Food Crisis in Venezuela
As the food crisis in Venezuela continues to worsen, the country is suffering from issues ranging from starvation to corruption and mass migration to surrounding countries.

Venezuelans lack access to common goods ranging from food to medicine. The country has triple-digit inflation and the currency collapsed nearly 80 percent last year, leading to millions of citizens suffering from food insecurity. Food riots caused violence and even death in several Venezuelan cities last year, and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has responded by attempting to control the increasingly black market distribution of food and goods within the country. The government hopes that by placing limits on how much individuals can buy at a time, it will be able to put an end to the black market operation of buying and reselling food for higher prices.

As children and families suffer from starvation in the country, many parents are attempting to give their children to families who will be able to provide food for them. Reuters reports that at a social services center in Carirubana more than a dozen parents seek help providing care for their children each day. This is a dramatic uptick from last year when the center averaged one parent per day.

A survey released by a children’s rights group reported that two-thirds of 1,099 households with children were not eating enough in the region of Caracas, Venezuela. The average wages in the country are the equivalent of $50 per month. This has created a desperate situation where parents fear that their children will be forced into prostitution or the drug trade in order to survive.

As the food crisis in Venezuela grows increasingly desperate, food trafficking has become one of the largest businesses in the country. The military controls the distribution of food, and documents and interviews reveal that corruption runs rampant at every level from generals to soldiers.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans cross the borders into Brazil and Columbia each month, some to buy food and return home and others to find a permanent home in a country where food is more readily available. Along border towns, Venezuelans account for 60 percent of all hospital visits, and as more Venezuelan sex workers arrive, the rates of sexually transmitted diseases have skyrocketed in these regions.

As the food crisis in Venezuela continues, it is important that the international community condemns human rights violations and corruption in the country. It is important that global powers like the United States focus on helping partner countries in South America put pressure on the Venezuelan government to promote democracy and end corruption and food insecurity.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

How Poverty Exacerbates Illegal Organ Trading
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for extremely poor families around the world to go through extreme measures in order to make money. Some households have resorted to the unusual tactic of organ trading on the black market to afford food and other necessities.

The issue also affects the Western world as a 2014 piece in the Sunday Post highlights the prevalence of black market organ selling in the United Kingdom. Though it is highly illegal, those desperate for both money and organs often turn to social media to plan their transactions.

Jeff Powell from the U.K.-based anti-poverty charity aptly named War on Want says, “It is shocking that people are so poor that they would be willing to sell a kidney for cash. This level of desperation is a direct result of governments… and the interests of the rich over the fight against poverty and inequality.” At the time of publication, 10,000 people in the U.K. were in need of an organ transplant, leaving many opportunities for potential sellers.

Multiple instances of illegal organ trades in Iraq have made the news recently. Since over 22 percent of the Iraqi population lives in poverty, families sometimes take desperate measures to make money. In Iraq, gangs offer up to $10,000 for a kidney on the black market.

In Iraq, it is only legal to donate organs to relatives, but illegal traders find ways (ie forging documents or signatures) around this rule. A surgeon in Baghdad explains that healthcare workers are not held responsible for illegal donations because “… in some cases, we have doubts, but this is not enough to stop the surgery because without it people will die.”

An Iraqi human rights lawyer feels sympathy for those who turn to selling organs saying, “Picture this scenario: an unemployed father who does not have any source of income to cater for his children. He sacrifices himself. I consider him a victim and I have to defend him.”

Illegal organ trading is also prevalent in Bangladesh, where many poor citizens are faced with repaying loans from non-governmental organizations that they cannot afford. Some individuals grow tired of dodging debt collectors and see the organ black market as their only option.

A University of Michigan anthropology professor explains that these exchanges are often done under sub-par conditions. “There is no safeguard as to where the organs are coming from and how safe they are, and on the other hand, the seller’s health deteriorates after the operation. That has a huge impact on their earning capacity because they cannot go back to their old physically demanding jobs.”

Although it is not foolproof, Iran seems to have found a possible solution to illegal organ trading: legalization. Iran has the only government-supported program involving trading organs for monetary compensation, but the terms vary by district. However, some Iranian markets favor the recipient, meaning that sellers may not be compensated as much as they would like. Those who do sell their organs also receive a free year of health insurance from the government and are not required to enlist in the usually mandatory military service.

Sigrid Fry-Revere, an American bioethicist is the president of the American Living Organ Donor Network and believes the US and other countries around the world should be following Iran’s example. Their arrangement allows those in poverty to make money and decreases those waiting for much-needed transplants.

Though Iran’s organ transplant programs are far from perfect, they seem to be one step ahead of many countries around the world. A legalized procedure almost guarantees safe surgery conditions for both recipients and sellers, and works to provide a mutually beneficial trade.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr


In the Indian capital, around 20% of a population of nearly 10 million have no access to safe, drinkable water—a resource that is supposed to be freely provided by the Indian authorities.

According to the BBC, there is a dangerous gap between supply and demand which has resulted in the official water supply falling short of Delhi’s water needs by 207 million gallons each day, helping to turn drinking water into a pseudo liquid gold. This is due to the fact that around 60% of water intended for Delhi residents is lost as a result of spillage, theft and failure to collect revenue. Official government-sponsored water tanks are also notorious for arriving erratically (at best) in Delhi’s poorest neighborhoods, such as in Sangam Vihar, where they show up “only… once every 10 days or so,” according to Rupa Jha, a local resident.

In response to the gap between water supply and demand, Delhi’s poorest residents have begun to turn to the Indian “Water Mafia,” an informal network of locals who steal water, and then sell it for a profit.

The Water Mafia business follows a model of simple economics. An association of truck drivers, as well as other mostly ordinary Delhi citizens, source water from illicit boreholes found below the earth’s surface, as well as by siphoning water from the city’s pipe network. Tanker bosses then buy water from the men who steal it, who then go on to sell the water directly to locals for a higher price than the $0 it “officially” costs (in Sangam Vihar, for instance, a gallon costs about one cent.) Employees, assuming they sell around a full tank (or 8,400 gallons), are then looking at a profit of $90 per day, or $2700 a month—a much higher wage than the $185 a worker earns in Delhi a month in minimum wage.

While the Water Mafia business is entirely illegal—sourced with water from illegal sources and sold without testing or treatment—it has nevertheless turned into a burgeoning trade that has come to fill in the gap for thousands of poor Delhi citizens who lack access to safe water. Many of Delhi’s poorest residents, in turn, have found that if they want water, they have no choice but to buy into the Water Mafia trade.

The business of stealing and selling water within Indian cities such as Delhi has enormously negative consequences for India’s future, according to authorities and experts who see the human and environmental toll that the practice is taking on the country. The Water Mafia business, for instance, exploits what are already the poorest citizens in a developing country by forcing them to scramble for funds to pay for a resource that is legally required to be free. The practice of extracting liquid for the ground also has negative environmental consequences for the country, especially as it depletes a scarce resource that has already been over-depleted in recent years as a result of India’s population boom. In 2014, for instance, a government report found that three-fourths of Delhi’s underground aquifers were being depleted, forcing boreholes to dig even deeper beneath the surface where water is more likely to be contaminated.

In order to crack down on the growing Water Mafia trade, authorities in recent years have offered a few solutions. In 2013, for instance, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won local municipal elections on a platform of protecting the average person’s interests, as well as their desire to dismantle the Water Mafia business. However, these efforts have been largely ineffective.

According to Rajendra Singh, a conservationist and a winner of this year’s Stockholm Water Prize, however, greater political will and effort could help the country resolve its water issues. Singh, who helped build rainwater-harvesting structures in the arid northern state of Rajasthan, has claimed that major Indian cities have failed to try anything similar. Adopting similar tactics in Delhi—by purifying local rainwater rather than stealing from and depleting water from the city’s boreholes—is one alternative that could potentially help the city solve its water crisis, according to Shah.

In order to protect India’s most at-risk citizens and the country’s long-term interests, it is imperative that an alternative solution—in terms of strengthening the country’s infrastructure and cracking down on members of this illegal water network—need to be adopted. Otherwise, India’s poorest citizens, and those who are most in need of safe drinking water, will continue to have their livelihoods and access to one of humanity’s most basic rights—safe water—be at the mercy of the seemingly unstoppable Water Mafia.

Ana Powell

Sources: BBC, Foreign Policy
Photo: BBC

A group of lions is called a pride. A group of elephants is called a herd. And in the unlikely event of finding a group of rhinoceroses, it would be called a crash. Unfortunately, the probability of finding large groups of these animals in the wild is becoming rare. What is left in place of an expansive Savannah scattered with magnificent beasts, is the narrowing of animal diversity. The foremost perpetrator: poaching.

According to a survey done by the International Union for Conservation (IUCN), as of November 7, 2013 the Western Black rhino is officially extinct. Sadder still is the almost inevitable extinction of the Northern White and Javan rhinos. The IUCN describe them as “making [their] last stand” and “teetering on the brink of extinction.” Unless drastic and prompt measures are taken, it will be difficult to stop the Northern White and Javan from meeting the same end as their Western cousin.

Poaching, ineffective anti-poaching efforts, and a failure of courts to hand down severe sentences to punish poachers may all be blamed for not only the Western’s demise but the fact that 25 per cent of mammals are teetering on the brink of extinction.

Conservationists are formulating a variety of anti-poaching techniques to combat these effects. Most recently, rhino horns are being poisoned and painted pink in South Africa to combat poachers. Persons who consume these horns will fall violently ill.

This technique, developed by Dr. Charles van Niekerk, has been extremely successful. On the Dinokeng nature reserve, where the technique is being used, not a single rhino has been poached. Unfortunately, at least 200 rhinos have been killed elsewhere.

As a back-up measure, the rhinos with this dye also have a microchip inserted into the horn. Incredibly, airport scanners can also detect the dye, even when ground as a powder, making the transport of these horns difficult. Presently, the main problem associated with this process is the difficulty in applying it to all rhinos because of a lack of resources.

The demand for these products is unprecedented. Last year, the market for ivory caused an estimated 96 elephants to be killed daily. This translates to an elephant every 15 minutes. Ground rhino horn is both a delicacy and is frequently used in traditional medicine in the Far East.

The allure of poaching is no mystery. It is a lucrative business.  “The value of a rhino horn in illegal trade is probably 100 times the average earnings of a villager living next to them,” explains Christy Williams, World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) leader on Asian elephants and rhinos.  “It makes poaching a coveted money-making opportunity.”

The Black Market, according to TRAFFIC, is worth about 160 billion dollars. While this can only be an estimate because of the covert nature of this trading, it is a strong indication of the economic worth of poaching.

Africa, presently in the midst of political chaos, is allowing the propagation of this poaching because of local poverty and social disorder. In March of 2013, the Seleka toppled the Central African Republic’s government, and since then have been wrecking havoc on both the people and wildlife. In early April, they went so far as to gun down 26 elephants with automatic weapons, remove the tusks, and vanish.

Organizations such as the WWF have been funding anti-poaching methods. They are building camps where rangers can stay and providing them with the proper equipment to effectively monitor and patrol reservations.

The ultimate goal is to create a sustainable future where villagers and communities can benefit from a relationship with the endangered species surrounding them. However, until this can be done, and unless strict poaching regulations are enforced, it remains dubious.

– Chloe Nevitt
Feature Writer

Sources: Daily Mail1, Daily Mail2, WWF1, WWF2, US News
Photo: The Gaurdian

Conservation Groups Investigate Google Ivory AdvertisementsThe Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) claimed this week that the Internet giant Google has over 10,000 advertisements for ivory products on its Japanese shopping site. The EIA has written to Google asking them to remove the ivory advertisements, but so far nothing has been done.

The EIA made the announcement this week at the 16th annual Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) held in Bangkok. Other conservation groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, have recently uncovered illegal sales of ivory and other wildlife products on websites such as eBay. The anonymity of Internet-based sales services has clearly fueled the increase in international commerce of illegal animal goods.

Google’s ivory advertisements are a matter of extreme concern for several reasons. First, ivory comes from African elephants, which are internationally recognized endangered species. According to The Guardian, the vast majority of African forest elephants, whose population once numbered 5 million, have been poached for their ivory-containing tusks. The population of this endangered species is two-thirds what it was a decade ago. Should this trend continue, the African forest elephant will potentially become extinct within the next decade.

Of secondary importance is Google’s hypocrisy in the matter. The generally progressive and environmentally conscious company has so far failed to act to remove the ivory advertisements. Company policy states, “Ads for products obtained from endangered or threatened species are not allowed on Google.” Yet, the ads are still up and running, fueling demand for products that threaten the existence of one of the world’s most vulnerable creatures.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: BBC News, Huffington Post
Photo: World Wildlife Fund