Blockchain in Southeast Asia
Early 2021 saw the formation of a new partnership between the San Diego-based blockchain platform, Solana, and the Vietnam-based investment firm, Coin98 Ventures. Together, they plan to provide a grant of $100,000 and technical, marketing and community support for Southeast Asian startups via the Solana platform. In total, the development fund will be worth $5 million. Solana’s development fund is among a trend of growing interest from private companies along with increasing government support across the region, now seeing supporting blockchain technology as a practical part of a development strategy. As a result, blockchain in Southeast Asia is increasing.

What is a Blockchain?

At its core, blockchain is an innovative database. Unlike the traditional form of storing data in a table format, blockchain operates as its name suggests: as a chain of blocks. Each block contains data, and each new inputted information adds a new block to the chain. When a new block is added, it undergoes time-stamping and encryption.

Essentially, blockchain software provides a secure and decentralized form of storing data, particularly financial data. The software operates on an algorithm to automatically record and encrypt transactions without a third party’s costly support. As a result, blockchain decentralizes financial transactions while also making them cheaper.

Blockchain: An Expanding Market

The blockchain market comprises one of the fastest-growing in the world. In 2020, the market size was $3 billion. The Markets and Markets firm predicts it to reach $39.7 billion by 2025. Moreover, its Compound Annual Growth Rate is a stunning 67.3%.

One can partly explain this growth rate by increasing access to the internet and e-commerce in the world. Access to the internet has increased rapidly. In 2000, about 413 million people had an internet connection; by 2016, this number jumped to 3.4 billion.

The Benefits of Blockchain

Billions of people still experience exclusion from financial tools and cannot use anything other than physical cash for transactions. As of 2017, 1.7 billion people across the globe remained unbanked. However, by sidestepping financial institutions, blockchain decentralizes banking and opens up possibilities for many locked out of traditional financial tools such as transferring and storing digital currency and investing.

Cutting out the middleman reduces the fees involved in transactions, which often run high. This is particularly important for migrant workers who pay high transaction rates to transfer money back home to their families. For example, in 2018, Western Union reported a $5.5 billion profit in fees from the money transfers in the same year.

Additionally, blockchain reduces the cost of doing business. It cuts overhead costs by lowering transaction fees, upgrading analytical tools to understand the market/customer needs and protecting and storing data more efficiently. For instance, by the year 2024, expectations have determined that blockchain will save the food industry $31 billion. And in early 2020, Cargill and Agrocorp and partners used a blockchain platform to shorten a U.S.-Indonesia wheat transaction from a month to a mere five days.

Blockchain in Southeast Asia

Perhaps more than any other region, Southeast Asia can benefit most from blockchain’s developmental potential. As a region, it has a high internet penetration rate of 58%. Moreover, it is an underbanked region with a shocking 73% of its population still unbanked in 2017. Additionally, Southeast Asia has a large migrant worker population around the globe who would benefit from blockchain. In 2017, the International Labor Organization estimated that of the migrant worker population, 20.2 million originate from Southeast Asia. Finally, as a manufacturing hub with a large e-commerce presence, blockchain technology plays an essential role in facilitating online shopping and supply-chain tracking and data storage.

Appropriately, Southeast Asian governments have supported this nascent technology. For starters, the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has embraced the technology in its Economic Community 2025 Strategic Action Plan for Financial Integration. The organization claims that it will “promote innovative financial inclusion via digital platforms.”

Likewise, countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines have invested in blockchain education programs to promote its development. Singapore, for instance, launched a $9 million program, the Singapore Blockchain Innovation Program, to facilitate and research blockchain applications. Vietnam, for its part, has transitioned the storage of government education records to blockchain technology and has plans to use block-chain infrastructure to transition Ho Chi Minh city to a smart city.

Southeast Asian Blockchain Companies

Through this support, hundreds of blockchain start-ups are rapidly growing across the region, utilizing blockchain in diverse ways that cut across different sectors. Some of the significant blockchain companies that illustrate its diversity are:

  • Electrify (Singapore): Founded in 2017 to introduce “trans-active energy platforms that will democratize access to clean energy across the Asia Pacific.”
  • Pundi-X (Indonesia): Partners with retailers worldwide to install its XPOS – a blockchain-powered point-of-sale device that allows retailers to accept cryptocurrency.
  • LuxTag (Malaysia): Utilizes blockchain to verify the authenticity of luxury items.
  • HARA (Indonesia): Founded in 2015, it relies on its blockchain software to provide data exchange for the food and agriculture sectors.

