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Human Trafficking in CuracaoEfforts against human trafficking have improved some with time, but the widespread epidemic continues. Curacao and other foreign governments are fighting to stop this crime — a consistent battle that requires consistent efforts to eradicate it. Human trafficking in Curacao is a complex issue with no set solution; some are making progress across the globe. Many organizations are directing their resources towards human trafficking task forces and prevention. Understanding human trafficking, its origin, prevention and progress are the first steps to becoming an advocate.

Human Trafficking: The Basics

More than 35% of the world’s population currently lives on less than $2.00 a day. There are “2.5 billion children, women and men are at risk for human trafficking.” Curacao identified only three victims of trafficking in 2019, compared to 44 in 2018. This is not a result of improvement. The government of Curacao is not doing enough to find and help victims. Prosecution for traffickers is in place; however, without investigations to find abusers, it’s useless.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that uses force, coercion or fraud to exploit sex or labor from victims. The three most common types of human trafficking are sex trade, forced labor and domestic servitude. Any person is at risk of trafficking, yet women and children are disproportionately involved with sex trafficking. “Women and girls make up 80% of the people trafficked.”

It Begins With Poverty

Curacao’s economy relies heavily on tourism, succumbing to frequent changes that explain its 25% poverty rate. This has gotten worse with COVID-19 and travel restrictions. This resulted in a 19.1% unemployment rate in 2020. Poverty is dangerous in itself and brings more threats to safety.

Women and girls are the main targets of sex trafficking in Curacao. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report, they come from countries such as Venezuela, Curaçao and the Dominican Republic. “Bar owners recruit women and girls to work as waitresses or ‘trago girls’, and subsequently, force them into commercial sex.” Individuals faced with poverty struggle to meet necessities, making them extremely vulnerable to human traffickers. Acknowledging poverty and its direct link to sex or labor trafficking vulnerability is the first step of dismantling it.

This Caribbean island, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is on the Tier 2 Watchlist for human trafficking. This ranking shows efforts being made while still not meeting minimum standards of elimination. The primary reason for the country’s underperformance is a lack of funding since the implementation of its written plan would meet minimum standards. Curacao’s government also lacks adequate protection, prosecution and prevention.

Trafficking affects locals and tourists in Curacao. In 2019, displaced Venezuelans who were working illegally and overstaying their visas held a high risk of trafficking in Curacao. The Kingdom of the Netherlands’ involvement is crucial for anti-trafficking efforts, which puts it in a position of leadership and funding. The Netherlands is responsible for foreign policy in Curacao, Aruba and St. Maarten.

It Is a Global Effort

Countries should work together as a team to fight human trafficking. Due to these crimes’ international occurrence, it is every country’s responsibility to do its part. Interpol, the global police organization, works exclusively to prevent international crime, making it a significant activist. Operation Libertad, coordinated by the Interpol Global Task Force on Human Trafficking, joined forces with 13 different countries, including Curacao. It rescued nearly 350 victims of sexual and labor exploitation in 2018. Interpol exemplified how creating a platform is powerful. It has more than 500 participating police officers arresting traffickers. Efforts and projects like Operation Libertad are in progress around the world.

Other methods of improvement are underway such as training and educational seminars. In 2021, the Dutch Caribbean Islands underwent training from the U.S. Department of Justice Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, solidifying the communal cooperation to fight human trafficking. The Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) pushes for legislation to combat trafficking with “more than 80 non-government organizations,” including the Netherlands. Many more organizations exist and each plays an essential part in eliminating human trafficking in Curacao.

How to End Human Trafficking in Curacao?

The U.S. Department of State gives 20 different ways one can help fight human trafficking. Human trafficking in Curacao will improve with time and energy. Global efforts present a hopeful future for trafficking victims, yet significant measures are the only to ensure such. Understanding human trafficking, its origin, prevention and progress are the first step of becoming an advocate.

