Posts

Himalayan Cataract ProjectIn 1995, Dr. Geoff Tabin and Dr. Sanduk Ruit launched the Himalayan Cataract Project to eliminate curable and preventable blindness in under-resourced Himalayan communities. The two founded their innovative campaign after recognizing that cataracts account for 70% of unnecessary blindness in Nepal. Cataracts, or cloudy, opaque areas in the eye that block light entry, occur naturally with age. Poor water quality, malnutrition and disease tend to exacerbate the issue in developing countries.

For years, Dr. Tabin and Dr. Ruit had seen Nepalese villagers take blindness as a death sentence. “It was just accepted that you get old, your hair turns white, your eyes turn white, you go blind and you die,” Dr. Tabin told the Stanford Medicine magazine. But after Dutch teams arrived in Nepal to perform cataract surgery, he explained, “People came back to life. It was amazing.”

The Strategy

The Himalayan Cataract Project delivers sight-restoring cataract surgery at a low cost. Dr. Ruit’s groundbreaking procedure lasts 10 minutes and costs just $25. Today the organization has succeeded in providing permanent refractive correction for well over 500,000 people.

In an effort to leave a more sustainable impact, the project works from a “train the trainer” model that empowers community health providers and enhances local eye care centers. Rather than simply treating patients in need, specialists introduce new methods and technology to strengthen the practices of existing clinics.

As a result of these and other advances, the blindness rate in Nepal has plummeted to 0.24%, similar to that of Western countries. The Himalayan Cataract Project now operates in India, Tibet and Myanmar. Dr. Tabin has also initiated training programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Ghana and Ethiopia. He hopes to see the same successes here as achieved in Asia.

The Link Between Blindness and Poverty

Addressing blindness is a critical step in the fight against poverty. Blindness prevents able-bodied workers from supporting themselves, shortens lives and reduces the workforce. Children of blind parents often stay home from school as they scramble to fulfill the duties of household caregivers and providers. In short, blindness worsens poverty, while poverty magnifies the risk of blindness.

The Himalayan Cataract Project aims to break the cycle of blindness and poverty. Studies have shown a 400% return on every dollar that the organization invests in eradicating curable and preventable blindness. Their procedures stimulate the economy by helping patients get back to work.

Individual success stories continue to power the organization. Adjoe, a 40-year-old mother from Togo, traveled to Ghana for surgery when she determined that her blind eye was hurting business. As a street vendor selling beans, she saw customers avoid her stand for fear of contagion. She consulted Dr. Boteng Wiafe, a partner of the Himalayan Cataract Project, who performed oculoplastic surgery and gave her a prosthetic eye. Carefully matching the prosthetic to the size, color and shape of her good eye, Dr. Wiafe ensured that Adjoe could return home to provide for her family once again.

Response to COVID-19

In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a halt to live clinical training and elective surgeries, but the backlog of blindness continues to grow worldwide. Meanwhile, concerns about the virus may dissuade blind patients from seeking treatment for the next several years.

While eye care has been suspended, the Himalayan Cataract Project is using this time to redesign and restructure their programs so as to emerge even stronger than before. The organization is also working to equip partner clinics with information and resources to keep their patients safe. Some communities have even taken part in the shift to remote education and implemented a virtual training system.

Despite the uncertainty of the months ahead, the Himalayan Cataract Project remains firm in its commitment to fighting blindness and poverty. Its partner clinics around the globe have been tireless in their efforts to affirm that the poor and vulnerable will receive the eye care they need once patients can receive in-person treatment again.

Katie Painter
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Sierra LeoneOf Sierra Leone’s population of 7 million people, more than half are living below the poverty line. In 2019, the U.N. Development Programme Index ranked this West African country 181st out of 185 countries based on “average achievement in three dimensions of human development—a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.” Such a ranking is significantly influenced by the fact that millions of Sierra Leoneans are affected by food insecurity and many children are malnourished. Here are five facts about hunger in Sierra Leone. 

