Democratic Republic of the Congo Refugees

With the Olympics officially underway, 10 competing athletes have taken to the stage and used the international spotlight to shed light on a growing worldwide concern; the refugee crisis. These 10 athletes hail from war-torn the countries Syrian, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and they are refugees. They make up the Refugee Olympic Team, the first of its kind. Combined, they represent over 19 million refugees and displaced people from around the world.

Despite the odds against them, these athletes have reached the peak of athletic performance and arrived in Rio this summer to showcase their abilities. Two athletes in particular, Popole Misenga and Yolande Bukasa Mabika, share a common past. At the 2013 World Judo Championships in Rio, the pair defected from the Congolese team to seek asylum in Brazil. The civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo tore apart their families, and the peace accord signed in 2002 with Uganda did little to alleviate the rampant violence.

Although they have managed to turn their lives into symbols of hope, Misenga and Mabika’s backstory is not one uncommon to refugees back home. Here are 10 facts about the Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees you should know:

1. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, there were 2.7 million people of concern in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2015. Of that total, 384,000 are refugees, more than 1.5 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 736,000 are returned IDPs.

2. The International Catholic Migration Commission reported in 2012 that the population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees was the sixth-largest in the world. Of that statistic, more than 75 percent are situated in neighboring countries in the Great Lakes Region and Southern Africa.

3. As of 2014, the Democratic Republic of the Congo represents 18 percent of the African refugee population. The majority of the Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees fled during the first and second Congo wars in 1996-1997 and 1998-2003.

4. The country itself hosts around 233,000 refugees from the surrounding countries of Central Africa Republic, Burundi and Rwanda. Refugees are allowed to generate self-supporting income and have access to land, health and education services and sanitation facilities.

5. Refugees fleeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo have limited rights in their host countries. Restrictions can affect any number of the following: refugees’ legal right to work, access to education, freedom of movement and access to citizenship.

6. Although 19,000 US peacemakers operate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 70 armed militant groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces, are currently operating in its eastern region.

7. One area of specific concern is the magnitude and brutality of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been described as “the rape capital of the world,” but the lack of legal repercussions makes for little change. Though the true total is obscured by the stigma of reporting, 350 rapes are recorded each week on average.

However, not all hope is lost. Many relief organizations have recognized the urgency of the refugee crisis and continue to provide immediate support on the ground. These following facts about Democratic of the Congo refugees show how refugees are aided:

8. One of the U.N. Refugee Agency’s campaigns is raising funds that will go toward holding prevention programs for sexual violence and providing ongoing medical care and counseling for victims. With these services, victims can begin to rebuild their lives and communities.

9. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has the world’s 19th lowest life expectancy at 56.93 years. The health system continues to be underdeveloped, understaffed and underfunded, unable to fight preventable diseases alone. Thankfully, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been working in the region since 1996 to ensure people have access to primary and reproductive healthcare. In just 2015 alone, the IRC managed to provide high-quality medical assistance to 6.6 million people, refugees and citizens alike.

10. Before their fifth birthday, 118 out of every 1000 children will die in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The high infant mortality rate and lack of basic education leave thousands of children vulnerable to exploitation, violence and disease. The Save the Children campaign is raising funds to provide children with basic nutritional support, education and physical protection.

Thanks to organizations like these, conditions continue to improve dramatically from day to day. However, these same conditions are still far from ideal and there is always more work to be done. The first step to making a difference is to learn more. Let these 10 facts about Democratic of the Congo refugees be your springboard for global awareness.

Katie Zeng

Photo: Flickr

Water quality in BrazilAll eyes are on Brazil as the nation finalizes preparations for the Olympic Games while attempting to solve a decades-long water pollution crisis. According to 2016 statistics, only 65 percent of sewage was treated before reaching Rio de Janeiro’s waters; a number far behind the 80 percent officials pledged when Brazil first received the Olympic bid.

Efforts have been made to clean the waters near the Olympic stadium, but local waters remain as polluted as before.

“We’ve just been forgotten,” says Irenaldo Honorio da Silva during an interview with The Atlantic Magazine. A resident of Rio de Janeiro, Da Silva lives in one of 1000 favelas — informal housing structures that hold more than 1.5 million people. The low-income inhabitants of these favelas lack adequate sanitation systems, a problem faced by 30 percent of the Rio population.

“About three times a week, sewage overflows and trickles down the streets past the houses” Da Silva explains. When it rains, water pipes crack open and streets are flooded with filthy water.

Those who come into contact with contaminated water risk contracting diseases like hepatitis, worms, diarrhea and tetanus. More than 400,000 Brazilians were hospitalized in 2011 for illnesses related to the poor water quality in Brazil.

Olympians are bracing themselves for venues riddled with disease-causing viruses, which, according to the Associated Press (AP), “measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.” The AP also found that those who ingest as little as three teaspoons worth of infected water have a 99 percent chance of infection.

Nevertheless, the risks for international athletes begin and end with the Olympic Games; Brazilians deal with these problems for life. Water quality is thus a critical issue that needs to be addressed.

Every year 217,000 workers miss an average of 17 hours of work due to gastrointestinal issues; infections caused by poor sanitation. Many children miss school for the same reason.

In fact, studies from institutions like the University of Chicago show that children with access to proper sanitation have higher educational attainment rates than those without. Furthermore, Trata Brasil, an organization dedicated to bringing universal sanitation to Brazil, recently revealed that a lack of proper sewage disposal was linked to lower life expectancies for citizens.

“The problems in [a favela] may be due in part to a lack of consciousness from its own people,” Marcello Farias notes during an interview with Huck Magazine in Rocihna, his hometown and one of the largest favelas in Rio. The majority of Brazilians cite health, security and drugs as the nation’s most pressing issues.

Diogo Rodrigues, a fellow Rocihna native, explains in the same interview that “if the government doesn’t do anything, [we] are the ones that have to be in charge.” He has worked with other favela residents to create different solutions to the water pollution crisis.

For example, the Surfer’s Association in Rodrigues’ hometown not only teaches local children how to surf but also offers environmental lectures and beach clean-ups. Meu Rio, an advocacy organization, holds demonstrations to raise awareness. In 2014, members sat on toilets on Guanabara Bay beaches every weekend for three months to shed light on the problem with water quality in brazil.

However, many view cooperation between the government, local authorities and civilians as the answer to improving water quality in Brazil.

Government officials announced that they plan to install eight sanitation plants in Olympic venues and upgrade favela water systems. Research from the University of São Paulo shows that investing in sanitation has other beneficial effects — it is more effective at alleviating poverty than spending on education, social security or welfare.

Change often occurs slowly. However, David Barbosa, a professional bodyboarder from Rocihna, encourages everyone to “keep up the momentum.”

“We may not always succeed, but we ‘gotta’ keep trying.”

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr

Brazil will be the first South American country to host the Olympics for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Although Brazil has an emerging economy, the 2016 Olympics may do more harm than good as it relates to the economy and those living in poverty.

The theory is that hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics will cause a growth spurt in the economic development of Brazil with an influx of tourism and employment. However, Brazil also spent more than $11 billion on hosting the FIFA 2014 World Cup. The data from the World Cup shows that the costs of hosting such a big event may outweigh the benefits. The World Cup did little to boost the economy and the jump in tourism the government was anticipating was not as significant as expected.

The economy in Brazil is looking rather weak considering the fact that the country has $900 billion in foreign debt and economic activity is decreasing yearly by almost five percent.

The state of the economy coupled with the costly and grueling task of Olympic preparation seems to be rather dangerous. The budget for the Olympics was originally $2.93 billion but has risen to $13.2 billion since January 2014.

Although Mayor Eduardo Paes of Rio de Janeiro claims that 57 percent of the funding will be from private enterprise, the brunt of the consequences of the infrastructure projects will fall upon the shoulders of the Brazilian taxpayers.

Amid the excitement of the coming of the Olympic Games is the very real crisis of eviction that families are facing. The scarcity of land in Rio means that things have to be shifted around to accommodate the new infrastructure.

Thousands of families have been moved out of poor neighborhoods (called favelas) so the neighborhoods can be destroyed and then rebuilt as different Olympic structures. Approximately 3,000 families in Rio have been forced to relocate as a result of the Olympic projects.

An estimated 67,000 people have been evicted from their favelas since 2009 when Rio was chosen to host the Olympics. Those who fight against the eviction and refuse monetary compensation and alternate housing are met regularly with aggressive eviction attempts.

The price of land is quickly rising in anticipation of the Games. After the Games, the complexes will be converted to luxury condos for sale for up to $700,000.

The 2016 Summer Olympics will change the economy of Brazil and leave a lasting impact. Those who will feel the weight the most will be the voiceless poor.

Iona Brannon

Sources: Bloomberg Business, Business Insider, The Guardian, NPR, Reuters, Seven Pillars Institute, Washington Times
Photo: Brazil the Guide

brazil's economy
One month has passed since the international event that drew the world’s eyes to one country—Brazil. The World Cup came and went, and with the disappointing performance of Brazil in the semi-finals, the country has seemingly little to celebrate as the tourism funds fail to revive Brazil‘s economy.

The ruling power of Brazil shifts based on economic performance under the party, and with elections coming soon, current president Dilma Rousseff is facing the frustration of the nation. The failure of the Worker’s Party combined with economic distress and slumping growth could potentially mean the end to her party’s 12 year reign in office.

Rousseff’s voter tactics are far from complex: she’s simply begun throwing money at those who show signs of loyalty to her, such as the northern region of the country that benefits hugely from social welfare. Mixed reviews of such behavior are shown in CEO of DMS Funds Peter Kohli’s statement to Forbes: “During the last few months, Rousseff has been handing out cash to the poor in a blatant attempt to buy votes.”

This last-ditch effort to retain voters shows the financial promise many thought the World Cup would bring has fallen through, leaving the government with little left to show for themselves. The Wall Street Journal reports that the expectations for Brazil’s gross domestic product have suffered massive reductions: “[Economist] Mr. Salomon now projects the nation’s economy will expand just 0.7 percent, down from 1.7 percent.”

Already behind schedule for their next international hosting event, the 2016 Summer Olympics, it’s unclear whether Brazil will see the same luck with finishing production in the nick of time. For the World Cup, stadiums were unfinished as teams began arriving in Brazil, and with many speculating at the enormity of the Olympics, the sights are set high for the presentation Brazil offers.

Rousseff is facing a difficult crowd to win her next term, after being booed by thousands in the opening ceremony for the World Cup. She also faces scrutiny for her policies surrounding heavy government presence and intervention in the oil industries, partly contributing to the economic slow down seen in the lowered gross domestic product.

The vote is split so severely that when President Rouseff suffers a drop in the polls, the stock market rises. This is heavily denied by the Finance Ministry, but the numbers have continually proved otherwise.

Brazil did not expect a negative economic impact from the World Cup, but that is the direction they are heading in. In defense of the outlook for the Summer Olympics, Brazil successfully quelled the prospective riots that could have injured or frightened tourists, along with few major hitches during the actual event.

There is a possibility that Brazil will be able to turn it around in order to economically benefit from the Olympics. Time will tell as the next presidency is determined and reforms are in the making.

Elena Lopez

Sources: Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg
Sources: Bloomberg

Rio de Janeiro is working to reinvent itself into a city of modernity in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Improvements will go beyond the Olympics, with high hopes of achieving sustainable development through this transformation.

The largest city in Brazil and first-ever Olympic hosting site in South America, Rio de Janeiro is in store for drastic changes to its infrastructure and economy. The games and preparation will benefit 55 different sectors, with construction seeing the biggest increase of 10.5 percent; increases in real estate, services, oil and gas, transportation and communication are also at the top of the list.

These sectors will see increases in employment leading up to the Olympics and improvements made will provide an economic boost during the games. Goldman Sachs economist Jose Ursua predicts: “A country with a better physical infrastructure [and] organizing security capabilities will likely be in a better position to minimize the costs and maximize the benefits associated with the games.”

The immense infrastructure changes to the capital city are being paid for mostly by the private sector. Half of Olympic Park (including press and broadcast centers,) the athletes’ villages, the golf course, a new waste water treatment plant and a 4 billion dollar port redevelopment are all privately funded. The waste water treatment plant will have better flood control and will provide benefits for the city well past the 2016 Games. There will also be 36,400 new hotel rooms added for the city. This project will ensure there are no room shortages for Brazil’s tourism industry in the future, as seen in the past.

Education will also see improvements in the years leading up to the Olympic games. Over 2,000 teachers will be trained, and students in grades 1-9 will be taught English. The committee is also emphasizing sports and academics in grades 6-9. With a special construction plan, the handball arena will be able to be changed into four public schools after the games.

Some financial and structural challenges remain, including an infrastructural debt. Although the government is responsible to cover any gaps in funding, organizers are trying to attract more private investments so the burden does not rest on taxpayers. The 31st Olympic games and city improvements brought with it will not only bring short-term prosperity to Brazil, but also improvements for long-term growth and investment opportunities for the city to thrive.

Maris Brummel

Sources: CFR
Photo: Huffington Post