Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous and impoverished nations in the world. What can be done to help to turn it around?

One of the biggest problems Afghanistan faces is its history of a weak rule of law. The rule of law has to do with the strength of legal institutions, as well as laws themselves. It also applies to how laws are carried out—equally or unequally.

When the rule of law is strong, it provides a basis for a society’s economic development, security, infrastructure and an accountable government. A strong rule of law also improves public health, alleviates poverty and improves education.

Weak rule of law leads to crime, corruption and the unequal application of laws across a society. Afghanistan has struggled with all these things, and improving and solidifying the rule of law is important to secure its future. For a country to flourish, a strong rule of law is needed.

It is a generally accepted idea, that for some, education is a pathway out of poverty. However, without a strong rule of law, which limits the Taliban preventing girls from going to school or corruption from impacting learner’s education, this pathway is fraught with difficulties. Corruption is a massive problem in Afghanistan—the country ranked last for the absence of corruption in the World Justice Project’s 2014 Rule of Law Index.

Sadly, the problem runs deeper than merely educating Afghan girls and boys with hopes that they will escape poverty. For Afghanistan to improve its rule of law and therefore it’s future, it’s legal education system must continue to be developed.

Because of Afghanistan’s five constitutions since 1964 along with Soviet occupation and the Taliban government, the country’s legal system been decimated and fallen behind the rest of the world. The legal education system has failed to produce a capable body of legal experts, instead a group of jurists who have made their best effort in recent times but are woefully unprepared.

Since U.S. military intervention and the fall of the Taliban in 2001, much has been done to try and improve both the university and legal education systems in the county. Strengthening these institutions can lead to fewer instances of land disputes—the main cause of conflict in Afghanistan. They are common because both informal and formal devices used to resolve the conflicts are fragile and weak.

Land disputes are also a perfect example of a weak rule of law because they illustrate an instance where a law says one thing, but in practice, it is not relevant, enforced or practical. The current land ownership law states the need for documents proving ownership of land, however, only 20 percent of land actually has these documents.

The U.S. State Department has played a role in developing the legal system in Afghanistan by bringing young lawyers to the U.S. to study, who have then gone back to their home country to set up legal practices. This is a good step, but improvement in the rule of law via more development of the legal education system in Afghanistan itself could go even further to improve its future as a safer, less impoverished country.

– Greg Baker

Sources: The Hague Institute for Global Justice, The New York Times, United States Institute for Peace, The World Justice Project, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Clarksville Online

poverty in khartoum
Sudan is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, but poverty desperately affects the population of 44 million.

The city of Khartoum is notorious for its destitution. The population has tripled over the past 20 years; however, the government has not implemented any formal accommodation for this influx. The current government is not a sufficient resource to address poverty in Khartoum as it lacks information and the capacity to combat the issue.

It is recorded that 180,000 people died of poverty before 2004 when the conflict finally gained international attention, with the U.N. warning on “atrocities” and Powell declaring it a genocide. Poverty linked with conflict has killed several million people in Sudan and South Sudan.

The conflict between Sudan and South Sudan is a significant source of poverty for the area. The tension over oil fields has created an unequal wealth distribution between the north and the south.

According to, “Even Khartoum remains pretty opaque regarding its resource management and never appeared ready to give up its oil revenues that easily. Injustices, grudges and protests are likely to keep on fueling armed conflicts, thus threatening the stability of the two countries and throwing countless more people into poverty in Sudan (North and South). Little effort has been made to stop the growing, oil-induced social turmoil and corruption that affect the whole region…The most simple thing to do would be to fund some social assistance to overcome land issues and poverty in Sudan and thus the extent of social unrest.”

Poverty is an undeniable threat to the existence of humanity in the 21st century. The global commitment to promoting adequate standards of living for all people is emphasized in the Millennium Development Goals, which sought to reduce poverty by half by 2015. Poverty cannot be overcome with a singular solution as it is very multidimensional. Poverty is experienced differently across time, space, culture and even gender. For example, poverty is most severe during specific weather seasons, while other times poverty is more static.

According to research conducted at The University of Khartoum, a “serious campaign against poverty necessitates opening up the issues to public debate, raising people’s awareness of them and directing the media to that end.” The overwhelming axiom is that South Sudan suffers from chronic underdevelopment and lacks the administrative capacity to address local and domestic needs. A lack of secure funding for the country, accompanied by failures of governance, have led to local level tensions and competition for limited resources (including but not limited to water, land, cattle, food and education.)

