Topics covering about USAID

International COVID-19 Relief
While COVID-19 relief policies have provided much needed economic support to the American people, Congress has passed several international COVID-19 relief measures as well. These relief packages have provided various resources, from supplying healthcare commodities to funding research vaccine development. These packages assist foreign nations in preparing for and responding to the novel coronavirus 2019.

International COVID-19 Relief Efforts

As the virus has developed, Congress has approved several measures to respond to the outbreak and assist the international community. In early March 2020, the first of these measures allocated $1.25 billion in supplemental funding to the International Affairs Budget. Later in the month, Congress allocated $220 million more in international resources, followed by a third supplemental of $1.12 billion. Finally, in early July 2020, Congress allocated nearly $10 billion in emergency funding for COVID-19 relief.

In total, Congress has allocated nearly $12 billion to respond to the needs of the international community and fight against the reversal of decades of poverty reduction work. The funds have had a broad effect, reaching nearly all regions of the global community.

Africa

The United States’ response to COVID-19 in Africa has been extensive. However, the country’s partnership with UNICEF in Senegal highlights just how much of a difference international funding makes. Through financial support, USAID has partnered with UNICEF in training over 500 community health workers, constructing just under 500 hand-washing stands and distributing over 2000 hand-washing kits. In total, the funding has supported the disinfectant measures of over 400 schools, 1,800 houses and 1,400 health structures.

Asia

Perhaps no Asian nation has benefited more from international COVID-19 relief than Nepal. As part of USAID’s Sahara project, the organization has “assisted nearly 400 municipalities in locating areas at heightened risk of COVID-19 transmission, screening migrant returnees for COVID-19 symptoms, and coordinating relief efforts related to the disease outbreak.” The program has assisted nearly 7,500 households in finding medical assistance. It has also supplied over 1 million families with counseling on sanitation practices over the phone and reached nearly 3.6 million people via social media.

Europe and Eurasia

One of the most severely affected European nations, Italy is an excellent display of the effectiveness of international COVID-19 relief. According to USAID’s website, the “U.S. support includes $50 million in health, humanitarian, and economic assistance implemented by USAID to bolster Italy’s response to COVID-19.” To be most effective, USAID has both paired up with non-governmental organizations to supplement its efforts and the Italian government in order to provide health commodities.

Latin America and the Caribbean

USAID has been extremely active in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly in Haiti. Through financial support, the organization has been able to provide Haiti with health commodities. USAID has also trained nurses to assist in testing, which is critical for an efficient response to the virus. According to its website, USAID has “assisted with the sampling and testing of more than 2,600 people since the beginning of May.”

The Middle East and North Africa

The nation of Tunisia provides one of the most compelling examples of the effectiveness of international aid in the Middle East and North Africa. Along with UNICEF, USAID helped provide sanitation kits to schools, daycares and health care facilities. Their efforts reached nearly 100 facilities. The organization also granted $6 million to support frontline workers and aid in a national campaign to spread awareness and prevent a second wave.

As COVD-19 has unfolded, the United States has made several contributions to aid the global community. These examples highlight a few of the many ways that the international response has made a difference in nations worldwide.

– Michael Messina
Photo: Pexels

End Tuberculosis Now Act
Kosovo is a country in southeastern Europe that declared independence from Serbia in February 2008. It is Europe’s youngest nation, but also one of its smallest and poorest. Kosovo ranks 137th in the world for GDP per capita and the country’s overall budget is just above $2 billion. Despite the fact that Tuberculosis (TB) is a completely preventable, treatable and curable airborne infection, the virus continues to spread throughout developing nations—including Kosovo—killing more people per year than any other infectious disease. The End Tuberculosis Now Act seeks to address this silent pandemic by refocusing U.S. efforts towards effective TB prevention and treatment in Kosovo and other developing countries. Neither the House nor Senate has held a vote on the End Tuberculosis Now Act since its introduction in August 2019. Kosovo demonstrates the importance of this act and why Congress needs to address it.

Kosovo’s Tuberculosis Rates

Among its neighbors in southeastern Europe, Kosovo has one of the highest TB infection rates, trailing only Moldova and Romania. From 1999 to 2006, total TB cases in Kosovo were declining. This progress has since stopped, with infection rates plateauing at the rate they were in 2006. A limited budget has severely hampered Kosovo’s efforts to combat and eradicate TB.

Kosovo’s insufficient health system is one reason behind the country’s spread of TB. A majority of Kosovo’s residents are dissatisfied with their health service. In addition, the nation’s top health authority is not responsible for contact tracing, testing, treatment or any other method that people use to combat TB. Instead, non-governmental organizations have received this responsibility, resulting in a lack of central planning. The End Tuberculosis Now Act would refocus USAID efforts on TB prevention and treatment in developing nations like Kosovo, providing a unified example of how to properly stop the spread and financially support affected individuals.

