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COVID-19, Poverty and The Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI)
In the wake of its continuing devastation, Covid-19 has left, among other things, recessions across the world’s poorest countries. These recessions threaten to push more than 100 million people below the $1.90-a-day threshold that defines extreme poverty. To prevent poverty exacerbation, G20 countries have been called on by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to establish the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI). The initiative is designed to redirect funds planned for debt liquidation towards battling the pandemic and helping the most vulnerable populations.

How Does It Work?

Established in April 2020, the DSSI allows the suspension of government-to-government debt payments for 73 eligible countries. Over 60% of these countries accepted the offer as of 2021. The International Development Association and the U.N.’s respective lists of least developed countries encompass all countries cleared for suspension, minus Angola. Qualification for deferment also requires an application for an arrangement with the IMF, along with a commitment to use unfettered money towards social, health, or economic spending designed to remedy the effects of Covid-19.

Including interest and amortization payments, the total sovereign debt servicing payments in 2020 was projected to reach nearly $14 billion. Less than $4 billion of that belongs to the Paris Club group, prompting calls for other creditors like China and Russia to take part. Additionally, the G20 received requests to include entities such as banks and investment funds in the initiative, but this call has yet to receive a favorable response. About $5.7 billion in payments were deferred in 2020, with an additional deferment of $7.3 billion planned for June 2021.

The Unturned Stones

Reservations have been voiced regarding the ability of the temporary cessation of bilateral debt payments to provide adequate relief for the countries concerned. All debt is not the sovereign debt that is accounted for in the DSSI, and the fiscal ability of the approved countries is largely insufficient to weather the inclemency of Covid-19, even with debt deferment. At the vanguard of the call to private-sector creditors to adopt the initiative is the Institute of International Finance (IIF), a global association concerned with the finance industry.

Estimations from the IIF show that participation by private-sector creditors would provide an extra $13 billion in deferment. This would offer significant potential relief from the $35.3 billion owed collectively by the countries eligible for the DSSI. However, the IIF has made its concerns clear, particularly concerning the DSSI’s lack of consideration for the unique situation of each debtor country and the doubt that this causes for private-sector creditors.

The overall narrow eligibility scope of the DSSI has also been called into question. Middle-income countries have over eight times the amount of collective external debt outstanding compared to DSSI eligible countries. With $422.9 billion in debt payments in 2020 alone, these countries also run the risk of being financially incapable of dealing with Covid-19. After foreign investors pulled approximately $100 billion from middle-income countries’ markets in stocks and bonds, capital outflows leveled. The IIF, perhaps because of this observation, projected that the countries in question will encounter difficulties in borrowing money. The IIF also made projections that indicated unparalleled fiscal deficits in 2020.

Possible Solutions

Currently, no mechanism is in place to ensure that deferred debt payments will be used accordingly. One proposal involves the creation of a central credit facility (CCF) at the World Bank. This organization, if allowed, would require countries requesting relief to deposit deferred interest payments to certify that the funds would be used to negate the effects of the pandemic. Although the CCF has gained academic support and press recognition, whether countries will adopt it is uncertain.

Corporate or individual bankruptcy for countries is not an option.  The IMF attempted but failed to establish a sovereign resolution regime with its Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism (SDRM) proposal in 2002, ultimately because of conflicting opinions on how to structure its design. A notable implementation of a debt moratorium occurred in 1931 by Herbert Hoover, then President of the United States. His declaration was followed by a rush of countries defaulting. Although these countries recovered faster than countries that did not default, such countries were hard-pressed to find any foreign lending for more than 20 years after defaulting.

Forging A Way Forward

While COVID-19 inflicted disastrous financial difficulties on nations worldwide, initiatives like the DSSI work to counteract the damage. In April 2021, G20 government-to-government creditors extended the DSSI for the final time by six months, taking its activity through December 2021. Despite concerns about its implementation and consequences, the DSSI represents a positive attempt by creditors nationwide to help the most vulnerable in the wake of COVID-19.

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: Unsplash

Serge Ibaka foundationBefore he was competing on the court and playing alongside NBA superstars such as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka was a child facing many adversities. Both of Ibaka’s parents played basketball in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, during the late 1990s. It was at this time that the Congo was going through a civil war.