5 Facts About Hunger in Sierra Leone

  1. More than 3 million Sierra Leoneans lack reliable access to adequate food. In total, over 40% of Sierra Leone’s population is food insecure. Over 50% of Sierra Leone’s population lives on less than $1.25 per day, so many people struggle to buy sufficient and nutritious food. According to the 2019 Global Hunger Index, about one out of every four people in the country are undernourished.
  2. Nearly 40% of children suffer from stunted or impaired growth as a result of chronic malnutrition. This can permanently impact health and cognitive development. Families living in poverty are less capable of providing their children with an adequate variety of nutrients in their diets. In 2018, the rate of mortality for children under 5 years old was 10.5%; about half of these deaths are attributable to malnutrition.
  3. Sierra Leone ended an eleven-year war in 2002, and was hit by the 2014 Ebola pandemic; these have greatly exacerbated rates of poverty and hunger in Sierra Leone. The long-term conflict dismantled national infrastructure in both rural and urban areas, resulting in a lack of effective basic social services  Beginning in May 2014, the Ebola crisis resulted in almost 4,000 deaths and a serious economic downturn in Sierra Leone. The country is still dealing with the aftermath of these events.
  4. Irregular rainfall has significantly reduced rice production in recent years. Rice is a staple food in Sierra Leone, but local agricultural production is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of the population. In 2018, the majority of rice-growing households produced only half as much rice as they expected. Therefore, instead of exporting rice, which would improve economic growth, the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars importing the staple.
  5. The COVID-19 pandemic is putting more people at risk of acute hunger and starvation. According to the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), without sufficient aid, countries with high levels of food insecurity may face “mega-famines.” The WFP has also reported that food insecurity could double worldwide in 2020, affecting 130 million more people.

Solutions

Many organizations have taken action to address food insecurity and malnutrition in Sierra Leone. In 2018, Action Against Hunger aided 8,000 people with food security programs that reduced malnutrition among children and increased dietary diversity. The WFP, UNICEF and Sierra Leone’s government are distributing nutrient-dense food to young children and mothers to reduce child malnutrition.

The WFP also provides food to children in schools and supports smallholder farmers. In May 2020, the WFP assisted more than 17,000 people by distributing over 47 metric tons of food assistance, transporting 900 metric tons of improved seed rice to smallholder farms, and providing cash payments to more than 1,000 farming households

The World Bank has provided Sierra Leone’s government with $100 million to deal with economic challenges during the pandemic and reduce poverty. The U.N. is attempting to coordinate a global response to the pandemic that would require $4.7 billion to “protect millions of lives and stem the spread of coronavirus in fragile countries,” including Sierra Leone. 

Conclusion

These facts about hunger in Sierra Leone show that this issue is widespread and likely worsening during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with multiple NGOs and members of the international community working to address this problem with food assistance and aid for farmers, there is hope for improvement; Sierra Leoneans may experience lower rates of hunger and malnutrition in the near future. 

Rachel Powell
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in SenegalSenegal is often seen as a stable country politically and economically relative to its neighbors in the West African region. This perception has been further validated in the last decade with its peaceful elections and a GDP growth averaging approximately 6% since 2014. Still, the country is not without its challenges. Though poverty hasn’t been measured since 2011, it is estimated that around 39% of the population lives below the poverty line. Homelessness in Senegal is a major consequence of poverty that needs urgent attention, especially amid COVID-19.

Street Youths of Dakar

In Senegal, homelessness especially affects many children. In the capital city of Dakar, which has a population of 1.06 million people, an estimated 40,000 street youths are without shelter. Some of these children are Talibes. Talibes are “youths from Koranic schools known as daaras who are forced to beg for money. There are also those who fled such schools. Others come from broken families or have lost their homes because of poverty.”

Recently COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown have exasperated the lives of these homeless children in Senegal. The thin protection these children once had in small generosities from restaurants and pedestrians have been erased as services and public pedestrian presence have gone dormant for lockdown. Lackluster sanitation and drug usage compound the street youths’ vulnerable position amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of early July 2020, Senegal has reported thousands of cases of COVID-19 and under 100 deaths.

Helping Hands

In April, Senegal’s Ministry of Family launched a coronavirus emergency plan for street children, opening up about 13 educational social centers and other venues in Dakar. Outside of government support, NGOs like the French-Senegalese Village Pilote has aided homeless children in Dakar sprung into action. Village Pilote offers homeless children in Senegal meals and shelter as well as space for recreation. Issa Faye, a 19-year-old living on the street told Reuters: “Because of the disease people were avoiding us, we had problems getting (medical) treatment, and also the police kept running after us. Only this centre accepts children and youngsters our age and from the streets…”

Value of Aid

COVID-19 highlights how easily vulnerable demographics such as the homeless street youths of Senegal can be left behind without consideration, underscoring the value of aid. Supporting funding for the International Affairs Budget to address the consequences of the pandemic is also essential to protecting the health, security and economic interests of all Americans.

– Caleb Hughes
Photo: Flickr

Poverty In SpainThe COVID-19 pandemic has impacted families and communities globally. Not only have people suffered from the virus itself but also from indirect consequences. For example, millions of people have lost their jobs. Now, men and women are facing numerous difficulties while trying to provide their loved ones with basic needs. Citizens in wealthy countries, such as the United States, the U.K. or Japan, have been able to navigate through this pandemic somewhat smoothly. However, the same cannot be said for impoverished people around the world. Poverty in Spain was among some of Europe’s highest rates even before the COVID-19 outbreak. Currently, the citizens of Spain, who had already suffered from poverty, are now met with another obstacle. However, those experiencing poverty in Spain are not alone during this crisis; various NGOs and charities are working together to provide food, facemasks or other necessities to those in need. 

Growing Poverty Rates

According to the National Institute of Statistics of Spain, 26.1% of people were “at risk of poverty or social exclusion” and 5.4% of people experienced “severe material deprivation” in 2018. The National Institute of Statistics also reported that 55.2% of people faced varying degrees of difficulty making ends meet that same year. Although these figures only include adults, children are not excluded from poverty’s reach.

Children in Spain seem to be more vulnerable to poverty than adults. A 2017 report from the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) found that the child population in Spain has unacceptably high rates in the indicators of poverty. One of the report’s most jarring statistics concerning the child population in Spain is that 31.3% of children were “at risk of poverty or social exclusion.” However, these children all experience poverty differently.

Among the children facing poverty in Spain, the 2016 EAPN report identified that 10.8% experienced severe poverty and 6.5% endure severe material deprivation. In 2018, poverty rates for children in Spain hardly budged. The National Institute of Statistics reported that 29.5% of children were still at risk in 2018, and 6.5% were still experiencing severe material deprivation. 

Unemployment Factors In

Although numerous factors are involved with these statistics, the country’s unemployment rate definitely contributes to poverty’s overwhelming presence in Spain. The Center for Sociological Research (CIS) conducted a study in Jan. of 2020 that showed most Spanish citizens consider unemployment and economic problems as the most critical issues in their country. 

The people’s concern about Spain’s economy is legitimate, considering what the statistical analysis shows. In the fourth quarter of 2019, the unemployment rate in Spain was 13.78%. This was two times the rate of the EU. In particular, young people in Spain showed notable unemployment rates. The National Institute of Statistics of Spain recorded unemployment among those below the age of 25 at 30.51% in that same quarter.

Charities and Social Organizations Step in Amid COVID-19

COVID-19 has affected virtually every person in the world in its wake. However, those in poverty have been suffering prior to the virus; in fact, the outbreak of COVID-19 has only made survival in poverty more challenging. As such, charities and social organizations in Spain have been rallying behind those in need to soften the pandemic’s effects. Here are three prominent organizations in Spain whose motives are to reduce poverty and assist those in need during this global crisis:

  1. Cáritas: The Spanish Episcopal Conference instituted Cáritas in 1947. Cáritas Española’s objective is to carry out the charitable and social action of the Church in Spain. Its mission is to promote the development of people, especially the poorest and most excluded. Cáritas has been one of the most impactful NGOs in Spain during the pandemic. The organization’s website has a dedicated section for COVID-19. It includes its relief efforts, COVID-19 statistics and advocacy for government programs aimed toward poverty in Spain. Some of the services Cáritas has provided during the pandemic include facemask-making workshops, granting hotel rooms for the homeless and providing disinfection services for assisted living homes. 
  2. FESBAL: The Spanish Federation of Food Banks (FESBAL) was founded in 1996 to combat hunger and poverty by reducing food waste in society. On the FESBAL website, one can choose from three different donation amounts that will go toward groceries for impoverished families in Spain who cannot easily access grocery stores due to mandated shutdowns.
  3. Alberto and Elena Cortina Foundation: The Alberto y Elena Cortina Foundation is a Spanish non-profit charity. It pursues the creation and support of welfare, education and charity in Spain. In April 2020, the foundation worked alongside the Food Bank to distribute a large portion of fruit to those in need through the country’s municipal markets after Spain announced a state of emergency.

Looking Ahead

Travel Restrictions have stymied most volunteering and social work interventions, but there are many ways to fight against poverty from home. People who have access to the Internet and a few dollars to spare can significantly contribute to organizations in Spain. Quarantine orders and social distancing have separated people physically, but empathy and human solidarity are boundless. Although thousands of miles might separate countries, people can still reach out to those in need by being informed, spreading awareness and supporting organizations that are working on the front lines toward a better future.

Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Rwanda
Rwanda is a small landlocked country in the center of Africa. With a sprawling savanna in the east and mountainous jungle in the west, the country has impressive natural features that have increasingly drawn international intrigue. Beyond Rwanda’s natural wonders, there have been great strides to combat poverty in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people died in 100 days. While the country faces substantial obstacles, there are many positive indicators of Rwanda’s future economic stability.

The Good News

Over the last two decades, Rwanda has shown an average annual GDP growth rate of 7%; this is consistently above the average in Sub-Saharan Africa. Another promising factor is that Rwanda has an increasingly diverse economy. Traditional sectors, such as agriculture and services, are contributing alongside emerging sectors, such as electricity, infrastructure and construction. Tourism has also been a key factor and now contributes to 10% of the national GDP.

Due to these economic advances, Rwanda has become the darling of the World Bank. The World Bank consistently invests hundreds of millions of dollars in public improvement projects in areas ranging from education to renewable energy. The results of those projects are promising. From 2009 to 2019 national electricity access jumped from 9% to 47%. Additionally, through the World Bank-supported Rwanda Urban Development Project, six cities have directly benefited from a massive increase in urban roads and stand-alone drainage.

The Obstacles

Poverty in Rwanda is still significant; around 39% of the population lives below the poverty line. One contributing factor is that Rwanda suffers from a poor education system where only 68% of first-graders end up completing all six years of primary education. Another component is that domestic private investment in Rwanda has yet to take off, mainly due to low domestic savings. Additionally, many rural Rwandans operate subsistence farms and thus have little disposable time and income.

According to The Washington Post, the authoritarian streaks of Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, are another hindrance to the alleviation of poverty in Rwanda. In recent years, tourists have marveled at the clean streets of Rwanda’s cities. What those tourists cannot see, is the forced removal of “undesirables” into detention centers.

In rural areas, the government has burned farmers’ fields because they did not grow their assigned crops. Rural residents have also had to deal with Kagame’s heavy-handed approach to modernization. In some villages, Rwanda’s regime has stripped villagers of their grass roofs with the promise they would return with metal replacements. When the new roofs do not come residents live in exposure which leads to illness and fatalities.

Some of Kagame’s policies have drawn international outrage. In 2012, Kagame supported Congolese rebels which resulted in the United States and the European Union suspending international aid. Another similar scenario may be on the horizon with recent reports of Kagame’s regime manipulating poverty statistics.

In 2019, a Financial Times analysis of poverty statistics found that the government was misrepresenting data to exaggerate the decrease in poverty. Despite that claim, the World Bank has continued its myriad of investments in the country and so have many other major donors. However, as countries on a global scale focus more resources domestically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, international aid to Rwanda is in danger. Aid is still necessary to prevent catastrophic consequences as Rwanda is experiencing a dire humanitarian situation. The silver lining is that many of Rwanda’s usual donors are still in positions to assist.

The pandemic has also adversely affected tourism and exports, which are huge pillars of the Rwandan economy. Furthermore, as the country directs its healthcare workers and fiscal resources towards emergency response, other health concerns, such as the AIDS epidemic, move to the sidelines.

Hope for Poverty in Rwanda

Though Rwanda has problems that it cannot easily solve, there still is hope. Before the pandemic, Rwanda’s economic growth exceeded 10% in 2019. A two-thirds drop in child mortality and near-universal primary school enrolment accompanied this statistic.