Kosovo and COVID-19

For some of the same reasons it struggles with TB, Kosovo is also struggling to stop the spread of COVID-19. Compared to its neighbors, the country’s pandemic response is falling short. Kosovo is much smaller than Albania, Montenegro and Greece, but has many more COVID-19 cases and deaths than these nations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the aforementioned weaknesses in Kosovo’s healthcare system. For example, temporary medical facilities built to increase the nation’s hospital capacity have not been properly set up to prevent COVID-19 transmission between healthcare workers and infected patients.

No matter how valiant Kosovo’s efforts to combat COVID-19 are, the country is ultimately limited by its $2 billion yearly budget. The same is true when it comes to their fight against TB. Kosovo simply lacks the capital to properly test, treat and prevent the spread of both COVID-19 and TB. The End Tuberculosis Now Act will give developing nations like Kosovo a better chance of defeating TB while teaching them how to tackle similar pandemics.

Putting the Tuberculosis Fight on Hold

As the COVID-19 pandemic takes center stage, the fight against TB has been put on hold across the world. Despite this, TB has continued its spread. Approximately 80% of worldwide programs to combat the disease have experienced disruptions in their supply chains since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manufacturers of TB tests have pivoted to developing COVID-19 tests, reducing the overall availability of TB testing. This means massive drops in diagnosing TB. In one year, an infected individual can spread the virus to 15 people, making the diagnostic process extremely important. As testing capacities decrease, TB will continue its spread unabated in developing nations. Kosovo was already struggling to contain TB before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could now get much worse. The End Tuberculosis Now Act is a critical component in increasing testing capacities in Kosovo to combat the spread of TB.

More Important Than Ever

TB is a preventable and treatable disease, yet it continues to kill more people worldwide than any other infectious disease. The End Tuberculosis Now Act would increase investments in TB prevention and treatment measures while saving countless lives in developing nations like Kosovo.

Furthermore, the bill would ensure that nations and non-governmental organizations receiving aid from USAID would stand by their commitments to eradicate TB. This refocusing of aid would provide the World Health Organization and the Stop TB Partnership with more resources to fulfill their missions.

Moving Forward

Kosovo’s continued fight against TB demonstrates the importance of the End Tuberculosis Now Act. The bill, introduced in August 2019, would save lives in developing nations and help combat a completely preventable and treatable disease. Congress must pass this bill to increase the quality of life for the world’s poor and help eradicate TB in developing nations.

Marcus Lawniczak
Photo: Flickr

Bangladesh eradicates poverty through flooding
Bangladesh, along with many other South Asian countries, is prone to flooding and increasing rainfall. For years, Bangladesh has suffered from one of the harshest torrential rains in the world. However, this year the country has experienced the worst of its effects. These torrential rainfalls lead to flooding in Bangladesh and this, in turn, has an adverse effect on poverty levels.

Monsoon Season in Bangladesh

In many cases, monsoon season in Bangladesh typically starts in June and can last for months, as situations worsen. According to satellite data, at least 24% of the land in Bangladesh lies submerged underwater, due to the rapid inundations. This environmental crisis affects at least 4.7 million people and most of them lose their houses and utilities. Specifically, people living along the Brahmaputra river are deprived of basic human necessities, such as food and shelter. This is because of the increased flooding this year, alone. For example, Tajul Isam, a local sharecropper, had to find creative ways to protect himself from the overflows of the Brahmaputra River, such as building bamboo sheds.

Assessing the Damage

Many officials claim the source of the floods is a result of the rampant rainfalls this past year. Through the analysis from a combination of satellites, many scientists also predict that Bangladesh will experience its longest flooding season since 1988. Again, this due to the recent, recurrent rainfalls. More than 1,200 kilometers of farmland is damaged, along with approximately 1.5 million houses affected. At least 100 people have died, either from waterborne diseases or drowning from the overflow of rivers, such as the Himalayas river and the Brahmaputra river. Fifteen districts are predicted to be affected by the rising water levels from other rivers — specifically the Padma, Ganges and Jamuna rivers.

Response to One of the Worst Monsoon Seasons in Bangladesh

Bangladesh and many others are initiating protocols in providing disaster relief funds and resources for the areas most affected by the monsoon season. The Humanitarian Coordination Task Team (HCCT) strategized plans to rehabilitate some of these damaged lands and provide people with resources. For example, they are currently transporting 14,000 tons of rice to over 33 districts. Additionally, they are giving over $870,000 for expenditures such as food, farming equipment and housing grants. Along with the expenditures — 50,000 farmers will receive $450,000 for tools such as fertilizers and seeds to compensate for their damaged farmland.

On top of the HCTT Response Plan, many other organizations are also taking charge to help victims of the flooding in Bangladesh. For example, the Need Assessment Working Group (NAWP) and the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) have provided at least 1,086 flood shelters to families. Specifically, these shelters went to those who lost their homes in the district of Jamalpur. Overall, however, the Start Fund Bangladesh — with the help of USAID and U.K. support — raised over $1 million to provide disaster relief in districts such as Kurigram, Gaibandha and Siraganji.

Although the government has issued many responses, smaller projects have also pursued action towards the recovery of damaged areas in Bangladesh. In particular, Friendship Organization has provided services and resources in impoverished areas— one of which is Bangladesh. As of now, they have had over 400 volunteers and 200 staff members assist in the emergency response for the monsoon season in Bangladesh. Additionally, flood shelters were provided for over 8,800 people through Friendship’s built schools and villages.

A Bright Outlook

Bangladesh has suffered through much environmental damage due to its drastic weather conditions. Nonetheless, many actors are pressing forward to ensure the safety of vulnerable communities. With the help of the Bangladeshi government and many NGO projects, Bangladesh will more than likely recover and replenish the resources that it desperately needs.

Aishwarya Thiyagarajan
Photo: Flickr

International Law and Global Poverty
To understand the relationship between international law and global poverty, it is important to first acknowledge which laws are relevant. Among others, these include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides the right to life; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which provides the right to social protection, an adequate standard of living and access to food, health and education; and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to an education.

Philip Alston, the former Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, states that poverty is a political choice that countries make. There is a clear relationship between poverty and failure to fulfill basic human rights. Some indicators of poverty that are relevant to international rights laws and standards include primary school enrollment, nutritional indicators, life expectancy and disease.

Is a Rights-Based Approach Better?

The World Bank indexes poverty rates across countries using the International Poverty Line (IPL). A wide range of institutions use the IPL — including the U.N. — and is based on an absolute line that is well below the national poverty line of some countries. According to Alston, this leads to less than optimal progress and a false perspective of the state of global poverty.

Low-income individuals can rise above the IPL that the World Bank established yet continue to face barriers in accessing basic human rights, which suggests a need for an alternative approach to addressing poverty. David Woodward, a British economist, developed one such alternative, which he claims resolves the problems inherent to the World Bank’s measurement and the wider way in which poverty is addressed. His alternative, termed the Rights-Based Poverty Line (RBPL), recognizes the relationship between income, poverty, and economic and social rights, which are enshrined in international law.

A rights-based approach to poverty eradication garners support across a wide range of international organizations. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights directly references poverty as the gravest impediment to the fulfillment of human rights globally. The Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Development Programme establishes that a rights-based approach can result in a higher degree of effectiveness due to the legal obligations for states to ensure those rights. The United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural organization maintains that poverty eradication will only occur when poverty receives acknowledgment as a violation of human rights.

Leveraging International Law to Eradicate Poverty

COVID-19 represents a serious challenge to the eradication of global poverty; however, it may also provide an opportunity for utilizing a rights-based approach. Estimates determine that the global population of people who will fall into poverty will increase by 8% as a result of the economic shocks that the pandemic brought on. Other figures estimate an additional 70 million people could fall into extreme poverty due to the impact of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has lifted the veil shrouding the vast social inequalities present in the world. The poorest margins of society that the pandemic most heavily impacted, in terms of both vulnerabilities to the virus and economic consequences. This is the result of socioeconomic inequalities and discrimination faced by those living in poverty. One example is a lack of adequate housing, which leads to a higher risk of contracting the virus because of either cramped living spaces or a lack of adequate water and sanitation.

Given the links between international law and poverty, a rights-based approach may be a suitable option for the global COVID-19 response. Most countries’ current COVID-19 responses fail to adequately protect the rights of those living in poverty. Discriminatory social protection policies are widespread, in direct violation of international rights standards. For instance, food assistance in Uganda is only reaching an estimated 17% of the population living in poverty, thanks to exclusionary policies mandating that assistance goes to specified urban areas. Meanwhile, a recently proposed emergency stimulus bill completely circumvents the 80% of Nigerian workers who are employed in the informal sector, providing support only for those in the formal sector.

The Human Rights Watch provides recommendations for overcoming these shortcomings through the implementation of a rights-based approach. At the government level, there is a need to ensure social protection, access to adequate living and health, among other rights. In terms of international assistance, there is a need to uphold human rights standards through the allocation of funds in favor of socioeconomic programs, minimum basic incomes, adequate housing protections and fiscal policies relating to poverty and inequality.