Blockchain’s potential as a developmental force is palpable. The growing blockchain market in Southeast Asia is vital for development in the region. It gives many people access to financial tools who otherwise would not have it while also easing business flow across industries. These factors have propelled blockchain in Southeast Asia as a critical tool in its development.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The State of Malaria in South-East AsiaAlthough Malaria remains at the forefront of global health issues, malaria in South-East Asia represents a success story in terms of mobilizing aid in the fight against the disease. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported eight million malaria cases, a decline of 69% since 2010, marking the largest decline of all WHO regions.

Direct Aid Strategies

South-East Asia has been the target of hefty aid strategies from a variety of non-profits. The aid primarily comes from the WHO and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria. As the Global Fund puts it, “The fight against malaria is one of the biggest public health successes of the 21st century.” The multi-pronged strategies used by these non-profits begin with a tactic known as surveillance.

Surveillance involves testing, record-keeping and reporting malaria cases. Surveillance systems have become more efficient. As a result, health care systems maintain a much more refined picture of malaria cases in any given region. This eventually gains “near real-time individual case data in small areas.”

Vector control is limiting contact between people and the mosquitos that transmit the disease. It has also helped eliminate malaria in South-East Asia. One of the most effective means to achieve this has been the wide-scale distribution of insecticidal mosquito nets. So far, the Global Fund has donated 142 million nets, providing a simple means for those in rural and urban areas alike to keep themselves protected.

Strengthening Local Healthcare Systems

Besides direct aid, many non-profits also turn to bolster already-existing local healthcare systems in the fight against malaria in South-East Asia.

Malaria Consortium is a non-profit organization specializing in the disease. It began working in Myanmar in 2016 to train locals in rural areas to administer essential health services. Malaria Consortium also taught local health workers to treat malaria, working to close the gap in rural healthcare.

In one village, 13 healthcare workers were trained in the treatment of malaria and other diseases common to the area. These workers went on to teach local mothers and adolescents, expanding the web of healthcare knowledge even further. By the end of the program, 90% of trainees were able to diagnose malaria cases correctly. Trainees were also able to run malaria diagnostic tests and administer Artemisinin. Artemisinin is the most widely used drug to treat the disease.

Concerns with Treating Malaria

Aid has been successful in treating malaria in South-East Asia. However, a new drug-resistant strain on the rise reignites concerns around the disease. Artemisinin-resistant malaria has the potential to undermine malaria prevention and was first recorded in the Mekong River region of Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. In 2014 and 2015, studies conducted by Vietnam’s National Malaria Control Program found treatment failure rates ranging from 26% to 46%.

From the perspectives of non-profits and medical experts, the rise of this new Artemisinin-resistant malaria in South-East Asia means surveillance efforts must be bolstered to prevent global spread. Likewise, instead of merely treating already-present cases, the goal must be preventing transmission in the first place. According to Chris Plowe, the director of the Duke Global Health Institute, is using all the tools available to the institute to eliminate aggressive malaria in the Greater Mekong subregion.

Overall, direct aid, community mobilization and the bolstering of healthcare systems have transformed a region once fraught with malaria. As these efforts continue, malaria in South-East Asia moves closer toward its extinction.

Jane Dangel
Photo: Flickr 

The Healthcare System in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world, is home to more than 9% of the world’s population. With ongoing rapid rates of urbanization and development within Southeast Asian (SEA) countries like Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines, many nations must transition through various changes. One area that is changing is healthcare due to the area’s overcrowded populations. Here is some information about the healthcare system in Southeast Asia.

Healthcare System in SEA vs. Growing Populations

Southeast Asia has been experiencing forms of economic and social changes like never before. Urbanization has been a common factor for these changes; currently, approximately half of the SEA population lives in urban areas. Though the middle/upper class has expanded from urbanization, this region has not solved all of its economic problems. As of 2017, around 40% of the world’s poor still resided in Southeast Asia.

The most pressing concern, however, is the changes that will occur for the healthcare system in Southeast Asia over the next two decades. Within this time, expectations have determined that the population size of older individuals (aged over 65 years) will jump from 7% to 14%. This rapid aging in the population could also increase stress on the already-exhausted healthcare systems within various countries in SEA.

The overcrowded medical facilities (with approximately one bed per 1,000 people) and lack of skilled healthcare workers in SEA (overall less than 2.8 workers per 1,000 people) allow this region particularly susceptible to healthcare overuse and exhaustion.

As populations continue to grow and demographics continue to change, the healthcare system in Southeast Asia carries the weight of these people on its shoulders.

What Does “Overuse” Mean?

In a medical context, “overuse” is when prescribed treatment for the patient may create the possibility for more harm than good, or is unnecessary for the betterment of the patient. Contrary to common assumptions, the “overuse” of medical resources does not only occur in developed countries.

Healthcare systems in rich and poor countries alike are prone to excessive suggestions for treatment and inappropriate means of disease intervention. Statistics have shown that countless countries in the world, including both China and Vietnam, regularly overuse antibiotics, amongst other medical expenditures (screening tests, diagnostic tests, etc.). Medical professionals also incorrectly prescribed over 55% of children diagnosed with diarrhea in Thailand.

Past excessive health screenings and the overuse of antibiotic medication can also increase antibiotic resistance, which creates an even greater level of complexity to this dilemma. While these long-term consequences can pose harm for everyone, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are at a particular disadvantage.

Overmedicalization can be a huge issue, especially for those who live in poverty. Overuse leads to improper medical care at higher costs, which disproportionately affects poor communities. In countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, individuals rely on out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs and coverage of inadequate medical insurance. For those living in poverty, many of these costly out-of-pocket medical expenditures could instead go toward food, housing and education. Overuse not only wastes resources and creates additional public health risks to all populations but it also causes an additional unnecessary burden on the lives of low-income individuals worldwide.

Steps Towards the Future

Many efforts are emerging to address the problem of possible healthcare overuse in SEA. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has made healthcare improvements a priority issue in many countries. Governments in countries like Vietnam and Indonesia have increased budgets in their healthcare systems to accommodate their aging populations.

The Lown Institute held the Avoiding Avoidable Care Conference in 2012, focused on educating others about the dangers of medical overuse. After this conference gained traction, the Lown Institute conducted global research to determine the scale of healthcare overuse in SEA and around the globe. This research occurred with 27 international experts from 21 different institutions and The Lancet published it in 2017––thus framing ideas for policy reformation and discourse on medical services around the globe.

Countless organizations focused on antibiotic resistance have also emerged (Alliance for Prudent Use of Antibiotics, World Alliance Against Antibiotic Resistance, etc.). However, the root of the problem––overuse of healthcare systems––has a long fight to go.

As more research occurs over the next few years, the healthcare system in SEA is open to many hopeful changes in its policy, practice and peoples.

– Vanna Figueroa
Photo: Flickr

Nourish Impoverished Communities
It is no secret that the United States is home to some of the biggest brands in the world. From cosmetics to food products, American brands influence many things global consumers see on their shelves in one way or another. Here is how four American brands help nourish impoverished communities.

Avon

Avon Cosmetics has been benefitting women since the mid-1950s through the creation of the Avon Foundation. For the past 65 years, more than $1 billion has gone toward sustaining women and their families all over the globe. The Avon Foundation’s humanitarian practices have opened up in more than 50 markets across nations, allowing women to feel empowered and begin their own businesses. Any woman can apply to become a representative using Avon’s online website.

Avon Connect is a program that sets the foundation for women to begin their dream businesses. The program provides education on the basics of sales and marketing to nearly 500,000 women worldwide. Through participation, women create jobs for themselves by becoming one of Avon’s Beauty Advisers.

Nestle

Nestle does not only offer water and coffee, the company also implements programs to help nourish impoverished communities around the globe. The company was originally a Swiss brand but has since expanded its locations worldwide. Now, the United States is one of its larger consumers, and it works with farmers and suppliers all over the world. By providing work for those in rural areas, Nestle creates a sustainable supply of food in those communities.

Nestle’s program Global Alliance for YOUth has helped alleviate the problem of unemployment within younger demographics. It provides work opportunities for young people, despite the lack of experience they may have. The program also encourages young people to become entrepreneurs and take control of their own business. By 2030, YOUth plans to benefit 10 million youths by providing employment and skills to help further their lives. Nestle’s Global Alliance for YOUth program brings together 21 international companies to help employ around 15 million youths by 2022.

Walmart

Walmart has provided neighborhoods with fair prices and good products since its beginning. The company aims for its global suppliers to be sustainable and responsible in the workplace. In fact, it has over 100,000 responsible suppliers around the globe. Walmart strengthens not only consumers but also those who help nourish impoverished communities.

In 2010, Walmart decided to actively help alleviate global hunger. More than $2 billion in food donations and grants went toward starving communities. In 2015, it donated around four billion meals to help the hungry. Walmart hopes to benefit an additional four million in 2020 by providing more meals and increasing education.

Walmart contributes to its local communities no matter the country. In 2019, Walmart provided over two million jobs in 27 countries. Employment is beneficial for those working toward upward mobility out of poverty. Walmart, with its 11,300 locations, helps provide just that.

Visa

Almost two billion people worldwide have not implemented banking into their lives. Visa is here to help fix that. In one year alone, Visa provided financial systems for nearly 500 million people. Its help went to women and those living in rural areas —those least likely to have any sort of financial aid.

Through Visa, many have been able to better support and sustain their small businesses. As a result, many have been able to acquire the skills they need to efficiently work in their business and develop the most appropriate services for growing their economy. Visa’s Practical Business Skills, founded in 2019, has helped small businesses from the beginning stages, allowing more efficient and proper company growth.

For instance, in Southeast Asia, Visa partnered with a large payment service to encourage all to improve their banking literacy. In Mexico, over 11 million people have started their own banking account with a Visa-partnered Mexican financial institution. Through the global implementation of Visa, people have been able to improve their finances, which helps nourish impoverished communities worldwide.

Global poverty is a huge and pressing issue. These American big brands can help people manage their lives with a bit more ease by providing support.

Karina Wong
Photo: Flickr

Childhood Stunting in Bangladesh
Stunting is the impaired development of children usually due to malnutrition. The People’s Republic of Bangladesh in South East Asia has had one of the highest levels of stunting for children under 5-years-old. It measured at 45% of children under 5 in 2000. A growing national economy has reduced the number of childhood stunting in Bangladesh to 36%. However, this is still a high considering that poor nutrition in the first years of a child’s life can contribute to irreversible damage to health, growth and development.

With the aid of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Bangladesh government’s National Nutrition Council Executive Committee has put forward a Second National Plan of Action for Nutrition targeting improvements in countrywide sustenance. It is the first funded nutrition program of its kind in Bangladesh. Nutrition is an area that requires addressing in the country. As a result, nonprofit organizations including UNICEF, CARE and the World Bank have worked in cooperation with the government’s nutrition program. They developed a collective impact to fight childhood stunting in Bangladesh.

CARE Collective Impact

Nonprofit organization CARE develops disaster response, food and nutrition, health and education for impoverished people globally. The organization’s approach is to link with partners. Together, they execute CARE’s programs as well as support promotions on a national scale. In Bangladesh, CARE has developed the Nutrition at the Center program. It follows the Second National Plan of Action for Nutrition. According to a CARE survey, the program has helped reduce stunting in children less than 2-years-old from 47% to 33%.

UNICEF

Additionally, UNICEF is a nonprofit organization that supports children globally through partnerships. The organization is working in cooperation with the Bangladesh government’s Second National Plan of Action for Nutrition in making a collective impact to fight childhood stunting in Bangladesh. UNICEF has developed research-based programs that reduce stunting within the first 1,000 days of life. This includes counseling on the proper nutrition of pregnant mothers to reduce underweight babies and improve childhood feeding. This highlights the diversity of foods, improves vitamin use and treats infection and severe acute malnutrition (SAM).

The World Bank

Furthermore, the World Bank is a nonprofit organization that invests knowledge and money in developing countries. The organization views investing in Bangladesh’s nutrition as an investment in the future socioeconomic potential of the children. Among children under 5, about 5.5 million are stunted, and out of that number, poorer children bear a disproportionate burden of stunted growth. The World Bank’s plan includes supporting childhood nutrition as well as a conditional cash transfer for 600,000 families.

Bangladesh has made considerable progress but continues to struggle with childhood nutrition. Children born stunted will potentially experience later puberty development and cognitive impairment. This can lead to poor school and later work performance. Stunted women often end up having stunted children, continuing the cycle. Therefore, programs that invest in proper nutrition are vital. The Bangladesh government’s nutrition program seeks to reduce childhood stunting by 25% by 2025. With the collective impact of fighting childhood stunting by nonprofit organizations like CARE, UNICEF and the World Bank, this goal can potentially become a reality.

