Afghanistan_economy Afghanistan is a nation with a turbulent history. It is a nation embattled as a result of the many conflicts that have transpired within its borders. In recent years, Afghanistan has sustained a steady disfiguration of its landscape as a result of the protracted War on Terror, along with the various terrorist activities in the nation which several militaries, the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) most notably among them, have sought to suppress. Before the War on Terror, Afghanistan started to incur devastating losses in a war with the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989, during which over one million Afghanis were killed. Afghanistan was again challenged by a brutal civil war in the 1990s in which extensive violence led to more casualties and internally displaced persons. Conflict in Afghanistan has thus resulted in enduring regional instability over the past 35 years, much to the detriment of national infrastructure improvement. Consequently, economic development has been difficult to implement as well as sustain. Afghanistan performs poorly in many areas considered benchmarks of human development. On the actual human development index, Afghanistan ranks 172nd in the world out of the 187 countries that were surveyed. The performance of the nation’s economy is consistent with the assertions of its human development index ranking. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Afghanistan is $1,399 and is ranked 161st in the world by the World Bank. The country’s literacy rate is also among the lowest in the world at 28.1%. In spite of Afghanistan’s persisting limitations, it has seen significant progress over the course of the past decade. Enrollment in Afghanistan’s schools has increased to nearly eight million from its 2002 total of just one million. Access to basic health resources increased from 9% to 60% between 2003 and 2012, and the number of healthcare facilities saw an increase of over 100% in the same period. Significant improvements were observed in the country’s energy infrastructure as well. Since 2004, the number of Afghani homes with access to grid power increased from 6% to 25%. As a result of investment in these areas, especially in the case of healthcare, both employment and the economy at-large have performed well and experienced steady growth. For the entirety of the War on Terror, total GDP exhibited average growth of 9.2% topping out at 11.8% in 2012 as a result of advantageous weather conditions and, as a result, a booming agricultural sector. The agricultural sector in Afghanistan, which constitutes over 70% of the country’s economy, has been aided by the administration of the World Bank’s National Solidarity Program. The National Solidarity Program has also led to the creation of 34,000 Community Development Councils. Many of these councils have garnered further investment from the World Bank totaling $1.12 billion, funding thousands of projects that these local collectives have sought to introduce. With the complete withdrawal of NATO security forces from Afghanistan set to take place in 2014, the economic outlook for the country is riddled with unresolved security concerns. Since 2001, the security apparatus in Afghanistan has been comprised almost exclusively of foreign troops, and their withdrawal is anticipated to have potentially severe implications for future development efforts. Contrastingly, in yet another period of war, Afghanistan has seen unprecedented growth of infrastructure considered necessary for poverty-reduction. In spite of security concerns that will likely take a long time to address, there is certainly cause to be optimistic about the progress that has been forged in Afghanistan since 2002. – Benjamin O’Brien Sources: Transparency International, World Bank Photo: Able2know

As recent events in the Ukraine have shown, former soviet satellites continue to struggle for self-determination and modernization. Often torn between ties to the European Union and Russia, the former Eastern Bloc lags behind the rest of the continent in major areas of development—and none more so than Bulgaria.

Even though Bulgaria is now a member of the E.U., the nation still struggles with high rates of unemployment and catastrophic pollution. As of 2013, the European Environment Agency reports that four of the top six most polluted cites in Europe are in Bulgaria. The tremendous amount of air and water pollution is particularly damning for Bulgaria’s most vulnerable citizens, who are forced to brave the environment in order to scrape by.

In fact, it seems that poverty itself is fueling pollution, creating a perpetual cycle. Old, fuel-inefficient cars, outmoded factories and desperate fuels sources for warmth in the winter (such as raw coal and tires) make Bulgaria’s air the most polluted in Europe.

Beyond environmental factors, the transition to free markets has had troubling societal impacts that often break along ethnic lines. Corruption and organized crime have a firm grasp in the cities, Britain’s Daily Express reports, while the Roma minority lives on the outskirts in abject poverty. The scenes described in the Express from outside the capital city of Sofia bring to mind the most abysmal realities of poverty from across the globe.

The Roma, an ethnic minority, have long been persecuted on the continent, and their living conditions in Bulgaria attest to just how much the country struggles to keep up with the times.

Unemployment in Bulgaria is reported at 12 percent. The BBC suggests, however, that it may be much higher than that. A number of sources claim that governmental corruption is so pervasive that very little of state provided data can be trusted.

In response to the depressed economic conditions, a rash of self-immolations were reported. Several men of varying ages are said to have lit themselves on fire in protest of their living conditions.