In Conclusion

Current U.S. policy regarding foreign assistance relating to the COVID-19 response does not detail a rights-based approach. However, USAID’s Feed the Future has adapted its programs to the pandemic, supporting the right to food and alleviating hunger. A number of international organizations and experts suggest that a rights-based approach will be the most effective means of integrating international law and global poverty to protect lives around the world, especially in the face of COVID-19.

Leah Bordlee
Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in MadagascarMadagascar is an island located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of South Africa. Established as an independent country in 1960, Madagascar is known for its diverse culture of French, Indian, Chinese and Arabic influences, along with many others. The island is home to about 27 million people. The majority of these people are currently living in extreme poverty in Madagascar.

Poverty Rates in Madagascar

According to the World Bank, 75% of people in Madagascar are estimated to be living on less than $1.90 per day as of 2019. This number has decreased since the last official statistic in 2012 (when 77.6% were living in poverty in Madagascar). Still, this remains one of the highest poverty rates in the world. For comparison, in the U.S., 1.2% of people lived on $1.90 or less per day in 2016. According to data from 2015, 10% of the world’s population lives on $1.90 or less per day.

Additionally, in Madagascar, approximately 85% of homes do not have access to electricity. Almost one-half of children in Madagascar are likely to experience stunting as a result of undernutrition. One in 16 children dies before the age of five. As an island, Madagascar is at a high risk of natural disasters and climate change effects, experiencing an average of three natural disasters per year. These are responsible for approximately $400 million in damages.

Georgette Raharimalala is a Malagasy mother to three in Betafo, Madagascar. On average, women in Madagascar have five children. Raharimalala, known as Zety, primarily makes her money by working in the fields in her village with her children, buying and reselling peanuts and occasionally gardening where she can find space on her small property. “Life is very hard,” she said. “As soon as we make a bit of money, we buy food.”

However, poverty in Madagascar continues to improve. There are many programs in place to provide economic assistance to low-income countries like Madagascar.

World Bank’s IDA Program Helps the Economy

Zety is eligible for financial assistance from the International Development Association (IDA) on a bi-monthly basis. The IDA is part of the World Bank, which distributes loans and grants to 74 of the world’s poorest countries. The bank aims to improve local economies, reduce inequalities and improve living situations. This IDA program requires Zety to take her children to the wellness center in her village for a checkup once a month to ensure they are properly nourished. She also learns how to cook and provide proper diets for her children. Children in families receiving financial assistance must also be enrolled in (and remain in) school. As a result of the IDA program:

  • 1.3 million children have had access to free healthcare
  • 347 healthcare centers have been refurbished
  • Over 700,000 mothers and children have improved nutrition

The Support of the US

In addition to programs like the IDA, the United States supports Madagascar on its own. In fact, the U.S. is the largest donor country to Madagascar. It has provided foreign aid in the following areas to help reduce poverty in Madagascar:

  • Food: The U.S. was the largest donor of food following the severe drought on the island.
  • Development: The U.S. provides aid in areas that USAID refers to as “WASH,” or water, sanitation and health.
  • Biodiversity Conservation: Madagascar is known for its incredible diversity and has more unique species than the entirety of Africa, which U.S. aid supports.

The U.S. has dedicated $109.91 million to Madagascar for the year 2020, a small percentage of its total foreign aid budget.

While the struggle for basic healthcare, education and income is still prominent for many Malagasy citizens, conditions are continuing to improve for people like Zety and her children due to a combination of national and international policy and aid efforts. Though there is always room for improvement, poverty in Madagascar is being reduced and fewer are living with less than $1.90 per day.

Sydney Bazilian
Photo: Unsplash

Brazil’s Covid-19 Response
As the largest nation in South America and also one of the poorest, Brazil remains vulnerable to the health and socioeconomic implications of COVID-19. With 55 million of it’s 210 million citizens living in poverty and 85% living in urban areas, international support for Brazil’s COVID-19 response is particularly important. In just four months, nearly 2 million people contracted the disease, resulting in over 72,000 deaths.

The proportion of Brazilians covered by family health teams increased from 17.4% in 2000 to 63.7% in 2015. However, the low doctor-to-patient ratio of only 0.02% and the stagnant 8.4% expenditure of the GDP on healthcare contribute to many Brazilians lacking access to treatment. This issue has only been exacerbated by the additional strain the pandemic has placed on the healthcare system. As of July 15, the U.S. Department of State and USAID have directed $1.5 billion towards the global COVID-19 response. Of that, USAID is supporting Brazil’s COVID-19 response with $12.5 million.

How USAID is Supporting Brazil’s COVID-19 Response

  1. Ventilators: In May, the U.S. committed to delivering 1,000 ventilators to the people of Brazil. These machines, ranging in price from $5,000 to $50,000, will save Brazil millions of dollars in healthcare-related equipment expenditures as the spread of COVID-19 continues. The novel virus attacks the body’s respiratory system, often causing difficulty breathing or respiratory failure. USAID is improving Brazil’s COVID-19 response with these life-saving machines. The aid will ensure that hospitals do not turn away patients due to a shortage of medical supplies.While ventilators do not stop the spread of COVID-19, they are helping some of the sickest Brazilian patients recover. A New England Journal of Medicine study found that 50% of COVID-19 patients who require a ventilator eventually die from the disease. However, patients spend an average of 10 days on a ventilator. This means that if 1,000 new ventilators are available in Brazil, in three months of use, 4,500 people who would have died without a ventilator will likely survive.
  2. Hygiene and Sanitization: By May, the CDC had provided $3 million in Brazilian COVID-19 response funding. The funds are used to improve data collection in order to identify cases, contact trace and pinpoint areas of high transmission rates. On May 29, when new cases were steadily increasing, USAID announced it would provide $6 million in assistance to Brazil. Part of this funding was directed towards improved sanitation and hygiene in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Brazil is now able to better distribute government-subsidized masks, hand sanitizer and other hygiene-related materials. As a result, the country has more effectively controlled the spread of COVID-19 and has not experienced a record high daily case influx since June.
  3. Food and Water: In March, Brazil’s unemployment rate rose to 12.6% from an average of 12% in 2019. The jump left approximately 5 million more Brazilians unemployed at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. With the heightened financial crisis, many of the 38 million once-employed Brazilians lost their jobs and in turn lost the purchasing power to feed their families. As part of the United States’ July commitment to provide $1.5 billion in foreign aid relief for COVID-19, $20 million has been directed towards food and water aid. It is uncertain how much of the money will fund hunger relief within Brazil’s COVID-19 response. Nevertheless, the United States’ step to dedicate funding for food and water provides some hope for Brazilians facing hunger.
  4. Refugee and Vulnerable Populations: In addition to the growing prevalence of poverty and unemployment in Brazil, the estimated 253,500 Venezuelan migrants and refugees within Brazil are struggling. Fortunately, these Venezuelans, who flooded Brazil at the highest rate in South America, have access to hospital treatment. Though, a lack of financial opportunity during COVID-19 has created disproportionate homelessness and hunger for the refugees. In response, USAID is providing over $12.4 million to support two NGOs in Brazil. These NGOs provide emergency shelter, food and nutritional assistance exclusively to vulnerable populations within Brazil. Such populations include low-income and rural residents in the Amazonian region and Venezuelan migrants.
  5. Grants and Incentives for the Private Sector: USAID is also improving Brazil’s COVID-19 response by creating incentives for private sector involvement. In May, $75,000 in grants were issued to former Brazilian USG exchange program participants to fund 40 COVID-19 relief projects. These grassroots projects work to educate Brazilian communities about the pandemic. The efforts dispel misinformation about the virus and address the socioeconomic implications of it, such as increased rates of domestic violence during the quarantine. USAID has mobilized a small population of the private sector in Brazil, strengthening the effects of the over $40 million in Brazilian COVID-19 relief derived from the United States’ domestic private sector.

USAID, along with the CDC and the U.S. Department of State, is improving Brazil’s COVID-19 response by financially prioritizing medical intervention, mitigation efforts, humanitarian aid and education regarding the virus. Although COVID-19 remains an issue, the nation is better equipped with tools to slow the spread of the virus and handle any negative effects of it.

Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Flickr


The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations oversees all foreign policy legislation and foreign aid programs in the United States Senate. It is one of the essential parts of the government in terms of shaping foreign policy. The influence of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations played an instrumental role in such historical legislation as the Marshall Plan in 1948, which provided economic aid to Western Europe in the aftermath of World War II. Its corresponding committee in the House of Representatives is the Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Committee on Foreign Relations currently has 22 members, including chairman Jim Risch, a Republican Senator for Idaho. Here are six facts about this key U.S. Senate committee.

6 Facts About the Influence of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

  1. It has a subcommittee that oversees the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). One of the seven subcommittees of this Senate Committee is the Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, International Operations and Bilateral International Development. USAID is the leading government agency that administers foreign aid for socioeconomic development and disaster relief to nations worldwide, making it one of the most critical organizations in reducing global poverty. This subcommittee reviews the budget and oversees the general operations of USAID and the State Department. It can guide the ways that USAID uses its funding. Therefore, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ influence has a significant impact on the U.S.’s distribution of foreign aid.
  2. It is one of the oldest Senate committees. Congress created committees in 1816, establishing 10 standing committees in the Senate. Out of these original 10, only three still exist—the Committee on Finance, the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Foreign Relations. The influence of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has helped shape foreign policy for nearly the U.S.’s entire history.
  3. It approved the Global Poverty Act of 2007. The Global Poverty Act required the president to create and implement a comprehensive strategy to reduce poverty around the world. The plan would also have to address extreme poverty, including reducing the proportion of people who live on less than $1 a day. The committee approved this bill, but it never received a vote in the Senate, and therefore the bill never passed. This demonstrates the limits of the committee’s influence.
  4. It has many influential senators as members. A wide range of famous Republican and Democrat senators have served on the committee. Currently, its membership includes Republic Mitt Romney of Utah, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas and Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey. Joe Biden served as chair of the committee for several years during the 2000s, including when the committee approved the Global Poverty Act. High-profile senators such as these, who are famous on a national level, bring publicity to the committee, which can increase the Senate committee’s influence.
  5. Some members have introduced legislation to increase funding for the international response to COVID-19. In early May 2020, eight Democrat senators from the Committee on Foreign Relations introduced the COVID-19 International Response and Recovery Act. This legislation would provide $9 billion in funding to help the U.S. lead international efforts to contain the pandemic. These senators, led by ranking committee member Bob Menendez, believe that the U.S. needs to do more to work with other governments and international organizations to stop the spread of COVID-19.
  6. The chairman and other members have introduced legislation to investigate international institutions. In early May 2020, chairman Risch and four other Republican senators from the committee proposed the Multilateral Aid Review Act of 2020. This bill would create a task force to investigate and create a report on 38 multilateral institutions that receive aid from the U.S. The institutions include the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The task force would report how well each of these organizations performs their missions and serves the U.S. and global interests.

Many factors and institutions shape the foreign policy of the United States. Throughout the U.S.’s history, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has affected how the country has interacted with the rest of the world. The ideology of its members can significantly impact the issues the Senate Committee and subcommittees focus on, where specific funding goes and what legislation is introduced into Congress. The influence of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations affects the U.S. and many international agencies, proving its significant importance in the fight to reduce global poverty.

– Gabriel Guerin
Photo: Pixabay

Understanding Economic Institutions in Yemen
The lack of formal economic institutions in Yemen solidifies the nation’s position as one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and in the world. Its violent civil war largely prevents the development of economic structures and impedes infrastructure improvement. Furthermore, conflict with Houthi rebels, the insurgency group opposing the Yemeni military, destabilized Yemen’s crucial hydrocarbon exports. This has significantly damaged government revenue and forced a broad suspension of fundamental public services. Consequently, the economic structures that are present in Yemen remain informal and underdeveloped.

Politics, War and the Economy

Since March of 2015, 100,000 Yemenis have died, and indiscriminate Saudi aerial bombing caused most of the civilian deaths. Interference from the U.S. and the U.K. by supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia exacerbates the poor economic circumstances. Mass causalities and civil unrest have run rampant.

During the civil war, the Houthis seized the opportunity for profit maximization through illegal methods to solidify their regional occupation. Opportunities arose in the most informal economic institution: the black market. Arms manufacturing, food smuggling, consumer goods and drugs, human trafficking and military leaders pocketing troops’ salaries and food allowances all contribute to Yemen’s economic instability.

Future economic prospects depend on the political situation in Yemen. While the past few years have shown some optimistic growth, a recent surge of violence by the Houthis in the temporary capital of Aden puts further stress on the fragile macroeconomic circumstances. Predictions for the next two years determine that the economy will grow between 2% to 2.5% annually, yet these rates are far below what is necessary for the reconstruction and human development.

A Resource Crisis

The domestic turmoil that the Houthi insurrection propagated prevents Yemen from gaining control over its own resource sector. Prior to the civil conflict’s escalation in 2014, 25% of Yemen’s GDP and 65% of government revenue came from oil and gas. On the other hand, Yemenis rely heavily on foreign trade; approximately 90% of the population’s food is imported. However, the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY), one of the many fragmented state institutions, had to disrupt foreign exchange for necessary imports and public sector salaries. This has led to high inflation and has worsened the humanitarian crisis, both of which facilitate the deterioration of robust economic institutions in Yemen.

Economic instability causes the nation to rely on financial assistance from neighboring Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, its resource bank of oil and gas production nearly stopped at the outbreak of civil war in 2015. In late 2018, Yemen’s economy gave an indication of stabilization as the GDP growth neared positive, a stark contrast from the economic loss of 40% that occurred between 2014 and 2017. While the oil and gas industry has seen production increases, the destruction since the conflict began continues to leave many Yemenis without a stable income. The U.N. estimates that 55% of the entire Yemeni workforce has lost employment since the beginning of the civil war.

Aid and Hope for Yemen

Yemen depends on the United States, specifically USAID, to work with local and international partners to reconstruct social and economic institutions. However, providing humanitarian assistance is simply not enough to propel Yemen’s development. To address the nation’s structural macroeconomic issues, USAID created the Yemen Economic Stabilization and Support (YESS) program in July 2019. The technical assistance that it provides to the CBY-Aden is to better manage the financial sector and assist cash-flow conditions by fortifying the bank’s critical functions, such as managing currency and foreign exchange operations.

One can find a glimmer of hope for Yemen in YESS’s success in streamlining customs and commercial trade. Between October 2018 and March 2019, shipment inspections fell from 100% to 70%, and customs processing reduced from five to two days. The Trusted Trader Program at the Yemen Customs Authority further enriched this progress. The inspection rate may be a critical indicator for development, as it implicates fewer barriers to citizens receiving humanitarian aid.

Today, economic instability remains a defining factor in Yemen’s overall underdevelopment. Widespread damage to infrastructure due to the war stresses the currency exchange rate, accelerates inflation and limits food and fuel imports. Most of the labor force works in agriculture and herding – a key indicator of an underdeveloped economy – while construction, commerce and other industries make up less than 25% of total employment. To avoid remaining economically underdeveloped and escape poverty, it is essential that Yemen strengthen its central bank, reclaim resource control and address its liquidity crisis.

Frankie Gaynor
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Tanzania
The percentage of Tanzania’s population living on about $1.90 per day remains at 49.1% as of 2017, according to data from The World Bank. President Benjamin W Mkapa commented on the state of poverty in 2004 stating that ‘‘… the poor must be brought from the margins into the mainstream. The process must be inclusive. The weakest economies and communities need special and differentiated help.’’ President Mkapa shared his thoughts on including everyone in the process for universal aid and healthcare in Tanzania, which stretches from the cities to the rural agricultural communities. His words echoed the thousands of people living in extreme poverty where, like most other countries, their healthcare quality is dependent on wealth, status, location and transportation.

Effects of Poor Healthcare in the Poorest Communities

Masuma Mamdani and Maggie Bangser wrote a literary review in 2004 titled Poor People’s Experiences of Health Services in Tanzania, where they discussed the effects of poor quality of healthcare in Tanzania. Sexual and reproductive health was a major focus, especially with the implications it has for poor women in the region. ‘‘Many [poor women] cannot afford transport costs so they sell their food, borrow, use herbs or just wait to die,” a healthcare worker shared from Mpwapwa.

According to Mamdani and Bangser’s literary review, key barriers to the poor in this region include:

  • The availability of drugs and medicines
  • The shortage of qualified personnel
  • Distance and transport issues
  • Charges
  • Governance

The government has written out and implemented a number of policies, but the issue of inaccessible healthcare for the poorest of the population is still prominent. Today, the United States is working in conjunction with the Tanzanian government to address a multitude of healthcare issues with USAID. For example, the strengthening of Tanzania’s own health system is imperative through supplies, more healthcare workers and supporting finances; but these efforts mostly concentrate within major cities and areas of high population density.

History of Healthcare Legislation

Since the East African country of Tanzania gained independence from Britain in 1961, there have been many ups and downs in the fight for healthcare for all citizens. The Arusha Declaration of 1967 moved towards the nationalization of public services, including medical, but ultimately failed due to economic decline. As the population rose and poverty levels increased through the years, especially in rural communities, even the numerous improvements in health services could barely keep up with the demand.

Healthcare in Tanzania today still does not receive enough funding and is nearly inaccessible outside of major cities. The funds directed towards the health sector have declined from 9.6% in 2014 to 7% in 2018, and the investments do not meet the estimated minimum requirement to guarantee basic health services to the population. There are a number of privatized health care options along with four main insurance programs available to the public, but even so, a large number of the population does not have insurance due to the high costs.

To combat this disparity, Tanzania enacted a Health Sector Strategic Plan from 2015-2020 to gain quality improvement in healthcare, provide equitable access to all and to achieve active community partnership. The Tanzanian government had implemented its fourth strategic plan, building on previously stated actions meaning to expand coverage of health insurance and extend quality health services to the poorer regions. For example, one of the core strategic objectives target the improvement of quality health services through ensuring essential services, a quality rating system, providing adequate staffing, performance management systems and more.

Independent Initiatives in Tanzania

Besides the government legislation that is currently in place and making changes, other independent NGO initiatives are making a difference for healthcare in Tanzania as well. An American initiative, Roads To Life, has dedicated itself to building and improving medical facilities in the Nkololo village, along with constructing roads and funding education. This nonprofit serves a primarily agricultural area with a population of 22,000, addressing the need for quality medical services outside of major cities and transport improvements between towns and regions. Roads To Life has also expanded and renewed the Songambele Health Center, which emerged in 1994. It can now treat up to 560 patients and has a new surgical center. After the addition of new operating suites which opened in 2016, there have been 149 surgical procedures. These new technologies and resources are vital to the health of Nkolo community members, who often had to go to the District Hospital for emergency procedures which was an hour away.

The combination of service and community makes all of the difference in healthcare in Tanzania. Influence from these discussed governmental and independent initiatives is still spreading throughout the country and there is still more work for the country to accomplish in terms of sexual and reproductive health. The efforts that Tanzania has put forth towards universal healthcare and providing quality medical services in more locations is a great push in the right direction to fight the effects of poverty in the poorest regions of this country.

– Savannah Gardner
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in KazakhstanPoverty in Kazakhstan compares to what small businesses around the world face now that COVID-19 has changed the game. Kazakhstan is not a developing country. It is not a top player in the international market either. It is somewhere in between. And with the new and confusing world that we live in now, Kazakhstan is going to have a difficult time maintaining its good trade relations.

Kazakhstan is Like a Small Business

COVID-19 has thrown the plight of small businesses around the world into the spotlight. Now more than ever people are realizing the struggle of small businesses to stay afloat during a pandemic among other larger businesses. Poverty in Kazakhstan is like a small business. It has been making headway in the global market, but now that the pandemic has hit, its economy will struggle to stay afloat among the other major players in the world economy, an economy that goes under spells with poverty in Kazakhstan for many of its citizens. With the GDP per capita increased by a factor of six, poverty in Kazakhstan has decreased. But, this upward trend may not hold if the pandemic continues to restrict the country’s international trade. According to the Asian Development Bank, Kazakhstan’s poverty rate is 4.2%.

The U.S.–Kazakhstan Relations

Trade relationships and federal direct investments are a key part of success for small countries like Kazakhstan. The U.S.–Kazakhstan relations have been thriving in past years, having signed the U.S.–Kazakhstan Bilateral Investment Treaty and the Treaty on the Avoidance of Dual Taxation. And this has improved Kazakhstan’s economy tremendously; in 2006, Kazakhstan became a part of the upper-middle-income bracket instead of the lower-middle-income bracket. Trade makes up 60.6% of Kazakhstan’s GDP. Federal direct investments allow for the country to focus on its largest economic contributors: mining and manufacturing.

A major country recognizing a state’s independence is a colossal benefit to a rising state; and that is exactly what the U.S. did for Kazakhstan when it was the first country to recognize their independence; the U.S. set up an Embassy and a Consulate General in Kazakhstan. Now that Kazakhstan has excellent relations with countries of the east and the west, perhaps it will be able to maintain its footing in the global economy. Kazakhstan has excellent relations with Russia, the Middle East and Asia and is completing its term on the Security Council of the U.N. These are great strides, but the progress that Kazakhstan’s economy has made may backslide because of the restriction that the pandemic has imposed on so many countries.

The Impact of COVID-19

 The World Bank states, “If the pandemic continues to spread and the external economic environment deteriorates further, GDP could contract by as much as 3 percent in 2020, which would significantly increase the poverty rate.” Two of its major cities – Almaty and Nur-Sultan – are already shut off from outsiders. Large corporations have been unable to get loans because the banks are too afraid that they will not be paid back. The deficit has already grown to 3.3% of the GDP as of 2019.

Here is a look at Kazakhstan’s predicted future in 2020:

  • 0.8% drop in GDP because of decreasing demand from foreign consumers and “COVID-19 mitigation measures sap[ping] consumer demand and investment.”

  • 6% of the GDP is predicted to be the increase of the deficit because of the aforementioned trade decline and the price of oil being lower.

In conclusion, Kazakhstan has become a thriving market over the years. It has excellent trade relations in almost every part of the world and its poverty rate has been reduced due to a bolstering in the economy. COVID-19 is affecting every country, though, and Kazakhstan is particularly vulnerable because its economy was still growing, and now may see regressions.

It isn’t all bad, though. The U.S. along with USAID are contributing to a relief fund that will give Kazakhstan $800,000. This money will go towards fighting the virus by preparing labs, tracking down cases, etc. Though the world is certainly not perfect, it is heartening to see the quick and unencumbered responses of countries to help each other.

Moriah Thomas
Photo: Pixabay