During the summer of 2009, Ibaka began his career as a professional basketball player in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder. After achieving the status of a professional athlete, Ibaka’s dream began to shift. He decided to use his platform as an athlete in a way that goes beyond just playing a sport and impacts the lives of others. Specifically, having once lived during the war in the Republic of the Congo, he now assists children within the community and does so through the Serge Ibaka Foundation.

The Serge Ibaka Foundation and its Mission

Education remains out of reach for millions of children between the ages of five and 17 in the Republic of the Congo. This is caused by a large economic disparity between parents who can afford for their children to attend school and those who cannot. Receiving an education is critical for the future of these children, yet factors such as child labor, child marriage and pregnancy all stand in the way of children being able to reach a brighter future. Living in the Republic of the Congo during a war, Ibaka faced similar feelings of hopelessness. However, he was able to achieve his dreams, and through his foundation, he wants to help other children in the community to do the same.

Partnering with other organizations, the Serge Ibaka Foundation strives to improve the living conditions of Congolese children and promotes the importance of receiving an education. Ibaka aims to use his story as inspiration to ultimately demonstrate to children that anything is possible with determination and hard work. Rather than solely using his fortune to help the country from afar, Ibaka makes frequent visits back to the Republic of the Congo to interact and share his story with children.

Context and Aid for the Congo’s Situation

Outbreaks of cholera, Ebola and measles continuously claim the lives of civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This left the country struggling even more when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With more than three-fourths of the country living in poverty, various statistics suggest a difficult reality. For example, the Congo ranks highly globally for stunting, which is a reflection of poor nutritional health for children. The pandemic only made matters worse as the country struggled to keep up with the health care of civilians. Many parents also struggled to provide meals for their families.

In May of 2020, the Serge Ibaka Foundation fired up a COVID-19 relief program to provide aid for those affected economically by the pandemic in Brazzaville. The foundation, along with the help of the BUROTOP Iris Foundation, has distributed 80 tons of food to 8,000 families who live in Brazzaville.

Helping Toronto’s Homeless Population

Ibaka also expands his desire to achieve change internationally to other nations. There are more than 9,000 people living without homes on the streets of Toronto, Canada, and shelters within the area have been at capacity for many years. The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped the situation of homelessness; instead, it has highlighted the struggles that the homeless endure in this city. In 2020, Serge Ibaka pledged to match up to $100,000 of donations to the Fred Victor COVID-19 Emergency Fund in its attempt to improve the health and safety of those experiencing poverty and homelessness in Toronto.

NBPA and its Accomplishments

Serge Ibaka is not the only NBA player committed to ensuring those who are less fortunate are recognized. Players in and around the NBA devote their time and effort through charities of their own, and Ibaka has worked alongside others to provide these players and their organizations with support through the NBPA. Through this foundation, Ibaka works to help not only those in his hometown but anyone around the world who may also need inspiration or a change in lifestyle.

The NBPA is a foundation that aims to highlight the collaborative work that players of the NBA conduct worldwide to create positive change. The foundation’s main mission is to provide funding and support for the charities of the many professional basketball players who dedicate time and resources to communities around the world. Ibaka serves as one of the directors on the foundation’s board. Notably:

  • The NBPA has provided more than $500,000 in matching grants for players’ own donations.

  • NBA players and the NBPA have donated a total of $5.5 million for COVID-19 relief.

  • Australian NBA players have committed $750,000 to bushfires within Australia.

Serge Ibaka is also a UNICEF Ambassador in the Congo and has dedicated his time to organizing a plan that involves renovating an all-boys orphanage and an all-girls orphanage by providing the two with educational and health care supplies. He has also collaborated with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and worked to provide hearing aids to children in Brazzaville. Ibaka serves as a role model in his work and in his actions, particularly throughout his professional career as a basketball player. Never forgetting his roots of a childhood in poverty, he has vowed to inspire the children of his hometown and assist them with the necessary living conditions to one day soar down the court to a better life, just as he has.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr

Natural Disasters in TurkeyThe year 2021 is setting records in extreme heat and droughts, and Turkey is currently facing its worst heatwave in 30 years. On July 28, 2021, wildfires began to spread across the southwest coastline of Turkey. A total of 156 destructive blazes erupted and killed nine people, during these natural disasters in Turkey. The strong winds, low humidity and temperatures above 204 degrees Fahrenheit helped spread the fires quickly and made it extremely difficult to work towards putting out the fires. According to the Mugla municipality, wildfires have already affected more than 230,000 acres in Turkey.

