housing solutions for the PhilippinesThe homeless population in the Philippines is a staggering 4.5 million, representing about 4% of the population. This number is expected to rise to 12 million by 2030 if no action takes place to address the issue. Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is where a significant portion of homeless Filipinos reside. For this reason, activists often center efforts around increasing housing solutions for the Filipinos in Manila. Hope in solving the housing crisis is rising as efforts begin introducing creative solutions to cater to the Philippines’ unique needs.

Bamboo Houses

EarthTech, an innovative development agency focused on sustainability, recognizes the Philippines’ housing problem as a crisis. EarthTech has proposed an affordable, sustainable and efficient solution: modular homes made out of bamboo. Unlike other housing solutions for the Philippines, CUBO Modular, the designer of the homes, prefabricates them off-site. This means that the homes can be put together on-site in just four hours. The engineered bamboo lasts up to 50 years and absorbs carbon rather than produces it. This makes bamboo a durable and environmentally friendly material.

Solar Paneled Homes

The Philippines has one of the highest household electricity rates in Southeast Asia, often creating a financial burden for low-income houses. Imperial Homes Corporation (IFC) has been tackling this problem through the development of “energy-efficient communities” like Via Verde Homes.

Via Verde houses consume about 25% less water and roughly 40% less energy in contrast to standard housing. IFC also installed solar panels on the roofs of all Via Verde Homes. The solar panels substantially cut down families’ electricity bills, allowing them to afford other essential needs. The IFC continues to work on building low-income, solar-paneled homes in the Metro Manila area. The innovative company has received international attention, winning the ASEAN Business Award for Green Technology in 2017.

Resistant Housing

The Philippines Archipelago experiences an average of 22 typhoons a year. Normally, five to nine of those typhoons cause serious damage. Typhoon Sisang in 1987 demolished more than 200,000 homes, after which the Department of Social Welfare and Development initiated the Core Shelter Housing Project. The Project teaches the Filipino community how to construct their own weather-resistant homes. The Project has created more than 41,000 low-cost houses for people whose homes have been destroyed by annual typhoons. Each home costs about $300 to build. Construction of the homes focuses on resistance, and when finished, can withstand typhoons up to 180 kph. Furthermore, the shelters are built with locally available materials such as concrete and steel. This makes the shelters one of the most ideal housing solutions for the Philippines.

Long-Lasting and Inclusive Urban Development

The Philippines Housing and Urban Coordinating Council, a governmental organization, released a statement addressing the growing homeless population in Manila and other cities in the Philippines. The Council stressed the need for community input regarding housing solutions in the Philippines. Bringing the community into the conversation means leaders can better understand the root problems that affect a particular area.

The Council would focus on long-lasting urban development, meaning permanent housing solutions rather than more temporary and unstable shelters. The statement also addressed the need for increased water and job availability. The Council believes this would holistically solve the Philippines’ housing crisis.

Advocacy and Sustainability

Habitat for Humanity runs a Habitat Young Leaders Build movement that mobilizes youth to speak out in support of homeless communities, build houses and raise funds for housing solutions. Habitat Philippines is advocating the Presidential Proclamations to implement tenure policies for informal settlers who reside in illegal, unused housing, making them vulnerable to losing shelter.

This organization, along with the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development, is in the process of implementing the New Urban Agenda into the development strategy of the Philippines. This Agenda is a document outlining standards and policies necessary for sustainable urban development. Thus, the implementation of the New Urban Agenda would provide the foundation for permanent housing solutions for the Philippines and other urban programs.

Moving Forward

In order to create permanent housing solutions for the Philippines, urban development that includes resources and programs to keep Filipinos out of homelessness and poverty is needed. Housing that is sustainable, resistant to natural disasters and affordable to purchase and maintain will ensure the basic right to shelter for many Filipinos.

– Sarah Eichstadt
Photo: Flickr

Urbanization and Economic Growth
Even though historians often believe that urbanization and economic growth have a close connection, many people in developing countries are moving into crowded cities while still living in poverty. Stronger infrastructure in such cities could help decrease poverty rates.

Cities Grow But Retain High Poverty Rates

Over the last few decades, the populations of many developing countries have shifted from overwhelmingly rural to increasingly urban. For example, the population of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has grown from 450,000 in 1940 to around 12 million in 2018. Similarly, Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, grew from 200,000 to nearly 20 million in just two generations. According to Forbes economist Daniel Runde, around 96% of all urbanization will occur in the developing world by the year 2030.

However, rapid urbanization in developing countries has not seemed to promote economic growth. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), sub-Saharan Africa currently suffers from negative per-capita income growth. As of 2014, approximately 55% of the sub-Saharan African urban population lived in slums, which the CSIS defines as informally constructed residences disconnected from city infrastructure and ill-prepared to face natural disasters.

Urbanization Used to Be a Sign of Wealth

Until recently, urbanization and economic growth have had a strong correlation. As the Roman Empire expanded in power and influence, its capital expanded in population accordingly. More recently, New York City welcomed its millionth resident in 1875, shortly after the industrial revolution had brought massive productivity to the surrounding farmland. In these cases, people moved to the city because they no longer needed to rely on subsistence farming to put food on the table. Those who stayed on the farms could transport their surplus crops to the cities, and those who moved to the cities used their newfound wealth to contribute to public utilities such as roads, sewage and fire departments.

Nowadays, due to the global economy and relative ease of long-distance transportation, people in developing countries do not necessarily see subsistence farming as the default. As a result, many are moving to these emerging megacities without the wealth to immediately benefit their communities. Cities such as Kinshasa in the DRC and Port-au-Prince in Haiti are now struggling with increased disease and crime, and many governments are not financially or logistically prepared to provide resources for all their residents. In these cases, the connection between urbanization and economic growth appears to have reversed.

Infrastructure Increases Urban Quality of Life

Even though many growing cities in the developing world are not attaining immediate prosperity, the mere presence of so many people in a concentrated area could soon result in economic growth and increased quality of life. Historically populous cities may have initially grown due to a baseline of wealth from nearby farmland, but the influx of people caused massive improvement in infrastructure, employment and professional cooperation. Presumably, the same could happen in the developing cities of the present.

The key factors holding back cities such as Kinshasa and Port-au-Prince from development are negative externalities such as disease, crime and famine, which typically result from poor infrastructure and government corruption. Notably, neither of those cities has a functional sewer system, and both have seen massive cholera outbreaks as a result.

Due to high poverty levels in both cities since their initial growth, public infrastructure may be more difficult to develop than it was in New York or London. However, even those cities’ development experienced stunting at times due to unsanitary conditions. For example, in London in 1854, 125 people died of cholera after drinking from a single contaminated well. Due to adequate public funding and stable institutions, the British government was able to mitigate this problem and make London a safer and more prosperous city.

Perhaps with some help and reform, the same could happen in Kinshasa, Port-au-Prince, Lagos and the rest. Investment in infrastructure projects in these cities could help create economic opportunities for their development and make urbanization and economic growth synonymous once again.

Sawyer Lachance
Photo: Flickr

Healtcare workers in BelarusBelarus’ health system is simultaneously advancing and posing challenges to its health personal. These challenges directly impact the quality and availability of medical services to Belarusian individuals. That said, current situations regarding the government and health sector could affect future outlooks both for patients and healthcare workers in Belarus.

Healthcare in Belarus

Belarus offers universal healthcare. This means that most of its population can access many free health services. In fact, citizens of neighboring countries like Russia seek Belarusian medical care because of its affordability. This is just one way Belarus’ health industry is supportive. Over the past decade, many beneficial healthcare feats happened through the efforts of the government and medical workers. The country met Millennium Goals in 2013, per the World Health Organization (WHO), by lowering maternal and child mortality rates. It implemented new technologies and health institutions and built the first long-term care facility for people with chronic illness and disability in 2015. Furthermore, the health sector achieved positive outcomes with addressing HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and child immunizations.

Clearly, without healthcare workers in Belarus, none of this growth would be possible. For example, Belarus had some of the highest numbers of physicians and nurses access to the population compared to other post-Soviet countries, according to a WHO report. It also cited a surplus of nursing students assisting patients. Incentives for health institutions to increase highly trained staff ensure more medical development and career advancements. Though such incentives display Belarus’ value of qualified medical personal and although they are present and enacting medical progress, there are considerable obstacles in the livelihoods of many in the health system.

Challenges Healthcare Workers Face

Many health workers from Belarus migrate to Russia to work. Little opportunity for professional advancement, inadequate workplace conditions, poor infrastructure in rural regions and low wages are the main factors driving away medical staff. Belarusian medical workers were increasingly moving from rural to urban regions in 2013, a concern for rural populations. This movement prompted the government to implement compulsory placements in rural populations for some personal to ease rural shortages.

Rural shortages of healthcare workers in Belarus naturally produce spottiness in medical coverage in many regions. Former Health Minister Vasil Zharko stated various cities did not have 30-40% of needed medical staff in 2015. Resultantly, many were not able to attain a doctor’s appointment due to a lack of qualified doctors and wait times for medical equipment spanned months.

To combat higher concentrations of health staff in large cities and lower concentrations in rural areas, benefits and accommodations are offered as incentives to rural Belarusian health workers. Benefits and accommodations are likely welcome given the low salaries of Belarusian medical staff. Health workers in Poland earned three times as much as Belarusian counterparts in 2015 and many worked 1.5 full-time jobs to earn money.

Current and Future Realities

These achievements and challenges in Belarus’ health system shape reality for all working within it. Accordingly, various current events shape their future. COVID-19’s emergence into the country did not immediately bring significant change. President Aleksandr Lukashenko initially opted not to impose restrictions against the virus. Furthermore, he claimed it could be treated by trips to the sauna and vodka. This plus his political actions regarding the 2020 election angered many, inciting protests against his presidency and policies. Medical workers were not exempt from this.

In late 2020 in Minsk, Belarus, many participated in the March of Pensioners and Healthcare Workers every Monday. They marched for President Lukashenko’s removal, a transparent election and the release of political prisoners. Another response from health personnel occurred in August 2020, when health workers and others organized at the Ministry of Health to speak with Health Minister Vladimir Karanik. Additionally, many advocated on social media for doctors to go on strike. Health staff likely participated in these events hoping to change the country’s political and health-centered futures for themselves and their patients. Current circumstances indicate the future might already be getting better.

Looking Forward

In 2021 healthcare spending in Belarus will sit at around 4.6% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), increasing over the last five years. The government plans to add to funding to keep raising salaries. The government decided to raise the standard salary rate, beginning with raising the salaries of those with low wages. Furthermore, it increased spending on scholarships and allowances in health in 2021. Considering health workers’ calls for political shifts and an increase in monetary support for Belarusian medical personal in the immediate future, it is safe to say that greater prioritization and change is on the horizon in the lives of healthcare workers in Belarus.

– Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Affordable Housing In IndiaIndia is among the world’s poorest countries, with more than two-thirds of its residents living in extreme poverty. Recently, however, a changing economy centered around industrialization has prompted many rural residents to move to urban areas of the region. The interregional migration has led to an accumulation of slums and poor villages on the outskirts of cities. The problem prompts a powerful need for affordable housing in India. In recent years, new organizations have begun to answer this call with unique responses to alleviate the problem.

3 Ways India is Implementing Affordable Housing

  1. Big bank support for finances: One of the major banks leading this movement, the National Housing Bank of India, extends housing loans to low-income households. This allows for affordable housing at the lowest level while also expanding the Indian housing market. The bank’s project has positively impacted 15,000 households across 17 states in India, including households primarily managed by women. The expanded access to these loans is not the only aspect of this plan. Higher loans are also given out to poorer people to ensure that housing transactions are faster and more effective. These loans also help invest in important infrastructures like schools, temples and communal facilities.
  2. Government home-building initiatives: Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has launched a “housing for all” campaign since his election. The urban focus of the plan pledges to build more than 12 million houses by the year 2022. Although only 3.2 million urban homes have come to fruition so far, more funding to continue the project is on the way. These efforts ensure that 40% of India’s population, now living in urban areas like Mumbai, has access to cheaper apartment buildings. The new housing spaces target a variety of people, including first-time buyers, older individuals and those aspiring to move to urban areas, a demographic that largely includes impoverished communities.
  3. Targeting traditional real estate developers: In addition to building affordable housing, the Indian Government is also taking steps to target real estate members who generally focus their efforts on higher-end living spaces. To combat this practice, the government gives more incentives for interest rates on middle-to-low class homes. Many major real estate companies only switched to marketing affordable housing (as late as 2018) after the introduction of these benefits. This trickle-down effect experienced in the real estate sector will in turn fuel the industry. In other words, it has a multiplied effect on India’s economy. The shift in the country’s housing market will make India a $5 trillion economy by 2025.

Affordable Housing Means Less Poverty

The combination of nongovernmental and governmental support in India is rapidly leading to positive changes in the country. The future of affordable housing in the region is on track to provide commodities to millions of people. With increased funding and more initiatives, India is a leading example of how affordable housing can raise standards of living and boost the economy, essentially alleviating poverty.

– Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Urban Farming Can Help Reduce Poverty

The United Nations reports that over 2.5 billion people live in urban areas today and the rate of urbanization is only accelerating. By 2025, it is estimated that 3.5 billion people will live in urban areas, nearly half of the world’s population. People’s way of life is changing and the way people access their food also needs to adapt, which is where urban farming comes in. Urban farming can help reduce poverty in addition to an array of other benefits.

Challenges of Urbanization

Historically, moving to a city has been associated with increased opportunity and wealth, driven by more and better jobs and the promise of upward momentum and a better life. Today, the reality of urbanization is much different. Urbanization in low-income countries is growing exponentially and marked by poverty, unemployment and food insecurity. Many people move to the city from rural areas to escape over-population, violence, disease and hunger. As a direct result of this, about one billion people live in urban slums without access to sanitization, clean water or enough food or work. To survive, many people have resorted to growing their own food wherever they can. This is known as urban agriculture or urban farming and in many places, it is becoming the front line of food production.

What is Urban Farming?

Urban farming is a local food system of growing plants and raising livestock in and around cities, as opposed to traditional rural areas. Today, 800 million people around the world rely on urban agriculture for access to fresh, healthy foods. Urban agriculture is versatile, allowing for different crops to be grown. This provides urban communities with direct access and control over nutritious and locally-produced food, which creates jobs and boosts the local economy. Urban farming is also good for the environment and positively impacts household food security. All of these factors result in poverty reduction, which helps quickly developing urban areas.

Financial Incentives

Urban agriculture requires workers to harvest, care for, sell and maintain crops and animals. This has a huge impact on families struggling to find employment by creating jobs and supporting livelihoods. Additionally, it makes fresh food cheaper, allowing people in low-income areas access to affordable produce. Urban farming can help reduce poverty because when more people have jobs and are able to buy, it fuels the economy, creating even more opportunities. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) sees how important urban agriculture is in poverty reduction efforts and has helped over 20 city governments implement multidisciplinary actions to optimize policies, financial incentives and training programs to low-income farmers in order to “improve horticultural production systems.”

Environmental Benefits

Cities, especially highly populated ones, face many environmental challenges. These may include lack of greenspace, heat capture, pollution, lack of biodiversity and poor air quality. Urban farming can reduce the negative effects of these concerns. By decreasing carbon dioxide in the air, providing environments for different species to thrive and decreasing the environmentally costly process of importing food from other places, urban agriculture is environmentally beneficial.

Success Stories

Across the world, urban farming is helping people and seeing success in many communities. RotterZwam, located in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is a “circular system” mushroom farming operation that uses coffee grounds used by local businesses to fertilize the plants. The facility itself is solar-powered and delivers products with electric cars. Another organization based out of London, England, uses the same circular system method. Called GrowUp Urban Farms, the farm grows crops and farms fish simultaneously by utilizing their symbiotic relationship. Both farms are good for the environment and jobs and are also booming local businesses.

Overall, urban farming can help reduce poverty in a number of important ways. It improves local economies by stimulating commerce and creating jobs, helps the environment and provides healthy, affordable food to local communities.

– Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Urban Gardening
If one walks around major world cities today, they might see that an underutilized parking lot or sidewalk has become a lush, green garden. In dense, overcrowded cities around the world, local citizens are taking control of their nutrition and choosing urban gardening over the grocery store.

What is Urban Gardening?

Urban gardening,  or alternatively “urban agriculture” or “urban farming,” is an umbrella term for “the process of growing plants of all types and varieties in an urban environment.” In this niche agricultural field, a variety of techniques, such as container gardening, indoor gardening, community gardening and even “guerilla gardening” — a term for the process of taking over abandoned city structures or roads and creating gardens in their place — have arisen. Now, with 32 of the world’s cities hosting populations over 10 million, urban agriculture is a widespread trend across the globe.

Urban gardening is not a new concept, however. Even though the world’s population continues to grow at a rate higher than at any previous point in history, one can find evidence of urban farming in the world’s first big “city,” Mesopotamia, in 3500 B.C. Farmers in this ancient civilization “set aside plots in their growing cities,” laying the foundation for today’s urban agriculture.

The Reason Urban Agriculture is Important

So, why is urban gardening an attractive idea? To put it simply, it has a ton of benefits. In addition, life in the big city is not always as promising as some sometimes make out to be, especially in developing countries. In fact, “rapid urbanization is increasingly shifting the impacts of malnutrition from rural to urban areas” in low-income countries.

However, many migrants in developing countries are choosing cities due to “persistently high levels of rural poverty.” This creates a paradox in that “much urban poverty is created by the rural poor’s efforts to get out of poverty by moving to cities.” For example, in the case of sub-Saharan Africa, rapid urbanization and an annual 4% urban population increase are toppling governments’ abilities to sustain the urban populations. This has created a massive housing backlog of 51 million units in Africa and widespread urban poverty due to overcrowding and a lack of resources. In many developing cities, the demand far outweighs the supply.

Many factors contribute to why people in low-income nations are moving, including “distorted government policies, such as penalizing the agriculture sector and neglecting rural (social and physical) infrastructure.” In addition, many rural areas are simply uninhabitable. For example, 95% of the population in Egypt lives in a lush area around the Nile River that represents only 5% of the country’s total land. The rest of the country is desert.

Just as this overpopulation strains developmental resources in big cities, it also strains food and agriculture. Because 96% of the population growth through 2030 will occur in urban areas, this expansion is likely to seriously harm many of the world’s farmlands. Many low-income nations will likely bear the brunt of this agricultural depletion as well, as projections have determined that more than 80% of global cropland loss will come from Africa and Asia.

How Urban Gardening is Helping Big Cities in the Developing World

Urban gardening reduces the strain on natural resources in cities that overpopulation and crowding have hurt. Doubling as a mechanism of empowerment, urban gardening can involve anybody who wants to take their livelihood into their own hands. The benefits to impoverished communities are plentiful:

  1. Urban gardening takes away environmental strain. Because overpopulation places so much stress on the natural environment, including agriculture and water, small-scale urban gardening projects can reduce the environmental harm of mass production. In addition to the vast amounts of water used on major outdoor farms (which can easily just evaporate and go to waste in hotter climates), another issue is that mass transportation to grocery stores burns large amounts of fuel. Food transportation itself is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions because a great deal of produce now moves across longer distances (even requiring air travel in many cases). Furthermore, produce loses key vitamins and minerals through lengthy transportation. Thus, growing food locally ensures freshness from soil to plate.
  2. Urban gardening is often cheaper than buying food. Living in big cities is expensive, putting a vast amount of financial stress on low socioeconomic classes. In addition, malnutrition and obesity from cheap fatty foods and fast foods are a major problem in the developing world. Oftentimes, impoverished people cannot afford fresh produce and healthy food due to their higher prices. However, creating an individual garden is both cost-effective and healthier.
  3. Urban gardening can be year-round. One of the most beneficial components of urban gardening is the ability to create an indoor garden. Indoor gardening does not need to be expensive, either; simply using old food containers to grow your seeds and having a source of light and water is all you need. In addition, hydroponic gardening uses about 90% less water than traditional farming. Herbivore Farms, “Mumbai’s first hyperlocal, hydroponic” urban gardening company, has perfected the indoor gardening method on a large scale, delivering fresh, pesticide-free produce to customers across Mumbai. In addition, the company’s process uses 80% less water than outdoor farming due to its recirculating irrigation system.
  4. Urban gardening bonds communities. Aside from scientific and health benefits, gardening also bonds communities when members of a neighborhood or family build a garden together. Guerilla gardening also beautifies areas of cities, making people’s local areas more habitable and welcoming.

In a 2013 TED Talk, Ron Finley, founder of the Green Grounds urban gardening organization in South Central LA, said, “Food is the problem and food is the solution.” Urbanization in the developing world is not going to stop anytime soon. However, urban farming is a hopeful and promising contender as the next best solution to poverty around the world.

Grace Ganz
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poverty in Gabon
For many citizens of the nation of Gabon, living on less than $2 a day is a harsh reality, with a third of the population living below the poverty line. However, this affliction of poverty in Gabon sharply contrasts the economic success of wealthier citizens, showcasing significant inequality within the country.

Economic Successes and Failures

Gabon had a GDP per capita of over $7,600 as of 2019, the fourth-highest on the continent. Oil is by far the top industry in Gabon; as a small African country on the Atlantic Ocean, 80% of its exports are based on oil production, along with 45% of its GDP.  However, some consider this dependence on the abundant supply of oil to be more of a curse than a blessing, as fluctuations in prices have the potential to significantly damage the Gabon economy. Additionally, oil dependence has also contributed to inequality, with only 20% of the population holding around 90% of the wealth in the nation. Gabon has done little to expand economic possibilities in spite of these effects, leaving approximately 400,000 people unable to find work and reinforcing the affliction of poverty.

Urbanization

Urbanization is incredibly high in Gabon, with more than half of the population living in two cities, Libreville and Port Gentil. In the overcrowded slums of Libreville, Gabon’s capital and largest city, many immigrant workers and local Gabonese live in absolute poverty. Thousands of people in Gabon’s urban areas do not have reliable sources of food or proper means of sanitation.

A positive for those living in the urban areas of Gabon is that clean drinking water is readily available: more than 97% of citizens living in cities have access. In rural areas, however, the percentage drops to less than 68%. Gabon’s government is working to make clean drinking water accessible throughout the country. In 2018, the African Development Bank granted Gabon a fund of $96.95 million to improve the water deficit in Libreville by expanding the drinking water infrastructure into the greater Libreville area and other municipalities.

Lack of Infrastructure

Lack of developed infrastructure in rural areas has been a crippling issue. Most of the country’s roads are unpaved and impassable during the rainy season. The postal system is a nightmare for businesses trying to move products and raw materials around Gabon. To combat issues like these, Bechtel, an American engineering company, agreed to a partnership with Gabon in 2010, to complete projects improving transportation, housing, education, medical facilities and water and waste management. After six years of work, the partners agreed to extend the partnership with an additional $25 billion. The project will build 17 schools capable of housing 15,000 children, provide 64,000 homes with clean energy and repair roads and railroads, among other improvements. This modernization effort could prove revolutionary for industries in Gabon as well as the country’s poor. At the very least, this overhaul is bringing jobs to a population in desperate need, as the project hired much of its workforce locally.

In recent years, there have been great strides toward repairing Gabon’s economic issues. Reducing poverty in Gabon by diversifying the economy and repairing infrastructure both seem to be successful initiatives. With plans in place to modernize the country, prosperity could be on the horizon for the less fortunate citizens of Gabon.

Matthew Beach
Photo: Flickr

South Korea’s Banjihas
South Korea, a country located in East Asia, has a population of almost 52 million residents. Since the 1960s, South Korea has grown economically, shifting from a poor agrarian society to one of the most industrialized nations in the world. However, there is still a division gap between the rich and the poor.

While the economic growth has rapidly expanded urban areas, like Seoul and Pusan, which promoted the construction of apartments, poor people still live in semi-basement homes called Banjiha.

What are Banjihas?

Banjihas are semi-basement apartments that exist throughout South Korea. Typically, young people end up living in these lower-rent apartments while climbing the work ladder. In addition, lower-class citizens often live in these homes.

South Korea’s Banjihas initially emerged to protect the citizens from the war with North Korea in 1953 by acting as bunkers. The law required these bunkers during this era. Due to the bunker-style construction, South Korea’s Banjihas are roughly five to seven steps below the street level. As time went by, South Korea eased construction laws and permitted Banjihas to act as actual homes after the 1980 housing crisis. These converted bunkers only allow minimal light from a small window; due to the underground nature and minimal airflow, there is often mold in these tiny spaces.

The film “Parasite” by Bong Joon-ho illustrates life in South Korea’s Banjihas and demonstrates the wealth disparity throughout the nation. It portrays the struggles of lower-class life in Banjihas, while the upper class lives in luxurious mansions.

According to the BBC, South Korea’s Banjihas are inexpensive housing options starting from 540,000 won ($453 U.S.). Typically, the minimum monthly wage of a person in South Korea starts at 1.8 million won ($1,500), making Banjihas smart financial decisions. Banjihas exist as homes for almost 364,000 families in South Korea, accounting for 1.9% of the nation, according to a 2015 survey by the Korean Statistical Information Services.

Living in Banjihas

Haebangchon is one of the oldest neighborhoods in South Seoul; the neighborhood used to be a shooting field for the 20th division of the Japanese Army. With time, it became the epicenter for refugees and home to non-citizens from all parts of the world.

With the diversity that Haebangchon, also known as the Liberation Village, brings, new shops and restaurants pop all the time. New flavors and experiences from unknown parts of the world are available for consumers.

However, a decent amount of the population in Haebangchon still lives in Banjihas. The converted bunkers carry a stigma in that people immediately consider those living in Banjihas as poor. Bong stated at the Cannes Festival that a “Banjiha is a space with a peculiar connotation… It’s undeniably underground, and yet [you] want to believe it’s above ground.”

South Korea’s Banjihas not only represent a state of poverty, but they also represent the substantial social divide in South Korea. The higher a person lives in an apartment building, the higher social status that people add to that individual’s persona.

The tiny space takes on a distinct smell from the dampness and mold. That smell tends to linger within the walls, floors, bedding sheets and even clothing. One can compare South Korea’s Banjihas to Favelas in Brazil and cage homes in Hong Kong. Further, Banjihas are the most affected spaces during floods because of the low level. Sewage will clog and add to the stench throughout the home.

In a Los Angeles Times article, South Korean poet Shin-Hyum-rim wrote a poem about living in a Banjiha titled “The Happiness of Banjiha Alice,” alluding to Alice’s emotions while in Wonderland. This poem effectively outlines how tolling desperation and stress can be on a person’s psyche.

The Good News

Although 62% of South Korea’s Banjihas exist in Seoul, the number of this type of housing is declining. Since South Korea enacted a law in 2003 requiring park spacing, the building of Banjihas has become almost impossible. Additionally, there has been a growing rush for urban redevelopment and the country is tearing down old buildings.

According to a census from Statistics Korea, the number of semi-basement homes in South Korea accounted for only 1.9% in 2015 in comparison to 3.69% in 2005.

Further, there are several non-governmental organizations, such as the Federation for Evicted People of Seoul (FEPS) and the Korean National Association of the Urban poor, that are focusing on helping low-income areas with housing difficulties. These NGOs work to secure housing and advocate for tenants who the government has evicted.

Interestingly, the younger generations are bringing change to life in South Korea’s Banjihas. When looking up #Banjiha on social media, many young people living in the apartments are reinventing what living in a Banjiha looks like. Many of these younger individuals are aiming to end the impoverished stigma around living in Banjihas.

Even though this is not the reality for many who struggle financially, both young and old citizens of South Korea are fighting for a better life, in hopes that with new construction laws and with the cooperation of NGOs and their government, South Korea’s Banjihas will be a symbolic memory of the past.

Merlina San Nicolás Leyva
Photo: Flickr

Tourism in Bhutan
The curious case of Bhutan has puzzled social and economic scholars for decades. In 1972, the king of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, declared that Gross National Happiness (GNH) was more important than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is the first and only country in the world to use GNH as a measure of socio-economic development rather than GDP. Bhutan conducts measurements by evaluating nine domains.

Nine Domains of Gross National Happiness:

  • Psychological Well-being
  • Health
  • Education
  • Time Use
  • Cultural Diversity and Resilience
  • Good Governance
  • Community Vitality
  • Living Standards
  • Ecological Diversity and Resilience

The last domain listed above (Ecological Diversity and Resilience) has been the cornerstone of Bhutanese Buddhist ideology for centuries. As such, the Bhutanese government has devoted a large portion of its policy agenda toward the conservation of native wildlife. It is the only country in Asia to have over 50 percent of its natural land guaranteed preservation at all times under its constitution. However, with the recent democratization of the country in 2007 and the subsequent onset of globalization, the young generation that makes up over 60 percent of the population would rather “spend time in front of televisions… instead of at the Buddhist temples or in the forests.”

Youth and Urbanization

The more technological interests of the new generation have sparked concern among the traditional older generation in Bhutan. The youth are moving to the cities in droves and will likely live their lives more disconnected from nature and religion than previous generations. As of 2017, 48.7 percent of the population born in rural areas had migrated to cities in search of education, jobs and a more modern lifestyle. Most of these domestic migrants are between the ages of 25 and 29.

Some expect more rapid urbanization to take place due to this large and sudden influx of people to Bhutanese cities. If the rate of movement remains consistent, Bhutan will have to more than double the amount of land available for urban expansion to have adequate housing to accommodate the influx. Along with housing, Bhutan will also have to expand sanitation facilities, electrical infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, public transit and education facilities. These are factors that many Southeast Asian countries have struggled to expand sustainably. However, this does not mean that environmental factors will become obsolete in order to make these developments.

