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Lotus flowers are used to make lotus face masks in Cambodia to address PPE waste and a high face mask demand. Several activists and actors have raised alarm over the potentially devastating effects that personal protective equipment (PPE) can have in terms of increasing pollution around the world. There have been reports of PPE waste collecting on coasts around the world. Plastic pollution negatively impacts ocean health and, for maritime nations, this could translate to economic losses and the loss of livelihoods for those working within the ocean economy. One study by Plastics Hub found that if every person living in the UK utilized a single-use face mask for every day of 2020, it would contribute an additional 66,000 tons of plastic waste. It is unclear how much of this waste could end up in marine environments, but with 150 million tonnes already circulating the earth’s water, there is a pressing urgency to address the unsustainability of single-use face masks to fight the spread of COVID-19. As a result, an eco-friendly designer in Cambodia created lotus face masks to address this PPE waste.

Is There a Way to Combat PPE Pollution?

Cambodia is not exempt from the negative impacts that pollution can have on marine environments. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) identifies Cambodia as being highly dependent on its aquatic resources for both food security and the livelihoods of the Cambodian people.  In 2013, Cambodia averaged 700,000 tons of fishing and aquaculture production.  At a conference on maritime issues in Cambodia in 2015, hosted by the National University of Management in Phnom Penh, speakers highlighted the risk pollution poses to the economic livelihoods of those who depend on the marine economy.  The FAO has also spoken about the degradation of the marine habitat in the country due to pollution. Photographer Niamh Peren described one scene of coastal pollution in Sihanouk, Cambodia as “mountains and mountains of plastic.”

Pollution in the marine environment is a global problem. Due to the nature of the ocean’s currents, marine plastic pollution does not respect national boundaries and one country’s actions will not be enough to address the problem alone. However, Awen Delaval, an eco-friendly fashion designer, is implementing an innovative solution to tackling plastic pollution, while simultaneously diversifying the economy in Cambodia and alleviating poverty rates in the country.

Turning Unwanted Lotus Stems into Organic Fabric

Delaval’s lotus face masks are made utilizing ancestral techniques of producing lotus fiber from lotus stems, which are commonly regarded as waste within the country. The entire process of creating sustainable lotus face masks is entirely eco-friendly, as well as biodegradable.  The fabric produced using lotus fibers is remarkably efficient at filtration and, according to Delaval, is a superior fabric due to its light texture and breathability. The eco-textile company Samatoa, which Delaval manages, produces lotus masks that meet the standards of both the United States’ CDC and France’s Association Francaise de Normalization, making them an effective alternative to plastic single-use face masks.

Samatoa also values the tenets of fair trade and has made a positive impact on the livelihoods of poor Cambodians in the Battambang province. The company has provided employment that empowered thirty Cambodia women to be financially independent and provide for their families. According to Samatoa, the wages earned by company workers are twice what they would receive from other textile work in the country. Additionally, the company ensures that workers have access to a number of benefits, including trade union rights, paid leave and health insurance.

Impact of Lotus Face Masks

Delaval’s innovative solution to plastic pollution produced from single-use face masks gained international attention. The company he manages, Samatoa, is striving to increase production and capacity to improve the lives of an additional 500 women. Samatoa also provides educational opportunities to lotus farmers on sustainable farming practices, further improving the lives of the Cambodian people. Deval’s lotus face masks provide a sustainable solution to the problem of PPE waste while simultaneously providing economic development to rural communities in Cambodia.

– Leah Bordlee
Photo: Pixabay

Apps that aid in healthcare in developing countries It can sometimes be difficult for people in developing countries to access healthcare, specifically those living in poverty. In order to address this problem, healthcare apps are being used to provide greater access. Here are 10 healthcare aid apps that are impacting access in developing countries.

10 Apps That Aid Healthcare in Developing Countries

  1. Peek has its sights set on helping people with vision impairment issues and blindness, a problem exacerbated in developing countries by a lack of resources. Peek can identify people with vision problems. The app then works with healthcare providers to pinpoint an economically feasible way to supply the treatment they need, before allocating the appropriate resources. Currently, Peek is being used by the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which is administering a population-based survey of blindness and visual impairments in Cambodia.
  2. SASAdoctor focuses on making healthcare consultations more accessible in Kenya. In the country, only 12% of people are insured. About 8 million are reliant on the National Hospital Insurance Fund, leaving 35 million Kenyans uninsured. Available to all Kenyans with an Android smartphone or tablet (65% of Kenyans have one), SASAdoctor decreases the cost of an in-person consultation for the uninsured and makes it free for those with insurance. Patients will have their medical history, list of medications and other such medical notes in their ‘file’ on the app, so that whoever tele-consults with them will have the information they need to create an informed medical opinion. SASAdoctor can decrease the cost of uninsured visits with a doctor to Kes 495 (the equivalent of $4.66) for a projected 80% of Kenyans who are predicted to have smartphones in the next few years.
  3. iWander allows people to keep track of Alzheimer’s patients. Set with tracking technology that can be discretely worn by the patient, it offers whoever uses the app several options on how to deal with situations involving the patient. Solutions can range from a group calling session to making an emergency medical call or summoning a caregiver. iWander gives families more control over the care of a loved one, which can have a positive impact in countries where healthcare may be less accessible. In the US, the average cost of care for a single person is $174,000 annually. About 7 out of 10 individuals with dementia remain at home to receive care, where 75% of the costs fall to the family to pay. In helping families be proactive instead of reactive to crises, iWander can help in cutting these costs, especially in poorer countries, where many families are struggling to keep up with the high costs of at-home care.
  4. Kenek O2 allows the user to monitor their oxygen and heart rate while they sleep. Kenek O2, built for the iPhone, also requires a pulse oximeter which connects to the phone and retrieves the data to be stored in the app. Together, the cost for these two items is around $100, compared to the price of a regular hospital oximeter and other similar products, which could easily cost more than $500. Having effectively been used in North America, South America, Asia and Africa, Kenek O2 is currently working on developing a special COVID-19 device to watch for early signs of hypoxia, or the deficiency of oxygen reaching tissues.
  5. First Derm is an app that requires a smartphone-connected device, called a dermatoscope. This allows detailed pictures to be taken of skin conditions and lesions to better allow for remote, teleconsultations. In places where doctors are few and far between, and public transport is less reliable, this can make getting a second medical opinion much easier. So far, First Derm has helped in more than 15,000 cases from Sweden, Chile, China, Australia and Ghana, ranging from ages of just 3 days old to 98 years. Of these cases, 70% could be treated without a doctor, most often by over-the-counter treatments available at local pharmacies.
  6. Ada takes user-input symptoms and provides appropriate measures to take as a result, like a personal health assistant. It’s intended to assist those who don’t have the means to seek an in-person consultation right away. The app has been released in several languages, which makes it more accessible. Currently, 10 million people around the world are using Ada for symptom evaluation.
  7. Babylon is intended to mitigate the obstacle of going to see a doctor in person by allowing users to input symptoms or solve common health problems via teleconsultation with a doctor. Babylon specializes in non-emergent medicine, allowing patients to skip a trip to the doctor’s office entirely if their condition allows it. This is beneficial in places where doctors are sparse, or the patient lacks the financial means or a method of transportation in getting to the hospital. Babylon caters to users across the U.S., U.K., Canada, Rwanda and several countries across Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. The app aims to expand to more countries in the upcoming years.
  8. MobiSante, through its ultrasound device, allows versatility in diagnostic imaging by bringing the ultrasound to the patient. This allows quality, diagnostic imaging to be done outside the confines of a hospital or clinic. As a result, it provides more holistic and informed treatment where people may need it most but have previously struggled in accessing a healthcare center with the necessary technology. While having a computer at home with a desk is much less common in developing countries, the world’s increasing reliance on the internet is shifting the status of internet technology from a luxury to a basic necessity. This means that technology such as smartphones are becoming somewhat of a necessity in impoverished countries, making an app like MobiSante effective in using smartphones to make diagnostic imaging more accessible.
  9. Go.Data is a tool released by the WHO. It is specifically for collecting data during global health emergencies. During the Ebola outbreak in Africa, Go.Data was praised for tracing points of contact. The app also tracked infection trends and helped in arranging post-contact follow up.
  10. Mobile Midwife is a digital charting app that stores information in a cloud so that healthcare workers have access to all pertinent patient information. It works even in cases of power outages, or home births where internet connection may be less reliable. This app can help in areas where mother and infant mortality is higher, ensuring that healthcare providers can efficiently access patient information to ensure the best care. It can also cut the extra time it takes to find records that could otherwise make procedures more dangerous for both mother and child.

Bridging healthcare accessibility with smartphone apps isn’t a perfect solution, as it comes with accessibility issues of its own. However, these healthcare aid apps can help people without insurance, or who are physically unable to visit a physician, access health consultations. As a result, more people are provided access to healthcare, empowering a healthier (and more health-conscious) population.

– Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

Cambodian garment industryThe Cambodian economy is heavily reliant on the garment industry, and the global garment industry is heavily reliant on Cambodia. The nation accounts for 45% of employed garment manufacturers worldwide. As of 2011, the industry was responsible for 80% of Cambodia’s total exports. However, Cambodia is also infamous for its poor treatment of factory workers, particularly in the garment industry. Here are six facts to understand labor rights violations in the Cambodian garment industry. 

Facts About Labor Rights Violations in the Cambodian Garment Industry

  1. Fixed duration contracts lead to worker insecurity. Employers in the Cambodian garment industry have largely shifted from undetermined duration, or long-term, contracts to fixed-duration, or short-term, contracts. The employers said the shift was in the interest of competitive, flexible business. In reality, fixed-duration contracts have resulted in increased job insecurity, reduced enforcement of international labor laws, industrial relation breakdowns and massive strikes. 
  2. Production targets create high-pressure work environments. To meet quotas, workers are often either forced to work overtime or enticed to do so with a small bonus that is usually never paid. In addition, some workers are often too intimidated to take breaks, even to use the bathroom or drink water.   
  3. Gender discrimination is common. More than 90% of workers in the Cambodian garment industry are women, mostly from rural areas with only a primary school education. One example of gender discrimination is pregnancy-based discrimination, which is abundant in the industry. Employers are known to refuse employment to pregnant women, refuse to renew the contracts of women who become pregnant or even fire pregnant women as their due dates approach. Even if pregnant women remain employed, they receive no workplace accommodations and often have to quit due to fatigue.
  4. Factories frequently violate child labor laws. Though the minimum age requirement for employment in Cambodia is 15, many factories employ children between the ages of 12 and 14. Employers often require children to work long past their eight-hour workday maximum and pay them below minimum wage. To hide this violation, some employers tell the children to hide when visitors come to the factory.
  5. The government often busts unions. There were concentrated efforts to bust unions in at least 35 factories from 2012 to 2015. In December 2013, the Cambodian Minister of Labor introduced obstacles to union formation. The challenges included delaying union certification and giving factory management time to retaliate against union members. Similarly, poor government inspection of factories and labor law enforcement makes it nearly impossible for small unions to assert their rights. 
  6. The Cambodian Ministry of Labor is making significant changes. In January of 2019, the Ministry of Labor introduced several labor law reforms. Among these was the introduction of bimonthly salary payments and seniority payments: compulsory, periodic payments made to employees with long term contracts. The government also introduced severance payments, which require employers to pay fixed-term contract employees at the end of a contract. 

Many people in the Cambodian garment industry face labor rights violations due to a lack of enforcement of labor laws. However, the Cambodian government and international fashion retailers are taking measures to improve working conditions. These measures are the first step to creating better environments and living wages for Cambodian garment workers.

– Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

McCartney's Humanitarian Work
Sir James Paul McCartney, known professionally as Paul McCartney, is a singer, songwriter, poet, bass player and animal rights activist. He is best known for his work with the English rock band The Beatles. During his 63-year-long ongoing career that revolutionized the world of music, McCartney has amassed a fortune of over $1 billion. This drove him to begin making significant charitable donations to organizations. McCartney’s humanitarian work emphasizes spreading awareness about causes for which he advocates.

5 Facts About Paul McCartney’s Humanitarian Work

  1. As of June 2020, Paul McCartney has supported 45 charities. Throughout his life, he has donated millions to several charities and has participated in many benefit concerts, such as Live 8 and Change Begins Within. Change Begins Within was a 2009 benefit concert in Manhattan, New York, hosted by the David Lynch Foundation. It helped raise money and awareness for at-risk youth and encouraged the use of meditation to combat stress and achieve success. Other significant charities and organizations that McCartney has supported include Adopt-A-Minefield, Cruelty Free International, Everyone Matters, Greenpeace, PETA, Red Cross and the St. Francis Food Pantries and Shelters. McCartney is a patron for Adopt-A-Minefield, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the problems of landmines, raising funds to help survivors of landmine accidents and helping clear landmines. From 2001 to 2005, McCartney performed in five benefit galas for the organization. In total, he helped raise $17 million for the now-inoperative charity.
  2. Paul McCartney is a huge advocate for providing aid for childhood diseases. McCartney has four biological children, Mary, Stella, James and Beatrice, and an adopted daughter, Heather, who is the biological daughter of the late Linda McCartney. McCartney also has eight grandchildren and used them as inspiration for his children’s book “Hey, Grandude!”, which was published in September 2019. His devotion to his own children and grandchildren is evident, but it is also apparent that he cares a great deal for the welfare of children around the world. McCartney’s humanitarian work has included donations to the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, Keep a Child Alive, Children with Leukemia and Teenage Cancer Trust. These are organizations dedicated to focusing on the needs of children affected by significant diseases or disorders. Additionally, in 2012, McCartney performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London for the Teenage Cancer Trust, helping raise over $382 million.
  3. Paul McCartney’s humanitarian work dates back over 40 years. In 1979, McCartney was one of the lead organizers of the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea, a series of concerts that ran from December 26-29, 1979 and took place at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. The concerts raised awareness and donations for the victims of war-torn Cambodia (then known as Kampuchea) at the start of the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. The proceeds went directly toward United Nations agencies’ emergency relief work in Cambodia. In addition, in 1989, McCartney participated in a charity version of the song “Ferry Cross the Mersey.” The proceeds made from the single were used to aid victims of the Hillsborough disaster, a human crush that occurred at a soccer match in the Hillsborough Stadium in South Yorkshire, England, killing nearly 100 people. The song held the number one spot on the U.K. chart for three weeks after its release.
  4. Paul McCartney supports the eradication of poverty. McCartney’s humanitarian work also includes dedicating time and money toward helping those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. His most notable involvement with an organization dedicated to ending poverty was when he performed at a Live 8 concert in 2005. Live 8 was a series of benefit concerts organized in support of the U.K.’s Make Poverty History coalition and the international Global Call to Action Against Poverty campaign. The goal of the concerts was to raise $50 billion in aid toward impoverished African countries by 2010 (the concerts raised about $30 billion). McCartney has also supported the Worldwide Orphans Foundation, Aid Still Required and the Prince’s Trust. These organizations assist people in underdeveloped countries and unfavorable socioeconomic situations.
  5. In April 2020, Paul McCartney performed in the One World: Together at Home benefit concert. The current international COVID-19 outbreak has affected people worldwide. Global Citizen, a worldwide movement dedicated to ending poverty by 2030, hosted a charity special in the form of a virtual benefit concert starring many famed musicians. The concert was titled One World: Together at Home. It raised $127 million for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and for charities providing food, shelter and healthcare to those in need. McCartney sang a solo rendition of the Beatles’ song “Lady Madonna” while playing the piano.

Paul McCartney’s humanitarian work proves his unwavering dedication toward improving the welfare of humans and animals alike. His aid has made him one of the celebrities best known for generous donations. His championship for nearly 50 charities and organizations proves how one can use their wealth to better the state of the world.

Kia Wallace
Photo: Flickr

Tuberculosis In Cambodia To the nearly 17 million people living in Cambodia, tuberculosis is no stranger. In 2007, it was the seventh leading cause of death in the country. In 2012, it caused nearly 8.6 million Cambodians to fall ill. Today, despite the ongoing threat of tuberculosis in Cambodia, eradication efforts continue to prove that solutions to complex health problems can oftentimes start with the simplest of interventions—take, perhaps, a new washing machine.

A Clean, New Discovery

For the staff at the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital in Cambodia’s capital, such a realization came around because of Nhib Chhom. Nhib Chhom, the Deputy Infection Control Coordinator, asked nurse educator Kareeen Dunlop to test the bacterial residue of hospital linens. She discovered an extremely minor reduction in the amount of bacteria on washed laundry. This was a surprising finding no doubt, but to the hospital’s many employees, less than so.

“Staff have been pleading with me in regards to their laundering,” describes Dunlop in a 2019 report. “Nhib Chhom again said how the washing was coming back from the laundry dirtier than it went.”

Seeing as the hospital specializes in the treatment of infectious diseases, the nurses’ frustration is particularly understandable. Without the proper means to sanitize linens, curbing disease transmission is made unnecessarily more difficult. Furthermore, the lack of sanitization unnecessarily ignites yet another outbreak of tuberculosis in Cambodia.

What to Know About Tuberculosis in Cambodia

Globally, the WHO approximates that 1.8 billion people have TB. Cambodia in particular is still home to one of the largest TB infection rates in the world. Cambodia has approximately 13,000 TB-related deaths per year. Cases of tuberculosis in Cambodia have decreased by 45% between 2002 and 2011. Despite this decrease, however, Cambodia continues to remain among the world’s 22 high-burden tuberculosis countries. The Pasteur Institute in Cambodia estimates a TB prevalence of 36,000 cases out of a population of 16 million in 2015 alone. Coupled with an estimated 40% TB under-diagnosis rate according to research at the National University in Singapore, the TB threat in Cambodia is certainly far from passed.

Thankfully, however, such staggering numbers have not gone unchecked. In fact, together the national TB program and international partners have achieved an 85% TB treatment success rate. They continue to address eradication efforts. In the case of the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital’s laundry problem, the officials involved were Michael and Jodie Flowers. Michael and Jodie Flowers, managers of Commercial Laundry Solutions LTD., who volunteered to install four washing machines and donate a drier to the hospital. Aided by $6,000 worth of spare parts from Electrolux, the Flowers spent three weeks refurbishing their washing appliances. They ultimately granted nurses the ability to deliver sparkling clean laundry for the first time.

How the Cambodian Health Committee is Combatting Tuberculosis in Cambodia

Many others works to empower healthcare providers with the materials necessary to deter global health threats. A nonprofit NGO, the Cambodian Health Committee (CHC), has also been working long hours to eradicate tuberculosis in Cambodia. Additionally, they also strive to eradicate HIV/AIDS from Svay Rieng, Kompot and Kandal, three of Cambodia’s poorest and most war-affected provinces.

Founded by research immunologist Dr. Anne Goldfeld, in collaboration with healthcare professional Dr. Sok Thim, the CHC has treated more than 32,000 people with tuberculosis in Cambodia since its founding in 1994. The CHC has also screened over 2,000 people for drug-resistant TB infection. With an integrated emphasis on healthcare, clinical research and education, the CHC implements a community-based healthcare model to provide direct TB care, in addition to investigating the effectiveness of new innovations.

For example, the CHC designed a research study regarding the effects of treatment timing in outcomes for TB and HIV-infected patients. The study, CAMELIA, found that beginning TB drug therapy two weeks prior to administering AIDS medications decreases mortality by 34%.

The Borgen Project recently spoke with Dr. Sarin Chan, a clinical investigator for CAMELIA. According to Dr. Chan, the study has since progressed out of the experimental phase and into the clinical one. The study is involved with early ARV treatment for co TB and HIV-infected patients now recognized in the national guidelines for clinical care of HIV patients. The National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control’s development of a TB prevention strategy is similarly a promising step forward in the fight against tuberculosis in Cambodia, says Chan.

Looking Ahead

At the end of the washing cycle, much good can be said about the progress against tuberculosis in Cambodia. Despite the country’s high TB infection rate, increased access to community-based healthcare as provided by the CHC and improvement of hospital sanitation practices all point towards a brighter future.

– Petra Dujmic 
Photo: Flickr

Indoor Air Pollution in Rural CambodiaCambodia has seen a rapid decrease in poverty within the last decade. More than 45 percent of the population was impoverished in 2007 when compared to 13.5 percent in 2014. It has also sustained one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world at an average of 8 percent between 1998 and 2018. However, just because the majority of the country has achieved middle-income status does not mean that the country is without its issues. Indoor air pollution in Cambodia is a growing problem.

Rural vs. Urban Areas

Many of those who have only recently overcome poverty have just barely done so. A large part of Cambodia’s population still lives on a very small amount of money per day and is at risk of slipping back into poverty. This risk is much higher in rural provinces. Eighty percent of Cambodia’s population lives in rural areas that had a poverty level of 20.8 percent in 2012. That is three times higher than the poverty rate in urban areas.

Rural Cambodians are subject as such to the hardships that many of the world’s rural poor must face. These include dilapidated electrical and internet infrastructure as well as limited access to healthcare and sanitation resources. Indoor air pollution in Cambodia is one such aspect of health that affects the rural poor disproportionately.

Indoor Air Pollution

The typical symptoms of being regularly exposed to indoor air pollution include nasal congestion, nose bleeds, difficulty breathing, a sore throat and asthma. These symptoms seem similar to a common cold, but long-term effects can include more serious respiratory diseases like respiratory disease and cancer.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the greatest environmental health risk in the Western Pacific Region. In 2012, air pollution caused at least 3.2 million deaths. Indoor air pollution accounted for about 1.62 million of these deaths. Indoor air pollution is usually caused by smoking tobacco inside and by cooking with wood, coal or dung without proper indoor ventilation. Many people who are poor in rural areas with limited access to gas or electricity use these methods to cook. In rural Cambodia, the prevalence of these cooking methods reached 95 percent of households by 2013.

Biogas Stoves

The main solution to reducing indoor air pollution is to introduce efficient stoves that use clean fuel. One source of clean stove fuel would simply be electricity. However, that is an issue for rural Cambodians since the electrical infrastructure is sparse in rural areas. A better, more applicable solution would be to introduce biogas stoves with proper ventilation.

One million Cambodian households have the proper livestock to supply themselves with biogas fuel. The fuel would need to be extracted by using a biodigester that anaerobically takes methane from natural resources such as dung stored underground and siphons it to the stove. The methane would, of course, need proper ventilation to ensure the air in the household did not become poisonous just like a natural gas stove. Cambodia’s Natural Biodigester Programme (NBP) is working to distribute biodigesters to its rural population in hopes of combatting indoor air pollution. As of 2016, the state-led program has installed about 23,000 biodigesters.

The ACE 1 Stove

Using solid biomass for cooking causes much of indoor air pollution. Another alternative to solid biomass would be to use cleaner biomass stovetops that produce negligible emissions indoors. African Clean Energy (ACE) has launched the ACE 1 stove. This stove uses biomass as fuel but burns nearly all particles inside the chamber to leave barely any emissions. In addition, the stove comes with solar panels that provide LED lighting and outlet ports for mobile phones.

ACE has launched a program in northern Cambodia, the poorest Cambodian region, to try and implement the product. The ACE 1 is auctioned from a local vendor where the buyer pays a $25 downpayment. Afterward, the buyer continues to pay off the stove in small monthly increments of about $7.

Indoor air pollution in Cambodia is still rampant in rural parts despite the overall increase in income. The solutions are there, but in order to ensure economic growth that benefits everybody, Cambodia needs to focus on the implementation of these solutions in an ethical and sustainable way. This would lessen the health risks that the Cambodian poor face from simply living in their houses. It will also help facilitate more stable, lasting economic growth and development for the poor of the countryside.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Flickr

rice farmer povertyRice is a universal food staple, featured in dishes from across the globe, feeding the rich and poor alike. It has the second-largest cereal market in the world, only second to corn. Over 470 million tons of rice were harvested in 2017, and that number continues to grow, with a harvest of 495.9 million tons predicted for the 2019 season.

Despite the massive rice market, many rice farmers live in poverty. Nine hundred million of the world’s poor depend on rice either as a consumer or producer, with 400 million directly engaged with growing rice. The majority of these farmers are based in Asia, the heart of the global rice market.

Technological Improvements Reduce Rice Farmer Poverty

The rice crop is notoriously demanding on the environment, requiring an immense volume of water, especially when grown at high intensity. Rice farming consumes over half the freshwater in Asia. Much of the focus on improving rice production lies in reducing the amount of water used. Organizations, such as the CGIAR Research Program, have advocated the use of alternate planting systems, such as the Alternate Wetting and Drying system (AWD), which can reduce water consumption by up to 30 percent.

Greater water efficiency means greater productivity for farmers. Production costs are lower, so farmers profit more from their harvest and can afford to sell their crop for less, allowing those in deep poverty to afford rice. AWD has been shown to increase farmer income by 38 percent in Bangladesh, 32 percent in the Philippines, and 17 percent in Vietnam.

Not Just Rice

Even in areas with a booming rice market, rice farmer poverty continues. The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) spans six Asian countries, including China and Vietnam, and accounts for 44 percent of global rice exports. The six countries, save China, of these nations are net producers—they produce and export more rice than the nation can consume. Despite this, poverty stands at 19 percent across the GMS, and 15 percent of the population is malnourished.

There has been much improvement. GMS-member Cambodia, for example, has undergone a 35 percent decrease in poverty since 2004. However, much of it is unstable. Past expansions in the GMS rice-production have relied on favorable weather conditions, massive increases in farmland, and far-reaching use of fertilizer. These conditions are not favorable for agricultural or economic growth, with increases in land production outpacing that of productivity, 8.7 percent to 3.4 percent between 2004 and 2012.

The GMS and other rice-producing regions are now changing policy to focus on diversifying crops. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) encourages farmers to convert rice-rice and rice-wheat plants to rice-maize plants, which will allow farmers to optimize their resources, widen their range of income inputs, and reduce the risk of crop disease. Studies have shown that planting disease-vulnerable rice crop and disease-resistant crop together results in 89 percent greater yield.

This measure may also be needed in the more distant future. Though rice will always be a world staple, Asian consumers may begin to purchase more vegetables and meat as they grow wealthier, decreasing the world demand for rice.

Genetic Modifications

With rice featuring so heavily in the global diet, rice developers have prioritized the quality of rice grown, both in resilience, and health benefits. The Research Program on Rice and IRRI both work to improve the quality of rice seeds provided to rice farmers. In Africa, AfricaRice has lifted 8 million out of poverty with their improved seed quality.

By using a greater variety of improved seeds, farmers of 16 sub-Saharan countries were able to vastly improve their yields. Forty-five percent of farmers saw themselves lifted out of food insecurity following the 2008 food crisis.

Improvements in agriculture and the betterment of rice farmer poverty go hand in hand, and as one improves, the other will, as well. There’s been significant progress already, with the rice market acting as an escape from food insecurity for millions. There is still much work to be done, but organizations like the IRRI make steady progress to a healthier, wealthier world.

– Katie Hwang
Photo: Flickr

Phare Ponleu Selpak circus schoolBattambang, Cambodia
The room is dark with a spotlight and hard bleachers. One young person enters from stage left juggling three red balls. Another performer helps the juggler onto a cylinder. Barefoot, the juggler is now balancing and juggling. Soon they add another cylinder at a 90-degree angle to the first, followed by another cylinder and another. The juggler is now five feet off the ground, still balancing and juggling. Phare Battambang Circus is a human-only circus in Battambang, Cambodia with goals well beyond entertainment that involves its idea of The Brightness of the Arts.  It strives to fight poverty in Cambodia through the arts.

The Phare Battambang Circus

The Phare Battambang Circus runs through a Cambodian nonprofit, Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) or The Brightness of the Arts, which provides a “nurturing and creative environment where young people access quality arts training, education and social support.” Sparked in 1986 in a refugee camp on the Thai/Cambodian border, Phare Ponleu Selpak uses a whole child approach through arts, education and social support to break intergenerational patterns of poverty steeped in the long history of state-sponsored violence. While the violence of the Khmer Rouge has retreated, children in Cambodia still struggle with extensive social problems such as poor school retention, drug abuse, poor working conditions, domestic violence, illegal migration and exploitation.

Now a must-do for visiting tourists, high season at the Phare Battambang Circus means at least 150 visitors a night. About 40 percent of nightly circus revenue goes to the youth performers themselves. This income supports families around Battambang and keeps youth out of more destructive industries like human trafficking in Thailand. PPS estimates that over 1,000 lives should positively change every year through its free-of-charge artistic, general education and personalized social support. Its arts education and artistic performances are changing the lives of families living in poverty in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge Regime

Under the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, the party’s radical Maoist and Marxist-Leninist agenda governed all aspects of everyday life in Cambodia. In its effort to render the country a classless agricultural utopia, the Khmer Rouge asserted that only the culturally pure could participate in the revolution. As such, the Khmer Rouge “executed hundreds of thousands of intellectuals; city residents; minority people such as the Cham, Vietnamese and Chinese and many of their own soldiers and party members, who were accused of being traitors.” Recent estimates place the death toll between 1.2 and 2.8 million.

The people the Khmer Rouge found to be nonconforming went to prison camps, the most notorious being S-21 where the regime imprisoned over 12,000 people and only 15 survived. Such widespread violence forced millions into refugee camps for years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

At Site II, a refugee camp on the Thai/Cambodian border, a French artist and humanitarian worker named Véronique Decrop started offering informal drawing classes for the children at the camp orphanage.

How Site II Grew into PHARE

Classes at Site II grew into PHARE, a French association and acronym meaning Patrimoine Humain et Artistique des Réfugiés et de leurs Enfants (Human and Artistic Heritage of the Refugees and their Children). Communications and Marketing Coordinator for Phare Ponleu Selpak Morgane Darrasse said, “The original idea was to develop a form of art therapy for them to escape and overcome the traumas of war.” Over time PHARE grew into Phare Ponleu Selpak or The Brightness of the Arts.

When Site II closed in 1992, Veronique and nine of her students moved to Battambang to create a sustainable school for the most affected children from the surrounding area. By 1995, the school accepted its first students and to this day, four of the original founders are still active in PPS.

Thanks to state-wide violence, all founders of PPS grew up in refugee camps segregated from their own cultural traditions. When it came time to implement music and dance programs at PPS, the founders chose to spotlight Cambodian traditional music. Derasse said, “They felt it their duty to revive the dying Cambodian arts” while fighting poverty in Cambodia.

Phare Ponleu Selpak Supports Its Students

Even though drawing classes with PHARE were the first seed, Phare Ponleu Selpak now has a thriving visual and performing arts curriculum as well as a strong outreach and social work foundation to support students find job placements and networking opportunities through and after their education. In its efforts to create a sustainable arts community, PPS ensures that 100 percent of students who complete their secondary or vocational training with it achieve employment within three months of graduation. This sustainable long-term approach lessens the intergenerational hold of poverty in Cambodia.

One student, Monisovanya RY, studied visual arts and graphic design through PPS. Upon graduation, PPS hired her into the PPS communications team to coordinate product design and production. In her free time, she creates performances in local galleries to cultivate an understanding of the environmental dangers of plastic waste.

Morgane Darrasse for PPS boasts, “We provide our students with communication and life skills, and also a complete set of technical skills, a strong fundamental and cultural knowledge of the arts, and the ability to understand, analyze and respond to a given problem with professionalism and creativity.”

The organization’s graphic and animation graduates work in advertising, marketing and animation production, and all local circus instructors are graduates of the program itself. Its goal is the creation of a sustainable arts community.

PPS’s Child Protection Program

In addition to pursuing arts programming, PPS’s Child Protection Program (CPP) asserts the inherent value of children’s rights. It wants communities to be safe and to provide families with the tools to care for their children. These programs extend into the three communes surrounding Battambang.

In collaboration with 32 NGOs based in Battambang and generous international donors, CPP follows, tracks and supports students and their families through a family needs assessment process and a monthly student sponsorship program. Most PPS participants come from these local communes because of the intense time commitment their programs require. PPS established a scholarship program for its visual arts program recently, which has made it accessible to young people from other parts of Cambodia.

Phare Ponleu Selpak or The Brightness of the Arts saves lives and combats poverty in Cambodia. In 2013, PPS received a royal award of $31,000 from the Netherlands. The Dutch Ambassador said PPS gets at the heart of their award requirements “to promote the use of culture as a means of development.”

Sarah Boyer
Photo: Phare Ponleu Selpak

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Cambodia
Cambodia is a small South-East Asian nation bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The nation is still recovering from the damages wrought by the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled from 1951 – 1999. The unfortunate legacies are numerous. Despite this, Cambodia is making strides to face the many challenges that being a rising developing nation entails. Overall, living conditions in Cambodia are steadily improving.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Cambodia

  1. Cambodia has a population of 15.9 million people. Ninety percent of them are of Khmer origin while the remaining 10 percent are Vietnamese, Chinese or a member of another minority. The country is made up of predominantly rural dwellers, who have settled in villages in areas near rivers. Only 12 percent of the population lives in the capital, Phnom Penh.
  2.  The average life expectancy is 67 years old for males and 71 years for females. The median age of the population is 24. There is a high prevalence of HIV and AIDS in Cambodia, among the highest in Asia. In 2016, 71,000 people were living with HIV. The government is making concerted efforts to combat this illness and increase awareness of how to keep it from spreading.
  3. Health care is an issue that the government is overlooking as it makes strides in its policies to benefit its people. Health care only comprises 1 percent of the overall GDP. There is a massive disparity between the quality and availability of medical resources in rural and urban areas. In rural areas, many people are forced to travel long distances to get the care that they need. The Social Security System currently in place only covers employment injuries for formal workers, making it hard to get coverage.
  4. The education system in Cambodia was largely destroyed by the Khmer Rouge Revolution when education was banned. Schools were destroyed and teachers were executed. The government is making great efforts to build this system back up, dedicating 18.31 percent of the national budget to education. They have almost achieved universal access to primary education at 97.7 percent. Cambodia has strengthened gender parity with girls making up 48.2 percent of students. The country has built 1,000 new schools in the last 10 years.
  5. The Cambodian government is dedicated to child protection. It is improving child development and strengthening child protection services by addressing violence against children and the use of residential care institutions. The government has a goal to reduce the use of these institutions by 30 percent and to prevent family and child separation.
  6. While poverty has decreased significantly in Cambodia, many families survive while hovering just above the poverty line of $1.25 per day. Three of four people live on less than $3 a day. Most of these people are rural, but urban poverty is also on the rise.
  7. Urban slums account for 25 percent of the population of Phnom Penh. These areas face many challenges, including poor sanitation and hygiene, high rates of diarrhea and malnutrition. They lack toilets, decent drainage and garbage disposal systems. These slums are overcrowded and ridden with poverty and domestic violence.
  8. One in four women are survivors of physical, emotional or sexual violence. One in five women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical violence by the age of 15. In Cambodian society, violence against women is frowned upon, but domestic violence is acceptable. This creates a culture where women have the pretense of protection but are not safe in their own homes.
  9. Cambodia’s elderly population is growing as they become more prosperous. People above 60 years of age makeup 6.34 percent of the population, at 849,911 people. The country expects this population to triple in the coming decades. They are a largely forgotten group of people in development and democracy debates. Most presume that they are taken care of by their families. These people contribute to society by taking care of children and those afflicted with HIV and AIDS.
  10. There is a general disregard in Cambodia for those with disabilities. They are generally denied normal opportunities to live comfortably and improve their lives. Because of this injustice, they often end up begging on the street to feed themselves and their families. Rehabilitation centers are limited in cities and rural areas, particularly for children and women with disabilities.

While the national government is putting intense focus on improving living conditions in Cambodia, there are still aspects that need work. The country needs to focus on poverty, domestic violence and those with disabilities to try to protect their citizens from the pain they receive at home and then increase the health care accessibility so that these victims can receive the care that they need.

– Michela Rahaim
Photo: Flickr

Development Projects in Cambodia

Cambodia is a developing country with a population of over 16 million. There are many ways for countries to become developed, including improvements to infrastructure and education. Here are five development projects in Cambodia.

  1. Secondary Education Improvement Act. The country of Cambodia achieved a 98 percent primary enrollment in 2015. Cambodia has done much to expand education, including building 1,000 schools over the past 10 years. The purpose of the Secondary Education Act is “to expand lower secondary education to achieve minimum standards in target areas,” according to the World Bank. Since having basic reading skills can increase one’s earnings, this act can have potential long-term benefits.
  2. Livelihood Enhancement and Association of the Poor Project (LEAP) Almost 18 percent of Cambodia’s population is under the poverty line. The LEAP project aims to increase access to financial services and income-generating opportunities for vulnerable households.
  3. Water Resources Management Sector Development Program. About 75 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water. The program will upgrade the irrigation systems in Cambodia so that people will have access to clean water. According to the Asian Development Bank, the project will also strengthen the capacity of the government and communities to manage water resources.
  4. Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) for Floating Villages Project. While the net enrollment for primary education is 98 percent, enrollment for children aged three to five is only 41 percent. The ECCD project aims to provide access to quality services through community and home-based programs for children under age five.
  5. Flood Damage Emergency Reconstruction Project. In 2011, a flood in Cambodia destroyed crops, infrastructure and overall affected more than 1 million people. This particular project aims to help rebuild the infrastructure that was damaged in the flooded area, such as 524 kilometers of roads and six bridges. It will also restore irrigation systems and people’s livelihoods.

Cambodia has experienced strong economic growth over the last decade, with an average annual growth rate of its GDP at over seven percent per year. With these projects and plans in place, the country will be on the right track to building and developing further. As many of these development projects in Cambodia strive to increase earnings at an individual level, the economic benefits will continue to be tremendous.

– Dezanii Lewis

Photo: Flickr