Peace Talks in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has endured war for decades with very little opportunity to rebuild and address the growing poverty rates and diminishing living conditions of its people.

In recent months, U.S. officials have begun discussions of peace talks in Afghanistan including plans to withdraw U.S. troops. The question is how will the prospects of peace under the terms that are being discussed affect poverty levels and quality of life for the Afghan citizens? Although peace is necessary for the growth of the Afghan economy, a reduction in U.S. support and funding could be detrimental to the lives of the Afghan people.

Effects of Conflict on Population

Years of conflict have had a disastrous effect on poverty in Afghanistan. According to a study from the World Bank, the number of people living below the poverty line has grown from 38.3 percent in 2012 to 55 percent in 2017, an increase of 5 million people. In addition, necessary resources such as education and employment remain inaccessible to the average Afghan citizen.

Secondary education attendance rates have dropped from 37 percent of children in 2013 to 35 percent of children attending in 2016. This decline is largely due to fewer girls attending school. Unemployment is rampant with 25 percent of the population unemployed and 80 percent of jobs qualify as insecure, meaning they consist of self or own account employment, day labor, or unpaid work. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the economy of Afghanistan is dependent upon three main factors: foreign aid, the sale of narcotics and the Taliban.

Peace Talks in Afghanistan

In order for the Afghan economy to successfully recover and improve the quality of life of its citizens, institutional changes must be made. The peace talks in Afghanistan may provide an opportunity to end the cycle of poverty in Afghanistan, but only if it is done carefully and political stability can be ensured. Peace in Afghanistan would be beneficial for the economy, allowing for the opportunity to spend less on war efforts and more on the needs of the poor. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), estimates suggest that a return to the low levels of violence that were recorded in 2004 would result in an increase in annual revenues of around 50 percent, or approximately 6 percent of GDP per year.

However, this is only the case if the peace talks in Afghanistan are successful in creating political stability. For example, in 2014, allegations of election fraud created a highly unstable political atmosphere in Afghanistan resulting in a fall in the country’s revenue and growth. An inability for the Afghan government and the Taliban to find an agreement that is suitable them both in the peace process may result in a similar instability and economic downturn.

US Aid and The Afghanistan Economy

The Afghan economy is reliant upon U.S. aid and when that aid has been cut in the past, the effects have been detrimental for the lives of the Afghan people. In 2013/2014, the U.S. reduced civil aid and withdrew a portion of its forces. In the same year, there was a 3 percent increase in the overall poverty rate, the unemployment rate for Afghan men tripled and 76 percent of rural jobs that were created in 2007/2008 were lost.

Should U.S. aid be cut in a new peace deal, the effects will not be positive for the poverty levels in Afghanistan. Peace is necessary to create substantial economic growth in Afghanistan. However, any peace talks in Afghanistan that fail to address the political instability in the country and that reduce foreign aid to the Afghan people can only result in further suffering for the country.

Success Stories

Despite the bleak realities of war and violence in Afghanistan, there have been several successful aid programs in the country that have been improving the lives of the citizens. For example, the government of Afghanistan has struggled to implement an effective police force. As a result of the UNDP’s Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA) over 150,000 Afghan police officers receive payment on time and accurately. The organization has also taken the initiative to recruit and train female police officers, resulting in 70 Police Women Councils in every province in Afghanistan. The UNDP has also funded a program to create 19  hydroelectric power plants, which are now supplying electricity to 18,606 people in Afghanistan.

Although war has ravaged Afghanistan for decades, the presence of various nongovernmental organizations and their projects to improve the lives of the citizens in combination with peace talks currently ongoing in Afghanistan that can ensure political stability and continued aid to the country have the possibility to break the cycle of poverty.

– Alina Patrick

Photo: Flickr

global entrepreneurshipAs historically less developed countries begin industrializing, their citizens are taking the opportunity to start exciting new businesses, and global investors are taking notice. U.S. investors are looking into African, Asian and South American start-up companies to invest in. While the motivation behind this investment may be profit-oriented, it also creates an interconnected world that is economically dependant on each other.