 Tourism in Bhutan

Tourism is one of Bhutan’s largest industries and it is still growing. According to the Bhutan Tourism Monitor from 2016 to 2017, the country experienced a 22 percent growth in tourist arrivals. Tourism generally sparks an increase in globalization in countries that have largely disconnected from international developments, such as modernization, especially among the youth. As tourism ramps up, cities begin to develop more to entice and accommodate additional tourists. This also creates more jobs and draws in domestic migrants from the countryside, just as Bhutan is experiencing now. However, the cities are not the only attraction for tourists. Tourism in Bhutan consists mainly of ecotourism – people want to experience the beauty of Bhutan’s preserved countryside. Tourism in Bhutan is prompting greater urbanization and interest in modern amenities among the youth; however, it also emphasizes the importance of environmental preservation to Bhutan’s economy.

 Improvements in Rural Communities 

Bhutan has implemented the Remote Rural Communities Development Project (RRCDP) in order to lessen the negative impacts of the youth’s migration to cities. This project “promotes the increase of agricultural productivity development of communities’ access to markets, irrigation, agricultural technologies and community infrastructure” in Bhutan’s six most remote districts. Completed in May 2018, this project has provided roads to communities that have never had them before. The roads give these communities better access to health facilities, schools and markets. Farmers are now able to use trucks to transport their goods rather than walking for days to the nearest market. This development has also contributed to the empowerment of women as a byproduct. Some women, who have never been able to make a single-day trip to the market, are even learning how to drive.

Placing greater importance on the accessibility of rural communities may be a solution to the drain of the countryside. By providing access to more modern comforts like roads and markets, the youth may be less hasty to move to the city. Greater access to these communities also helps tourism in Bhutan and creates more jobs in the countryside. The country is building more retreats and farms are expanding the variety of crops. Nonprofits like the World Wildlife Fund are working with the Bhutanese government to better fund advertising for tourism in Bhutan and make it easier for tourists to access the countryside.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Pixabay

Urbanization in Nepal
Nepal is located in South Asia with a population of roughly 29 million people. It is currently one of the 10 least urbanized countries in the world with approximately less than 20 percent of the nation being urbanized. However, at the same time, it is also one of the 10 fastest urbanizing countries not only in the Asia Pacific region but in the world. Here are six quick facts about urbanization in Nepal over recent years.

6 Facts About Urbanization in Nepal

  1. A natural population increase is one of the primary reasons for the gradual transition from rural to urbanization. Natural population increase occurs when the infant mortality rate decreases and when people bear more healthy children. It can also occur as more people move from small villages to bigger cities.

  2. People in predominantly rural countries, such as Nepal, are choosing to move to more urban areas for many different reasons. For example, wars may force many to move to places with better access to food, water and shelter for the safety of themselves and their families.

  3. Towns and rural areas in Nepal are seeing urbanization increase between 5 and 7 percent each year. This is even more than the country’s capital, Kathmandu, with a 4 percent increase every year, and Pokhara, with a growing urbanization rate of 5 percent per year.

  4. The most populated urban region of the country is Kathmandu Valley, consisting of 24 percent of Nepal’s urban population. In addition, Kathmandu Metropolitan City consists of 9.7 percent of the urban population.

  5. There are three classifications of ecological regions in Nepal. Of them, the hill region has the highest percentage of urbanization at 21.7 percent, followed by the Terai region at 15.1 percent and the mountain region at 2.8 percent.

  6. While the push for urbanization comes with benefits in efforts to create a higher standard of living for people, it is not without challenges. For example, slums populate many urban cities, which have very low-quality living conditions. Overcrowding, limited sanitation and limited access to clean water cause these poor conditions. This results in people having to use open sewers to use the bathroom, leading to other issues.

With urbanization becoming a more common trend worldwide, it can be easy to understand why the concept is appealing to many people who are from traditionally urban nations such as Nepal. The push to urbanize developing nations has positive intentions to not only help the individual citizens but to build countries’ economies so they can be a world power. However, it is also imperative that the country makes efforts to ensure that its citizens in more urbanized regions have access to adequate living conditions, as the act of urbanization alone does not guarantee this.

As demonstrated, many cities, such as the ones that have been recently urbanized in Nepal, lack clean sewage, acceptable air quality and proper shelter. In order to create a prosperous metropolis where Nepalese people can enjoy a high quality of life, people must take all these factors into account.

– A. O’Shea
Photo: Pixabay