Diarrheal Disease in South Asia
Diarrheal diseases such as cholera, rotavirus and E. coli cause intense episodes of diarrhea which depletes the body of water and electrolytes (sodium, chloride, potassium, etc.) and eventually can lead to death if not treated. Unsanitary water, poor waste management, coming into contact with fecal matter and a lack of access to health care often are causes of these diseases. While diarrheal diseases impact people all across the globe, one of the areas in which people suffer from them the most is South Asia.

5 Facts About Diarrheal Disease in South Asia

  1. A substantial number of worldwide diarrheal disease-related deaths happen in South Asia. According to 2016 reports, diarrheal diseases are the eighth highest cause of death globally among people of all ages. Even more, they are the fifth highest cause of death in children under 5. Diarrheal diseases also disproportionately affect South Asian countries such as India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. About 90% of deaths related to diarrheal disease worldwide occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  2. Children in South Asia are much more likely to die from a diarrheal disease than anything else. A 2020 study that BMC Public Health conducted in India found that diarrheal diseases caused 50% of deaths in children aged 1 to 5, putting children at a higher risk when it comes to diarrheal diseases.
  3. Diarrheal diseases disproportionately affect areas in South Asia with poor access to health care, sanitation and clean water. Once again, a 2020 study that BMC Public Health conducted found that in India, factors such as improper stool disposal in the home, having a dirt floor, having a thatched roof and environmental issues all contributed to a person’s likelihood of contracting a diarrheal disease. Evidence showed that 46.5% of children in the study had no access to a toilet facility, and the children with toilets were 18% less likely to contract a diarrheal disease. Of the people in this study, 43% of the children lived in houses with dirt floors, and some also had thatched roofs. These people were 8% more likely to contract a diarrheal disease. These statistics show just how threatening diarrheal diseases are to people living in South Asia without basic human needs.
  4. Despite this grim data, the negative effect of diarrheal disease is lessening in South Asia. In response to this high amount of diarrheal disease-related deaths in South Asia, many groups, government and not, are making efforts to end this crisis. Between 1990 and 2010, diarrheal disease-related deaths decreased by 55%. One organization in particular, The Gates Foundation, focuses on the development and delivery of safe and affordable vaccines for many diarrheal diseases. This organization began working in South Asia in 2003, with the implementation of an HIV vaccine in India. Between 2003 and 2014, The Gates Foundation implemented more than 170 million vaccines in the region.

WHO and UNICEF Providing Help

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF released a comprehensive plan in 2013 that will help lower diarrheal deaths worldwide, especially in high-risk places such as South Asia. This plan outlines many goals such as reducing mortality from diarrhea in children less than 5 years of age to fewer than one per 1,000 live births and 90% access to appropriate pneumonia and diarrhea case management by 2025. With these goals, the plan also lists steps that will be taken and that are being taken to achieve them such as administering vaccines, initiation of breastfeeding amongst new mothers and providing uncontaminated drinking water to areas that do not have access.

In conclusion, diarrheal diseases are very deadly to citizens of South Asia, especially children under 5, and people without access to proper waste disposal, health care and clean water. While these illnesses are very prevalent, they are also very preventable, and given the aid of organizations such as the Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization, South Asia is already lowering the number of deaths diarrheal diseases cause.

– Evelyn Breitbach
Photo: Unsplash

The Correlation Between Drugs and Poverty
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about
284 million people globally undergo drug abuse between the ages of 15 to 64. The correlation between drugs and poverty takes a variety of different stances.

The Problem

Although drugs do not discriminate against anyone, in particular, they tend to favor the lower-income population the most. People in poverty sometimes use drugs to cope with their living situation. The stress of being in poverty often inspires a feeling of hopelessness that leaves the individual vulnerable to substance abuse.

The act of substance abuse can lead someone who is wealthier into poverty as well. For instance, drug addiction often inspires a lack of motivation. This can be especially harmful in the workforce where the desire to work hard and meet deadlines is crucial. If terminated from a job, it can be very difficult to find a new one. Considering that, most people will waste away the rest of their money in an act of despondency.