Why Countries are Investing in Global Start-Ups

  1. Support from Global Governments: One big reason why global entrepreneurship has taken off is governments worldwide are supporting it. In 2017, the U.S. and India jointly hosted the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which brings together entrepreneurs from around the world to connect with prospective investors. On top of that, governments worldwide are putting resources into building up their entrepreneurial communities. The six-month program, Start-Up Chile, offers its students $35,000 and a one-year visa to move to Chile and grow their business.  
  2. Great Locations: As the entrepreneurial spirit spreads in a country, like-minded people flock at epicenters of design. For example, Santiago, Chile has been dubbed “Chillecon Valley” due to its high number of tech start-ups. Similarly, Buenos Aires has an electric entrepreneurial community that creates competition and cooperation between different companies. This spirit (and the great weather) attracts entrepreneurs to relocate from around the world.
  3. Highly Skilled at Low Costs: As an investment opportunity, global entrepreneurs offer considerable value for their cost. Due to the relatively low cost of living in less developed countries, entrepreneurial cities are an attractive place for skilled people to move to. Some experts estimate that highly skilled tech workers in Argentina can be hired for 25-35 percent of the cost of their U.S. counterparts.

How Investing Supports Peace Worldwide

  1. An Interconnected World: By creating business ties between countries, peace becomes an economic necessity. Some economists believe the best way to achieve global peace is to create a world that is so economically dependent on one another that conflict would be mutually destructive. While total economic dependence may not come anytime soon, on a smaller scale the theory works the same way.
  2. Global Entrepreneurship Helps People Globally: Global Entrepreneurship greatly improves the quality of life for participants. Not only do successful small business owners help themselves, but they also contribute to the local economy by employing local workers. Therefore, by helping people start businesses worldwide, developed countries can help eliminate global poverty one start-up at a time.
  3. Increased Stability: Evidence suggests that one of the main causes of political unrest is not religion or culture, but rather the economy. As people are unable to find well-paying jobs, they search for alternative vehicles to express their unrest. In this way, global entrepreneurship is an asset to national security. Providing people with resources and support to help themselves is cost-effective and works to eliminate causes of civil unrest rather than covering up symptoms.

The U.S. government is supporting global entrepreneurship by co-hosting the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with India. Meanwhile, people are investing in start-ups worldwide to get a jump-start on the next big company. Through both of these actions, global entrepreneurship is getting the push it needs to improve economic conditions and create world peace.  

– Jonathon Ayers
Photo: Flickr

The World is Getting Better
Bill Gates recently named
Enlightenment Now his “new favorite book of all time.” Written by Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now makes a persuasive case for the numerous ways in which the world is getting better, safer, healthier and more prosperous. Acutely aware of our negativity bias — the tendency to respond more strongly to negative news — Pinker seeks to provide a contrasting story to what leads in the news. The result is a holistic view of human progress. Here are three ways Pinker demonstrates how the world is getting better:

Life

Life expectancy has risen dramatically since the late nineteenth century, while child and maternal mortality has fallen dramatically. What is more, these trends are not exclusive to wealthy, developed nations. While increasing life expectancy in Africa and Asia has lagged behind Europe and the Americas, people all over the world are living 35 years longer than they did in 1860.

Health

To demonstrate the dramatic breakthroughs in human health in the past few centuries, Pinker runs through the dwindling impacts of the worst infectious diseases, as well as a graveyard of afflictions conquered by science, economic development and humanity’s “expanding circle of sympathy.”

By Pinker’s measure, the chlorination of water and eradication of smallpox and measles alone contributes to 428 million saved lives.

Peace

The constant coverage of conflict zones in the news belies the diminishing currency of war. Pinker points to three downward trends as evidence — great power wars, battle deaths and genocide deaths. Pinker holds “trade, democracy, economic development, peace-keeping forces, and international law” responsible for a world that is becoming more and more peaceful.

Pinker is remarkably thorough in his treatment of human progress. Not only does he include the obvious indicators like life-expectancy and mortality, Pinker throws in improving equal rights, wealth, quality of life and the prevalence of lighting strikes, among other esoterica.

However, Pinker is well aware that while the data supports his argument, human nature does not. As a result of our negativity bias, there is a gulf between the facts of progress and our perception of it. Bridging this gulf is the reason for the book, and likely the reason Bill Gates, who dubs himself an “impatient optimist,” is so fond of it; things are getting better and nobody is noticing. Or more accurately, things are getting better and people think things are getting worse.

Maintaining a Positive Outlook

The first graph that appears in the book — one of seventy-five charts and figures — measures the tone of the news over time by tracking the prevalence of positive and negative-associated words appearing in world broadcasts and the New York Times. According to the news, the world is becoming gloomier; Pinker begs to differ. It is no justification for complacency, but in his perspective, the world is getting better.

– Whiting Tennis

Photo: Flickr

What Are the Benefits of Education?
The benefits of education to developing societies cannot be understated. The U.N. sees education as a basic human right that provides sustainability to all development. The investment in a nation’s young people and their future prosperity and earning potential is never misplaced as the benefits of education far outweigh the costs. So, what are the benefits of education to developing and developed societies?

Benefits of Education as the Driving Force for Peace

In September 2017, the 72nd U.N. General Assembly took part in an event titled Making Education for Peace. U.N. members discussed the benefits of education as a security tool to fight against extremism and terrorism, concluding such threats could not be suppressed with security measures alone. Instead, comprehensive measures of preventing violent extremism are at the center of the U.N.’s sustainable development focus.

Comprehensive measures include investing in children’s futures through providing not just a stellar education to learn to read and write, but also a platform to teach peace, love, inclusion, tolerance and acceptance. For children growing up in situations of tension, teachings of global citizenship and human rights can deter the growth of extremist groups. The idea is to teach children about peace before terrorist groups can teach them about hate.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s literacy program in Afghanistan has already provided the skills and knowledge to 6 million men and women to resist violent extremism in their communities.

Education and Economic Prosperity

Along with creating a peaceful, more inclusive world, a country with a more educated workforce sees growth in the economy and production. Many studies have found a strong, positive association between the number of years a population spends in schools on average and gross domestic product.

Increased time spent on education also correlates with average wages earned. Obtaining an education opens professional pathways previously unavailable. Benefits of education include providing higher wages for the individual and their family. With only one additional year of schooling, wages have been shown to increase later in life by approximately 10 percent.

Increased wages lead to lower poverty rates, less hunger and stronger communities as extra funds go back to making communities better places to live and raise families. Education works to break the cycle of poverty, allowing people to provide better economic opportunities for their children and the next generation.

Education Helps Fight Disease

There also exists significant health benefits of education. Those who attend school have a higher chance of seeking medical treatment when needed than those without schooling. A potential contributor to this statistic could be the lack of widespread availability of health treatment centers.

In areas without proper schooling, there is little chance there will also be health clinics. Therefore, The Borgen Project and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals list the building of schools and vaccine-equipped health clinics as two important steps for ending extreme poverty.

Education and well-being benefit each other. Better childhood health allows for a child to attend school with less interruption, leading to better schooling outcomes. Better schooling outcomes lead to improved health as an adult. Intergenerationally, the health and education of parents—mothers especially—increase the health and education of their children.

Disease prevention and health promotion are two other strong benefits of education. Intervention in primary levels of education empowers children to increase control over their lifelong health. The increased awareness in communities helps avoid negative health habits, conditions and diseases.

Education is a great equalizer as it works to:

  • Foster a concern for human rights with a focus on global peace and community
  • Provide better economic opportunities to impoverished communities and developing nations
  • Prevent illness and promote good health

– Kelilani Johnson

Photo: Flickr

Peace Initiative in SamoaFamily Federation founder Sun Myung Moon envisioned a “Peace Road,” an international highway that physically connects people across the world. Roads unite people in trade, culture and travel. Moon believed that uniting people in daily life would extinguish historical fears and misunderstandings that divide the world. Moon suggested the construction of a highway between Korea and Japan, two former enemy countries, in 1981. Beginning in 2005, he advocated for a “Peace Tunnel” across the Bering Strait.

Samoa did its part to carry out Moon’s vision by implementing the Peace Road initiative across the country in August 2015. Moon’s vision focused on the physical connection between cultures; this peace initiative in Samoa can bridge cultural gaps and promote peace throughout the region. Samoa’s 2015 and 2016 Peace Road initiatives focused on Savai’i churches and schools in Salelologa, Sapapali’i, Sili and Puleia.

The Peace Road’s 2015 implementation revolved around several themes:

  • Uniting mind and body
  • Connecting the youth with the elderly
  • Bridging the gap between traditions and new customs
  • Reviving old customs to educate the youth

Samoa’s 2017 Peace Road initiative centered on Taufusi Market. Universal Peace Federation Samoa adopted Taufusi Market’s road as their designated “Peace Road” in November 2017. Taufusi Market’s stalls were adorned with colorful banners, drapes and flags.

The Peace Road programs of 2017 included:

  • The launch of Youth and Students for Peace at the High Tech Youth Network locations in Vaivase and Avele
  • The re-launching of Women’s Federation for World Peace with a sewing project

Although officially completed in November 2017, Samoa’s Peace Road initiative extended to the January 16 inauguration of the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace. The addition of the Peace Road to infrastructure in Samoa actualizes the global peace initiative proposed by Moon.

Although it is a new peace initiative in Samoa, the Peace Road in Taufusi Market promotes cultural education and empathy. It continues the global peace initiative undertaken over 35 years ago. Samoa has joined 120 other countries in supporting the annual Peace Road; nearly 62 percent of the world actively supports and promotes world peace.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr