Will and Jada Smith Together BandTogether Band is an organization that raises money for various causes in an innovative and trendy way aimed at persuading younger generations to support issues they care about most. It works toward the United Nations’ 17 global goals to create a more sustainable world by 2030. Recently, Together Band also partnered with Will and Jada Smith.

Together Band

The U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals include no poverty, zero hunger, gender equality, clean energy, equal education, good health, clean water, economic growth, industry innovation, sustainable communities, responsible consumption and production, marine conservation, land conservation, justice, reduced inequalities and partnership.

Each U.N. SDG has an associated color and Together Band produces bracelets of each color. The bracelet color a customer purchases determines which goal their money targets. Together Band directs proceeds to The Freedom Fund, Renewable World, Women Working Worldwide and Power for the People, among others.

Not only do the proceeds go to humanitarian funds but the materials and production of the bracelets are impactful as well. The clasp on each bracelet is repurposed metal derived from seized illegal firearms in Central America. The aim of this sourcing is to end armed violence in conflict-torn countries. The band is made from 100% upcycled plastic found on shores in coastal communities and on remote islands. Finally, formerly trafficked Nepalese artisans use the materials to craft the final product. The jobs created help communities build stable economies.

Together Fund

Together Band created the Together Fund to combat COVID-19. Now, when a customer purchases a bracelet, 50% of the proceeds go to support COVID-19 relief while the other 50% continue to go to the original organizations that the bracelet supported before the pandemic. The organization splits COVID-19 relief funds between the U.N. COVID-19 Solidarity Fund for WHO and Médecins sans Frontières.

Together Band added COVID-19 relief to their initiatives because communities around the globe urgently need accessible healthcare. “It’s important that we act quickly in response to COVID-19 to ensure patients can access the care they need as well as supporting disease prevention and frontline health workers across the globe.”

Partnering With the Will and Jada Smith Foundation

Celebrities Will and Jada Smith created the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation in 1996 in order to make the world “better because we touched it.” The foundation has donated millions of dollars for innovative solutions to the world’s problems. Recently, the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation partnered with Together Band to tackle both COVID-19 and racial injustice. Working with WJSFF, Together Fund has expanded to support U.N. Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities and Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Money can be donated to the fund directly from the WJSFF homepage. Half of the proceeds go to additional COVID-19 relief funds such as the World Health Organization, Alight and Doctors Without Borders. The remaining half supports nonprofits that fight racial injustice. They include My Brother’s Keeper, the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative and the Leadership Conference Education Fund.

In addition, Will and Jada Smith’s son, Jaden Smith, founded an eco-friendly version of bottled water called Just Water. Just Water customers now have the option to round up their purchases in support of the Together Fund.

Overall, the Smiths are an inspiring example of a celebrity family using their fame to support humanitarian causes and reduce global poverty.

Sarah Eichstadt
Photo: Flickr

Decent LifeEgypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi kicked off the first stage of Egypt’s groundbreaking anti-poverty project, the “Decent Life” (Haya Karima) Initiative, at the first conference on July 15, 2021. Al-Sisi declared that this initiative would kickstart “Egypt’s New Republic” especially in the Egyptian countryside. The massive development and resource injection into education and health infrastructure, primarily in rural areas, appears as if it will significantly improve the Egyptian landscape for the future. This initiative comes at a crucial turning point in a country that has struggled significantly with poverty over the past years. Statistics such as how 32.5% of Egyptians reported being below the poverty line in 2019 or how the pandemic has increased the official unemployment rate to 9.6% as of November 2020 highlight Egypt’s difficult poverty battle. However, with the ‘Decent Life’ Initiative in action with its numerous quality components, Egypt’s economy looks to be turning a corner.

Four Pillars

Within the framework of the UN Egypt Vision 2030 Strategy, the initiative consists of four main pillars:
1. To ameliorate living standards and invest in human capital,
2. To grow infrastructure services,
3. To improve human development services,
4. To spur economic development especially by contributing to the poorest villages with increased access to basic services such as sanitation and education infrastructure.

These pillars provide the foundation for how Egypt is tackling poverty in a more assertive manner.

First Phases

Prior to President Al-Sisi establishing the initiative, he launched an unofficial phase of the project in 2019. This came in the form of him pressuring the Minister of Social Solidarity to develop Egypt’s 1,000 poorest villages. After the success of this stage of the process, the official first phase started in January 2021. This first phase expands the number of targeted villages to 4,500, covering 58% of the country’s population.

Since January 2021, the initiative has taken crucial steps in developing Suhag water and sanitation services in 33 villages, renovating transportation stations at a cost of EGP 183 million (almost $12 million), and creating new transportation stations at a cost of EGP 219 million (almost $14 million). This process forms as the initial stages of the 2021-22 plan of the initiative, which carries with it a budget of EGP 200 billion (almost $13 billion).

The 2021-22 plan for the initiative has specific and bold aims that ensure Egypt is tackling poverty in a decisive and thorough manner. Details of the 2021-22 plan include:

  • To set up 10,828 classrooms,
  • To improve 782 youth centers,
  • To renovate 317 public service buildings,
  • To develop 1,250 health care units, establish 389 ambulances and 510 mobile clinics, and 112 veterinary units,
  • To create 191 agricultural service centers.

Final Targets

The “Decent Life” Initiative has several end goals it aims to achieve which President El-Sisi set out. One of the main goals is that the Egyptian government plans to utilize overall investments amounting to EGP 700 billion (almost $45 billion) by the end of the project, demonstrating that Egypt is tackling poverty in an aggressive manner. President El-Sisi has also made the promise that “the Egyptian countryside will be transformed in three years’ time,” signifying an attempt to minimize the rural-urban inequality.

Regarding education and health services, the initiative is aiming to build 13,000 classrooms and activating the new Universal Health Insurance System by the project’s conclusion. The Universal Health Insurance System will consist of mandatory coverage to all citizens by unifying with the private healthcare sector and minimizing existing health insurance disparities.

UN Response

The UN has responded extremely positively to the official launch of the initiative, with the Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund, Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, stating that the UN considers the “Decent Life” project at top spot for the best application for sustainable development goals around the world and has full confidence that it will provide essential job opportunities for Egyptians in impoverished areas. Furthermore, the UN has praised the initiative as it also confirms the country’s willingness to “implement the participatory planning approach through integrating citizens in the need’s identification stage.”

–  Gabriel Sylvan

Photo: Flickr

SDG 7 in China
Updates on SDG 7 in China show that the country is taking strides to ensure its entire population has access to sustainable energy. U.N. member nations adopted the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, otherwise known as the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in 2015. Altogether, the SDGs comprise 17 goals that countries aim to meet by the year 2030. The seventh of these goals, SDG 7, aims for the entire world to receive access to affordable and sustainable energy. The United Nations has laid out SDG 7 through five different sub-targets by which it will tally and measure world progress.

Divided into numerous sub-targets, the ultimate aim of SDG 7 is to offer the world a mutually cooperative and unified destination for clean and affordable energy by 2030. In particular, it includes universally agreed-upon concepts such as establishing universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services, increasing shares of renewables in the energy mix and improving efficiency as well as international cooperation on energy.

World Progress So Far

Progress on SDG 7 has not been enviable. For instance, one challenging factor has been the low implementation of renewables across various states. The world’s two largest polluters, the United States and China respectively, utilize about 10% and 13% of renewables in their energy consumption. The onset of COVID-19 has only put global progress toward achieving these objectives on hold. However, COVID-19 has also left room for a positive and enthusiastic push toward meeting the SDGs. As of 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, approximately 759 million people did not have energy access. Its unfortunate implications were that during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the worst cases, up to one in four hospitals lacked access to electricity, a sign of the importance of making further progress on SDG 7.

Updates on SDG 7 in China

Many are watching China in regards to both the environment and SDG 7, as it has been a significant contributor to global carbon emissions. Like many other countries, it has made significant progress on some targets while lagging on others.

For instance, China’s progress on SDG 7.1, which is the goal of granting affordable energy access to everyone, has received high marks. Since 2010, it has managed to connect electricity to virtually all 1.4 billion of its citizens and has kept pace with both its growing energy and population needs. However, the country’s reliance on industrialization still means it uses a heavy amount of non-renewable energy.

China’s energy efficiency, which relates to SDG 7.3, has also been improving. An indicator known as National Energy Intensity displays the energy efficiency of an economy by showcasing the amount of energy it has per point of GDP. China has shown a steady and accelerating drop in intensity, a sign of good news about the energy necessary per point of its GDP.

As it relates to the above and with the Paris Agreement of 2016, China has committed to growing its proportion of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to 20% before 2030. It is ultimately aiming to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2060.

China’s Challenge

China is a significant player when it comes to progress on SDG 7; the scale of its economy makes it the largest investor in clean energy, peaking in 2018 with $125 billion in investments. This makes it the de facto leader in many renewables, from solar and to hydroelectric and wind. China’s greatest challenge going forward will be to replace its less sustainable forms of energy generation with more renewables.

With China’s massive rate of economic growth now clocking in at 18.3% in Q1 of 2021, finding a way to accelerate renewable energy use will be a crucial objective. As such a large country, meeting all of its citizens’ needs without non-renewables in the picture is unsustainable as it is difficult. As global climate infrastructure competition heats up, China, along with the rest of the world, should find the enthusiasm to convert post-pandemic recovery into progress the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

– Marshall Wu
Photo: Flickr

UNICEF’s Work During COVID-19In June 2021, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released its annual report outlining the work done during the prior year. This year, the report focused on UNICEF’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic. While complete data on how COVID-19 impacted global poverty may never be available, what is available paints a dire picture. Compared to the baseline projection of global poverty prior to the pandemic, 2020 saw 144 million more people in extreme poverty. At least half of this rise “could be permanent.”

Beyond the immediate impact of families falling below the poverty line, the pandemic is also likely to impact growth. Without policy action, the pandemic may “trigger cycles of higher income inequality, lower social mobility among the vulnerable, and lower resilience to future shocks.

Despite the difficulty, UNICEF works hard to counter the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. UNICEF is an organization under the United Nations with the express purpose of protecting children’s rights across the globe. The organization mainly focuses on helping children in some of the toughest places in the world. It supports “child health and nutrition, safe water and sanitation, quality education and skill building, HIV prevention and treatment for mothers and babies, and the protection of children and adolescents from violence and exploitation.”

The Impact of COVID-19

The pandemic touched nearly every part of the globe in 2020. Its impact worsened global progress toward reaching the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Progress was already off track due to a range of humanitarian crises, climate change and inequalities across the world. This led to 142 million additional children living in “monetarily poor households” in 2020. The pandemic led to about 15% of all children spending the majority of the year under stay-at-home orders. An estimated 94% of students were affected at some point by school closures. These disruptions caused the most harm to children living in poverty. At least one-third of students didn’t have access to remote learning, and food disruptions led to 44 million children facing hunger.

While absolute mortality appeared to be less of a danger for children, the effects of the virus had a negative impact on almost every key measure of progress. Disruptions to health services impacted children across the world. An estimated 80 million children under the age of one “may miss out on life-saving vaccines.” The pandemic and its secondary effects also led to a rise in abuse as disruptions to violence prevention and response services rose.

UNICEF’s Response

Despite these disheartening consequences, UNICEF’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped. It has been working continuously to provide the necessary services to handle COVID-19. It also dedicates resources to responding to non-virus-related situations. This global crisis has highlighted UNICEF’s ability to adapt to new challenges and find new ways to help children living in poverty across the world. One way in which UNICEF’s work during COVID-19 had a large impact was its efforts toward providing necessary supplies and helping with the rollout of vaccines.

Throughout 2020, UNICEF provided “water, sanitation, hygiene services and supplies” for 106 million people. It also provided PPE to 2.6 million health care workers and training to an additional 4 million health care workers. UNICEF also worked with COVAX to make sure that vaccines were procured and distributed equitably across the world. UNICEF’s work to help children across the world extended to efforts not directly related to health care. The organization also used its leadership to reach more than 130 million children through its social protection initiatives and cash transfers.

Future Work

As the world moves forward, necessary work remains to help rebuild much of what the pandemic brought down. To this end, UNICEF’s work during COVID-19 continues. Executive Director Henrietta Fore laid out five goals for UNICEF to work on as nations rebuild and reimagine the systems children across the world rely on:

  1. Provide equal access to vaccines for all.
  2. Revolutionize learning through bridging the digital divide.
  3. Provide proper investment and attention to mental health.
  4. End discrimination.
  5. Address climate change.

The pandemic continues to have a massive impact on children across the globe. Not only did the virus directly affect millions, but it also shone a light on many already existing inequalities. UNICEF’s work during COVID-19 was vital and helped millions throughout the year. In the future, UNICEF will continue to work to improve the lives of children across the world.

– Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

Updates on SDG Goal 14 in VietnamVietnam is a tropical country in Southeast Asia with a coastline along the South China Sea. The livelihoods of Vietnam’s people and much of its economy depends on oceans for fishing and tourism. It also has a connection to the global economy through shipping lanes. SDG Goal 14: Life Below Water became a top priority for the Vietnamese government in the past few years. Updates on SDG Goal 14 in Vietnam show that the government believes in a multilateral approach to protecting marine life. Achieving SDG Goal 14 would prevent the collapse of one of Vietnam’s largest industries and protect citizens from slipping into poverty.

Overview of SDG Goal 14

SDG Goal 14 calls for the conservation and sustainable use of all marine resources. The U.N. finds that “improved regulations, together with effective monitoring and surveillance, have proven successful in reverting overfished stocks to biologically sustainable levels.” The U.N. also finds that such conservation efforts are low in developing regions. A commitment to SDG Goal 14 is also imperative because, economically speaking, the global value of marine and coastal resources amounts to $3 trillion annually. This equates to an estimated 5% of global GDP. Vietnam’s multilateral approach to implementing marine conservation efforts could have a significant impact on SDG Goal 14.

The U.N. identified several targets for SDG Goal 14 with individual timelines for each. Upcoming deadlines for targets include reducing marine pollution significantly by 2025 and sustainable management of fishing and tourism industries by 2030. SDG Goal 14 indicates that Vietnam successfully prevented overexploitation of ocean fish stocks. However, the U.N. found that major challenges remain for Vietnam in achieving clean ocean waters. The setbacks on ocean cleanliness counteract the progress on marine life protection. Because of this, the U.N. determined in 2019 that Vietnam’s progress on SDG Goal 14 is stagnant. To achieve the 2025 target and make progress on SDG Goal 14 overall, Vietnam must prioritize marine pollution.

Vietnam’s Actions Toward SDG Goal 14

The Vietnamese government identifies plastic litter as a significant cause of marine pollution. This creates a barrier to achieving SDG Goal 14. In 2020, Vietnam developed the National Action Plan for Management of Marine Plastic Litter, which sets ambitious goals to reduce pollution in government-controlled waters. This plan aims to reduce plastic litter in oceans by 50% by 2025 and by 75% by 2030. To do so, the government developed strategies to target the pollution from the source. This includes eliminating single-use plastic in coastal tourist areas and cooperating with international partners to find better ways to manage land waste.

This long-term strategy for combating marine pollution builds upon the progress made from short-term initiatives. For example, Vietnam hosts a national Sea and Islands Week every June since 2009 to motivate citizens to engage in ocean-conserving activities. This inspires local action to stop marine pollution such as beach clean-ups and behavior-changing campaigns to reduce litter.

Partnerships for SDG Goal 14

In addition to national initiatives, Vietnam engages in multilateral strategies to combat marine pollution. Vietnam signed on to the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The declaration commits Southeast Asian countries to protecting oceans and promoting international cooperation to achieve sustainable management of shared ocean space. Cooperation on the issue is crucial for Southeast Asia as much of the coastlines overlap and are governed by multiple authorities. In line with targets set by the U.N. for SDG Goal 14, the declaration aims to greatly minimize marine pollution by 2025.

To accommodate the goal, ASEAN released the Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in May 2021. The five-year plan offers countries very specific strategies for reducing marine pollution. Some strategies mirror Vietnam’s national initiatives such as reducing the inputs to marine pollution that originate from land and finding alternatives to plastic. However, ASEAN also developed highly specific guidelines for long-term projects, such as phasing out single-use plastics and improving the measurement and surveillance of marine debris. Partnering with multilateral institutions increases Vietnam’s ability to achieve SDG Goal 14.

Sustaining the Economy

As a coastal nation, Vietnam relies heavily on oceans to sustain its economy and support its population to rise out of poverty. SDG Goal 14 directs developing countries such as Vietnam to conserve marine life and restore clean waters to oceans. The Vietnamese government’s plans of action show its commitment to fully achieving this objective. Overall, the updates on SDG Goal 14 in Vietnam look hopeful. With plans in place, Vietnam is set to make significant progress on SDG Goal 14 in the next few years.

Viola Chow
Photo: Flickr

Updates on SDG Goal #8 in China
The global economy is an ever-changing and ever-expanding system. Whether through the opening of new markets, job creation or GDP fluctuations, one can measure the success of an economy in numerous ways. However, attempts at sustainability goals receive more specific judgment. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) measure the success of an economy not only in regard to its growth but also that growth’s sustainability. Many countries with SDGs are those that have a pivotal impact on the world economy overall. This correlates with positive updates on SDG 8 in China, which commits the nation to the achievement of full employment for all citizens by 2030.

Laying the Economic Foundation

The Chinese economy has undergone many changes over the centuries. In the first 1,500 years, China followed the policy of Isolationism strictly. In the next few centuries, China gradually opened to the European countries. Many countries such as Germany, Russia and England vied for control over many of China’s crucial exports and markets. By the 20th century, China faced more pervasive and detrimental economic factors. It suffered from the toll of its countless Opium Wars as well as the resulting strain of having to compete with other countries vying for its resources. But by the mid-21st century, the post-WWII economic boom rejuvenated and then expanded China into the economic force that it is today.

Positive Correlations for SDG 8 in China

There are positives to China’s economic growth. World reliance on Chinese goods does not have a parallel, with China occupying a large percentage of the world’s imports. Furthermore, the particular rise in GDP in Beijing, which now accounts for 5% of China’s GDP, indicates the importance of Beijing as an ever-growing and pertinent city in China and the world’s economy.

Beijing itself has also sought to expand the visibility of industrialization in China. For example, Beijing devised a plan to push 15 million people into workplace training, as well as the expansion of 11 million more jobs by the end of 2021. China’s rise in GDP is so colossal that it actually managed to grow by 2.3% during the COVID-19 pandemic while many other prominent economies have dropped by 2.3%. This suggests positive updates on SDG 8 in China for development and job creation. Furthermore, estimates of China’s GDP, if its growth continues, could overtake the U.S. economy by 2028. If the value of Chinese currency continues to increase, it could accelerate this rise by 2026.

The Challenges

The results of these estimates are promising, but they are still only estimates. Moreover, there are prominent issues when it comes to the area of decent work. China’s advancing industrialization puts profound stress and lack of availability on its rural citizens. Those left behind in China account for about 30.46 million and are confined to the rural areas in China.

One of China’s main problems is the uncertainty of it all. Furthermore, a Communist government controls China. As a result, the political system suffers from high amounts of censorship and misinformation. Eric Hu accounted in the New York Times that “China is both the world’s newest superpower and its largest authoritarian state.”

Hu’s and similar statements acknowledge the economic power of China. However, the nature of China’s political system does question the validity of its informative claims, including those of an economic nature. China resists forfeiting government control or enlisting the aid of NGOs. In fact, many successful NGOs have to operate without government permission in order to assist people facing poverty. Yet, there is some improvement in this area, with available NGOs like Jiangxi bringing 500,000 yuan to struggling Chinese villages as well as financial plans for its disbursement.

Meeting Opportunities

China’s middle class may be on the rise, as well as its GDP and hopeful updates on SDG 8 in China. However, in order for true advancement to occur, there needs to be a greater emphasis upon financial aid and transparency towards its citizens who are in poverty and even extreme poverty. If this occurs, coupled with China’s impressive GDP growth, the country could attain many economic benefits.

– Jacob Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr

Updates on SDG Goal 10 in ArgentinaIn Argentina, the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic unrest has stalled efforts to close the inequality gap. Before the pandemic hit, Argentina was making progress on a series of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is a framework of global objectives created by the United Nations, designed as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” by 2030. The country was “well-positioned” compared to its Latin American counterparts, according to the Argentine Network for International Cooperation (RACI). The onset of COVID-19 has impacted updates on SDG Goal 10 in Argentina.

Achieving SDG 10: Reducing Inequality

Argentina had been struggling to achieve SDG 10, which focuses on reducing inequalities within a county’s population and among different countries around the world. To measure inequality, the SDGs use a scale of 0 to 100. The lower the score, the closer the country is to achieving economic equality. The goal is to achieve a ranking of 30 or lower by 2030. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Argentina had a ranking of 51. The pandemic has siphoned resources out of the government and stalled updates on SDG Goal 10 in Argentina and other progressive reforms. On top of that, millions of Argentinians have lost their jobs and inequality is expanding as a result.

President Alberto Fernández

In December 2019, President Alberto Fernández won the presidential election over conservative incumbent, Mauricio Macri. President Fernández’s political style is that of his mentor, former president, Néstor Kirchner. However, “the COVID-19 pandemic might very well shatter the center-left president’s dreams of following in his mentor’s footsteps and bringing social progress and economic growth to Argentina,” writes Hugo Goeury.

Despite Fernandez’s progressive goals for his administration, reforms have all been put on the back burner since the arrival of COVID-19 in Argentina.

Poverty, Unemployment and the Wealth Gap

In the first half of 2020 alone, the poverty rate among Argentinians increased to almost 41%, the Americas Society/Council of the Americas reported, nearly a 5% increase from the previous year. The Central Bank is also predicting the GDP to contract by nearly 11%.

With almost a third of Argentine workers facing unemployment, President Fernandez is scrambling to financially support his unemployed constituents, while also negotiating the country’s debt owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

According to the World Inequality Database, as of 2019, the top 10% wealthiest Argentinians controlled nearly 40% of the country’s income, while the bottom 50% only possessed 17.9% of the nation’s income.

Better Days Ahead for Argentina

Even though updates on SDG Goal 10 in Argentina seem especially challenging right now, Argentinians are still
pushing forward to make their country more equitable for everyone. The U.N. says, “In the post-pandemic world, Argentina must strengthen its productive apparatus and continue to eliminate inherited social inequities and those aggravated by COVID-19.”

– Laney Pope
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SDG 1 in Guatemala
The United Nations put the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in motion in September 2015. World leaders put the SDGs into place to reach worldwide financial equality while protecting the world’s environment. To reach this globally beneficial achievement, the United Nations created 17 goals for every country, poor and rich, to focus on transforming the world into a healthier, safer and prosperous place. Guatemala has joined its fellow countries in the United Nations to try and meet the requirements for goals one to 17. Here is some information on what Sustainable Development Goal 1 is along with updates on SDG 1 in Guatemala.

About SDG 1

SDG 1 is for no poverty and to end poverty by 2030. While this may seem like an outrageous goal with limited hope of success, past records show that it is very possible. In fact, 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty in 1990, but 25 years later in 2015, that number was less than half of what it had been. In the span of 25 years, more than a billion people are not living in extreme poverty anymore.

The outline to meet SDG 1 comprises seven targets. Some of these targets include equal rights to land, access to basic services, appropriate new technology and the implementation of programs and policies to end poverty. The point of the targets is that each one helps move countries toward no poverty through new resources, programs and equal rights.

Poverty in Guatemala

Approximately 60% of Guatemalan people live in poverty and that number is even higher for indigenous people. Additionally, more than half of Guatemala’s population living in poverty and 95% of employed people are unable to make enough money to meet their family’s basic needs.

Much of Guatemala’s poor economy is due to a civil war that left its people divided. From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala was in a brutal civil war involving the government’s military forces and a rebel group of indigenous Mayans. About 200,000 people lost their lives and 83% of those killed in the war were Mayan. The country eventually signed a peace accord in 1996 but the war left its people distressed. Even before the war, Mayans made up most of the rural poor and by 1996, they were in worse conditions than before.

Mayan Families

Mayan Families is an organization located in Guatemala that helps families advance through Economic Development programs. It provides opportunities like trade schools and artisan programs. The trade schools teach youth and adults new skills they can use to get jobs to have a reliable income for their families. Meanwhile, the artisan program helps women who were unable to attend school learn how to create a budget and make money from selling products involving beadwork, weaving, sewing and embroidery, playing a crucial role in reaching SDG 1 in Guatemala. In 2019, Mayan Families provided 1,500 students access to education and nutrition. Meanwhile, about 250 adults were able to gain skills and an income through the trade schools and the artisan program that Mayan Families started.

The World Bank and COVID-19

Guatemala still has significant challenges to overcome, but the U.N.’s index shows moderate progress in reaching SDG 1 of no poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to achieve SDG 1 in Guatemala because the country has been directing money towards preventing an outbreak instead. However, thanks to institutions like the World Bank, Guatemala and countries alike are receiving the financial support they need to deal with the worldwide pandemic.

The World Bank has loaned Guatemala $20 million, “to prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by COVID-19 and strengthen national systems for public health preparedness in the Republic of Guatemala.” Guatemala’s government has had a challenging time dealing with the pandemic due to its poor economy. This project includes indicators to show the progress in achieving this objective.

 Some of the indicator targets include 16 laboratories with COVID-19 equipment, 10 health care facilities with isolation capacity, 5,000 health staff trained in infection prevention and 22 hospitals that received equipment for COVID-19 response services. With this loan from the World Bank helping Guatemala control the coronavirus pandemic, Guatemala should be able to return its focus to the SDGs.

Guatemala is still currently off-track to reach SDG 1 according to the World Poverty Clock. However, with the loan from the World Bank and organizations like Mayan Families, Guatemala is receiving the help it needs to grow its economy and make it possible to reach SDG 1 of no poverty.

Joshua Botkin
Photo: Flickr

SDG 3 in South SudanProsperous health and well being are the backbone of a progressive society. Unfortunately, countless people in the developing world struggle to access affordable and effective healthcare. South Sudan is an Eastern African country riddled in an ongoing ethnic conflict. In addition, it is one of the hardest-hit nations on the issue of healthcare.

So far, South Sudan has dealt with over 3,500 cases of COVID-19. While that number may seem small, it’s astronomical for a country with such sparse medical supplies and trained personnel.

Thankfully, South Sudan has been working with the international community for the past couple of years. They are working to bolster its progress toward better healthcare, otherwise known as Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3). As outlined by the United Nations Development Programme, the SDGs are a set of benchmarks to help developing nations overcome structural poverty. The third goal, good health and well-being, focuses on resolving “account widening economic and social inequalities, rapid urbanization, threats to the climate and the environment, the continuing burden of HIV and other infectious diseases and emerging challenges such as non-communicable diseases.” The fundamental goal of SDG 3 is universal healthcare.

Out of the 1.6 billion people worldwide who lack sound healthcare systems, a portion lives in South Sudan. Thus, it is important to understand and explore the implications of SDG 3 in South Sudan.

Progress Overview

As part of Sustainable Development Goal 3, South Sudan has been working with international partners to implement a new universal healthcare system. In 2018, the South Sudanese Ministry of Health (MoH) announced it would be working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners on the Boma Health Initiative (BHI). The BHI will deliver healthcare packages to communities for no charge. It will also place an extra focus on those living in hard-to-reach rural areas.

The program came out to address SDG 3 and the country’s lack of access to healthcare services. As of 2018, “only 44% of the population [is] living within a 5-kilometer radius of a health facility.”

So far, the WHO and South Sudanese MoH are still debating the costs and budget gaps to finance the program. These debates especially focus on maternal care. Fortunately, policymakers have the 40-year-old primary healthcare system to build off of. With the said system in place, the WHO and South Sudanese officials focus on critical areas of healthcare disparities. They want to ensure the universal system will be efficient and effective once it rolls out.

COVID-19 Response

However, with the recent pandemic, South Sudan’s MoH and other officials have focused on the response to COVID-19. So far, they have made substantial progress. In May 2020, South Sudan successfully trained over 100 health workers on “COVID-19 case management and infection prevention and control.” Participants were said to have “knowledge and skills on patient screening, isolation, contact tracing, use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and waste management.” The rapid increase in health management training is especially helpful to expand contract tracing and to limit the severity of COVID-19 in at-risk communities.

Additionally, The South Sudanese MoH recently partnered with the World Food Programme and the International Medical Corps to expand infectious disease units. The initiative has equipped South Sudanese hospitals with a “new 82-bed capacity treatment unit [with] a temperature-controlled dispensing pharmacy and a fully equipped laundry to boost infection prevention and control.”

Aid From Other Countries

Moreover, to ensure long-term success for SDG 3, South Sudan is partnering with other countries to improve its health infrastructure. For instance, CARE, an international non-profit, received part of a $2 million grant to “strengthen healthcare infrastructure through preparedness, surveillance and response; empower, train and educate local women leaders, including community health workers; and increase water, sanitation, and hygiene support.” Furthermore, CARE is also coordinating with the Sudanese Education and Health Ministries. Their goal is to expand medical education in local communities and fight off misinformation.

In addition, the U.S. recently announced a $108 million aid package for South Sudan to develop more advanced health infrastructural systems.

From targeted efforts from international organizations like the WHO to non-profits and world superpowers like the U.S. donating aid, the world is gradually taking action. South Sudan is facing its darkest hour and limited healthcare options. Therefore, the international community must continue its efforts to help South Sudan realize its goal.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Food SystemsIn the next 30 years, the world population will grow by two billion: approximately 25% of the current population. Food demand will increase significantly during this time and international organizations are prioritizing the development of strategies to address this concern. Framing the future of food systems, which encompass producing, processing, transporting and consuming food, is key to continued efforts in reducing poverty and extreme hunger.

Population Growth in Africa

Global population growth does not imply an equal or even proportional increase in every region of the world. The population of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is estimated to double by 2050, from approximately one to two billion. This number accounts for half of the global population growth expected. Such substantial growth in a population already experiencing food insecurity, if not coupled with sustainable food system developments, will exacerbate the issue and make advancement more difficult.

Facets of Food Security

Increasing demand for food is not the only threat to the future of food systems around the world. The cultivability of land is changing with the climate, requiring workers in the agriculture sector to adjust crop selection and techniques. Instability in the industry detracts from the appeal of such an occupation and further strains the food supply.

Many producers of food are among the hardest hit by the effects of food insecurity. In India, 41% of the workforce falls under agriculture, yet the country is home to the largest number of people experiencing hunger in a single nation — approximately 189 million. With the food supply responsibility falling on some of the most at-risk populations, food systems are even more vulnerable when confronted with adversity.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an example of adversity faced by food systems. Limits put in place to prevent further spread of the virus weaken the agriculture sector of the workforce and economy. This stress on food systems extends to the global economy, education, peace efforts and human rights, among others.

The Decade of Action

Just 10 years remain to meet the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The second SDG necessitates improvements in food security, nutrition and agriculture across the globe, marking the next 10 years as the Decade of Action. The 2021 U.N. Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) has been planned to foster discussions of global challenges, priorities, opportunities and solutions in the food system sector, hopefully resulting in unified and inclusive efforts toward achieving the SDGs. In a lead up to the 2021 UNFSS, 13 organizations collaborated to host the two-day Bold Actions for Food as a Force for Good event in November 2020.

Food System Innovations

Along with the need to shift toward more sustainable consumption, gender-equity in food systems, agricultural innovations and financing for solutions, the Bold Actions for Food as a Force for Good event emphasized the importance of novel approaches to reducing extreme hunger with the Food Systems Innovation Challenge. In this challenge, teams of students from 20 universities proposed innovative ideas to transform the future of food systems. Solutions proposed by these teams include online systems connecting producers and consumers to keep all facets of the food market current on need and capacity. Apps and food labels to provide guidance on reducing food waste and making more sustainable dietary choices as well as food packaging that minimizes waste and carbon footprints formed part of these solutions.

A Sustainable Future

Projections for global population growth alongside new challenges stemming from climate change and COVID-19, make food security a top concern. By promoting the now-underway Decade of Action, the U.N. is leading unified efforts to establish sustainable and equitable food systems worldwide. Progress will depend on effective mobilization, collaboration and innovation— the backbones of development toward more stable food systems.

– Payton Unger
Photo: Flickr