The Lack of Resources

Unfortunately, many people living in poverty lack the funds they need to access support for drug addiction. In fact, in Pakistan, 99.7% of the people seeking help for drug addiction, cannot afford it.  

One case shows a boy at the young age of 14 who was unable to seek the help he needed to get over his addiction. Due to the steep prices and lack of space, the boy was denied a spot at this rehabilitation center in Pakistan. Many know this South Asian country for its lack of drug support centers. The number of opium users bypasses the number of support groups, leading to an increase in the amount of poverty seen throughout the country. This further indicates the correlation between drugs and poverty.

The Solution

Many countries have already taken action to counteract these effects. For instance, several South Asian countries brought public awareness over drug abuse on World Drug Day. Communities joined together in activities that helped people recognize the importance of acknowledging drug abuse. Organizations from across the globe united as one to address the issues that follow drug addiction and are also working to ensure the services and medicine necessary to assist drug addicts end up in place.

The Karim Khan Afridi Welfare Foundation (KKAWF), established in 2015, focuses to raise awareness about drug abuse in Pakistan. KKAWF served more than 5,000 people with the activities it developed in 2018, including sports events, workshops and campaigns that focused on raising awareness. The Foundation engages politically by urging the authorities to address “the challenges of drug trafficking and the spread of substance abuse.”

Several South Asian countries have attempted to monitor and confiscate drugs more often. However, drugs still continue to be sold illegally due to the large percentage of crime taking place throughout South Asian countries. To counter this problem of illegal drug trafficking, the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) composed the Regional programme to aid the factors contributing to the selling and buying of drugs.

Looking Ahead

Although there is no direct correlation between drugs and poverty, it is evident that the two tie together. By recognizing the link between the two, elected officials can begin to take drastic action in fighting off this devastating loop.

Madison Stivala
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

South Asia’s Informal Economy
For many workers in South Asia, employment in South Asia’s informal economy remains the only way to earn a living. Informal employment is a massive development concern for the region and has continued to grow in South Asian countries over the past few years. The World Bank estimated that in 2020, more than 80% of people under employment in the South Asian region were informal workers, and about 90% of businesses were informal. A significant portion of these workers are women; according to UN Women, 95% of the total informal employment consisted of women in 2016.

The lack of labor law protection and social benefits, combined with extremely low wages, results in women in South Asia suffering from financial exclusion. Wage digitization can help tackle this issue and encourage financial inclusion in the region.

Women in South Asia’s Informal Economy

In South Asia, women make up a disproportionate amount of informal workers and often do not have the protection of any laws or regulations. Many such female workers face issues like low or unpaid wages, unsafe working conditions and lack of social benefits.

Informal work for South Asian women ranges from self-employment in the form of subsistence farmers or street vendors to waged work such as domestic work. However, informal work, which people often refer to as the gray economy, falls outside of labor laws and thus workers do not receive protection. This means the majority of the women working under such conditions have no wage guarantees either. Many are either receiving low or irregular wages, with some not receiving wages at all.

According to World Bank, one of the biggest reasons women in South Asian countries only remain employed in the informal economy is due to the lack of infrastructure available to increase economic opportunities for women. Without educational opportunities and adequate technological training, women are unable to compete for jobs in the formal job market and end up dependent on the informal economy. Other reasons for women in these regions being unable to participate in the economy formally are cultural and societal norms, such as patriarchal social structures, that prevent women from fully participating in the job market. For example, in Pakistan, for a woman to register a business, she must provide a father or husband’s name in front of a witness.

The Benefits of Digital Wages

A way that women in South Asia’s informal economy experience empowerment is through digital wages. Global Findex’s 2021 report, which showed how digital wages have created new opportunities for female garment workers in Bangladesh, stated that although men were more likely to have bank accounts, there has been an increasing trend since 2017 toward financial inclusion for women in lower-income countries. This includes digital accounts and payments of wages digitally.

One of the countries that has benefitted from digital wages is Bangladesh. According to the 2021 Global Findex report, there was a 7% increase in women’s digital account ownership in Bangladesh, which cut the financial gender gap in the country by a third. Apart from allowing female workers to receive their wages, digital wages help companies as well by cutting down administrative costs and time.

Possibilities for the Future

The use of digital wages and the increased financial security that comes with it can help women in South Asia who rely on the informal economy to achieve greater financial freedom. Moreover, the financial awareness that comes with digital wages could particularly benefit the women of the region who traditionally have to give their cash earnings to their husbands or fathers. By having digital accounts and direct deposits, they can obtain a certain degree of autonomy.

The case of Bangladesh proves that financial inclusion through technology can help women’s empowerment; the International Labor Organization (ILO) is already moving to digitize garment worker wages in Cambodia as well. Digital wages can prove to be an efficient and inclusive way of empowering women in South Asia’s vast informal economy.

– Umaima Munir
Photo: Pixabay

Women Entrepreneurs in South Asia
The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed significant growth in global e-commerce sales. As a result of pandemic regulations, such as lockdown, social distancing and the enclosure of in-person workspaces, people are becoming increasingly reliant on digital technologies and businesses. In fact, retail e-commerce sales surged to approximately $4.9 trillion in 2021 worldwide. Projections have stated that this figure could increase to $7.4 trillion by 2025. The boom in e-commerce has been particularly salient in South Asia, where the e-commerce sector saw nearly 600% growth. Such conditions gave many entrepreneurs unprecedented opportunities. Most notably, women entrepreneurs in South Asia have used these opportunities to not only realize their own visions but also to educate and inspire others to create tangible change. The following are three women entrepreneurs in South Asia proactively giving back to their communities:

Maheen Adamjee

Maheen Adamjee is the founder of Dot & Line, an education startup originally set to provide at-home tutoring to Pakistani students. As the pandemic hit, however, Adamjee saw the opportunity in e-learning and rewrote the startup’s business plan to offer online tutoring sessions. Dot & Line is now a successful international online learning platform that matches students with certified tutors.

Adamjee exemplifies entrepreneurial creativity and resilience, turning the COVID-19 pandemic from a risk factor into a business opportunity. She has since participated in #OneSouthAsia Conversation, a series of online events that offer a platform for discussing ideas for regional cooperation in business, and reached more than 5,000 women through this medium. During these conferences, Adamjee shared many practical tips she extrapolated from her own experience, including specificities on transitioning from in-person services to online services.

She further noted the cultural and financial barriers that prevent Pakistani women from starting a business. In addition to telling her story as a source of empowerment for other women entrepreneurs, Adamjee pointed out that the digital economy allows women to overcome tariffs and trade barriers to exploit new consumer groups across national boundaries.

Ayanthi Gurusinghe

Ayanthi Gurusinghe is the founder of Cord360.com, a B2B platform enabling small buyers and sellers of a variety of products to connect with each other, according to the World Bank. Gurusinghe, like Adamjee, identified the rapid growth of e-commerce as an unparalleled opportunity for trading across borders.

Hoping to help other women take advantage of this opportunity, Gurusinghe launched training courses on Cord360.com to educate enterprising women business owners about international markets. This way, she is encouraging more women to trade products across Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.

Sairee Chahal

Sairee Chahal is the founder of SHEROES, an online community for women that offers career advice, job leads, training, legal advice and a free counseling hotline based in Bangladesh and India. The community operates in Bangladesh and India, among other countries. The site experienced enormous success during the pandemic, with its membership increasing from 16 million to 22 million.

Chahal also participated in the #OneSouthAsia Conversation series. During the conference, she noted the policy changes that needed to occur to support and empower women entrepreneurs. Not only would this be beneficial for the women business owners, but this would also offer enormous economic growth for the countries in question. In particular, Chahal noted that the government ought to reform discriminatory laws and policies, provide funding targeted toward women-owned businesses and create school textbooks that show women in a variety of careers.

In addition to using these women’s stories as inspiration for more women to tap into the world of e-commerce, the above-mentioned women entrepreneurs in South Asia are acting to create tangible change in their communities, whether by advocating for policy change in regional conferences or providing free guidance through their business platforms. Through their efforts, as well as the efforts of many other similar-minded businesswomen, the pandemic-induced boom in the digital economy could significantly increase women’s access to the business sector in South Asia.

– Emily Xin
Photo: Flickr

Mitigate Poverty in South Asia
More than 33% of people living in extreme poverty globally reside in South Asia. The poorest countries in the region, Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan presented GDP per capita rates of $544, $972 and $1,555. Respectively, this is a result of issues across these countries such as poor infrastructure, poor economic practices, political uncertainty and poverty. For many countries in South Asia, like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the COVID-19 caused millions of people to fall back into poverty. Policymakers must now reverse the increased food and commodity prices that result in economic insecurities in order to mitigate poverty in South Asia.

Pre-Pandemic Progress

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, South Asia countries made “significant progress” to help communities move out of poverty. Between 1990 and 2015, its poverty rate declined from 52% to 17%. The Asian Development Bank has projected that the trade-dependent economies of Southeast Asia will recover from the effects of the pandemic, growing to 5.1% in 2022 from 4.4% in 2021, therefore, helping to mitigate poverty in South Asia.

There are multiple reasons why South Asian countries have high levels of poverty and low GDP rates. According to The Conversation, governments do not allocate enough state resources on social development, such as education and health. In addition, “limited effectiveness” goes into delivering public services to the communities, such as health and education, or implementing policies to reduce poverty.

Further, government investment to improve public services, such as making tax systems more efficient and increasing vaccine availability in local health services, would improve the nation’s economy and help mitigate poverty levels. Countries with higher levels of state capacity have done relatively better to control the spread of COVID-19 and reduce mortality rates.

The World Bank Strategy

Now, the “impressive” reduction in poverty can connect to South Asia’s growing economy, as it is the world’s second-fastest-growing economy. According to the U.N. Chronicle, “India, Bangladesh and Nepal lowered their poverty rates by 7%, 9% and 11%” in the 1990s. India is South Asia’s largest economy and could grow by 8.3% in the 2021-2022 fiscal year with aid from public investment and incentives to boost manufacturing.

International organizations aided South Asia nations during the pandemic. They ensured the nations were able to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and limit the number of people vulnerable to poverty. For example, the World Bank focused on promoting inclusive and sustainable growth, investing in people and strengthening resilience in South Asia.

The World Bank also provided $922 million to purchase and deploy COVID-19 vaccines in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In Pakistan, the World Bank supported efforts to implement nutrition-sensitive cash transfers for the most vulnerable populations and policy actions to help put children back in school. Meanwhile, a COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Project is working on multiple projects, including equipping hospitals as pandemic response centers in Sri Lanka.

Additionally, in Nepal, the World Bank focused on the agriculture sector by allocating $80 million to strengthen rural market linkages and promote entrepreneurship. International efforts are a vital resource to help mitigate poverty in South Asia.

If policymakers allocate resources toward programs that help sustain their growing economy and mitigate the negative results of COVID-19, South Asia communities could have a better chance of avoiding poverty.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr

Promoting global veganism
According to a 2014 census conducted in India, roughly 28% of its population over the age of 15 are vegetarian. This number drops slightly for the percentage of vegan people. In a country of over 1.3 billion, about 7% of which live below the poverty line, this number is relatively high. However, this may be due to the tradition of vegetarianism, and food being a status marker for the upper caste class. In India, as in much of the Western world, there is a growing stigma regarding eating meat. In reality, not everyone has the same access to vegetarian options. Additionally, there is no guarantee that going vegan provides more sustainable options. As the wealthy are increasingly eating less meat, problems with promoting global veganism have emerged.

Contradictions and Misconceptions

There are undoubtedly benefits to adopting vegan and vegetarian lifestyles. However, there are also alternative methods of living sustainably that may work better in impoverished areas. For example, animals that locals raise for their own consumption generate much less waste than animal products that undergo mass production.

The economic stability of a family or of an individual also factors into their ability to go plant-based. The New York Post has reported that plant milk, such as almond or oat milk, is almost double the price of cow’s milk. In 2019, prices averaged $4.29 per half-gallon of soy or almond milk compared to $2.17 per half-gallon of dairy milk. This kind of expense is often unsustainable for families who are economically unstable and exemplifies an unnecessarily high cost. With the priority of getting enough protein to sustain their lifestyles, a cheaper, readily available animal source may be the better option. The problem with promoting global veganism is that the wealthy are free to assume that their ability to eat no meat transfers to the rest of the world.

The Individual Situation

The EAT-Lancet Commission recently recommended a “universal diet for the health of humans and the planet.” This diet avoids processed foods and animal products and promotes whole foods and plants. However, it does not acknowledge that over a billion people globally cannot afford this diet. Only the top 25% of India’s and South Asia’s populations could afford to follow a diet of this kind. Promoting global veganism in this manner reveals a discrepancy in the economic and social ability of different classes and cultures to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

It is undoubtedly important to search for ways to live more sustainably and limit the consumption of mass-produced animal products. However, assuming that everyone has the same option to do so is unfortunately incorrect. Ultimately, as Feminism In India stated that “it is important for each one of us to look at ourselves and our own consumption habits, and work on them according to the resources available to us.”

Organizations at Work

An organization addressing this issue is A Well-Fed World. This nonprofit provides information on organizations seeking to end global hunger through plant-based alternatives to meat. Its Plants-4-Hunger program also provides support for hunger-based relief projects, specifically those helping children.

In Ethiopia, The International Fund For Africa (IFA) supplies vulnerable students with plant-based school meals and teaches children to grow their own food. ProVeg International has similar programs, supporting children at school by giving them plant-based lunches and encouraging local farmers by purchasing their produce. These organizations help spread awareness about a plant-based lifestyle and make this diet available and possible for the world’s poor.

A Better Way

Vegetarianism and veganism are both valid options for sustainability. However, one must be mindful that promoting global veganism does not stigmatize those who cannot afford these lifestyles. Instead, some alternative methods of sustainable living, such as locally-produced meat diets, are currently better options for the impoverished. In the meantime, there are organizations working to make plant-based options more available to the world’s poor.

– Grace Manning
Photo: Flickr

covid-19s-impact-on-poverty-in-indiaAreas like North America are seeing growth and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are still places in the world suffering from what came with living through the pandemic, especially the rise in poverty and economic struggles. COVID-19’s impact on poverty in India is especially concerning. In India, estimates determined that about 150 million to 199 million people have fallen into poverty in 2021 alone. That makes up about half of the country’s overall population.

Within just a year of fighting COVID-19 in India, the virus has infected more than 30 million people and killed about 400,000. In that time, only 4% of the population have received both vaccinations. People are continuing to struggle to get things like medicine and food, and the crisis does not stop there.

COVID-19’s Impact on Poverty in India

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread economic failure, loss of jobs and homelessness. These effects have made their way to India. One year after the start of the pandemic, there had been a record 7 million jobs lost. Indian households have lost about 7% of their income.

“We’re talking about a decade of lost opportunities and setbacks, unless there are some big reforms and fundamental changes in the way that economic policy is done, you’re not going to be anywhere close to what we saw in the boom years. A lot needs to happen in order to get back to the 7%, 8% growth that we desperately need,” said Brown University Fellow Arvind Subramanian in an interview with Bloomberg.

Unemployment has historically peaked in India thanks to the pandemic, and GDP could continue dropping. Even before the pandemic, India was having trouble with its economy. The Indian government was taking steps to bring the country’s economy up significantly by the year 2025. COVID-19 in India has caused many setbacks to this plan.

New Efforts in Asia

A new initiative called The China-South Asian Countries Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Centre emerged to combat and control the spread of poverty that the COVID-19 pandemic caused. Operated by China, it will also increase the livelihood and economy of the countries involved. This initiative has included several countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The initiative did not include India in the new initiative, but China has asked it to join. 

“I think South Asian countries can tremendously benefit from this Initiative. Regarding India, I’m not aware of the detailed arrangements but I think India should join this group and benefit from China’s learnings. If India wishes in my mind the group should be flexible and accommodate to involve India in the initiative,” said former Nepal ambassador to China Leela Mani Paudyal in an interview with WION.

Efforts From India

While not part of the South Asian Initiative, the Indian government has taken steps to ensure growth in the country’s economy. Projections have projected economic growth at 22.1%, and roughly 377 million people have received vaccinations. With these changes, the government hopes to see significant changes in the state of COVID-19’s impact on poverty in India.

– Demetrous Nobles
Photo: Flickr

The ICC The International Cricket Council (ICC) launched a new partnership with UNICEF in June 2021. The partnership seeks to aid UNICEF’s COVID-19 emergency response efforts in South Asia. The partnership marked another chapter in the two organization’s combined aid efforts through the ICC’s Cricket for Good campaign.

COVID-19’s Effects on Children in South Asia

UNICEF’s efforts in South Asia are a high priority due to the pandemic. The organization estimates that the pandemic likely contributed to the added deaths of 228,000 children younger than the age of 5 in the region’s six largest countries. Disease-related mortality rates rose too. UNICEF estimates almost 6,000 additional adolescent deaths from diseases such as “malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and typhoid” as a result of disrupted treatment services prompted by the pandemic.

Furthermore, “the number of young children being treated for severe acute malnutrition (SAM)” decreased by more than 80% in Bangladesh and Nepal. UNICEF’s report details an expected increase in adolescent health issues. These issues range from stunting to anemia due to a rise in food insecurity and undernutrition in South Asia. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a significant decline in the availability of essential services. These statistics illustrate the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare services in South Asia, among other impacts.

In addition, the effects of the pandemic extend beyond physical health for children in nations such as India. Yasmin Ali Haque, a UNICEF representative in India states, “Children are facing mental health issues and are at greater risk of violence as lockdowns shut them off from their vital support networks.” Haque also notes the increase in illegal adoptions in the country, prompting concerns of potential child trafficking and abuse.

UNICEF’s Call for Aid

As a result of these consequences, UNICEF called for aid in support of measures to improve the COVID-19 response in South Asia. These actions include increasing medical supplies, sanitation and infection control measures in the region. The organization has already worked to provide critical medical equipment such as ventilators, oxygen concentrators and testing kits to countries such as India and Sri Lanka. While UNICEF continues to request support from both private and corporate interests, the organization’s partnership with the ICC may prove to be increasingly important.

The International Cricket Council and UNICEF

The ICC recently launched a fundraising campaign in support of UNICEF. The campaign, running from June 18 to June 22, 2021, occurred in the English city of Southampton during the World Test Championship Final between New Zealand and India. The Council, through the Cricket for Good campaign, intends to use the massive sports audience to promote UNICEF goals.

The ICC commits to raising funds during cricket games and broadcasts while also utilizing the group’s digital platforms for fundraising efforts. All funds raised through the campaign will go directly toward UNICEF’s COVID-19 relief efforts in South Asia.

“We appeal to cricket fans around the world to come together to show their support for the work of UNICEF at such a difficult time and donate to such a worthwhile cause,” Acting International Cricket Council CEO Geoff Allardice said in the announcement for the partnership.

These recent efforts mark the latest commitments in a string of coordinated efforts between the ICC and UNICEF. Past campaigns focused on areas such as empowering young women and girls through cricket. During the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, UNICEF’s fundraising efforts garnered $180,000 to finance a girls’ cricket initiative in Afghanistan.

Looking Ahead

As the pandemic continues, support from organizations such a UNICEF and private organizations like the ICC will be critical. Increasing fears are emerging over the potential effects additional waves of the virus would have on children. The Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) recently emphasized that COVID-19 holds a lower direct health risk for children, releasing a statement detailing that “almost 90% of infections in children are mild/asymptomatic.”

The IAP also explained that there is no evidence indicating that children will suffer severe cases of COVID-19 in a subsequent wave of the virus. Nevertheless, the IAP stresses the importance of increasing medical capacities for children in the country in order to avoid deaths from preventable or treatable diseases.

UNICEF echoes the need to support childhood healthcare as the pandemic continues. Fundraising support from influential groups like the ICC could go a long way. These partnerships are vital in helping relief organizations provide the resources and assistance necessary to alleviate some of the problems affecting South Asia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brett Grega
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women’s Rights in MaldivesIn recent years, the Republic of Maldives established itself as an upper-middle-income country with a booming tourism sector. The nation’s islands, spread across many atolls, have become a popular destination for luxury stays in overwater bungalows. International visitors provide half of the Maldives’ revenue. With jobs and opportunities on non-native islands, women have been stepping out of traditional domestic roles and are migrating to urban areas for greater economic independence. This shines a light on women’s rights in the Maldives.

Obstacles to Women’s Rights in the Maldives

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on the citizens of this island nation. Tourism and related services affect standards of living and lifestyles significantly. In 2019, poverty in the Maldives had fallen to 2.1%. In 2020, the World Bank estimated that poverty rates would rise to 7.2%.

The pandemic has impacted women’s rights in the Maldives in two significant ways. Firstly, women experienced income losses more severely than men, and secondly, women reported an increase in gender-based violence and domestic violence.

Women in the Workforce

In the Maldives, which has a historically patriarchal culture, many women rely on informal employment and financial contributions from others to make a living. This disqualifies them from unemployment and other forms of COVID-19 assistance. Although many men also engage in informal work, 54% of women have seen their income decline during the pandemic compared to only 40% of men.

As a result of the pandemic, many women are not only earning less and receiving less from family or friends but are also unable to qualify for assistance. Government support and charity remain the only stable resources during the pandemic. However, women benefit less from both forms of aid on average.

With the economic success of tourism and related fields, many women migrate to the capital city of Malé where opportunities for formal work and economic independence abound. Still, only 59% of women make a living from paid employment relative to 70% of men.

When the COVID-19 virus began to spread, tourism in the Maldives came to a halt and women were the first to lose their jobs. As the economy suffered, the cost of living in Malé forced many to return home to rural communities and resort to informal work. The implication is that many of these women may never return to the city or to formal employment.

Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence

COVID-19 brought financial stress and upheaval to many homes in the Maldives. In a U.N. Women survey, 68% of Maldives women reported increased mental and emotional stress since the onset of the pandemic. The study identified likely stressors to include economic strain and the rise in gender-based violence.

A surge in gender-based violence and domestic violence reports occurred after the nation’s lockdown and again when the Maldives lifted its COVID-19-related restrictions. During the lockdown, welfare services were secondary to the pandemic response and there was also a relatively low number of reports. However, the instances of violence may be higher. Lockdown and restrictions place the affected women in constant, close proximity with perpetrators while financial stress and lifestyle changes compound instances of violence. In the Maldives, societal norms dictate the authority of men and shame women for coming forward with reports of gender-based violence.

Moving Forward

Despite these recent setbacks, the country is making progress in improving women’s rights in the Maldives. Women have made strides for gender parity in education and are building a sense of empowerment through financial security. The nation has set an example for other countries with an equal ratio of boys to girls enrolling in and completing primary and secondary school.

The Maldives’ Strategic Action Plan for 2019 to 2023 notes women’s economic participation, representation in government, sexual harassment and domestic violence as policy priorities. The planning document also recognizes that additional resources are necessary to follow through on important gender equality legislation. The Maldives introduced it recently to address these disparities.

Within the past decade, the Maldivian government has introduced the following legislation to advance women’s rights in the Maldives: the Gender Equality Act (2016), the Sexual Harassment and Prevention Act (2014), the Sexual Offenses Act (2014) and the Domestic Violence Act (2012).

COVID-19 presents a challenge to the momentum building for women’s rights in the Maldives, but with the return of international tourism, projections determine that the economy will rebound. Looking forward, women’s economic empowerment should remain a priority for the Maldives to continue making significant gains in gender equality.

– Angela Basinger
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in BangladeshBangladesh, a South Asian country bordered by India, is one of the most impoverished and most densely populated countries in the world. Bangladesh currently has a population of 161 million in an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Iowa. Bangladesh’s economy relies heavily on agriculture as 63.2% of the country’s population works in industry and agriculture. Even with an unemployment rate of less than 4%, the poverty rate is 21.8%. The dense population, small area, reliance on agriculture and poverty rate cumulatively create a crucial need for clean water. Humanitarian organizations aim to improve the water quality in Bangladesh.