Additionally, two World Bank-funded projects including the Rural Sector Support Program, and the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation Project have increased the productivity and commercialization of rural agriculture. As a result, maize and rice yields doubled and potato yields tripled between 2010 and 2018. These results are especially promising considering poverty in Rwanda is the most severe in rural areas.

Rwanda has also achieved a strong level of political stability. Women make up 62% of the national legislature and previously marginalized opposition parties have gained parliamentary seats without disrupting the system’s stability. These are indicators that will increase confidence in foreign investors. While Rwanda has a troubled history, the future holds a lot of potential.

Cole Penz
Photo: Wikimedia
While it may have been one of the first nations in the Americas to take significant preventative actions against the coronavirus, Peru is still reporting over 208,000 COVID-19 cases, and is now ranked as the second most impacted South American country behind Brazil. After the implementation of stay-at-home orders, curfews and boarder closings, it is strange to see both the number of cases and deaths continuing to rise. One explanation as to why Peru is continuing to deal with more cases is that Peru’s poor do not have the luxury to stay at home and Peruvian food markets can be a hub for spreading coronavirus.

The Necessity of Food Markets

Why venture out? Work, food and banking transactions are all done on the streets of Peru and not in the comfort of one’s home. Only 49% of Peruvian households have access to a refrigerator or freezer, meaning that daily excursions to Peruvian food markets are necessary in order to keep food on the table.

Furthermore, the Peruvian food markets provide another challenge, maintaining social distancing. On April 14, CNN affiliate TV Peru captured images of a Lima food market where shoppers waited for hours in lines or in masses while wearing masks but not practicing social distancing. This scene was then replicated outside of banks as people queued up in an attempt to access coronavirus relief funds. Peruvian food markets have quickly become hot spots for contagion, not just for shoppers but also for vendors.

Proving to be an Issue

In a local market, just outside the San Martín de Porres district, “163 merchants tested positive for the virus, after 842 rapid tests.” In response to the rising cases, the Peruvian government implemented more bans and lockdowns to try and stop the sudden influx of cases and extended the state of emergency until June 30. This solution, however, does not address all circumstances across Peru. The fact still remains that the nation’s poor often have no choice but to venture out daily to access the resources they need.

Entrepreneurs feel Economic Strain

Despite the dangers surrounding vendors and shoppers, Peruvian food markets are only half of the equation. The global pandemic has also wreaked havoc on small producers and entrepreneurs.

People who work in small scale production don’t always have easy access to local markets which can lead to two things:

  1. The producers are unable to sell their products in the cities and thus receive less income than they normally would.
  2. Markets will begin to see a decline in produce and goods, which will result in crowded markets and higher prices.

Although Peru is starting to grant transit permits to these small producers, the process has been slowed down due to the coronavirus. While numerous solutions have been proposed by the Peruvian government, only a few actions are igniting real change in providing help for citizens living below the poverty line.

One such solution is being enacted through the German partnership program: Welthungerhilfe. The international relief program focuses on ending food insecurity across the globe. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, it has dedicated relief efforts to communities most heavily impacted. In Peru, this can be seen in the community of Húanuco. Working with the Peruvian Institute of Development and Environment (Instituto de Desarrollo y Medio Ambiente), Welthungerhilfe implemented a delivery service, to connect local farmers and producers with markets and consumers in more urban areas. This effort will keep locally owned farms employed during the crisis and fight the food scarcity affecting local markets.

For the Peruvian people living in poverty, COVID-19 has uncovered many of the nation’s shortcomings including food insecurity. Producers, vendors and shoppers alike are struggling to operate within new health regulations and provide for their families in the crowded streets of Peruvian food markets. As a result, international relief agencies, like Welthungerhilfe, have been emerging to help those in need.

– Elizabeth Price
Photo: Pixabay

Tuberculosis in PakistanPakistan is ranked as the fifth-highest nation contracting Tuberculosis (TB) daily in the world. It has an “estimated 510,000 new TB cases emerging each year,” accounting for 61% of TB in the eastern Mediterranean region. According to the Stop TB Partnership, there are 1,540 developing cases and 121 deaths from tuberculosis in Pakistan every day. Pakistan also experiences the fourth-highest rate of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) globally. The abundance of MDR-TB cases largely results from delays in diagnosis, inadequate drug treatment and non-compliance of some patients.

Economic Background and Effects

The average monthly cost to treat Tuberculosis in Pakistan is between 1,500 and 1,800 Pakistani rupees, which equals around $9 to $11 per month. In Pakistan, this is a huge financial burden considering the average monthly income of less than $35, with many TB patients earning even less than that. One study reported 96.7% of Pakastani TB patients were already struggling financially prior to their diagnosis.

After diagnosis, changes in employment status are common for many patients. Roughly 75% of TB patients are unemployed after diagnosis. Those who do not lose their jobs often face cuts in work hours. These economic constraints inadvertently encourage non-compliance and refusal of treatment, which ultimately contributes to the spread of TB in Pakistan.

Stigmatization of Tuberculosis

Beyond employment consequences, tuberculosis in Pakistan is heavily stigmatized by the public. More than three-quarters of Pakistanis believe TB patients should be kept in hospitals or sanitariums during treatment. Some even admit that they would not marry an individual who has had TB. Out of a fear of being ostracized, most TB patients in Pakistan hide their disease and refuse treatment—behavior that contributes to the high rates of MDR-TB in the country.

The stigmatization of TB in Pakistan is mainly a result of a lack of public knowledge and misconceptions about the disease. Recent studies point toward insufficient TB awareness among the public and even patients in Pakistan. One study found that 88.7% of patients questioned did not know the risk factors of TB or the protective measures people with the disease should take. Moreover, less than half of the respondents could accurately identify TB symptoms.

The National TB Control Program (NTP)

Despite the high rates of tuberculosis in Pakistan, the country has made strides in decreasing its numbers. Organizations such as the National TB Control Program (NTP) are actively working to achieve a TB-free Pakistan. NTP re-launched in 2001 after TB became a national emergency in Pakistan. Since then, the organization has worked alongside the National Institute of Health to fight TB in the country. The main objective of NTP is to cut the number of TB cases present in 2012 in half by the year 2025.

The organization has brought more attention to the issue and improved its detection of cases from 11,050 cases in 2000 to 248,115 in 2008. The NTP hopes to increase that number to 420,000 by the end of 2020. Furthermore, the organization was able to bring the treatment success rate up to 91% by 2007 and has been working to maintain that level since.

COVID-19 Impact

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 across the globe has posed a major threat to the state of tuberculosis in Pakistan. With social distancing regulations, it has become difficult for individuals to be diagnosed and treated for the disease. Despite these new challenges, Pakistan and the NTP have remained committed to controlling the TB situation. The National Manager of NTP, for example, announced that follow-up appointments following treatment are to be conducted over the phone. Furthermore, the NTP outlined plans to use methods like the Pakistan Postal Service and Uber to deliver ongoing treatment to patients across the country.

The NTP has also started an online TB case notification pilot program where patients can register and receive treatment notifications and additional assistance from healthcare workers via text. This program will provide the NTP with greater information on TB cases in Pakistan as well as encourage patient compliance with treatment plans.

– Mary Kate Langan
Photo: Flickr


During the 2008 financial crisis, more than 20 million people in China were laid off, with the official unemployment rate reaching a peak of 4.7% in 2009. Since then, official unemployment in China has remained steady, hovering around 4.6% until 2015 and reaching a decade low of nearly 4.2% in 2018.

China has been able to maintain relatively low numbers in unemployment through an increase in investment in its social policies. Since the 2008 financial crisis, its jobless claims program funding nearly tripled to $82.37 billion. In 2016, China also signed an agreement with the International Labor Organization through the Decent Work Country Program, pledging to focus on generating a better social protection system and increasing the “quantity and quality of employment,” among other objectives, through the end of 2020. However, COVID-19 has interfered with these plans.

Impact of COVID-19 on Unemployment

China has over 84,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with more than 4,600 reported deaths as of May 14, 2020. Since its first case in December of 2019, China has taken drastic measures to reduce the spread of the virus. This lead to a 6.8% drop in its GDP from January to March. Many business were also forced to close. While some industries have now reopened, China’s economy is still far from operating at full capacity and has been left with a grudging consumer base.

There was an estimated increase in unemployment in China by three million people as the rate increased from 5.2% in December 2019 to 5.9% in March 2020. However, there was no increase in the number of unemployed receiving benefits. To make matters worse, this is only what has been officially reported and does not include rural migrant workers. Including migrant workers would change the recent peak in unemployment from roughly 6% to nearly 20%.

Additionally, millions have been working without a contract, working without paying into their unemployment insurance or have not worked long enough to collect, leaving them without access to unemployment insurance. Those who do receive an unemployment check are being sent less than minimum wage each month, leaving many unable to pay rent.

Responses to Unemployment in China

The Chinese government recognizes the extreme troubles millions of its citizens are experiencing. They have mandated government officials to “prioritize job security and social stability above anything else.” Already China has been supporting small businesses through an increase in lending, as well as providing subsidies and tax breaks. Additionally, the government has given 67,000 jobless migrants a one-time payment with an additional 2.8 million more people receiving unemployment benefits (averaging $571 per person) and another 5.78 million people receiving subsidies to combat inflation. Those unable to receive unemployment insurance do have the opportunity to apply for financial assistance depending on their income.

As of early May, close to nine million college and university graduates are expected to enter the workforce, further adding to the workforce competition. In response, the Ministry of Education in China has announced plans to help alleviate the additional pressure from graduates entering the workforce. Over the summer, the Ministry of Education looks to create more opportunities for graduate education and teacher positions, as well as to encourage “small, medium-sized and micro enterprises to recruit more college graduates.”

As COVID-19 continues to be a significant problem around the world, it is essential that countries address the poverty and unemployment that the pandemic exacerbates. Moving forward, China and other nations must continue to create policies and programs designed to protect the impoverished.

– Scott Boyce
Photo: Unsplash

Jobs in PakistanDue to the coronavirus pandemic, many people around the world lost have their jobs and are now facing financial hardship. The economic impact is projected to increase global poverty. This will be the first time since 1998 that the world sees an increase. Luckily, countries have been creating new job markets to aid the unemployed and fight poverty levels. A new market of jobs in Pakistan has been created for those laid off because of the coronavirus: tree planting.

“10 Billion Trees Tsunami”

In 2018, Pakistan started a campaign called the “10 Billion Trees Tsunami” program. The project goal: to plant more trees and fight against deforestation. Additionally, this program will help the environment. Jobs in Pakistan have already been affected by the pandemic, and it is projected that as many as 19 million people will be laid off due to COVID-19. To combat this, Pakistan started employing those who lost their jobs because of the virus to plant trees as a part of their “10 Billion Trees Tsunami” program. Though this program was not specifically created for those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, it is greatly helping those who did. These new laborers have been dubbed “jungle workers.” This program aims at creating more than 60,000 jobs as a way to help citizens and the economy and fight against climate change. In order to help as many citizens as possible during this devastating time, the program has tripled the number of workers hired.

These jungle workers are mostly seen in rural areas. Hiring is aimed primarily at women, unemployed daily workers and those who are from cities in lockdown. A large portion of the workforce is also made up of young people. As tree planting does not require much past experience, many unskilled workers are still able to be employed during this harsh economic period. There are still strict precautions in place for those working, such as having to wear a mask and continuing to keep a social distance of 6 feet while working.

Relief for the Unemployed

The program’s creation of new jobs in Pakistan allows its citizens to continue making enough money in order to provide for their families. A construction worker named Abdul Rahman lost his job when the coronavirus struck and began to face financial instability. Once employed as a jungle worker for the “10 Billion Trees Tsunami,” he was able to start providing for his family again. In an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Rahman said “Due to coronavirus, all the cities have shut down and there is no work. Most of us daily wagers couldn’t earn a living.” Rahman is now earning around ₹500 a day, which translates to about $3. Though this payment is about half of what he would have made on a good day as a construction worker, he says it is enough “to feed our families.”

Pakistan’s Positive Example

Through this program and its employment of more citizens, Pakistan is taking a step towards rebuilding its economy and aiding poor citizens. The project aims at having planted 50 million trees by the end of this year and, with the addition of more workers, this goal is achievable. The presence of such jobs in Pakistan is an example of hope during this time and, as the economy improves, Pakistani citizens can earn living wages and the environment reaps the benefits.

Erin Henderson
Photo: Flickr

Election in BurundiAmid a global pandemic, Burundi is on the brink of its first democratic transfer of power in its 58 years of independence. The country’s Constitutional Court will announce the official winner of the May 20 election on June 4, but the Burundi election commission has already declared Evariste Ndayishimiye, the candidate of the governing party, the winner. The commission has declared that Ndayishimiye won 68.72% of the votes cast, while his main opponent, Agathon Rwasa, gathered 24.19%.

The historic May 20 vote for president engaged 87.7% of registered voters, who cast their ballots after the campaigns of seven presidential hopefuls. This high turnout is momentous considering the low road density in the landlocked country. Inaccessible roads make traveling to polling places difficult, with the poor state of infrastructure in the country making travel even more costly. Such costs may be difficult for Burundians to grapple with, given the country’s near total dependence on coffee subsistence farming, the production of which has declined in recent years.

Campaign Controversy

Leading up to the election in Burundi, the 2020 presidential campaigns were not without controversy. According to Human Rights Watch, the preceding year included more than 60 political killings and 200 arrests of perceived political opponents. Rwasa, a longtime leader of a Burundian rebel group and a candidate in the 2015 presidential race against the incumbent, called for profound change throughout the election. The spokesman for Rwasa’s party publicized the National Freedom Council’s boycott of the Burundi election commission’s announcement on the grounds of fraud and violence as the basis of Ndayishimiye’s win.

In addition to political controversy, the election in Burundi faced criticism for its call for in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Days after the election, Burundi only had 42 cases of COVID-19, reporting just one death and 20 recoveries among these. However, the number of cases in the country doubled between May 17 and May 21, indicating that the election could have played a role in this increase.

Throughout the pandemic, Burundi has avoided imposing stringent restrictions in favor of advising its citizens to practice handwashing and to avoid mass gatherings, with the exception of campaign rallies. These rallies were one of the main platforms for information dissemination about candidates, as less than 2% of the country’s population has electricity in their homes, causing many Burundians to attend. The government’s one heavy-handed rule was imposed on foreign election observers, who were to be quarantined for 14 days upon arrival in the country, a possible tactic to dissuade observers from attending the election in Burundi at all.

Violence Before the Vote

The election in 2020 comes on the heels of the tumultuous 2015 election in Burundi. President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third-term bid violated the Constitution of Burundi’s two-term limit, provoking riots that culminated in a thwarted coup attempt. This insurgency prompted a violent suppression of the Burundian people and Nkurunziza’s political opponents. In the five years since the election, increasing violence in Burundi has led to the deaths of at least 1,200 people and the emigration of tens of thousands. This turmoil forced financial supporters of the country to cut political and financial ties, further entrenching it as one of the poorest countries in the world.

Economic isolation has put extreme financial stress on the government of Burundi, a burden that the government has imposed on its citizenry in recent years. Beginning in 2017, the government began demanding “contributions,” which it employed in part to fund the 2020 election. This contribution system was officially ended in 2019, but independent groups like the Imbonerakure youth militia have since demanded tributes in its place, exploiting even the seven out of 10 Burundians who live below the poverty line.

These human rights and economic abuses ratcheted up the pressure and significance of the 2020 presidential election, yielding a huge voter turnout in support of reform.

A New Face

While the declared winner Ndayishimiye is the candidate of the ruling party that backed Nkurunziza in his violent and lengthy reign, many Burundians showed up to the polls in support of political change. The people are participating politically to end the violence that has gripped Burundi throughout its occupation by Belgium, which ended in 1962, and the ensuing battles between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. After the first democratic election in Burundi in 1993, the Hutu president was assassinated by a Tutsi-led group of political opponents and traitorous cabinet members.

Burundi has yet to maintain peace after a transfer of power. The country is looking to the results of this election to usher in a peaceful and democratic transition between presidents. Whether Ndayishimiye rules independently or under the influence of Nkurunziza, who has been declared the “supreme guide for patriotism” by the Parliament of Burundi, the Burundian people will be turning to their new government for leadership. In practical terms, this leadership could implement an electrification plan to bring electricity to more Burundian homes and a plan to diversify the economy away from subsistence coffee farming. Voters in the 2020 election in Burundi are seeking an end to forced contributions, insight into governmental spending, a window for economic growth and peace as Burundi moves through the pandemic and into the future.

Annie Iezzi
Photo: Flickr