Information and stories about United States.

Child Refugees in MexicoIn recent years, Mexico has become an increasingly significant place of asylum. More than 70,000 refugees have submitted asylum applications in 2019, and despite an initial drop in applications in 2020 due to the pandemic, COVID-19 claims for asylum in December 2020 hit a record high. The well-being of child refugees in Mexico is of particular concern.

Child Refugees in Mexico

People are arriving in Mexico from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela in search of safety, local integration, Mexican residency and a pathway to U.S. citizenship. In 2020, one in five refugees were children. With such alarming demographics, it has been essential for Mexico to address its overwhelming influx of asylum-seekers and find solutions to protect those vulnerable, especially children.

COVID-19 has heightened poverty among child migrants. Child refugees in Mexico are escaping forced recruitment, gang violence and crime that is a daily reality in their Central American countries. This has resulted in displacement, food scarcity and poverty. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of insecurity amongst these children have only increased, with about 5,000 children (60% unaccompanied) returning to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

COVID-19 has devastated children and families as extended lockdowns, school closures, stalled essential economic activities, neglected migrant reparations and rising violence has escalated vulnerability. Children seeking asylum are most affected by the virus due to the lack of access to safe water, sanitation and other essential services. Restricted access to international protection and regular migration pathways are other obstacles they are facing as they search for safety.

UNICEF has responded with efforts guided by the Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action that focus on providing 2.3 million children and their families, including children affected by human mobility,  protection from the exposure of COVID-19.

Trump Policy Endangers Child Refugees

Since the Trump administration’s 2019 Remain-in-Mexico program, 70,000 non-Mexican refugees have been waiting in asylum camps for their U.S. court hearings in northern Mexico. Within this group, 700 children have crossed the U.S. border alone as their parents wanted them to escape the terrible camp conditions and show themselves to U.S. border officials since unaccompanied minors cannot be returned to Mexico under U.S. policy and law.

CBS News reported that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been able to house all children who had left their parents in Mexico and 643 of them have been released to family members in the U.S. Although this is good news, the Justice Action Center has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its plan to deport children with circumstances like these, threatening their safety if they go back to their home country. The NGO, Human Rights First, has complied more than 1,300 reports of murder, rape, kidnapping, torture and assault against migrants returned by the U.S.

Mexico Enlists Reforms to Protect Child Refugees

As of November 2020, Mexico has approved reforms that apply to children in all migration contexts, accompanied or not. The reform will put an end to immigration detention centers for boys and girls and instead will be referred to alternative accommodation. It will also allow international protection and eligibility for temporary humanitarian visas to prevent deportation or return until the migrant child’s best interest can be resolved.

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is collaborating with associated government agencies, U.N. sister agencies and civil society organizations to certify that referral procedures and appropriate shelter capacity are arranged.

Mexico’s Solidarity Plants Seeds for Progress

For a country that has been overwhelmed by the influx of migrants desperately seeking asylum, Mexico has responded with compassion and an assertion to reform its immigration policy. This combined with other humanitarian efforts will provide monumental aid and help eradicate the suffering of child refugees in Mexico.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid in Nagorno-KarabakhNagorno-Karabakh is a region in the country Azerbaijan and is home to an Armenian majority. While the region is within Azerbaijan’s borders, Armenia has claimed the region for itself. The first intense conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region was in 1988 when the Soviet Union was nearing the end of its existence. Recently, conflict in the region began again in late September 2020 and lasted for about a  month until a ceasefire was brokered by Russia. Additional ceasefires were brought into fruition by France with the help of Russia and the United States. Despite the ceasefires, the conflict in the region is continuing. The fighting in the region has drastically impacted the civilian population of the region. This has in turn created a strong need for humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The European Union Assists

The European Union (EU) is actively providing aid to the civilian populace affected by the conflict and has done so since early October 2020. The initial amount of aid provided by the EU was €900,000. Then, in November, the EU commissioned an additional €3 million to the civilians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. According to the EU, this humanitarian aid will provide the necessary assistance that humanitarian organizations partnered with the EU need to carry out their duties. This includes providing food, winter clothing and medical assistance.

The United States’ Aid

The United States is also providing its share of financial assistance. In total, the United States has provided around $10 million in humanitarian assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan since the 2019 fiscal year. Of the $10 million, $5 million has been allocated to the International Committee of the Red Cross and similar humanitarian organizations to help civilians caught in the crossfire of the conflict. Assistance coming from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will also be used for humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh. The support these two institutions will be providing will come in the form of food, shelter and medical support for the people impacted by the conflict.

People in Need

There are also NGOs that have provided humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh as well. One organization, People in Need, has done just this. People in Need is an organization dedicated to providing immediate aid to countries should a natural disaster or war take place.

People in Need has provided support, not to Nagorno-Karabakh, but to the city of Goris in Armenia. People in Need directed its humanitarian aid to this Armenian city because many of the displaced civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh have gone there for refuge. The displaced people either move on or stay in the city. People in Need have been able to provide hygienic supplies to 1,200 displaced families in Goris. Additionally, People in Need have provided 480 children, 600 women and 110 seniors with their own individual hygienic kits. People in Need have also taken into consideration the psychosocial needs of children impacted by the conflict. To help these children, People in Need opened a child-friendly space in the city library where children can engage with other children and partake in other activities.

While the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh continues, international institutions, individual countries and humanitarian organizations are trying to provide all the support possible to help the civilians impacted by the conflict.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Afghanistan Afghanistan currently faces a large-scale human trafficking crisis that is rooted in centuries of abuse. Children and women are sold or kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery or armed forces. With the Afghani Government failing to properly protect victims and prosecute perpetrators, the U.S. Department of State and a network of NGOs are working to alleviate the problem.

The Systemic Issues

One of the major issues contributing to the human trafficking crisis within Afghanistan is the continued practice of bacha bazi, or “dancing boys”, in which sexual abuse against children is performed by adult men. Although technically illegal, the centuries-old custom has been proven hard to get rid of, with many government and security officials being complicit with its continuation.

The U.S. Department of State has declared Afghanistan Tier 3, the highest threat level, meaning that it does not meet the minimum requirements for combatting human trafficking and is not making a significant effort to do so.

This has a significant impact on Afghanistan because according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the United States will not provide nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related foreign assistance to a country that is ranked on Tier 3. According to the June 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, the use of child soldiers and bacha bazi has continued. Although there have been investigations and arrests made in an attempt to end bacha bazi, no police officers involved were prosecuted.

Addressing Human Trafficking in Afghanistan

The Afghani Government has shown efforts to end human trafficking within its borders. In 2019, it joined the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on a global initiative to stop human trafficking. This initiative aims to allocate resources to countries in the Middle East and Asia that need assistance in the battle against human trafficking.

USAID reported that in 2019,  Afghanistan increased the number of Child Protection Units within national police precincts, preventing the recruitment of 357 child soldiers. Furthermore, the National Child Protection Committee (NCPC) was created to respond to the practice of bacha bazi.

USAID has worked to assist the Afghani by training government officials to prosecute human traffickers and abusers as well as giving assistance to shelter workers that give legal and social resources to victims. It assisted in the creation of the Afghanistan Network in Combating Trafficking in Persons (ANCTIP), a network of Afghan NGOs that work with victims of human trafficking.

NGOs within the country have provided most of the assistance to victims of human trafficking. Approximately 27 women’s shelters in 20 provinces provided protection and care for female victims of trafficking. NGOs also operated two shelters for male victims under the age of 18.

Eradicating Human Trafficking

In order for Afghanistan to efficiently combat its human trafficking crisis and move to a lower tier level, Afghanistan needs to increase criminal investigations and prosecutions of suspected traffickers, especially in law enforcement and the military. Furthermore, traffickers must be convicted and adequately sentenced. This can be done by increasing the influence and powers of the NCPC and allowing the committee to remove public servants found practicing bacha bazi. Additional support from the country’s government must also be given to survivors of human trafficking. Only by rooting out the systemic abuse within the top institutions of the country can Afghanistan effectively address its human trafficking crisis.

– Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr

United States-Based Nonprofits Labeled by the United Nations as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, more than 80% of Yemen’s population is experiencing starvation, displacement and disease while the country is on an economic decline. The crisis began in 2015 due to a civil war, and since then, many organizations have stepped up to support the people of Yemen. A few of these organizations are United States-based nonprofits that are assisting those suffering. in Yemen.

CARE

During the aftermath of World War II, Arthur Ringland, Lincoln Clark and Wallace Campbell founded this organization. Today, it has worked in more than 100 countries and has assisted around 90 million people. Each year, CARE assists 3.4 million people in Yemen, specifically those who are experiencing the worst of the crisis. The assistance includes water, food and sanitation services. CARE also puts a lot of energy into reproductive healthcare by training healthcare workers to deliver babies safely and provide proper care. It is also working to rehabilitate maternity wards. Other long-term stability programs that CARE is working on in Yemen include food security, water sanitation, hygiene, economic empowerment for women and education. Even though the Yemen crisis started in 2015, CARE has been working in Yemen since 1992, working against poverty and for social justice.

Humanitarian Alliance for Yemen

In August of 2019, four United States-based nonprofits announced they would be creating an alliance, dedicated to battling the crisis in Yemen, called the Humanitarian Alliance for Yemen. The four nonprofit organizations part of this project are Project HOPE, MedGlobal, Pure Hands and United Mission for Relief and Development (UMR). Both Project HOPE and MedGlobal are organizations that focus on providing different forms of medical and healthcare to those in need, while Pure Hands’ focus is more on alleviating poverty and providing economic and disaster relief. Lastly, UMR is an organization that provides relief through food, education and economic security programs.

Led by MedGlobal, the team launched a medical mission in November of 2019. The people of Yemen have been suffering from many diseases and the purpose of this mission was to treat the diseases and other medical issues civilians are affected with. The alliance sent a team of 23 members who traveled to different parts of Yemen providing relief services including surgeries and medical training. It also sent supplies of medication and surgery and medical equipment to different healthcare facilities within Yemen.

The alliance continues to work in Yemen, most recently working against COVID-19 and the consequences it has brought.

International Rescue Committee

Founded by the suggestion of Albert Einstein, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been helping people since 1933. Throughout the years it has assisted refugees and others experiencing disaster and conflict, in places all over the world. The IRC has been working in Yemen since 2012, providing clean water and other aid. The IRC is still assisting Yemen to this day. Its work includes providing different kinds of healthcare through medications and disease treatment as well as sanitation, water and nutrition, to almost a quarter of a million people. It also focuses on women’s reproductive health care and protection from gender-based violence. The IRC has also been working to improve education access to millions of children.

A unique aspect of the IRC’s efforts in Yemen includes advocacy. It has called for a cease-fire, improved humanitarian access and brought the issue to the attention of the international community in an attempt to encourage peace.

Helping Hand for Relief and Development

Though it has only existed since 2005, Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) has provided many kinds of relief to millions of people all over the world. HHRD is not working directly with Yemen, but it has taken
part in assisting the refugees from Yemen. In 2017, thousands of Yemeni citizens fled their hometown to Djibouti, a country located near Yemen, in northeast Africa. HHRD created the Yemeni Refugee Relief Fund to assess the needs of the Yemeni refugees and gather more information on their situation.

HHRD also sent emergency relief items and began to implement long-term sanitation, water, healthcare and hygiene programs. The team also met with the Department of Refugees Affairs Director to discuss plans for refugee relief.

Foreign Aid to Yemen

While some of these United States-based nonprofits were founded due recent to global issues, others came into existence due to global issues from many decades ago. These combined humanitarian efforts provide significant hope for the people of Yemen by providing foreign aid to the most vulnerable.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

prosper africaAfrican markets claim six out of 10 of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Africa’s middle-class is likely to have an annual household consumption of $2 trillion before 2030, and by 2050, the U.N. predicts that Africa will be home to one-quarter of the world’s population. Prosper Africa is an initiative that strengthens U.S. investment in Africa.

US-Africa Ties

Nations such as Germany and China are competing for investments in Africa in preparation for its burgeoning role in the global economy. In the past 20 years, the United States has also attempted a number of initiatives to expand U.S.-Africa economic ties. Unfortunately, results have been modest because the focus has been on Africa as a foreign aid recipient rather than a strong future trading partner. However, Prosper Africa’s latest initiative, set to launch in 2021, offers hope for a more engaged economic partnership between the U.S. and Africa.

Prosper Africa

Prosper Africa was launched in December 2018 to “vastly accelerate” U.S.-Africa trade and investment through the coordination of 17 U.S. agencies and departments. This mutually beneficial endeavor not only opens market opportunities and grows Africa’s economic sustainability, but also protects the United States’ interests in the competition against other nations’ involvement in Africa.

Far from being a foreign aid program, Prosper Africa’s official website acts as a one-stop-shop for U.S. and African businesses and investors. It offers toolkits for African businesses and investors seeking to export or invest in the United States and vice versa for U.S. businesses and investors seeking to become involved in Africa. According to the website, Prosper Africa represents “a new way of doing business” through its portfolio of support services. To date, the initiative has serviced more than 280 deals valued at more than $22 billion. In keeping with its expanding ambitions, Prosper Africa’s budget request for the 2021 fiscal year rose from FY2020’s $50 million to $75 million.

Prosper Africa: 2021 Plans

On Nov. 17, 2020, USAID announced a new Prosper Africa trade and investment program for 2021. Valued at $500 million over five years, its goal is to expand Prosper Africa’s services. The four project objectives are increased trade, increased investment, improved business environment and providing support for USAID and Prosper Africa. A strong emphasis will be placed on private investment. By 2026, the program is expected to raise billions of dollars and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in both Africa and the United States.

It is still uncertain exactly what this program will look like. The program’s blueprints from Feb. 2020 describe its implementation approach fairly loosely. It aims to be flexible in shaping private sector demands concerning the facilitation and brokering of deals. Most of its transactions will take place directly through the firms and actors involved.

In addition to Prosper Africa’s website toolkits, local offices and trade hubs will provide further customizable services to align with the needs of different sectors. Some examples of services include investor matchmaking, transaction facilitation, targeted reforms and export support. Resource allocation will be determined by impact potential. Opportunities within the private sector will comprise the majority of activities and projects may be funded by grants or subcontracts. Throughout its services, Prosper Africa encourages African states to support economic transparency and rule of law.

Prosper Africa’s Chances of Success

Because Prosper Africa is effectively a harmonization of 17 U.S. agencies and departments, success largely comes down to effective cooperation. However, the initiative’s goals vary in difficulty. For example, Prosper Africa has already made impressive strides in streamlining its toolkits and providing specific U.S. services to aid transactions. However, more long-range goals, such as procedural reform and transparency, sector expansion, the rule of law and improving business environments may prove more challenging to achieve. However, from an economic standpoint, it is certainly encouraging to see Prosper Africa approach U.S.-Africa relations as an equal, viable trade partnership rather than merely an aid recipient.

Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr

Agent Orange Cleanup As the United States fought its campaign against North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, part of the military’s strategy included the deployment of Agent Orange, a chemical weapon used to defoliate jungles to expose enemy positions. The toxin was heavily used and has had disastrous health and environmental effects. Now, the United States is leading Agent Orange cleanup efforts in Vietnam. USAID is taking the charge to continue its environmental restoration efforts.

USAID’s Agent Orange Cleanup Commitment

In December 2020, USAID announced that it would commit to contributing an additional $20 million to cleaning up Agent Orange residue around the Bien Hoa Airbase, a major military base used by the United States during the Vietnam War. The airbase was used to store various types of munitions, including chemical weapons such as Agent Orange.

This adds to the $90 million that has already been committed to cleaning up the area around the Bien Hoa Airbase. Planning for the multi-year cleanup operation will be conducted by Trigon Associates, a woman-owned business based in Louisiana.

This recent contribution is part of USAID’s wider Environmental Remediation program, which seeks to decontaminate areas with high concentrations of residual Agent Orange throughout Vietnam. USAID has already completed a major decontamination project in Danang, which remediated 32.4 hectares between 2012 and 2018 at a cost of $110 million.

The current decontamination effort in Bien Hoa is set to last until 2030 and is projected to cost upwards of $183 million. According to USAID, Bien Hoa is the last remaining Agent Orange hotspot in Vietnam. These Agent Orange cleanup efforts are significant as they cleanse Vietnam of a chemical toxin that has been a source of much human and environmental suffering that has lingered for decades.

Agent Orange: Health Impact

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, exposure to Agent Orange is linked to Hodgkin’s disease, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s and prostate cancer, among other life-threatening illnesses. Its widespread use means that an untold number of both U.S. veterans and Vietnamese civilians were exposed to the toxin and are at risk of developing these conditions.

Agent Orange exposure has also been linked to birth defects in the children of those who have been exposed. An analysis by ProPublica indicated that the likelihood of having children born with birth defects was more than one-third higher for veterans exposed to Agent Orange versus those who were not.

In addition to causing the grave environmental harm of defoliation, Agent Orange has caused multi-generational human suffering. After spraying more than 20 million gallons of the defoliate over a period of 10 years between 1961 and 1971, the United States is now leading the campaign to clean up harmful residue and protect the people of Vietnam from further exposure.

International Partnership Between Old Foes

The fight against global poverty breaks down barriers and fosters closer ties between international partners, even ones that were once engaged in protracted conflict. Where the United States and Vietnam were once enemies, they are now cooperating in the Agent Orange cleanup, undoing the lingering effects of a brutal war and paving the way for mutually beneficial economic development.

– John Andrikos
Photo: Flickr

Demining Zimbabwe's National ParkLocated in southeast Zimbabwe, Gonarezhou National Park is home to 11,000 African elephants, which is how it earned its name as the “Place of Elephants.” Unfortunately, it is also the site of thousands of buried landmines. These landmines were placed by the Rhodesian army during Zimbabwe’s Liberation War and have remained there for more than 40 years. Although there have been efforts to remove these mines, they continue to be a constant threat to the people of Zimbabwe and local wildlife. Demining Zimbabwe’s national park will have several benefits for the country.

APOPO: Demining Efforts

The United States has provided a grant of $750,000 to the nonprofit APOPO to demine the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor, where a large portion of the undetonated landmines reside. The Sengwe Wildlife Corridor covers a stretch of land that connects the park to South Africa and is used regularly by migrating elephants.

The area that APOPO has been designated to work is one of the largest in the world: 37 kilometers lengthwise and 75 kilometers in width. With almost 6,000 landmines per kilometer, communities in the surrounding area are unable to access potential land for farming and endangered species are at constant risk.

The presence of the minefield prevents the elephant population of the park from migrating and potentially mixing with other elephant populations. This presents a long-term risk of limiting the already shrinking African elephant gene pool.

APOPO has established a five-year plan for demining Zimbabwe’s national park, expecting to remove all undetonated landmines from the area by 2025. It estimates that it will remove more than 15,000 landmines before the end of its operation in the corridor.

The nonprofit will be working in tandem with the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust to maintain that the process will not impede conservation goals for the park.

The project also complements USAID programs to support community-based natural resource management, provide climate-smart agricultural technologies and improve the value chain for communities to sell their products for a fair market price.

Poverty in Zimbabwe and COVID-19

Zimbabwe is currently facing severe economic hardships that have only worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 50% of Zimbabweans experienced food insecurity and 40% faced extreme poverty. This number is projected to increase as conditions worsen with the onset of the pandemic and severe droughts. Inflation in the country has been rampant, with prices of food increasing by 725%, resulting in a severe loss of purchasing power for the poor. The pandemic has impacted the already economically challenged country by decreasing trade and tourism.

Aiding Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe

The United States and APOPO hope that by clearing out the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor, ecotourism in Zimbabwe will begin to thrive. As it stands currently, only 8,000 tourists on average visit Gonarezhou National Park compared to the 1.8 million tourists that visit the neighboring Kruger National Park of South Africa. Demining Zimbabwe’s national park means providing an extended opportunity for increased tourism in the struggling country. The efforts of APOPO, with the support of the United States, may be able to help economic recovery, reduce the impact of the pandemic and uplift communities that are battling poverty.

-Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid in MozambiqueThe provision of foreign aid from the United States serves as a multifaceted solution and preventative measure to many issues that ultimately impact the United States. In assisting with the development of under-resourced countries and those afflicted by natural disasters and conflict, the country’s interest in strengthening U.S. eminence in the global political ecosystem is served, as is the initiative to foster and stabilize democracies that are essential in maintaining global peace. Mozambique is one such country that receives aid from the United States. Nearly half of the population lives in poverty and while having managed to combat that statistic with an annual decrease of 1%, the country continues to see rising levels of inequality. USAID’s 2019 assistance investment in Mozambique totaled $288 million. Foreign aid in Mozambique is being used in several key developmental areas.

Developing Education

A significant portion of U.S. foreign aid has been invested in providing basic education. This foreign aid in Mozambique has been applied in conjunction with the country’s national budgetary allocation of 15% for basic education. This initiative has led to improved access to education with the abolishment of enrollment fees, an investment in free textbooks, direct funding to schools and the construction of classrooms. With access to education improving, Mozambique now moves to focus on developing the quality of education it provides and extending the initiative of improving access to those who are in the early learning stage. Only 5% of children between the ages of 3 and 5 have access to such services. Moving forward, educational initiatives aim to focus on the improvement of teacher training, the retention of students (as only 8% continue onto secondary level) and optimizing the management and monitoring of education nationally.

Addressing Humanitarian Needs

A large part of foreign aid in Mozambique has been committed to battling humanitarian crises. Cabo Delgado is the northernmost province of the country and is experiencing an insurgency that is decimating its infrastructure and food security. As a result, there is an ongoing displacement of the population. In November 2020 alone, more than 14,300 displaced people arrived in the provincial capital Pemba. The World Food Programme estimates the cost of feeding internally displaced people in northern Mozambique to be at approximately $4.7 million per month, aside from the housing costs and the complexity of managing the crisis amid a global pandemic. This allocation of the country’s foreign aid will be vital in maintaining the wellbeing of people during the conflict and restoring the country’s infrastructure once the insurgency has subdued.

Improving the Health Sector

The bulk of foreign aid in Mozambique goes toward the many challenges the country faces with regard to health issues such as funding family planning, battling tuberculosis, maternal and child health as well as water and sanitation. More than $120 million goes toward this initiative but the most pressing of the issues is mitigating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 2014, Mozambique ranked eighth globally for HIV cases. With the support, antiretroviral therapy and testing has expanded, which is evidenced by more than a 40% drop in new cases since 2004. Additionally, with a sharp increase in the treatment of pregnant women who carry the virus, one study recorded a 73% drop in cases among newborns between 2011 and 2014. The executive director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, has claimed that the epidemic could be completely eradicated by 2030 if such a rate of progress continues.

The developmental progress in Mozambique is reflective of the substantial impact that foreign aid has on developing countries. As U.S. foreign aid to developing countries continues, the hope is for other well-positioned countries to follow suit.

– Christian Montemayor
Photo: Flickr

mexican avocadosMexico is the second-largest nation in Latin America with over 130 million residents. Mexico exports an abundance of fruits and vegetables but its number one export crop is avocados. Not too long ago, avocados were not the number one crop being exported from Mexico. Today, the economic impact of Mexican avocados has helped many people escape poverty.

Poverty in Mexico

According to the World Bank, in 2018 almost 42% of Mexicans lived in poverty, with the rural population being the most impacted. Moreover, around 62% of Mexican children make it to high school and only 45% graduate. To reduce poverty, Mexico has increased its social spending to help those in need. The Mexican government has implemented programs such as cash transfers, farmland subsidies, scholarships and subsidized medicine. These programs are put into place in the hope of reducing poverty in Mexico.

The Mexican state of Michoacan is one of the poorest in the country. A whole 46% of people in the state lived in poverty in 2018.  However, Michoacan is rich in agriculture. In fact, around 20% of the land is used for agriculture and the industry employs 34% of the population. Moreover, Michoacan’s most popular crop is the avocado.

The Avocado Industry Boom

Michoacan is the top producer of avocados not only for Mexico but for the entire world. Increased demand for avocados has created an economic boom in the country. Mexican avocados make up 82% of all U.S. avocado sales. Furthermore, Mexican avocados have created more than 30,000 U.S. jobs and have an economic output of $6.5 billion. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, avocado sales were flourishing.

The United States had banned the import of Mexican avocados in 1914 due to fears of insect infestation. In 1994, The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)  implemented between Mexico, Canada and the United States resulted in the ban being lifted. The agreement led to the free flow of Mexican avocados into the U.S. The company Avocados From Mexico (AFM) has sold 2.1 pounds of avocados in 2020 and expects 2.3 pounds to be sold in 2021. Mexican avocados have had such a great economic impact that they are called “green gold” by the locals.

Impact of Mexican Avocados

The increased demand for Mexican avocados has led to less migration of Mexicans into the United States. The competitive wages avocado farming has produced has meant many more Mexicans are willing to stay in their home country. The popularity of avocados has led to the creation of thousands of jobs in Mexico. Due to this fact, families do not feel the need to migrate to the United States for employment.

The demand for Mexican avocados has led to employment opportunities, less migration and closer economic ties to the United States. The Mexican avocado industry is playing a part in reducing global poverty.

– Andy Calderon Lanza
Photo: Flickr

Moral Obligations
While one may perceive this as a divergence from the norm – rather than focusing strictly on the factual reality of contemporary global poverty, this article will serve as a philosophical investigation into what is due and what others owe to those in need, and what the consequences are when others do not meet those moral obligations to those in need and leave duties unfulfilled.

The Borgen Project spoke with Dr. Zak Kopeikin, a philosophy lecturer at the University of Colorado Boulder (who is especially accredited in formal value theory and its applications), as well as the employment salient ethical arguments from Dr. Michael Huemer’s “Ethical Intuitionism” (2005).

Needs and Their Obligations

Without settling on a single school of thought (just yet), and without engaging with a single ethical maxim, the following statement should, regardless, ring true: there exist moral obligations. For example, a utilitarian might say “A moral obligation that all peoples have is a duty to the maximization of pleasure whenever possible” (defining “good” is out of the scope of this paper, so whatever intuitive conclusion there is on what “good” means will suffice). Similarly, a consequentialist might say that a moral obligation exists to do things that are, in their ultimate effect, good. These two schools of thought (in a very simplified form), with a contemporary inclusion of “care ethics,” will be the broad domain through which the main argument of this article will emerge.

An extrapolation of the above will occur for this, but the further exposition is necessary. It should, additionally, be obvious that there exist discreet and actual needs that people must meet to live a happy and fulfilling life (the implications, and definitions of which, should also be clear on an intuitive basis). What comes to mind, immediately for this latter point, is Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” and though relatively antiquated (and more theoretical than anything), it still serves as a useful foundation to which further arguments may be built upon.

The principle (as in first) of Maslow’s pyramid is Physiological Needs – that is, fundamental necessities without which life would be impossible. These include, but are not limited to, water, food, shelter, sleep and clothing. A step above the physiological is Safety Needs – security, employment, health and resources, etc. As with the nature of a pyramid, if a preceding foundation of it is missing constituents or is outright missing, the rest either collapses or remains incomplete.

What is Due

A nearly billion people in countries around the globe fight for these basic needs every day, without end. And with the unprecedented economic fallout of COVID-19, worries exist that this number will increase for the first time in nearly 20 years. There is, without a shadow of a doubt, a serious issue with an imbalance of wealth that exists globally – and though progress has occurred, and some have fulfilled duties, there has been recent controversy with cuts to the International Affairs Budget, involving minimal contributions to bolster foreign aid (only 1.5 billion in early 2020) in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. In comparison, in just five years, the U.S. defense budget increased by nearly $209 billion.

Needs, then, are undergoing threats, and communities that have just established a semblance of security may see vital means to those needs evaporate if nothing is done – in light of that, the question that emerges is, are people doing enough? It is easy to think about what others owe – perhaps not so easy to think of what is due. The conversation that usually dominates the discourse around humanitarian aid is one of reciprocity rather than moral obligations – especially in the context of the United States.

People throw around the terminology, or phraseology, of “investment,” quite a lot, which carries a weighty implication that whatever someone gives, another must return. Care ethics is applicable here – centrally, it states that human relationships and the care that that entails for either party is intrinsic to human beings and that more significance and virtue in these intrinsic relationships exists. To quote The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, another tenant of Care Ethics is as follows: “[Care Ethics] is [often] defined as a practice or virtue rather than a theory as such, “care” involves maintaining the world of, and meeting the needs of, ourself and others.”

What is Owed

The United States has been able to meet its needs and has met them for decades as one of the most developed nations in the world; the focus, now, must shift to those who have not, and continue to not, reap those rewards. The investment mindset is ultimately detrimental to the state of humanitarian aid – one needs to rephrase it as a conversation, not about reciprocity or what will occur later, for the United States, but what the amount of good the most powerful and wealthy nation on this planet can do – it is only right, a maximization of good, a fulfillment of duty and care, at no cost or detriment to the United States.

And while a debate on whether or not goodness, morality or things of that nature are subjective still exists, Dr. Michael Huemer, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, created a strong case against it in his book, “Ethical Intuitionism”: “[Cultural or individual relativists] cannot explain the intuition that the relevant person or group could have morally incorrect attitudes [towards certain matters of moral concern].” Moral obligations of extreme significance to the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people should not, nor ever be, a matter of debate; the consequences could be, ultimately, disastrous.

The Human Rights Watch

Fortunately, an expansive network of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs have dedicated themselves to humanitarian efforts over the span of decades: one that comes to mind is The Human Rights Watch. The Human Rights Watch (henceforth HRW) has spent the better part of 30 years educating the American public (and, in good part, the whole world) about human rights, and the violations of those rights that occur (with, historically, little justice).

The HRW employs dedicated individuals who devote themselves to fighting encroachments on basic human freedoms and has enjoyed much success in doing so – all for goodness sake; good for the virtue of good and nothing more (a tenant of virtue ethics, which is very much related to the constitution of human rights). The HRW has helped an innumerable amount of people – one can find a success story from nearly every country that the HRW had at least a part in manifesting. Its commitment and dedication to both action and education is inspiring to say the least and serves as an excellent example of what people ought to do – fight for an objective good without any expectation of return.

The time has passed for reciprocity and only moral obligations should exist; wealth gaps between countries, neighboring or otherwise with the United States, have surpassed even the slightest semblance of reasonability. The conversation must start anew on a fresh page – one that includes morality and practical ethics to maximize the wellbeing of the world’s people (and the good that engenders). Various organizations have dedicated themselves to these efforts, but more is necessary – and more is inclusive of every organization, governmental or otherwise, to work for a better world for the good of every single woman, man and child.

– Henry Comes-Pritchett
Photo: Flickr