Joseph Maria
Photo: Flickr

Myanmar's Most Vulnerable PopulationsThe country of Myanmar is facing many difficulties regarding the spread and effects of COVID-19. With a tattered healthcare system, warring states, a fragile economy and thousands of people displaced, Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations are experiencing several risks. Displaced people living in detention camps, Rohingya Muslims and the poor disproportionately face the negative effects of COVID-19 in culmination with a declining economy.

Myanmar

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Myanmar’s health system as one of the worst in the world. According to official data, about 40% of Myanmar’s population live below or close to the poverty line.

There is a limited number of doctors, with 6.1 doctors per 10,000 people. Additionally, there are as few as one doctor per 83,000 people in conflict-affected areas according to Human Rights Watch.

Furthermore, there is little healthcare or medical facilities in rural areas, where most of Myanmar’s population lives. That makes it extremely difficult for people to seek medical assistance and testing for COVID-19, and estimate the number of coronavirus cases.

Ethnic Conflict

In addition to a poor healthcare system, Myanmar is also riddled with the conflict between the government and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). Fighting in areas such as the Rakhine state and Chin state prevents any possible COVID-19 relief and government aid.

Additionally, the government has put mobile internet restrictions in place in response to the armed conflicts. Lack of accessible internet limits information about the virus along with access to medical services, preventing people from knowing the government’s response to COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves.

The Vulnerable

It is at a time like this that minorities and threatened groups are the most vulnerable. Many aid workers fear that on top of inadequate resources and poor living conditions, the virus could exacerbate hostile emotions towards minorities and targeted groups in Myanmar.

Groups such as displaced persons and the Rohingya Muslims face difficult obstacles in receiving medical treatment or preventative measures against the COVID-19 virus.

Displaced People

According to Human Rights Watch, there are about 350,000 displaced people in Myanmar, and 130,000 people living in detention camps in the Rakhine state. Military conflict between the government and ethnic armed groups mainly caused these people’s displacement. Living conditions are dismal in these camps, with little to no resources for treating or preventing COVID-19. There is limited access to clean water, toilets and medical services. Diseases are common and according to a Human Rights Report, “in such camps, one toilet is shared by as many as 40 people, [and] one water access point by as many as 600.”

The Rohingya Muslims

The Rohingya Muslims, a religious minority group, is one of Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations. They have been living in detention camps after experiencing persecution in Myanmar. The Myanmar government has restricted their freedom of movement, and the Rohingya Muslims live in squalid camp conditions. There are only two health centers available, both unequipped to test and treat COVID-19.

Living conditions are extremely cramped. According to a Forbes article, one of the refugee camps, Kutupalong, houses “almost 860,000 refugees. They are more densely populated than New York, with more than 100,000 people living in each square mile.” With people living in such close proximity to one another, the spread of COVID-19 through the Rohingya Muslims is inevitable.

Economic Effects on the Poor

COVID-19 also negatively impacts Myanmar’s economy. As a consequence, it has exacerbated poverty and lowered living conditions. According to the International Growth Centre and World Bank Open Data, Myanmar had the lowest per capita GDP in Southeast Asia in 2018.

Furthermore, because Myanmar’s economy largely relies on international investment and exported goods such as garment products, COVID-19’s disruption on the world economy has caused Myanmar to further suffer.

Especially affected by the economic decline are poor workers and households. Groups such as “street and mobile vendors and various day-rate workers in urban areas, and the landless and day-rate workers in rural areas” experience adverse effects as income, food security and employment decline, according to the International Growth Centre.

In the face of the COVID-19 virus, Myanmar suffers many challenges that make preventing and treating the virus extremely difficult. In all of this, Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations – the displaced, the Rohingya Muslims and Myanmar’s poor – are at the greatest disadvantage. Although there have been efforts by the government to provide financial aid for preventative measures and help from humanitarian organizations, it is not enough. These vulnerable groups are still hugely at risk from COVID-19.