There are multiple actors required to adequately address destitution in Khartoum including governmental and non-governmental groups, private actors, communities and the youth. Existing institutions require additional funds, freedom and credibility. While the situation in Khartoum is stark, the space for improvement is vast.

Neti Gupta

Sources:, The Guardian, SagePub
Photo: Post Conflict

UNHCR Aids Western Libya
Over the past few weeks, what started as a confrontation between militias in Libya, has slowly escalated to a point that concerns various countries: that Libya will deteriorate and become a full-fledged failed state. As a result, for the first time, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has sent aid to those in Western Libya.

The UNHCR has estimated that their supplies will reach around 12,000 people who have been internally displaced since the conflict reignited a few weeks ago. Members of the UNHCR aid Western Libya with vital supplies like blankets, sleeping bags and various medical equipment. The majority of the aid has been dropped off at Zawiya, which is offering shelter to the refugees and is located about 45 kilometers to the east of Tripoli.

Saado Quol, the acting chief of mission in Libya for the UNHCR, said that “This weekend’s operation is crucial and, we hope, paves the way for other humanitarian aid to reach affected populations who are stranded and in dire need of assistance.”

The current conflict was recently reignited about a month ago, starting with small-scale fighting and combat between a couple militias over control of the Tripoli airport. Since then, fighting has increased exponentially to the surrounding areas, causing an international response and certain nations pulling their diplomats from the country. It has also caused disruption in the supplies of food, water and food to civilians. The Red Cross and Red Crescent have estimated that at least two million people are at risk of food shortages.

The flight of diplomats and foreign assistance has only worsened the situation. This recent batch of aid is a step in the right direction of helping, but other nations need to increase, not decrease, their presence if they desire a safe and lasting conclusion to the instability in the country.

– Andre Gobbo

Sources: UNHCR, The Borgen Project, Foreign Policy, NY Times
Photo: UNHCR

MAG America
People know that war leaves scars, on bodies, minds, families and homes. Those affected live with the destruction, adapting to the best of their ability, and attempt to go on with their lives. While international support in the wake of conflict is great, little thought is given to the scars left behind in war zones.

When peace is brokered, troops leave behind bullets, elaborately packaged, carefully hidden explosives and yet-to-be-detonated fireworks of the military grade variety. Farmers fear working their fields. The building of roads, schools and water lines is halted indefinitely. Economic recovery is nearly impossible, at least until the threats are eliminated.

The Mines Advisory Group, or the MAG, has tasked itself with removing such lingering threats. Since 1989, MAG America employees have provided extensive training to volunteers living in post-war zones. Teams clear landmines and explosive weapons that did not go off when fired, and remove abandoned weapons, strategizing to prevent their proliferation.

To protect communities where mine contamination and weapons surpluses remain, the MAG offers programs that teach people how to recognize threats, what areas to avoid and emergency procedures. The MAG employs 2,400 people in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The 2,400 individuals make up about 90 percent of the MAG staff. Most are from severely underprivileged communities. Not only do these individuals benefit from the steady salary, they additionally receive professional training as mine destruction specialists, educators, community liaison specialists and medics.

The MAG is currently working to secure military storage in El Salvador, where access to small arms has fueled the second highest homicide rate in the world. Land clearing operations in Lebanon are ongoing, as they are in Iraq. The organization is aiding seven nations in Africa and four nations in Southeast Asia.

Manchester is home to the MAG’s international operations, while MAG America is based in Washington, D.C. More volunteers and staffers are needed, but the MAG recommends three ways to join its cause: become a “team driver” by building your own awareness, a “medic” by raising awareness in your community or a “virtual deminer” by fundraising or donating.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: MAG 1, MAG 2, MAG 3, MAG 4, Idealist
Sources: MAG

The United Nations has been deploying peacekeeping missions since the U.N. Truce and Supervision Organization mission in 1948 which monitored the Armistice Agreement between Israel and neighboring Arab countries. Since 1948, U.N. peacekeeping has evolved to better respond to the world’s ever-changing and increasingly complex conflicts. What started off as a peace monitoring mechanism has become a major international actor in stabilization and development efforts in some of the world’s most volatile and protracted conflicts.

U.N. peacekeeping is managed through the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which was established to succeed the U.N. Office of Special Political Affairs in 1992 under Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The DPKO may only deploy a peacekeeping mission after receiving the mandate through Security Council resolutions and missions may only be updated or changed through Security Council resolutions. There are three types of peacekeeping personnel that make up mission teams: uniformed personnel including military troops, police and military observers, civilian personnel both local and international and U.N. Volunteers.

Currently, there are 17 different peacekeeping missions around the world ranging in size depending on the nature and scale of the conflict. The largest is the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which employs over 20,000 personnel and has been operating in various forms since 1999. The mission in Congo also represents a departure from the normal rules and procedures of peacekeeping. Due to necessity and the nature of the Congolese conflict, the first ever “offensive” peacekeeping mission called the Intervention Brigade was launched in 2013 in order to more effectively address instability in the eastern region caused by various rebel groups and militias.

There are three rules to all traditional peacekeeping missions: (1) all parties of the conflict must consent to the deployment of peacekeepers in the area, (2) peacekeepers must remain neutral at all times and take neither side in the conflict, they serve merely as a buffer zone, and (3) peacekeepers may use force only in instances of self-defense or in defense of the Security Council mandate. All uniformed personnel are affiliated with the U.N. Member States. There is no U.N. standing army, so the U.N. depends on the contributions and donations of its Member States to carry out its missions, particularly in the form of uniformed personnel.

Today, U.N. peacekeeping missions are much more than just a buffer zone between two warring parties, peacekeepers are a central part of the stabilization and early reconstruction efforts of the areas where they are deployed. Peacekeepers are actively engaged in rebuilding the rule of law, justice and corrections systems, strengthening social and civil conditions, assisting with elections, aiding security sector reforms, carrying out demining activities and education programs about the dangers of landmines, promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, protecting civilians, protecting children in conflict areas, assisting with Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration activities and fostering and maintaining respect for human rights.

Peacekeeping missions are a crucial part of the immediate post-war reconstruction phase in countries which are frequently prone to conflict. They are a valuable asset to development efforts in areas that are home to some of the most vulnerable populations on earth.

Erin Sullivan

Sources: NY Times, United Nations, United Nations 2, United Nations 3, United Nations 4, United Nations 5, United Nations 6
Photo: NY Times

refugees in Libya
As the security situation quickly deteriorates in Libya, the United Nations says it is very concerned about the safety of asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya who are stranded in areas under heavy fighting.

U.N. Refugee Agency spokesperson Ariane Rummery said UNHCR is receiving calls from the mostly Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Libya who need assistance. About 37,000 people are recorded with UNHCR in Tripoli and Benghazi, areas of heavy violence between the military and insurgents.

“In Tripoli alone, more than 150 people from Eritrea, Somalia and other countries have phoned our protection hotline seeking help with medicines or a safer place to stay.”

UNHCR is especially concerned about one Palestinian and three Syrians who are trapped in between Libya and Egypt. They are asking Egyptian authorities to give the group access to food and water.

Rummery also said refugees in Libya see leaving as their only option. Many Libyan refugees are trying to leave the country by sea. The airport in Tripoli has been unavailable for days. Tunisia and Egypt are inaccessible for refugees, so the sea is the only way out. Smugglers are making use of the situation as these desperate people risk their lives to leave Libya and take the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.

“We recently heard of a group of 500 Syrians who left in about three boats toward Italy from Benghazi, and this is a new and much more dangerous journey because it takes longer to reach Italy. Over 1,000 people have died in the Mediterranean this year and the latest casualties drowned last week off Al-Khums, which is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Tripoli.”

UNHCR is advising Libyan authorities to lessen exit visa restrictions to let people leave Libya. They are also calling for Egypt and Tunisia to open their borders to the people trying to escape violence.

While the fighting continues in Libya, a newly elected parliament has met in hopes that they can bring peace. Libya has experience violent conflict since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Muammar al-Qadhafi.

Colleen Moore

Sources: United Nations, UPI, Voice of America
Photo: United Nations

climate change

Climate change causes poverty and hunger. Almost one out of seven people in the world suffers from food insecurity or chronic hunger. Agriculture and food systems traditionally have succeeded in producing and delivering food to ensure that the people of the world have enough food to lead healthy lives. Due to climate change, these food systems may not work for much longer.


6 ways climate change causes world hunger


1. Climate change leads to declining wildlife populations.

Preserving species is an important concern for human populations. Wildlife drives economies around the world. Around 15 percent of the world’s population is dependent on wildlife in order to survive. For the extremely poor, meat from animals is the main source of protein. When climate change disrupts wildlife, there is an overwhelming impact on those who rely on wildlife.

2. Climate change triggers conflicts.

Justin Brashares, associate professor of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at UC Berkeley, emphasizes that climate change causes unrest between people who are competing for food and resources. It can lead to groups such as Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Janjaweed, exploiting declining species through poaching. It can also lead to other conflicts such as piracy and illegal trade.

3. Production becomes less predictable.

Many farmers in developing countries depend on rainfall for their crops. In some areas of the world, rainfall has decreased due to climate change, and thus crops have failed. In other regions, climate change has caused the rainy season to change, which means farmers are planting their crops too early or too late and thus missing the most rainfall.

4. Supplies to markets may not be predictable.

As production levels decrease, the market supply also falls. This affects prices for crops and livestock that consume those crops.

5. There are greater risks to those less able to be sustainable

Women are often at risk because they tend to be the least educated, own fewer assets and are not as wealthy. When storms destroy livelihoods, crops and homes, people with a higher education and thus more assets and capabilities, can often cope more quickly with the devastating impact.

6. Traditional agriculture is dying out.

In many developing countries and regions, farmers depend entirely on their livestock for sustenance. Farmers are unfortunately losing their animals to droughts and diseases that have come about due to climate change. Unpredictable rainfall patterns also make it problematic. This way of life is becoming more difficult to sustain a living.

Colleen Moore

Sources: Devex, Ee News
Photo: GB Times

While the Ukrainian government has denied any use of Grad rockets — a high explosive rocket that can reach up to a range of 20,000 meters — a recent Human Rights Watch investigation proved both government and separatist forces have used the rockets in recent attacks.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Ukrainian government has killed more than 15 civilians and wounded numerous others in at least four separate attacks between July 12 and July 21. Separatist forces aren’t so innocent either. According to a statement made by the Pentagon last week, Russian forces were planning to transfer “heavy-caliber multiple-launch rocket systems” to Ukraine separatist forces. The rockets, which are in the 200mm+ range, pose as a looming threat for a country already proliferated with terror.

The use of unguided rockets in populated areas is a breach of international and humanitarian law and could result in war crimes. According to HRW, these crimes could be faced by both government and separatist forces. While the report certainly condemns government and separatist use of these rockets, it further criticizes separatists for not taking proper measures to avoid encamping in densely populated areas.

Senior Emergencies Researcher for Human Rights Watch, Ole Solvang, condemned commanding officers on both fighting sides for using the rockets, claiming that “[G]rad rockets are notoriously imprecise weapons that shouldn’t be used in populated areas.”

These most recent accusations come just a few weeks after the July 17 downing of the Malaysian Airlines Jet, MH17, in Ukraine. The crash, which was caused by a “massive explosive decompression” from a rocket, resulted in 298 deaths. The downing, which is still under investigation, was immediately addressed by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who hinted her suspicion that the attack may have been a war crime by the separatists.

More than 1,129 people have been killed and at least 3,442 others have been wounded as a result of the Ukrainian conflict since mid-April. The anti-government protests, which came as a result of former President Yanukovych’s failure to partner with Europe over a trade deal, have resulted in increased division among the country.

Fighting in Ukraine has only further exacerbated the country’s economic problems. With many families forced to vacate cities in major turmoil, displacement has caused an inevitable increase in unemployment and, predictably, poverty. One such city is Lugansk, which — at once a city of 420,000 — now occupies less than half of its original population.

Those left in the city are faced with an incredible lack of medical supplies, lighting and electricity. Those still living there, including retirees or families with small children with hardly any money, are basically trapped. Lugansk — and other Ukrainian cities — citizens are forced to endure inhumane conditions of fighting, violence and medical neglect. While a cease-fire from both ends is the country’s primary solution, Ukrainian citizens will continue to suffer until the violence is halted.

Nick Magnanti

Sources: Huffington Post, SOS Childrens Villages, RT
Photo: WN

peace corps
The United States Peace Corps has suspended activity in Kenya, pulling out over 50 volunteers across the country. This is the second time in the last decade Peace Corps volunteers have been evacuated from Kenya for safety reasons.

Tensions are high in the East African state, where a spike in grenade and gunfire assaults over the last couple years, including a mall attack leaving 67 dead last fall, has raised serious concerns by Peace Corps officials on behalf of their volunteers. After a recent security assessment failed to meet the organization’s standards, they felt it necessary to put efforts on hold for an undetermined amount of time until conditions improve.

The Peace Corps press director, Shira Kramer, told Devex that “volunteers’ safety and security are the Peace Corps’ top priorities” and they will reassess the situation “at an appropriate future date to determine if and when volunteers can return.”

The U.S. State Department heightened security measures earlier this year and removed various personnel as well, transferred a regional U.S. Agency for International Development office out of the country, and stationed armed Marines outside and on top of the embassy building.

The Associated Press spoke with three Peace Corps volunteers pulled out of Kenya who attested to the increased emphasis on security by the U.S. government organization. Eventually conditions reached a point where, despite any precautionary efforts, the safety of aid workers could not be guaranteed.

“Some volunteers weren’t very pleased with the level of security they provided, but I’m not sure what they were expecting. We don’t have security guards to protect us, and it’s Kenya, so sometimes bad things happen regardless of any preventative measures,” said volunteer Nick Shcuetz.

“They taught us to be smart about our surroundings and to trust the hairs on the back of our necks to sense whether it was a safe situation or not. And some things like bombings or grenade attacks, you just can’t prepare for other than leaving the country,” he added.

The U.S. was in quiet talks for a while about suspending Peace Corps activity in Kenya. The tipping point was, perhaps, the fatal gunshot to a German tourist on a Kenyan beach just days before the official announcement to withdraw. The Peace Corps volunteers pulled out of Kenya thought the decision was reasonable as well.

The Peace Corps’ ability was able to accurately assess the state of security in Kenya and evacuate its members at what seems like the appropriate point in time. The decision is reinforced by the testimonies of the field workers removed from their stations who, for the most part, felt safe up until just before their removal.

The volunteers and officials recognize that the situation is not victimless, however. The Peace Corps assisted in education, health and community and economic development including HIV/AIDS treatment and counseling for numerous Kenyans. Those who depended on the organization’s services will suffer most until conditions stabilize and any developmental progress boosted by the U.S. will stagnate in the meantime as well.

“Kenya is spearheading the growth and trends of so many sectors in East Africa,” said volunteer Travis Axe. “It is a shame to see such a wonderful program be cut from a country that has so much potential.”

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Daily Mail, Devex, The Star
Photo: Daily Mail

american refugee committee
The American Refugee Committee was founded in 1979 to combat and address the needs of the millions of refugees around the world. Today, the efforts of ARC reach 2.5 million people of the 39 million displaced in the world. In particular, the ARC aids those in the countries of Thailand, Pakistan, Uganda, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Somalia and Rwanda.

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is someone who has a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

In today’s modern world, various types of conflicts and natural disasters have resulted in 10 million refugees and 29 million internally displaced persons (IDP). The difference between the two is that a refugee has crossed an international border, while an IDP still remains in their home country. Regardless of their title, both groups are in deep need of protection, food, water and shelter – and this is often achieved through international law.

A notable aspect of the ARC is their Rapid Response Teams (RRT), which is a group ready to be dispatched on short notice to areas that have been recently struck with a type of crisis that may result in human displacement. The RRT can leave as fast as within 48 hours of receiving contact. Often times, such crises are not necessarily predictable and are deemed emergencies and urgent situations that need immediate attention. The RRTs scope the initial conditions and report the most pressing needs, partner with other agencies for effective humanitarian aid and ultimately provide true relief to those affected by the crisis.

Having RRTs has been advantageous to the ARC’s goals and commitments. For instance, in 2008 when a calamitous cyclone tore through Myanmar – which exceeded over 22,000 deaths and at least 41,000 missing – ARC sent off a RRT to the area. The ARC has had a team in Thailand (which borders Myanmar) for almost two decades and are consequently more familiar with the region’s language, culture and geography. Unfortunately, the Myanmar military government was slow to respond in granting visas to workers. However, the investments that ARC has sown into the regions shows much potential to bear fruit in the future when emergencies such as this happens.

The American Refugee Committee prides itself on possessing great financial responsibility. According to Charity Navigator, the ARC has received a score of 63.67 out of 70 points. The score is taken as an average of its financial score and its accountability & transparency score, of which the ARC received 60.06 and 70 out of 70, respectively. Nearly 89.4 percent of the ARC’s expenses go toward its programs – reflecting its efficiency and transparency.

– Christina Cho

Sources: ARC Thailand, Charity Navgiator, MinnPost
Photo: Minn Post