Cost of Living in Costa RicaCosta Rica is a small country of around 4.5 million people in Central America. With beautiful natural settings and the possibility for a healthy lifestyle, Costa Rica has become a popular destination for tourists and expats. While the cost of living in Costa Rica may be less than in a typical U.S. city, it’s actually one of the more expensive places to live in Latin America and Central America.

As in many countries, the cost of living in Costa Rica varies depending on what region you are in. If a family of two lives in a sparsely populated area, they may be able to get by with $1,500 or less a month. This includes rent, utilities, transportation and the Internet. However, someone living in an expensive condo in the Central Valley would hypothetically spend considerably more.

There are a few factors that make the cost of living in Costa Rica less than the U.S. First, housing is much more affordable. Nice homes are available in great locations with reasonable prices.

Second, the government provides high-quality and low-cost medical care. Costa Rica has a universal healthcare system known as Caja. For a small monthly fee, residents of Costa Rica receive any care they need. Additional insurance is also available for purchase. Perhaps because of this quality system, Costa Ricans have the second-highest average life expectancy of the Americas, with only Canadians scoring higher.

While housing and healthcare are very affordable, the cost of utilities is closer to the usual cost in the U.S., rather than the lower prices in other Latin America countries. This disparity is the primary reason the cost of living in Costa Rica is higher than it is in its neighboring countries.

A group of sociologists from Happy Planet Index ranked Costa Ricans as the happiest people on the planet. With the combination of cheap housing, affordable and accessible healthcare and beautiful tropical vistas, this should come as no surprise.

Brock Hall

Photo: Flickr

Belize, located south of Mexico in Central America, was the center of the Mayan civilization thousands of years ago. Since then, Belize has developed into an independent, democratic country with English as its official language. The Belizean economy remains small, depending mainly on agriculture, merchandising and tourism. The sugar and banana industries make up two of the biggest sources of economic production. The developing nation has become an attractive travel destination for people around the world, but the rate of poverty in Belize remains very high.

As of September 2016, the rate of poverty in Belize stood at 41.3 percent, which meant that 380,010 people lived in conditions below the poverty line. People living in rural areas suffer more from poverty than those living in Belize City. This occurs because federal revenue is distributed to all the districts disproportionately.

When compared to other countries in the Caribbean, the rate of poverty in Belize ranks second-highest after Haiti. Reducing this statistic has proven to be a challenge for the Belizean government, as poverty in Belize often results from many factors, including lack of access to education, sanitary drinking water and medical attention.

While poverty in Belize cannot be eradicated overnight, the government of Belize has made significant steps in recent years. Belizean politicians have pursued legislation and programs to tackle the challenges faced by the people living below the poverty rate. The Belize Social Investment Fund, established in 1996, assists groups within communities in their efforts to help the poor.

The National Integrated Water Resources Act, approved by the government in 2010, will eventually result in access to clean water. When safe drinking water is brought in, communities see increased economic growth without fail, and Belize has been no exception.

Other pushes towards a decrease in poverty include the Quality School Initiative, resulting in increased school enrollment. Gender equality has also increased, with access to education, literacy rates and employment rates rising over the past 10 years. In 2015, the infant mortality rate had decreased by two-thirds. With increased efforts to attack the roots of poverty in Belize, the nation is sure to see a decrease in the poverty rate.

Julia McCartney

Photo: Flickr

8 Things to Know About Poverty in El Salvador
El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Central America. After a 12 year civil war and years of unstable leadership, poverty in El Salvador is a concern that greatly affects the over 6 million people living there.

Top 8 Facts on Poverty in El Salvador

Over 25 percent of children below the age of 5 experience extreme poverty in El Salvador and 36 percent of the rural population lives in poverty. Urbanization is a problem developing countries face as cities grow and become a hub for economic, medical and commercial activity. This causes problems for those in rural areas as they have less and less access to resources. Currently, 60.3 percent of citizens live in urban areas, which results in greater poverty for the remaining people outside of cities.

The people of El Salvador are also constantly at risk of facing greater challenges due to natural disasters. World Vision reports that the country “experiences frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity, making it known as the ‘land of volcanoes.” In December of 2013, the Chaparrastique volcano in eastern El Salvador erupted and caused the evacuation of 5,000 people.

Leaf rust has caused problems for the coffee industry in El Salvador, which is an important source of income for the country’s economy. Heavy rain and wind carry rust spores from plantations to other plantations miles away. Bloomberg reports that the 2015 coffee season projections fell from 920,000 to 613,333 60-kilogram bags.

90 percent of the population has access to safe water and 96 percent of children are enrolled in school, though this education may not be effective in preparing children for their future. The U.S. Agency for International Development reports, “Many children and adolescents living in El Salvador face enormous vulnerabilities associated with high rates of crime and gang violence including poor quality education.”

El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the world for youth under 19, reports USAID. InSight Crime cites progress in El Salvador’s mission to reduce the number of violent deaths to a rate more in line with international statistics. In September of 2016, 13.3 percent fewer homicides occurred than the previous year. USAID launched programs whose focus is to stimulate and increase productivity in areas that are at risk, such as rural populations.

The national strategy entitled Plan El Salvador Seguro “addresses security and education opportunities in high crime municipalities.” The strategy involves programs such as Education for Children and Youth at Risk, as well as USAID Bridges to Employment to care for those who are not enrolled in education but need to provide for themselves and their families.

UNICEF Goodwill ambassador and former professional soccer player David Beckham’s new fund “7” launched a campaign in 2015 to end violence against children and poverty in El Salvador. This program is Beckham’s commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable children globally.

Beckham said, “Every day, violence affects thousands of children and adolescents in El Salvador. It’s an outrage – violence in their homes, schools and streets. El Salvador has the highest rate in the world of homicides of children and adolescents and, together, we can change this.”

Rebecca Causey

Photo: Flickr

San Jose Action Statement
On August 4, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and the United States welcomed the San Jose Action Statement. The statement was issued in response to an unprecedented meeting of concerned nations regarding the influx of Central American refugees.

Since 2012, the number of pending asylum cases in the U.S. and Mexico alone has reached over 109,000. In 2014, 66,000 unaccompanied children fleeing Central America entered the U.S. Further, data from 2015 shows the U.S. continuing as the main receiving country, registering almost twice as many asylum applications as in 2014.

Recognizing the need for urgent action and improved institutions to manage the flow of migrants, members of the San Jose Action Statement agreed to responsibility-sharing and regional cooperation. To mitigate the crisis and lessen the plight of refugees, the San Jose Action Statement has three main objectives:

Preventing and Addressing Root Causes of Displacement in and Migration from Countries of Origin

To accomplish this, member states vowed to strengthen coordinated responses, focusing on socio-economic development, access to education and livelihood opportunities, consolidating the rule of law, acting against impunity and operating under a framework that fully respects human rights.

Member states further agreed to monitor internal displacement and migration in order to develop well-informed national and international responses to the refugee crisis. In addition, all parties acknowledged the need to provide protection for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees. These measures aim to minimize the outward flows of migration by creating prosperous, secure lives in home countries.

Enhancing Asylum and Protection Responses in Countries of Transit, Destination and Asylum

All parties to the San Jose Action Statement agreed to provide timely identification and documentation of refugees, as well as unhindered access to documentation processes and protection.

Member states further vowed to improve alternatives to detention and resource provision for refugees, including access to legal aid, psychosocial support and humanitarian assistance. Early integration into receiving communities will also be targeted and strengthened.

Promoting Regional Cooperation

All nine nations agreed to develop a collaborative approach, emphasizing the need for partnerships with other nations, U.N. organizations, international and regional organizations, civil society, academia and other entities. These partnerships will create responsibility-sharing mechanisms in the region, such as legal pathways to admission and humanitarian visas.

This call for action marks an important step in combating the Central American refugee crisis. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk, stated, “The San Jose Action Statement is a visible and significant demonstration of the willingness of countries from the region to work together to address the plight of refugees, internally displaced persons and others in need of protection, in a spirit of solidarity.”

Anna O’Toole

Photo: Flickr

Education in Costa Rica
Education in Costa Rica has come leaps and bounds from its past. The highly-rated education system in Costa Rica continues to lead Central and Latin America by example, striving to provide both highly accessible and high-quality education to all.

Costa Rica’s literacy rate is approximately 95 percent, one of the highest in Latin America. In 1869, the country was one of the first in the world to make primary education mandatory and free. Costa Rica is also one of the few countries in the world without a standing army, and part of the funds that would have been spent on the military is instead redirected to education.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), almost seven percent of the country’s GDP is spent on educational programs. The government has also issued a mandated goal for allocated funds to rise to eight percent by 2018. This percentage of GDP spending on education is exceeded only by Iceland, New Zealand and Denmark.

In the book, “The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica,” it is said that every Costa Rican pueblo is known to have five things: a local store, a football field, a church, a bar and a school. Some schools in the most rural parts of the country only have two students, but regardless of the number of children in the pueblo, they will always have access to education.

While accessible schooling for all children is a noble goal, the quality of education must also be upheld. The smaller the school, the fewer resources the school and its teachers have. Children in rural areas often miss days or weeks of school to work or ultimately drop out to help support their families.

According to the 2015 U.N. Development Programme’s Human Development Report, Costa Ricans spend an average of 8.4 years in school, and only 50.6 percent of the population receives at least some secondary school education.

While the necessary amount of money is being spent to ensure education in Costa Rica is a priority, according to the OECD the gap in educational outcomes based on family income has grown significantly larger in the past 20 years. It is critical that Costa Rica not only increases education funding but also focuses on how that money is spent, specifically by spreading resources more equitably across schools.

The Costa Rican Ministry of Education is working alongside UNICEF and other international organizations to confront the factors contributing to students permanently leaving school and to provide quality education to all.

Yo me apunto” (“I’m in”) was launched in 2015 with the hope of encouraging students to stay in school and to reintegrate young adults back into school. The program reaches 155 schools and offers educational programs for students living in areas of poverty.

By continuing initiatives like “Yo me apunto” and increasing focus on establishing better educational outcomes, education in Costa Rica will continue to be an exemplary model for the rest of Latin and Central America and beyond.

Erica Rawles

Photo: The Costa Rica News

Poverty in Central America
The area of Latin or Central America includes the countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Central America also includes the Caribbean Islands. Poverty in Central America is pervasive: half the population lives below the poverty line.

In rural areas, the figure rises to two-thirds. Seventy-five percent of rural people struggle to meet basic food needs. Income from traditional exports, agriculture and textiles is in the control of a few of the most powerful and richest.

Despite considerable advancements in wealth distribution, vast inequalities still exist. According to a report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), “The poorest 20% of the population receive only 3% of all income; the wealthiest 20% receive 60%.”

The farms generally belong to the wealthy; the poor work on them. Small farmers often work deteriorating plots that produce low yields. This leads to food insecurity, hunger and the need for other wage-producing work.

Rural poverty in Central America is widespread, but percentages differ within separate countries.

Honduras is the worst affected: 75% of the country’s rural population lives in poverty and 63% live in extreme poverty.

Guatemala is next: 54% of its rural population lives in poverty.

Nicaragua and El Salvador both have 47% of their rural population living in poverty.

Panama has 37% and Costa Rica has 23% of rural poverty rates.

Indigenous populations have the highest rates of poverty in Central America. They also have the lowest income and lack access to much-needed services. Some of these include housing, schools and healthcare.

Indigenous peoples account for more than 40% of the total population in Guatemala and 75% of them live in poverty. In Panama, indigenous peoples make up eight percent of the population and 95% live in poverty.

Agriculture is a major employer of the rural poor, providing jobs for more than 30%. As a result, IFAD believes that agriculture could be used to help ease poverty in Central America. The area is a major producer of the world’s bananas, coffee, maize and sugar.

IFAD reports, however, that the area is “highly vulnerable” to the world market. It is also vulnerable to other factors it has no power over, such as climate change and natural disasters.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced in June that there has been much progress in reducing poverty in Central America. Despite these advancements, the area still desperately needs more social services.

UNDP called on the governments of the area to invest in “better employment opportunities, in financial systems that prevent over-indebtedness and reducing gender gaps.”

In a press release on June 16, 2016, UNDP stressed that “The main threat to progress in Latin America and the Caribbean is the relapse of millions of families back into poverty.”