Silvia Huang
Photo: Flickr

American ExportsThroughout the past several decades, nations in Southeast Asia have seen significant declines in extreme poverty rates. As poverty has fallen and these nations have developed economically, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has become the United States’ fourth-largest trading partner. While the United States does rely heavily on this region for imports, trade with ASEAN also supports American exports and bolsters nearly 346,000 American jobs. The following five countries in Southeast Asia are critical trading partners and demonstrate the economic benefits that can coincide with a decrease in extreme poverty:

1. Malaysia

Malaysia has been extremely successful in reducing poverty throughout the past several decades. According to the United Nations, “… in 1970, 49.3% of Malaysian households were below the poverty line.” As of 2015, the figure had fallen to 0.4%. As poverty has fallen, Malaysia has also grown economically, developing profitable manufacturing, petroleum and natural gas industries.

As the country has reduced poverty and developed economically, it has become an important trading partner to the United States. The United States imports electrical machinery, tropical oils and rubber from Malaysia. It also exports soybeans, cotton and aircraft to the nation. In total, the trade between the two nations totals around $57.8 billion each year and supports nearly 73,000 American jobs.

2. Thailand

Thailand is another country that has seen impressive levels of poverty reduction in recent decades. According to The World Bank, poverty rates fell from around 65% in 1988 to under 10% in 2018. The nation has also evolved economically, developing large automotive and tourism industries as poverty rates have fallen.

Trade between the United States and Thailand has steadily grown, totaling $48.9 billion in 2018. When analyzing imports, the United States relied on Thailand for machinery, rice and precious metals. In terms of exports, the United States provided the nation with electrical machinery, mineral fuels and soybeans. In total, the exports to the nation supported nearly 72,000 American jobs. Additionally, exports to Thailand have been increasing in recent years, growing nearly 14.5% from 2017 to 2018.

3. Vietnam

Vietnam is perhaps one of the most astounding examples of poverty reduction and economic development. The World Bank reports that “the poverty headcount in Vietnam fell from nearly 60% to 20.7% in the past 20 years.” As it has done so, the nation developed one of the most rapidly growing middle classes in Southeast Asia, became a center for foreign investment and developed key industries in electronics, footwear and textiles.

While the United States has come to heavily rely on Vietnamese imports, Vietnam is also a rapidly growing market for American exports. In fact, American exports of goods to Vietnam increased by 246.9%, and American exports of services to the nation increased 110% since 2008. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, “U.S. exports of Goods and Services to Vietnam supported an estimated 54,000 American jobs in 2015.”

4. Indonesia

Though the nation still has significant progress to make, Indonesia is another nation that has seen a reduction in extreme poverty rates. Since 1990, the nation has managed to half its poverty rate and make significant economic advancements. Currently the largest economy in Southeast Asia, the nation has developed notable industries in petroleum, natural gas, textiles and mining.

Trade with the nation totaled around $32.9 billion in 2019. While the United States imported apparel and footwear from the nation, it also exported soybeans, aircraft and fuels to Indonesia. In total, American exports to Indonesia are growing, increasing 19.1% from 2017 to 2018 and supporting nearly 56,000 American jobs.

5. Philippines

While poverty is still an issue in the Philippines, it has seen significant declines in recent years. According to the World Bank, poverty fell from 26.6% to 21.6% from 2006 to 2015. The nation has also made significant improvements in developing industries outside of agriculture. While agriculture composed nearly one-third of the nation’s GDP in the 1970s, it currently represents 9.3%, split between an emerging industrial and service sector.

Trade with the nation currently provides $29.6 billion each year, and exports to the Philippines grew 3% from 2017 to 2018. Mainly, the Philippines relies on American exports for electrical machinery, soybean meal, and wheat. Overall, exports to the Philippines support an estimated 58,000 American jobs.

Affecting nearly one in five American jobs, international trade is a critical part of the American economy. As demonstrated by Southeast Asia, a reduction in global poverty rates not only contributes to global economic development but also supports the export industry and American jobs.

– Michael Messina
Photo: Pexels

Facts About Poverty in Thailand
With the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia, Thailand is a relatively wealthy country. Its vibrant culture, delicious food and beautiful scenery attract millions of visitors a year, greatly contributing to its economy. On top of the tourism industry, Thailand exports many commodities like rice, rubber and coconuts. The country also produces goods like textiles, cement and plastics. Though Thailand’s poverty rate has decreased by 65% since 1988, impoverished living conditions are still a pressing issue in the country. The poverty rate fluctuates and currently, it is on the uprise. Here are five facts about poverty in Thailand.

5 Facts About Poverty in Thailand

  1. Poverty is on the rise in Thailand. In 2015, the poverty rate was just 7.2%. This figure has risen to almost 10%. That amounts to 2 million more people living beneath the poverty line, a substantial increase in only a few years. The rise in poverty does not occur in only a few of the country’s regions. Since 61 out of 77 provinces have seen a rise in poverty, one cannot attribute the current situation regarding poverty in Thailand to one specific community or circumstance. It is a widespread problem with profound implications for the livelihood of all Thai people.
  2. The rise in poverty is mainly due to economic reasons. Honing a 4.1% GDP growth rate in 2018 (one of the lowest in the region), the lack of economic progression in Thailand greatly affects its citizens. Additionally, Thailand has the fourth highest wealth inequality rates in the world at 90.2%, meaning there is a huge disparity between the richest and poorest people in the country. Without economic development and wealth equality, cycles of impoverishment will continue to trap the people of the nation.
  3. Environmental disasters have pushed more Thai people into poverty. Agriculturists (who make up 31.8% of the workforce) are already a poor group in the country, but the recent droughts in the past year have impoverished them even more. This combination of economic and environmental factors pushes farmers into even more poverty. Droughts are not the only natural disaster devastating the country. The floods and tsunamis that hit the country throughout the 2000s perpetuated even more poverty in Thailand. These natural disasters are inevitable, yet the lack of safety nets in the country is damaging the livelihoods of farmers.
  4. One of the demographics that poverty affects the most in Thailand is children. As of 2012, 7% of children weighed in as underweight and 16% experience stunting (impaired physical or psychological development due to a lack of nourishment during adolescence). The severe lack of resources could greatly impair future generations in the country. UNICEF is quite active in Thailand, working to alleviate child mortality and malnourishment. Due to its work, the child mortality rate has decreased four-fold; yet, there is still more the country requires.
  5. A solution to the poverty crisis in the country is an increase in social safety nets. Considering that environmental disasters and economic factors contribute to the rise in poverty, government-sanctioned programs to protect the Thai people are one of the easiest solutions to this problem. If Thailand can pinpoint which demographics are most susceptible to poverty, the government can create specific jobs and policies to protect its most vulnerable people.

Despite these five facts about poverty in Thailand, there are still many success stories for the country in terms of poverty alleviation. According to the Asian Development Bank, nobody in Thailand lives in extreme poverty (under $1.90 a day). Everyone in the country has access to electricity, water sanitation is excellent and education rates are high. However, to ensure every single citizen of Thailand is free from poverty, the government must continue to invest in economic development and produce innovative jobs for vulnerable populations. Only then can all be free from the insufferable conditions that poverty produces.

Photo: Pixabay

Female Genital Mutilation
One of the most extreme and dangerous forms of discrimination against women is the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Some might not associate the practice with modern, cosmopolitan countries outside of Africa. However, the truth is that it is still quietly happening in a lot of communities in Southeast Asia. In fact, Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia is more common than people previously thought.

What is Female Genital Mutilation?

FGM comprises all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs. FGM usually takes place on religious or cultural grounds and undertaken for non-medical reasons, leaving the girls with long-term health complications. International organizations, such as the U.N. and the WHO, universally consider FGM a violation of human rights and an extreme form of discrimination against women. While it has no health benefits, the practice is prevalent and often performed for cultural and religious reasons. The WHO estimates that more than 200 million women and girls have experienced FGM and that more than 3 million girls are at risk of this painful practice annually.

Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia

While the procedure in many African countries commonly occurs as a ceremony when girls reach adolescence, FGM in Southeast Asia often occurs when the girls are in infancy, which makes it more hidden. Better known as Sunat Perempuan in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, people often quietly carry out the procedure on girls before they turn 2 years old and are aware of what others are deciding for their body. Muslims in Southeast Asia typically observe this practice and reside in countries such as Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

Singapore

Since FGM occurs quietly, the exact number of women who experienced it is hard to pinpoint. However, experts believe that it is highly prevalent within the Malay community. Based on some anecdotal evidence, some estimate that approximately 80 percent of the 200,000 Malay Muslims were victims of FGM in Singapore. There is no law banning the practice of FGM in Singapore, and the government remains overwhelmingly silent on the issue. Some clinics offer to perform the procedure for around $15 to $26.

Indonesia

Many in Indonesia consider Female Genital Mutilation a rite of passage and people have practiced it for generations in Indonesia, a country containing the largest Muslim population of all countries globally. The government estimates that about 50 percent of the girls aged 11 and under nationwide undergo FGM, while in some more conservative parts of the country such as Gorontalo, the number could be upwards of 80 percent. Local healers say that the practice would prevent the girls’ promiscuity in later life. There is also another widespread belief that God would not accept uncircumcised Muslim women’s prayers. Some hospitals in Indonesia even offered FGM as part of the “birthing packages,” which further legitimizes the procedure and makes it hard to eliminate.

The government has gone back and forth in its decision on the issue. In 2006, the government had banned the practice of FGM, but due to pressure from religious groups, it had moved away from the attempt four years later. Instead, to accommodate the religious and cultural considerations, the government issued regulations allowing for medical staff to carry out less intrusive methods to ensure more safety. In 2016, the women’s minister announced a renewed campaign to end FGM but again met with increased opposition from the religious leaders in the country.

Malaysia

A study in 2012 found that more than 93 percent of the Muslim women that it surveyed in Malaysia have undergone the procedure. In 2009, Malaysia’s Islamic Council issued a fatwa – a legal pronouncement in Islam, allowing FGM and making the practice mandatory unless considered harmful. The call for standardization of procedure by the health ministry in 2012 added more to the problem of FGM in Malaysia as many in the country consider it to be normal and part of the culture.

A New Generation

Despite international condemnation, the practice of Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia is still prevalent and entrenched in traditions in many communities. The practice exists mostly among the Muslim community but is not exclusive to it. It is only until recently that FGM in Southeast Asia has gained more international attention, and more evidence on the prevalence of the practice is necessary to raise awareness on the issue. Across Africa where the practice concentrates, some communities have started to question FGM and abandon the long-standing tradition. Hopefully, with the new awareness of FGM in Southeast Asia, the nations will soon put an end to the practice that has been putting the women in danger for generations.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

 

The School Fund: What One Company is doing to tackle the Global Education CrisisOver 115 million school-age children are not able to attend school worldwide, largely due to compulsory school fees that are required for attendance. In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 63 million adolescents are out of school and only 37 percent of children finish secondary school. One company targeting barriers to education is The School Fund (TSF). Through the collaboration of technology and willing donors looking to make a difference, the organization is able to provide low-income students with the opportunity to receive an education.

The Mission

The School Fund is a crowdfunded, nonprofit organization based in California. One hundred percent of donations go directly toward each student’s unique scholarship. Its mission is to tackle the global education crisis by connecting donors to students in developing countries who cannot afford an education. It stands firmly behind the belief that education is the most effective way to successfully eradicate poverty.

Barriers to Education

The reasons children do not receive secondary education are plenty and vary from location to location. Some of these reasons are the cost of supplies, the long distances that need to be traveled to reach school, safety and cultural norms. When it comes to education, poor and rural areas are especially disadvantaged.

How it Works

The School Fund partners with local organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. These range from private schools to local public schools, or local scholarship organizations. The Field Partners then select students for the TSF website, including biographies, stories and pictures of the children. Biographies help to keep each donation personal and invested in the growth of each child. Donors then select which student they want to sponsor.

These donors are able to view the breakdown of school costs and receipts on a web platform with complete transparency. Direct journal updates from their sponsored student are available for donors as well, helping to foster the connection between the donor and the student. The School Fund ensures that students are attending school via receipt tracking and field drop-ins.

Outcomes

The School Fund has successfully funded 1,291 students, with many more on the horizon. Since 2009, the organization has raised over $500,000. TSF also found that with just one extra year of secondary education, a student’s lifetime wages have the potential to increase by 10 percent.

TSF has shown a 50 percent growth rate each year in revenue accrued for scholarships. It also connects regularly with its Field Partners to collect updates, including grades and yearly data. This ensures that each student is seeing improvement and growth through their education.

Women in particular benefit from receiving an education. Only one in four girls attend school in many of these developing countries, but of those who do, women have fewer unwanted pregnancies, delay getting married young, have healthier kids and are three times less likely to test positive for HIV. TSF is helping women combat cultural norms and ensuring empowerment for all.

 

Children around the globe continue to face barriers to education. The School Fund is one of many organizations breaking down these obstacles, making sure money is not a deterrent for something that everyone should be entitled to.

Laurel Sonneby
Photo: Pixabay