– Anna Montgomery
Photo: Flickr

Egyptian EconomyEconomies worldwide have been hit hard by the pandemic. However, few have been able to come out positively. The Egyptian economy has been able to make meaningful economic progress, such as through GDP growth, throughout 2020 and 2021. As it is working toward poverty reduction, Egypt is an example of how to keep an economy steady. Egypt has been fighting poverty for more than a decade now – a third of Egyptians live in poverty and half of the population is either in or near poverty.

Egypt’s Economic Steps

The Egyptian economy has taken economic hits in the past several years. However, that does not mean recent steps are not worth mentioning. Egypt has recently seen poverty reduction for the first time in 20 years due to the reforms taken by the government. At the end of 2016, several economic reforms started a turning point for Egypt. The Economic Reform Program is made up of currency policies, decreasing dependence on fuel and electricity, increasing job opportunities (particularly for women), implementing structural business reforms, and endorsing economic acts to further progress. Certain moves also attracted many investors to Egypt, boosting the economy. Social programs targeted at more individual and community levels have also lifted 1,000 villages out of poverty. These broad economic reforms have also strengthened Egypt for the pandemic.

COVID’s Impact, and Fighting Through It

The past few years have had a monumental impact worldwide. Nearly every economic power has suffered a decline or a recession. One worry within Egypt is that the recent growth would collapse on itself. The pandemic did impact job creation and the private sector, but not enough to make a dent in progress. Previous actions have cushioned Egypt, such as the poverty rate going down from 32.5% to 29.7% in the fiscal year 2019-2020. This monumental victory for Egypt and for poverty worldwide took place over two years.

The Future of Egypt

Egypt Vision 2030 is the long-term future that is planned out for Egypt. As Salah Hashim, advisor for the Ministry of Social Solidarity for Political Policies, put it, “Egypt Vision 2030 has focused on promoting social justice, not only helping the poor and low-income people like before.” This shows that Egypt is willing to tackle injustice in multiple systems. The Egyptian economy should be an example for other countries struggling to build economic growth sustainably. While poverty is still abundant, this growth shows a bright future for Egypt’s economy and its future.

– Audrey Burran
Photo: Flickr

Land grabbing has been a problem in Colombia for several decades, particularly for those living in rural areas. A mixture of political and business corruption, rebel groups, paramilitary organizations and drug smuggling has led to the displacement of many Colombians from the properties they own or inhabit. At their peak, land grabbers of varying organizations illegally held almost 15% of the land in Colombia. As a result, between 6 and 7 million people have had no choice but to leave their homes in search of alternative dwellings. As of 2011, that has all begun to change with land restitution efforts.

Law 1448

In 2011, Colombia introduced Law 1448, also known as the Victims and Land Restitution Law. The objective of the law is straightforward: return illegally held land to its rightful owners. As a direct result of the law, the government established a Land Restitution Unit. This unit aids Colombian citizens in the court system to help them understand how they can file for land restitution. The law also provides some leeway for those who might no longer have the physical documents that prove they own the land, which is frequently the case.

Resolution 181

Two years later in 2013, Colombia also passed Resolution 181. This law is designed to prevent land grabbing in the future. It helps new landowners properly obtain titles and registration documents to ensure that their land cannot be illegally taken or abused. It is another law that works at the judicial level to give proper guidance to those who might not be well versed in property law and related regulations. Both of these laws are designed to work in conjunction with one another to look after those living in impoverished and/or rural communities. They ensure that if and when land grabbing issues do arise, the courts will be able to review official documentation that clearly proves who owns what.

Technology Helping These Efforts

In addition to these laws, the National University of Colombia has designed a system that is significantly safer for storing land-related documents. Land titles and registrations now go directly into a blockchain designed exclusively for property owners. Blockchain technology is highly regarded as being the safest way to save information since everything is decentralized. That means that no single entity controls the data. In a blockchain, every user can see any new or old activity and monitor if something looks suspicious.

Hacking a blockchain is extremely difficult and no one in history has ever managed to do so. Hacking a blockchain is so difficult because any time a new block is created, there is information that links it back to every existent block. So if a hacker wants to change the code of a block in order to sign over a land title to himself rather than the intended owner, every single block in the chain needs to be manipulated to agree with that change. It also needs to be done before anyone notices that a change has occurred. There could be tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of blocks in the blockchain for Colombian property ownership.

Next Steps

Colombia is moving in the right direction. Law 1448, Resolution 181 and blockchain implementation have been vital to land restitution efforts. Since 2011, rightful owners have reclaimed over 740 thousand acres of previously stolen land. While that number might sound large, more than 5 million acres of land still remain in limbo. To make land restitution efforts as effective as possible, Law 1448 and Resolution 181 must be enforced far beyond 2021. The proper framework is in place, but the Colombian government has to remain active in helping its citizens reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

– Jake Hill
Photo: Flickr

Vanuatu's Graduation From the LDCsSince the United Nations created the least developed countries (LDCs) list in the 1970s, only six nations have moved off of the list to a higher ranking of development. Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific, became the sixth country to do so on December 4, 2020, after being designated an LDC in 1985. Vanuatu’s graduation from the LDCs list can serve as a beacon of hope for more LDCs to achieve higher rates of development.

Economic Growth

The U.N. Committee for Development Policy (CDP) identifies LDCs based on their level of human assets, environmental and economic vulnerability and per capita income. Since 1991, Vanuatu has met the CDP’s income per capita threshold and was recommended for graduation in 2012, having more than twice the income per capita threshold and also meeting the threshold for human assets. In an effort to pursue graduation, Vanuatu began shifting its economic policies to decrease reliance on imports, increase exports and create employment and income-generating opportunities. Vanuatu’s rural economy grew after improvements in the livestock sector in addition to the country’s diversification of agricultural activities to include timber, kava, coconut oil and copra. The tourism industry and real estate investments were also an aid to Vanuatu’s economic growth as income per person increased by more than 2.5 times between 2002 and 2017.

Vanuatu’s Setbacks

Throughout Vanuatu’s progress in economically developing the country, the nation has also been stymied by recurring natural disasters. The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development estimates that Vanuatu is affected by an average of two to three natural disasters per year and noted that Vanuatu is uniquely affected by natural disasters as its size causes the entirety of the country to be affected as opposed to just specific regions. In 2015, Vanuatu was hit by Cyclone Pam, a Category 5 cyclone that destroyed 50-90% of the country’s shelters and 95% of crops. Cyclone Pam delayed Vanuatu’s previous progress toward graduation and warranted an extension of the country’s grace period to 2020. Additionally, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a decrease in the country’s tourism industry. While Vanuatu’s first case of COVID-19 was reported only in November 2020, the pandemic has impacted the nation and its economic sectors.

A Pathway for LDCs

While Vanuatu is the third country in the Asia-Pacific region to graduate from LDC status, following Samoa in 2014 and the Maldives in 2011, it is only the sixth country to graduate overall. On track to move up from LDC status are Angola in 2021, Bhutan in 2023 and São Tomé and Príncipe and the Solomon Islands both in 2024. Vanuatu’s graduation can bring hope to the other 46 countries on the LDC list, especially given the global circumstances in which Vanuatu achieved this feat. The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively stalled worldwide markets and further excluded many LDCs from international supply chains. With the encouragement of Vanuatu’s graduation from the LDCs list during a global pandemic, hope for the four countries scheduled for graduation in the near future increases alongside support from the international community to ensure an eventual zero countries on the LDCs list.

Caroline Mendoza
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in KenyaIt is estimated that 11.5 million, or one in every four Kenyans, have experienced mental illness. Common mental health issues in Kenya include disorders due to substance abuse, neurotic and personality disorders, as well as dementia. However, the country has limited resources for those struggling with mental health issues. As of 2015, there were only around 12 neurologists and 100 psychiatrists in Kenya. Furthermore, mental health-related stigma decreases the accessibility of care since it can lead to discrimination. Greater awareness of mental health issues as well as providing more resources for those suffering from mental illnesses and disorders can aid in increasing the quality of life of those struggling with mental health issues in Kenya.

Mental Health Care Project

In 2015, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders and Board on Global Health created a demonstration project with the goal of improving the state of mental health in Kenya. The project focused on mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) disorders in Kenya, specifically alcohol abuse, depression and epilepsy because of the high burden of these conditions. The project addresses the limitations of Kenya’s healthcare infrastructure, lack of availability of medication and data in regard to MNS disorders. Additionally, the project emphasizes the potential benefits of incorporating traditional and faith healers (TFHs) into the Kenyan healthcare system. Kenyans who struggle with mental illness often rely on TFHs for care because of their wide accessibility. Because TFHs are viewed with acceptance among communities, the project encourages the collaboration between TFHs and healthcare practitioners.

Mental Health Stigma

Kenyans living with mental disorders often experience stigma on multiple levels. Stereotypes surrounding those with mental illnesses lead to public stigma, especially since many people associate mental illnesses with evil. Furthermore, those struggling with mental disorders may internalize others’ negative perceptions of them, impacting how they view themselves and their overall quality of life since it can lead to loneliness and isolation. Stigma is a factor preventing Kenyans from receiving efficient treatment. Therefore, greater public education on mental disorders and providing more resources for treatment can improve the lives of those living with mental disorders in Kenya. A better understanding of mental health in Kenya will aid in the destigmatizing of mental disorders, leading to effective treatment.

Kenya’s  Mental Health Response

In 2005, in collaboration with WHO, Kenya created a program to implement mental health into the country’s healthcare system. This was done by training healthcare staff across the country. The outcome of the project proved the possibility of educating healthcare workers through courses in mental health.

Furthermore, in 2014, Kenya presented the Mental Health Bill, which proposed providing resources for those with mental illnesses, including treatment, care and rehabilitation. The law has yet to be enacted. If implemented, the legislation aims to address the inequality in mental healthcare and to ensure greater accessibility of mental health services in Kenya.

Despite the strides taken by the Kenyan Government to address mental health, it is necessary to further these efforts in order to improve the overall healthcare system. Greater awareness of mental illnesses and how they can be treated is imperative to advance mental healthcare in Kenya.

– Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Education and Indian ChildrenOver 100,000 schools and just as many teachers deliver education in even the most traditionally unreachable, rural parts of India because of one foundation. Ekal Vidyalaya, a nonprofit originally inspired by social research and activism, recognizes the paramount goal of establishing educational access for every child in rural India and approaches it directly. Inspired and built in the 1980s, Ekal Vidyalaya conducts multinational fundraising, transforms nontraditional school models into working solutions and impacts the lives of nearly 2.8 million students through its efforts. Bringing education and Indian children without teachers and schools together is a fundamental pillar of the Ekal mission, which transcends borders in an impassioned quest to substantively create change.

Ekal Vidyalaya: Mission and History

Ekal Vidyalaya’s mission is to raise up schools and rural communities with “basic education, digital literacy, skill development, health awareness and rural entrepreneurship” in unison with farming maximization efforts that are taught. These wide-ranging, self-identified aspects of the organization’s mission reflect some of the initial issues that Ekal Vidyalaya, even before it was known as such, identified. Dr. Rakesh Kumar Popli and Dr. Rajneesh Arora, among others who were analytically evaluating regions in India in order to determine areas of concern, partnered with other leading scientists and activists of the time in order to raise awareness towards educational discrepancies and other health and social issues. Over time, education and Indian children became focal points of an effort that became known as Ekal Vidyalaya and refining steps brought the ancillary and primary systems of aid into reality.

Ekal Vidyalaya’s Methodology and Goals

In order to make progress on its significant goals, Ekal Vidyalaya relies on donations, volunteerism and community outreach. The name itself is a direct reference to the impact structure: one-teacher schools are essentially called Ekal Vidyalayas and they are the way that the nonprofit integrates itself into towns and villages in order to raise literacy and improve conditions. Once the school is established and working well, the organization then adds health services and skill development to bring economic opportunities for the villagers.

COVID-19 Considerations

Adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic is a continuous battle for the organization, particularly for its grassroots-based donation effort. Despite this, Ekal has been able to leverage its structure to transition training centers into mask making centers and provide over a reported 2.3 million people with food supplies using volunteers and other community organizations. Early October saw a global Ekal conference wholly online, where goals for the next five years were outlined. Various elements of the organization, from youth divisions to board members, committed to increasing not only education efforts but practical village-to-village communication and economic growth. Bringing together education and Indian children remains a core pillar of the estimated budget, and technological revolutions in the forms of roaming mobile centers and tablets prove Ekal’s commitment to continued adaptability. As challenges present themselves, Ekal Vidyalaya strives to preserve its mission and still improve upon it, which will be a necessary factor for change in the years still to come.

– Alan Mathew
Photo: Flickr

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Global ActivismPrince Harry and Meghan Markle, England’s Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are frequently in the news for their stance against paparazzi and their decision to step back from the British Royal Family in early 2020. But behind the scenes, this famous couple advocates for various matters. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s global activism expands beyond their home countries of the United States and the United Kingdom. They are frequent vocal supporters of global poverty issues, particularly those that affect children.

Meghan Markle’s Activism Before Becoming the Duchess of Sussex

Prior to her marriage to Prince Harry in 2018, Meghan Markle was an outspoken advocate of gender equality in developing countries. She became a U.N. Women’s Advocate for Women’s Political Participation and Leadership in 2015. The following year, Markle traveled to Rwanda and India as an ambassador for World Vision. World Vision is an organization that fights global poverty in children. The experience inspired her to write an op-ed in Time magazine about the effect stigma around menstruation can have on a girl’s future.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Activism

When she married Prince Harry and became a member of the royal family, Markle stepped down from these roles. However, this does not mean she stopped being a voice for those in need. Now, Harry and Meghan’s activism has launched programs and supported charities around the globe that fight to eradicate global poverty. Additionally, they inspire fans of the royals to become advocates themselves.

Their Trips and Projects in Africa

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, along with their young son Archie, took a 10-day tour of Africa. They visited South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Malawi in late September and early October of 2019. While there, the couple announced a variety of projects, including protecting forests, investing in technology and ridding the land of dangerous landmines. The Duchess of Sussex additionally announced grants and scholarships from the Association of Commonwealth Universities. This is an international organization that supports higher education and supports African girls in their journey to university and beyond.

During this same trip, Harry and Meghan met with members of the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) Association. CAMFED is a group of women advocating for girls’ education and global poverty issues throughout Africa. The royal couple used their platform to support these women. In addition, they shared their work with their 10 million Instagram followers.

Activism Work on Social Media

This was not the first time that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s global activism could be seen on their social media accounts. In August of 2019, the official Instagram account for the pair, @sussexroyal, began a series entitled ‘Forces for Change.’ They highlighted 15 organizations that they found inspiring or noteworthy. These organizations include Children International and Plan International United Kingdom. These two groups care and advocate for children living under the poverty line around the world. The simple act of sharing these organizations online spread awareness of the fight against global poverty. It also prompted followers of the Duke and Duchess to support these incredibly important causes.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s global activism continues to inspire their followers and motivates them to take action just as the couple has done time and time again. In April of 2019, weeks before the birth of baby Archie, thousands of fans of the royal family donated to Meghan Markle’s favorite charities as a baby shower gift in what’s now known as the ‘Global Sussex Baby Shower.’ One of these charities is the aforementioned CAMFED. Additionally, this money directly supported global poverty and girls’ education initiatives in Africa.

In April of 2020, the couple announced their new non-profit: Archewell. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled their plans to launch the organization. Once it launches, we can be sure that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will continue the global activism that has defined their two years as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Agenda 2063The Organization of African Unity (OAU) officially disbanded on July 9, 2002. OAU accomplished its primary goal after nearly 40 years: independence. Nearly every former European colony on the African continent had gained its sovereignty in the decades following the end of the Second World War. The replacement for the OAU came in the form of the African Union (AU). It is a new continental organization born to continue and expand on the work of the OAU. In addition, the AU created Agenda 2063 as a part of the 50th anniversary of the OAU.

The African Union

The African Union is a sort of ‘United Nations’, exclusive to the African continent. Consisting of 55 member states with its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the AU was founded on the basis of Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism is the ideal of collaboration and unity among all people of African descent, whether they live on the continent or not.

The AU came into being at a time of great change in the world order. African leaders found themselves struggling to keep up with current affairs and often react rather than govern. The various heads of state of the members of the AU ultimately decided that they needed a plan to make Africa the global player they believed it truly could be. As a result, they created Agenda 2063.

Agenda 2063

The goals of Agenda 2063 are to transform the nations of the continent into democratic, peaceful and innovative powerhouses that will aim to be global players in the next 50 years. Included in Agenda 2063 are what are known as the Seven Aspirations. These objectives encompass all the goals of Agenda 2063 and are crucial to the success of the agenda. The aspirations are as follows:

  1. A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development
  2. An integrated continent politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of African Renaissance
  3. An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law
  4. A peaceful and secure Africa
  5. Africa with a strong cultural identity common heritage, values and ethics
  6. An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential offered by the African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children
  7. An Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global player and partner

Each of the Seven Aspirations makes up a key to Africa’s future on the world stage, particularly at its inception in 2013. Seven years on, each of Africa’s five regions is still working towards completing all of the aspirations. Some regions have had more success with some aspirations than others. However, it is important to note how much progress has been made and how much more there is to go.

Southern Africa

Southern Africa has made significant progress in Aspirations one, two and four. Protected fresh waters sites have become widely available across the region. Internet access has increased by over 200% since the Agenda was introduced. Additionally, all Southern African states have established stable peace and security councils in their respective governments. Good progress has been made in these areas. However, Southern Africa has not devoted as many resources to advancing in Aspiration five, which is crucial to an educated and culturally strong Africa.

East Africa

In East Africa, notable progress has been made under Aspirations four and six. Similar to Southern Africa, East Africa established responsive security councils across the region. This contributed to a drastic decrease in armed conflicts in the coastal areas, where piracy had been a major issue for years. Furthermore, the number of women with access to sexual health and reproductive services has seen a large increase since 2013. Despite this, Aspiration three has not seen much progress. Several states have not been able to establish heavily influential governmental institutions to get a handle on, for example, human rights issues.

West Africa

West Africa has seen substantial advancement in Aspiration two and four since the inception of Agenda 2063. The tourism industry in West Africa has seen substantial growth over the last seven years, as have fishery industries in the coastal nations. Regional access to electricity saw its highest increase in 2019. With these successes, progress has stalled in other areas, particularly in Aspiration three and five. In a region that has great agricultural potential, reports have noted that attempts to revitalize this industry have failed to meet set targets in 2019.

Central Africa

Of the five regions, Central Africa has seen the lowest amount of progress across the Seven Aspirations. The only tenet where some significant headway has been made is Aspiration two. Similarly to West Africa, many more families have access to electricity as well as the internet. Little to no progress has been made in most of the other objectives, particularly in Aspiration six and seven. This is due in part to low enrollment in primary and secondary education across the region.

North Africa

In North Africa, serious progress has been in Aspirations two and four. Notably, the number of malnourished children under the age of 5 in the region has been reduced by 97% since introducing the Agenda. In addition, the rates of malaria and tuberculosis have seen a remarkable decline, exceeding their 2019 target. However, more progress is needed in Aspiration five and six. The number of women facing violence and discrimination in the region has not seen the decreases projected in 2019.

Overall, the progress on Agenda 2063 across the continent has been focused primarily on governmental destabilization, defense and security in each of the five regions. Most states have set up individual security councils and work with one another to preserve peace and settle conflicts. On the other hand, the areas of the Agenda that have seen the least amount of progress include human rights, democracy and education in Africa’s rich culture and heritage. Individual states have held back resources that could be spent on educating their youth and preparing them for the future. This can make the continent more secure in terms of security and defense. While there is still undoubtedly a long way to go before Agenda 2063 is achieved, the progress made in the last seven years is noteworthy.

Alexander Poran
Photo: Flickr

Technological Access in Bhutan

A mountainous landlocked kingdom of 766,000 people, Bhutan has been traditionally been isolated and disconnected from the outside world for a number of centuries, with previous rulers keeping the nation as a “hermit kingdom” prior to the legalization of television and Internet in 1999. Bhutan‘s economy relies heavily on its agriculture and forestry alongside the budding hydroelectricity industry, which has proven difficult due to the mountainous terrain of the country. The country’s main trade partners are India and Bangladesh, with no known relationship with the U.S. or other major U.N. members. The legalization of the Internet in 1999, as well as investments in technological advancement in the mountainous country, is a turning point for the kingdom as the developing technological access in Bhutan is expected to bring the country to the modern era.

Internet Development

Since the Internet’s introduction in 1999, Bhutan quickly was able to quickly build its telecommunication infrastructure and have much of the country connected. Cell phone services began in 2003, with 80 percent of the population owning a cell phone as of 2018, which includes 70 percent of the population that consists of farmers, making Bhutan one of the most connected countries in the world. This jump from the days of being isolated from the world allows the people of Bhutan to communicate both within and outside of the country’s borders.

Telecommunications

The continued developing technological access in Bhutan has also seen growth through Bhutan’s own investment into its communication networks. Bhutan‘s internal ICT development includes:

  • implementing protection lines for consumer purchases
  • building stations for mobile carriers and broadcasters and expanding upon broadband connections for wireless connections and private access for citizens
  • investing in cybersecurity and strengthening the overall connection quality

The investments in the internal network lines have allowed Bhutan to quickly connect the nation at a rapid pace. However, challenges remain in terms of developing the rural areas of the country within its mountainous terrain. That said, the government is actively looking at ways to change the status quo.

The National Rehabilitation Program (NRB) and the Common Minimum Program are two examples of initiatives focused on building new facilities and roads as well as easier access to electricity and supplies. Mountain Hazelnuts, a company headquartered in Eastern Bhutan has also made major tech investments for its farms, increasing employment and supplying smartphones for hired farmers that help with directions on the road and improve communication.

Henry Elliott
Photo: Flickr

 

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Vanuatu
Vanuatu is a small nation located in Oceania, a region near the South Pacific Ocean. It is an archipelago nation made up of approximately 80 islands and is best known for its touristy capital, Port Vila. Much like many developing nations, issues are living conditions are not black and white. Instead, they are rife with complexity and nuance. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Vanuatu.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Vanuatu

  1. First on the list of top 10 facts about living conditions in Vanuatu is that it is comprised of more than 80 islands, many being volcanic islands, covering more than 1,300 kilometers.  Vanuatu’s population is estimated to be 299,882 people. Most of the islands are not close in proximity, and dangerous waters and unpredictable weather make travel between the islands difficult. This creates problems with securing access to vital places, such as hospitals, especially for people who do not live in Port Vila. Vanuatu’s vast geography also hinders government delivery services because access to the smaller islands is limited. Remote villages are the primary standard of living as citizens have discovered the best habitable locations and resources in this volcanic nation.
  2. Homes on the islands of Vanuatu are primarily made of branches, grass and leaves woven together to provide good protection from frequent heavy rains, but they can be unstable in more severe weather conditions.  Certain natural disasters, such as tornadoes, can cause these homes to be stripped away completely. This especially became clear after Cyclone Pam hit the Vanuatu islands in 2015. 90 percent of Vanuatu’s buildings were destroyed, including many homes.  Many people were left homeless after this natural disaster hit. Many of the islands are still in the process of rebuilding after the effects of Cyclone Pam.
  3. The economy is agriculture-based.  Therefore, most citizens of Vanuatu earn their living through means such as small scale farming. Agriculture is Vanuatu’s biggest industry, and 75 percent of its population depends on it for a living.  The domestic sales of agricultural products are not as strong as exportation sales. When Cyclone Pam hit the region in 2015, approximately 64.1 percent of Vanuatu’s GDP was heavily impacted since most of its crops were damaged or destroyed from the cyclone.
  4. The beef industry is one of the most popular and profitable industries in Vanuatu.   In fact, Vanuatu is the only Pacific country capable of exporting beef. The GDP percentage of animals is only six percent.  While beef is not the main meat consumption product in Vanuatu; pork is, it is the most well-known and lucrative agricultural item exported from the small country.
  5. Since rainwater and freshwater sources are the basis of survival on these islands, the nation makes maintaining reliable and clean water a priority. However, clean water is not always easy to access. For example, Tanna is one of the most inhabited islands of Vanuatu, but it has trouble getting and sustaining clean water. Recently, a pilot project was developed that converts sunlight, air and rainwater into freshwater that is drinkable. ADB and Zero Mass Water created and implemented the solution by installing 20 solar panels with safe drinking-water technology.  Each solar panel provides three to five liters for a total of approximately 100 liters of clean water each day. Vanuatu citizens with no direct access to a clean water supply system are being aided by the implementation of this project.
  6. In March 2015, Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu hard. Eleven people were killed, and the cyclone caused major damage to homes and facilities such as hospitals, schools, etc. The damage caused by this cyclone showed Vanuatu’s fragility when it comes to natural disasters. Multiple aid agencies, especially from New Zealand and Australia, were quick to donate money to Vanuatu in order to help them recover from the destruction. Since then, Vanuatu has continued to receive disaster aid funds.
  7. Australia is a major economic partner of Vanuatu and has recently donated around $66.2 million for developmental assistance. With Australia as it’s biggest financial partner, Vanuatu has become more financially stable. Australia also provides plenty of tourism (which is one of Vanuatu’s biggest markets). In addition, in 2016, Australia committed to a support program to help the residents of Vanuatu handle issues associated with climate change. Australia pledged 300 million dollars over four years to the Pacific region to respond to and prepare for natural disasters and climate change.
  8. The Ministry of Climate Change and Natural Disaster has recently launched an initiative that aims to give Vanuatu 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. This plan is known as the Nationally Determined Contribution. Vanuatu is hoping that this initiative will be the first step in mitigating climate change within its own land.
  9. Education faces limitations in Vanuatu because schooling is not mandatory.  Only 60 percent of children graduate to secondary school. School is taught in either English or French. The literacy rate is only 64 percent, but most of the literate citizens are under age 35. In remote island locales, schools can be temporary structures built from wood and leaves and are affected by storms and weather conditions. Since education has not experienced major improvements, organizations such as the Vanuatu Education Support Program was created in 2012 to better the education system. It aims to provide support for the Ministry of Education and Training’s corporate plan and the Vanuatu Education Sector Strategy. One of the solutions includes “improving literacy and numeracy from kindergarten to year 3.”
  10. The health care system in the Vanuatu islands suffers from a lack of facilities and qualified staff.  There are five public hospitals and one private hospital for the 80 plus islands. Two are on the modernized islands of Port Vila and Luganville. The doctor to patient ratio is 8/10,000. If someone is in dire condition, they often are flown to other countries such as Australia or New Zealand which can make an emergency situation more complicated and dangerous.  All pharmaceuticals are imported from other countries.

This concludes the top 10 facts about living conditions in Vanuatu. This archipelagic nation is very independent and allows its citizens to choose how they want to live, but, due to the structure of a nation of small islands, this way of life comes with setbacks.  The citizens of Vanuatu have seen some small improvements in their way of life, and with the positive aspects of this country, improvements can continue with the right steps.

Haley Saffren
Photo: Flickr