Information and stories about United Nations.

Women in ScienceGender equality is vital for alleviating global poverty. Women represent 70% of the world’s most poverty-stricken people. Consequently, women need more opportunities in the job market and increased access to health and education resources in order to truly thrive. Uplifting and empowering women all over the world will lead to greater progress with global poverty reduction efforts. In particular, women in science have the potential to ignite impactful breakthroughs.

Society, Culture and Bias

Women’s empowerment starts with the foundation of education. Research shows that, as it stands, only 30% of the world’s researchers are women. One can explain this by cultural beliefs and social norms inhibiting women from pursuing a scientific education and career.

The gender gap in science underscores a societal bias. Furthermore, because the majority of researchers are men, research is less likely to head in the direction of improving the struggles and concerns that women face. Providing more opportunities in science and technology for women would help promote technological breakthroughs and progress for the betterment of both genders.

Women in Science

Data shows that although the share of women in science differs according to specific countries, women have experienced global underrepresentation in scientific and technological fields. For instance, in 2016, women represented 55% of all researchers in Tunisia, the highest rate in Africa. Alternatively, women comprised only 5% of all researchers in Chad.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the average share of women researchers in Africa was 24.8% in 2016. This is approximately 4% lower than the already low international average of 28%.

Gender Equality and Development

For decades, the U.N. has supported gender equality and women’s empowerment. For instance, it adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, a landmark agreement putting women at the center of human rights issues and global development.

Gender equality also plays a crucial role in global development. Women’s empowerment is part of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals adopted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These goals represent a global partnership aiming to end poverty, promote education and health, reduce inequalities and more.

The U.N. gender equality goal (SDG 5) focuses on various targets such as ending discrimination against women, preventing the violent treatment and exploitation of women and ending child marriage and female genital mutilation. Target 5.5. entails ensuring “Women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.” This target definitely extends to the scientific arena where women’s participation would mean scientific breakthroughs geared toward improving the struggles of women.

What is the OWSD?

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) is a program unit of UNESCO. This program unit has been supporting women scientists in developing countries since 1987. Supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the “OWSD provides research training, career development and networking opportunities for women scientists throughout the developing world.” Since 1988, more than 470 women in developing countries have received fellowships and more than 270 have graduated. The OWSD grants fellowships in various fields such as biology, agriculture, medicine, engineering and physical sciences.

The main goal of the OWSD is to encourage and support women’s roles in technological and scientific fields as well as in leadership. In doing so, the organization underlines the importance of the representation of women in scientific and technological progress in developing countries. The OWSD also emphasizes the need for collaboration between women scientists to build a global network to continue assisting women in science.

The Role of Women

Women’s empowerment represents a key part of reducing global poverty and can also positively impact global peace. Women’s empowerment links to a country’s prosperity. Countries that offer women equal employment opportunities also have lower poverty rates and a higher GDP. Women also play a significant role in the success and development of children. Research shows that women are likely to invest 90% of their income into the household. Income would go toward securing the basic needs of the family, enrolling children in school and investing in healthcare.

Gender equality promotes social and economic developments. In turn, a strong and durable economy can help build peaceful societies. As Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. Women executive director, stated in 2013, “There can be no peace, no progress as long as there is discrimination and violence against women.”

Women’s Empowerment for Global Development

According to the OWSD, in many developing countries women make up the majority of caregivers and agricultural workers.”If women are included as both participants in scientific research and as the beneficiaries of scientific research” the results will be highly impactful. By giving women consideration, resources and agency, the OWSD contributes to significant progress in developing countries. The organization not only contributes to scientific and technological progress but also endorses gender equality and fundamental human rights all around the world.

Soizic Lecocq
Photo: Flickr

Aid to the Philippines
In November 2020, the Philippines faced several moderate-strength typhoons: typhoons Vamco, Goni and Molave. After the disastrous effects of these storms, organizations based in the Philippines and the U.S., as well as ambassadors from European countries, pulled together to provide resources to aid the Philippines in its time of need. In particular, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) and National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) both stepped in to assist those who lost their homes and who were in great need of supplies like food, shelter, water and soap.

The Philippines’ 2020 Typhoon Season

Each typhoon occurred within weeks of one another during the Philippines’ 2020 typhoon season. Typhoon Molave was the first to hit the Philippines and Vietnam. The Category Two natural disaster began on Oct. 25, 2020, in Batangas. Eight days later, Typhoon Goni hit Bicol on Nov. 2, 2020, destroying cities as a Category Five typhoon. Typhoon Goni was the strongest to hit the Philippines since Typhoon Meranti in 2016.

Typhoon Vamco

The situation worsened beginning on Nov. 11, 2020, as Typhoon Vamco reached the islands. According to the Saffir-Simpson Scale, which generally moves from 210-249 kilometers per hour, Vamco was a Category Four typhoon. Typhoon Vamco affected areas across the Philippines such as Bicol, Calabarzon, Central Luzon and Manila. Moreover, around 350,000 people lost their homes due to this most recent tragedy. Additionally, the storm affected 4 million people due to the destruction of farmland and businesses.

What is the PDRF?

In November 2020, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation teamed up with Dutch, German and United Nations ambassadors to help the Philippines and Cagayan Valley. The Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, or PDRF, is a private organization the provides aid during emergencies and disasters within the Philippines. The PDRF managed to deliver food and non-food items to Cagayan Valley in an event called “Aksyon Para Sa Cagayan.” People secured hygiene kits and food, while other organizations like AirAsia provided labor by helping move supplies and managing transportation and temporary housing. The PDRF, along with Netherlands Ambassador Saskia de Lang, German Ambassador Anker Reiffenstuel and U.N. Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez cooperated to distribute food and organize hygiene kits and other supplies to those in need.

What is NAFCON?

One other group that is working to provide aid and resources to those the typhoon has affected is NAFCON, or the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns. NAFCON is a U.S.-based Filipino advocacy alliance intended to focus on Filipino and Filipino-American wellness. Various organizations involved with NAFCON include Kabataan Alliance, Filipino Community Center, Filipino Migrant Center and Malaya Movement. NAFCON uses connections with the U.S. to gain exposure to provide aid to the Philippines following Typhoon Vamco.

A super typhoon has hit the Philippines that has robbed many people of their homes and livelihoods. Still, Filipinos are lucky to have organizations like PDRF and NAFCON mobilizing to provide aid to the Philippines following Typhoon Vamco. With continued efforts both at a national and international level, Filipinos can hopefully recover and prosper in spite of the effects of this natural disaster.

Alyssa Ranola
Photo: Flickr

arable land lossAgriculture stimulates the large majority of economies in nearly all African countries. For the past couple of decades, the value of agricultural production has almost tripled (+160%). This large boost imbues every nation with great potential. With that potential lies a grand obstacle that is forcing leaders to think differently about the situation in Africa. The loss of arable land is an issue that threatens the progress of Africa’s agricultural economies, and while the issue remains largely invisible across the continent, the impacts have been widespread and devastating.

The Extent of Arable Land Loss

According to a report published in 2015 by the Montpellier Panel, a group of agricultural and economic trade experts, “about 65% of Africa’s arable land is too damaged to sustain viable food production.” This statistic, shocking as it may be, has ramifications that extend beyond its effect on the land.

When soil becomes degraded, food production decreases dramatically, causing severe economic side effects in agriculturally dominated communities. Ecological imbalances such as these decimate the livelihoods of people all around the continent. Ultimately this results in increased poverty rates. According to the Montpellier Panel report, “In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) an estimated 180 million people are affected, while the economic loss due to land degradation is estimated at $68 billion per year.” In short, this issue is not limited to one country or another. It extends beyond national and even continental borders.

The Causes of Arable Land Loss

The roots of this complex issue are spread across the continent and draw from a wide variety of international issues. However, the causes that can be immediately addressed lie in the heart of Africa. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) writes that the “available evidence leaves no doubt that soil degradation caused by erosion, desertification, deforestation and poor agricultural practices is undermining the very resources on which African farmers and their families depend for their very survival.”

These natural causes, while addressable, require the effort and consent of the leaders of Africa’s nations. Much of the burden that Africa faces currently falls on the shoulders of the most impoverished farmers with the least resources. The solution begins when governors grant their farmers the resources to practice water and soil conservation among other sustainability practices.

Though the situation seems dire, there are many opportunities available to change-makers in Africa’s agricultural sector. The international community, in conjunction with Africa’s national governments, has the opportunity to foster major structural changes to combat the ecological threat of arable land loss.

Solutions to Boost Agriculture in Africa

  • Underused cultivatable land, sometimes available in abundance. Compared to other continents, Africa has much more room to pursue greater agricultural productivity. There is a trove of untapped resources in a small number of countries surrounding the Congo Basin. With these resources in hand, Africa can increase agricultural productivity and inputs without adversely impacting the environment.
  • Water resources are often underutilized. Contrary to popular belief, there are large pockets of underutilized water spread throughout the whole of Africa. While this allows farmers to irrigate better and prevent soil degradation, its fragile state must always be taken into consideration.
  • Available technological methods to rapidly boost productivity. There is a diverse web of new technologies that have the potential to offer African farmers the tools they need to enable the growth of agricultural production and the protection of their natural resources.

Food security and environmentalism have the potential to go hand-in-hand. With that said, overexploitation as a result of desperation will only lead farmers and their land into further degradation. Nonetheless, there are potential opportunities to consider in order to combat arable land loss and boost agriculture in Africa.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Pixabay

American Peacekeeping
The role of United Nations peacekeeping forces – impartial troops that the U.N. deployed to ensure the promotion of human rights and democratic ideals – has been in question for years, especially due to concerns over their efficacy in situations where decisive military action is necessary. It is partly due to these concerns, as well as general opposition to international organizations from the Trump Administration, that American contributions to peacekeeping efforts have waned over the last five years. However, recent evidence shows that American peacekeeping not only plays an important role in the stability of many fragile democracies but that it often serves American interests more efficiently than U.S. military action could.

Controversy Over American Peacekeeping

U.N. peacekeeping efforts have long been the subject of controversy over their efficacy in conflict zones. Peacekeepers bind themselves to neutrality and may intervene only when the country in question invites them and use force exclusively in self-defense.

Traditional peacekeeping operations had the intention of maintaining demilitarized zones between warring parties in order to prevent either party from taking advantage of the other through abuse of cease-fires. An example of this includes the U.N. peacekeeping operation based in Jerusalem to prevent violence between Palestine and Israel. Peacekeeping’s detractors often point to this example as proof of the endless and ineffective nature of peacekeeping, given the failure of the Jerusalem mission to produce a peaceful regional agreement despite being implemented over 70 years ago. A better-known example of inefficacy in peacekeeping is the Rwandan genocide, where U.N. blue helmets – rendered powerless due to orders forbidding them to intervene – became witnesses to the slaughter of over 800,000 people.

Given the failure of the Rwandan peacekeeping mission and the fact that the kind of territorial conflicts the peacekeeping program intended to prevent are becoming less common, many believe that peacekeeping has no future in an era that ideological conflict and extremism define. This perspective, however, ignores blue-helmet successes and peacekeeping’s cost-efficiency in comparison to military interventions.

The Success of Peacekeeping

Blue helmet successes in East Timor and Sierra Leone point towards a new kind of peacekeeping that includes the mandate of military force where necessary in combination with the promotion of locally-led sustainable development initiatives. In East Timor, a country that integration with Indonesia and a desire for independence once tore apart, pro-integration militias began a bloody campaign which resulted in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of many more. After successfully registering hundreds of thousands of citizens to vote in a poll that demonstrated overwhelming support for independence, the U.N. provided peacekeepers with a mandate to restore stability to the region and assist in creating a local government. The multinational forces were successful in their use of force to quell violence in East Timor, and worked with local leaders to implement a new government that the Timorese designed rather than having Western nations force one upon them.

One can also see the efficacy of peacekeeping in the example of Sierra Leone, where a bloody civil war raged over the last decade of the 20th century. In the wake of a conflict that human atrocities characterized, U.N. peacekeeping operations (though initially modest) eventually brought nearly 18,000 troops into the region with the intention of restoring peace and disarming the country’s warring parties. In 2000, the U.N. negotiated a cease-fire under the Abuja Agreement, at which point peacekeeping operations shifted to prioritize the facilitation of fair elections and the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure. Peacekeepers remained in the region until 2005 to ensure stability, and later surveys found that over 80% of Sierra Leoneans approved of the U.N.’s response to the conflict.

American Support for Peacekeeping

Under the Trump Administration, American contributions to the program have decreased from 29% of the American peacekeeping budget to under 25% over the last five years. Despite being the only organization for effective “burden-sharing” in the international effort for security, the Trump budget cuts stemmed from the belief that American contribution to the U.N. was unfairly large. The U.S. is currently the largest contributor to peacekeeping operations. Each country’s participation, however, depends on its size, wealth and veto power.

Despite claims that peacekeeping does not benefit American interests, recent studies show that it can be more efficient than American military intervention. A study by the Government Accountability Office found that, though U.N. peacekeeping operations cost roughly $2.4 billion (USD) over three years in the Central African Republic, a hypothetical American military operation with similar objectives would cost more than twice as much. When one factors this cost-analysis into the benefits to the U.S. from the global security gained by peacekeeping operations, it becomes clear that continued contribution to peacekeeping is in the best interest of American security.

Kieran Hadley
Photo: United Nations

2020 Afghanistan Conference
On November 23, 2020, and November 24, 2020, the governments of Afghanistan and Finland and the United Nations hosted the 2020 Afghanistan Conference in Geneva. The Conference is a quadrennial summit that serves as a chance for the international community to renew its long-term assistance commitments to Afghanistan. Seventy countries and 30 international organizations participated in this COVID-19-conscious summit at the UN Palais des Nations. The groups discussed the ways in which Afghanistan can develop economically, politically and socially. Talks went on in light of a worldwide pandemic and a year of new clashes as well as historic peace talks.

Changes in Funding for Afghanistan

The 2020 Afghanistan Conference serves as a “pivotal moment for aid-dependent Afghanistan.” The changes in funding that Afghanistan will receive in the coming years were a prioritized issue. From 2017 through 2020, Afghanistan received a yearly $3.8 billion from its donors. On the other hand, more recently, estimates determined a 17% drop in funds as Afghanistan has received $3.3 billion for 2021 from donors. Many expected the considerable drops in funding, however. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s economy will contract at least 5.5% by the end of 2020. This is a COVID-19-related crunch that the entire world is feeling. “Donor fatigue” is a concurrent effect as the pandemic stretches the global aid system thin. Donor-reliant nations such as Afghanistan are taking a hit. As the United States Institute for Peace considers funding “a critical ingredient” for stability in Afghanistan, an incoming drop in funds may have detrimental impacts both economically and politically.

Peace Talks in Afghanistan

2020 was also a year for monumental peace talks in Afghanistan, but not a year without violence. In February 2020, a monumental peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban had resulted in a considerable withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan; forces will have reduced from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January 2021. But violence continues, and in October alone, 35,000 civilians experienced displacement in Helmand Province, and another 16,000 underwent displacement in Kandahar. With the U.S. clearly on the withdrawal, the Afghan government now leads negotiations with the Taliban, who were not invited to the 2020 Afghanistan Conference but made a statement with the hopes that the international community would deliver aid “collected in the name of the people.”

Roles of Afghan Women in the Nation’s Civil Society

Another primary concern at the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, specifically among Afghan-based groups working for peace and development, was the future roles that Afghan women may play in the nation’s civil society. The Kabul-based group Equality for Peace and Democracy made an address. It exalted the impact that gender-based equality has in a society striving for a place on the world stage. The aid group CARE, which noted that women and girls have experienced exclusion “from meaningful participation” in Afghan society, hopes that donors will make more economic and political opportunities for women in Afghanistan a requirement for financial assistance.

Naturally, the epidemic, declines in donorship, historic developments in regional peace and potential upheaval of civil society all presented humanitarian worries for Afghanistan’s immediate future. As the nation enters the second wave of COVID-19, food prices will continue to rise globally. In addition, a third of Afghanistan’s population is predicted to face “crisis or emergency levels of hunger” through March 2021. The more mountainous regions of Afghanistan, which typically face bitter winters, will have even more vulnerable food security. The 2020 Afghanistan Conference, however, was a productive way to bring these issues to light and an opportunity for the international community to learn about these problems and pledge to help treat them.

Stirling MacDougall
Photo: Flickr

Vanuatu's Graduation From the LDCsSince the United Nations created the least developed countries (LDCs) list in the 1970s, only six nations have moved off of the list to a higher ranking of development. Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific, became the sixth country to do so on December 4, 2020, after being designated an LDC in 1985. Vanuatu’s graduation from the LDCs list can serve as a beacon of hope for more LDCs to achieve higher rates of development.

Economic Growth

The U.N. Committee for Development Policy (CDP) identifies LDCs based on their level of human assets, environmental and economic vulnerability and per capita income. Since 1991, Vanuatu has met the CDP’s income per capita threshold and was recommended for graduation in 2012, having more than twice the income per capita threshold and also meeting the threshold for human assets. In an effort to pursue graduation, Vanuatu began shifting its economic policies to decrease reliance on imports, increase exports and create employment and income-generating opportunities. Vanuatu’s rural economy grew after improvements in the livestock sector in addition to the country’s diversification of agricultural activities to include timber, kava, coconut oil and copra. The tourism industry and real estate investments were also an aid to Vanuatu’s economic growth as income per person increased by more than 2.5 times between 2002 and 2017.

Vanuatu’s Setbacks

Throughout Vanuatu’s progress in economically developing the country, the nation has also been stymied by recurring natural disasters. The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development estimates that Vanuatu is affected by an average of two to three natural disasters per year and noted that Vanuatu is uniquely affected by natural disasters as its size causes the entirety of the country to be affected as opposed to just specific regions. In 2015, Vanuatu was hit by Cyclone Pam, a Category 5 cyclone that destroyed 50-90% of the country’s shelters and 95% of crops. Cyclone Pam delayed Vanuatu’s previous progress toward graduation and warranted an extension of the country’s grace period to 2020. Additionally, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a decrease in the country’s tourism industry. While Vanuatu’s first case of COVID-19 was reported only in November 2020, the pandemic has impacted the nation and its economic sectors.

A Pathway for LDCs

While Vanuatu is the third country in the Asia-Pacific region to graduate from LDC status, following Samoa in 2014 and the Maldives in 2011, it is only the sixth country to graduate overall. On track to move up from LDC status are Angola in 2021, Bhutan in 2023 and São Tomé and Príncipe and the Solomon Islands both in 2024. Vanuatu’s graduation can bring hope to the other 46 countries on the LDC list, especially given the global circumstances in which Vanuatu achieved this feat. The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively stalled worldwide markets and further excluded many LDCs from international supply chains. With the encouragement of Vanuatu’s graduation from the LDCs list during a global pandemic, hope for the four countries scheduled for graduation in the near future increases alongside support from the international community to ensure an eventual zero countries on the LDCs list.

Caroline Mendoza
Photo: Flickr

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

Achieving SDG 10: Reducing Inequality

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

President Alberto Fernández

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

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

Poverty, Unemployment and the Wealth Gap

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

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

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

Better Days Ahead for Argentina

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

– Laney Pope
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Connection Between Prison and Poverty
In many societies around the world, mass incarceration is rampant and disproportionately affects those living in poverty. In 2013, reports determined that more than 10 million impoverished people have undergone incarceration. This has led to a dampening of upward social mobility because even after prison convicts face the stigma of being a former felon, individuals who believed that their best option to rise from poverty was a life of crime will likely return to a community where their best survival option is criminal. A connection between prison and poverty emerges in developing countries where cyclical policies keep people at the bottom of the social hierarchy with no way out.

The Connection Between Prison and Poverty

Former U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston studied this prison-poverty connection. In 2018, he released his findings in a report that documented how overly harsh government policy can have a pronounced effect on impoverished offenders. Alston notes, “so-called fines and fees are piled up so that low-level infractions become immensely burdensome, a process that affects only the poorest members of society, who pay the vast majority of such penalties.” If someone fails to pay their debts, the government will often place restrictions on their driver’s license, making recidivism far more likely.

Pre-Trial Detention in Brazil

Brazil ranks as the country with the third-highest rate of incarceration, behind China and the U.S. Its prison population rises above 755,000. Like the United States, the developing country engages in pre-trial detention. Pretrial detention is the act of holding a person suspected of a crime without rights until a court date. However, poor people often stay in detention facilities longer than the wealthy. This is because they cannot afford the exorbitant cash bail that the wealthy can. A 2010 study found that hundreds stayed in jail several years past their planned release. Additionally, “irregularities” lead to the mistaken detainment of over 16,000 Brazilians. Pretrial detention inmates currently overcrowd Brazil’s prisons, which make up nearly a third of the inmate population.

The War on Drugs in Thailand

With the number of people incarcerated at 344,161, Thailand ranks as number six in the world when it comes to mass incarceration. Similar to Brazil, the country has its own struggles with prison and poverty. An unexpected explanation for Thailand’s overcrowded prisons is the American War on Drugs. In 1997, a financial crash forced many Thai people into unemployment. This economic despair led to an increase in the number of drug users. In 2003, the government chose to heavily police these now-impoverished citizens. While Thailand has backed away from violent crackdowns, the majority of arrests are still primarily drug offenses. To evade time in prison, wealthier people can pay the $1,300 in drug charges. In 2016, only 27% of first-time offenders managed to avoid recidivism, as those in poverty could not afford bail.

Penal Reform International

While the connection between prison and poverty seems deep-rooted, it is still capable of transformation. Organizations have worked to alleviate the flaws of prison systems throughout the globe through educational, political and relief efforts to break the cycle. Penal Reform International is one such group.

Founded in 1989 with a focus on rehabilitation, Penal Reform International (PRI) works with the United Nations and other organizations to advocate for fair treatment of people in the criminal justice system. PRI observes detention centers and offers solutions to systemic abuse. For example, PRI studied the lives of the female offender population in the country of Georgia. The report found that they detained over a third for non-violent drug offenses. About 40% of those questioned committed crimes for financial reasons, while 80% were also mothers. Among those who received a release from prison, more than half had trouble finding employment due to their record, while most never obtained any kind of rehabilitative assistance. Between 2016 and 2019, PRI created a project providing services to Georgian women prisoners. Services included legal aid, counseling, business grants and healthcare assistance. Respondents expressed that the project has greatly improved their mental wellbeing, preparedness and self-esteem.

Prison and poverty can intertwine when the prison system values money over people. Nevertheless, learning about these issues surrounding developing countries can shed light on the flaws in one’s own.

– Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

Central African RepublicOne year after repatriation efforts began, refugees from the Central African Republic are returning home. Although repatriation operations began in November 2019, the return of refugees from the Central African Republic was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Enhanced health and safety precautions made their return possible. The United Nations Refugee Agency, a U.N. agency responsible for protecting refugees, organized the implementation of health and safety precautions. Measures included the use of masks and temperature screening. Handwashing stations were also installed to prevent the spread of disease.

Central African Republic Refugees

Repatriation efforts began after security conditions in the Central African Republic improved. Stability in the country has developed at a slow pace. Less violence in regions of the Central African Republic known for volatile shifts prompted the voluntary return of refugees.

Beginning in 2012, violent confrontations between armed factions throughout the Central African Republic forced more than 500,000 people to flee. Thousands more went into hiding, often in the wilderness, where access to food and clean water is scarce. A staggering rate of poverty among citizens of the Central African Republic reflects years of political instability.

Poverty in the Central African Republic

Both domestically and abroad, refugees from the Central African Republic experience rates of extreme poverty and hunger. The Central African Republic was one of the last two countries on the 2018 Human Development Index ranking. Combined with the political instability of the nation, the Central African Republic’s low development score contributes to the nation’s high rate of poverty.

With a population of a little less than five million people, almost 80% of the country’s people live in poverty. While political instability is a major factor that contributes to the high rate of poverty in the country, meager production rates, insufficient markets and pronounced gender inequality also contribute to the high rate of poverty. Additionally, it is estimated that nearly half of the population of the country experiences food insecurity.

Alarmingly, almost 90% of food insecure individuals in the country are classed as severely food insecure, which is nearly two million people. This has particularly devastating effects for children aged between 6 months and 5 years old. More than one-third of all children within that age range are stunted due to lack of appropriate dietary nutrition.

The World Food Programme Alliance

In partnership with the government of the Central African Republic and other humanitarian organizations, the World Food Programme (WFP) provided emergency food and nutritional assistance to nearly 100,000 people, in 2018. This assistance was delivered to individuals who were affected by the violence that resulted from the coup in 2013, the civil violence that was unleashed by competing factions after the coup and the violence that continued through 2017, as hostility between armed groups was reignited. This method of the WFP’s humanitarian aid involves the distribution of food packages and the implementation of nutrition activities for children and pregnant mothers.

Time will tell whether refugees are returning to a country that will eventually provide for them. Through various initiatives, including Food Assistance for Assets and Purchase for Progress, the WFP hopes to turn civic, humanitarian functions over to the country’s government.

Food Assistance for Assets and Purchase for Progress

Both the Food Assistance for Assets and Purchase for Progress initiatives were designed by the United Nations to help partner nations achieve objectives set by the ‘Zero Hunger’ Sustainable Development Goal. Food Assistance for Assets “addresses immediate food needs through cash, voucher or food transfers.” Its response to immediate needs is paired with a long-term approach. Food Assistance for Assets “promotes the building or rehabilitation of assets that will improve long-term food security and resilience.”

Purchase for Progress works in tandem with Food Assistance for Assets. It is a food purchase initiative, whereby the WFP purchases more than $1 billion worth of staple food annually from smallholder farms. This food is used by the WFP in its global humanitarian efforts. Meanwhile, its ongoing investment in smallholder farms contributes to national economies.

Through the initiatives of the World Food Programme and its dedicated efforts for humanitarian assistance and hunger eradication, the Central African Republic will hopefully reach a point where its citizens never again have to flee the country they call home.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

Quinoa Supports Farmers in PeruQuinoa is a species of goosefoot original to the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. For more than 6,000 years, Peruvians and Bolivians considered quinoa a sacred crop because of its resistance to high altitudes, heat, frost and aridness. Because of its sudden rise in worldwide popularity, the U.N. declared 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa” to recognize the indigenous people of the Andes, who continue to preserve quinoa for present and future generations. Quinoa supports farmers and livelihoods in Peru.

History of Peru’s Quinoa

Due to its high nutritional qualities, quinoa has been grown and consumed as a staple crop by people throughout the Andean region. However, when the Spanish arrived in the late 1500s and sent farmers to gold mines in Peru and Bolivia, quinoa production declined sharply. The year 2013 marked a turning point in quinoa-producing countries. The crop surged in popularity because of its superb nutritional value, containing all eight essential amino acids. It is also low in carbohydrates but high in unsaturated fats, fiber, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. The sudden demand for Quinoa from the U.S. and Europe increased the price of the grain from $3 in 2010 to $6.75 in 2014.

The Quinoa Market Boom

Today, quinoa supports farmers in Peru, as Peru is one of the world leaders in quinoa production and exports. In 2016, Peru produced 80,000 tons of the crop, about 53.3% of the world’s volume, with 47% of quinoa exports worldwide.

In 2012, Peru exported $31 million worth of quinoa. Two years later, the export value of quinoa was six times that amount, at $197 million. In 2016, however, the export value dropped to $104 million. This was reflected in the average price of quinoa worldwide. In 2012, a kilo of quinoa cost $3.15. In 2014, the price shot up to $6.74 per kilo. By 2017, however, the price had dropped dramatically to $1.66 per kilo.

The demand and price fluctuations had several negative effects, including reducing the welfare of households. When quinoa prices fell, total household food consumption decreased by 10% and wages fell by 5%.

Though traditionally grown for household consumption only, the global demand for quinoa encouraged farmers to use their fields for quinoa production only. The monocropping negatively affects the overall health of the fields, as nutrients do not get replenished as they would by rotating crops.

5 Ways Quinoa Supports Farmers in Peru

With the help of several U.N. agencies and national and local governments within Peru, a program called “Andean Grains” was implemented in Ayacucho and Puno – rural areas with high levels of poverty, where 78% of Peru’s quinoa is produced, to create a value chain of quinoa production to increase the welfare of farmers. Through the program, quinoa supports farmers in Peru in several ways:

  1. Income of rural quinoa producers increased by 22%. By focusing on producing organic quinoa and fulfilling a niche market demand, rural Peruvian farmers remain competitive in the global market. The program trained more than 2,000 producers in cooperative management and financial education and certified several farmers for organic production.
  2. The production, promotion and consumption of Quinoa improved. By implementing technological alternatives, including establishing technical standards for producing organic fertilizer, farmers increased their crop yields, improving the food quality and nutrition of the grain and making the crop more available to local communities. In Puno alone, yields increased by 13% through the organic certification program.
  3. More farmers joined cooperatives, increasing their market power. The program taught farmers about selecting suppliers, managing credit, how to negotiate when signing a contract and how to commercialize their organic quinoa. By standardizing the production of organic quinoa, poor farmers could negotiate better market prices under a collective brand. The cooperatives also promoted the national consumption of quinoa and helped sustainable development of the quinoa value chain.
  4. The program empowered female farmers. Women make up 31% of agricultural producers and more than 50% of participants in the program were women. They were able to accumulate up to $4,800 through Unions of Credit and Savings, which they used to buy natural fertilizers to protect their lands from desertification.
  5. The program participants’ welfare increased. In areas of Peru where quinoa was consumed before the boom, a 10% increase in the price of the quinoa increased the welfare of the average household by 0.7%. The additional income to quinoa producers in turn allowed them to spend more. Household consumption also increased by 46%.

Quinoa supports farmers in Peru in several ways. After the implementation of the U.N. “Andean Grains” program, the income and wealth of Peruvian farmers increased. By joining cooperatives, both male and female producers compete in the global competitive market. Today, quinoa continues to be celebrated as a vital part of Peru’s economy and culture.

Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr