Mental Health in ArmeniaHundreds of thousands of civilians fled in search of safety when violence broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh on Sept. 27, 2020. Following these first violent clashes, organizations stepped up to provide humanitarian assistance for displaced civilians arriving in the capital Yerevan. The extensive damage to infrastructure and disruption of daily life, coupled with a harsh winter climate and COVID-19, will require help from the international aid community for many months to come. One area that this incoming aid will go to is mental health education and support. In 2019, the World Health Organization reported that one in five people in conflict-affected areas lives with a mental health issue. The longer a person lives with acute stress, anxiety or other mental health challenges, the more difficult it is for them to successfully secure basic needs. Aid groups are addressing the issue of mental health in Armenia with various programs.

Mental Health Support for Armenia

The Armenian Red Cross Society is providing humanitarian assistance to help people with basic necessities. This includes psychosocial support for returning soldiers and civilians. As of late December 2020, it had provided around 1,000 psychological services to wounded soldiers and their families.

The International Medical Corps, another emergency aid response group, is working with the Armenian Ministry of Health to assess current needs. In October 2020, the organization expressed its plans to provide training in psychological first aid for frontline healthcare workers. The organization will also provide mental health and psychosocial assistance to people who need it.

UNICEF Addresses Child Trauma

The UNICEF Armenia team and a local arts and music school called the Nexus Center for the Arts offer art and music-based support groups. These support groups give children and teenagers a chance to express themselves without having to talk. UNICEF reported testimonials of students who upon arriving were too afraid to open up but after participating in the support groups felt ready to talk about the trauma they had experienced. The groups also give students a chance to hang out, decompress and enjoy music in a comfortable and safe environment.

To help school teachers, UNICEF partnered with several civil society organizations to teach them how to address trauma in the classroom. UNICEF offered virtual lessons on trauma-informed teaching. The lessons gave 150 school psychologists and 900 public school teachers the skills to work in high-pressure situations and strategies to provide better psychological support to their students.

UNICEF Armenia also put together a psychological first aid guide. This guide has clear and concise information on how to respond to children in a mental health crisis. It emphasizes the importance of responding to children in an age-appropriate and individualized way.

The Increased Need for Mental Health Support in Armenia

Mental health in Armenia, especially following the conflict, is an issue that requires prioritization. The conflict and displacements have left 39,000 children out of school. The trauma caused by displacement has affected children in multiple ways. Ensuring the well-being of these children is a top priority for UNICEF and other organizations addressing mental health in Armenia. The hope is that these initiatives will combat the negative impacts of traumatic experiences in conflict-ridden areas like Nagorno-Karabakh.

Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

Education and poverty crisis in SudanOver three million children in Sudan do not attend school. The severe gap in the education system continues the cycle of poverty in the country. Chronic underdevelopment and conflict are two of the most significant reasons children in Sudan are out of school. Girls face additional hurdles such as cultural pressures and traditional views that prevent them from receiving an education. While 76% of primary age children attend school, in secondary, the number drops drastically to 28%. The Sudanese government and organizations such as UNICEF have stepped in to resolve the education and poverty crisis in Sudan.

The Education Crisis in Sudan

In South and East Darfur, there are 7,315 employed teachers, 3,692 of which are unqualified. In essence, half of the teachers that are employed in South and East Darfur are unqualified. Furthermore, many teachers in Sudan were  found to be “untrained, under supervised and unequally distributed between rural and urban areas.” Not only do schools often have teachers who are unqualified but the curriculum lacks active learning and teaching materials are either outdated or nonexistent.

The Relationship Between Education and Poverty

In their haste to escape poverty, people drop out of school in search of employment so that they can provide for themselves and their families. While a higher education often proves fruitful in finding a good-paying job, those in poverty do not have time to wait. Without an education, people living in poverty lack literacy and numeracy skills which are needed to advance in the working world. This cycle is repeated generation after generation, inextricably linking education and poverty.

Families living in this cycle of poverty often make the choice for their children, otherwise, they will not be able to provide food, water or shelter. And while some schools may be free of cost, the added costs of uniforms, books and supplies must be taken into consideration.

While poverty may have a negative effect on education, education has an increasingly positive effect on poverty. Proper education will increase one’s skill set and open the door to a world of new employment opportunities and increase the potential for higher income. With each additional year of schooling, earnings increase by about 10%. And for every dollar invested in an additional year of schooling “earnings increase by $5 in low-income countries and $2.5 in lower-middle-income countries.” UNESCO found that if all adults had two more years of schooling or completed secondary school, nearly 60 million people could escape poverty and 420 million could be lifted out of poverty, respectively.

Improving Education in the Region

The Federal Ministry of Education will implement nine strategies to improve the education and poverty crisis in Sudan. Based on these strategies, the following has been projected for the years 2018-2023: pre-school coverage will increase by 19%, basic education by 16% and secondary education by 7%.

Sudan will invest in enrollment programs and work to retain those already enrolled. The government will expand opportunities for education at every level to ensure that students do not drop out due to a lack of space. And in collaboration with global partners, the Federal Ministry of Education will work toward quality education that is accessible to all.

UNICEF’s Educational Efforts

By 2021, UNICEF intends to provide more children with the opportunity to have a quality education starting at a young age, in a learning environment that is inclusive and safe.

The organization will work with communities, parents, teachers and children to promote a socially cohesive atmosphere that even the most vulnerable of children can access. The Learning and Development Programme and the Ministries of Education will advocate for evidence-based surveys, field reports, community discussions and evaluations to mold policy reform in favor of inclusion. UNICEF and its partners will ensure the safety of schools by providing water, health and sanitation facilities. Additionally, children will be taught the proper behaviors surrounding health, nutrition and child protection. Schools will receive the support needed to ensure schools are free of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect.

The undeniable education and poverty crisis in Sudan has prevented most people from achieving a proper education and reaching their true earning potential. While most agree that education is important, many Sudanese people find that it is a luxury outweighed by life’s bare necessities. With the five-year plan developed by the Federal Ministry of Education and the help of organizations like UNICEF, the toxic cycle between education and poverty will come to an end.

– Mary Qualls
Photo: Flickr

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to nations all over the world, but especially in the global south. India, for example, has an enormous population of 1.3 billion people, with labor forces large enough to create the world’s fifth largest economy. However, as of September 3rd, total confirmed cases across the country had reached 3.85 million, with 67,376 total deaths. As COVID-19 spreads throughout India, it leaves behind long-term effects on issues from medical resources to economic scarcity. 

Income and Unemployment

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic in India, economic disparity existed in many forms. In 2019, the average per capita monthly income was approximately 10,534 Indian Rupees. To put this in perspective, 10,534 Indian Rupees equals $143.42 USD, meaning the annual income of the average Indian citizen was just $1,721.04. Over the past 5 years, India’s unemployment rate has been increasing steadily, but in April 2020, skyrocketed to 23.5%. Factories and construction sites, known for housing and feeding temporary employees, threw their workers onto the streets. 95% percent of employed women worked in informal positions, many let go as households and businesses determined outside workers were too dangerous. As restrictions are slowly lifting across the country, frightened people return to work, since the fear of starvation holds more weight than fear of infection. 

Lack of Medical Resources

For those in need of COVID-19 medical care, options for help are slim. According to reports from the New York Times, public hospitals are so immensely overwhelmed that doctors have to treat patients in the hallways. For those with non-COVID related medical needs, options are almost nonexistent. On March 24th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that to “save India”, a nationwide lockdown on all nonessential surgeries was necessary. For Ravindra Nath Singh, a 76-year-old man with Parkinson’s, this meant being discharged from the ICU in a hospital in Lucknow, just minutes after becoming stable on a catheter and feeding tube. For a young woman in New Delhi, this meant eight hospitals turning her away while in labor for 15 hours, only to die in the back of an ambulance.

Child Labor and Education

The spread of COVID-19 in India forced schools to shut down, proving unhelpful to their already existing struggle for attendance. According to a study in 2018 by DHL International GmBH, India hosts the highest population of uneducated children with an intimidating 56 million children not in school. As restrictions across the country lift, one of the biggest hurdles will be encouraging enrollment, especially with uncertain learning conditions. Enrollment hesitation enables another widespread issue in India: child labor. Experts claim the biggest spike in child labor is yet to come, as immense economic losses will compel large corporations to seek cheap labor.  

The lack of in-person education has also proven to have a significant impact on child mental health. 12-year-old Ashwini Pawar once dreamt of being a teacher, but now must reconsider her life’s ambition. In an interview with TIME magazine, she considers her family financial burdens, “even when [school] reopens I don’t think I will be able to go back…”. This mentality pushes concerns of economic inequality, as this pandemic might destroy great strides made over the past decade.         

Deaths and Infection Rates

In very little time, India has become the new epicenter of the Coronavirus. The daily number of confirmed cases shot from about 40,000 to 80,000 in just a few weeks. Unlike most of the world, this virus is heavily affecting the workforce demographic. More than 50% of COVID-19 deaths in India have occurred between the ages of 40 – 64, an interesting contrast to developed countries where 70% of deaths have occurred in age groups 70 and older. According to Sanjay Mohanty, a lead scientific author from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, this contrast is due to India’s age distribution. Mohanty states, “the median age in the country is 24 years and therefore more younger people are available for virus transmission…”. Unfortunately, the road to recovery is a long one, as millions of people are still susceptible to infection. 

The Good News

Despite the seemingly daunting situation, there are many reasons to have hope for India. Well-known charities such as Unicef and Give2Asia have focused aid on India, pushing their needs into the limelight. Newly-risen charities are also making impressive strides on the ground. Snehalaya ‘Home of Love’ is a charity based out of Ahmadnagar dedicated to feeding poor families during the pandemic. In Ahmadnagar’s 17 official slums, Snehalaya has fed over 17,000 families and raised over $80,000 of aid in just 6 months.

Hope also goes beyond organized help. As seen in various reports, neighbors are sharing all types of resources, from food to hygiene products. Global pandemic or not, India’s path to healing is futile without charity aid and attention.

—Amanda J Godfrey
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in EritreaMilitarism and instability are endemic to Eritrea. The degradation of civil society is a result of those two factors. Child poverty in Eritrea is rampant due to such foundations; however, the country is not without benefactors. UNICEF’s aid efforts are improving children’s health within Eritrea despite the current conditions.

A Brief History

Eritrea is one of the few countries that can truly be considered a fledgling state in the 21st century. After a decades-long secession war, the Eritrean government achieved full independence from Ethiopia in 1993. They solidified the totalitarian one-party dictatorship that has retained power since. A brief period of peace followed, during which promised democratic elections never materialized. Then, Eritrea’s unresolved border disputes with Ethiopia escalated into a war that lasted from 1998 to 2000. It killed tens of thousands and resulted in several minor border changes and only formally ended in 2018. In the wake of this war, the Eritrean government has sustained a track record of militarization, corruption and human rights violations that has continually degraded civil stability. As of 2004, around 50% of Eritreans live below the poverty line.

Eritrea’s Youth at a Glance

Housing around 6 million people, Eritrea’s youth make up a significant proportion of its population. Eritrea has the 35th highest total fertility rate globally, with a mean of 3.73 children born per woman. It also has the 42nd lowest life expectancy at birth at a mere 66.2 years, with significant variation between that of males (63.6 years) and females (68.8 years).

Forced Conscriptions of Children

Under the guise of national security against Ethiopia, Eritrea has maintained a system of universal, compulsory conscription since 2003. This policy requires all high school students to complete their final year of high school at Sawa, the country’s primary military training center. Many are 16 or 17 years of age when their conscription begins, which led the U.N. Commission of Inquiry to accuse Eritrea of mobilizing child soldiers.

The Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report also blamed Eritrea’s conscription practices for a number of grievances. Its prolonged militarization has wide-reaching effects for the country. Many adults are held in service against their will for up to a decade, but it is particularly damaging to Eritrean youth. Students at Sawa face food shortages, forced labor and harsh punishment. Many female students have reportedly suffered sexual abuse. Besides fleeing, “Many girls and young women opt for early marriage and motherhood as a means of evading Sawa and conscription.”

Further, “The system of conscription has driven thousands of young Eritreans each year into exile,” HRW claims. They estimate that around 507,300 Eritreans live elsewhere. Because of its conscription practices, Eritrea is both a top producer of refugees and unaccompanied refugee children in Europe – they not only result in child poverty in Eritrea, but in other regions as well.

Education Access

HRW claims that Eritrea’s education system plays a central role in its high levels of militarization. It leads many students to drop out, intentionally fail classes or flee the country. This has severely undermined education access and inflated child poverty in Eritrea.

Eritrea currently has the lowest school life expectancy – “the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive” – of any country. Eritrea has reportedly made strides to raise enrollment over the last 20 years. However, 27.2% of school-aged children still do not receive schooling, and the country retains a literacy rate of only 76.6%. Illiteracy is much more prevalent among females than among males, with respective literacy rates of 68.9% and 84.4%. In general, girls and children in nomadic populations are the least likely to receive schooling.

Refugees and Asylum-Seekers

As mentioned earlier, over half a million Eritreans have fled the country as refugees. Around one-third of them – about 170,000, according to the WHO – now live in Ethiopia. A majority reside in six different refugee camps. As of 2019, around 6,000 more cross the border each month. Reporting by the UNHCR shows that “children account for 44% of the total refugee population residing in the [Eritrean] Camps, of whom 27% arrive unaccompanied or separated from their families.” Far from being ameliorated by domestic education programs, child poverty in Eritrea is merely being outsourced to its neighbors.

Children’s Health as a Site for Progress

Adjacent to these issues, UNICEF’s programs have driven significant improvements in sanitation, malnutrition and medical access. Its Health and Nutrition programs, among other things, address malnutrition by administering supplements, prevent maternal transmission of HIV/AIDS during birth and administer vaccines. Teams in other departments improve sanitation and lobby against practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In its 2015 Humanitarian Action for Children report on Eritrea, UNICEF wrote that Eritrea “has made spectacular progress on half the [Millennium Development Goals],” including “Goal 4 (child mortality), Goal 5 (maternal mortality), Goal 6 (HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases) and is on track to meet the target for access to safe drinking water (Goal 7).”

Figures illustrate this progress on child poverty in Eritrea. Since 1991, child immunization rates have jumped from 14% to 98%, safe water access rates are up at 60% from 7%, iodine deficiency has plummeted from 80% to 20% in children and the under-five mortality rate sits at 63 deaths per 1000 births, rather than at 148.

Child poverty in Eritrea is a far cry from being solved, but it is not a lost cause.

Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Childhood Pneumonia
One of the most common diseases globally, pneumonia can be a silent killer when it infects children under 5. In the developing world, rates of childhood pneumonia cases and deaths are still high despite decreasing in other childhood diseases. However, due to new research and outreach programs to aid developing countries, those numbers may soon fall.

10 Facts About Childhood Pneumonia

  1. Various sources cause the disease. Unlike many other diseases that come from a single source, pneumonia is the name for the lungs’ acute response to an airborne pathogen. While pneumonia can develop from bacteria, viruses or fungi, the most common cause for children is the bacteria S. pneumoniae. The bacteria typically live in the lungs without harming the body, but the body develops pneumonia to kill the bacteria when it begins to spread.
  2. Childhood pneumonia mainly infects children under the age of 5. While people of all ages can develop pneumonia, children under the age of 5 are especially susceptible to the infection. Since their immune systems are not fully developed, their bodies are more likely to trigger a response to a foreign agent’s presence in the respiratory system, leading to pneumonia. These infection rates only increase in developing countries, where children are more likely to be born either malnourished or with a disease that they acquired in utero such as HIV.
  3. Pneumonia is a leading cause of death in children. Although pneumonia is often easy to treat and cure in developed countries, it can be fatal in developing countries. According to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), childhood pneumonia kills over 800,000 children each year in comparison to 437,000 from diarrhea and 272,000 from malaria. These deaths are typically in children who are malnourished or have other conditions such as HIV that impair the immune system.
  4. South Asia has the greatest incidence of childhood pneumonia. Out of every 100,000 children in South Asia, approximately 25,000 will develop pneumonia each year. However, the majority of these cases — approximately 36% — occur in India. Studies looking into the potential causes for the increased number of cases have found that overcrowding in housing with inadequate ventilation allowed the disease to spread among families. Without effective airflow, children in those households continue to breathe in potentially infected air, increasing their chances of developing pneumonia.
  5. Air pollution increases pneumonia rates. Although a child needs to have exposure to the biological cause of pneumonia to develop the disease, certain environmental factors can increase infection likelihood. In India, a country with one of the worst-rated air qualities in the world, particles of smoke and other forms of pollution in the air weaken lungs when inhaled, making it more likely for a young child to develop pneumonia. These conditions of outdoor air pollution causes approximately 17.5% of all pneumonia deaths in the developing world.
  6. The disease is treatable. With antibiotics or antifungals (depending on the cause), children with pneumonia can recover from the disease. However, this treatment is dependent on the resources available in the country where the child lives. In developing countries such as Nigeria — the African country with the highest pneumonia rates in children — only one in three children with pneumonia symptoms can receive treatment due to the lack of available medicines and other medical resources.
  7. Some are producing vaccines. Although vaccines cannot treat viral pneumonia, they are still an important asset in preventing it. However, most of the produced vaccines are only available in developed countries where doctors recommend them for children under 5. In developing countries, nearly 10 million children are unvaccinated. Through the World Health Organization (WHO), many countries have received vaccines, although there has been great variation between regions of the world. While WHO’s South-East Asian Region has 89% coverage, its Western Pacific region only has 24% coverage.
  8. Less progress has occurred regarding childhood pneumonia. While research on pneumonia as a whole has increased over the past decade, there has been much less progress on childhood pneumonia in comparison to other childhood diseases. Since 2000, deaths for those under 5 from pneumonia have decreased by 54%, while deaths from diarrhea have decreased by 64% and are currently half the number of childhood pneumonia deaths.
  9. Large organizations are helping. Among other large, international organizations, the Gates Foundation has taken efforts to reduce childhood pneumonia rates in developing countries. One of its main methods is the continued distribution of vaccines to children and families in South Asian and Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically India and Nigeria. So far, the organization has sent vaccines to over 37 countries in those regions of the world, slowing transmission and infection rates in those areas.
  10. Rates will continue to drop in the future. Although the number of childhood pneumonia cases each year have not dropped as much as other diseases, long-term progress is still ongoing. If the current level of progress toward eradicating the disease continues, UNICEF predicts that it will save 5.9 million children. At the same time, if resources towards the effort increase, that number will increase to nearly 10 million.

UNICEF and WHO do not expect to meet their goal of eradicating childhood pneumonia until 2030. However, the progress they and many others are currently initiating is making a difference. Soon, pneumonia will become an extinct disease in the developing world so that it will never harm another child.

Sarah Licht
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in ZimbabweZimbabwe has high poverty rates with more than half of the country’s population estimated to be living in abject poverty. Child poverty is prevalent in the country as children account for 48% of the population. There are notable efforts being made to address the issue of child poverty in Zimbabwe.

A History of Poverty

Zimbabwe, once known as Rhodesia, attained independence from British rule in 1980. Following the country’s independence was intense political warfare stemming from tensions between the then newly instated president, Robert Mugabe. This period resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 Zimbabweans. These tensions would continue in Zimbabwe for the next two decades. Multiple uprisings occurred throughout the 1990s and early to mid-2000s, with citizens protesting for a litany of issues, including increased food prices, land ownership and financial plight. Economic turmoil has steadily increased since the country’s independence in 1980. The country broke records with one of the highest rates of hyperinflation in 2008, peaking at 98%. Zimbabwe has had intermittent financial rebounds since this time, however, the country has continued to struggle with stabilizing its economy.

State of Affairs in Zimbabwe

Agriculture plays a prominent role in Zimbabwe’s economy. According to the FAO, 60-70% of the country’s population depend on agricultural-related affairs for employment. The industrial sector relies on agriculture heavily, providing 60% of raw materials. Agriculture also accounts for 40% of export earnings and makes up 17% of the country’s GDP. Droughts have threatened the livelihoods of many Zimbabweans. The country is currently experiencing the most severe droughts in its history. A significant proportion of the population that is dependent upon farming and agriculture for both income and food are placed in jeopardy. Food shortages have become a prevalent issue in Zimbabwe with children being adversely impacted.

UNICEF reports that 4.8 million Zimbabwean children live in poverty and 1.6 million children live in extreme poverty. The most prevalent issues for impoverished children in Zimbabwe include malnutrition, education, sanitation and access to potable water. The FAO reported that less than 10% of Zimbabwean children between 6-24 months of age consume a minimally acceptable diet.

UNICEF Addresses Child Poverty

UNICEF has made several efforts to address child poverty in Zimbabwe. A few noteworthy efforts by UNICEF include providing 6,740 mothers with infant and young child feeding counseling as well as supplying more than 700,000 children with vitamin A in 2016.

UNICEF partnered with U.N. Women and the UNFPA in 2016 and the organizations in cooperation with the Zimbabwean Government were able to successfully support the development of the National Action Plan and the Communication Plan to End Child Marriages. UNICEF has also supported grassroots efforts in Zimbabwe. One being the development of the National Case Management System (NCMS) which provides child protection services, referrals and HIV care and treatment to vulnerable populations throughout Zimbabwe.

The NCMS provided nearly 24,000 Zimbabwean children with legal support in 2016. UNICEF also showed its support in the multi-sectoral system that accompanied the National Case Management System. This multi-sectoral system employs officers specifically tasked with providing support for children who have been victims of physical and sexual abuse. These efforts are major milestones that have contributed to improving the state of child poverty in Zimbabwe.

The Future of Child Poverty in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has had extensive turmoil in its history and tremendous economic turbulence. But, there still remains potential for growth and development. In this development, children need to be prioritized. With the assistance of organizations, child poverty in Zimbabwe can be reduced.

– Imani Smikle
Photo: Flickr

recovery after the Beirut ExplosionOn Aug. 4, 2020, a warehouse fire at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon led to a large explosion. There was a significant amount of property damage and loss of life. The blast leveled the surrounding dockside area and sent shock waves throughout much of the city, causing widespread destruction. It was reported that at least 200 people were killed and over 5,000 were injured. In addition, 300,000 are estimated to be left homeless. This explosion is considered to be “unquestionably one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, far bigger than any conventional weapon” according to the BBC. Thankfully, UNICEF stepped in to aid in recovery after the Beirut explosion with multiple programs directed at short-term and long-term benefits.

UNICEF Aids in Recovery After the Beirut Explosion

It is difficult to imagine the devastating impact that a disaster of this magnitude has on people. This is especially true for families and children living in the affected areas. In the days immediately following the explosion, UNICEF reported that 80,000 children had been displaced, at least 12 children’s hospitals and other family healthcare facilities were destroyed. Many schools reported varying levels of damages and numerous children were missing or separated from their families. Thankfully, UNICEF stepped in to help children and families struggling with the short- and long-term effects of this disaster. They instituted multiple programs providing both immediate relief and continuing assistance in rebuilding.

These are just some of the ways that UNICEF has helped Beirut recover after the explosion.

WASH Program

One of the first actions taken by UNICEF for recovery after the Beirut explosion was to restore water service to damaged homes and facilities. In the past, the organization has provided Lebanese families with clean and accessible water through the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) program. After the explosion, this program was reoriented to focus on restoring and repairing water supplies in Beirut. Working with partner NGOs LebRelief and DPNA, UNICEF conducted house-to-house surveys and technical assessments of the damage and required assistance. In buildings such as schools and hospitals that sustained heavy damage, UNICEF and DPNA installed 1,000-liter water tanks. They repaired damaged or leaking pipes quickly so that these facilities could continue serving the community. Many of these installations and repairs are also being performed by Lebanese youth through a UNICEF program. It trains them on how to re-establish water connections for future career skills. Additionally, UNICEF and LebRelief restored water service to homes with vulnerable families affected by the explosion. They operated quickly to have water connections reestablished within days.

Hygiene and Baby Care Kits

Another important aspect of UNICEF’s response program in Beirut was to provide hygiene and baby care kits to vulnerable families, such as those with young children and damaged water service. These kits provide necessary supplies for dental, feminine and personal hygiene. There are also separate baby care kits containing creams, basic clothing and diapers. They are intended to support a family of five for up to one month and are delivered door-to-door as well as at temporary distribution centers. Through partnerships with various local organizations such as Medair, the Lebanese Red Cross, Concern Worldwide and Solidarités International, UNICEF was able to gather 10,000 kits and rapidly distribute over 5,000 of them by early September.

Safe Parks

The Beirut explosion caused long-lasting damage that necessitates assistance even after the initial need for emergency response has ended. This is especially true for many children, who must now deal with the trauma and destruction of the explosion on top of the changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Schools are closed and many homes are destroyed. As a part of recovery after the Beirut explosion, children need a place where they can be physically safe and find some form of normalcy and fun. UNICEF established safe parks in the heavily affected areas of Geitawi, Basta and Karatina. These parks provide children with psychosocial support and basic education in a safe space. The parks allow them time to play and develop since schools in Beirut are closed indefinitely. Children struggling with the trauma after the explosion can benefit from the stability and support provided by these safe parks. They can play games, do simple lessons and learn about coronavirus safety. This is a valuable escape for children struggling emotionally or physically with the disaster’s aftermath.

Emergency Cash Grant for Recovery After the Beirut Explosion

Even over a month after the initial incident, UNICEF is still providing assistance to families living with the impact of the Beirut explosion. They launched an Emergency Cash Grant program on September 15 to provide financial support to vulnerable and struggling families. The grant is available to households in the most affected areas with children, people with disabilities, people over 70 or a female head of the household. Through this program, up to three vulnerable household members will receive a one-time cash grant of 840,000 Lebanese pounds. The money provided by UNICEF will allow families struggling with the effects of the explosion on top of the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis to support themselves and recover from the damage caused by this disaster. Applications for this grant are available online and at various in-person registration sites. UNICEF is raising awareness for the program through community outreach in affected areas.

The explosion in Beirut was a terrible tragedy that left many families struggling to get back on their feet. UNICEF’s numerous assistance programs are an invaluable aid to this city’s recovery efforts.

Allie Beutel
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in India during COVID-19
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s struggle with malnutrition has been playing out behind the scenes. Despite consistent economic growth, nutritional deficiencies have plagued India’s adults and children for years. Nearly 50% of children do not receive adequate nourishment and more than 50% suffer from anemia and other vitamin deficiencies. Efforts by the state have improved the situation over time, but malnutrition in India remains high compared to other developing countries. Recently, the coronavirus pandemic has made matters worse as India’s cancellation of its school lunch program leaves children, who usually rely on these supplementary meals, at-risk. In addition to damaging the economy and people’s ability to buy food, the COVID-19 lockdown has halted state-run services that previously helped people in need access nutritious meals. Recognizing the severity of malnutrition in India during COVID-19, efforts are starting to ensure Indians, especially women and children, fulfill their nutrient requirements.

History of Malnutrition in India

Malnutrition is not a new issue in India. It has been consistently prevalent despite the country’s economic development. In 2019, India ranked 102 of 117 countries in the global hunger index and its hunger situation was labeled as “severe.” Furthermore, India’s childhood malnutrition rate is twice that of sub-Saharan Africa. In this same vein, 45% of children suffer from stunted growth due to their lack of sufficient nutrients necessary for development.

Though adults also suffer from malnutrition, the issue largely affects children. This is because of the lasting implications of malnutrition occurring during development.

Malnutrition in India’s children is attributable to many factors. These include lack of access to nutritious foods, inadequate care practices and pregnant women’s inability to gain sufficient weight. These circumstances can lead to a multitude of consequences. For example, decreased chances of survival for children younger than 5 years old, increased susceptibility to illness, impaired learning abilities and decreased productivity in children and adults, to name a few.

These effects not only affect individuals but can also become detrimental to the growth and prosperity of a society or country. When childhood development suffers impairment, their education and potential to contribute to India’s productivity decreases. Ultimately, this affects long-term, economic growth. India acknowledges that it is in the state’s interest to solve this issue. Therefore, the Indian government has attempted to address malnutrition by creating several aid services.

Initiatives to Combat Malnutrition

Since malnutrition has been recognized as an issue crucial to India’s development, India has led developing countries in the fight against malnutrition.

India’s Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), a program funded by the central government and UNICEF, formed in 1975. The initiative aims to tackle malnutrition by providing primary healthcare and supplementary food to children between the ages of 3 and 6. Also, their mothers would receive the same care. In 2010, the ICDS expanded with the addition of the Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) program. This expansion strives to improve health and nutrition for pregnant women.

Another government-led effort to combat malnutrition in children is the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education. This is also known as the Mid-Day Meal scheme. This program provides children in school with meals. Ultimately, this improves both their food security and nutritional status.

Additionally, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India issued regulations in 2018 for fortifying common foods like rice, wheat and milk to enhance their nutritional quality.

These programs convey the state’s recognition of the severity of malnutrition in India. Also, the necessity of improving conditions for thousands of residents. Between 1990 and 2019, child mortality decreased from 3.4 million to less than 1 million. However, despite this significant progress, malnutrition persists.

The Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted access to nutritious meals for all Indians. Yet, this is especially true for children relying on supplementary meals. Under normal circumstances, children were guaranteed at least one nutritious meal under India’s government-funded school lunch program. After the imposed lockdown (to prevent the spread of the virus), about 115 million children, dependent on school lunches to fulfill their daily nutrient requirements, no longer had access to this service. Supplementing its current food program, India planned to use a phased approach to reopen schools in September 2020. The nation has announced it will expand its school food program to include breakfast and midday meals. These initiatives aim to reduce malnutrition in India during COVID-19.

While India’s government has been attempting to combat its persistently high childhood and adult malnutrition rates for years. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made the situation even more urgent. As India loosens COVID-19 restrictions, it is imperative that children and women once again gain access to crucial services. Ensuring their nutrient requirements are met is paramount. Furthermore, recognizing the enormity of malnutrition in India during COVID-19 and beyond, India must push more efforts to protect the health of its people.

 – Angelica Smyrnios
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Health in Yemen
The Yemen civil war, which began in early 2015 and still devastates the nation today, has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. A total of 24 million people require assistance. This crisis affects all aspects of life in Yemen, including healthcare. Millions are without access to life-saving medical treatment and supplies, leading them to die of preventable diseases, such as cholera, diabetes and diphtheria. Pregnant women and infants are particularly vulnerable during this health crisis as adequate medical care throughout pregnancy and birth is essential. Maternal health in Yemen is of the utmost concern now.

Yemen has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with 17% of the female deaths in the reproductive age caused by childbirth complications. Maternal health in Yemen has never been accessible to all women. This crisis has escalated even further during the Yemeni civil war. However, global organizations are acting to save the lives of these pregnant women and infants who desperately need medical care.

Yemen’s Maternal Health Crisis: Before the Civil War

Even before the war began in 2015, pregnant women were struggling to get the help they needed. Yemen is one of the most impoverished countries in the world — ranking at 177 on the Human Development Index (HDI). Poverty is a large factor in the insufficiency of maternal health in Yemen as impoverished women lack the finances, nutrition, healthcare access and education to deliver their babies safely.

Many Yemeni women are unaware of the importance of a trained midwife during childbirth. Of all the births in rural areas, 70% happen at home rather than at a healthcare facility. Home births increase the risk of death in childbirth as the resources necessary to deal with complications are not available.

The Yemeni Civil War Increased the Maternal Health Crisis

Since the civil war began, the maternal mortality rate in Yemen has spiked from five women a day in 2013 to 12 women a day in 2019. A variety of factors caused this spike. The war has further limited access to nearly every resource, including food and water. This, in turn, depletes the health of millions of women and thus their newborns.

Also, the civil war has dramatically decreased access to healthcare across the nation. An estimated 50% of the health facilities in the country are not functional as a result of the conflict. Those that are operational are understaffed, underfunded and unable to access the medical equipment desperately needed to help the people of Yemen. This especially affects pregnant women — who require medical care to give birth safely.

Organizational Aid

Though the situation in Yemen remains dire, various global organizations are acting to assist pregnant women and newborns. The United Nations Children’s’ Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is taking the initiative to help millions across Yemen, including pregnant women. The organization has sent health workers and midwives into the country’s rural areas to screen and treat pregnant women for complications.

Similarly, USAID trained more than 260 midwives and plans to send them into Yemeni communities to help pregnant women and infants. USAID is partnering with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Yemen Ministry of Public Health and Population and other organizations to ensure that maternal health in Yemen, as well as all types of healthcare, are adequate and accessible for all affected by the civil war.

Maternal health in Yemen, while never having been accessible for many, is now in crisis as a result of the Yemeni civil war. While the situation is still urgent, organizations such as USAID and UNICEF are fighting to ensure that all pregnant women and infants in Yemen have access to the medical care they desperately need.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in ZimbabweZimbabwe is a country in Southern Africa with more than 6.6 million people living in extreme poverty. Despite its struggles with issues such as economic trouble and food insecurity, there have been significant improvements in women’s rights in Zimbabwe over the past few decades.

Legal Rights

Concerning the official laws, the national government has made some progressive changes to its constitution and policies to improve women’s rights in Zimbabwe. The official Constitution of Zimbabwe promotes gender equality by stating that men and women are equal, as well as outlawing sex or gender-based discrimination and behavior.

Throughout the 2000s, lawmakers passed numerous pieces of legislation to protect women and girls. This legislation banned marital rape in 2006 and further, legislators passed another domestic violence act in 2007. The 2007 act outlawed many traditions considered harmful to women.

However, many of these laws remain disregarded in practice due to the format of Zimbabwe’s government. Most of the laws passed are statutory, but there are also customary laws that function on a smaller scale. It is common for obedience to customary laws to occur. Yet, often, citizens disregard statutory laws or there is little to no enforcement in the first place.

Child Marriage

One of the most concerning issues in women’s rights is the high rate of child marriage. Unfortunately, many under-aged girls find themselves in early marriages, typically by force. It is estimated that “one in four girls aged 15–19 are married.”

Most of these marriages occur because of the divide between statutory and customary law. Other than civil marriage, an additional two types of customary marriage exist: registered and unregistered. These latter two types often disregard child marriage laws and force young girls into marriage.

On a positive note, Zimbabwe’s government strives to end child marriage by 2030. Additionally, various organizations such as Girl Child Network and UNICEF have provided resources to help combat these forced marriages with successful outcomes.

Women in Politics

Zimbabwe has a patriarchal, societal system that often oppresses women in both the home and the workplace. Society expects these women to follow traditional, gender roles. Thus, encouragement for women to pursue careers in politics or other influential positions is scarce.

Zimbabwe formerly had a goal of “50% representation of women in all decision making bodies by 2015,” as women are greatly underrepresented in government. However, the country has not met these quotas. Women who announce a political campaign are often met with harassment, threats and other acts of violence. These pressures discourage women from running and even force some to end their campaigns, altogether.

One organization that strives to fight this issue is the Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU). Its main goal is to train and empower women in Zimbabwe to successfully run for office. To do so, WiPSU provides leadership-development workshops and other resources, as well as a group of supportive women to stand beside one another. This initiative has helped create successful campaigns and increased opportunities for women.

Looking Forward

While there is still an urgent need to improve women’s rights in Zimbabwe, it is also important to recognize the progress that has been made thus far. The women’s movement in Zimbabwe is strong and shows no sign of wavering as parties nationwide work to gain the gender equality promised by their constitution.

– Hannah Allbery
Photo: Flickr