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8 Facts About Migrant Caravans from Central America
Over a year has passed since the migrant caravans from Central America arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. The migrant situation is complex and continues to have great effects on the economy, U.S. international affairs and the lives of thousands of people. The issue is far from resolving and continues to require attention, so here are eight facts about Central American migrant caravans.

8 Facts About Central American Migrant Caravans

  1. Central American Migrants: The first of the eight facts about Central American migrant caravans is that the migrants are mostly from Central America’s Northern Triangle, which consists of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The caravans began in Honduras and most of the migrants are Honduran but their Central American neighbors have joined them because they face similar issues of violence and poverty. These people traveled through Central America and Mexico until they reached the U.S.-Mexico border.
  2. The Largest Caravan: The biggest caravan, migrating in late 2018 and drawing international attention, started as a small grassroots social media movement in Honduras. One hundred and sixty Hondurans gathered at a bus terminal in San Pedro Sula on October 12, 2018. More and more people joined them along the route; the U.N. estimates that the group was as large as 7,000 people by the time it arrived in Tijuana.
  3. Reasons for Migration: Those who joined the caravans are migrating for a better future which they hope is waiting for them in the United States. Gang violence and persecution threatens them in their home countries; the murder rate in Honduras is 800 times higher than in the U.S. The migrants are leaving in an attempt to save their lives. In addition, there is widespread poverty in the Northern Triangle and the migrants are hoping for higher salaries and better lives for their children in the United States.
  4. Challenges on the Road: There are many hardships and health risks that the migrants face when traveling on foot, by bus or hitchhiking. The journey is arduous and results in road injuries and fatalities such as when a young Honduran man fell off a truck during the journey and passed away. Sunburn, dehydration and a continuous lack of access to clean water and sanitation are threats as well. The migrants also faced violence when crossing borders, such as when authorities used teargas. The group was dependent on local aid, such as church and civic groups or local government entities that provided food and water in the towns they passed.
  5. International Law on Asylum: International law on asylum states that anyone who enters U.S. soil or wants to enter U.S. territory to claim asylum must be able to do so and receive a chance to have a court hear their case. Because of this, the United States legally cannot ban asylum seekers according to their countries of origin or force asylum seekers to return to countries where their lives are in danger. However, President Trump labeled the caravans an invasion and the U.S. responded with a zero-tolerance policy and threats to close the border. The U.S. passed the Migrant Protection Protocol in January 2019 which forces asylum seekers to wait for their court date in Mexico. Between January and December 2019 only 11 migrants out of 10,000 cases at the border received asylum, a rate of about 0.1 percent in the whole year.
  6. Changes in Caravan Numbers: There was a swell of caravans until late 2018, but patterns in migration are changing. The caravans, while safer in numbers during the journey, were not successful at gaining asylum at the border. Current migrants have been traveling in smaller groups which are harder for others to track. Those who were in original caravans are now spread out, some suffering deportation back to their original countries, others opting to stay in Mexico or waiting in Mexico for a chance to apply for asylum or for their court date in the U.S. A small subset is even living in the U.S. undocumented or after gaining asylum.
  7. Doctors Without Borders: Health issues are a pressing concern for members of the migrant caravan especially as they are living in temporary camps near the border. Many migrants suffer from injuries and illnesses that they sustained through their long journey and exposure to the element along with violence they may have encountered on the way. Aside from physical issues, the migrant community is also suffering from many mental health issues including anxiety and depression, a result of the prolonged stress of their journey and precariousness of their position. Doctors Without Borders has sent an emergency team to provide aid and treatment, collaborating with the Mexican Ministry of Health to attend to the needs of the migrants.
  8. Border Kindness: Migrant caravan members at the border are not always able to meet basic needs. However, organizations such as Border Kindness have stepped in to provide immediate needs including shelter, food, water, clothing, medication and legal aid to a population with low resources. Its work is ongoing and pivotal in protecting and providing for the especially vulnerable including women, children and the elderly at the U.S.-Mexico border.

With so much happening globally all the time, people can sometimes push important issues aside as agendas shift. These eight facts about Central American migrant caravans are a brief overview of the basic situation and the changes occurring over time. The realities of the migrant crisis at the border continue to be relevant and pressing.

– Treya Parikh
Photo: United Nations

Nonprofits Helping Syrian Refugees

The Syrian civil war has been ongoing since 2011, making the Syrian refugee population the world’s largest group forcibly displaced from their country. At the end of 2018, there were 13 million refugees from Syria, accounting for more than half of the country’s total population. The vast majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon (70 percent) and Jordan (90 percent) are living below the poverty line. Fortunately, a number of groups are stepping in to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. Keep reading to learn more about these three nonprofits helping Syrian refugees.

3 Nonprofits Helping Syrian Refugees

  1. Sunrise USA – Founded in 2011, Sunrise USA is a nonprofit organization focused on providing humanitarian assistance for Syrians in need whether they still live in the country or not. The group is focused on sustainable development in areas including education and health care.
    • Health Care With help from donations, Sunrise USA built a full-time clinic in the Tayba camp in Syria, as well as a clinic in Istanbul and a polyclinic in Rihanli, Turkey. The organization has also established 22 trauma care facilities in Syria.
    • Education As of 2018, around 5.8 million children and youth in Syria were in need of education assistance. About 2.1 million of them were out of school completely. Sunrise USA has built four schools and provided books and supplies to students and families around refugee camps. In 2015, Sunrise USA was a lead sponsor in the creation of the Al-Salam School which had 1,200 students.
    • Care for Orphans The number of Syrian orphans, both in Syria and neighboring countries, has increased to more than 1 million since 2011. Through Sunrise USA’s orphan sponsorship, hundreds of orphans have been provided with food, clothing, education and medicine.
  2. Doctors Without Borders (DWB) – Officially founded in 1971, the organization’s core belief is that “all people have the right to medical care regardless of gender, race, religion, creed, or political affiliation, and that the needs of these people outweigh respect for national boundaries.” Here’s a look at DWB’s efforts to help Syrian refugees:
    • Jordan – In 2017, Jordan closed off the border connecting the country to Syria and in 2018 canceled all subsidized health care for Syrian refugees. Doctors Without Borders has three clinics in Irbid, Jordan that focus on non-communicable diseases, which are the leading causes of death in the region. In 2018, the organization provided 69,000 outpatient consultations, 11,900 individual mental health consultations and 2,690 assisted births.
    • Lebanon – Shatila refugee camp in South Beirut is home to Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese people living in poor and overcrowded conditions with minimal services. Doctors Without Borders has set up both a primary health care center and a women’s center inside the camp in 2013. The organization also launched a vaccination campaign around the camp, opened a mental health support branch in a clinic in Fneideq, offer family planning and mental health care services in the Burj-al-Barajneh refugee camp, and operate a care program in Ein-al-Hilweh refugee camp for patients with mobility issues.
  3. Concern Worldwide US – Founded in 1968, Concern Worldwide works in the world’s poorest countries to provide emergency response, education, water and sanitation, as well as help communities develop resilience to higher impacting climates. The organization works to help Syrian refugees in a few ways:
    • Lebanon – Concern Worldwide is not only focused on creating “collection centers,”–which are multi-family shelters–but also on improving water, sanitation and hygiene conditions in the highly concentrated refugee areas of the country. The organization has provided assistance for 56,000 refugees and is also helping hundreds of children get access to education.
    • Syria – Since 2014, Concern Worldwide has worked in Syria to tackle waterborne diseases by installing generators and chlorinated water sources and also providing hygiene supplies. The organization also provides basic necessities to Syrians by distributing food baskets and for families with access to markets, food vouchers.

– Jordan Miller
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Haiti
On the Caribbean island of Hispaniola lies two countries: Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR). Despite being on the same island, poverty in Haiti far exceeds that of its neighbor.

The Statistics

The United Nations evaluated Haiti and the DR for human development considering three factors: “a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.” The DR ranked 94th out of 182 countries, indicative of its high human development. Haiti ranks much lower at 168th. The average life expectancy in the DR is 74 years, in contrast to Haiti’s average of 63. The DR’s expected years of schooling are approximately 14 years, while Haiti’s is about nine years.

The difference in development is evident in each countries’ economies as well. In the DR, rates of poverty decreased from 21.7 percent to 19.9 percent from 2015 to 2016. Within five years, the DR’s average rate of GDP growth was 5.8 percent per year. This economic boost has translated into a decrease in poverty and income inequality. In contrast to the DR’s economic success, the Haitian economy is suffering, leading to the majority of its population (58.5 percent) being in poverty in Haiti. In Haiti, GDP has decayed at a rate of 0.2 percent. Rapid inflation also plagues Haiti, indicating its struggling economy.

Differing Geography

There are several reasons behind these stark contrasts in development. The geography of the island is one explanation. The mountains dividing the island are able to prevent rainfall from coming to Haiti. Northeast trade winds blow towards the DR, promoting rainfall on its side. Additionally, deforestation is a serious issue on the Haitian side of the island, creating environmental and agricultural roadblocks.

