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Social Change for AfghanistanWar-torn and poverty-stricken, people of the developed world seldom think of Afghanistan as a place where beauty and art bloom. But, in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, a movement is growing. Contemporary street artists in Kabul use the ruins of blasted city walls and bombed-out buildings as their canvas, slowly transforming the city from the shell of a warzone to an open-air art gallery. However, the goal of this gallery is not simply beautifying the city’s rubble-strewn streets but actually inciting social change for Afghanistan.

Conflict in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has remained in a state of almost constant conflict since 1978. The internal conflict became global news as other countries, most notably Russia and the United States, involved themselves by supporting various parties and factions. Social scientists predict that thousands of Afghani civilians died as a result of civil unrest thus far.

Since the Taliban, a violent extremist group, was forced out of their occupation of Kabul, many families who fled to seek asylum in other countries are returning. Unfortunately, just re-established as a republic, the capital city did not have the infrastructure to support the influx of impoverished and uneducated ex-refugees. The refugees who fled from Afghanistan under Taliban rule experienced widespread discrimination and restricted access to education and fair wages. Now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Kabul is home to almost six million civilians and crime and poverty are rampant.

Social Change Through Art

Decades of war destroyed much of the literature and art in Afghanistan, once a culture-rich place. But, in this tragedy lies an opportunity to bring the historically male and upper-class art world into a more inclusive space.

Street artist groups are popping up in Kabul, using colorful murals to send political messages about social change for Afghanistan. One such group calls itself the ArtLords. The organization consists of volunteers and artists seeking a future for their battered homeland. The ArtLords believe that while there are many things it cannot control, it can begin to alter the country’s narrative and express the people’s desire for peace. By visually bringing social issues such as women’s empowerment, terrorism and corruption to a public space where people cannot ignore them, artists hope to change the future of Afghanistan.

Young people who grew up watching the horrors of war right outside their doorsteps make almost all of Kabul’s street art. After seeing the effects of extreme poverty, constant war and restricted rights, it is not surprising that many seek an outlet for their voices.

These artists risk arrest and even murder to spread their messages of hope and activism to the people of the city. Through art, both men and women are able to speak out against the violence and tyranny Afghans endure. Street art in particular allows messages to reach a massive and diverse audience, ensuring that people from all corners of society are able to see and enjoy, be inspired or be incensed.

Female Artist Shamsia Hassani

Probably the most famous name in Afghanistan’s art world right now is Shamsia Hassani. The first female street artist known in the country, she is making history with her art. Growing up in Iran to Afghan immigrants, Hassani was labeled a “foreign national” in school and experienced many roadblocks to her education due to a preponderance of discriminatory laws against Afghan refugees. In 2015, her family decided the situation in Afghanistan was stable enough to return home. Never having been there, Hassani was hesitant about the change, but once they had settled in Kabul, Hassani felt she finally understood the meaning of home. No longer a foreign national, she was free to pursue a fine arts degree at Kabul University, where she now lectures. Although the city was still in ruins, Hassani declares “even if it was ruins, it was my ruins.”

Her street art style developed over a few years. She describes its accessibility to everyone draws her to the medium, although it puts her in danger every time she creates a piece. Hassani’s art does not fight against the wearing of hijabs or other forms of cover. Instead, she focuses on the need for women to have access to education and careers. She states that if women did not require hijabs but were still unable to go to school or get a paying job, it would not be true freedom or real progress.

Looking Forward

There is deep symbolism to Hassani’s signature art character, the woman with closed eyes. The character conveys sadness and pain, the desire to look away from the destruction of war and the struggle for women, in particular. But, the image also inspires joy through Hassani’s use of bright colors, the inclusion of musical instruments and the simple pleasure of seeing a crumbling wall transformed by a beautiful work of art.

Hassani is confident that art can bring about social change in Afghanistan. Like the ArtLords and many others who use art as a form of activism, Hassani is part of a generation who has never known peace. They spent their entire lives in wartime and can only dream of peace in Afghanistan. Until then, they will continue to illustrate a vision of a future in which there is peace, equality, justice and unity.

– Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

Japan’s Emergency Grant Aid
Armenia primarily controls Nagorno-Karabakh, a portion of land in Azerbaijan. This area experienced a major war conflict. The war has plagued Armenia and Azerbaijan for the past three decades. Additionally, Armenia and Azerbaijan have struggled with humanitarian crises including food insecurity, repairs for local shelters and medical support since 1988. However, the U.S. granted $10 million to humanitarian crises to provide food, shelter and medical supplies to those the conflict heavily affected. Additionally, the European Union provided €3 million in aid for food, clothing for winter and medical supplies. In addition, Japan’s emergency grant aid has helped aid people in Azerbaijan.

According to BBC, Azerbaijan sought to suppress the separatist movement, while Armenia backed it. This led to ethnic clashes and after Armenia and Azerbaijan declared independence from Moscow, a full-scale war ensued. Nagorno-Karabakh remains part of Azerbaijan while still under Armenian control. However, a ceasefire occurred in September 2020 and Armenia and Azerbaijan received additional aid.

Aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan

A study that the country’s Statistical Committee conducted revealed that 23.5% of Armenia’s population was living below the poverty line as of 2018. While much of the population lives below the poverty line, only 1% of the population lives in extreme poverty. However, access to education, security, neglect and freedom of speech factor into what contributes to the impoverished cities in Armenia.

Aid to Armenia’s population can benefit from hospital supplies, winter clothing and food could begin the process of rebuilding Armenia and its people. As a result of the destruction caused by the conflict, many had to flee their homes. Countries provide emergency support to give Armenia humanitarian needs and basic supplies. Furthermore, it can spread awareness to help those in need in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The need for food, shelter and medical supplies is evident.

Japan’s Emergency Grant Aid

Japan implemented a $4.8 million emergency grant aid to help those in Armenia and Azerbaijan in February 2021. Armenia is receiving $3.6 million of Japan’s grant aid whereas the remaining $1.2 million is going towards Azerbaijan. This aid goes toward medical training in six hospitals and supplies medical equipment. Furthermore, there are new hand-washing stations in three elementary schools to ensure safe water access, hygiene kits, renovation repairs to evacuation centers, relief supplies for winter and educational supplies for 15 schools.

The Asian Development Bank states that 5% of Azerbaijan’s population lived under the poverty line in 2018. This country is a developing country facing many issues. Azerbaijan’s healthcare is among the top two priorities in efforts to maintain a well-rounded economy. Budgeting for healthcare has increased by 44.5% since 2019.

Japan’s emergency grant aid of $1.2 million to Azerbaijan goes toward medical equipment for one hospital, access to safe water, relief items for during their winter and food assistance for about 800 people.

– Vanessa Morales
Photo: Flickr

involvement in the war in YemenPresident Biden announced his plan to end all U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen in February 2021. The President stated the U.S. will take on a mediator role with a focus on ending the war instead. This reversal is one of many steps Biden feels will serve as a course correction for U.S. foreign policy. The Trump administration and many others prior have often taken the side of foreign authoritarian leaders all for the sake of stability. This has only aggravated the humanitarian crises in conflict-riddled countries like Yemen. The U.S. is working to remedy its contribution to the dire state of war-torn Yemen.

Effects of the War in Yemen

The military conflict created mass instability throughout the country of Yemen. As a result, Yemen experienced extreme poverty, starvation, violence and the displacement of millions of people. Thus, the situation in Yemen has been labeled as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. More than 24 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. This includes more than 12 million vulnerable children.

About 4.3 million people have lost their homes due to displacements. Additionally, more than 230,000 people have died as a result of the consequences of war and conflict in Yemen. This includes more than 3,000 children. Furthermore, more than 20,100 airstrikes have been conducted on Yemen. The Obama administration conducted an estimated 185 airstrikes over eight years while the Trump administration conducted nearly 200 in four years. These attacks contributed to more than 17,500 deaths and injuries. Moreover, the airstrikes have destroyed schools, hospitals, water wells, civilian homes and other essential infrastructure.

USAID in Yemen

While the U.S. has played a significant role in creating the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, the nation is also the leading contributor of foreign aid to Yemen. According to the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), the U.S. has provided more than $1.1 billion of foreign aid to Yemen since 2019. This aid has provided funding for food, shelter, medical care and other essential resources. In addition, USAID states that the U.S. allocates funding for development initiatives that focus on helping put the country on a stable path to recovery and prevent continued dependence on humanitarian aid.

The U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen is shifting from tactical to mediation. This is putting the nation on the path to recovery. Furthermore, the end of the war benefits Yemeni civilians and the U.S. economy. As the U.S. is pulling out of the offensive efforts, the foreign aid provided to Yemen can be fully utilized.

President Biden emphasizes the importance of this decision in his foreign policy address, stating, “this war has to end.” He decided to take a step in the opposite direction of the last two administrations, including the Obama administration in which he served as vice president. Additionally, President Biden claims this decision to be one of many in a plan to restore U.S. emphasis on diplomacy, democracy and human rights.

Kendall Couture
Photo: Flickr

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

USAID’s Agent Orange Cleanup Commitment

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

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

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

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

Agent Orange: Health Impact

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

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

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

International Partnership Between Old Foes

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

– John Andrikos
Photo: Flickr

Two young women in the Middle East2020 has taught the world a series of valuable lessons. Still, one that strikes most potent is the importance of women’s presence in critical fields, such as conflict resolution. For years this issue has received a poor reputation for ineffectiveness and persistent recidivism, specifically due to continued violence. However, the recent inclusion of women has changed this and transformed the field as we know it. Since 2016, women’s inclusion in conflict resolution has shown a 64% prevention rate for failed peace negotiations and a 35% increase in likeability for long-term peace.

While women are beginning to shine on the world stage, there are still conflict-ridden regions where they are kept away from the negotiating table. One of these regions is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Conflict in MENA

In addition to the US’ recent departure under the Trump Administration, the MENA has been riddled with conflict. There are longstanding ideological tensions between Saudi-Arabia and Iran. A bloody civil war in Yemen and the recent Assad-Putin take over of Syria. Libya is becoming a failed state and more terrorist organizations are rising to power.

This is an integral time for women to be included in conflict resolution, as said previous conflicts will require new models of engagement and unique perspectives. If women are to achieve an equal socioeconomic standing to men in the MENA, now is the time for action.

Overview of Progress

Since the early 2000s, women have begun playing an active role in conflict resolution. A prominent example is the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. In both the first and second Liberian Civil Wars, the movement’s women hosted communal activities, such as prayer gatherings, to unite the warring Christian and Muslim populations. Eventually, they gained so much momentum that they advanced their organization to more direct advocacy and activism. This was during a time of rampant sexual violence and the murders of child soldiers. In 2005, the women helped ensure one of the nation’s first free and fair elections, which resulted in the first female African president.

Another way in which women have fought for change in the MENA is through women-led nonprofits. Take, for instance, the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assitance (CEWLA). Under current dictator Abdel Al-Sissi, Egypt has faced a series of religious violence, economic corruption, and denial of fundamental human rights. Nevertheless, since 2013, CEWLA has worked with local grassroots organizations in Egypt to promote female rights. It has fought several legal battles to improve ongoing “legal, social, economic and cultural rights.”

In addition to inter-regional violence, mass immigration and displacement in MENA has resulted in severe economic losses. In response to such conflict, female entrepreneurs in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine banded together to form Ruwwad. Ruwwad is a community engagement organization that focuses on providing women with education, income generation methods, and social justice.

Nonetheless, even when it comes to complex matters such as Intra-State Conflict, women have shown up to unite deeply divided communities, often struggling with severe poverty. The Wajir Association for Women’s Peace embodies the said fight for justice. The Association is a group of local women in Wajir, Kenya. They lead conflict resolution initiatives between the clans’ Elders and the at-risk youth. Wajir’s women’s power has even reached the desks of local parliamentary offices. Nationwide reforms have begun to take aim at resolving much of the turmoil occurring in this region as a result of these efforts.

A Plan for the Future

While women’s leadership in the MENA is far from perfect, there have been massive improvements over the years. This provides an ample opportunity to transform the region. Analysts have found that Women need political and economic backing from international organizations in order to help promote their localized mediation initiatives and garner stronger support for future peacebuilding. Bills such as the Girls Lead Act, currently being negotiated in Congress, is a step in the right direction and will help develop future female leaders in at-risk developing countries. The MENA region has seen conflict and ethnic violence for decades, but when we empower women, we empower change.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

The HALO TrustRussian intervention may have ended the latest bouts of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh on November 10, 2020, but landmines from the region’s post-Soviet independence war, coupled with the recent use of cluster munitions by Azeri forces, make the mountainous region one of the most perilous areas to inhabit in the post-Soviet world. Luckily, de-mining initiatives led by The HALO Trust, a British charity, are steadily working to make everyday life safer.