Under Fire

Disputes have emerged as to whether or not Turkey’s government was prepared to handle such natural disasters. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is receiving criticism for not purchasing properly equipped firefighting planes despite knowing that Turkey often faces wildfires.

The fires began in mountainous southwest Turkey, meaning ground intervention was not possible. Despite the Turkish Aeronautical Association containing previous fires with planes, the government claimed to have no water-dropping planes in inventory.

Floods Follow Fire

Changing weather is causing more extreme environmental events throughout the world, and Turkey is facing several of these disasters. By August 9, 2021, heavy rainfall helped put out all but two fires. Just days after, starting August 11, 2021, Turkey faced flash floods that swept through the Black Sea Coast. With a current death toll of 77 and 47 people still missing, the torrents of water and debris are devastating from these Natural DIsasters in Turkey.

The most heavily hit area is Kastamonu province, where apartment buildings experienced destruction after the Ezine river burst its banks. Additionally, the floods collapsed buildings, destroyed bridges, clogged the streets and cut the power supply. Over 1,700 people were evacuated, with boats and helicopters rescuing many citizens.

Natural Disasters and Poverty

There is a clear connection between natural disasters and poverty; natural disasters disproportionately affect poor people. Following the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Turkey’s poverty rate rose above 12%, meaning that these natural disasters will heavily affect many people. Unfortunately, the Turkish government did little to deal with the economic impact of COVID-19, and the lack of support contributed to rising poverty levels.

When facing poverty, any amount of impact on assets or consumption levels is a threat. Often, those facing poverty have to accept living in more risky areas due to affordability, which can lead to devastating outcomes during natural disasters. Additionally, people in low-income countries have less infrastructure to protect them.

A World Bank report found that the impact of extreme weather events on poverty is even more devastating than previously thought. Each year, natural disasters cause consumption losses of $520 billion and push 26 million people into poverty.

Often, events like these increase the damage to buildings, infrastructure and agriculture. These losses only represent the losses of those wealthy enough to lose something, and they fail to show the magnitude that the world’s poor suffer. With this idea in mind, the World Bank warns that natural disasters are a huge impediment to ending global poverty, and it is essential that poor people receive social and financial protection from unavoidable disasters.

The Good News

Poland sent firefighters, police officers and equipment to Turkey in order to help deal with the fires and flooding. Additionally, hundreds of Turkish volunteers banded together to help fight the fire. Volunteers formed a human chain to help carry equipment to firefighters and even put out a hillside fire with instruction from fire crews.

Turkish Philanthropy Funds has set up a Wildfire Relief Fund in order to provide support during the wildfires in Turkey. This support includes provisions of food and emergency aid to help those affected.

– Jacqueline Zembek
Photo: Flickr

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Hunger In BrazilBrazil, among other countries, has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering one of the highest death tolls in the world at 556,834 people as of August 2021. However, its infection rates are decreasing. The country had 247,830 confirmed cases as of the week of July 26 and more than 133,000,000 vaccine doses administered as of August: a marked improvement from earlier on in the pandemic. Nonetheless, one still-worsening effect of the pandemic in Brazil is hunger.

Hunger in Brazil

Hunger existed in Brazil long before COVID-19 reached the South American nation, where inequality has fueled high rates of poverty and food insecurity. In 2011, despite a relatively high GDP of $10,900 per capita, roughly 16 million Brazilians lived in extreme poverty, and many lacked the income to support an adequate diet.

However, the U.N. World Food Programme’s 2020 Hunger Map, which displays data from 2017-2019, showed positive progress in Brazil. Less than 2.5% of the total population was undernourished, a rate among the lowest in the world.

COVID-19 Worsens Hunger in Brazil

While the U.N. statistics demonstrate positive trends, COVID-19 has exacerbated food insecurity by widening preexisting inequalities in Brazil’s population. For example, the pandemic caused prices of basic food products to increase. Cooking oils, rice and other diet essentials became so expensive that they were essentially impossible to purchase for many families in Brazil. The New York Times pointed out that as of April 2021, a kilogram of rice sold for twice as much as before the pandemic, and cooking oil tripled in price in the same period.