These geographical features make it troublesome for Haitians to grow crops, which takes a toll on their primarily agricultural economy. This lack of cultivation decreases opportunities for farms in Haiti. The deforestation also diminishes the scenic beauty in the country, while the DR uses its natural scenes to promote tourism additionally bolstering its economy.

Looking to History

Deforestation in Haiti began with its colonization by the Spanish. When the Spanish colony gave a part of Hispaniola to France in 1697, the French began to import an excessive amount of slaves into the land. Although the Spanish also used slaves, France used nearly 10 times as much. The French over-cultivated the same cash crops, coffee and sugar in the same soil, which led to the environmental devastation of the country today. Haiti was the first independent black state, which came at a large cost as well. Its extreme amount of debt to the French government deteriorated its economy, as well as disputes about how to construct its new autonomous government. Although U.S. occupation and political instability riddled both the DR and Haiti, Haiti has received continuous exploitation and its leaders have had little regard for economic development.

Although there have been many countries that have provided international aid and relief, notably the U.S., the country has not been able to solve much. This is mostly due to the country not having the necessary investment in its aid. In fact, Haiti has even pursued policies that actively diminish its economy.

Organizations in Haiti

Although many countries have not aided Haiti with its recovery from exploitation, several non-governmental organizations have pursued several projects to tackle poverty in Haiti. After Haiti’s disastrous 2010 earthquake, Global Communities implemented several initiatives to remove rubble. The organization has now removed over one million cubic meters of rubble, providing 20,000 locals with short-term jobs. Global Communities also created the Lavi Miyo Nan Katye pa’m Nan (LAMIKA) program, which translates to “a better life in the neighborhood.” It focuses on Carrefour-Feuilles, a poverty-ridden neighborhood greatly affected by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince. It is reconstructing 1,500 meters of roads, almost 2,000 meters of pedestrian footpaths and nine schools. It has also worked to improve the water and sanitation systems of the country.

The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) has also conducted several projects to alleviate poverty in Haiti. To improve the economy, PADF implemented the LEAD program, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). LEAD connects investors from the U.S. and Canada to Haitian businesses, helping them develop into larger enterprises. Collaborating with American Red Cross and USAID, PADF encourages “resilient urban development” in the area of Canaan under the program name, Ann Boust Canaan. The program has introduced vocational schools to better train residents for jobs. Additionally, it has created 1,500 new jobs and linked citizens to businesses to better access their finances.

To expand the limited medical treatment in Haiti, Doctors Without Borders manages three hospitals in Port-Au-Prince. There is a prevalence of burn victims that require medical care in this region, so, in 2017, the organization administered 1,300 emergency room visits and aided approximately 700 patients. Victims of sexual and gender-based abuse obtained care, with 769 patients receiving treatment in 2017. Doctors Without Borders educates hospital staff and has begun building a new hospital in Haiti as well.

What Individuals Can Do

For those who would like to be more involved in the process of reducing poverty in Haiti, they can make donations to programs through the organization Hope for Haiti. The program allows donors to choose where they would like their donation to go, such as health care, education and environmental development. Another more active approach is volunteering for Haitian organizations. The organization MedShare sends medical supplies to Haitian hospitals and clinics and requires volunteers to package the items in the U.S. before shipping.

Haiti has undergone exploitation throughout its history. The DR has experienced exploitation, but to a lesser extent, which its better economic and environmental conditions today show. Since countries have not aided Haiti sufficiently, there are several non-governmental organizations that have helped in recovery from its instability. Individuals can also help by volunteering their time or supplies to Haitians in need. Being born on different sides of the same island should not determine drastically different life outcomes.

Diana Piper
Photo: Flickr


May 2019 marked the 70th anniversary of the first Mental Health Month in the U.S. While 70 years of mental health awareness activism seems like a long time, the Mental Illness Policy Organization estimates that there are 3.5 million adults with untreated schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in the U.S. on any given day. That figure excludes individuals suffering from other mental illnesses such as acute anxiety and depression. Untreated mental illness is a problem at the forefront of the U.S. health care system and improvement seems imminent for suffering Americans. For countries plagued with poverty and violence like Honduras, accessible and affordable health care is scarce. Lack of health care options in Honduras causes more barriers for those living with mental health conditions, which makes raising mental health awareness in Honduras extremely important.

Mental Health Awareness in Honduras

Mental health awareness in Honduras is an uphill battle. In 2006, the government allocated 6.61 percent of the country’s general budget to health care. Less than 2 percent of that amount supported mental health. As social security often lacks resources to treat mental health illnesses, most cannot afford to pay for medication. Unfortunately for those suffering from mental health-related issues, most never receive proper care.