For the E.U., these catastrophes hit close to home. The fact that the E.U. has now incorporated Bulgaria has turned Europe’s attention to the humanitarian crisis on their doorstep. With major Western news outlets now reporting on Bulgaria’s woes, perhaps international support will be able to generate some relief for the ailing nation.

– Chase Colton

Sources: Express, Daily Times, BBC
Photo: Plastic Pollution Coalitio

el chapo
The bloody drug war in Mexico has been raging for over eight years now, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of cartel soldiers as well as innocent civilians. Recently, Joaquin Guzman, otherwise known as El Chapo, was caught by Mexican authorities; many protesters have displayed anger over his imprisonment.

Hundreds of these angry citizens marched in streets of Culiacan, located in the Sinaloa region of Mexico; the hub of the Sinaloa cartel. The protesters are angered by Guzman’s capture mainly because cartel activity provided jobs for many of the poor in the mountainous Sinaloa region. Signs among the crowd illustrated their anger. One said “We Want Chapo Free.”

Currently, El Chapo is awaiting possible extradition to the United States for trafficking activity linked to several major American cities.

The fallout from the loss of leadership within the Sinaloa cartel could threaten economic activity in the Sinaloa region as a whole; a sad reality in a region where 74% of its residents suffer from poverty. Despite the presence of mass poverty in the region, freshly painted houses dot the countryside, mainly from the work of the cartel foot soldiers.

The residents fear the possibility of hardship if they lose the support the drug trade provides to the agricultural sector of the region. The economic support by the drug trade felt in the region is typified by the mythical status El Chapo reached among the locals. He is viewed as a hero rather than a vicious murderer.

Some draw parallels to him and a 20th century Mexican folk hero by the name of Jesus Malverde, a bandit who shared his wealth with the poor of the region.

El Chapo’s future remains uncertain as he awaits possible extradition to the U.S. Leads provided by the cell phone of his assistant, Carlos Manuel Hoo Ramirez, after his capture, eventually led authorities to the Mazatlan region of Mexico, where Guzman was evading arrest.

Some experts fear severe fallout from the drug lord’s capture. There is a possibility of an increase in violence rather than a decrease. A bloody turf war is not out of the question for many. The end result could be something similar to the previous administration’s “Kingpin Strategy,” where the focus on killing cartel drug lords led to the splintering of cartels into smaller groups that relied on more sinister and violent strategies to maintain control of their respective regions.

The drug war just beyond the United States’ southern border is a tragedy unfolding before our eyes. The majority of drugs manufactured and shipped by the cartels cross over into U.S. territory to satisfy an insatiable appetite for drugs.

The U.S. must create new policy initiatives to address this problem. Such policy changes would curb demand of illicit drugs, which seems to be the only way to reduce the manufacture of drugs and the subsequent violence associated with the illicit drug industry.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: Los Angeles Times
Photo: Time

joaquin_guzman_el_chapo_mexico
After more than 13 years on the run, the infamous leader of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico has finally been caught. Joaquin Guzmán, known as “El Chapo” for his short stature, was caught on February 22 after joint efforts between the Mexican Marines and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA.)

Before dawn that day, the team of Mexican marines raided Guzmán’s beachside condominium in the resort town of Mazatlán. The marines insured the occupants of the condominium were asleep using infrared and body heat scanners before entering the building.

When they entered, they found the drug king asleep shirtless next to his beauty queen wife along with an AK-47 within reach. Guzmán’s 2-year-old twin daughters and his bodyguard were also asleep in the next room.

The arrest was preceded by months of extensive findings by the DEA and Mexican authorities that led them closer to Guzmán. In recent months, authorities arrested several members of the Sinaloa cartel and discovered a system of tunnels underneath seven houses in Culiacan. Mexican marines almost captured Guzmán the previous week, but Guzmán narrowly escaped arrest by exiting one of the houses through a hatch beneath a bathtub.

Serafin Zambada-Ortiz, the son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, one of Guzmán’s lieutenants and heir-apparent of the Sinaloa Cartel, was arrested in November 2013. The arrests of cartel members, followed by an examination of their cell phone usage, led authorities ever closer to the quasi-mythical Guzmán.

Guzmán maintained a legendary status in Mexico as an impossible to capture figure. In 2001, he escaped Puente Grande prison in a laundry cart. He is known for bribing his way out of situations, and stories abound of his paying the tabs of entire restaurants in order to escape the law. Yet he is also known for his generous habit of giving out money freely to those in need.

While Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is claiming this to be a success in the war on drugs, many other still believe that this latest arrest could still spell trouble for the Mexican state. With this power vacuum, drug cartels could ramp up their violent activities in an effort to win more turf. Further, the drug business drove billions of dollars into the state of Sinaloa, which will now need to rely on another source of income.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Los Angeles Times, CNN, CNN
Photo: Enrique Nieto

malnutrition

Kinshasa, DR Congo

The second largest country in Africa and is located in the middle of the continent. Since the 1990’s the country has been in a state of political unrest and civil war which is the cause of many of the other problems in the region, such as disease, food insecurity, human rights violations, and violence against women.

Here are four issues that contribute to nearly 6.3 million people remaining food insecure and over half of the children under the age of 5 classified as malnourished in the DR Congo:

  1. Political instability between the government and several militia and rebel groups. Peace talks have been ongoing since 2009 with little progress. Since 1998, 5.4 million people have been killed. Less than 10% were killed during the fighting, instead the majority have died from diseases and malnutrition.
  2. 2.7 million people are internally displaced within the DRC as a result of the civil war. 1.6 million are in the North and South Kivu region, where much of the heavy militia activity takes place. There are an additional 116,000 refugees from neighboring countries currently living in the DRC. The large number of displaced people and perpetual fighting in the country has led to a high rate of abuse and sexual assault of women and children. It is estimated that 400,000 women between 15 and 49 were raped between 2006 and 2007. This is the equivalent of 48 women being assaulted every hour.
  3. 3.71% of the population lives below the poverty line, meaning they live on less than two dollars per day.
  4. Rampant infectious diseases are common across the country such as Malaria, Dengue Fever, Typhoid Fever, and HIV/AIDS. The ministry of health said that Malaria was their number one disease concern and in 2011 alone there were 4,561,981 reported cases.

– Colleen Eckvahl 

Sources: The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict , WFP, WHO
Photo: This is Africa

herz-sommer
At 110 years of age, Alice Herz-Sommer lived longer than most and had experienced something that a diminishing number of people living the world today may claim: surviving the Holocaust.

As the oldest known survivor of the Holocaust, for the past 70 years Herz-Sommer has served as a living reminder of the perils of hubris and inaction — specifically, for the nations who failed to act when reports of Adolf Hilter’s ethnic cleansing plans first came to light.

Alongside her husband and son, Herz-Sommer was imprisoned in 1943 at Theresiendstadt, a concentration camp in Terezin, Czech Republic. Two years later, she and her son were among those released from the camp after the Soviet army liberated the camp.

Of the estimated 140,000 sent there, fewer than 20,000 remained alive by the war’s end.

These numbers don’t inform the reader of Herz-Sommer’s accomplished piano skills nor do they tell us about Herz-Sommer staged concerts at the concentration camp, an activity that enlivened both herself and her fellow inmates.

We have all learned about World War II. We have studied how Adolf Hitler warred against the allied forces and nearly conquered Europe. We have listened to lectures about his efforts to cleanse his empire of Jews, homosexuals, the Roma and Sinti, the disabled, blacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other targeted groups.

Herz-Sommer’s reminded us of the human experience behind a man-made tragedy. History may be compressed into facts and statistics, but she, herself, could not.

Since WWII, more genocides have occurred, some more publicly than others. The Bosnian and Rwandan genocides occurred within the past 3o years while the more recent burning of Kiev, the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic, and the millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war, all illustrate conflicts plaguing the world today.

The death of one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors should serve as a stark warning that even the most horrific crimes against humanity will eventually fade away into the annals of history.

While the irreparable erosion of memory and experience is inevitable, preserving an international consciousness of these crimes is an inalienable human obligation. By doing so, such an effort will both memorialize the victims and survivors of the past and help to safeguard potential victims in the future.

 – Emily Bajet 

Sources: New York Times, oas.org, Al Jazeera
Photo: Daily Mail

Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) ruins countless lives every day. FGM is a humiliating torturous cutting of the female genitalia carried out by various groups of the community, including health practitioners, elderly people and female relatives. According to the World Health Organization (WHO,) four types of FGM procedures exist:

Clitoridectomy

The partial or complete removal of the clitoris.

Excision

Involves removal or partial removal of clitoris, as well as labia.

Infibulation

Narrowing of the vaginal opening.

Other

This includes other forms of FGM not classified above, such as, burning, piercing or scraping. Any one of these types of FGMs is carried out on a female at any time in her life.

Millions of cases of FGM are reported each year. According to the WHO, over 100 million women and girls have had their human rights violated.

FGM is considered a human rights violation because it inflicts unnecessary pain and harm to unwilling women and girls. Laws against FGM practices have been created in 18 African countries. If caught sentences from three months up to life in prison are given.

There are also 12 industrialized nations that have passed laws criminalizing FGM.

An 8-year-old girl from Djibouti died from the effects of FGM. She was held down by friends and neighbors while a “practitioner” subjected her to FGM. Her clitoris, labia minora and labia majora, all external genitalia, was cut away causing uncontrollable bleeding.

After the procedure was done the girl’s legs were tied shut to promote “healing” and she was refused water because the need to pass urine was thought to introduce bacteria to the wounds. The young helpless girl continued to bleed throughout the evening and sob uncontrollably due to pain.

Eventually the girl was taken to the hospital and given a blood transfusion. Sadly, it was too late to save her life.

FGM has been reported in 28 African countries and various Asian countries.

According to data from the WHO, seven countries: Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Guinea, Mali, Somalia and Sudan have a FGM prevalence rate affecting 85 percent or more women. Other African countries have only slightly lower prevalence rates; a large portion of the African continent has not received FGM rates.

FGM is most likely performed in lower class poverty-stricken communities. This is due in part to the fact women and girls do not know FGM is against the law. Most believe that it is there duty as a woman to have FGM performed and if they refuse, they will be harshly criticized and shamed. These are the ones who are not held down and forced against their will.

Several campaigns to eradicate FGM from the world are underway. One government organization, the United Nations, has been tackling it as one of the world’s Millennium Development Goals. Also, Women against Female Genital Mutilation leads campaigns to increase awareness of FGM laws and harmful health and psychological effects of FGM on females.

The continuation of advocacy for women and girls suffering from Female Genital Mutilation needs to last until FGM prevalence is zero. People should continue to call their congressmen, write their legislature, and advocate for worlds helpless.

Hopefully, through the increased awareness, global campaigns, and laws FGM will become a thing of the past and no female will have to endure torturous inhumane pain ever again.

– Amy Robinson

Sources: World Health Organization, All Africa, WHO, UNICEF, Center for Reproductive Rights
Photo: International Business Times

Violence_Poverty_Exacerbate_Homelessness_Honduras
Birthplace of the term “banana republic” and victim of the brutal fruit companies-led coup, Honduras is among the countries with the lowest incomes in Latin America, poverty is very pronounced problem in this Central American nation. Despite an economic growth of around 3 percent per annum, the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of the country remains stagnant.

This discrepancy could indicate that there is a widening disparity gap.

In fact, since the coup d’état in 2009, Honduras witnesses the most rapid rise in inequality in Latin America, a factor that contributes to prevailing climate of violence. Equally frustrating, the top 10 percent of the population also earns virtually all of the republic’s real income gains.

Furthermore, the 2009 coup d’état had increased the overall rates of poverty and extreme poverty. This climate of political crisis had reverted the economic advances that took place in the country. In addition, the government of President Porfirio Lobo, who came into power after the post-coup elections of 2010, had reduced social spending despite the boost in public spending.

It is estimated that 71 percent of the 8.3 million Hondurans live in poverty, a major problem that contributes to the frequent instances of violence that plague the nation. Because of this astronomic number of people living in poverty, a large sector of Honduras’ population is also deprived of education.

Only a lucky few can afford any education beyond sixth grade.

What’s more, Honduras has the highest rate of homicide in the world, with the average of 20 people murdered daily, 90 percent of whom are male victims. This frightening data stem from the burgeoning narcotic business, which has given rise to many organized crimes. This epidemic problem of homicides also takes away from the country’s meager income by necessitating the Honduran government to spend 10.5 percent of the national GDP in the combat of violence.

Due to Honduras’ constant history of political instability, there has always been very little opportunity for Honduras to develop democratic institutions to impose the rule of law. Instead, centuries of colonialism and decades of dictatorship have marginalized the poor, leaving them with minimal choices to make a living.

This scarcity of upward economic mobility and grinding poverty have driven many towards illicit ways of earning money.

In its attempt to encourage Honduras to alleviate poverty, the World Bank has suggested the country to support the stability and the growth of its macro-economy as well as to improve the quality of its education. But, these key options to improve the situation of the country are easier said (or suggested) than done. Development and democracy are not phenomena whose advent can be brought about at an instant.

Instead, they require years of institutional and systematic reforms for a society to have a functional democracy and a sustainable development.

 – Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: El Pais Internacional, El Heraldo, El Heraldo, Los Angeles Times, World Bank, World Bank
Photo: Zimbio