: Flickr


Venezuela is currently in the midst of a humanitarian aid crisis spanning nearly ten years. As a developing country in South America, Venezuela has rich natural resources but suffers from an often harsh government that has not been cooperative with foreign NGOs in the past. Though NGOs operating in and outside of Venezuela are key to solving serious dilemmas in the areas of health, human trafficking, and education, the important thing in solving the crisis is an improvement of the strained relationship between the country’s government and foreign input.

The Crisis

The Venezuelan Crisis began in 2010 under the presidency of Hugo Chavez and has continued into the second six-year-term of current president Nicolas Maduro. The Venezuelan crisis has its roots in the country’s rich oil reserves, which under encouragement from Chavez (1999-2013), composed the majority of Venezuela’s earnings from exported goods.

Social programs were created with the influx of oil money, but when oil prices dropped in 2014 these programs were scaled back, and many Venezuelans began to struggle. Inflation has continued to rise steadily since 2012 and currently, Venezuela has the highest rate of inflation globally at 18,000% as of April 2018.

The political landscape of Venezuela has been tumultuous, yet ironically rigid in the transfer of power from Chavez to Maduro. Being hand-selected by Chavez to succeed him before his own passing, Maduro’s leadership has been marked with rumors of corruption, election fraud, and instances of police brutality against protestors and the unlawful imprisonment of political rivals.

As the government continues to deny foreign aid and refuses to allow foreign companies to invest in resident NGOs, the situation is becoming a humanitarian crisis worsened by the inability of aid organizations to alleviate the suffering of Venezuelan citizens. Despite these setbacks, multiple agencies are working hard to help the people living in Venezuela.

Due to extreme poverty caused by the Crisis, many Venezuelans are left vulnerable to human trafficking, an issue running rampant in this region of Central America. Those abducted are usually women and children, though men are taken as well. In often cases, the victims have moved from a rural area to an urban location, lured by the promise of higher earnings.

The Venezuelan government has done very little to eliminate this serious issue. The U.S. Department of Labor noted in 2017 that the Venezuelan government did not report any data whatsoever on human trafficking, and did little in the past year to combat the issue besides the arrest of seven individuals involved in human smuggling.

Venezuelans also face police brutality, lack of hospitals and medicine, and a nationwide shortage of food and clean water. As thousands of refugees pour out of the country, foreign NGOs are becoming more desperate to help. Some NGOs have banded together in order to fight the Crisis.

Strength in Numbers

The most significant humanitarian cooperative spearheading foreign relief efforts in Venezuela is Cuatro Por Venezuela, a Houston-based collective of 12 NGOs working together to fight the humanitarian aid crisis. The collective utilizes the resources of a vast web of partners and NGOs operating in Texas, Florida, and Chile.

By utilizing volunteers to deliver food, medicine, and other supplies, Cuatro Por Venezuela is able to work with NGOs in Venezuela to help them assist those in need. Though unable to fund resident NGOs, Cuatro Por Venezuela can still provide supplies and volunteers to Venezuela’s own humanitarian operations.  Cuatro Por Venezuela assisted nearly 100 humanitarian organizations and medical facilities for 14 states across the nation.

Though Venezuela’s government seems likely to deny foreign aid for the foreseeable future, the Venezuelan Crisis can still be alleviated by the collective efforts of NGOs in and outside this central American nation. Cuatro Por Venezuela represents the beneficial results produced when cooperation occurs between humanitarian groups.

– Jason Crosby
Photo: Flickr

Legalizing Coca Leaf Production
A recent study on the benefits of coca leaf legalization has spurred lobbying efforts in Colombia, with advocates encouraging the country to legalize its production rather than attempting to eradicate the crop. Using coca leaves has been a traditional practice among indigenous South Americans for thousands of years. Before the leaf was harvested and manufactured into cocaine, it was chewed or made into a tea. It provides medicinal and health benefits like treating nausea and can be used for an energy boost.

Before industrialization, when working long days of hard labor, workers—especially some of the underprivileged farmers—would chew coca leaves for the effect of the stimulant but also to satiate hunger pangs while working on an empty stomach. Coca leaves also provide essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamins like A, B1, B6, C and E. Chewing and brewing coca leaves is a natural way of taking dietary supplements.

Peru and Bolivia See Benefits from Legalizing Coca Leaf Production

The government of Peru formed the National Coca Company of Peru (ENACO) in 1949, pushing for legalizing coca leaf production in order to make items and medicines derived from coca leaves. Farmers growing leaves for chewing to be sold to ENACO got their land certified for legal growth in 1978. ENACO does not only cultivate legal coca leaves for local traditional uses, but also sells its products around the world. One of the most common uses is as a natural anesthetic for eye surgery; ENACO is one of two companies that produce coca leaves for this medicinal purpose.

Coca production in Bolivia, however, is more recent. Bolivia has the third world’s largest crop of coca leaves (after Columbia and Peru) with about 67,000 acres used for farming. In 2011, the Bolivian Community Coca Company was founded by the government for the legal cultivation and purchase of coca leaves to be made into flour, ointments, and other products. In 2013, the Bolivian government sought to market coca-based toothpaste to the public with the intention of battling the illicit use of the drug. By using the drug for products like toothpaste or flour, there will be more use of coca leaves for legal industrialization and less for illegal drug trafficking.

How the Legal Coca Leaf Could Help Colombia

Legalizing coca leaf production in the long term could benefit Colombia economically, politically and socially. Allowing coca leaf farms could offset expensive anti-drug efforts like crop substitution, where the government buys out farmers of their current crop and looks to replace it with a different, legal product. However, crop substitution is costly and non-sustainable, especially if the demand for cocaine does not change. If the uses for coca leaves remain the same while their cultivation is restricted by the government, it will merely increase the price of the drug and make crime worse.

Bolivia and Peru are examples of the benefits of legalizing coca leaf production. These countries show that the medicinal benefits can be harnessed to create a market that effectively limits the illicit use of the leaves by taking away from the crops that would be used to make cocaine. Opening a legal market for coca leaves to be made into useful items like flour, ointments, toothpaste and other products would help lower the amount of drug trafficking and create new opportunities for coca leaf farmers to sell this indigenous plant.

– David Daniels
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in South America
Substantial parts of Africa, Western Asia, South America and the Caribbean are regions that grapple with scant economic growth and poverty. South America alone consists of twelve sovereign states, most of which are subject to low per capita GDP and high rates of poverty. Here are ten facts about poverty in South America:

10 Facts About Poverty in South America

  1. South America (SA) suffered the onslaught of European colonization roughly from the 15th to the 17th Centuries. The Iberian colonial policies led to uneven distribution of land and insecure property rights, which in turn contributed to persistent economic and political inequality until the 19th and 20th Centuries. Oxfam reported in 2016 that Latin America still has the most unequal distribution of land in the world, which in turn “limits employment; increases urban poverty belts, as people are expelled from rural areas; undermines social cohesion, the quality of democracy, environmental health; and destabilizes local, national and global food systems.”
  2. In 2016, there was an estimated rise in poverty in SA from 28.5 percent in 2014 to 30.7 percent. In fact, 61 million people live in extreme poverty and 220 million people live on less that $10 a day in this region.
  3. The entire region of SA was majorly affected by the economic crises of the two largest countries on the continent — Brazil and Argentina between 1998-2002. By 2001, the IMF feared that Argentina’s fiscal policy, public debt and currency board would become unsustainable. The holdouts case in Argentina (2005) and the Petrobras scandal in Brazil (2014) later created a chaotic and fragile economic scenario. In fact, Argentina is still trying to recover from high inflation and its currency crunch. Brazil’s external debt in 2017 was 26.5 percent of its nominal GDP and government debt was 74.04 percent of the GDP. Venezuela’s wavering economic policies, economic collapse and inflation have also contributed to the scale of poverty in the region.
  4. Of the ten facts about poverty in South America, eco-political causes hold a special mention. Discovery of rampant corruption and bribery in Brazil’s state-controlled oil giant, Petrobras, and other industries led to largescale arrests of company officials and many politicians. This in turn caused a loss of jobs for thousands of employees and a huge economic set-back. A dip in international oil prices further affected the Brazilian economy, as did the the arrest of Odebrecht’s chief executive and lay-offs in 2015. The unemployment rate in Brazil remains at a high of 11.8 percent. Argentina, too, has suffered the economic consequences of a sovereign debt default since 2001. It has encountered a decline in GDP and inflation, resulting in recession. The MIT Billions Project in 2014 quoted an annual inflation rate of 40 percent in Argentina. Venezuela is on the verge of defaulting its foreign debt and has encountered a massive decline in its GDP accompanied by inflation. Ever since the 2014 economic recession, Venezuelans have been suffering from poverty, high mortality rates, unemployment, lack of medical facilities and hunger.
  5. Large-scale unemployment followed by economic recession, strict government regulations, corruption and other factors have led to the creation of a parallel or informal economy in many of these SA countries. These illegal businesses evade state-regulations, taxation, social security contributions, market standards, minimum wage/work hour policies and thrive as shadow economy. While a certain portion of the money earned is spent directly on the official economy, these underground businesses lead to tax evasion, reduced tax revenue, increased tax rates, lower wages and work hours, corruption and inflation.
  6. According to the World Hunger Report, despite being successful in tackling food insufficiency, SA saw a rise in undernutrition from 5 percent in 2015, to 5.6 percent in 2016. As of 2018, the economic crisis in Venezuela led to devastating food shortage and starvation. The United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture estimates that more than 42 million people in South America are suffering from hunger.
  7. The Word Bank observes that while more children have started going to school, there still remains a disparity in access to education based on the huge income gap in these countries. The other factor affecting education lies in the urban-rural divide, with the latter having lower rates of secondary-school enrolment.
  8. Brazil and Colombia, which make up a large portion of the region’s population, have been experiencing a decline in fertility and mortality rates alongside new health problems from industrialization and urbanization. The health infrastructure in these countries are not up-to-date and people have limited access to safe water and sanitation facilities. Economic inequality adds to the lack of equal distribution of health services and access to healthcare.
  9. Despite the scale of poverty in SA, consistent steps are being taken to ameliorate poverty across the region. Oxfam has been urging the governments to redistribute land evenly, protect territorial rights of indigenous communities, prevent depletion of natural resource and establish fair taxation. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development have been proposing ways to end rural poverty and increase employment. Since the 1990s, attempts have been made by the governments to improve the healthcare system through reforms. Several banks have been trying to ease the monetary policies and rates of interests.
  10. The 2018 World Economic Situation Prospects Report states that the region’s economy has grown by one percent in 2017 and is expected to increase to 2.5 percent in 2019. The recovery will be largely a result of improved economic activity in SA.

Future Efforts

The ten facts about poverty in South America listed here provide a general yet critical understanding of aspects of poverty in the region. Unequal land/wealth distribution, corruption and eco-political instability still remain some of the common and overarching reasons behind the region’s struggle with poverty and its aftereffects.

– Jayendrina Singha Ray
Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in South America
Current events such as protests and political upheavals in Venezuela and Brazil have drawn attention to problems plaguing South America. Some of those problems, having been left unaddressed, have caused higher rates of poverty in Latin and South America. Below are several factors considered to be major causes of poverty in South America at present.

  1. Unequal distribution of wealth
    In much of South America, particularly in well-known tourist countries, run-down slums exist next to wealthy urban areas in part due to unequal distribution of economic success. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Latin and South America are the most unequal regions in the world in terms of wealth. Corporations, politicians and unequal opportunities contribute in part to high poverty rates among the majority of the population.In Brazil, wealth being hoarded by the top one or two percent of citizens has contributed to a high number of children living and earning money on the streets because their parents can no longer support them. Despite helpful tourism revenue, poverty rates in certain popular areas of South America rise steadily because of wealth inequality.
  1. Colonialism/Racism
    In South and Latin America, poverty can become a generational epidemic because of leftover institutions and sentiments from the Casta system. Casta was a complex system of written rules based on racial segregation similar to the Hindu Caste, where people were separated into societal classes based on appearance and ethnic makeup that determined where they could live, who they could marry, what jobs they could work and more. The system was popularized by early white colonialists in the region and the lingering effects of it have been among the causes of poverty in South America.
  1. Political turmoil
    Honduras, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and others have undergone major changes in political leadership in recent months and years, and the lack of clear democratic process in a lot of these countries has been among the causes of poverty in South America. According to the Economist, Brazil and Colombia are set to elect new presidents in the coming months, but “they will do so amongst rising public anger over corruption, amid a plethora of corruption scandals across the region in recent years that have in many cases implicated high-level politicians.”In Peru, for example, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski narrowly avoided impeachment after it was discovered he had ties to corrupt Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which has admitted to paying bribes to governments. As has been proven multiple times, corrupt or destabilized governments often prove disastrous for the economies of the countries they oversee, which can only have a negative effect on the poverty level in the country.
  1. Education
    In South America, the education gap mirrors the income gap between rich and poor. According to WorldFund, “74 million South Americans (about 12.4 percent of the region’s population) live on less than $2 per day. Over half of them are children. Children in the bottom income quintile complete an average of eight years of school versus over ten years completed by children in the top income quintile.” Access to quality education in South America for those living below the poverty line is incredibly rare and difficult to achieve. WorldFund states that “education investments are inadequate, poorly directed and favor high-income students.”

While conditions in South America are improving, progress in certain areas is slow. Those living in poverty in South America are often directly affected by the factors above. The introduction of more efficient and generous international aid programs to people in the region that need it is becoming more and more essential to help combat some of the causes of poverty in South America.

– Arianna Smith

Photo: Flickr

Cassava RootThe cassava root is such a versatile ingredient in the fight against poverty that some scientists are calling it a ‘miracle crop’.

It’s likely that even you have come across cassava, as it makes up the small balls in bubble tea and is the main ingredient in tapioca pudding.

While it lends a hand to some dishes in developed countries, the root is a vital component to diets in the developing world. Cassava is one of the leading food and feed plants of the world, ranking fourth among staple crops with a global production of about 160 million tons per year. The majority of cassava is grown in three regions: West Africa and the adjoining Congo basin, tropical South America and South and Southeast Asia.

The miracle crop was introduced into Africa in the 16th century by Portuguese traders from Brazil. Initially, it was adopted as a famine-reserve crop because of its nutritional value. The leaves can be prepared in a similar fashion to spinach and contain high levels of protein and vitamins A, B and C. Cassava root can be prepared in countless ways, but should not be consumed raw. They are often boiled and sliced, but they can also be dried and beaten into flour.

It is among the highest calorie value foods, containing 160 calories per 100g root. It provides more protein than sources like yams or potatoes and it is also a leading source of essential minerals like zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese and potassium. Potassium is an important component of a healthy diet, helping regulate heart rate and blood pressure.

In addition to its bountiful nutritious value, the crop is perhaps one of the world’s easiest to grow. Cassava root can be grown well in poor soil with a relatively low fertility and textures ranging from sands to clay. It is drought resistant and loses its leaves in order to preserve moisture in times of limited rainfall. The plant produces new leaves when rains resume. Additionally, cassava can be grown in extreme rainfall. For these reasons, the crop requires little labor and attention and the fruits of one harvest can be consumed 6 months to 3 years after planting.

Lastly, cassava has the potential to solve more than hunger. It is possible to transform cassava from a low-yielding famine-reserve crop to a high-yielding cash crop in order to raise income and draw poor regions out of poverty. The domestic market for cassava products continues to grow and export demands are increasing.

Cassava production presents enormous opportunities for solving domestic famine and malnutrition. It could also promote economic stability and reduce poverty through trade between areas with a food surplus and a food deficit.

Jamie Enright

Photo: Flickr

 

The New HIV/AIDS of the AmericasChagas disease, a vector-borne infectious disease that is transmitted through triatomine bugs, has been dubbed “the new HIV/AIDS of the Americas.” Triatomine bugs are also known as “kissing bugs,” because the bugs will bite and defecate near the mouths of humans. Then, humans will touch or rub near their mouths, which is how the disease is spread.

Furthermore, Chagas disease is a type of neglected tropical disease, which have become increasingly virulent in North and South America. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines neglected diseases as being “largely wiped out in the more developed parts of the world and persist only in the poorest, most marginalized communities and conflict areas.” The CDC indicated that people of low socioeconomic status are more susceptible to contracting a neglected tropical disease. People of low socioeconomic status, which are increasingly reflective of minority groups such as women and people of color, are at higher risk of contracting a neglected tropical disease due to a lack of resources.

Like Chagas disease, many neglected tropical diseases are vector-borne, and they must travel through an intermediate host in order to transmit infections to humans. An example of an intermediate host that carries the specific pathogens for an abundance of neglected tropical diseases is the mosquito. Many countries in South America have climates and ecologies that are ideal for mosquitoes to flourish in.

Preventative programs in poor areas are supported by organizations such as the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO). For instance, the CDC and the WHO have both collaborated in order to support the Guinea Worm Eradication Program, which provided surveillance and diagnosed people for Guinea worms, another neglected disease.

Chagas disease is difficult to eradicate due to the fact that more than half of triatomine bugs in the United States carry the disease; however, the CDC reports that the best measures to take in order to prevent the spread of Chagas disease are vector control, blood screening and diagnosis of infection. Diagnosis of infection in pregnant women is especially important, because the disease can spread to their newborns. By continuing to follow these measures, the effect of Chagas disease can be limited, decreasing the burden on vulnerable populations.

 

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in South AmericaThe regions of Central and South America, in addition to the Caribbean Islands, collectively comprise what is currently recognized as Latin America, which is home to a growing population of roughly 637.6 million inhabitants. Of the three, the twelve nations of South America comprise the majority, or about 66 percent of that population. Despite all of these countries having experienced economic turmoil, political instability and social injustices, as a whole, the issue of hunger in South America does appear to be improving.

Since 1991, hunger in South America has seen significant declines. The largest of these has been Bolivia, which had 38 percent of its population without sufficient access to food in 1991. As of 2015, it had managed to reduce this number to 15.9 percent. Other countries have also made significant strides, such as Peru, which reduced its percentage of hunger from 31.6 in 1991 to 7.5 percent in 2015.

The basis for these accomplishments was established after Latin America adopted a U.N. Millennium Development Goal in 2000. The goal was to cut hunger in half in South America and its other regions by 2015, according to a State of Food Insecurity in the World report released by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. The region fortunately accomplished this goal, and while South America still has the largest proportion of undernourished people to its population, it was able to do this at a quicker and more effective rate than Central America or the Caribbean Islands.

One reason it was likely able to do this is that a handful of countries in South America are major agricultural producers and exporters. Brazil, for example, uses 31 percent of its land for crops; the country mainly grows sugarcane, but they also are dominant producers of coffee, bananas, mangoes, coconuts, papayas and oranges. Additionally, they rank second behind the U.S. in terms of total beef production. Similarly, Argentina is also a large beef producer, and Ecuador is a dominant producer of bananas.

In fact, due to its current production levels and untapped resources, economists and agricultural experts have speculated that Latin American countries will have a decisive role to play in the coming decades when it comes to global food production, something that could certainly play to their advantage. As of 2015, Latin American food imports accounted for a mere four percent of food imports worldwide. In contrast, their food exports accounted for 16 percent of food exports worldwide.

However, there are still tens of millions of people experiencing hunger in South America today. The existence of such a problem reflects that South America’s issue is not that it lacks sufficient food resources, but that it lacks adequate methods of distributing and allowing access to these resources. This is typically reflective of a larger, systemic problem of inequality. However, if resolved, it could improve the continent’s ability to produce and distribute these resources at a rate that would allow its countries to not only be dominant economic players in the international community, but also to take care of their own citizens simultaneously.

In a world whose population is estimated to reach nine billion by 2050, and whose food demands are expected to be 60 percent higher than they are today, it is critical that Latin America, and more importantly South American governments, establish economic reform that would allow for more equal food distribution. By doing so, they could then benefit from and play a major role in assisting future food shortages across the globe.

– Hunter Mcferrin

Photo: Flickr