The poor and those who are not considered living in poverty but who are not cushioned from external forces need four important elements to keep them from falling back into poverty: public security systems, healthcare systems, economic assets and job skills.

Rhonda Marrone

Photo: Pixabay

Economic_Central Africa

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing took place on April 19 regarding the Alliance for Prosperity Plan. The five-year initiative for economic development in Central America is the result of a joint partnership between El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States. The partnership intends to address the issues of poverty and violence that lead to the flight of migrants to the U.S.

One of the panel members, Elizabeth Hogan of the Latin America And Caribbean Bureau at the U.S. Agency for International Development, stated,“As you know, social development and economic growth in Central America have been stymied by a dramatic rise in crime and violence — particularly in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.”

According to a roadmap provided by the three countries, the approach will focus on revitalizing the Central American economy by stimulating growth, improving public safety and enhancing social and legal institutions to increase trust in the state.

Major steps to implement the economic strategy include attracting private investment, modernizing infrastructure projects, as well as  promoting the textile, tourism and agricultural industries. Anti-violence measures include strengthening security, promoting social programs and creating transparent public institutions.

The United States Congress required that 25 percent of assistance to the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras be withheld until the U.S. Secretary of State certifies that each government is taking effective steps to combat human trafficking and provide development services for its citizens.

On the part of the United States, the White House has pledged to expand access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for “vulnerable individuals and families” from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The Obama Administration is aiming to provide a safer and legal alternative to the dangerous journeys Central Americans are taking at the hands of human smugglers.

Additionally, Mercedes Garcia, a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, warns that to avoid long-term issues, aid must remain focused on empowering citizens rather than creating “precarious employment opportunities, like those offered to unskilled workers by most foreign corporations.”

With continuous monitoring and communication, leaders are hopeful that this alliance can boost economic development in Central America and improve U.S. relations with its neighbors. President Juan Hernandez of Honduras said at a meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank,“A peaceful Central America, with opportunities for its people, with justice and security, will be of great benefit not only for our citizens but also for the United States and other peoples of the world.”

Taylor Resteghini

Photo: Flickr

Regional CompactsMany developing countries struggle to catalyze their economies because they are isolated and their governments are ineffective. When corruption is rampant, it is difficult for meaningful change to happen. And when countries are unable to collaborate with their neighbors, they usually stagnate. These kinds of issues, however, are being addressed by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an American agency that draws up regional compacts to promote prosperity in developing countries.

The MCC works mainly with African countries but also creates regional compacts in South Asia and Central America. To date, its 32 regional compacts benefit 26 countries and about 175 million people around the world.

The compacts serve several purposes. Firstly, they encourage partner countries to achieve and maintain good governance. When governments are reformed along the lines set down by the MCC, it is easier for adequate economic changes to be properly implemented.

The economic changes consist of promoting sound investment and securing economic freedom. The MCC invests about $1 billion in grants per year in its partner countries. Most of this money is used to improve road and energy infrastructure, facilitate access to clean water and increase people’s educational and financial opportunities.

What makes the compacts successful is that they encourage countries to collaborate in achieving these goals. Improving infrastructure across national boundaries facilitates trade and migration, thereby increasing opportunities for growth and exchange. Measures to preserve the health of workers and consumers, in addition, keep economies going once they start to expand.

Because of the MCC, private investment has soared in Benin, Ghana and Jordan. Governments of Honduras, Cabo Verde and Senegal have achieved greater transparency and accountability because they follow MCC guidelines. The guidelines also encourage the empowerment of women. In Burkina Faso, for instance, thanks to regional compacts, improved test scores have expanded girls’ opportunities in the job market.

The World Bank estimates that the regional integration of Sub-Saharan African countries could double that region’s share of global trade, which is beneficial to both the MCC and the U.S. Since its inception in 2004, the MCC has enjoyed an average economic rate of return of over 16 percent. By helping other countries become more self-sufficient, it has generated many new opportunities for American businesses.

At the moment because of congressional restrictions, the MCC’s ability to use regional compacts to promote prosperity is significantly limited. But a bipartisan group of politicians in Washington are looking to change that. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has already passed legislation to strengthen the MCC — and an effort to do the same in the Senate, the M-CORE Act, is currently being considered.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 2015, Chief Executive Officer Dana J. Hyde stated that the MCC “helps drive U.S. efforts to promote American values and the market democracy model” and is “creating new opportunities for the private sector, including U.S. businesses, to invest and grow.”

Joe D’Amore

Sources: Borgen Project, Senate, USGLC, World Bank

pilot-programsWith the success of the United Nation’s Millennium Developmental Goal to halve the world’s global poverty rate, the more recent Sustainable Developmental Goals ask us to ensure that even if markets fail, disease spreads or natural disasters occur, a true end to poverty can be found.

Although arduous challenges lie ahead in achieving sustained growth, particularly in agriculture for the poorest countries, recent studies on poverty in Latin America suggest that even slight changes in behavior within existing systems can significantly influence change without the implementation of unnecessary, expensive or brand new programs.

According to the World Bank, each of these pilot programs has shared in achieving a sustained impact on their communities:

  1. Within the rural regions of Nicaragua, a program was created to connect business grants and training by encouraging group interactions, along with a place for beneficiaries and local leaders. According to the World Bank, “This small modification had a big impact: it improved aspirations and business performance, increasing non-agricultural income by US$3.30 per capita and the average value of a household’s animal stock by US$12.” While these numbers may seem insignificant at first, upon further examination we find that the additional income attributed to social interactions is upwards of 40%.
  2. In Bogotá, Colombia a study was conducted which examined the influence of stress on future behavior. To conduct this report, the World Bank says, “beneficiaries of a bi-monthly Conditional Cash Transfer program were randomly split into two groups. One group received the full payment as usual twice a month. The other received only two-thirds of the payment twice a month; the last third was put instead into a savings account and disbursed as a lump sum in December, just before children’s school fees were due.”Through this study, it was found that the “save when you need it” approach ultimately was the most effective because it was dispersed during its greatest time of need, which resulted in higher levels of re-enrollment rates within schools.
  3. When investigating how to help individuals in Peru save money, technology was utilized through mobile text messaging, which included sending reminders such as remember to save. “Even more effective, however, was combining the reminder with goal-specific messages like “Remember to save so you reach your own savings goal of $20” – this simple phrase increased savings rates by 16 percent,” states the World Bank.

Although it is complicated to introduce these approaches on a broader level, for now, specifically tailored approaches will help target the poorest of the poor in the World Bank’s endeavors to implement a certain kind of behavior. Every achievement is a step in the right direction towards supporting the World Bank in their aim of defeating poverty by 2030.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: World Bank 1, World Bank 2, UN
Photo: Flickr

The Population Council, along with partner organizations, created a program entitled Abriendo Oportunidades (Opening Opportunities) in order to support the development of young Mayan girls. To date, it has reached 8,000 young girls.

These young girls often live in more rural, isolated regions where access to school and health services is limited. This particular subset of the population in Guatemala tends to marry early without finishing their education.

Abriendo Oportunidades was designed to connect Mayan girls with mentors and provide them with leadership training and life skills. Locally trained professionals often facilitate the program in community girls’ clubs. Gender-based violence is also discussed in a safe setting to provide young girls with the knowledge and tools to stay safe.

An evaluation of the program in 2007 has demonstrated great success in opening opportunities for Mayan girls. All girls in the program have completed sixth grade, 97 percent of the girls did not become pregnant and 88 percent of the girls were able to open bank accounts. These achievements are important because these girls will have greater opportunities open to them in the future. For example, with financial security and education, they can better plan for the timing of children if they wish to have them later in life.

The program results also reveal a change in the attitudes of these young girls. Over half of the girls now wish to complete university and over 90 percent want to wait until later in life to have children. With greater confidence and leadership, these Mayan girls feel an increase in freedom and respect from their fellow community levels. The confidence these girls now have is one of the most important indicators of success. If young girls believe they can achieve education and important careers, they are more likely to be able to do so.

Abriendo Oportunidades has been adapted for communities in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua. Researchers have also further developed the program to be used with adolescent boys who need to learn just as much about gender-based violence and female empowerment.

Iliana Lang

Sources: The Population Council, CNN
Photo: The Population Council