Inflammation and stories on South America

COVID-19 in Colombia
Officials have reported 16,295 cases of COVID-19 in Colombia and 592 deaths as of May 19, 2020. In an effort to contain the virus, the government has closed all international travel. It has also recently extended its nationwide stay-at-home order through May 25. Testing is available at the Colombian National Institute of Health facilities.

Most public locations remain closed. Individuals over the age of 70 will need to self-isolate until at least the end of May 2020. Municipal authorities allow one hour per day of exercise, at prescribed times, for individuals ages 18 to 60. Though the virus poses a nationwide public health threat, here are three particularly at-risk groups in Colombia.

COVID-19 in Colombia: 3 At-Risk Groups

  1. Indigenous Peoples: With historically limited access to food, shelter and health care, indigenous communities on the outskirts of cities and towns remain unprepared for the pandemic. A scarcity of clean water and hygiene products has left many without the means to maintain personal cleanliness and prevent infection. In addition, some of these semi-nomadic groups are now at risk of starvation. Due to quarantine restrictions, indigenous communities cannot move around to access their means of subsistence. They may be unable to grow their own food or survive by working temporary jobs. Organizations such as Amnesty International (AI) are working to raise awareness about this urgent issue and garner support from Colombian authorities. Along with the organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Colombian Ministry of the Interior, AI petitioned the government to deliver food and supplies to at-risk indigenous groups. In response to these efforts, Colombian officials initiated a campaign to provide indigenous communities with food and supplies. The first round of deliveries went out in April 2020 but still left many without aid. AI and partner organizations will continue working with leaders of the campaign to reach more people in future deliveries.
  2. Refugees: Venezuelan refugees are another group at high risk due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Colombia. The virus has compounded instability from low wages and rampant homelessness. Many have lost temporary jobs as economic concerns heighten nationwide. With fear and social unrest on the rise, refugees also face increased stigmatization. Some states, for example, are forcibly returning refugees in response to the virus. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Migrant Organization (IOM) have instigated a call to action. Eduardo Stein, joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, explained in an April 2020 statement that “COVID-19 has brought many aspects of life to a standstill – but the humanitarian implications of this crisis have not ceased and our concerted action remains more necessary than ever.” U.N. representatives are seeking out innovative ways to protect Colombia’s migrant population and provide refugees with information, clean water and sanitation. Some organizations have also set up isolation and observation spaces for those who have tested positive. Others, including the World Health Organization (WHO), are distributing food and supplies to refugees and their host communities.
  3. Coffee Farmers: As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout South America and the world, Colombian coffee farmers are grappling with new economic uncertainties. Since extreme terrain limits the use of mechanized equipment, these farmers tend to rely on manual labor. In a typical year, some farms hire between 40% and 50% of their workforce from migrant populations. Now, however, travel restrictions have left many with a shortage of manpower. Large-scale farms are seeking out unemployed retail and hospitality workers from local areas, offering pay rates at a 10% to 20% increase. On smaller farms, family members can manage the crops. However, medium-sized operations, in desperate need of labor and unable to match the wages of larger competitors, are feeling a significant strain. Even the largest farms could struggle to meet their expected harvest in 2020. Public health officials have ordered strict distancing measures in the fields, which reduces picking capacity. Though disruptive in the short term, these efforts should help contain the spread of the virus and allow farmers to resume full operation as soon as possible.

COVID-19 in Colombia has undergone rapid growth, bringing economic and social challenges in its train. Now more than ever, it is incumbent upon world leaders to support vulnerable populations in Colombia and help the nation emerge from this world crisis.

– Katie Painter
Photo: Flickr

Sustainability in Curitiba
Sporting a population of 1.9 million, Curitiba is Brazil’s eighth-largest city. Many also tout it as one of the greenest cities in the world, earning praise for its eco-friendly urban planning. Curitiba’s creative, environmentally friendly solutions to urban planning issues have been effectively alleviating poverty in the city. Curitiba has also done well curbing emissions and protecting the area’s biodiversity. This is a quick look at the story of sustainability in Curitiba, Brazil.

Background

Curitiba has had a long and rich history. From a “sleepy” city surrounded by farmland to a hub for European immigrants in the 19th century, Curitiba, the capital of Brazil’s state Parana, was long a cultural and economic center in the region. The mechanization of soybean agriculture in the 1940s was a turning point for Curitiba. Within a span of 20 years, the population of the city doubled, leaving Curitiba a hectic and polluted municipality. This changed in 1972 when Jaime Lerner became mayor of Curitiba and instituted his plan for a sustainable city.

Sustainable Solutions

  1. Bus Rapid Transit System: One of the biggest innovations that Curitiba put in place was a bus rapid transit system. Roads with express lanes for buses, specially designed buses for quick boarding and cheap and uniform ticket prices have helped Curitiba maintain a quick, cheap and low-emission transit system. Streets that the city allocated for pedestrians only and designated bike lanes have also contributed to this.
  2. Green Space: Since the 1970s, Curitiba has planted 1.5 million trees and built 28 public parks. To combat flooding which had previously assaulted the city, Curitiba surrounded the urban area with fields of grass, saving itself the cost and environmental expense of dams. To maintain the fields, the city uses sheep rather than mechanical means, saving its money and oil while providing manure for farmers and wool.
  3. Recycling: Curitiba recycles around 70 percent of its garbage thanks to a program that allows for the exchange of bus tokens, notebooks and food in return for recycling. Not only does this protect the environment, but it also boosts education, increases food access and facilitates transport for the city’s poor.
  4. Education: Curitiba houses the Free University for the Environment, which empowers the city’s poor and teaches them about sustainability. Signs and information panels provide citizens with information about the city’s green design. Encouraging a culture of pride around sustainability and promoting knowledge helps to maintain the city’s greenness.

Population and Poverty

Not only has Curitiba’s creative urban planning helped it become one of the world’s leading green cities, but it has also resulted in poverty alleviation and population growth. Its 30-year economic growth rate is 3.1 percent higher than the national average, and its per-capita income is 66 percent higher. In the last 60 years, the population of Curitiba has increased by 1,000 percent to a staggering 2 million people due to this. With such a quick population rise and migrant population, one would expect a great deal of wealth inequality and poverty within Curitiba. Indeed, 10 to 15 percent of Curitiba’s population lives in substandard housing. However, this is a trend that Brazil’s other large cities and affordable housing plans match. The city’s above par per-capita income is also evidence of this. These numbers are likely to lower and help Curitiba continue its mission of poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability.

Ronin Berzins
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ Education in Suriname
Suriname, located on the Northern Atlantic coast of South America, originated as a Dutch colony and faced many of the difficulties that other formerly colonized nations face today. Since the introduction of Suriname’s democratic government in the 1990s, the economy, culture and tourism have been thriving. However, despite this economic growth, there is a lack of emphasis on education in Suriname. Surprisingly, most of the adolescents enrolled in school are actually girls. Despite this, girls’ education in Suriname requires improvement.

Improvements to Girls’ Education

Schools in Suriname have been making vast improvements since the 1990s. Following the economic crisis, many schools fell into a state of disrepair and lacked running water, electricity and materials necessary for lessons. This created a sense of apathy and caused school attendance rates among children and teens to plummet. Although the rates of attendance and student retention in secondary school are not currently stellar, they do show signs of improvement. For instance, there were 6,000 adolescents out of school in 2015, half the amount from 2009. This is likely due to the rising GDP and economic status of the country that favors an emphasis on education.

Barriers

Despite these improvements to girls’ education in Suriname, the changes have not occurred throughout the entire nation. In particular, rural areas have fewer resources for education and more barriers for girls to attain one. One of the main obstacles of academic success that girls face is teenage pregnancy; the adolescent birth rate is 62 in 1,000 for girls in the area. Additionally, one in every 10 girls marries before age 15. Poor sexual health education combined with poverty suggests that girls often abandon education in Suriname out of necessity to find work and raise a family.

One could assume that because of the barriers to education that girls face, far more boys would enroll in secondary school than girls, but the opposite is true. In primary education, the distribution is about even; however, once children reach secondary school, many boys drop out while the girls remain. In 2015, 88 percent of girls enrolled in secondary school while only 67 percent of boys attended. This is in high contrast to other nations that people commonly perceive as “developing” because it is usually the women who do not receive as much education as men, and therefore, people do not advocate on their behalf because they are not attending school.

Solutions

Despite many women completing their education, the fact remains that more women experience unemployment than men in Suriname. There is only so much an education can do if gender bias and inequality prevents women from earning a living. In 2016, the percentage of unemployed women was at 21 percent, which was twice as high as their male counterparts.

The dichotomy of girls’ education in Suriname indicates that despite the high percentage of girls enrolled in school, the fight for gender equality in the country is not over. Teen pregnancy remains at a high, which disproportionately (and almost only) affects girls. Many groups such as the Love Foundation give teens resources to educate themselves and their peers on sexual health, which could lead to more adolescents of either gender remaining in school. As girls’ education in Suriname advances, the labor industry must follow so women can fully enter the workforce as well.

– Anna Sarah Langlois
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in South America
Women’s rights throughout the last century have achieved huge strides. All over the world, women have fought for the right to vote, to go to school and to express themselves. This timeline of women’s rights in South America explores the most pivotal moments for it during the past 150 years. Before even having the right to vote, women have launched movements, wrote publications and protested governments, all to ensure that others would hear their voices. 

Timeline of Women’s Rights in South America

1883: Elvira García y García pioneered the path for women’s rights in South America before feminism was a word. She created the girls’ school, Liceo Peruano, where she brought education to countless young girls across Peru. Through this, she tore down traditional gender barriers and inspired girls to obtain an education.

1919: Bertha Maria Júlia Lutz and another woman founded the League for the Intellectual Emancipation of Women, which was an organization aimed at addressing the inability for women to vote. This historic organization fought for voting rights and the right for women to work across Brazil without their husband’s authorization. Lutz relentlessly tackled key issues until obtaining the right in 1932. Further, she successfully worked to obtain international women’s rights at the U.N. Charter at San Francisco Conference on International Organizations in 1945.

1938: Julia de Burgos, a Puerto Rican writer, released a controversial collection of poetry on social justice issues. The poems discussed slavery, colonialism and women’s rights in South America; after the first publication, she went on to write about feminist theory. One main topic of her works was the idea that motherhood and womanhood were not synonymous. These works continued to live through the movement and eventually inspired American Latina Feminist creators like Mariposa, Andrea Arroyo, Luzma Umpierre, Rosario Ferré and Yasmin Hernandez.

1945: Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, or Gabriela Mistral, was the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature as a Chilean woman. She was also passionate about education, becoming a school teacher by the young age of 15. One of the primary ways she fought for women’s rights in South America was by ensuring that girls had access to quality education.

1946: Felisa Rincón de Gautier became mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, becoming the first female mayor of a capital city in the Americas. She fought for women’s rights in South America with a strong belief that all women should have the right to vote and have the opportunity to be active in politics. She continued to engage in the movement throughout her life, even at the age of 95.

1969: María Jesús Alvarado Rivera was the first modern champion of women’s rights in the country, as honored by The National Council of Women of Peru. Throughout her life, she fought for women’s rights in South America by educating the public on women’s suffrage. She too worked to ensure education for young girls across the country.

1999: All of these brilliant women’s activities prompted the Venezuelan government to develop a new constitution, aligning with a majority of the republics in the Western Hemisphere. It explicitly stated that all citizens, regardless of gender, have social, political and economic rights. The Assembly of Social Movements also recognized and addressed domestic abuse, sexual harassment and discrimination as issues.

Since the turn of the century, non-government organizations have fought to continue providing opportunities to strengthen women’s rights in South America. Countless women and allies across the continent have made huge commitments to gender equality. More women are involving themselves in these movements and organizations than ever before, which is not only a cause for celebration but also a victory for the women who dedicated a lifetime of activities towards improving women’s rights in South America.

– Asha Swann
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in South America
The poverty that affects so much of South America comes from a history of colonialism, which has left the region with extractive institutions including weak states, violence and poor public services. In order to combat these issues, it is vital to understand these top 10 facts about poverty in South America.

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in South America

  1. Dependence Theory: According to the Council of the Americas, the South American economy is suffering from the U.S.-China trade war, a drop in crude oil prices and generally worsening economic conditions throughout the region. This poor economic performance has been present in the region for a long time. NYU Professor Pablo Querubín noted in a lecture that this is largely due to Dependence Theory. This theory argues that poorer countries and regions will have to specialize in raw materials and agriculture due to the comparative advantage other countries and regions have in producing industrialized products such as computers, advanced technology and services. Therefore, because Latin America has a comparative advantage in producing agricultural products and oil, it will have much greater difficulty moving into the industrial sector.
  2. The Reversal of Fortune Theory: The South American economy has also had such a difficult time growing because of the history of colonialism and extractive institutions. Professor Pablo Querubín also referenced the Reversal of Fortune Theory which explains how the pre-Columbian region of South America was so much more wealthy than pre-Columbian North America, yet those roles have reversed in the modern era. The reason is that South America put extractive institutions into place to send wealth back to Spain rather than “promote hard work or to incentivize investment, human capital, accumulation, etc.” Yet, in areas with low population levels, such as pre-Columbian North America, settlers had to establish inclusive institutions “designed to promote investment, effort, innovation, etc.”
  3. Political Instability: Political consistency has been rare in the history of South America. New leaders would often change the constitution when they entered office to better suit their political wishes. In fact, while the U.S. has only ever had one constitution with 27 amendments over the course of about 200 years, Ecuador had 11 separate constitutions within the first 70 years of its history. In Bolivia, there were 12 within the first 60 years. This instability and very quick political turnover have been detrimental to the steady growth of the economy and confidence in the government. Understanding the effects of this issue and the other top 10 facts about poverty in South America are integral to fighting poverty in the region.
  4. Inequality: Inequality is incredibly high in South America. As a result, the incredibly wealthy can afford to use private goods in place of public ones. For example, the rich use private schools, private health insurance, private hospitals and even private security forces instead of relying on the police. Therefore, there is very little incentive for the wealthy to advocate for higher taxes to improve public goods such as public education, police or public health initiatives. As a result, the public services available to the poor in Latin America are extremely lacking.
  5. Education: Education in South America is full of inequality both in terms of income and gender. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment, an institution which evaluates teenagers on their educational performance in key subject areas, most countries in South America perform below average. In one evaluation it determined that the highest-scoring country in South America, Chile, was still 10 percent below average. Furthermore, poor educational performance highly correlates with income inequality.
  6. Indigenous Women and Education: In addition, indigenous women are far less likely than any other group to attend school in South America. According to UNESCO, in Guatemala, 70 percent of indigenous women ages 20 to 24 have no education. The issue of unequal education spreads further to affect women’s livelihoods and presence in the South American workforce. According to the International Monetary Fund, about 50 percent of women in Latin America and the Caribbean do not work directly in the labor force. However, the International Monetary Fund also noted that “countries in LAC [Latin America and the Caribbean] have made momentous strides in increasing female LFP [labor force participation], especially in South America.”
  7. Teenage Pregnancy: One major driver of the cycle of poverty in South America is the persistence of teenage pregnancies which lead to impoverished young mothers dropping out of school and passing on a difficult life of poverty to their children. The World Bank reported that Latin America is the second highest region in terms of young women giving birth between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. Furthermore, a study called Adolescent Pregnancy and Opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean interviewed several South American teen mothers including one who noted that sexual education was not the problem: “We knew everything about contraceptive methods,” she said, “but I was ashamed to go and buy.” Thus, the study advised that in addition to preventative methods for pregnancy such as education and the distribution of contraceptives, there needs to be action to “fight against sexual stereotypes.” Fortunately, there are activist campaigns such as Child Pregnancy is Torture which advocates for raising awareness about the issue of child pregnancy in South America and encourages the government to take steps such as increased sex education, access to contraception and the reduction of the sexualization of girls in the media.
  8. Food Insecurity: Hunger is a growing issue related to poverty in South America. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 39.3 million people in South America are undernourished, which represents an increase by 400,000 people since 2016. Food insecurity in the region as increased from 7.6 percent in 2016 to 9.8 percent in 2017. However, the issue is improving with malnutrition in children decreasing to 1.3 percent. Additionally, there are many NGOs such as the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Action Against Hunger and Pan American Health Organization of the World Health Organization (PAHO) that are implementing vital programs throughout the continent to fight hunger.
  9. Migration: The economic instability and rising poverty in South America have caused many people to migrate out of the region. Globally, 38 million people migrated out of their countries last year with 85 percent of that 38 million coming from Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr. Manuel Orozco from the Inter-American Dialogue think tank stated that “The structural determinant is poor economic performance, while demand for labour in the United States and the presence of family there encourages movement.”
  10. Violence: The high level of violence in South America exacerbates the cycle of poverty in South America. Fourteen of the 20 most violent countries in the world are in South America and although the region only contains eight percent of the world’s population, it is where one-third of all murders take place. Dr. Orozco went on to say that “There’s a strong correlation between migration and homicide. With the potential exception of Costa Rica, states are unwilling or unable to protect citizens.”

Fighting poverty in South America is dependent upon an understanding of the history and realities of the region. Hopefully, these top 10 facts about poverty in South America can shed light upon the cycle of poverty in the region and how to best combat it in the future.

– Alina Patrick
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Guyana

Guyana, 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 Water

On 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