hunger in bhutan

Malnutrition and hunger in Bhutan is nothing new for the country or its policy makers. Although there has been a dramatic decrease in underweight children at the national level, many rural-urban disparities still exist. The Bhutan Living Standards Survey demonstrated that the eastern and southern regions face a higher degree of seasonal food deficit than the westernmost parts of the region. An estimated 37 percent of children showed signs of stunted growth, while almost 5 percent were deemed too thin for their age group.

Starting in 1974, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been helping alleviate hunger and poverty by implementing feeding projects specifically aimed at school children. Currently, the level of assistance has increased and more focus has been directed toward health, agriculture, dietary development and irrigation.

According to the WFP, roughly one-third of the Bhutanese population suffers from food insecurity. High rates of malnutrition are often seen in remote villages, where poverty is overwhelming. An estimated 12 percent of the population is considered poor. In addition, lack of access to markets and essential health services proves detrimental to the welfare of Bhutanese living in the countryside. This common occurrence is due to the high amount of natural disasters in the country. Floods and storms remain a hindrance to receiving adequate food supply, and since the Bhutanese rely heavily on agriculture, it produces a cycle of poverty and starvation.

To combat the ongoing crisis, the United Nations Development Programme has established multiple school interventions to address the problems associated with hunger in Bhutan. In collaboration with the Royal Government of Bhutan, the school feeding projects provide over 41,000 students in rural boarding schools with two meals a day. UNDP also lends assistance to raise agricultural productivity for rural farmers, as well as find jobs off the farm as a poverty reduction strategy.

With all these programs, Bhutan has seen a 24 percent decrease in poverty since 2000. Although rural areas still have a much higher percentage of the population living with food insecurity and malnutrition, the rates are much lower than in 2000. Thus the first Millenium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 is looking like a more realistic goal for Bhutan.

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: UN, UNDP, The Examiner, World Food Programme, World Food Programme 2
Photo: Flickr

Development in Latin America
Multidimensional poverty is a widespread problem throughout Latin American and the Caribbean, marked by deficiencies in education, health and standards of living. In 14 countries in the region, close to seven percent of the population is familiar with this degree of poverty and an additional 9.5 percent stands on the brink.

United Nation Development Programme expert Alfredo González stated that “there are 45 million people that are living at the limits of their capacities and could fall back into poverty if faced with a negative shock.”

Such a shock could be caused by anything from a financial crisis, such as Argentina’s newest default debacle, to environmental catastrophe, seen in severe flooding and droughts throughout the region.

The UNDP reports that, while Latin America continues to enjoy the greatest amount of human development of any developing region in the world, this progress is being threatened by inequality and a lack of access to formal employment.

In fact, since 2008, the region’s progress toward human development has slowed by 25 percent according to UNDP figures.

The UNDP’s yearly Human Development Index, calculated based on a combination of factors including life expectancy, educational opportunity and purchasing power, rates the long term human development of every nation on a scale of zero being the worst to one being the best.

Chile, Cuba and Argentina topped the region’s HDI charts with respective scores of 0.82, 0.81 and 0.80, while Haiti, Nicaragua and Honduras came in last place.

This year’s HDI report highlights the important role formal employment plays in human development in Latin America. Increased incomes, gainfully employed youth and increased labor regulation are all benefits that communities stand to gain from better access to full employment.

Liliana Rendón, economics professor at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, observes that “the poor do not only suffer from an income deficit; poverty also includes shortcomings in healthcare, education and other problems. Income must translate into wellbeing, taking social, environmental and policy aspects into consideration.”

In order to make strides toward greater wellbeing the UNDP recommends that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean push for policies that facilitate universal access to social services, which, in turn, may serve to bolster formal employment and lift more people out of poverty.

-Kayla Strickland

Sources: Independent European Daily Express, Nearshore Americas, Buenos Aires Herald
Photo: The Guardian

While Sacha Baron Cohen may have put Kazakhstan on the map with his fictitious role as a journalist in the movie “Borat,” Kazakhstan today stands as a country that continues to face hurdles despite consistent economic growth over the past few decades.

A Central Asian country of nearly 18 million people, Kazakhstan is no stranger to economic uncertainties. Since gaining independence in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has experienced relatively steady economic growth, thanks in part to its expanding oil sector.

The country’s poverty rate declined by more than 50 percent between 1999 and 2004. Between 2004 and 2013, the nation’s GDP increased by more than 500 percent.

Nevertheless, nearly half of the country is considered to be in a low income class. Roughly 47 percent of the population maintains a monthly income of approximately $70.

Arguably most frustrating to many Kazakhstan citizens are the disparities in gross regional product (GRP.) Because some parts of the country are more resource-rich than others, inconsistencies in wealth have affected some Kazakhstanis more than others.

Even though the country has seen substantial economic growth in recent years, specifically in the oil, gas and minerals industries, employment levels in these industries have not matched the nation’s economic growth.

Following the turn of the century, much of the nation saw considerable gains in employment and labor productivity. Yet, the agricultural region of Kostanay and North Kazakhstan did not experience the same growth as others parts of the country. West Kazakhstan saw significant economic gains in the late 1990s following the introduction of an oil pipeline stretching from the Caspian Sea to China.Perhaps surprisingly, Kazakhstan’s oil-rich areas have also become the nation’s most impoverished.

The minimum income level below the subsistence minimum in Kazakhstan is $35 per month. Any amount below the minimum is considered as poverty. Between 1998 and 2003, the number of people living in poverty in the country fell from 5 million to 3 million.

According to a recent U.N. Development Programme report, unemployment and low income remain the primary causes of poverty in Kazakhstan.

Yet, it is hard to overlook the respectable economic gains the country has seen over the past two decades. Kazakhstan has made considerable headway in its attempts to cement its standing on the world stage. Last month, President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a new law to lift to visa restrictions, enact tax exemptions and help stabilize tax rates to interest foreign investment, especially with the United States and other Western powers. These moves, among others, will help the country in the long-term as it continues to make strides against poverty.

Ethan Safran

Sources: The World Bank, World Health Organization, CNBC, IRIN, USAID
Photo: Breitbart

Typhoon Haiyan
In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines and devastated hospitals, schools and other public services. With an estimated $12 billion in damages, the disaster killed at least 6,300 people, displaced more than 4 million and destroyed 500,000 homes.

Six months later, the nation continues to work toward long-term recovery, but there have been clear immediate achievements. Most children are back in school, roads have been cleared of debris, 15 percent of homes have been repaired, nearly all hospitals have been reopened and over 120,000 households have received assistance to rebuild damages.

Of the 14 million people affected by Typhoon Haiyan, 6 million lost their jobs. The United Nations, various NGO partners and the rest of the international humanitarian community have helped accelerate the progress of reconstruction and recover long-lasting sources of income. In the meantime, a number of short-term initiatives have been implemented as well. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and several of its partners have helped many Filipinos find short-term employment, job training and micro-enterprise support. Immediately after the typhoon, the UNDP also offered cash-for-work opportunities for those who helped with debris and waste removal in affected areas. Additionally, of the 42,000 people who have secured temporary jobs through the UNDP’s early recovery program in the Visayas, 35 percent are women.

However, millions of Filipinos still require urgent assistance. More than 5,000 households live in evacuation centers. Those who depend on agriculture and fishing for their incomes are suffering as well. The UNDP estimates that over 1 million farming families are in danger of losing their livelihoods. Nearly 33 million coconut trees – which are one of the nation’s leading crops – have been damaged or destroyed, and around two-thirds of the fishing community has been affected by the typhoon, primarily due to the loss of fishing boats. To help alleviate the issue of damaged coconut trees in Roxas and Ormoc, the UNDP has provided six mobile sawmills and funds to support emergency employment, allowing many to generate quick sources of income from processing and distributing the lumber of damaged coconut trees.

In order to lessen the impact of future disasters like Typhoon Haiyan, the Filipino government is planning to implement more sustainable reconstruction strategies. Recently, more than 150 delegates came together at the Asia-Europe Meeting Manila Conference to discuss new policies for disaster preparation. Margareta Wahlström, a special representative from the United Nations, has supported President Aquino’s policy to “build back better” with new technologies and innovations. Other points of discussion during the conference included improving policies to rebuild communities, strengthening the state and other stakeholders and managing international coordination while responding to disasters. The delegates at the conference also toured Barangay Pago, a resettlement area that shelters 40 displaced families, and the Bislig Elementary School in Tanauan.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark has stated that full recovery could take over a decade for the Philippines. The UNDP has urged the international community to make long-term engagements that address “crises that could deepen inequality and poverty.” In addition to rebuilding physical buildings and structures, the Philippines must take measures to strengthen its resilience against future emergencies and natural disasters.

– Kristy Liao

Sources: India Blooms, UNDP, UNOCHA
Photo: U.N.

Liberian Education System
Liberia has a unique connection to the United States. African Americans immigrating from the U.S. to the West African Coast officially founded the nation in 1847. While the country has struggled to achieve prosperity and economic stability for its citizens, the Liberian education system has made considerable recent progress.

Liberia is still recovering from the civil wars that began in 1980 and lasted until 2003. As a result, Liberia ranks near the bottom of the United Nations Development Program Human Development Index at 174th out of 187. Correspondingly, nearly 36 percent of the Liberian population suffers from malnutrition.

During the years of civil car, educational systems were almost nonexistent. This leaves a massive gap in skilled workers entering the job market and by extension, extreme unemployment (close to 80 percent) and poverty. Liberia has a literacy rate of 60.8 percent, and an education system described as “a mess” by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Not all news about the Liberian education system is bleak, however. In 2011, President Sirleaf signed into law the Education Reform Act, which seeks to decentralize the education system and help create a new educational management structure more locally focused. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has also instituted the Liberia Teacher Training Program to help train, develop and recruit more teachers for the nation.

An additional component of USAID’s work in Liberia is encouraging participation in education by girls and women. The Girls’ Opportunities Access Learning Program hopes to increase school enrollment and retention for girls by identifying key policy issues with Liberia’s Ministry of Education.

According to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Corporal Organization’s Education for All Initiative, at least 15 percent of a nation’s budget should be allocated for education. Currently, Liberia only spends around 3 percent of its national budget on education.  In order to fully jumpstart educational progress in Liberia, there is much more to be done.

– Taylor Diamond

Sources: The Guardian, USAID, WFP, Liberian Education Trust
Photo: International Book Bank

Burma is Actually Myanmar

In 1989, the ruling military junta officially changed the nation of Burma’s name to Myanmar. Though the United Nations and many European countries began using the name Myanmar after the change, the United States and the United Kingdom continued to use the name Burma.  On the other hand, the World Bank, at least informally, refers to the nation as Myanmar in their documents. There are two main reasons people today continue to use the country’s original name –

  1. Burma’s name was changed by an unelected, oppressive military regime, making it illegitimate. People, furthermore, often refuse to use the name Myanmar in solidarity for the Burmese people.
  2. The media continues to use the name Burma since their audience recognizes it, thus reinforcing the public’s usage of Burma as the nation’s name.

Burma is one of the poorest countries in the world

Poverty can be measured using various indicators and measures but a widely respected tool is the multi-dimensional poverty index, which ranks this country as 14th from the bottom out of 109 countries. It is rich in natural resources; they supply 80% of the world teak and were once the greatest exporter of rice. However, power imbalances and repression have left Burma in poverty.

They are also one of the most repressed countries

Burma has been under a repressive military regime since 1962 while sanctions against this regime have been in place for the past decade. As it stands, many blame poverty on the political unrest in the region. For example in the 2011 budget, 23.6% ($2 billion) was allocated to military spending and a mere 1.3% ($110 million) was spent on health. It is not surprising then that the average life expectancy in Burma is only 65.

Burmese women struggle for rights

Human rights are grossly insufficient in Burma, especially for women. Burmese women are often raped by the military, a crime that usually goes unpunished. There are deep rooted gender stereotypes held about women in Burma which has silenced women and forbidden them from participating in the political arena for a very long time. Though human rights organizations are fighting to help women earn the rights they deserve, progress has been slow.

The UNDP is investing in Burma

Last year the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a 3 year Country-Programme Action plan outlining the support and engagement the UNDP will give to Burma. The UNDP’s Administrator Helen Clark believes that the country has great potential for economic growth. However, in order for the country to grow, the UNDP must help eradicate extreme poverty and build a peaceful and inclusive population.    As such, the UNDP’s Country-Programme will pour $150 million U.S. dollars into the Burma from 2013-2015 to strengthen democratic and local governance, support the environment and disaster management as well as to aid in poverty reduction.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: Significane Magazine, CIA, BBC, UNDP, World Bank, Women’s League of Burma
Photo: Socwall

Promising signs out of Ethiopia, such as improvements in educational programs and increasing numbers of expanded health services, have stirred the nation’s population. Although the area ranked 174 out of 187 countries in the 2011 United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, Ethiopia has seen itself emerge as one of the fastest-growing economies in recent times, demonstrating a growth rate of 11% over the course of the last five years. With the support of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ethiopia has also experienced improved food security thanks to a Productive Safety Net and Household Asset Building Program, both of which fall under Ethiopia’s master Food Security Programme.

However, even though Ethiopia has made significant progress in targeted areas, there are still ongoing issues that hinder the nation’s progression and make it difficult to fully alleviate poverty and hunger. Food security is heavily reliant on rain-fed agriculture, employing nearly 80% of the country’s population. This makes Ethiopia’s climate an imperative factor when it comes to the stability of the economy. Consequently, food security is at the mercy of natural occurrences such as rainfall patterns, land degradation, climate change and population density. Since the peak of the Horn of Africa drought in 2011, the food situation has stabilized, but low levels of rural investment and agriculture productivity have cause for concern.

Recently, three leading parties have stepped up to show their support for Ethiopia by contributing a total of $103 million in grants and credits to the region. Those funds will aid Phase II of the Sustainable Land Management Project (SLMP-2). While the first phase of the SLMP resulted in the aid of nearly 100,000 rural households, in coming months SLMP-2 will improve upon sustainable land and water management practices. The three leading organizations funding the program are listed below:

1. World Food Bank – With the approval of the Government of Ethiopia, the World Food Bank signed a $50 million IDA credit that will correct critical watersheds in areas of need such as Amhara, Tigray, Oromiya, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR), Gambela and Benshangul. It is estimated that approximately 1.9 million people, directly and indirectly, will benefit from the project as it will reduce land degradation and improve land productivity.

2. Government of Norway – Contributing a $40 million grant, the Government of Norway hopes to improve off of lessons learnt through the first SLMP which saw 200,000 hectares of once degraded land re-cultivated. The prime objective for the SLMP-2 is to replicate the first Program’s success in an additional 90 watersheds and to support income generating and value adding activities in 135 watersheds.

3. Global Environment Facility – Financed together with the Government of Norway, the Global Environment Facility has invested $13 million into the SLMP-2 project, and will emphasize a multi-sectorial landscape approach that will support coordinated efforts for land use, management and administration. This will result in improved productivity, climate resilience, natural wealth, livelihood opportunities, water security and poverty reduction. Since the cost of land degradation in Ethiopia is between 2 and 3%, it is increasingly important to stabilize conditions to secure a lasting future.

Jeffrey Scott Haley
Feature Writer

Sources: World Food Programme, All Africa

UNDP Assist Sudan's River Nile State's Villagers
From hand-outs to hand-ups, nations, non-profits, and individual donors do a great deal towards poverty reduction efforts. These efforts see varying levels of success, as judged against many diverse standards. Though most people have a general idea of what it means to reduce poverty, the concept of poverty reduction as such seems to evade a static definition. On the contrary, “poverty reduction” continues to evolve and grow, alongside poverty reduction strategy innovations.

Many years ago, the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, began to address global poverty by way of financial contributions to governments of poverty-stricken nations. Early relief initiatives also included donations of agricultural commodities, often dropped in shipments from airplanes and helicopters. The idea was simple: people are hungry, give them food. Since then, the concept of poverty reduction has become a much more complicated idea.

Traditionally, the term has been used as short hand for the kind of economic growth pursued in less-developed nations, by more-developed nations, to achieve a goal of lifting as many people above the poverty line as possible. As years have passed, there has been a shift from hand-outs (i.e. simple financial and agricultural donations) toward long-term poverty reduction, which includes extended relief programs and education programs focused on sustainability in target communities.

At least one paper from the Center for Global Development in Washington D.C. argues that the traditional definition of poverty reduction fails to encompass efforts to reduce poverty that, though not falling into a category of efforts to promote long-term growth in target communities, nonetheless contribute to an ethically tenable position in the fight against global poverty. In this paper, Owen Barder argues that poverty reduction has other dimensions, for example, in the trade-offs between tackling current and future poverty or dealing with the causes and symptoms of poverty.

The danger of ignoring the various dimensions of poverty relief, Barder suggests, lead to the adoption of poverty reduction strategies that fail to take a holistic view of poverty. As a result, relief and aid programs may be less efficient, while aid agencies may be operating on underdeveloped objectives and incentives. For a more in-depth discussion of poverty reduction as an evolving concept and the working paper on this topic, click here.

– Herman Watson

Sources: Center for Global Development,UNDP, UNFPA, USAID

Despite the fact that Belarus has one of the lowest poverty rates of the post-Soviet states, poverty, though not extreme, threatens the welfare of her people. Only 1% of Belarusians are living on less than $1 a day, but a more concerning 27.1% are below the poverty line, with 17.8% living below the minimum subsistence level. The “minimum subsistence level” is defined per the Czech Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs as “a minimum level of income, which is considered to be necessary to ensure sustenance and other basic personal needs at a level allowing the individual to survive.” The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Belarus identifies the “rural population, children, and single-parent households” as the most vulnerable victims of poverty.

Fortunately, the UNDP is executing a poverty reduction plan in Belarus that fosters the development of small businesses and, therefore, encourages a vibrant private sector. The plan is spearheaded by multiple players, from the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank to the Belarusian government and small rural Belarusian businesses. The UNDP hopes that the installation of an agricultural business sector will rejuvenate rural Belarus and bring an end to poverty in the Eastern European country.

Rural initiatives are especially necessary in former Soviet territories where local economies have declined due to the rocky transition from collective to private farming that occurred after the fall of the USSR in the early 1990’s. Agricultural workers were completely unprepared to grow crops on their own. This resulted in a situation in which uneducated farmers with limited resources in a now free-market economy were unable to maximize the productivity of their land.

Part of the UNDP’s strategy has included the establishment of the Rural Business Development Center outside of Minsk, the nation’s capital. The Center is the legal hub for the development of former Soviet collective farms into efficient private enterprises. The director of the Center, Alla Voitekhovich, describes the day-to-day activities of the Center as including the “registration of small enterprises, the conducting of market surveys, (and) the facilitation of job creation,” among other efforts. The RBDC also holds workshops for small business owners and entrepreneurs and has recently begun to encourage local farmers to exploit agro-tourism as a means of job creation in the region.

The UNDP says that rural poverty has been significantly reduced in Belarus in the last decade, stating “From 2000 to 2009, the share of poor households dropped by 7.4 times in rural areas.” Surely, the UNDP has made great strides in Belarus, breathing new life into an agricultural system that only a short time ago seemed irreparably broken. The success of the UNDP in rural Belarus is truly a testament to the resourcefulness and efficiency of the United Nations.

Josh Forgét

Sources: UNDP Belarus, CIA World Factbook, Czech Republic Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
Photo: Spotlight

Ukraine Property Rights Borgen Project Edit
A project launched by the UNDP has both given poor Ukrainians access to legal aid and informed them of their property rights. Before the program was launched, millions of Ukrainians did not know their property rights. The government was inept at providing the information and knowledge to address these property right issues since some of them do not even own computers. The UNDP helped push the government to develop a pro-poor land property rights policy framework which included getting rid of fees to obtain legal documents of any kind.

Ivan Kalyta, a Ukrainian citizen, wanted to sell some of his land to raise the money to fix his home. When he discovered he would have to pay more than $500 in administrative fees to sell the land, he was quickly discouraged. Not only was Ivan not able to pay the fees, but he had no idea where to obtain the documents and legal aid necessary to sell his land.

To tackle the problem, UNDP advised Ukraine to adopt free legal aid services, which they did in 2011. According to a poll conducted by the Ukrainian Union of Lawyers, more than 24 percent of the population in Ukraine seeks free legal advice.

During the life of the project, 867 free legal aid providers were trained on land and property rights legislation and its application; 5,000 manuals and brochures on land and property rights were distributed, and over 180,000 people have received free legal advice.

The project also reaches out to the people who live in rural areas. Since most free legal aid centers are located in towns and cities, UNDP has funded a program that provides online and Skype consultations. The program runs through local libraries, and anyone needing help in a rural area need only go to the nearest library. This is what Ivan did and the program has helped him tremendously.

“The money I got from selling part of my land came in very handy,” says Ivan. “My roof is not leaking anymore. I also was able to put some money aside for medication. Life is so expensive here, I am glad it worked out.”

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: UNDP, Global Property Guide, Legal Aid Reform
Photo: UNDP