Being one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the world, Honduras is home to prevalent violence and poverty that specialists point to as key factors in an increase in mental illness in the country. Experts estimate that 10 percent of Hondurans suffer from mental illness or substance abuse.

Visit to a Mental Health Facility in Honduras

In 2018, this author had the opportunity to visit a local mental health treatment facility in a small Honduran town called El Porvenir. The facility was the only public mental health resource within five hours, which meant that many families dropped their relatives off with the prospect of going years before seeing them again. One nurse who came in twice a week monitored the treatment center. Between her visits, however, patients, including some who suffered from severe illnesses like schizophrenia, lived in the three-bedroom house unsupervised. For some patients, it was the only option their families could afford.

Doctors Without Borders

Luckily, change is starting to look imminent and mental health awareness in Honduras is increasing. Since 2011, Doctors Without Borders (DWB) prioritizes treatment for victims of violence and sexual assault, as well as for their family members. “We try to work on the emotions, feelings, and thoughts that people experience as a result of what happened to them,” said DWB mental health supervisor Edgard Boquín. “We use cognitive behavioral therapy to help patients take the detrimental elements and replace them with positive coping tools, such as anxiety control, breathing, and relaxation techniques, or by making small life plans which will allow them to cope with their environment again.”

In 2016, DWB expanded activities in the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa, and its sister city, Comayagüela. The number of patients suffering from mental illness treated by DWB jumped 117 percent from 2015 to 2016. Community Health Partnership Honduras, a nongovernmental organization, also travels to southwestern Honduras twice a year, which is among the poorest regions in the world. The organization partners Honduran and American volunteer medical workers to increase access to mental health care.

With those missions in mind, mental health awareness in Honduras is spreading from the cities to the rural regions. Consequentially, treatment and support are increasing as well.

Julia King
Photo: Pixabay

People Fleeing Central America
Many know Central America for its flourishing biodiversity and near-constant geological activity. This region is comprised of seven countries including Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are three countries that form the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA). Recently, the world is paying attention to the number of people fleeing Central America to surrounding areas like the U.S.

Every year, an estimated 500,000 people flee to Mexico to escape the NTCA. As involuntary witnesses to intense violence and economic instability, hundreds of thousands of citizens of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala choose to make the perilous journey north in hopes of finding safer, more peaceful living conditions. Immigration through the U.S.-Mexico border is not a recent or new development. Migration levels are increasing rapidly each year. Many asylum seekers are women and children searching for a life without senseless violence.

The three countries of the NTCA are extremely dangerous, and all rank within the top 10 for homicide rates and dangerous gang activity. In 2015, El Salvador became the world’s most violent country, rampant with gang-related violence and extortion. Though El Salvador no longer holds this title, high levels of poverty and violence continue to cause a rise in people fleeing Central America.

Poverty in Central America

The NTCA includes three countries that are among the poorest in the western hemisphere. Though Latin America has seen improvement in the distribution of wealth among its citizens, many still face the devastating effects of economic inequality that plagues the region. In 2014, 10 percent of citizens in Latin America held 71 percent of the region’s wealth. As a result, one in four people live in poverty, concentrated in rural areas. The most oppressed of this population tend to be women and indigenous peoples.

Economic migration has long been a factor surrounding discussions on immigration. People often choose to live and work in places with more prosperous economic opportunity. In rural areas of the NTCA, the need for more economic opportunity leads to people fleeing Central America. Sixty percent of people living in rural regions of the NTCA is impoverished.

Unprecedented Levels of Violence

Violence within the NTCA remains a leading cause of migration to the Mexican border. Because of the high poverty level across this region, governments do not have enough funds and are rampant with corruption. Many flee from senseless, violent crimes, including gang activity, kidnapping and brutal homicides, which law enforcement does not always punish.

Gang activity within the NTCA also causes citizens to flee. Women and children are at the highest risk for rape and kidnappings. People commit gender-based violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to coerce or intimidate others. Many children make the trek to Mexico alone because they are desperate for asylum to avoid gang recruitment.

Providing Aid to the NTCA

As witnesses to the traumatic violence raging throughout the NTCA, many people fleeing Central America are in dire need of medical and mental attention. Since 2013, Doctors Without Borders has provided more than 33,000 health consultations to those fleeing from the NTCA. Care includes treatment for victims of sexual abuse and diseases caught along the way.

Additionally, Doctors Without Borders, the International Crisis Group and the U.N. Refugee Agency have made strides urging host countries, like the U.S., to provide protection rather than detaining asylum seekers and sending them back. This strategy would reduce illegal entry and allow host countries to manage the influx of asylum seekers.

– Anna Giffels
Photo: UN

MSF Uses Virtual Reality to Build Better HospitalsMédecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders to the English-speaking world, is a global organization that provides professional medical care wherever poverty, war, disasters or otherwise raise a need. According to the group’s International Activity Report, 6.3 million donors funded 11.2 million outpatient consultations, 750,000 inpatients’ treatment and more than 100,000 major surgical interventions in 2018 alone. MSF consistently achieves a huge global impact. While generous donors and devoted staff are part of this success, the organization also improves its operations to ensure progress. MSF takes every opportunity to evolve and utilize resources more efficiently. Most recently, MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals.

Building Innovation

One such evolution began back in November 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. After providing several weeks of emergency support from tent hospitals, MSF determined the municipality of Guiuan needed a more permanent solution. Plans to build a transitional hospital quickly began, and four months later, the organization completed the sturdier facility for use.

Two years later, MSF found an opportunity for innovation. With the help of design firm Pyxis, MSF’s technical team built a 3D printed model of the Guiuan hospital. Designers then turned the same 3D layout into an interactive virtual landscape, which was explorable through a virtual reality (VR) headset. But why should MSF redesign plans for an already built hospital?

Benefits of Creating a 3D Printed Model

These steps were not just for novelty; they served as a proof-of-concept for an innovative approach to the construction process. Since then, MSF has used this innovative virtual reality technology to build better hospitals. The tangible nature of the 3D printed model promotes a more user-friendly design stage. Planners can clearly determine if the facility’s design suits the environment it will serve.

On a more granular level, doctors can also optimize the facility’s layout before people start laying the foundation. The most immersive VR model supports this aspect. Is the main corridor wide enough to accommodate high traffic? Are the sterile processing rooms, scrub sinks and operating rooms in a useful order, or would doctors have to retrace their steps in situations where seconds matter? These details are crucial to the efficiency of a finished hospital.

The worst crises also benefit from the new approach. For example, the World Health Organization named the current Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a global health emergency, and the Ebola outbreaks require a quick response and reliable facilities. In this case, the best health care facility is the one that is operable first. Virtual reality expedites the construction process. Designers can create and build more nuanced plans potentially months faster than with traditional blueprints.

MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals by improving and expediting the construction process. VR landscapes and 3D plans are easier to visualize, edit and share amongst MSF staff around the world. Better yet, adopting VR technology now only makes it easier for designers to utilize future innovations. CAVE-CAD software, for example, is one such advancement that would allow architects to make changes to VR schematics while still inside the virtual environment. One thing is for sure; Médecins Sans Frontières continues to receive positive attention for the care it provides. As for hospitals, if MSF builds it, those who need it will come.

– Molly Power
Photo: Flickr

Why Refugees are Fleeing Central AmericaThe northern region of Central America is currently one of the most dangerous places on Earth. So, it’s no surprise that refugees are fleeing Central America. This circumstance has caused high levels of migration as many refugees are fleeing for their lives. In countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, many people experience gang-related violence, human trafficking and extreme poverty. The brutality forcing refugees to leave their homes is constant and not improving.

Moreover, poverty in Central America is widespread. In some regions, half of the population lives below the poverty line. Consequently, the number of asylum-seekers is increasing in neighboring countries, such as Mexico and the U.S. In 2014, there were 2,000 asylum applications in Mexico. In 2017, applications escalated to more than 14,000. As this crisis continues, it is important to understand the reasons why refugees are fleeing Central America.

Gang Culture in Central America

In the 1980s, civil wars weakened countries in Central America, leaving a legacy of violence and fragile governments. Due to these civil wars and mass deportations from the U.S., organized crime groups flourished. These groups grew into the overwhelming gangs present today.

Over the last 15 years, gangs have taken over rural and urban areas within Central America. They target poor, and thus vulnerable, communities by imposing their own authority. They also recruit boys as young as 12 years old and living in poverty as they lack educational or economic opportunities. Because of gang violence, the Northern Triangle is considered one of the deadliest places in the world, outside a war zone. For example, between 2014 and 2017, almost 20,000 Salvadorans were killed due to gang-related violence.

Gang culture has deeply penetrated the social fabric of northern Central America. Their grip on society is so severe that many migrants fear that their deportation will result in death. For example, 82 percent of women reported they would most likely be tortured or killed if they were to return home. Despite decades of authorities trying to eliminate gang activity, these criminal groups remain defiant and seemingly unbreakable.

Extortion and Human Trafficking

Similarly, extortion-related crimes are common in this region. Gangs extort small businesses and local individuals by forcing them to pay protection payments. If these individuals cannot afford these amounts, the gangs will murder them. For example, it is estimated locals in Honduras pay $200 million in extortion fees every year. Extortion fees cost Salvadorans $756 million a year. This results in a significant financial loss for local businesses and endangers many lives.

Moreover, human trafficking is another common reason why refugees are fleeing Central America. Women and young girls are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Often, gangs target and traffick young children for the sex trade. In Guatemala alone, at least 15,000 children are victims of child sex trafficking networks.

Gangs also manipulate children. They subject children to forced labor, making them sell and transport drugs throughout El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Though widespread, authorities prosecute an extremely low number of people accused of human trafficking. In Guatemala between 2009 and 2013, police detained 604 human traffickers. However, only 183 went to trial and only 33 were convicted.

Helping Central America

A huge reason why refugees are fleeing Central America is lack of opportunity. Of course, this is largely due to the rampant crime and violence in the region. While the reality is grim, there is a reason to be optimistic. Many organizations and volunteers help these migrants in any way they can. In particular, Doctors Without Borders has been providing medical relief and mental health care to refugees traveling along migration routes through Mexico since 2013. The organization reported they provided more than 33,000 consultations at mobile health clinics and other facilities. Many patients need mental health care, especially women who are victims of sexual abuse. In fact, 31 percent of women reported being sexually assaulted along their journey.

UNICEF also recognizes the humanitarian crisis happening in Central America. UNICEF has offices in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In these countries, UNICEF is working directly with people to prevent violence and alleviate poverty. They also help reintegrate deported children into their home countries and support children in asylum countries, protecting them from discrimination and xenophobia. UNICEF’s work in Central America is necessary as it is bettering the lives of many vulnerable people.

Often times, the only ways for migrants to escape the persecution and violence plaguing their hometowns is to seek asylum in another country. No matter how bleak these circumstances may be, hope can be found through the compassion and understanding of volunteers around the world. By understanding why refugees are fleeing Central America, people and organizations can begin working to change the conditions in these countries.

Marissa Pekular
Photo: Flickr

ways natural disasters affect impoverished nations

After a natural disaster, an impoverished nation faces even more struggles as it attempts to recover. While the media is a tool that helps inspire assistance to disaster-stricken nations, countries that experience natural disasters often still need more aid after the disaster is no longer in the spotlight. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, and it is important to remember these effects when thinking about what you can do to help a nation in distress. Here are five ways natural disasters affect impoverished nations.

Five Ways Natural Disasters Affect Impoverished Nations

  1. Women are at higher risk. Women are at a higher risk of danger during and after natural disasters. In fact, more women than men are killed or injured during floods and hurricanes. Because of the expectation for women to be household caregivers in most developing countries, they are less likely to flee from their homes in an emergency. They are also less likely to know how to swim if there is a water emergency. Medical Teams International (MTI), an organization that seeks to bring medical help to those in need after natural disasters, recognizes the need for intervention. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, women endured the brunt of a health crisis – in addition to a cholera epidemic, women experienced unsafe births and unhealthy pregnancies. To combat this, MTI entered the village of Crochu and provided vaccines and education about how to improve maternal health. The group also trained community members to help with births so the ordeal would be safer for the women. MTI remained in Crochu until 2018, when the community was able to maintain control of its health activities independently.
  2. Agriculture suffers. Natural disasters can damage croplands and livestock production, which hurts a developing country’s agricultural sector. Between 2005 and 2015, developing nations lost $96 billion in agriculture due to natural disasters, with half of these losses occurring in Asia, where floods, earthquakes and tsunamis are common. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. has created a risk assessment and reduction program that studies losses from natural disasters and implements new solutions to minimize future losses. This program also takes into account the losses in the forestry sector and fisheries, which provide additional sustenance.  The disaster analysis paves the way for other humanitarian groups, like the World Health Organization and the World Bank, to intervene directly.
  3. Children are more likely to become stunted. A child in India is seven percent more likely to experience stunting within five months of a natural disaster. For areas like India that face many disasters per year and already have a stunting rate of 38 percent, the stunting risk is great. Stunted children can face developmental difficulties that impact school performance and physical abilities due to a lack of nutritional fulfillment. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy is an international group that helps individual countries after natural disasters by providing meals, developing food security education programs and strengthening agricultural recovery. In 2017, the group was able to send lifesaving nutrition products to Mexico after two dangerous earthquakes ravaged the agricultural sector. This was possible because of a $600,000 donation from Abbott Laboratories Corporate Giving Program.
  4. Natural disasters can spur economic activity. Studies have shown that countries suffering numerous natural disasters also have higher rates of economic growth. After a 2008 earthquake in China, the economic growth rate increased by 0.3 percent due to billions of dollars spent on rebuilding efforts. Creating new and more efficient infrastructures with the help of disaster relief programs can improve the economy by providing immediate construction jobs, but also can facilitate long-term economic growth with safer, newer work buildings. This is made possible by donations to humanitarian organizations like the International Red Cross or All Hands and Hearts.
  5. Disease is likely to follow. A natural disaster itself does not cause disease, but it can become easier to contract a disease after a natural disaster. When there is a flood, there is a higher risk of cross-contamination of water with toxic materials, and water sources become breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitos. In the event of an earthquake, people are forced to live in crowded shelters with limited access to sanitation systems and food. Immunity to vaccine-preventable diseases decreases significantly in this time. Doctors Without Borders is one group that helps disaster victims onsite and provides necessary vaccines or other medical treatment. The organization created pre-made disaster kits to send to countries in need of aid. The kid includes a full set of surgical tools and a large, inflatable tarp to be used as hospital space. The kit was introduced in Haiti in 2010, and now, it is known as a model for other disaster relief organizations.

Natural disasters and the ways natural disasters affect impoverished nations continue to be a threat to global health every day. Donating to relief and recovery organizations is a great way to be involved in helping poor communities abroad.

– Katherine Desrosiers
Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Cyclone Idai and Health Crisis
With winds equivalent to a category 3 hurricane and storm surges surpassing 20 feet, Cyclone Idai made landfall near Beira, Mozambique in the early hours of March 15, 2019. One of the most powerful storms to ever hit Southern Africa, Idai left a trail of destruction and displacement, turning life upside down for residents along the coast. Now, months later, communities throughout the region continue to cope with the aftermath.

Effects of Cyclone Idai

What is now 2019’s deadliest weather event, the latest figures put Idai’s death toll at 847. The storm left millions of people affected, thousands displaced, entire communities in shambles and thousands of hectares of crops destroyed. As authorities continue to unpack the extent of the damage, the need for increased public health initiatives is evident. With the floods triggering widespread water contamination across the region, cholera and malaria outbreaks are becoming shockingly prevalent.

Perhaps Cyclone Idai afflicted Mozambique the most, where Reuters News reported that it killed nearly 600 people and destroyed more than 110,000 homes. In Beira, home to roughly 500,000 people, sweeping power outages and water contamination has made the city a hotbed for disease outbreaks. “The supply chain has been broken, creating food, clean water, and healthcare shortages,” says Gert Verdonck, the Emergency Coordinator for Doctor’s Without Borders (MSF) in Beira. “The scale of extreme damage will likely lead to a dramatic increase of waterborne diseases.”

Doctors Without Borders (MSF)

Following the storm, MSF quickly scaled up operations in Beira and other cyclone-stricken areas of Mozambique. With roughly 146,000 internally displaced persons seeking refuge in 155 camps across the country, MSF has launched an enormous relief effort. Dispatching emergency response teams to communities in need, MSF is working to implement vaccination programs and distribute food, water and medical supplies throughout Mozambique. Yet the scope of the damage is proving to be a difficult challenge for authorities and relief organizations. Treating over 200 cholera cases daily, MSF is calling on the international community to step up.

The World Health Organization and Cholera Vaccines

Also integral to relief efforts, the World Health Organization (WHO) is spearheading a massive vaccination program aimed at fighting the recent outbreaks. Through partnerships with humanitarian aid organizations Gavi and UNICEF, the WHO facilitated a shipment of almost 1 million cholera vaccines that arrived in Beira on April 2, 2019. A day later, a plane carrying 6.7 tonnes of medical supplies – essentials like medicine, stretchers, clean bandages and disposable gloves – landed in the coastal city. Opening an additional 500 beds and seven cholera treatment centers across cyclone-stricken Mozambique, the WHO is hoping to stifle water-borne illnesses in the region.

Despite valiant efforts from the WHO, MSF and other aid groups, the need for more funds and resources is evident. On April 1, the WHO requested an additional US$13 million to address communities affected by Cyclone Idai. With local authorities in Mozambique overwhelmed and underequipped to handle the fallout from Idai, the WHO is seeking to lead the charge, establishing response coordination at the national and provincial levels. Annual health care and aid expenditures in Mozambique are almost five percent below the global average, making foreign aid and nongovernmental relief organizations a vital piece of the recovery process.

An International Response

While some experts initially criticized the sluggish international response to Cyclone Idai, the global community has since placed considerable emphasis on relief efforts. Countries like Turkey, Botswana, Brazil and many more have supported Mozambique, allocating emergency funds and sending military assets to facilitate food, water and medicine distribution. Although combatting the cholera outbreaks and rebuilding communities that the storm devastated will be a stout challenge, the international response is promising. The response to Cyclone Idai indicates an international community both capable and willing to respond to natural disasters that impact the developing world.

– Kyle Dunphey
Photo: Google

malnutrition in libya

Malnutrition impacts children all over the world, particularly those who are poor or who reside in poorer countries. In Libya, rates for children who experience stunting, wasting and are overweight — the three main effects of malnutrition — are all moderate to very high, indicating that the nation has a lot of work to do to decrease these numbers and improve nutrition and health.

Malnutrition in Libya is exacerbated by the prevalence of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Libya, as many attempt to use the nation as a crossing point to reach Europe. A recent analysis of migrant detention facilities has shown that malnutrition is prevalent in these centers.

Comparing Libya to Global Trends

Worldwide, 21.9 percent of children under five have stunted growth as a result of malnutrition, a significant decrease from 2000, when the rate was nearly 33 percent. Stunting refers to impaired cognitive skills that often lead to a decrease in school and work performance, negatively impacting children for the rest of their lives. Rates are highest in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where many countries continue to have a rate of 30 percent or higher.

Libya is just below the global average, with 21 percent of children experiencing stunting.

Wasting is the rapid loss of body weight due to malnutrition. Based on UNICEF estimates, 7.3 percent of children globally are wasted and 2.4 percent are severely wasted, with the highest rates in South Asia, followed by West and Central Africa. Rates in Libya are classified as medium, as 5 to 10 percent of children under 5 are wasted. This is comparable to the global average of 7.3 percent.

Complications of Malnutrition

Malnutrition can also cause children to be overweight. Overnutrition is a form of malnutrition that occurs when there is an imbalance in protein, energy and micronutrients in someone’s diet, often resulting in obesity. Not only is it important to eat food, but it is also important to eat the right combination of foods to have a healthy diet.

Globally, 5.9 percent of children under five are overweight, with the highest rates in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. Libya is classified as very high, as more than 15 percent of children under five are overweight. This indicates that poor nutrition is one of the most serious food-related issues that Libya faces.

Efforts by the World Food Programme

Malnutrition in Libya has received global attention, and the World Food Programme has stepped in to fight food insecurity. As a nation with a largely desert environment, agriculture is limited, causing Libya to rely heavily on imported food. The country’s current trade deficit has a significant impact on the availability of food and proper nutrition, as prosperous trade is essential to feeding the nation.

To counteract this, the World Food Programme partners with four local organizations, LibAid, the Kafaa Development Foundation, the Sheikh Taher Azzawi Charity Organization (STACO) and the Ayady Al Khair Society (AKS), as well as the UN Country Team and Security Management Team. These local organizations work closely with communities experiencing malnutrition in Libya to determine the amount of need in particular areas.

The World Food Programme then provides onsite food distributions to vulnerable and malnourished families, with each family receiving two food parcels, which can feed five people over the course of a month. The parcels contain pasta, rice, wheat flour, vegetable oil, chickpeas, sugar and tomato paste, all of which provide approximately 75 percent of daily energy requirements. The parcels are meant to be used alongside other food sources, providing access to certain nutrients that are otherwise unavailable.

A Focus on Migrants, Refugees and IDPs

Migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are the most in need of food assistance worldwide.  Approximately 60 percent of IDPs are vulnerable to food insecurity. As a result, the World Food Programme focuses many of its food distribution efforts on IDPs and other migrants in Libya, as they are among the most vulnerable to malnutrition in Libya.

Many migrants in Libya are out of reach of the World Food Programme as hundreds of detainees are in migrant detention facilities. In March 2019, a detention center in Tripoli came under fire after Doctors Without Borders published nutrition assessments and determined that almost one quarter of those in the center were malnourished or underweight.

Those held in detention facilities are entirely dependent on the Libyan authorities for the food they receive, and Doctors Without Borders found that many only receive one meal every two or three days and that those who are new arrivals sometimes do not receive food for four days.

Doctors Without Borders Respond

In response to this crisis, Doctors Without Borders began providing emergency food rations to ensure that food needs will be met in the future. Karline Kleijer, the head of emergencies for Doctors Without Borders, stated that “If food, shelter and essential services can’t be provided in a consistent and appropriate manner, then these people should be released immediately by the Libyan authorities.”

Hopefully, with the efforts of organizations like the World Food Programme and Doctors Without Borders malnutrition in Libya will continue to be addressed, and the plight of migrants will soon be recognized and responded to by the Libyan government. Malnutrition is clearly a mounting crisis that requires attention as soon as possible.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr