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There is a clear dichotomy between how the impoverished citizens of developed and developing countries feed their families. In wealthier nations, families living below the poverty line buy cheaper food options. In many packaged and overly-processed foods, the possibility of unhealthy food preservatives and a surplus of calories is common. As a result, negative health effects ensue. In developing countries, impoverished citizens rely on easily cultivated and cheap foods to feed themselves. These products often do not have sufficient nutritional value to ensure a healthy lifestyle. In order to increase the accessibility of healthy produce, understanding the causes of income disparity and food restriction is necessary. Through this awareness, finding a solution to supply nutritious foods to those in need is possible.

Income and Food in Developed Countries

How one budgets their income is an essential factor when learning the impact of economic resources or the lack thereof on one’s daily health. An observational study conducted by BMC Public Health in the United States focused on the relationship between income and health. “Compared to lower-income households, higher-income households had significantly higher total vegetable scores, respectively, higher dairy scores and lower proportion of grocery dollars spent on frozen desserts,” said French, Tangney et. al in the study.

Overall, families with lower incomes purchased fewer vegetables, fewer dairy products and more frozen desserts compared to families with higher incomes. Thus, according to this study, individuals with lower incomes in developed countries are more likely to choose high caloric, less nutritious foods than their higher-income counterparts as these foods are more economically accessible to them than fresher, more nutritious foods. By understanding the results of this study, it is evident that the accessibility of healthy produce is limited to the wealthy members of society who can afford it.

Can Health Be Bought?

Compared to developed countries, developing nations struggle to provide protein-rich foods for their people. In these areas of the world, one’s income also dictates one’s food options. In developed countries, high-calorie foods are often cheaper than low-calorie food, yet in many developing nations, high-calorie and high-protein foods are more expensive. This can make it very difficult for low-income individuals to access necessary high-protein foods, such as eggs.

In Niger, egg calories are 23.3 times more expensive than calories from staple foods. In contrast, egg calories in the United States are 1.6 times as expensive as staple food calories. Diversifying one’s calorie intake is seemingly difficult due to one’s economic position. Consequently, one’s likelihood of contracting type two diabetes, heart disease or cancer also rises with high consumption of low nutrient food. Thus, the higher the price, the lower the accessibility of healthy produce and the higher chance of life-threatening diseases.

Solutions

Despite these issues, there are ways to end global hunger and poverty. Organizations all over the world are finding ways to help those in need. One nonprofit organization, A Growing Culture, is currently working to support farmers globally. By giving them a voice in the agricultural industry, farmers are able to gain back power.

In addition, the organization promotes sustainable agricultural methods. Through these goals, A Growing Culture has encouraged communication between farmers around the world. These conversations inspire the use of environmentally safe techniques, discussion of common struggles and shared desire to nourish the world. Organizations like these can go a long way to helping combat world hunger and improve. With the popularity of their mission, fighting industrial farming and decreasing the prices of daily foods is possible.

– Kristen Quinonez
Photo: Flickr

Temporary Protected Status for YemenOn July 6, 2021, the Biden administration announced the extension of a program to support Yemeni individuals currently living in the U.S. as Yemen grapples with civil war and the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world. Even before the conflict, Yemen was the most impoverished nation in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with a poverty rate of more than 50%. Today, more than three-quarters of Yemen grapples with poverty. The Biden administration has extended the Temporary Protected Status for Yemen nationals in the United States due to deteriorating conditions in Yemen.

The Situation in Yemen

Since the civil rights crisis began, Yemen’s economy has unarguably collapsed. The conditions exacerbated citizens’ vulnerabilities and destroyed critical infrastructure, while famine-level food insecurity ravaged the nation. The political crisis coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic led to Yemenis living in increased poverty.

The World Bank notes that “more than 40% of Yemeni households that find it difficult to buy even the minimum amount of food may have also lost their primary source of income.” Additionally, 19.9 million citizens live without access to sufficient healthcare services. Proper healthcare is more crucial than ever considering the impact of COVID-19 and Yemen’s recent outbreaks of “cholera, diphtheria, measles and dengue fever.” Experts argue that rebuilding Yemen’s economy and mending “Yemen’s social fabric” can only happen with an “eventual political reconciliation.”

Temporary Protected Status

Congress created the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the Immigration Act of 1990, where it provides “temporary immigration status” to nationals of countries grappling with extraordinary conditions, such as ongoing armed conflict and violence. Also, the Secretary of Homeland Security may grant TPS to a country suffering an ongoing environmental disaster or epidemic.

Once granting an individual TPS, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cannot detain them based on their immigration status. TPS also does not impact an application for asylum or any other immigration benefits. Syria, El Salvador, Haiti and South Sudan are currently designated for TPS in addition to Yemen and several other countries. In the distant past, the U.S. granted TPS to countries like Lebanon, Kuwait and Rwanda.

The decision to extend the TPS of Yemeni nationals in the U.S. allows them to stay in the country without fear of deportation. Undoubtedly, the collapse of healthcare systems, sanitation and education services in Yemen bears influence on the decision. Furthermore, an unstable political transition compounded the need for this decision.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced the extended Temporary Protected Status for Yemen after consulting with interagency partners. Mayorkas stated that the U.S. has “decided to extend and re-designate Yemen for Temporary Protected Status. We will continue to protect and offer their individuals a place of residency temporarily in the United States.”

US Role in the Yemen Crisis

In February 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an end to U.S. support for offensive operations in the Yemen war, including relevant arms sales. The move contrasts the positions of Presidents Obama and Trump. President Trump backed arms deals with the Saudi coalition, citing benefits for the U.S. economy even though the weapons led to the harm of civilians. However, the outflow of arms to the Middle East initially started under the Obama administration.

Furthermore, on March 1, 2021, Secretary Blinken announced $191 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen, making the U.S. one of the largest donors for relief to Yemen. To promote more aid, Blinken urged parties at the virtual 2021 High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen to follow in the footsteps of the U.S. by helping to “end the conflict in Yemen.” The Biden administration’s action to extend Temporary Protected Status for Yemen “will allow approximately 1,700 Yemenis to keep their status through 2023” and will also enable another 480 Yemenis to apply.

Overall, the TPS extension to Yemenis in the U.S. shows the United States’ commitment to safeguarding the well-being of vulnerable people whose lives would be at risk in their home countries.

– Alysha Mohamed

Photo: Flickr

U.S. Foreign Aid During COVID-19The year 2020’s sudden outbreak of COVID-19 caught many countries off guard. The U.S. is demonstrating its status as a global superpower by releasing economic, medical and other foreign aid during COVID-19.

5 Facts About US Foreign Aid During COVID-19

  1. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has given more than $1.5 billion to different governments and organizations during the pandemic. The government split the money among various humanitarian, developmental and economic programs and organizations. The aid aims to help sustain governments at risk during the pandemic. It also intends to make the public more aware of COVID-19 and how to combat it. Additionally, the aid from the U.S. will go toward improving health education and hospitals, funding quick response teams capable of inhibiting COVID-19’s spread. The U.S. Government has also planned a $4 billion relief fund to aid high-risk countries through COVAX, a program that provides vaccines to low-income countries.
  2. The U.S. State Department works alongside other organizations. USAID and the CDC help the U.S. Government provide the necessary aid to countries at high risk. Congress created an emergency fund of $2.4 billion with the purpose of supporting both humanitarian programs and security and stabilization programs for countries in need. For example, foreign aid helps countries create safe and secure ways for citizens to receive necessary medical care during the pandemic.
  3. The U.S. gave the most foreign aid in 2020. In 2020, the U.S. gave around $35 billion in aid, with Germany close behind at just shy of $30 billion. The global amount of money that has gone toward COVID-19 relief measures is equal to about $16 trillion. U.S. foreign aid during COVID-19 is only around 1% of that. The majority of foreign aid during COVID-19 went toward short-term solutions, such as the aforementioned public health education programs and hospital care programs.
  4. U.S. foreign aid programs help combat more than just COVID-19. Recently, the House of Representatives passed an $11 billion bill to support countries in need, including through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
  5. The U.S. has approved $1.9 trillion in COVID-19 aid. Of that $1.9 trillion, the U.S. has dedicated $11 billion to fight the global pandemic. That $11 billion includes $800 million for aid programs from the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as the CDC Global Fund. The remaining $10 billion will support global health, humanitarian aid and economic aid.

To conclude, the U.S. has provided more aid than any other nation to help countries combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This has allowed many at-risk countries to minimize or at least lessen the impact of the disease.

Jake Herbetko
Photo: Flickr

Haiti-United States RelationshipIn 1804, Haiti gained its independence from France, yet it took until 1862 for the U.S. to recognize Haiti as a nation. In the 20th century, U.S. military forces began a 19-year military intervention in Haiti that lasted until 1934. Despite being the “second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere after the United States,” Haiti has struggled to maintain a consistent and reliable democracy, according to the Office of the Historian. The Haiti-United States relationship has significantly strengthened over time, with the United States as a regular donor to Haiti. In an already unstable nation, the recent assassination of Haitian President Moïse in July 2021 has led to further instability in the nation, prompting urgent humanitarian assistance.

Contemporary Haiti-US Economic Relations

Following the 2010 earthquake that paralyzed Haiti, the United States provided more than $5 billion worth of aid aimed at supporting “longer-term recover, reconstruction and development programs,” according to the U.S. State Department. In the aftermath of the earthquake, U.S. economic efforts have allowed for:

  • The creation of close to 14,000 job opportunities in the apparel industry for local Haitians.
  • About 70,000 farmers were able to improve their crop yields with the introduction of “improved seeds, fertilizer, irrigation and other technologies.”
  • A stronger police force that has expanded to more than 15,300 members.
  • Progress in “child nutrition and mortality, improved access to maternal healthcare and the containment of the spread of HIV/AIDS.”
  • Greater access to basic healthcare services in more than 160 health centers across Haiti.

As “Haiti’s largest trading partner,” the U.S. is involved in Haitian sectors such as “banks, airlines, oil and agribusiness companies” as well as “U.S.-owned assembly plants,” according to the U.S. State Department. Tourism, medical supplies and equipment, modernization of Haitian infrastructure and clothing production are areas of opportunity for U.S. businesses.

Despite the successes of the Haiti-United States relationship, the World Bank estimates that, in 2020, almost 60% of the Haitian population lived in poverty. These statistics make Haiti the most impoverished nation in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

Political Unrest in Haiti

A shift from communism to democracy in Haiti has the ability to strengthen the Haiti-United States relationship and provide economic stability. Political and civil unrest has been ongoing since July 2018 and “violent protests” in the nation exacerbate Haiti’s plethora of issues. Among other issues, a growing unemployment rate, inflation rising to 20% and the Haitian currency depreciating by 30%, contribute to an ailing nation. Furthermore, the nation experiences regular fuel shortages and businesses struggle to keep their doors open. Due to the high poverty rate, about 33% of the population faces “crisis- or emergency-level food insecurity.”

While Haiti showed signs of promise when it held a democratic presidential election in 2017,  its “local and parliamentary elections” that were scheduled for October 2019 did not occur. Because democracy in Haiti is not consistent, this leads to nationwide instability and unrest.

The Assassination of President Jovenel Moïse

On July 7, 2021, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and his wife, Martine, were attacked in their residence in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The president was killed in the attack and his wife was severely injured but did not suffer any fatal wounds.

Moïse’s presidency, which began in February 2017 after winning an annulled 2015 election and a second election in 2016, “was marked by controversy.” His appointment sparked protests throughout the country, with citizens citing “economic underperformance and corruption” as the reason. Since the beginning of 2020, Moïse ruled by decree and allegedly attempted to grant himself and close confidants “immunity from prosecution” on several occasions. In 2020, human rights abuses connected to gang violence caused two members of Moïse’s government to be sanctioned by the U.S. government.

US Solidarity and Support

U.S. President Joe Biden has spoken on the future of the Haiti-United States relationship following Moïse’s assassination. Recently, Biden released a statement of mourning over Moïse’s assassination and uncertainty about the future of Haiti. “We condemn this heinous act and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery. The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti,” says Biden.

The instability in the aftermath of Moïse’s assassination leaves the future of the Haiti-United States relationship in question. However, by committing to democracy, the Haitian government can work toward a stronger economic partnership between the two nations.

International Aid to Haiti

UNICEF is working to provide aid to more than 1.5 million Haitian people experiencing “constrained access to clean water, health and nutrition, disrupted education and protection services” amid the political instability and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2021, UNICEF reported that “Haiti is the only country in the Western Hemisphere where not a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been received.”

To address this, “UNICEF will support the distribution, transportation and storage of COVID-19 vaccines” to improve the vaccine rollout. Starting three years ago, UNICEF has provided 920 solar-operated fridges in Haiti, “to strengthen the cold chain, mainly in remote areas where electricity is unreliable.” Today, 96% of Haiti’s health centers possess solar fridges for medicinal cold storage.

By mitigating Haiti’s domestic hardships, there is greater hope for a stronger Haiti-United States relationship in the future. The efforts of global humanitarian organizations provide a glimmer of hope in a tumultuous political landscape.

– Jessica Umbro
Photo: Flickr

Connecticut SenatorsConnecticut Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have long been advocates for aid-based foreign policy. Frequently, they try to increase the presence of the United States on the global stage. As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Murphy has a clear vision of progressive U.S. foreign policy, while Blumenthal has a similar vision of foreign involvement and humanitarian assistance.

5 Ways Connecticut Senators Fight for Foreign Aid

  1. Increasing the International Affairs Budget: In March 2021, Murphy, among other senators, proposed a $12 billion increase to the U.S. International Affairs Budget. Protecting the International Affairs Budget is unquestionably essential to mitigating global poverty. As of 2021, however, foreign aid constitutes less than 1% of the U.S. budget. As one of the most powerful countries in the world, the U.S. has the capacity to increase aid exponentially. Through this proposal, called “Investing in 21st Century Diplomacy,” Murphy has shown a strong commitment toward maintaining diplomatic ties and providing aid to other countries.
  2. Requesting Funding for Refugee Programs: In March 2018, Blumenthal, with 24 other senators, wrote a letter to Senate appropriators calling for complete funding for particular refugee programs. Amid a time when the International Affairs Budget was in danger of reducing, Blumenthal led a letter advocating for refugee programs. In this proposal, Blumenthal recognized the national security benefits of increased foreign aid as well as the commitment of the U.S. to provide aid. Primarily, the letter responded to the Trump administration’s proposed elimination of the ERMA account, a source of funding for unforeseen humanitarian crises.
  3. Introducing the Global Health Security Act: Murphy, along with Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) introduced the Global Health Security Act in April 2020, a bill that focuses on implementing the Global Health Security Agenda by appointing two different entities: The United States Coordinator for Global Health Security and the Global Health Security Interagency Review Council. The Global Health Security Act focuses on preventing infectious diseases across the globe. Its central goal is to achieve the Global Health Security Agenda, a 2014 initiative similarly targeted toward stemming infectious diseases.
  4. Recognizing COVID-19 in India: In May 2021, Blumenthal recognized the severe COVID-19 crisis in India and the need for immediate foreign aid. While at an event in Middletown, Connecticut, Blumenthal advocated the need for various medical supplies to go to India. While visiting a local Hindu temple, Blumenthal spoke about the issue and the need for immediate U.S. action.
  5. Advocating for Humanitarian Assistance: Murphy furthermore advocates for humanitarian assistance to fight hunger and poverty, two issues that impact extremism. As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Murphy has recently advocated for humanitarian aid in Yemen, a country struggling with famine and poverty. In May 2021, Murphy, with three other senators, wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The letter thanked him for his recent involvement in fighting the crisis in Yemen and urged the Biden administration to take a more active role in encouraging other countries to do the same thing.

Committing to a Progressive Foreign Policy

Actively solving issues like hunger and infectious diseases tie directly into fighting global hunger. Hence, Connecticut Senators Murphy and Blumenthal remain committed to a progressive foreign policy. They have shown their commitment through public statements, letters to other senators and legislation like the Global Health Security Act. Ultimately, the Connecticut Senators want the U.S. to be an active member of a global community. The country would, accordingly, use its power to alleviate global inequalities and stem poverty.

– Samuel Weinmann
Photo: Flickr

Big Ten’s initiatives against global povertyThe Big Ten Conference is joining the war against global poverty. The Big Ten’s member institutions are prominent universities known for Division 1 collegiate athletics and competitive academics. Now, the students and staff of these institutions are joining and creating projects to combat international inequality. The Big Ten’s initiatives against global poverty simultaneously educate young participants and help impoverished communities.

10 of the Big Ten’s Initiatives Against Poverty

  1. University of Illinois: Poverty Simulation — The Missouri Community Action Network Poverty Simulation is designed to educate students on the lives of low-income individuals and populations. During the simulation, volunteers receive roles where they must manage day-to-day family and community operations within strict resource constraints. The simulation is meant “to be a tool to re-frame issues of poverty and to inspire participants to take action.”
  2. University of Indiana: Trockman Microfinance Initiative — The Trockman Microfinance Initiative (TMI), which the Kelley School of Business sponsored, uses microfinance to benefit international impoverished communities. TMI encourages students to use their business and networking skills to help those who experience exclusion from the mainstream financial system through research and hands-on fieldwork. Recently, TMI partnered with the international nonprofit Flying Squirrel Outfitters to empower at-risk women in rural Thailand. The two organizations are working together to create jobs and implement sources of sustainable financing.
  3. University of Minnesota: U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — In support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UMN SDG Initiative utilizes research and university assets across 17 categories to advance sustainability initiatives, especially in the education sector. For example, in 2021, the university signed a $4 million contract to improve higher education health sciences programs in Afghanistan. The program also offers grants to support student and staff research that aligns with SDG projects. Among the Big Ten’s initiatives against global poverty, the University of Minnesota is the only school partnering with the U.N.
  4. University of Nebraska: Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute — Nebraska’s success in agriculture has made it a fitting home for the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI). Working with more than 170 partners, the institute promotes global food security through research, development and communication. In 2021, DWFI will host a conference where participants will discuss the future of global water and food security goals.
  5. University of Michigan: Michigan Foreign Policy Council — Teaching empirical social science writing processes, the Michigan Foreign Policy Council is a project-based, student-run organization that publishes non-partisan research. Five main categories allow for a broad range of topics and student individuality. Furthermore, finished articles are open to public viewing at a semesterly symposium and through online formats.
  6. Michigan State University: The Spartan Global Development Fund — MSU’s Spartan Global Development Fund (SGDF) teaches the benefits of microfinance to impoverished global communities, specifically in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Uniting students, alumni and professors, SGDF has donated more than $114,000 in the last 12 years directly to humanitarian nonprofits. Fieldwork and a student-run blog also enhance the versatility of the fund and its ability to aid communities abroad. Detailed profiles of the fund’s beneficiaries are available on its website.
  7. Northwestern University: Global Poverty Research Lab — The Kellogg School of Management sponsors Northwestern’s Global Poverty Research Lab. This initiative has hands-on projects in countries across the globe to understand the causes and consequences of global poverty. The lab addresses research in four key geographical and sector-based clusters: China, the Philippines, Ghana and research methods. Overall, the lab works to create a pipeline between development economics and effective policy action. Participants connect with policymakers and multilateral agencies to ensure engagement and accuracy in the research process. Opportunities to participate are available to both students and faculty interested in providing research support and participating in fieldwork.
  8. Ohio State University: Global Outreach at OSU — Once GlobeMed at OSU, Global Outreach at OSU has adapted to focus on health, education and equity-based projects in one community per semester. This past semester, the club focused on education inequities and donated to the Meherun Nessa Development Foundation, a fundraising platform dedicated to educating children in Bangladesh. The club also runs a blog for its members to contribute to, with its most recent publication centering around COVID-19’s impact on global food insecurity.
  9. Pennsylvania State University: International Food Safety Initiative — The International Food Safety Initiative at Penn State College of Agriculture Sciences manages projects that educate communities on properly handling, storing and preparing food. Partnering primarily with the USDA, the initiative works with 12 communities across four continents. Most of its projects are study abroad options open to undergraduate students at the university. The projects teach students to evaluate the impact of training on participants’ food safety knowledge and skills.
  10. Purdue University: Engineers Without Borders — Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at Purdue is a student chapter of the nonprofit organization Engineers Without Borders-U.S.A. EWB aims to improve livelihoods in the global communities it focuses on and develop project management skills in its members. The program offers five different focuses in order to draw interested participants from all spheres. EWB began its Bolivia Project in 2018, providing clean water and meeting other daily needs by creating a water distribution system in Colquechata, Bolivia. Data collection, analysis and fieldwork also contributed to the success of EWB assignments in Nakyeni, Uganda.

Moving Forward

The Big Ten’s initiatives against global poverty raise awareness of conditions in impoverished communities through research and regional policy mobilization. Prospective students, current affiliates and interested locals alike can donate and participate in each school’s studies.

Julia Fadanelli
Photo: Flickr

Olympics Forward Fashion

The 2020 Olympics officially started on July 23, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. During the traditional opening ceremony, countries participated in a commencement parade dawning various outfits and garments that paid homage to their home countries and cultures. Following this event, the world’s audience became interested in these cultures and used the internet to learn more about them. The forward fashion at the Olympics was especially interesting to viewers of the games. As a result, international poverty-based nonprofits and tourism websites have seen heavy traffic, which will help the economies of dozens of nations.

The 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony

The Olympic Games have continued to be the most anticipated sporting event across the globe. After the pandemic-induced delay of the 2020 games, the world can finally watch the events it has waited five years for. According to VOA News, more than 17 million people watched the opening ceremony. 

Millions of viewers appreciated the outfits of the athletes. Competitors wore dazzling cultural garments to represent their ethnicities and home regions. For example, AP News highlighted the beautiful outfits adorned by representatives from Iran, Cameroon, the Virgin Islands and other nations. They called the affair “a mosaic of cultures and fashions and traditions.” Viewers reviewing and commenting on the parade flooded popular social media outlets like TikTok and Twitter, with hashtags like #OlympicsOutfits trending.

How the Fashion Boosted Poverty Related Research

After the opening ceremony concluded, Google searches for countries like Kenya and Ghana skyrocketed. According to Google Trends, these countries received a 20% boost in searches across the globe. In turn, websites promoting tourism and aid to these nations also experienced heavy web traffic. This was a significant and much-needed boost since the pandemic diminished these essential international discussions. Organizations like UNICEF and the World Bank also had more site visitors than average.

Multiple articles also highlighted the cultural importance of the athletes’ outfits. News about the clothing trended worldwide. While some media firms praised the fashion of the ceremony, others scrutinized the seemingly lackluster outfits from Italy and the U.S.

How Poverty Will Diminish as a Result

As more and more people continue to research the Olympics forward fashion, expectations have determined that poverty could decrease globally. Of course, a rise in tourism will help a country’s economy, but furthermore, the positive cultural representation will also relieve impoverished conditions in a myriad of regions.

According to the Community Action Programme on Social Exclusion, optimistic outlooks on a nation and culture can alter the probability that countries enter an impoverished state. Without a positive viewpoint of the region and its people, countries are less likely to have policy development in government. Further, these countries get less international appreciation, which leads to the migration of the rich and a sinking economy for the poor. However, with further representation in the Olympics and continued research from the international audience, appreciation of the teams’ cultures is likely to spread across the world. Whether or not the Olympics forward fashion will continue to be a hot topic, the impacts of cultural knowledge will last.

– Laken Kincaid
Photo: Unsplash

Vocational education centers in Afghanistan
After spending nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. is withdrawing from the conflict with Taliban insurgents by August 31, 2021. The U.S. withdrawal is leaving the Afghan people and government susceptible to a Taliban takeover or all-out civil war, which could lead to the souring of Afghan-American relations. Perhaps U.S. support of new and improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan could help provide Afghans with the skills to repair the infrastructure that war has ravaged and maintain positive relations between the two nations.

History of Afghan Vocational Training

Afghanistan established its first institutions for technical and vocational training in the 1950s, with the help of countries such as the U.S., USSR, Germany and the United Kingdom. The Afghan education system integrated technical education with the creation of the Faculty of Agriculture and Engineering in 1956 and Kabul Polytechnic in 1968. However, following the Soviet invasion and the rule of the Communist Regime in 1979, many male students were unable to pursue technical education. These students either entered the military, fought with Mujahideen freedom fighters or fled the country. Additionally, many intellectuals who others associated with vocational education centers, opposed the Soviets and either went to prison, died from violence or had to flee.

The Soviet invasion severely hampered Afghan economic development and destroyed much of Afghanistan’s infrastructure, including many technical education centers. However, Afghanistan did not rebuild the infrastructure that experienced destruction in the civil war after the Soviet Union left and since the U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001. Additionally, much of Afghanistan’s basic infrastructure, including clean water, proper sanitation and electricity, has experienced damage from the country’s previous conflicts. More vocational education centers in Afghanistan may increase access to trained individuals who could remedy these infrastructure issues.

Benefits of Vocational Education Centers

As of 2020, the World Bank reported that Afghanistan has an unemployment rate of 11.7%. According to UNICEF, 3.7 million Afghan children do not attend school. The formation of additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan could create more employment and educational opportunities for the Afghan people. Additionally, it could potentially provide the centers’ graduates with the capability to repair the infrastructure of a country that war has ravaged. Providing Afghan citizens with more vocational education centers would aid in the alleviation of poverty throughout the developing country. As UNESCO stated in a report concerning the development of Afghanistan’s Vocational Education programs, “education is one of the keys to sustainable development, peace and stability.”

