Trachoma in South SudanCurrently, 3.6 million individuals in South Sudan suffer from trachoma. Trachoma starts with a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis, which enters the nose or eyes of a person and causes permanent blindness if not treated properly. Trachoma mostly affects rural and nomadic individuals in South Sudan because of limited access to safe water and sanitation, infrequent trips to medical clinics and dealing with cattle.

The Government of South Sudan, The Carter Center and Sightsavers attempt to eradicate trachoma in South Sudan with universal health coverage, distributing antibiotics, providing corrective surgeries, promoting sanitation classes and building proper human waste disposals in the communities.

The Government of South Sudan

To help out the most vulnerable individuals, the Government of South Sudan provides free healthcare to all citizens. Since native and nomadic communities live in isolated areas and do not stay put in one place for too long, healthcare workers go into their communities to administer medical care. State employees learned to track the constant movement of the pastoralists to wait for their arrival. Consequently, 6,650 citizens who never visited a clinic in the village received treatment for trachoma in the safety of their communities.

Sightsavers

Sightsavers came to South Sudan in 2009 and strives to prevent vulnerable individuals from going blind.  More specifically, the organization provides medication and corrective surgeries to citizens in South Sudan who suffer from trachoma.

First, Sightsavers partnered with the government to provide eye treatment to vulnerable individuals. Next, 5,100 citizens of these regions carried out the task of handing out medication to the locals. These volunteers went to rural and isolated places that do not have access to Western medication. In just 2018 alone, Sightsavers provided around 546,000 medications to cure trachoma and other eye conditions.

Next, the organization assists health professionals in visiting isolated areas. Once the workers arrive at their destination, they spend over a week providing around 200 corrective eye surgeries for individuals suffering from trachoma and cataracts. These surgeries changed the lives of citizens who dropped out of school or do not work due to their eye condition.

The Carter Center

The Carter Center began assisting South Sudan in 1986 before its independence. The Center strives to maintain peace in the nation, provide quality healthcare and teach the citizens how to produce more food. More specifically, the organization strives to eradicate trachoma in South Sudan with the implementation of the SAFE strategy.

The SAFE strategy signifies “surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness, and environmental improvement.” Beginning in 2000, the Center helped fund 10,000 corrective eye surgeries in South Sudan. Secondly, the organization provided close to four million doses of the antibiotic Zithromax. Next, the Center helped support sanitation classes in almost 4,000 communities and the erection of more than 6,000 bathrooms.

Final Thoughts

Many individuals living in remote areas in South Sudan suffer from the deteriorating effects of trachoma. With the help of the government and nonprofit organizations, citizens can access long-term relief from their symptoms and prevent future infection. The optimism and determination of the citizens to find a cure and get better forecasts a positive outlook for the eradication of trachoma in South Sudan.

– Samantha Rodriguez-Silva
Photo: Flickr 

Transforming Education in South SudanAround 1.8 million children in South Sudan are not in school; the majority of children are utilized for manual work to provide for their families. This prevents millions of children, especially young girls, from receiving an adequate education. As the world’s youngest country, South Sudan struggles with many pressing issues, such as an unstable political environment and scarce food access. However, the need for educational reform grows increasingly urgent every day. These inadequate educational circumstances can be attributed to many years of war that left behind devastating conditions for the country and its civilians. However, organizations have committed to transforming education in South Sudan.

The Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART)

Founded in 2004, HART exists to help countries suffering from national conflicts that are not typically served by major aid organizations. A significant amount of its aid is directed toward South Sudan and the country’s unfavorable education status. In its 2020 report, the organization emphasized how many leaders in South Sudan are unable to access funds from large-scale donors. In response to this, the organization stresses that donating funds for essential services in South Sudan should take top priority, especially education funds, considering the substantial number of children displaced from normal learning environments. The organization works directly with partners in South Sudan to get problems solved through direct communication. 

According to HART, a girl raised in South Sudan is more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than complete her primary education. More than two million children are not in school, which is the worst number the country has seen yet. If these rates continue, the future generation of South Sudan will not be equipped with the skills that come from an educational background, which also statistically places them as more likely to fall into generational poverty. Organizations such as HART use advocacy as the strongest tool. By bringing light to these startling statistics, it hopes to educate the public on the dire need to allocate funds to South Sudan and reform the educational system through donations.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

UNICEF has been a global leader in transforming education in South Sudan, as it provides funds for classroom materials and teacher training. A primary focus is to intervene in South Sudanese communities to emphasize the importance of educating their children. The organization understands that when children are educated, it benefits not only them but the entirety of the country.

However, learning in South Sudan has been extremely different since the start of COVID-19 as roughly 1.5 million children have been learning through radio lessons instead of the traditional classrooms. In 2020 alone, UNICEF provided over 40,000 radio sets to be distributed to underprivileged children who do not have access to radios in their homes. Amid these unconventional education times, UNICEF continues to deliver essential services to benefit learning in remote locations under the Government of South Sudan’s “Back to School Initiative”. At the end of 2020, UNICEF plans to have provided 729,000 out of school children in crisis access to education.

Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

The Global Partnership for Education has been partnered with South Sudan since 2012. It emphasizes the high demands placed on the education system in South Sudan’s national plans. The General Education Strategic Plan (GESP), developed by the Ministry of General Education and Instruction of South Sudan, lays out situation analyses, policy frameworks, implementation structures and financing plans. However, there is insufficient public expenditure to cover these projects. In fact, South Sudan possesses one of the lowest education funds in the world. 

The GPE recognizes this need for funding and believes in the vision of The General Education Strategic Plan. In March of 2020, the GPE gifted $7 million in support of the Ministry of Education’s learning plan in response to COVID-19. In particular, the grant goes to support guidelines and policies in place to reopen schools in South Sudan. Other focal points revolve around awareness campaigns on COVID-19 prevention, remote learning materials for students, radio programs for at-home learning, hygiene facilities and back to school campaigns. As the GPE continues backing The General Education Strategic Plan, there is an expected expansion of secondary and technical education and institutionalizing teacher training within the next three years. 

The Need for Improved Education

Right now, over 80% of the South Sudanese population live on less than a dollar per day. In the middle of a humanitarian crisis, many basic necessities fail to be met for this vulnerable population. An increasing urgency around transforming education in South Sudan has caused an abundance of organizations to take a special interest in reforming the education system in the world’s youngest country. While the road to a prospering education system is still long, South Sudan is taking substantial steps toward a better future for its children with the help of humanitarian organizations.

– Hope Shourd
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in South SudanSouth Sudan, a country in East Africa, gained independence in 2011. This gave more power and opportunities to women. However, women continue to face struggles due to gender inequality. Therefore, women’s rights in South Sudan is a prevalent issue as the country works toward incorporating gender equality in the country’s development.

Gender Inequality in Education

Schools are a prominent place where gender inequality occurs in South Sudan. This is proven by the difference between the literacy rates of girls, which is 40%, and boys, which is 60%. According to the World Bank, about seven girls for every 10 boys are in primary education and around five girls for every 10 boys attend secondary school. Additionally, as of 2013, a total of 500 girls in South Sudan attended the final grade of secondary school. Moreover, around 12% of teachers in the country are female, which only strengthens gender inequality in education.

To address gender disparities in education, in 2012, South Sudan received grants from the Global Partnership for Education and The United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Through these grants, UNICEF Sudan ran the Global Partnership for Education Program. The Program aims to improve the overall education system by encouraging gender sensitivity and taking measures to prevent gender-based violence in a classroom setting. Additionally, South Sudan plans to build 25 girl-friendly schools in the most disadvantaged regions with the purpose of benefiting 3,000 girls. The Program will give teachers training on gender sensitivity and gender-based violence. Furthermore, South Sudan will implement a new curriculum to further remove barriers to education for girls with the focus of developing solidarity. The updated curriculum will also provide newly written textbooks.

Gender Disparities for Health in South Sudan

Gender disparity is a significant issue in healthcare affecting women’s rights in South Sudan. The WHO categorized South Sudan’s health crisis as the “highest level of humanitarian emergency” in 2014. As of 2015, the maternal mortality ratio was 730 deaths per 100,000 live births. Violence in South Sudan widely limits access to healthcare since international NGOs supply over 80% of the country’s healthcare. Outbreaks of fighting often lead to the destruction of health centers and the cessation of medical centers, especially since medical professionals may be forced to seek refuge in another location. Furthermore, women are often disproportionately impacted by the vulnerability of South Sudan’s healthcare system. Because women tend to be the primary source of care for their families during a time of crisis, while men are on the frontline, they often delay seeking medical attention to avoid leaving their children alone. Therefore, providing greater access to healthcare for women would improve the health of families as a whole.

Gender-Based Violence in South Sudan

Gender-based violence is another challenge women in South Sudan face. An estimated 475,000 women and girls in the country are at risk of violence. Additionally, over half of women aged 15 to 24 have endured gender-based violence. South Sudanese women who have experienced violence also tend to be impacted by stigma, which is a barrier to receiving proper care. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) aims to work with the South Sudan government, along with the Global Fund and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to support women by targeting gender based-violence through support programs.

Awareness of women’s rights issues in South Sudan is a step toward improving the overall quality of life of women in the country. Gender disparity affects many aspects of women’s lives in South Sudan, including education, health and risks of violence.  Therefore, addressing issues disproportionately affecting women in South Sudan is imperative.

– Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Women PeacemakersSince the beginning of the Sudanese civil war in 1983 that split the north from the south, the conflict in South Sudan has cost thousands of civilian lives and fractured the society in the region. The fallout from the civil war led to tribal conflict that is still ongoing and oftentimes the victims of these “total wars” are women. For this reason, women peacemakers in South Sudan are very important.

Feminist Movements in South Sudan

Prior to the civil war, feminists movements were gaining ground in South Sudan, so much so that South Sudan was seen as the center of African feminism during the 60’s and 70’s. These activists secured legal equality for all women across the country, though, with a change of leadership in the late 70’s, women saw their positions in society diminish. With the beginning of the civil war, South Sudanese feminists began to pursue outside avenues to affect policy.

One such group was a collective of female South Sudanese refugees who fled to Nairobi, Kenya. There they drafted a document that outlined how women were essential to the peacemaking and governing process. These women called for the government to acknowledge that “It is first and foremost women who suffer during wars or conflicts. Because of this, they are best placed to act as agents for a conclusive peace process and to spread a culture of peace in the country.” This was the first declaration of its kind, and its message has continued to be influential in how South Sudanese women advocate for increased involvement of women.

Feminist Organizations

Throughout the war period, multiple feminist organizations emerged that called for peace and women’s rights, such as Nuba Women for Peace, Women Empowerment for Peace and Development Network and the National Democratic Alliance. At the turn of the century, many women who had previously participated in these groups came together to form the Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP), which is an organization with branches in North and South Sudan that collaborate to empower women in the region and promote the role of women peacemakers in South Sudan.

Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP)

SuWEP’s main goals are to promote the inclusion of women from all layers of society, train women in conflict resolution and mediation, raise awareness, write position papers on its work to be presented to international bodies and advocate for and publicizing its message of gender equality. Due to these efforts, peace centers have now been established throughout both North and South Sudan, food aid has been able to reach the most vulnerable populations throughout the region and the legislature of South Sudan met its quota of 25% of its seats belonging to women.

UN Women Africa

U.N. Women Africa has also been one of the larger advocates for gender equality in South Sudan, with its focus primarily being on increasing female involvement in democracy, increasing literacy and protecting women and girls from gender-based violence. The organization has come before the Security Council to demand greater protections for women because it believes women are essential to the peacemaking process as they have been the greatest advocates of peace since the inception of the conflict. In addition, in a report to the Security Council, it was brought up that the women of these warring tribal and ethnic factions have been able to cooperate and make change together, meaning they can help the rest of the country do so.

Moving into the future, many women peacemakers in South Sudanese see the Revitalized Agreement as the best option for lasting peace because it would require that women hold 35% of government seats and the country would transition towards an expanded democracy. With more women in positions of power, feminists believe there would be an increased focus on women’s issues as well as a greater emphasis on diplomacy and peace.

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in South Sudan
Period poverty occurs when women and girls struggle to afford menstrual products, including tampons, pads, menstrual cups, underwear and painkillers. Period poverty is present in both developing and developed nations and has negative effects on women’s education, work-life and health. Many women are subject to period poverty in South Sudan; however, even outside of the nation, South Sudanese women and girls are affected.

Since the beginning of South Sudan’s civil war in 2013, more than 2 million people have fled their homes, and many have landed in refugee settlements in neighboring countries like Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. In and around South Sudan, women without adequate menstruation resources face additional challenges in daily life.

Perception of Menstruation

Even though menstruation is a fact of life for most women, cultural taboos prevent conversations about this topic. As a result, many school-age girls in South Sudan are not taught about menstruation and how to safely care for themselves before getting their first period.

A 2014 study conducted across South Sudan found that 28.4% of young, female respondents consider menstruation to be a disease. In the Lopa-Lafon county alone, more than 60% hold this belief. Country-wide, 48.7% of respondents think that menstrual blood is dangerous, 58.2% believe that women are unclean during menstruation and 59.9% believe that if a woman has pain while on her period she is unhealthy.

Consequences

The consequences of upholding secrecy around menstruation in South Sudan are severe. Coupled with low resources, women in refugee settlements and impoverished communities often use rags, newspapers, leaves or banana peels as substitutes for pads. When these items fail and breakthrough bleeding occurs, women are often met with aversion and jokes. Since menstrual blood is considered dirty, women must bathe and wash their rags far from any communal water source. This reduces women’s capacity for frequent washing and increases their risk of infection.

Some, especially refugees, are forced to isolate themselves during menstruation because there is no other way to hide their period. This often prevents girls from sleeping at home or going to school. As a result, girls lose up to three months of classes each year, causing them to fall behind. Furthermore, when period poverty interferes with girls’ education, they are more likely to drop out of school and be married at a young age, often having children shortly after. Globally, the leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19 is pregnancy and childbirth complications.

Combatting Period Poverty

Period poverty in South Sudan is a threat to girls’ education and livelihoods. According to the 2014 survey, about 70% of girls in South Sudan do not have enough money to buy sanitary pads, and 27% of girls in primary school say pads are not available in their area. Fortunately, organizations are working to combat period poverty in South Sudan.

SmilePad gets its name from the smiles it puts on girls’ faces when they are given this reusable, cotton-and-plastic sanitary pad. The pad can be washed and reused for months and comes in a three-pack along with a couple of pairs of underwear. UNICEF funds the project and the NGOs that buy and distribute the pads to communities in South Sudan. The goal is to help girls manage their periods so they can stay in school.

The Freedom Pads Project has distributed 1,500 reusable pads to women and girls in refugee camps in Uganda and South Sudan. Founder Akeer Chut-Deng also tries to provide a space for learning about menstruation and women’s health in the schools and communities she visits.

Men4Women is an organization devoted to raising awareness and improving education about menstruation for men and women. While handing out sanitary pads in schools, they begin the conversation about the taboo subject, hoping that both girls and boys will grow more comfortable talking about periods to end the stigma and promote women’s health.

Moving Forward

While period poverty remains a significant issue in South Sudan, there is hope for the future. The efforts of these organizations to combat period poverty in South Sudan is essential. Moving forward, more work must be done to provide menstrual products and reduce the social stigma surrounding menstruation.

McKenna Black
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid  in South Sudan
As the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan has amazing potential to be an emerging economy in East Africa. Unfortunately, conflict has plagued the newly formed country, as it emerged as a result of a war for independence, and continues to see regional conflicts as it remains politically unstable, resulting in weaker public institutions and infrastructure. Due to this instability, it has been difficult for a strong and developed economy to take hold. However, with South Sudan’s access to natural resources and untapped human capital, a strong economy is definitely possible if there is enough of an investment in humanitarian aid in South Sudan.

Many nations and organizations, such as the United States and UNESCO, have planned solutions and committed resources to help South Sudan remedy its largest issues. The most prominent issue facing South Sudan is the continued conflict the fledgling country faces. These issues cannot be fixed purely from foreign donations and humanitarian aid but there has been a concentrated effort to help relieve the worst impacts the continued fighting has caused.

Peacekeeping

In a U.S. backed mandate, the U.N. has committed to providing humanitarian aid in South Sudan by maintaining a peacekeeping force in the country till at least March 2021. These peacekeeping forces have the task of maintaining the stability of the new peace agreement as well as assisting the roughly 3.9 million displaced South Sudanese citizens. The U.N.’s forces will have the job of monitoring the new transitional government for abuses of international humanitarian law.

While a lack of political stability is the root cause of most of South Sudan’s economic struggles, a lack of dependable infrastructure also hampers the country’s ability to combat poverty. Humanitarian aid workers have found difficulty reaching rural populations in South Sudan during regular flood seasons. Roughly 70% of South Sudan’s population lives in rural areas and as many work in the agricultural sector, meaning that for a lengthy portion of the year, they are inaccessible to humanitarian workers in addition to not having access to urban centers.

Education

Another difficulty facing South Sudan is a lack of a comprehensive education system. In 2018, South Sudan had the lowest rate of adult literacy in the world at 27%. This is partly due to its reliance on agriculture and the sparse rural communities where many South Sudanese people live. As a response, UNESCO is promoting non-formal educational spaces to not only educate South Sudanese youth but also illiterate adults. Expectations have determined that over 2,000 learning spaces will emerge by the year 2023, which will serve 330,000 children who cannot attend a traditional school due to displacement from conflict.

As of 2018, 70% of South Sudan’s population was under the age of 29 years old which has the potential to lead to exponential growth in the country. The young nature of the country’s population means that they can receive training in specialized skills and can create a sudden surge of development in certain sectors of industry. Combined with developing a stronger educational network for young adults, South Sudan can see a major increase in educated and skilled workers.

The United States, recognizing the potential for South Sudan to become a strong economy in East Africa, has continued to provide humanitarian aid in South Sudan as it develops. The United States has dedicated $97 million from the State’s Department’s Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migration as well as an additional $11 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance in an effort to aid those displaced due to the conflict in South Sudan.

Looking Forward

South Sudan has all the makings of a stable and prosperous economy, a substantial amount of natural resources, access to undeveloped land and a population that is young enough to receive thorough training and education. All the country needs to do is to create and maintain political peace within its borders and continually receive humanitarian aid from global leaders such as the United States.

Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in South Sudan
In 2011 South Sudan became the newest nation in the world. Gaining independence gave much celebration and hope for the future, yet South Sudan was created as a very undeveloped country. Nearly seven million people face the risk of starvation, which is 60% of the population in the country. In order to fight hunger in South Sudan, these organizations have come together to provide aid.

Rise Against Hunger

In parts of South Sudan such as Unity State and Jonglei, famine was officially declared in February of 2017. However, humanitarian organizations such as Rise Against Hunger fought to prevent worsening conditions. The national Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) has reported that the extent of the famine has since diminished. One of the ways Rise Against Hunger fought against hunger in South Sudan is by supporting programs managed by Mothering Across Continents in Old Fangak. The programs focus on providing school meals for children, constructing sustainable food storage and stabilizing markets through the purchase of local foods. Through the efforts of this support, more than 1,300 school children have received aid at the Old Fangak community school.

Action Against Hunger

Factors such as poor living conditions, climate change, limited access to clean water and public services lead to many becoming undernourished. The team at Action Against Hunger works to make hunger in South Sudan a thing of the past. The team focuses on bringing programs to local communities that work to prevent underlying causes of hunger. Teams at Action Against Hunger worked on supplying 7,215 families with agriculture support. They also constructed 71 kilometers of roads that will allow more easy access to schools, markets and health services. With 91,000 people living near poor-quality roads, these new 71 kilometers of roads will give much-needed relief to the people in South Sudan.

World Food Programme

Since December of 2013 civil war has been causing havoc in South Sudan. It has caused widespread destruction and death, which tanked the economy and reduced crop production and imports. This has made it difficult for 1.47 million displaced people to secure enough food for the year. To combat the hunger in South Sudan, the World Food Programme has worked to provide food assistance in nearly every part of the country since 2011. The organization also makes sure to provide nutritious food and nutrition counseling to pregnant women and children. The World Food Programme also establishes secure farming grounds in areas that do not see conflict.

Organizations such as Rise Against Hunger, Action Against Hunger and the World Food Programme are able to help prevent hunger in South Sudan and give relief for the people who are put at the risk of starvation. With the help of organizations aimed towards preventing hunger, the people of South Sudan are able to make steady progress towards food security.

Ashleigh Jimenez
Photo: Flickr

covid-19 in africa

On a world map of the distribution of COVID-19 cases, the situation looks pretty optimistic for Africa. While parts of Europe, Asia and the United States have a dark color, indicating relatively high infection rates, most African countries are light in comparison. This has created uncertainty over whether the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is as severe as other continents.

Lack of Testing

A closer look at the areas boasting lighter colors reveals that the situation in Africa is just as obscure as the faded shades that color its countries. In Africa, dark colors indicating high infection rates only mark cities and urban locationsoften the only places where testing is available.

Although insufficient testing has been a problem for countries all over the world, testing numbers are strikingly low in Africa. The U.S. completes 249 tests per 100,000 people per day. In contrast, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, only executes one test per 100,000 people daily. While 6.92% of tests come back positive in the United States, 15.85% are positive in Nigeria. Importantly, Nigeria is one of the best African countries for testing: it carried out 80% of the total number of tests in Africa.

As a continent housing 1.2 billion individuals of the world’s population, Africa is struggling to quantify the impact of COVID-19 without additional testing. To improve these circumstances, the African CDC has set a goal of increasing testing by 1% per month. Realizing the impossibility of reliable testing, countries like Uganda have managed to slow the virus’ spread by imposing strict lockdown measures. As a result, the percentage of positive cases in Uganda was only 0.78% as of Sept. 1, 2020.

A Young Population

COVID-19 in Africa has had a lower fatality rate than any other continent. In fact, many speculate that fatality rates may even be lower than reported. Immunologists in Malawi found that 12% of asymptomatic healthcare workers had the virus at some point. The researchers compared their data with other countries and estimated that death rates were eight times lower than expected.

The most likely reason for the low fatality rate in Africa is its young population. Only 3% of Africans are above 65, compared with 6% in South Asia and 17% in Europe. Researchers are investigating other explanations such as possible immunity to certain variations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and higher vitamin D levels due to greater sunlight exposure.

Weak Healthcare Systems

Despite these factors, the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is likely high. Under-reporting and under-equipped hospitals unprepared to handle surges in cases may contribute to unreliable figures. In South Sudan, there were only four ventilators and 24 ICU beds for a population of 12 million. Accounting for 23% of the world’s diseases and only 1% of global public health expenditure, Africa’s healthcare system was already strained.

Healthcare workers are at the highest risk of infection in every country. In Africa, the shortage of masks and other equipment increases the infection rate among healthcare workers even further. Africa also has the lowest physician-to-patient ratio in the world. As it can take weeks to recover from COVID-19, the infection and subsequent recovery times for healthcare workers imply that fewer are available to work. Thus, COVID-19 in Africa further exacerbates its healthcare shortage.

Additionally, individuals who are at-risk or uninsured can rarely afford life-saving treatment in Africa. For example, a drug called remdesivir showed promising results in treating COVID-19. However, the cost of treatment with remdesivir is $3120. While this is a manageable price for insurance-covered Americans, it is not affordable for the majority of Africans. Poverty therefore has the potential to increase the severity of COVID-19 in Africa.

Economic and Psychological Factors

Strict lockdowns have helped some nations control the spread of COVID-19 in Africa, but at a heavy price. A general lack of technology means that, following widespread school shutdowns, students have stopped learning. Many adults have also lost their jobs. More than 3 million South Africans have become unemployed due to the lockdown.

Furthermore, the lockdowns have also resulted in much higher rates of domestic violence, abuse and child marriage. Many such cases are unreported, meaning that the real scope of the problem is probably larger. Mental health services for victims or those struggling through the pandemic are also often unavailable. In Kenya, the United Nations has appealed for $4 million to support those affected by gender-based violence.

The slow spread of COVID-19 in Africa has allowed the continent and its leaders to prepare. Importantly, its young population will lessen the severity of the virus’ impact. Although these circumstances provide reasons to be hopeful, there is no doubt that Africa’s economy and future will suffer from the virus. This potential highlights the need for foreign assistance not only in controlling COVID-19 in Africa but in the continent’s recovery for years to come.

– Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr

Schooling During COVID-19As COVID-19 started spreading, schools around the world shut down. For countries with already poor schooling systems and low literacy rates, the pandemic created even more challenges. The world’s most illiterate countries are South Sudan with a 73% illiteracy rate, Afghanistan with a 71.9% illiteracy rate, Burkina Faso with a 71.3% illiteracy rate and Niger with a 71.3% illiteracy rate. Schooling during COVID-19 has only increased the struggles these countries face as they try to promote literacy.

Literacy is an important aspect of reducing world poverty, as countries with the lowest levels of literacy are also the poorest. This is because poverty often forces children to drop out of school in order to support their families. Since those children did not get an education, they will not be able to get a high-paying job, which requires literacy. Thus, a lack of education keeps people in poverty. If countries with low literacy rates make schooling harder to access due to COVID-19, the illiteracy rate will increase, and the cycle will continue. Below are the ways that the four least literate countries are continuing schooling during COVID-19.

South Sudan

After almost a decade of fighting due to the South Sudanese Civil War, literacy rates are already low in South Sudan, as the war inhibited access to education. The government-imposed curfew in response to COVID-19 forced children to stay home. This especially challenges girls, whose families expect them to pick up housework at home due to gender norms. The government provided school over the radio or television as a virtual alternative to schooling during COVID-19. However, impoverished children who lack access to electricity, television and radio have no other option. This lack of access to education for poor Sudanese children will further decrease literacy rates. As a result, children may be at risk of early marriage, pregnancy or entrance into the workforce.

Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, there was already a war going on when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, creating a barrier to education. In 2019 alone, 200,000 students stopped attending school. COVID-19 has the potential to make this problem worse. Importantly, Afghanistan’s schooling crisis affects girls the most; by upper school, only 36% of students are girls. Further, 35% of Afghan girls are forced into child marriages, and not being in school makes them three times as likely to be married under 18. If they do not finish school, there is a high chance they will never become literate.

COVID-19 may exacerbate girls’ lack of access to school. When schools shut down, the schooling system in Afghanistan moved online in order to continue schooling during COVID-19. But only 14% of Afghans have access to the internet due to poverty. Since many parents are not literate, they cannot help their children with school. School shutdowns may also decrease future school attendance, especially for girls. As such, COVID-19 will perpetuate illiteracy in Afghanistan, with many children missing out on school due to poverty.

Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, school shutdowns have put children at risk of violence. Jihadist violence, tied to Islamic militants, has increased in the country. Violence forces children out of school, with many receiving threats, thus decreasing the literacy rate. Though school was a safe space for children, COVID-19 is making this situation worse.

As an alternative for schooling during COVID-19, Burkina Faso has broadcasted lessons on the radio and TV. However, many students do not have access to these technologies. Even if they do, staying at home does not protect them from violence, which could prevent them from going to school. In Burkina Faso, many children also travel to big cities to go to school. But without their parents being able to help them economically, many are now forced to get jobs, entering the workforce early. This lowers the number of children in school as well as the country’s literacy rate.

Niger

In Niger, 1.2 million children lost access to schooling during COVID-19, lacking even a television or radio alternative. Schools have since reopened, but children still feel the impacts of this shutdown. Before COVID-19, at the start of 2020, more than two million children were not in school due to financial insecurity, early marriage or entrance into the workforce. COVID-19 forced many children to give up schooling forever, as they had to marry or begin work and fell behind in school. As a result, this lowered the country’s literacy rate.

Improving Literacy Rates During COVID-19

While COVID-19 did prevent many children from accessing the education they need, many organizations are working to help them meet this challenge. One of these organizations is Save the Children. It is dedicated to creating reliable distance learning for displaced students, support for students and a safe environment for students to learn.

COVID-19 has left many students without access to education, jeopardizing the future for many. In the countries with the highest illiteracy rates, a lower percentage of children with access to education means a lower percentage of the population that will be literate. Improving literacy rates is key reducing poverty, as it allows people to work in specialized jobs that require a higher education, which then leads to higher salaries. If literacy rates drop, poverty will only continue to increase. This makes the work of organizations like Save the Children crucial during the ongoing pandemic.

Seona Maskara
Photo: Flickr

water insecurity in south sudan
South Sudan has been in a civil war since December 2013. As a result, millions uproot themselves and thousands die. Essential resources are scarce, particularly for the most vulnerable people. Specifically, water insecurity in South Sudan is a major crisis within the country. Moreover, this water insecurity permeates both the lack of drinking water and essential water for sanitation.

The South Sudanese Conflict

South Sudan’s people are currently engaged in a civil war between the government (led by President Salva Kiir) and the opposition rebels — led by former Vice President Riek Machar. The country splits along ethnic lines, which primarily determine where support lies. That is to say, the president is supported by the Dinka and the former vice president’s opposition forces, supported by the Nuer.

The conflict results in major displacement, creating internally displaced persons (IDPs) and casualties throughout the country. Due to this displacement, regular access to living resources and basic services, such as healthcare and education, have been greatly diminished. Of the displaced persons, it is estimated that 40% are adults and 60% are children.

A consequence of the conflict: 7.2 million people require humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, 3.7 million people displaced — 383,000 people have died and 1.8 million children are unable to attend school.

Does the Conflict Affect Access to Resources like Water?

In short, yes. The continued violence and inability to secure stable conditions with access to utilities like clean water and sanitation have caused a major water insecurity crisis in South Sudan. The water crisis specifically presents major issues for civilian populations, including a lack of water for infectious disease prevention.

USAID outlines the extent of limited access to water in South Sudan, as a result of the conflict. The organization estimates that only about 34% of people in rural areas have access to water. Given that 84% of the nation lives in rural areas, this statistic quite alarming. Additionally, 90% of those living in poverty reside in rural areas with the aforementioned, limited (or lack of) access to water. This affects vulnerable populations like IDPs, women and children. Furthermore, it hinders their ability to ensure basic health needs like hydration and prevention of infectious diseases like cholera, hepatitis E and Guinea worm disease (GWD).

Weaponizing Water

Infrastructure specifically used for water access systems has been a major resource that the warring parties target in attempts to harm the opposition forces, both military and civilian. To destroy their enemies’ access to water is to debilitate their ability to recover. Equally important, targeting water sources puts severe pressure on the civilians whom an adversary protects. Women in South Sudan particularly feel the effects of this strategy as it can take days to get to a safe source of drinking water. Women are the primary “water fetchers,” but the journey to water sources leaves them extremely vulnerable to death by starvation or thirst (during these on-foot trips). Worse still is the fact that women traveling into rural areas amid the country’s conflict puts them at risk of being killed or assaulted.

Water Insecurity, Nutrition and Disease Prevention

South Sudan’s resource security crises reveal how internal conflicts within countries do not just affect the warring parties or military; they affect civilians, infrastructure and public health alike. Water insecurity in South Sudan, especially, is one of the many resource insecurity crises that should remain a priority of USAID. The crisis shares an intimate connection to nutrition and disease prevention; addressing it will likely have multiple benefits for the citizens of South Sudan.

Kiahna Stephens
Photo: Flickr