10 Facts About Water Quality in Bangladesh

  1. Water quality in Bangladesh has been a long-term struggle. Since the country’s independence in 1971, international aid agencies have helped Bangladesh with its water crisis. At the time, a quarter of a million Bangladeshi children were dying each year from bacteria-contaminated surface water. Bacteria and pathogens, such as E. coli, cholera and typhoid, were causing severe health problems for both children and adults.
  2. Bangladesh relies on groundwater. Because of contaminated surface waters in the region, 90% of the population relies on groundwater. Groundwater is the water that lies below the earth’s surface between soil pore spaces and fractures of rock formations. This water source is accessible through tube wells in the region.
  3. UNICEF and the World Bank attempted to improve access to water in Bangladesh. To combat the poor-quality surface drinking water and provide more water for agriculture, these organizations funded the installation of about four million tube wells between 1960 and 1970. The tube wells created access to groundwater throughout the entire country. Unfortunately, this led to mass poisoning due to contaminated groundwater.
  4. The largest mass poisoning in history occurred in Bangladesh. In the 1990s, arsenic was detected in the well water. The wells dug in the 1960s and 1970s were not tested for metal impurities, impacting an estimated 30-35 million people in Bangladesh. Ailments from exposure to arsenic include gastrointestinal diseases, physical deformities, cancer, nerve and circulatory system damage and death. About 1.12 million of the four million wells in Bangladesh are still contaminated with arsenic.
  5. Poor water quality significantly impacts public health. Arsenic poisoning is now the cause of death for one out of five people in Bangladesh. An estimated 75 million people were exposed to arsenic-laden water. The poisoning can cause up to 270,000 future cancer-related deaths. E. coli is also still present in 80% of private piped water taps and 41% of all improved water sources. Sickness from poor water quality is a major issue and 60% of Bangladeshi citizens do not have access to modern health services.
  6. Poor water quality impacts agriculture. Bangladesh relies heavily on agriculture with 70% of its land dedicated to the cultivation of rice, jute, wheat, tea, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables and fruits. The contaminated tube wells provide a majority of the water used for irrigation. As a result, high levels of arsenic are absorbed by many crop plants, specifically rice and root vegetables. This can be deadly to those who consume the produce.
  7. Contaminated wells are still in use. After the testing of tube wells in 1997, the government painted the contaminated wells red and the safe wells green to reduce exposure. However, officials used poor testing kits to examine the wells, leading to incorrectly marked wells. Unfortunately, many green-marked wells hold contaminated water that the public still uses. Additionally, the wells that were marked red were never properly closed off and can still be used today.
  8. Poverty plays a role in access to clean water. Both the wealthy and the impoverished in Bangladesh struggle greatly with poor water quality. However, the population living below the poverty line struggles three times more from water-related diseases and illnesses. Roughly two million people in poverty still lack access to improved water sources. Bangladesh is also one of the most impoverished nations in the world, with a per capita income of around $370. This greatly affects the government’s ability to combat the water crisis.
  9. Poor water quality limits the country’s potential. The economy, public health and education all rely on access to clean and usable water. Poor water quality has led to stunting in more than one-third of Bangladeshi children. These developmental impacts limit education and result in an increase in poverty. The mortality rate of those who have come in contact with contaminated water sources will continue to devastate the economy. Over the next 20 years, this could lead to a loss of about $12.5 billion for the Bangladesh economy.
  10. The water quality in Bangladesh can improve. There are many ways to combat the water crisis in Bangladesh. Creating mechanisms to enhance rainwater capture would provide a better-quality source of usable water. Along with rainwater capture, water purification methods and the construction of a water treatment plant would eliminate contaminants from surface and groundwater. Funded projects by groups like Charity: Water, Lifewater and WaterAid are working to improve sanitation and water quality in Bangladesh.

The Road Ahead

Bangladesh has shown steady and vast improvements in many areas. Life expectancy has grown dramatically in the past few years and now averages 72 years. Bangladesh’s per capita income has also increased and is growing faster than Pakistan’s. Furthermore, Bangladesh shows an upward trend in per capita GDP with an increase of 6% per year. However, water quality still poses a critical issue in Bangladesh. With commitment from the government and humanitarian organizations to resolve the water crisis, Bangladesh will continue to grow and prosper.

Kate A. Trott
Photo: UNICEF