High unemployment rates caused by the pandemic combined with high food prices further increased the rates of hunger. In an interview with Reuters, unemployed worker Rosana de Paula describes the situation among the unemployed. Because of a lack of credit and little to no savings, the sudden disappearance of income from pandemic-related unemployment is devastating, leaving “no way to pay for food,” according to de Paula.

Now, more than a year into the pandemic and with hunger continually worsening in Brazil, the country is back in the “yellow zone” on the U.N.’s Hunger Map. In an interview with The New Humanitarian, the Director of the Center of Excellence Against Hunger said increasing hunger has raised the alarm in Brazil. More than 19 million people, or 9% of the population, are currently food insecure.

Ways the World is Helping Brazil

Despite the hardships the pandemic has created for many Brazilian families, NGOs and other grassroots campaigns have stepped in to alleviate the hunger crisis. Food campaigns across the country have offered support and resources, distributing meals to millions of Brazilian families. Anyone worldwide can donate to these anti-hunger campaigns to help curb the high demand for food and other necessities that the pandemic has exacerbated.

Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s COVID-19 ResponseCurrently, approximately 26.4 million refugees worldwide have had to flee hardship in their countries of origin. Though international laws protect them, refugees are often denied basic human rights such as protection from violence, stable employment, safe housing and adequate healthcare. Access to reliable healthcare is critical to preventing diseases, treating underlying conditions, providing medicinal resources and offering immunizations. Because refugees are often unable to join national health plans in the country in which they settle, lack of access to healthcare is a common experience. Nepal’s COVID-19 response intends to include vulnerable and marginalized populations such as refugees.

How COVID-19 Threatens Refugees

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for reliable healthcare access among refugee populations, who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Many live in densely populated areas and lack face masks and adequate sanitation, such as handwashing facilities. This increases their risk of contracting the virus. Many have also lost their sources of income and are unable to pay for medical care. In addition to the high rates of poverty refugee populations experience, being too sick to work or caring for sick loved ones only compounds this issue.

The world’s ability to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic is incumbent on ensuring that all populations can limit case numbers and treat the infected. While the best way to mitigate the virus is to provide vaccinations, many countries are not yet offering them to refugees. As a result, many refugee populations live in a constant state of crisis and are unable to return to normalcy at the same rate as the general public.

The Nepalese Example

There are now more than 19,000 refugees in Nepal, most of them from Bhutan and Tibet. These communities experience high rates of poverty and are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Nepal’s COVID-19 response has been markedly different from other countries in the region as it was “the first country in Asia and the Pacific to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to refugees.” Starting March 7, 2021, refugees older than 65 were eligible to receive the vaccine along with other eligible citizens. As of March 24, 2021, 668 refugees had received the vaccine and many more are set to be vaccinated as the country obtains additional doses.

Nepalese officials have made it clear that they believe ensuring the health and safety of the entire country means providing healthcare for everyone. Nepal’s COVID-19 response is unique because Nepal is deliberate in ensuring that refugees have access to healthcare that is on par with the rest of the country. Equitable access to vaccinations remains an important step to ensuring the country is able to fully recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Next Steps

Nepal’s COVID-19 response sets an example of measures that other nations should take. As other countries observe Nepal’s vaccination procedures, refugees and other marginalized communities exist in an important context. Organizations like CARE Nepal advocate for a vaccine rollout with “the most vulnerable groups” being prioritized.

Nepal is far from the only country in the world, or even in the Asian Pacific region, with a large refugee population. All populations must have access to adequate healthcare to ensure everyone can recover from the COVID-19 crisis as quickly and effectively as possible. Ensuring that everyone has access to the vaccine is one of the best ways for countries to achieve this.

Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

Costa Rica, Pura Vida, Central America, Jungle, Green

In 2021, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to provide Costa Rica with a $1.7 billion loan “to support Costa Rica’s recovery and stabilization from the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Although the Costa Rican government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was effective, economic improvements are stagnant. Costa Rica’s economy relies heavily on tourism and the COVID-19 pandemic created a significant halt in this sector. The IMF’s assistance in Costa Rica would help create jobs in high-demand areas and improve the resiliency of businesses.

Economic Challenges During COVID-19

The World Bank indicates that Costa Rica’s economy expanded over the last quarter of a century, with poverty rates lower than other Latin American countries. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the economy to decline by 4.6% in 2020. As a result, “one out of five workers” experienced unemployment by the last quarter of 2020 and the poverty rate in Costa Rica increased to 13%. As the situation improves, the economy expects to grow by 2.6% in 2021 and 3.3% in 2022.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that besides the pandemic, Costa Rica’s increased budget deficits and debt could have played a role in the recent economic destruction. Since the Costa Rican government had to provide additional funding for social and health programs, the budget deficits would grow further. Therefore, a strong recovery plan is necessary to lower deficits and improve Costa Rica’s economic situation.

Tourism: A Struggling Industry

According to Reuters, Costa Rica’s economy struggled since “hotel and trade shrank by 40% last year.” The pandemic and tourism produced 8.5% of its gross domestic product. At the beginning of 2021, fewer tourists visited than in previous years, indicating that economic recovery could take a while. However, officials in the tourism industry remain optimistic for more tourists in the future since many attractions are outdoors and there are fewer concerns about the virus spreading in open areas.

However, the amount of COVID-19 cases in Costa Rica was at its highest point from the end of April 2021 into early May 2021, leading to decreased levels of tourism. The U.S. even issued a travel advisory warning for citizens planning to visit Costa Rica. The Costa Rican government attempted to help the tourism sector by indicating that industries such as tourism did not need to impose new COVID-19 restrictions. Nevertheless, several groups of international tourists canceled their plans to visit.

Officials aim to improve economic conditions by expanding sustainable tourism. This would benefit the environment and help small businesses. The Minister of Tourism explained that expanding this industry would increase employees’ incomes and allow tourists to see different attractions. Officials introduced this plan to the national bank to see if it could consider using additional recovery strategies such as credits or implementing changes in rates.

Overcoming the Economic Challenges

So far, the Costa Rican government has made several efforts to assist those most impacted by the pandemic. It distributed grants to at least 700,000 citizens who suffered the most during the pandemic. It also had businesses impose strict health precautions, preventing a massive spread of the virus and further economic downturn.

Al Jazeera states that the Costa Rican government began working with the IMF to obtain a loan that would go toward tax reform and selling assets. The IMF’s assistance would also help Costa Rica pay off part of the significant debt accumulated within the past few decades.

The IMF’s assistance expects to cover a three-year time frame to improve economic conditions and reduce poverty rates. The Costa Rican government also plans to put the loan toward strategies that could boost employment. The IMF reports that the majority of those facing unemployment are women and youths. Various career fields in Costa Rica need employees and many companies are struggling to hire due to the pandemic.

The Costa Rican government thinks increased spending on social services would allow more women to enter the workforce since these programs will ease the burden of many familial caretaking responsibilities often resting on the shoulders of women. In addition, the government wants to pass legislation that aims to improve the education system to increase the possibility of employment opportunities in higher-paying jobs.

Moving Forward

The IMF’s assistance in Costa Rica would mitigate the current economic situation by addressing the root causes of high unemployment rates and income inequality. This effort would contribute to further development and potentially allow Costa Rica’s economy to reach pre-pandemic rates of growth.

Cristina Velaz

Photo: Pixabay

efforts to mitigate food insecurityAccording to the Council on Foreign Relations, about 135 million people experienced severe food insecurity before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has worsened this crisis with less access to quality food and prices skyrocketing. COVID-19 has already destroyed decades-worth of work made toward reducing global hunger. There are already predictions that millions of children will suffer more from malnutrition, obesity and stunting. Global hunger is an impediment to international development, increasing tensions within developing countries.

How Food Insecurity Worsened During COVID-19

The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) states that millions of citizens across 43 developing countries face an “emergency phase of food insecurity in 2021.” The majority of those experiencing food insecurity in those countries are either refugees or anyone forced to migrate.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that 272 million people are food insecure one year into the pandemic. Many believe that higher food insecurity rates worldwide occurred due to the shortages from panic buying and stockpiling. However, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) determined that agricultural production reached its highest level. In 2020, the world produced 2.7 billion tons of the most commonly grown crops. The reality is that disruptions within the supply chain are the root cause of this worsening issue.

Actions of the World Bank

As part of its efforts to mitigate food insecurity during COVID-19, the World Bank increased funding for more effective agricultural systems in Guatemala to reduce disruptions in the supply chain. Its assistance also aimed to help alleviate the food insecurity caused by economic challenges and droughts. The World Bank helped Liberia by incorporating a Contingency Emergency Response Component that allows the government to respond to the needs of those at a higher risk of food insecurity. The component also helps increase crop production and helps normalize the supply chain there.

How to Overcome Economic Challenges

The pandemic also worsened the economic situation in developing countries. People received fewer remittances preventing them from accessing essential goods. Latin America has been most impacted by reduced remittances. However, food prices in other regions facing conflict became higher than many people’s daily salaries, making the situation difficult to overcome.

Haiti is a country with the highest food insecurity rates and faced severe impacts from the reduced remittances. The pandemic and reduced remittances hurt farmers the most. The World Bank assisted by providing programs with enough funding for farmers to produce enough crops for a two-year time frame. The programs will also help farmers incorporate safety precautions into their practices during the pandemic.

Other Efforts to Mitigate Food Insecurity

The World Bank’s other efforts to mitigate food insecurity included issuing a transfer of funds to families with food insecure infants and toddlers in Tajikistan to alleviate malnutrition. It sent food for 437,000 citizens in Chad facing food insecurity. The organization also provided additional funding that went toward addressing the concerns that the pandemic caused in Rwanda.

Accomplishments Occurring with the World Bank’s Help

The World Bank also provided more certified seeds to local communities in Afghanistan and helped farmers produce more yields than before. The U.S. sent $87.8 million to help provide more equipment for dairy and poultry farmers in Bangladesh. The World Bank’s programs in India resulted in further women’s empowerment with the establishment of women’s self-help groups that work with hygiene, food administration and storage. As of 2021, there are 62 million women that participate in these groups.

The World Bank also reports that farmers in developing countries face food insecurity and works to alleviate their distress. The organization helped Cambodia incorporate new agricultural practices that led to farmers receiving higher incomes with increased productivity. The World Bank also taught farmers in the Kyrgyz Republic the proper practices to grow more crops while conserving water. Eventually, more than 5,000 farmers gained an income that allowed them to buy essential goods.

The World Bank’s efforts to mitigate food insecurity in developing countries are effective so far. These international programs brought more farmers out of poverty and further combat global hunger. Many of these countries made commendable progress with this support, which is a significant step toward future development.

– Cristina Velaz
Photo: Flickr

Mongolia's Childbirth PracticesIn recent years, the nomadic population of Mongolia has seen negative impacts from environmental changes. Extreme winters have killed off much of their livestock, resulting in widespread food insecurity. As younger generations become less interested in agricultural jobs, fewer opportunities lie in the rural region of Mongolia. Due to these factors, healthcare accessibility has become limited. Healthcare has affected Mongolia’s childbirth practices significantly. However, improvements in healthcare are on the horizon for Mongolia’s people. In recent years, Rotary Club member Julie Dockrill has trained mothers and healthcare providers in Mongolia, improving education regarding childbirth. Dockrill’s work is critical for women living without access to hospitals. With progress such as Dockrill’s education initiative, maternal and infant mortality rates are beginning to decrease.

Poverty in Mongolia

Mongolia has made significant economic and social improvements over the past few decades. Since 1991, its GDP tripled and the maternal death rate decreased by 87%. Poverty reduction rates vary widely across the country, with rural areas seeing the greatest change. From 2016 to 2018, poverty declined by 5%, whereas urban areas remained unchanged. This is due to increased prices for livestock and no wage growth in urban areas. Cities have also faced heavy air pollution and tripled rates of respiratory illnesses over the last 10 years.

Additionally, COVID-19 has posed a major risk for Mongolian citizens. Overall, the pandemic caused the economy to shrink by 7%. Other factors that worsen poverty are extreme weather conditions, lack of sanitation and food insecurity. With a small population of 3 million, those living as nomads face great difficulty accessing healthcare and other services.

The History of Mongolian Nomads

Nomadic herders make up 25% of the Mongolian population. Nomads live in traditional Mongolian housing districts called gers — portable round tents. These gers exist all over the plains and mountains of Mongolia. However, environmental challenges have hit these gers harshly. The average temperature since 1940 has risen 2.2 degrees Celsius, which is significantly greater than the world average temperature change of 0.85 degrees Celsius. There is also less rain, making ponds and rivers dry up. Herds of livestock and horses have a difficult time finding water and cooling off in the warmer months, because of their thick fur that keeps them warm in -40 degree Celsius winters. Consequently, cities draw young adults away from nomadic life, with easier access to healthcare and education.

Mongolia’s Childbirth Practices

In rural areas, limited access to hospitals and doctors makes childbirth risky. In 1995, the U.S. State Department sponsored a medical team from Tripler Army Medical Center to a hospital in Mongolia for training. They observed dim lighting, physicians reusing gloves and aprons between patients, limited supplies of IV fluids and use of anesthesia without proper safety checks. There was also almost no equipment for natal care and mothers after giving birth.

As a result, many women in the 1990s gave birth at home, which had the potential to be traumatizing if they had a difficult labor. Since then, there have been significant improvements in Mongolia’s childbirth practices. The Mongolian government began reform movements that opened maternity waiting homes across the country. Expecting mothers from nomadic areas can visit these facilities if their pregnancy is high-risk. This way, women can be closer to hospitals in case of an emergency. It is now standard for healthcare providers to encourage women to visit one of the prenatal clinics two weeks before their due date. Online information and telehealth also provide access to reproductive health information. Success is evident. From 1990 to 2019, infant mortality rates have decreased from 77 per 1,000 births to 13.4 deaths.

The Rotary Club’s Work

Julie Dockrill is a midwife and childbirth educator from New Zealand. In 2013, the Rotary Club of Waimate asked if she could join them in a project training medical workers to improve childbirth practices in Mongolia. A major thing she noticed was that mothers only received basic care information. Thus, Dockrill held training classes for pregnant women using baby dolls and anatomical models, expanding on the knowledge displayed in traditional pamphlets.

In Mongolia, people often treat labor as a quick process, which can lead to complications. Dockrill explained to her training class that medical professionals should not rush labor and that they should treat the procedure with care. The class led to immense success, influencing the Rotary team and Dockrill to continue through 2015 and 2016. Additional phases of the project included a Mongolian midwife shadowing Dockrill in New Zealand, training over 300 healthcare workers in Mongolia and bringing medical supplies.

In 2018, the team returned to Mongolia to provide healthcare and education to rural communities. Dockrill also wrote an updated training manual that covered immunizations, pain relief, diet and doctoral instructions. As a result, the Mongolian Ministry of Health endorsed and adopted the manual. In 2019, Nepal adopted the text as well. Mothers must now take childbirth education classes and receive more advanced resources for childbirth services.

The Future for Mongolia

Mongolia’s reduction of maternal and infant mortality rates over the last 30 years has led to decreased poverty rates in the country. One of the major steps to reducing poverty currently in place is focusing on the rural communities of Mongolia. Access to healthcare is one of the main ways to improve Mongolia’s childbirth practices. With progress like Dockrill’s work and the Tripler Army Medical Center, further progress in eliminating poverty is clearly in motion.

– Madeleine Proffer
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19's Impact on Women and Poverty in CroatiaThe Republic of Croatia is a country located in Central and Southeast Europe, bordering Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Montenegro. Since proclaiming independence in 1991, the country introduced policies, programs and reforms to improve the quality of life of its citizens. But, COVID-19’s impact on women and poverty in Croatia has had serious consequences for the country.

COVID-19 and Unemployment

COVID-19 devastated many countries in a social, political and economic areas. However, Croatia was particularly hit hard. Starting in 2008, the country experienced a global financial crisis that had tremendous consequences. The European Commission Autumn Economic published a report estimating a recession of approximately 9.6% GDP in 2020, nearly 7% worse than the previous year. The main reasons behind the decrease are the fall in the tourism sector, domestic consumption and eradication of exports. In addition, registered unemployment skyrocketed by 21.3% during the first year of the pandemic.

Poverty in Croatia also increased after two earthquakes in 2020 negatively impacted Croatia’s pandemic and health crisis management. In response, the European Union deployed resources for the recovery of all the member countries, especially those who also suffered natural disasters during the pandemic.

Despite this bleak outlook, an analysis by The Ministry of Finance argues for an “optimistic growth of 5%” in 2021, provided Croatia sees an increase in domestic demand and continues receiving recovery funds from the European Union.

Women and Poverty in Croatia

According to a report by the World Bank, COVID-19 is not the only factor pushing women towards poverty. Undoubtedly, women are more likely to be employed in the informal, low-skilled and part-time jobs that were hardest hit by the pandemic. In many cases, these jobs disappeared and women suffered income loss. In addition, women who lost their jobs or work at home are less likely to be guaranteed social security and health coverage by the emergency packages created since the outbreak of COVID-19. For this reason, COVID-19’s impact on women and poverty in Croatia has been severe.

Both the European Union and the World Bank are aware of the many barriers women have to overcome. In response, they created several policies to find a solution. Some of the policies include providing equal access to the labor market for all women and removing any barriers to women’s employability.

The Government Response

Croatian authorities have become aware of the extreme need to reduce poverty in Croatia, especially for women. In 2019, authorities passed a National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security (NAP) to be carried out until 2023. This plan aims to prevent, protect and guarantee women’s rights in the country. The policy seeks to ensure that every woman has access to education, public health and active participation in the labor market.

The NAP prioritizes nine objectives to aid in prevention, participation, protection and implementation. Among these objectives are an increase in women’s role in decision-making processes and the promotion of women’s rights in conflict settings. The NAP works on the back of previous legislation that aimed to increase women’s participation in higher education. For example, women represented 59.9% of university graduates from 2015 to 2018. The same period saw a 4% increase in women in human resources and a 2% increase in female professors.

To support women’s employment, authorities introduced legislation to improve family life through maternity and parental benefits.  For example, the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy (MDFYSP) supports projects such as lengthening daycare operations, creating alternative education programs and providing children with meals. By supporting scholarships and child care, parents have more time to dedicate to their professional careers.

Hope for the Future

In conclusion, COVID-19 drastically affected Croatia in many ways. In particular, women suffered heavy damage from the health crisis. But, the international community and the Croatian authorities stepped in to design programs and resources for the eradication of poverty. Which, if the data is any indication, has promising results for the future of poverty in Croatia.

– Cristina Alverez
Photo: Flickr

remittances in the Dominican RepublicRemittances have become an integral part of the Dominican Republic’s economy. Furthermore, remittances in the Dominican Republic have helped alleviate some of the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing poverty throughout the country.

What Are Remittances?

Remittances are money or goods that immigrants send back to their families in their countries of origin. Their use has been growing significantly in the past few years, particularly for developing countries. Data on the total financial value of remittances is not completely accurate because many of the transfers involved are unofficial and are difficult to track. However, the official value of remittances makes up a portion of each country’s GDP. For middle-income countries, remittances make up about 1.5% of the GDP, rising to close to 4% for low-income countries.

Remittances in the Dominican Republic

Remittances make up a significant part of the Dominican Republic’s economy, with estimates placing the value of remittances at about 8% of the total GDP in 2019 — double the average of most low-income countries. While some remittances come from Europe and other Latin American countries, a staggering 75% come from the United States.

The use of remittances has grown rapidly in the past three decades. In 1990, the total value of remittances sent to the Dominican Republic was around $300 million, but by 2020, the amount rose to more than $8 billion. Remittances help support people’s livelihoods and the overall economy, which is why remittances are so important to the Dominican Republic.

Remittances During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic did affect the overall flow of remittances, but not as much as predicted. The total value of remittances worldwide dropped just 1.6% from 2019 to 2020, which is quite insignificant considering the more drastic impacts of the pandemic. However, for the Dominican Republic and a few other Latin American countries, the value of remittances received actually grew in 2020.

The start of the pandemic caused a sharp decline in remittances, then stabilizing throughout the rest of the year and eventually resulting in overall growth. In fact, by June 2020, the Dominican Republic received 25.7% more remittances compared to June 2019. Remittances were able to stabilize or grow because many remittance-reliant immigrants in the U.S. and Europe were able to retain their jobs or acquire new jobs quickly after the start of the pandemic.

Remittance Impacts on the Economy

In the years before the pandemic hit, the Dominican Republic experienced a growing economy with reduced poverty and a larger middle class. Therefore, the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic delivered a blow to the nation. The economy shrank by 6.7% in 2020 due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the growth in remittances in 2020, after the initial pandemic-induced decrease, helped keep the Dominican Republic’s economy from plummeting in size. The consistent and growing prevalence of remittances in the country’s economy has been an indicator of future growth.

The Dominican Republic’s economy saw positive growth in the second half of 2020 that will likely continue into 2021. Because other important sectors of the economy, such as tourism, will recover more gradually, remittances will play an ever-larger part in the economy’s recovery and the decrease in poverty.

Ritika Manathara
Photo: Unsplash