The Bloody History of Landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, has been a site of geopolitical contention since the Soviet collapse. When the region seceded from Azerbaijan by referendum in 1988, neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia engaged in protracted fighting to wrest control of the border. The two former Soviet Republics each lay rival territorial claims to Nagorno-Karabakh. While a majority of its 130,000 inhabitants are ethnically Armenian, Soviet districting placed it within Azerbaijan’s borders for decades, which Azerbaijan has sought to maintain.

Because of prolonged fighting between 1988 and 1994 and intermittent skirmishing since, tens of thousands of landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh remain scattered throughout the region. Estimates from 2005 placed the count at upwards of 50,000. Unexploded ordinance (UXO) and abandoned munitions were also noted. Meanwhile, fighting from October and November of 2020 introduced unexploded rockets and cluster munitions to civilian areas including the capital, Stepanakert, which Azerbaijan repeatedly shelled with artillery.

An Explosive Threat

Together, the explosives riddling Nagorno-Karabakh pose a serious public health risk to its local population. Tens of thousands fled the latest fighting as refugees, but the danger is residual and longstanding. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls landmines “a health threat not to be ignored” and claims that the global burden of disease linked to them is historically underreported. WHO estimates that landmines cause 11 to 12 casualties daily worldwide.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, there are more landmine accidents per capita than anywhere else in the world. When victims of these accidents survive, they are often missing limbs and can take months, or even years, to recover. These dangers force communities to disband as families relocate to safer areas. They also cause food insecurity. Nagorno-Karabakh is mountainous and many of its flat, open areas are unworkable minefields that farmers must avoid.

Because children are less educated or tend to engage in riskier behavior than adults, they make up more than a quarter of all landmine victims in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The HALO Trust: Relief Efforts

To address this longstanding public health risk, a British charity, The HALO Trust, has carried out operations targeting landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh. With teams often made up of local volunteers, it has surveyed thousands of acres and organized the removal of nearly 500 minefields since 2000. HALO teams have also supported communities in the wake of border skirmishes between Azerbaijan and Armenia that have left explosives in streets, homes and backyards.

In the latest bouts of fighting, Azerbaijan fired cluster munitions on residential areas in four separate incidents, as reported by Human Rights Watch. Cluster munitions are banned in international humanitarian law because they cannot be directed at a legitimate target, harming civilians and combatants indiscriminately. HALO teams have been responding to local alarms in the wake of these attacks. “In the last five days alone,” HALO reports, “our team has used its expertise and equipment to safely destroy over 150 explosive items.” Teams also delivered relief supplies to sheltering families throughout the fighting, including hygiene kits, blankets and fuel.

In addition to providing relief from landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh, HALO volunteers educate local communities on how to remain safe around landmines and other explosives. Its members frequent schools because of landmines’ disproportionate impact on children.

Landmine Removal Success

Conflict, unexploded ordinance and 30-year-old landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh, continually threaten lives in the mountainous region. Thanks to the work of the HALO, however, de-mining projects have worked to mitigate the risk of explosives and serve local communities. The 4,000 landmines and 8,000 items of ordinance removed since 2000 are a testament to the success of de-mining efforts.

– Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Women PeacemakersSince the beginning of the Sudanese civil war in 1983 that split the north from the south, the conflict in South Sudan has cost thousands of civilian lives and fractured the society in the region. The fallout from the civil war led to tribal conflict that is still ongoing and oftentimes the victims of these “total wars” are women. For this reason, women peacemakers in South Sudan are very important.

Feminist Movements in South Sudan

Prior to the civil war, feminists movements were gaining ground in South Sudan, so much so that South Sudan was seen as the center of African feminism during the 60’s and 70’s. These activists secured legal equality for all women across the country, though, with a change of leadership in the late 70’s, women saw their positions in society diminish. With the beginning of the civil war, South Sudanese feminists began to pursue outside avenues to affect policy.

One such group was a collective of female South Sudanese refugees who fled to Nairobi, Kenya. There they drafted a document that outlined how women were essential to the peacemaking and governing process. These women called for the government to acknowledge that “It is first and foremost women who suffer during wars or conflicts. Because of this, they are best placed to act as agents for a conclusive peace process and to spread a culture of peace in the country.” This was the first declaration of its kind, and its message has continued to be influential in how South Sudanese women advocate for increased involvement of women.

Feminist Organizations

Throughout the war period, multiple feminist organizations emerged that called for peace and women’s rights, such as Nuba Women for Peace, Women Empowerment for Peace and Development Network and the National Democratic Alliance. At the turn of the century, many women who had previously participated in these groups came together to form the Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP), which is an organization with branches in North and South Sudan that collaborate to empower women in the region and promote the role of women peacemakers in South Sudan.

Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP)

SuWEP’s main goals are to promote the inclusion of women from all layers of society, train women in conflict resolution and mediation, raise awareness, write position papers on its work to be presented to international bodies and advocate for and publicizing its message of gender equality. Due to these efforts, peace centers have now been established throughout both North and South Sudan, food aid has been able to reach the most vulnerable populations throughout the region and the legislature of South Sudan met its quota of 25% of its seats belonging to women.

UN Women Africa

U.N. Women Africa has also been one of the larger advocates for gender equality in South Sudan, with its focus primarily being on increasing female involvement in democracy, increasing literacy and protecting women and girls from gender-based violence. The organization has come before the Security Council to demand greater protections for women because it believes women are essential to the peacemaking process as they have been the greatest advocates of peace since the inception of the conflict. In addition, in a report to the Security Council, it was brought up that the women of these warring tribal and ethnic factions have been able to cooperate and make change together, meaning they can help the rest of the country do so.

Moving into the future, many women peacemakers in South Sudanese see the Revitalized Agreement as the best option for lasting peace because it would require that women hold 35% of government seats and the country would transition towards an expanded democracy. With more women in positions of power, feminists believe there would be an increased focus on women’s issues as well as a greater emphasis on diplomacy and peace.

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Sudan
Public discourse surrounding political, human and women’s rights in Sudan is experiencing a major shift. Issues of political and social participation and freedoms have been at the forefront of Sudanese protests in recent years. Women have played a major role in breaking down norms and building up a new female identity.

The Protests

Sudan still faces major internal conflict due to the secession of South Sudan and the ensuing conflict in 2011. In recent years, the role of women and their rights has come into question for the Sudanese people. Women in Sudan have specifically felt subjugated due to legal regulations and celebrated when the country eradicated these laws.

A key facet of these issues is class. Upper-class women wear different clothes than poorer women in Sudan. This discrepancy is not only troubling but deeply rooted in socio-political inequity. BBC reported that “in recent years it was common to see rich Khartoum women wearing trousers in public—while those targeted by the morality police were often poorer women from the marginalized areas on the periphery of this vast country.”

The Reason

The Global Fund for Women outlines the varying causes for many of the protests in Sudan. Some of the protests took place at military headquarters. The protestors staged a sit-in and called for “civilian rule, women’s rights and an end to the nation’s civil wars.”

Some of the specific regulations that women want to change are in regard to their physical appearance. Some examples Sudanese would like to change include how they must dress or cover their hair. Breaking any of the current rules can result in harsh and demeaning punishments. GFFW reported that “thousands of women have been sentenced to floggings under the laws, with poor and minority women particularly affected.”

Violent Response

The protestors filling the streets are primarily women, an estimated 70%. These women come from many backgrounds ranging from students to housewives to street traders. This diverse group of females march the streets while chanting, clapping and singing. Amidst the clamoring for change, human rights violations also occur.

There was an increase in violent attacks during many of the protests in favor of women’s rights in Sudan and the ending of the civil conflict. There have been instances of rape, disfigurement and burnings. The military more subtly uses sexist language and insults as another weapon against those protesting for women’s rights in Sudan. Human Rights Watch asserts that this retaliatory violence “escalated following the Arab uprisings, the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan’s economic downturn and the proliferation of new wars in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.”

Looking Forward

The push for women’s rights in Sudan is progressing forward and incorporating the issues of class and poverty. The country now realizes that the need for comprehensive human rights laws (and specific laws protecting women) is urgent.

The women’s movement is strong but needs continued organizational support. There are few laws currently in place to protect women and children and this must change. Protests, as well as the documentation of human rights violations, are not enough. The government needs to create change and protect its citizens. Women, just like all other citizens, deserve human rights.

Kiahna Stephens
Photo: Flickr

hunger in somaliaOut of control locust swarms, intense droughts and heavy flooding have decimated crops and the livelihood of Somalis. These factors increase hunger in Somalia by leaving millions of people food insecure. Currently, 5.7 million people, almost half of Somalia’s population, are food insecure, and 2.7 million people cannot meet their daily food requirements. The country faces constant fighting, recurring locust swarms, droughts and floods – all of which drastically affect hunger in Somalia.

4 Reasons for Hunger in Somalia

  1. Ongoing conflict destabilizes the country, disrupts livelihoods and hinders aid distribution. Since gaining independence in 1960, Somalia has experienced conflict after conflict, destabilizing the country and harming its people. In 1988, a full-scale civil war broke out due to a power vacuum. Two warlords attempted to gain control of the country, both ultimately failing but subjecting Somalia to crisis. The fighting between these factions destroyed crops and stopped food distribution, causing a famine that killed 300,000 people. Currently, more than 2.6 million Somalis are internally displaced and 760,000 Somalis fled to neighboring countries, leaving their livelihoods behind. Even though a government was established in 2004, its power is extremely limited. Conflict continues around the country, decreasing stability and security while raising humanitarian issues — one of them being food insecurity.
  2. The biggest locust swarm Somalia has experienced in 25 years is currently ravaging crops and farmland. Compounding an already fragile situation, locusts are feasting on crops that could otherwise feed 280,000 people for six months. The locust outbreak originated in Yemen in December. Instead of dying out like expected, the locust numbers increased exponentially when nonseasonal rains allowed for breeding. Adult locusts cause incredible damage to crops: they can eat their body weight daily and can fly up to 93 miles to find food. If they are not controlled, the loss of crops will be severe. Currently, Somalia plans to use biopesticides — a fungus which produces a toxin meant to only kill locusts and related grasshoppers — to get rid of the swarms. Due to the unstable nature of Somalia’s government, using planes to spray insecticide from the air is impossible, so the biopesticide is a reliable alternative.
  3. Somalia is suffering from a 10-year-long drought. For the past decade, drought has severely affected Somalia’s largely agricultural population and contributed to hunger in Somalia. During this time, Somalia only had one proper rainy season. Thus, in 2011 the drought became so bad it triggered a famine. For a famine to occur, three things must happen: a failure of food production, an inability to access food and a failure of governments and international donors to respond. First, the drought killed off crops and livestock, so people lost their income and purchasing power; they were no longer able to obtain food. Lastly, donors did not react quickly enough or provide as much aid as was needed — the U.N. only raised $200 million out of the needed $1 billion. Because of this “triple failure,” this famine killed around 260,000 people. So when the drought worsened in 2017 – 2019, the response, while still not adequate, was enough to keep the situation from turning into a famine. However, 6.7 million people were still left without access to food. Cholera, diarrhea and measles outbreaks accompanied the drought, and because people were dehydrated and weak from hunger these outbreaks had a heavy toll, infecting more than 16,000 people.
  4. Seasonal rains turn into destructive flash floods. By April 2020, the seasonal Gu’ rains, which last from April through June, flooded more than 27 districts and caused the Shabelle and Juba Rivers to overflow. The floods affected close to 1.2 million people and displaced 436,000. While the Gu’ rains are expected — and are often a respite from the long-lasting droughts — they are often destructive. In the Doolow district alone, floods destroyed 1,200 farms and 12,000 hectares of farmland. This kind of rainfall does not help Somalia against its drought, but instead overwhelms communities and causes even more destruction.

With upcoming elections, Somalia has an opportunity to take a step forward into peace and stability. While the locust swarms, drought and floods threaten to undermine Somalia’s future, a stronger government will be able to slow conflict and bring security back, allowing for better management of resources to prevent hunger in Somalia from continuing.

– Zoe Padelopoulos
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in YemenWar and conflict exacerbate existing poverty. According to the World Bank’s 2007 Global Monitoring Report, fragile states, defined as those in civil war or without legitimate authority to make collective decisions, account for one-fourth of global poverty. In low-income countries, poverty rates average 22%, whereas, in states with conflict, the rates skyrocket to 54%. Poverty in Yemen is no exception to this trend. Yet, the world may consider Yemen the example of conflict exacerbating poverty if fighting continues. The 2019 United Nations Development Project (UNDP) report, Assessing the Impact of War in Yemen, estimates that Yemen could rank as the poorest country on Earth by 2030 if the conflict continues. Here is some information about the relationship between conflict and poverty in Yemen.

Yemen’s Civil War

The seeds of Yemen’s conflict began because of the disorganized power transitions that the 2011 Arab Spring prompted. However, 2015 marks the descent into a foreign-backed civil war. Since then, fighting between the Northern rebel Houthis has continued to decimate civilian communities and exacerbate poverty. Iran has backed this fighting, because of Shia religious interests, along with the remaining Yemeni government. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-majority countries trying to curtail Iranian influence have also supported it.

The 2019 UNDP report outlines poverty rates in both conflict and no conflict trajectories and shows that without conflict, Yemen’s poverty rate could drop dramatically. Though the country’s poverty rate started rising in 1998 due to poor economic growth, the conflict that began in 2015 increased the depth of poverty by 600% showing the relationship between conflict and poverty in Yemen. The amount of Yemen’s population that now lives in poverty, defined as less than $3.10 a day, hovers around 75%. UNDP projections suggest that 65% of that number could live in extreme poverty by 2022, meaning that they would exist on less than $1.90 a day.

Already struggling with poverty before the conflict, fighting in Yemen compounds the problem by destroying critical infrastructures, like hospitals. On top of that, the pre-2015 economy flatlined. However, the most harmful effect is on food supply. As Yemen relies on imports for over 90% of its food products, the war’s blockades and bombings prevent stable food transportation from ports. Oxfam International reports that two-thirds of Yemen’s population cannot predict where their next meal will come from.

Future Projections

Many say that Yemen suffers the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and such suffering will only increase with continued conflict. For example:

  1. By 2022, the UNDP report projects that 12.4 million Yemenis could live in poverty and that 15.8 million Yemenis could live in extreme poverty if the conflict persists.
  2. It also suggests that the depth of poverty could increase to 6,000% by 2030 compared to the rate of poverty in pre-war Yemen.

However, if the conflict ends soon, Yemen would stand 8% closer to the UNDP’s sustainable development goals of no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education and gender equality than it did in 2014. If the conflict ends, the total projected poverty in 2030 would underperform 2014 levels by 3.1 million.

Foreign Aid to Address Poverty

To address poverty in Yemen as well as poverty in other war-torn states, organizations have recently implemented academic findings on the relationship between poverty and conflict.

Borany Penh, founder of the international data science and research firm, Dev-Analytics, and a researcher at the USAID Learning Lab says that “cross contributions from academic fields are beginning to clarify the kinds of solutions to poverty and conflict possible through institutional partnerships.” Penh argues that fixing the disconnect between academic literature and on the ground efforts would remedy less successful poverty reduction efforts in fragile states. Recent USAID funding acknowledges this point and now incentivizes partnerships among such fields.

For example, to better address poverty in Yemen, USAID currently funds the Yemen Communities Stronger Together (YCST) grant which supports projects and institutions that focus on social cohesion in poverty-reduction efforts. Scholars, organizations and businesses qualify for YCST. This variable grant allows the intersection of academia, nonprofit organizations and businesses to combat poverty while capitalizing on stabilization opportunities. So far, YCST gave out two $30 million awards and plans to report on its impact after the three-year implementation period ends.

On the Ground

In addition to coalition forming efforts like YCST, decreasing poverty in Yemen requires logistic strategies for navigating conflict and fighting poverty. Many nonprofits help via basic aid services, but to do so, they must create solutions to disperse aid while circumventing war zones. The World Food Programme (WFP) found great success in this arena.

Understanding the limitations of transportation in Yemen, WFP attempts to spread food imports as widely and directly as possible. Through the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service and partner organization, Logistics Cluster, food aid reaches four major cities including Aden, Hodeidah, Sana’a and Djibouti, via air and sea routes. Each month 12 million Yemenis now access WFP food rations because of reimagined delivery systems.

However, in areas with viable markets, WFP works to provide cash assistance which, while fighting hunger, also bolsters the economy. The WFP provides food to school children too. Targeting devastated areas of Yemen, the WPF incentivizes education while addressing childhood malnutrition with a school lunch program that provides small meals to 680,000 students. This reflects the new nonprofit focus on sustainable poverty recovery rather than long-term reliance on service distribution.

Many other organizations have devised new ways of bringing aid to Yemen as conflict persists. However, as Penh argues and the institutions highlighted above actualize, linking nascent poverty and conflict studies to field practices is the most hopeful strategy for fighting poverty in Yemen and other fragile states. By ending the conflict which causes such extreme poverty, countries should not face dire projections that place their populations at risk.

– Rory Davis
Photo: Flickr