U.S. institutions and Afghan vocational education centers have worked together successfully in the past. Prior to the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan had a rapidly developing set of vocational education centers. The Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University received almost all of its training in the U.S. and used U.S. textbooks for their classes. From the school’s formation in 1956 until 1978, the school had a significant affiliation with U.S. institutions through USAID support. As of 1977, the admission rate of the Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University grew from 300 to 1,000 per annum.

Additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion included:

  • Kabul Polytechnic Institute
  • Kabul Mechanical School
  • Afghan Institute of Technology
  • Kandahar Mechanical School
  • Khost Mechanical School
  • Mazar-i-Sharifi Technicum
  • Kabul Technicum

The Soviets methodically dismembered these vocational education centers following the 1979 invasion. Soon, the communist ideology took precedence over all aspects of education. This lasted until the collapse of the communist government and the subsequent civil war in 1992. After that, all technical colleges and schools in Afghanistan underwent severe damage.

How USAID Assists With Development

The U.S. has been helping with the development of Afghanistan’s vocational education centers more recently as well through the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program (AWDP). USAID conceived the program in 2012 and sought to expand employment and wages in Afghanistan. It did this by increasing the employability of Afghan citizens in areas where skilled labor was necessary. This task reached completion through a four-step process. Firstly, a “labor market demand assessment” occurred to identify the skills in demand by the Afghan private sector. Following this assessment, USAID guided the curricula of the Afghan training providers to meet the demand of the private sector. After establishing the curriculum, USAID provided subsidies to help local training centers educate trainees in lacking areas. Finally, USAID provided pre-employment, job placement and follow-up services to ensure that those who completed training programs found work.

Positive Results

The AWDP was effective in many ways. As of 2018, 48,873 Afghans, 36% of them women, received training in competency-based technical and business management skills. Additionally, 28,790 participants of the program obtained assistance in finding work as a result of the AWDP. To ensure progress following the program’s completion, USAID also allowed private institutes to open career counseling centers. These five institutes trained 1,758 university graduates and landed 807 trainees jobs as of 2019. Furthermore, the program provided Master Training of Trainers (MToT) training to 1,401 master trainers attending institutes of higher learning. About 1,060 of those trainees earned jobs relevant to their expertise or received a promotion at their current jobs.

Since the U.S. military is withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2021, it may be beneficial for the U.S. government to support vocational education centers in Afghanistan further. Continuing to provide resources and increase funding may help maintain positive relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Furthermore, new or improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan would increase employment opportunities and empower more Afghans with the ability to repair infrastructure and further develop the state.

– Wais Wood
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Iran's ImpoverishedIn the past decade, Iran’s impoverished have floundered due to an overwhelming bombardment of economic sanctions. Documented human rights violations and insincere promises to slow its uranium enrichment program have garnered the Iranian state’s pariah status. Iran’s tumultuous relationship with the West has only worsened following President Trump’s decision to abandon the multilateral nuclear agreement and impose harsher sanctions in 2018. Forced to pay the price of their government’s politics, Iranians have found themselves virtually isolated from the West. With the potential lifting of sanctions, hope is on the horizon for impoverished Iranians.

Potential Lifting of Sanctions

Iran’s reintegration into the international economy may be coming sooner than expected as the Biden administration has made concerted efforts to restore the nuclear deal and implement some stability in the region. Following initial negotiations, Iranian chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi proclaimed to state media that more than 1,000 sanctions would be lifted. “An agreement has been reached to remove all insurance, oil and shipping sanctions that were imposed by Trump,” said Vaezi on June 23, 2021. With the lifting of sanctions, Iran’s impoverished will see their economic outlooks drastically improve.

Loss of Jobs

While U.S. sanctions are intended to target the hardliner regime, Iran’s most marginalized communities have paid the biggest price. Iran’s energy, shipping and financial sectors have been completely stifled, causing essentially all foreign investment to dry up. President Trump explained that the strict sanctions “intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue.” Since 2018, Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk by nearly 15%. In addition, the unemployment rate has risen to nearly 20%. Unsurprisingly, the IMF reported zero growth in Iran’s economy in 2020.

Economic Downturn

The stagnancy of the economy can be felt everywhere, most notably in the rapid devaluation of the Iranian currency. The reinstatement of sanctions in 2018 has caused the Iranian currency to lose 50% of its value against the U.S. dollar. As a result, the rial (the Iranian dollar) is increasingly worthless. The effects of such extreme inflation have been disastrous, to say the least.

While the regime and its key supporters have been able to subsist due to rampant corruption, Iran’s most impoverished citizens have not been so fortunate. In Tehran, it is commonplace for the children of Iran’s impoverished to wait in a government-subsidized queue for free food. Parents simply cannot afford to feed their children at home due to the rapid increase in daily costs.

The costs of essential items such as meat and vegetables have more than doubled. Equally concerning, the price of healthcare has skyrocketed. Iran’s impoverished have no resources to access affordable healthcare, unable to pay the rising medical prices for tests. Even the prices of tobacco have increased by nearly 80%.

Reactions to Vaezi’s Claim

Understandably, Iranians were ecstatic upon hearing Vaezi’s claim that the infamous sanctions would be brought to an end. However, the U.S. has since denied that an official agreement has been reached. An unnamed spokesperson for the U.S. has emphasized that “During negotiations of this complexity, negotiators try to draft text that captures the main issues, but again, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” While there is still work to do, it seems that the conversation between the two countries is headed in the right direction, bringing the hope of reduced poverty in Iran.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in ItalyHuman trafficking is not an issue that occurs in just a single country or region of the world. Rather, it is a global dilemma requiring a global solution. However, human trafficking rates vary per country. Human trafficking in Italy represents an issue affecting other European nations as well.

Human Trafficking in Numbers

As of 2018, Italy ranked in the top five EU Member States with the highest number of registered trafficking victims. Italy also tied fourth for the highest percentage of sexually trafficked people at 82%. The other EU countries with similar statistics include Greece, Czechia and Hungary. In comparison, EU states like Sweden and Croatia have rates of 24% and 28% respectively.

Basics of Human Trafficking in Italy

Unaccompanied, young migrants seeking asylum are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking in Italy. Italy’s government reported at least 1,660 victims of trafficking, with many other victims unaccounted for. Save the Children points out the concerning increase in children and minors affected by trafficking, which increased from 9% to 13% within a single year. Many of these children end up contributing to underground labor, which fuels the Italian economy.

The risk factor for other workers falling victim to forced labor and labor trafficking in Italy feeds to these statistics. The United States Department of State found that, in 2020, roughly 3.7 million irregular workers and 1.5 million unregistered workers were at potential risk of labor-related trafficking.

Preventing Human Trafficking in Italy

The U.S. Department of State classifies Italy as a Tier 2 country. This means that the Italian government has participated in some efforts to combat human trafficking but still has work to do. For example, the country has demonstrated greater cooperation with international policies and laws against human trafficking. It has also prioritized additional fundraising to support victims of trafficking and places more emphasis on training Italian law enforcement to address trafficking.

In addition, many global groups such as the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) have worked hard to hold countries like Italy accountable for strengthening their policies. GRETA has noted decent progress on the issue of human trafficking in Italy. GRETA monitors human trafficking as the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings stipulates.

The Council maintains a human rights treaty among European Nations and the Council of Europe to reach an overarching goal of assisting and protecting trafficked human beings. GRETA thus performs legislative evaluations to ensure countries meet these goals and provides comprehensive reports and guidelines on combatting trafficking and prosecuting identified traffickers.

GRETA has acknowledged the progress in combating human trafficking in Italy as recently as 2019. The Italian government increased its funding for anti-trafficking projects, which has gone toward safeguarding protections for unaccompanied children who have fallen victim to human trafficking in Italy.

Challenges in Combatting Human Trafficking in Italy

The U.S. Department of State has noted that Italy still has not reached the “minimum standards” necessary to adequately and fully combat trafficking. As a result, the U.S. government has kept Italy at a Tier 2 status. Italy is not meeting the standards due to a decrease in trafficking investigations and prosecutions. The Italian Ministry of Interior reported only 135 trafficking investigations, which is a substantial decrease from 314 persons in 2018 and 482 persons in 2017. The government also does not have a consistent database for consolidated information about trafficking investigations, convictions or prosecutions. This adds to the difficulty of monitoring and assessment efforts.

Hope for the Future

Nevertheless, hope still exists in the fight against human trafficking in Italy. The U.S. government noted improvement in Italy’s 2020 trafficking report, acknowledging the measures the country implemented, even though there is still room for improvement. For example, improvements have emerged in victim assistance and increased funding for victims and victim’s rights groups. Funding has also gone toward NGOs advocating for trafficking rights, which GRETA specifically acknowledges as a step toward overall improvement in policies. With these efforts, Italy can reduce incidents of human trafficking in the country,

– Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr