COVID-19 and Global Poverty
Since early 2020, the entire globe has been battling the COVID-19 pandemic and attempting to address the outbreak properly. Most of the world’s population is currently under some form of social distancing as a part of a response to the outbreak. From scientific research to increased travel restrictions, almost every country is working on ways to boost the economy while managing the spread of the virus. However, COVID-19 has affected much more than the economy. Here are four ways COVID-19 and global poverty connect:

4 Ways COVID-19 and Global Poverty Connect

  1. The Consumption of Goods and Services: For most developing countries struggling with poverty, much of their economies depend on commodities, such as exports. Food consumption represents the largest portion of household spending, and the increase in food prices and shortages of products affect low-income households. Countries that depend on imported food experience shortages. The increase in food prices could also affect the households’ inability to access other services such as healthcare, a major necessity during this time. These are two significant connections between COVID-19 and global poverty.
  2. Employment and Income: The self-employed or those working for small businesses represent a large portion of the employed in developing countries. Some of these workers depend on imported materials, farming lands or agriculture. This requires harvest workers and access to local farmers’ markets to sell produce. Others work in the fields of tourism and retail. These fields require travelers, tourists and consumers — all of which lessen as COVID-19 restrictions increase. Without this labor income, many of these families (now unemployed) must rely on savings or government payments.
  3. Weak Healthcare Systems: This pandemic poses a major threat to lower-middle-income developing countries. There is a strong correlation between healthcare and economic growth. The better and bigger the economy, the better the healthcare. Healthcare systems in developing countries tend to be weaker due to minimal resources including beds, ventilators, medicine and a below-average economy. Insurance is not always available for low-income families. All of this affects the quality of healthcare that those living within the poverty line receive. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Public Services: Low-income families and poor populations in developing countries depend on public services, such as school and public transportation. Some privatized urban schools, comprised of mainly higher-income families, are switching to online learning. However, many of the public rural schools receiving government funding do not have adequate resources to follow suit. This could increase the rate of drop out. Moreover, it will disproportionately affect poorer families since many consider education an essential incentive for escaping poverty. Aside from school, COVID-19 restrictions could prevent poorer families from accessing public transportation. For developing countries, public transportation could affect the ability of poorer families to access healthcare.

Moving Forward

There are many challenges that families across the globe face as a result of COVID-19. Notably, some organizations have stepped forward to help alleviate circumstances. The World Bank, Care International and the U.N. are among the organizations implementing programs and policies to directly target the four effects of COVID-19 mentioned above.

For example, the World Bank is continuously launching emergency support around the world to address the needs of various countries in response to COVID-19. By offering these financial packages, countries like Ethiopia, which should receive more than $82 million, can obtain essential medical equipment and support for establishing proper healthcare and treatment facilities. These financial packages constitute a total of $160 million over the next 15 months as a part of projects implemented in various countries, such as Mongolia, Kyrgyz Republic, Haiti, Yemen, Afghanistan and India.

Nada Abuasi
Photo: Flickr

Alleviate Poverty in Vietnam
Vietnam is one of the most populated Asian countries, with more than 90 million people calling the country home. With such a large population, poverty is unavoidable, especially in the rural parts of the country. Despite the ongoing problem of poverty, rural parts of Vietnam have been able to decrease the amount of poverty with the implementation of certain policies and programs. This article will offer some details of policies and programs helping to alleviate poverty in Vietnam.

Hunger and Poverty Eradication Program

The Hunger Eradication and Poverty Reduction Program, or HEPR, focuses on the children of Vietnam. Children and their families benefit from the program with free health insurance. Additionally, they obtain schooling needs such as tuition exceptions, subsidies and loans designated for children living in poverty. With the aid of HEPR, studies have shown that enrollment in early schooling increases to around 9%. This is beneficial to alleviate poverty in Vietnam and its future since the lack of education is one of the biggest poverty risk factors.

In 2010, nearly 75% of households had members who only completed primary school. Six years later, the number decreased to 57%, which happened with the aid of programs like the Hunger and Poverty Eradication Program of Vietnam. Through the focus of gaining educational opportunities for the future of Vietnam, the Hunger and Poverty Eradication Program of Vietnam has worked to support the process of attaining education.

National Targeted Program for Poverty Reduction

The National Targeted Program for Poverty Reduction, or NTPPR, is a poverty-reduction initiative that uses an anthropological perspective to target ethnic minorities living in poverty-stricken rural areas. Through this targeting, NTPPR gains insight on how to alleviate the amount of poverty in Vietnam, for example. This program aims to reduce poverty by around 4% yearly, which is double the national target. This goal helps with encouraging the decrease in poverty because it sets higher expectations for the program.

Health insurance is one of NTPPR’s biggest priorities and this program provides free insurance for children that are age 6 and younger. This is especially beneficial for women who have to work to sustain their household incomes. Since mothers no longer need to take hours off to tend to their illness-vulnerable children, they receive a great benefit. The NTTPR is beneficial to impoverished rural areas and helps the neediest population to alleviate poverty in Vietnam or its symptoms.

The World Bank Group Country Partnership Framework in Vietnam

The World Bank is a global program that helps to support countries with low-interest rate loans. The World Bank works to improve the farming industry of rural Vietnam by encouraging low-income farmers with profit-making crops. Through helping the economic growth of impoverished areas, nearly 1.5 million people join the Vietnamese middle class annually. Vietnam has since reduced its poverty to nearly 10%. For instance, as of 2016 and in 2018, 70% of people living in Vietnam are income-secure. The World Bank has assisted with Vietnam’s most disadvantaged population through increasing farming productivity, strengthening the skills of farmers and leveling the playing field for all the gain employment opportunities.

Despite the many economic challenges Vietnam has faced throughout the years, programs and initiatives like the HEPR, NTPPR and the World Bank have supported the growth of Vietnam’s economy by downsizing the amount of poverty in rural areas.

Karina Wong
Photo: Unsplash

Video Advocacy in AfricaWITNESS Media Lab, a nonprofit based in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York City, protects human rights. How? By providing victims of social injustice with technology resources, verification platforms and video curation methods. Global internet users have increased by approximately three billion between 2005 and 2019 due to increasing access to mobile technology. Video advocacy in Africa is now being used to expose gross injustices, across the continent.

Platforms like WITNESS extend human rights advocacy toward the field of technology. WITNESS uses film footage to publicize global crimes against humanity. Also, impoverished communities reach a large audience through film resources that help contextualize and disseminate eyewitness documentation.

The Borgen Project spoke with Adebayo Okeowo, WITNESS Africa Program Manager and human rights lawyer, to gain insight on WITNESS’s involvement in Africa. In 2017, internet access in sub-Saharan Africa increased to 25%, providing approximately 25% of the population with access to online, human rights resources.

A Digitized Form of Advocacy

Video advocacy is film footage used to publicize humanitarian issues that require international attention. WITNESS provides resources on video production and curation, allowing documented forms of injustice to reach a wider audience. Once issues of injustice receive global attention, influential policymakers and human rights lawyers are more likely to intervene.

According to The World Bank, “eight of the ten most unequal countries in the world, when looking at the Gini coefficient, are in sub-Saharan Africa.” Socioeconomic conditions such as income inequality, government corruption and inequitable tax systems lead to high levels of disparity in impoverished African nations. As inequality rises in Africa, remote villages face an increased likelihood of war and violence. Here, video advocacy in Africa holds great potential for change. WITNESS helps reduce inequality by assisting in the publication and preservation of videos that expose injustices.

Capturing Global Attention

Although internet access has risen in sub-Saharan Africa, remote communities face challenges in bringing global awareness to humanitarian issues. For instance, inadequate IT infrastructure and poor Wi-Fi connection can lead to a decline in internet access. This, in turn, decreases the number of users who document and publicize acts of injustice. This presents a challenge for video advocacy in Africa. Furthermore, rural African communities lack global attention, to begin with. This, in turn, makes it difficult for humanitarian crises to gain traction in the media.

Okeowo stated that when the 2015 Baga massacre occurred in the same week as the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, hashtags like #JeSuisCharlie trended on Twitter while the mass killing of approximately 2,000 Nigerians failed to reach global news. Okeowo told The Borgen Project that “we must double our efforts in prioritizing interventions in every corner where there is injustice, but more especially in the forgotten places.”

Justice for Child Soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

In 2012, WITNESS partnered with AJEDI-Ka, a local nonprofit in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The aim was to assist in the conviction of militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. WITNESS and AJEDI-Ka presented two films comprising video documentation of Lubanga recruiting child soldiers to the International Criminal Court (ICC). As a result, the ICC sentenced Lubanga to 14 years in prison for the war crime of enlisting child soldiers under the age of 15.

The video documentation, ranging back to 2003, initiated an ICC investigation by providing general information on Lubanga’s war crimes. WITNESS, AJEDI-Ka and the ICC protected the human rights of potential child soldiers by holding Lubanga accountable for breaking international law. The 2012 ICC verdict and the 2014 upheld conviction signaled a warning to future militia leaders planning to recruit children for military purposes.

Okeowo told The Borgen Project that film publication “is not so much about how many eyes see the video, but that the right set of eyes see the video.” WITNESS is one of the leading organizations using video documentation to bring justice to impoverished areas, representing approximately 135 countries globally.

– Madeline Zuzevich
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fragility, Conflict and ViolenceFragility, conflict and violence (FCV) is among the largest threats to development, continuously putting both low-income and middle-income countries in danger of inescapable poverty. Addressing FCV is a top priority for the World Bank specifically, as the organization considers it an essential problem to solve in order to both end extreme poverty and promote collective prosperity. Alongside other global organizations working towards peace, the World Bank looks to address FCV in the hopes of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 16 for peace, justice and strong institutions.

Understanding Through Numbers

The World Bank estimates that as many as two-thirds of those in extreme poverty could live in FCV environments by the year 2030. Even today, conflict accounts for almost 80% of the world’s humanitarian needs and conflict is estimated to worsen gross domestic product (GDP) growth by two percentage points annually. Sadly, the number of people living close to conflict, which includes those within 60 kilometers of at least 25 conflict-related deaths, has more than doubled since 2007.

As of 2019, almost 80 million people were forcibly displaced as a result of FCV settings. Of that 79.5 million, four out of five of those displaced have been in those conditions for at least five years. And, startlingly, more than two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. Today, all five of these countries face significant fragility, conflict and violence, sparking refugee crises and general instability.

What is Being Done

The World Bank has developed a Fragility, Conflict and Violence Strategy in its IDA19 Special Theme documents. The proposed four pillars in the strategy involve: “pivoting to prevention, remaining engaged in conflict, escaping the fragility trap and mitigating FCV externalities.” Given that the World Bank has tried to reduce FCV conditions in the past, this newly developed strategy is focusing on improving the organization’s response to mitigating risks and is focusing on partnering with a more diverse group of stakeholders.

So far, the World Bank has found mixed success in its efforts to reduce fragility, conflict and violence. In Cameroon, the World Bank shaped the policy of the government to better protect refugees, using its reputation and finances to leverage a stronger policy. In Lebanon, its cash transfer program focused on host communities, making the program more inclusive to even the communities that feel excluded by humanitarian organizations providing aid to refugees. However, while the emergency cash transfer program implemented in Yemen was successful in that it helped millions buy food, the approach was unorganized and many humanitarian efforts overlapped, resulting in duplication and inefficiency.

In today’s world, fragility, conflict and violence stand as one of the largest threats to global peace and stability, for not just low-income countries but middle-income countries as well. The efforts on behalf of the World Bank prove not only that this is an urgent humanitarian issue, but if solved well, these efforts can work to end extreme global poverty.

Olivia Fish
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Rethinking Development in Situations of Fragility, Conflict and Violence
Fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) threaten to crumble hard-won development achievements in developing countries around the world. The World Bank is transitioning to an FCV strategy that can help maintain development progress amidst conflict through prevention, engagement, transitional assistance and mitigation techniques.

Effects of FCV on Development

Situations of FCV have risen significantly in the past 30 years. The number has grown from approximately 40 million forcibly displaced people worldwide in 1990 to more than 79.5 million people at the end of 2019. FCV has devastated countries’ economies and left millions in poverty, while threatening to crumble hard-won development achievements. A World Bank report predicted that in the next decade, two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor will reside in countries that fragility, conflict and violence plague. Economies that fragility and conflict burden often have persisting poverty rates of over 40%, while countries that stabilized in the past decade have dropped their poverty rates by more than half.

About 20% of people living in situations of FCV experience educational, financial and infrastructure losses. Human capital development, a pivotal component of economic growth and poverty reduction also tend to decrease in conflict settings, as the health, education and skills of an entire population get put on hold. Human capital losses from fragility and conflict can decrease lifetime productivity and earnings. As a result, it leaves the youth population at a disadvantage even conflicts end.

The “New” Humanitarian Aid

Aid to situations of fragility, conflict and violence has traditionally focused on humanitarian interventions to save lives and fulfill basic needs, putting development planning aside until the restoration of peace. Although short-term humanitarian aid is crucial, situations of conflict have become increasingly protracted. This dilemma has stretched the operational capacity of U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), designed to provide short-term humanitarian assistance. However, the need for long-term solutions is crucial. The World Bank has concluded that securing peace is mandatory for extreme poverty eradication, and is rethinking the way it approaches development in settings of FCV as a result. In a five-year strategy, the Bank aims to assist countries before, during and after situations of FCV through four pillars of engagement.

4 Pillars of Engagement

  1. Preventing Violent Conflict and Interpersonal Violence: Prevention is a key pillar of The World Bank’s FCV strategy because of its humanitarian and economic efficiency. According to the U.N. and World Bank, approximately every $1 invested in preventing situations of FCV can save $16 in the future. Prevention starts with addressing the drivers of FCV and assessing the risks associated with FCV.  Discrimination, injustice, economic and social exclusion, gender inequality and demographic shocks can all play a role in igniting FCV. Therefore, addressing these issues is crucial to improving peace and resilience before tensions escalate. For example, The International Development Association’s (IDA18) Risk Mitigation Regime is helping countries like Niger identify FCV risks. Risks that include youth disenfranchisement, corruption and natural resource competition. IDA18 is addressing them through the provision of resources and programming.
  2. Remaining Engaged During Crises and Active Conflicts: The World Bank aims to remain engaged during crises and active conflicts. It hopes to protect development, strengthen community resilience and establish foundations for recovery. Continuing investments into places experiencing FCV will protect human capital development and strengthen institutions. The World Bank is cooperating with humanitarian actors in Yemen to strengthen its projects during the conflict and is continuing its assistance with energy and agricultural sector development by employing Yemenis and sustaining their livelihoods during the conflict.
  3. Helping Countries Transition Out of Fragility: Transition periods are often turbulent, consequently leaving populations vulnerable to socio-economic shocks that can trigger the return of FCV. The World Bank aims to strengthen institutions, develop the private sector and improve relations between citizens and the state. Improving relations between the population and the state will ensure a peaceful transition out of fragility. During Somalia’s transition, for instance, The World Bank is helping to improve financial governance. It is also providing economic support to manage debt, strengthen the banking sector and reform public financial management.
  4. Mitigating the Spillovers of FCV: Spillovers from situations of fragility, conflict and violence can have major humanitarian consequences and strain the capacity of nearby states. The most vulnerable and marginalized communities often suffer the worst from cross-border crises such as displacement, famines, environmental challenges and public health emergencies. In order to reduce FCV spillover, The World Bank aims to strengthen its assistance to refugees and host countries. Ethiopia’s refugee policy reforms serve as a key example of spillover mitigation. The World Bank is helping Ethiopia’s government transition towards a progressive long-term settlement framework, integrating refugees into Ethiopia’s socioeconomic system. In addition, giving refugees access to employment and essential services will help build self-reliance, improve living standards and develop human capital development. With help from The World Bank and other development partners, Ethiopia has received the tools necessary to support its refugee population.

The World Bank’s new strategy is redefining the way to approach development in situations of fragility, conflict and violence. Through prevention, engagement, transitional assistance and mitigation, The World Bank is helping FCV communities prepare for a more peaceful and prosperous future.

Claire Brenner
Photo: Flickr