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Aid to AfghanistanThe period of 2018 to 2020 brought with it a series of difficulties for the people of Afghanistan, including droughts, floods and pandemics. A severe drought in 2018 impacted 95% of the country’s farmland and dried up crucial water sources. More than 250,000 people were displaced and at least 1.4 million civilians required emergency aid. Following the drought, 2019 had the opposite occurrence: heavy rainfall activated widespread flooding in nine provinces, impacting more than 112,000 people. These crises continue to be felt in 2020 as both old and new challenges exacerbate conditions for the poorest Afghans. Countries all over the world are pledging to provide aid to Afghanistan.

Conditions Affecting Afghanistan

  • COVID-19: In November 2020, Afghanistan documented 44,133 coronavirus cases and 1,650 fatalities. The socio-economic impacts have been extensive. Average household debt rose by 36,486 AFS (US$474) and the poverty level increased from 54% to 70%. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s economy is predicted to contract by at least 5.5% due to the 2020 impact of COVID-19.
  • Displacement: Nearly 286,000 Afghans at home and 678,000 abroad suffered displacement in 2020, bringing the total displaced to approximately four million. Internal displacement camps are rife with insanitation, poor healthcare, unemployment, limited potable water and food insecurity. According to estimations by the 2020 Humanitarian Needs Overview, one million displaced people will require aid by the end of 2020.
  • Political Uncertainty: Political instability has been a mainstay in Afghanistan for decades and continues to trouble both citizens and the international community. Despite ongoing 2020 peace negotiations with the Taliban, fighting continues in the region. As a result, desperately needed health clinics have suffered closures and 35,000 Afghans were displaced from the Helmand Province in October 2020 alone.
  • Women’s Rights: Conditions for Afghan women and children have improved in recent years, allowing 3.3 million girls to receive an education. Additionally, women have experienced expanding opportunities for political, economic and social engagement. However, government participation is still strictly limited and women are still at high risk of violence.
  • Food insecurity: Afghan farmers still had not fully recovered from the 2018 drought and 2019 flood before the impact of COVID-19 on the country raised food prices, and with it, further food insecurity. Estimates warn that one-third of the population have already exhausted their savings and are in crisis levels of food security, with 5.5 million of them in emergency levels. However, farmers are hopeful that improved climate conditions will alleviate some of the damage done in previous years of difficulties.

2020 Afghanistan Conference

International donations fund at least half of Afghanistan’s annual budget. This is unlikely to change anytime soon, especially as COVID-19’s toll on the country’s economy also decreases government revenues. There was concern that the 2020 Conference would see a diminished aid pledge from Afghanistan’s largest donors, but the meetings that took place on November 24 secured a minimum of US$3.3 billion annually for four years contingent upon a review of Afghanistan’s progress in areas of peace, political development, human rights and poverty reduction. The United States is one such donor, pledging $300 million for 2021 and promising another $300 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if the ongoing peace talks prove successful. To this end, the “Afghanistan Partnership Framework” details the principles and goals of Afghanistan’s growth in peace-building, state-building and market-building.

Rebuilding Afghanistan

While some have expressed concern that the donations for aid to Afghanistan are not enough to cover costs and that the contingency requirements will be very difficult for Afghanistan to implement without compromises, there nevertheless is hope that tighter restrictions will prevent fewer funds from being lost to corruption. Despite the future challenges ahead of Afghanistan, Afghan leaders reiterated their commitment to “finding a political settlement that can not only bring an end to the suffering of the Afghan people but strengthen, safeguard and preserve the gains of the past 19 years.”

– Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr

poverty in Mali
A land-locked, predominantly rural society with limited women’s rights, a poor healthcare system and constant conflict due to recent terrorism and political instability, Mali and its population are extremely vulnerable to poverty. In fact, 49% of Malians live below the poverty line.

Poverty in Numbers

The astronomically high rate of poverty in Mali affects various parts of its society, namely food security, education and women’s rights. Over 70% of families in Mali are four individuals or larger given that the average Malian woman gives birth to six children. Big families, combined with the rising number of droughts, food shocks and unsustainable agriculture practices, have adversely impacted food security and the cost of living in Mali. This leads to many children dropping out of school to support their family by working, a problem that will likely be exacerbated by the increased poverty due to COVID-19. As a result, the total adult literacy rate is just 33% while only reaching 22% for women, thus hurting the future prospects and opportunities for Mali’s population.

Furthermore, Malian women are treated as property to be bought and sold. This oppressive culture along with widespread poverty in Mali has greatly contributed to about 49% of Malian girls being forced to marry before they turn 18, as husbands will pay more money for younger brides.

The government of Mali has consistently viewed international cooperation and collaboration as the most effective way for it to reduce domestic poverty. Traditionally, however, Mali’s largest obstacle to overcome has been the constant threat of terrorism in its north, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in addition to reducing the government and NGOs’ ability to provide basic services to those who fled.

Programs to Help Mali

Governments across the world have provided aid for Mali’s people through a variety of programs. Notably, the United State’s Feed the Future initiative not only gives nutritional help to millions of Malian children per year but it advances long-term food solutions to food security in Mali by providing sustainable farming technologies for thousands of Malian farmers.

Canada has pursued a similar mission by funding hydro-agricultural infrastructure to help 7,500 women gain access to high-quality, irrigated land as well as helping about 470,000 women obtain crop insurance or agricultural credit from 2014 to 2017. This further bolstered food security for at-risk families, thereby building resilience to possible environmental events.

Finally, the World Bank has allocated $1.5 billion to 30 programs directly improving Mali’s infrastructure, financial sector and agricultural sector. The results of such ventures have been overwhelmingly positive for eliminating poverty in Mali. Almost 80,000 Malians have received cash transfers four times a year, over 100,000 women and children received nutritional supplements and new water sanitation facilities were established in communities threatened by water scarcity.

The Road Ahead

The efforts of Mali and its partners cannot stop now. COVID-19 will inevitably create even more poverty throughout Mali with numerous economic and health factors on top of a possible increase in terrorist activities. For many reasons, stepping up efforts to help Mali’s government is the only option. Failing to prevent Mali’s condition from further deteriorating could have dire humanitarian repercussions. On the other hand, acting now and collectively is essential to ensuring regional peace and prosperity for the future. Helping Mali is no longer a choice for the world; rather, it is fundamental to eliminating poverty by the United Nations’ 2030 target date.

– Alex Berman
Photo: Flickr

Sweden’s Long-standing CommitmentOn September 22, 2020, Peter Eriksson, Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation, took to Twitter to announce that Sweden will continue to commit 1% of the country’s GNI to official developmental assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, urging the international community to follow in the country’s footsteps. This act is indicative of Sweden’s long-standing commitment to eliminate poverty, which is a promise the country is dedicated to keeping.

A Leader in Foreign Aid

According to the OECD, Sweden dedicates around 1% of its national income to developmental aid, making it the highest developmental assistance donor. The country’s commitment to policy development issues is the strongest in three categories: peace and conflict prevention, gender equality and women’s rights as well as environmental sustainability. Since 2006, the country has committed to regularly donate a portion of its GNI as official developmental assistance (ODA) and has since kept its word, donating at least 1% or more every year.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

Sida is a government agency of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Sida is responsible for Sweden’s official development assistance to developing countries.

Sida is a prominent international actor with an overall mission to make sure people living under poverty and oppression are able to enhance their living conditions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sida allocated $149 million to mitigate the pandemic’s effects on vulnerable communities and populations abroad. Sida has collaborated with many different multilateral organizations to uphold Sweden’s promise of helping the international community during the pandemic..

Sida has bilateral development cooperation with 35 different partner countries from four different continents and consistently supports multilateral organizations in their pursuit of increasing human rights and democracy globally.

A Leader for Women’s Empowerment

The country has shown relentless support for gender equality and women’s rights, highlighting Sweden’s long-standing commitment to ending gender discrepancies around the world. Sweden is a pioneer for many new policies regarding women’s rights. For instance, in 2014, Sweden created the world’s very first feminist foreign policy. Sweden has garnered the support of many foreign bodies and their allies by raising awareness through forums. The most notable being the 2018 Stockholm Forum of Gender Equality. The gathering brought 700 members from 100 different countries to discuss the implementation of new policies to protect women in vulnerable communities from oppressive regimes, further elevating their rights and enabling an inclusive society.

A Leader for Environmental Sustainability

Furthermore, Sweden’s clean carbon footprint is impressive, with a large quantity of the country’s waste recycled. The country has committed to net-zero emissions by the year of 2045 and it has dedicated many resources to encourage countries across the globe to implement sustainable environmental practices. The country has shown continued leadership. In 2017, Sweden had co-chaired the U.N. Ocean Conference with Fiji. In 2018, Sweden also hosted GEF-7 Replenishment, a meeting between contributing and potential participants from all around the world with efforts to eliminate non-renewable energy sources in the near future.

Sweden: A Developmental Assistance Model

Sweden’s long-standing commitment to developmental assistance highlights the country’s leadership skills as an exemplary model for other developed nations. Sweden’s relentless efforts in supporting foreign aid, even during a pandemic, is a model that needs to be mimicked by other developed nations that have the same capacity to help, now more than ever.

– Mina Kim
Photo: Flickr

Flooding in LibyaLibya has been a regular victim of severe flooding for many decades and the problem is only becoming more severe. Heavy rains have caused significant problems, with flooding and landslides in urban and rural areas making day-to-day life infeasible for thousands.

Flooding in Al-Bayda, Libya

On November 6 2020, Al-Bayda, Libya, experienced torrential rains and extreme flooding, resulting in the displacement of thousands. High water levels on public roads have made daily commutes impossible for many. Additionally, the floods have left thousands without electricity and have greatly damaged properties.

The flooding of 2020 is reminiscent of the flooding in the Ghat district in 2019, which affected 20,000 people and displaced 4,500. In June of 2019, flooding devastated areas in south Libya and damaged roads and farmland.  Central infrastructure suffered unrecoverable damages, setting the region back. Areas prone to disaster are significantly limited in their progression and development when devastation is so frequent.

Flooding and Poverty

The pattern of flooding in Libya has consistently contributed to problems of economic decline, poor infrastructure and poverty. As one of the most common natural disasters, flooding impacts impoverished areas more severely because their infrastructure is not built to withstand floods or landslides.

Poor countries take a long time to recover from the impact of flooding because they do not have the resources and money to repair property damage and help people to bounce back from the effects. War-affected countries are even more vulnerable and Libya is such a country affected by war and conflict.

Within the country, a two-day holiday was declared on November 9 and 10 of 2020 due to the extreme flooding and $7 million has been allocated to address damages in Al-Bayda municipality.  Since the flooding, there has been little recognition and support from the international community.

Humanitarian Aid

A humanitarian aid team from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operation (ECHO) assembled to provide aid to support the city of Al-Bayda and other cities vulnerable to flooding in Libya. The team worked to gather information and identify what resources are most needed to help families get back on their feet and be better prepared for future severe flooding and weather. Cleanup efforts are ongoing and teams started using satellite imaging and other data-collecting resources to help assess and plan for resource distribution.

The Need for Foreign Aid in Libya

In response to Libya’s chronic vulnerability to severe flooding, in 2019, the U.S. Government provided nearly $31.3 million to address the humanitarian needs of conflict-affected populations throughout Libya. Since the floods are ongoing, ongoing assistance is needed. Proactive and preventative measures need to be implemented in response to the devastating pattern of flooding in Libya. These are expensive investments, however, and Libya cannot implement these preventative measures alone. Help from the international community is crucial in order to create a more resilient country.

– Allyson Reeder
Photo: Flickr

U.S. and ChinaCOVID-19 has brought nearly all facets of normal life and governance to a screeching halt. On all fronts, from the economy to the military, the coronavirus has changed the way this planet runs. One area that has been heavily affected by the pandemic but does not get as much attention is international relations.

Diplomatic relations between countries is one of the toughest areas of government. It has become even more difficult to fully engage in with the onset of COVID-19. With more states turning to domestic engagement, the status quo of international relations has been shaken. In no foreign relationship is this more clear than that between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China.

U.S.-China Diplomatic Relations

Current diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China were established under President Richard Nixon in 1972. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has experienced highs and lows. In 2020, it is nearly at an all-time low. The hostile status of this relationship now mainly stems from the ascension of President Xi Jinping of China to power in 2013, and the election of the U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016.

Under these two leaders, U.S.-Chinese relations have greatly diminished over the last four years. A rise in nationalism and “America First” policies under President Trump’s administration has alienated the Chinese amidst constant public attacks on the ‘authoritarianism’ of Jinping’s government. For example, China’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy over the last two years has been the subject of extensive international condemnation, particularly from President Trump and the United States. In addition, the two countries have been engaged in a high-profile trade war since the beginning of 2018.

More recently, a dramatic escalation in the deteriorating relationship between the two countries was taken in July 2020, when the U.S. ordered the closing of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, on the basis of technological-espionage on China’s part. In retaliation, China ordered the American consulate in the city of Chengdu to close as well. Another significant strain on the diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China is COVID-19.

The Outbreak of the Coronavirus

Since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, more than 4,600 people have died in China, over a period of nearly nine months. In the same amount of time, almost 180,000 people have died in the U.S. The U.S. government has consistently blamed the Chinese for failing to contain the virus. China has firmly denied these accusations. COVID-19 has seriously damaged the economic and healthcare systems of both the U.S. and China. Both systems have lost nearly all economic gains they’ve made since the 2008-2010 recession. While state economies around the globe also suffer, the decline of the economies of these two specific countries has far-reaching implications. Not only is the global economy in danger, but military alliances and foreign aid are as well.

Global Economy

Nearly every nation on earth has some kind of economic partnership with either the U.S., China or both. For example, the United Arab Emirates has been an ally of the U.S. since 1974, but in recent years has engaged in a pivotal economic partnership with China. Continued threats of tariffs and pulling out of trade agreements threaten the balance of these partnerships. These threats could force smaller nations to choose sides between the U.S. and China, should this confrontation escalate.

Military Alliances

While the U.S. enjoys a military advantage over China, China has allied itself with many of America’s adversaries, such as Russia, Iran and North Korea. These alliances have been solidified in recent years, for example, just before the coronavirus broke out in China in December 2019, China, Russia and Iran conducted nearly a week-long military exercise in the Gulf of Oman, a strategic waterway for oil tankers. An American confrontation with any one of these countries could draw China into the conflict, which could spell disaster for the world order.

International Aid

As part of China’s “charm offensive” in the early 2000s, the country began to heavily invest in the reconstruction of the economies and infrastructure in impoverished African states. In exchange, China received rights to natural resources such as oil in these countries. The U.S. also maintains a high level of foreign assistance in Africa. COVID-19 forces the U.S. and China to put more of their respective resources toward rebuilding their own economies. However, the aid they both provide to developing states worldwide diminishes at a time when those states need it most.

It is clear that even before the coronavirus spread to all corners of the globe, the turbulent relationship between the U.S. and China was advancing toward a breaking point. The pandemic has, to some extent, halted the diminishing state of relations between the two countries. However, any further provocations similar to the closing of the consulates in Houston and Chengdu could result in a catastrophe. The impacts of this relationship extend beyond the U.S. and China; they affect nations that heavily depend on the aid they receive from both powers.

Alexander Poran
Photo: Pixabay

foreign aidAs the COVID-19 pandemic spread over the world, so did foreign aid in many forms. Countries were sending masks, money, equipment and even healthcare professionals. Despite suffering from the effects of the pandemic themselves, China, Taiwan and South Korea all contributed to providing 16 countries around the world, including in Europe and Asia.  Even the U.S. became among those who were aid recipients when a shipment of masks and equipment from Russia arrived in April 2020. Perhaps most notably, Italy received foreign assistance from the U.S., China, Cuba and Russia among other countries.

Concerns About Aid Effectiveness

A common misconception regarding aid is that developed countries rarely benefit from foreign aid. Studies have shown that most Americans think the U.S. spends too much on foreign aid. Moreover, many aid opponents argue that aid is ineffective, costly and creates dependence.

Even Africans, who receive 20% of U.S. aid, have raised concerns about aid effectiveness. In 2002, Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade, said “I’ve never seen a country develop itself through aid or credit. Countries that have developed—in Europe, America, Japan, Asian countries like Taiwan, Korea and Singapore—have all believed in free markets. There is no mystery there. Africa took the wrong road after independence.”

Foreign Aid to Developed Countries

The pandemic has shown that strong relations and aid are necessary for countries to overcome economic and healthcare challenges. Foreign aid has a complicated history, but many developed countries were recipients of aid in the past and still benefit from it in many ways.

Italy received around $240 billion in aid from the E.U. during the pandemic. If a similar aid package was given to Sub-Saharan Africa, it could provide primary healthcare to every African. If used to relieve food insecurity, $240 billion could end world hunger by 2030. That is not to say that foreign aid to developing countries should come at the expense of the recovery of developed countries. But contextualizing the funding helps demonstrate what foreign aid could do if distributed equally.

During the destruction of Notre Dame in Paris, France received $950 million in total from donations globally. The White House also pledged to help rebuild France, a year after announcing a reduction to the foreign aid budget. When it comes to aid, the question is not whether to provide it or not—it is about who to provide it to.

Foreign Aid to Developing Countries

Contrary to popular belief, the developing world does not receive nearly enough aid. The average Sub-Saharan African country receives less than $1 billion in aid annually. Following the Ebola outbreak in 2013 – a crisis that is most notably remembered for U.S. involvement – the WHO received around $460 million to help affected West African countries. The World Bank estimated that the outbreak cost $2.2 billion for these countries.

As African and Latin American countries see their first huge waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now crucial that the U.S. and other countries continue to increase their foreign aid budget to help these nations recover. In addition to the pandemic, most developing countries are dealing with food insecurity as well as continuing political and civil unrest. Although aid alone will not resolve all these issues, it can alleviate the impact of the crisis. By being aid recipients themselves, Western and European countries can understand the importance of foreign assistance and take the necessary steps to help those in need.

– Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr

poverty in afghanistanForeign aid in any form can be considered positive at face value, but Afghanistan could benefit from greater investment in private organizations due to its specific needs. Aid from countries such as the U.S. is accompanied by political strings that, according to a U.S. agency report on Afghanistan, results in the Afghani government’s focusing on the goals of its foreign investors rather than the needs of its citizens. Poverty in Afghanistan requires attention unhindered by political expectations.

US Foreign Aid Policy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in March of 2020 that the U.S. would be cutting $1 billion in foreign aid to Afghanistan, which became a foreign policy initiative following major U.S. military presence in the country. The U.S. foreign aid is allocated to a variety of purposes, some of which attempt to address the widespread poverty that still impacts 54.5% of Afghans. Despite these efforts, poverty remains a large concern. For example, the number of Afghans without basic food and housing increased from 6.5 to 9.4 million between 2019 and 2020.

Dr. Jessica Trisko Darden, an assistant professor at American University with expertise in foreign aid and Central and Southeast Asia, asserts that different types of foreign aid are better suited to target specific goals. Darden noted that U.S. foreign aid in Afghanistan is largely concerned with developing infrastructure tied to the needs of the foreign parties in this country, such as Kabul International Airport. Additionally, while the U.S. aid package may set aside some portion of the money with the intention of addressing poverty in Afghanistan, the larger goals are often political in nature.

Non-Governmental Organizations’ Contribution

Private organizations could focus their resources on areas ignored by foreign government aid. “I think that, in terms of overall strategies for Afghanistan, getting more resources to outlying regions, and having more NGO and local NGO presence in outlying regions is something that should be a goal of a sustainable development strategy for Afghanistan, rather than continuing to over-concentrate resources and efforts in the Kabul area,” said Darden. The U.S. aid focusing on the Kabul area for accessibility and the ability to address political goals arguably takes away attention from less centralized regions. A larger NGO presence in the country could mean an established, long-term effort to target the humanitarian needs of Afghans and reduce poverty in Afghanistan.

Afghan Women’s Network

One of the most prominent independent groups acting in Afghanistan is the Afghan Women’s Network. It was created following inspiration from the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. This organization serves as an umbrella for a variety of humanitarian efforts in the country. It has direct points of contact in several major regions throughout the country and provides support to other organizations in the remaining regions. With 3,500 members and 125 women’s groups under its leadership, the Afghan Women’s Network has the ability and resources to provide immediate and specialized support to Afghans.

The political struggles of Afghanistan exist in tandem with the struggles of Afghani citizens. Multiple NGOs with unique goals ranging from gender equality to infant mortality to education could target the diverse needs of the Afghani population more directly. By supplying aid without political expectations and restrictions, NGOs could work to downsize poverty in Afghanistan.

Riya Kohli
Photo: Pixabay

Congressional LeadersA Gallup poll taken before the government shutdown of 2018-19 found American’s approval rating of congressional leaders’ job performance at 18%. More recent polls show ratings have improved but remain low, with an average of 24.2% of people approving of Congress, according to Real Clear Politics. Government shutdowns and highly publicized filibusters highlight the challenge of passing bills and contribute to these low approval ratings. In fact, in 2016, after a House of Representatives sit-in over gun control measures, political analyst Larry Jacobs told a Minnesota local CBS affiliate that more than 90% of bills die in Senate or House committees.

However, as USHistory.org notes, passing bills is meant to be difficult with the checks and balances system in place. What’s more, bills do get introduced constantly. For instance, each of the 200 senators and 435 representatives in Congress is involved with at least a few of the hundreds of bills introduced throughout any given leaders’ tenure. Here are five leaders who have been especially active in supporting bills directly impacting the fight against global poverty.

5 Congressional Leaders Tackling Global Poverty Issues

  1. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). Susan Collins has been a senator since 1997.  She directly sponsored 18 international affairs-related bills and co-sponsored an additional 374. Bills she introduced include the Clean Cookstoves and Fuels Support Act, which she introduced in various forms in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2015. These bills encourage the U.S. to better help advance an international initiative to make clean cooking accessible to millions of people worldwide. Collins also introduced the Reach Every Mother and Child Acts of 2015, 2017, and 2019—which urge the president to create a five-year strategy to, as the bill states, help end “preventable child and maternal deaths globally by 2030.”
  2. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). A Senator since 1993, Robert Menendez has sponsored 178 and co-sponsored 650 international affairs bills. Menendez’s sponsored bills include the Ebola Eradication Act of 2019, which passed in the Senate in September 2019, the End Tuberculosis Now Act of 2019, which is still under Senate consideration, and the Venezuela Humanitarian Relief, Reconstruction, and Rule of Law Act of 2018.
  3. Representative Lois Frankel (D-Fl). Lois Frankel has been in Congress since 2013. She’s sponsored 12 international affairs-related bills and co-sponsored an additional 200 with a focus on women’s rights issues abroad. For example, one bill she introduced herself is the Women and Countering Violent Extremism Act of 2019, which authorizes aid to women’s groups abroad that address terrorism-related issues. Frankel also introduced the Keeping Girls in School Act, a bill improving access to education for young girls worldwide. Frankel introduced the initial version in 2018 and passed the new 2019 version in the House in January 2020.
  4. Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ). Christopher Smith has been in Congress since 1981. In that time, he’s sponsored 287 international affairs-related bills and co-sponsored an additional 1,208. One bill he introduced is the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act, which directs the U.S. to help treat and eliminate under-the-radar tropical diseases to improve lives in at-risk regions. The bill passed in the House in December and is under review by a Senate committee. Another bill he introduced is the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act of 2018, which extends the programs of the Global Food Security Act of 2016. Smith’s bill was a sibling to a Senate bill that passed through both legislatures first, becoming law in October 2018.
  5. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY). A Congressman since 1989, Eliot Engel has personally introduced 150 bills addressing international affairs issues and co-sponsored an additional 1,312. One bill he introduced is the Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017, which calls for the U.S. to assist Venezuela amid its growing humanitarian crisis. The bill passed in the House in December 2017 and is under Senate review. Engel also introduced the Global Fragility Act to “establish the interagency Global Fragility Initiative to stabilize conflict-affected areas and prevent violence globally.” This act passed in the House in May 2019 and is under review by the Senate.

These five congressional leaders have worked directly on hundreds of bills addressing issues of global poverty. The examples above are only a snapshot of their individual contributions. These five leaders have had a total of 30 sponsored bills in the international affairs category become law; the process of introducing and passing bills never ends. The upcoming election will determine whether these leaders will continue to build on their legacies or cede their place to new leaders eager to make a mark on the legislative process.

– Amanda Ostuni
Photo: Flickr

poverty relief reduces disease
The universal rise in global living standards has helped combat diseases, spurred on by international poverty relief efforts. In fact, one study found that reducing poverty was just as effective as medicine in reducing tuberculosis. Poor health drains an individual’s ability to provide for themselves and others, trapping and perpetuating a cycle of poverty. Better public health increases workforce productivity, educational attainment and societal stability. Here are 5 ways poverty relief reduces disease.

5 Ways Poverty Relief Reduces Disease

  1. Better Sanitation: According to the WHO, approximately 827,000 people die each year due to “inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene.” Poor sanitation is linked to the spread of crippling and lethal diseases such as cholera and polio, which hamper a nation’s development. By investing in the sanitation of developing nations, the rate of disease decreases and the food supply improves. Furthermore, an all around healthier society emerges that can contribute more to the global economy. In fact, a 2012 WHO study found that “for every U.S. $1.00 invested in sanitation, there was a return of U.S. $5.50 in lower health costs, more productivity, and fewer premature deaths.”
  2. Improved Health Care Industries: A hallmark of any developed nation is the quality of its health care industry. A key part of reducing poverty and improving health, is investing in health care initiatives in developing countries. When the health care industry is lacking (or even non-existent), the population experiences high levels of disease, poverty and death. Many American companies have already invested millions into the medical sectors of developing nations, however. In September 2015, General Electric Healthcare created the Sustainable Healthcare Solutions, a business unit that donates millions in money and medical equipment to developing nations.
  3. More Informative Education: Knowledge is power when it comes to fighting disease. Educational institutions provide a nation with one of the best tools to fight diseases of all kinds. According to a WHO report, “education emphasizing health prevention and informed self-help is among the most effective ways of empowering the poor to take charge of their own lives.” Schools must teach about proper sanitation, how to spot warning signs and form healthy behaviors. School health programs are also an invaluable resource in times of pandemics and disease outbreaks, as they coordinate with governments. This cooperation has helped tackle diseases, including HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. Eritrea, for example, has one of the lowest rates of infection in the region (less than 1%), partially due to an increase in HIV/AIDS education measures.
  4. Enhanced Nutrition: Malnutrition and food insecurity weaken the immune systems of the impoverished and significantly lower one’s quality of life. Millions of children each year die from famine or end up crippled due to dietary deficiencies. By investing in and supporting agricultural sectors of developing nations, aid programs help in not only decreasing poverty, but also in cutting down on illness of all kinds. Likewise, international aid during conflicts and natural disasters is crucial to ensuring the continued health and productivity of a country. One nation combating such an issue is Tanzania. With the help of aid organizations like UNICEF, Tanzania has decreased malnutrition for children under five.
  5. More Effective Government Services: Arguably encompassing all the previous categories, governments with more money and resources can effectively help stop diseases. A healthy general population leads to more productivity, which increases tax revenue. Central governments can then invest that money back into health care and sanitation, creating a positive feedback loop. Governments also provide a centralized authority that can cooperate with organizations like the WHO. In the 21st century, communication and cooperation between world governments is key to halting pandemics and working on cures.

Impact on COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of how improved government resources provide poverty relief, which helps combat the virus in the developing world. Kenya is a good example of how developing nations can help contain and combat the virus with effective government actions. The systems and governmental services built up over past decades sprang into action and coordinated with organizations like the WHO. The government has also implemented various economic measures to help mitigate the negative economic side-effects. Moving forward, it is essential that governments and humanitarian organizations continue to take into account the importance of poverty relief for disease reduction.

– Malcolm Schulz 
Photo: Flickr

Famine in North Korea

North Korea is known as one of the world’s most economically isolated countries. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, North Korea’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was only $40 billion in 2015North Korea also has an extremely negative track record of famine. The 1990s famine in North Korea is estimated to have killed between up to 1 million people from 1995 to 2000.

How Did North Korea Get to This Point?

After the conclusion of World War II, Korea was split between the Soviet Union and the United States along parallel 38. In 1950, the Korean War began after communist North Korea invaded democratic South Korea. The war went on until 1953 and ended in a stalemate. Ever since the Korean War, North and South Korea have been divided at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and the two countries have still not signed an official peace agreement to date.

North Korea’s communist regime has committed numerous human rights violations and threatened the United States, Japan and South Korea with a war on a frequent basis. As a result, the United Nations and the United States have placed significant sanctions on North Korea that have seriously reduced economic growth in the country. In fact, North Korea’s economic situation is so poor that many experts believe that, without China as North Korea’s major ally and trading partner, the country would not be able to sustain itself.

There have been past attempts to negotiate with North Korea, particularly regarding their nuclear weapons program. In June 2018, President Trump became the first United States President to meet with North Korea’s tyrannical regime, headed by Kim Jong Un. While President Trump is attempting to negotiate with North Korea, there has not been any significant progress made so far regarding diplomacy. However, President Trump temporarily succeeded in stopping Kim Jung Un from testing ballistic missiles (as many as 12 tests were conducted in 2019) and was also able to negotiate bringing home the remains of 55 American soldiers who died during the Korean War.

Why Does North Korea Have Problems With Famine?

Since North Korea’s annual GDP is low, monetary resources are tight. Unfortunately, the Regime uses nearly 25 percent of its GDP towards military funding. It does not invest as much in basic services such as healthcare, clean water, roads and food. On top of that, North Korea is a rather small country with nearly 24 million people. Its land area is estimated to be the size of Mississippi. Most of the northern areas are mountainous, which makes agriculture very difficult.

The devastating 1990s famine in North Korea was caused by a variety of factors. Besides the major problems discussed above, an excess of floods brought on by El Nino in 1995 and 1996 caused devastation in North Korea. This devastated crops and destroyed already limited farmland. As grain resources decreased, the government reduced the supply to its people in order to preserve food resources for itself and the military.

Are Conditions in North Korea Improving?

Conditions in North Korea are very difficult to gauge because the country is extremely selective regarding who is allowed in and out of the country. Therefore, data is limited. However, most experts agree that famine in North Korea has not improved very much. While North Korea’s GDP is slowly growing at approximately 4 percent, there were still 1,137 defectors in 2018. Twenty percent of North Korea’s children are thought to be stunted, and 40 percent of North Korean residents are malnourished. All of these factors are signs that conditions are still poor throughout the country.

On a positive note, domestic agriculture has improved greatly. Grain production has almost doubled from the 1990s to about 5 million tons per year. Humanitarian aid to North Korea is now supplying nearly 30 percent of the country’s food supply. In 2016, the United Nations spent at least $8 million in foreign aid to help reduce malnutrition. In the meantime, North Korea’s upper class, which largely consists of government officials and military generals, has plentiful access to food. This is largely because they all live in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang. Unfortunately, smuggled photos out of North Korea show small villages with residents starving, and in extreme cases, eating grass.

Nearly half of North Korea’s population still lives in poverty. Human rights violations are common, and the military is considered a priority over infrastructure and agricultural production. Until North Korea develops normalized relations with the rest of the world and commits more resources to its people, it is highly doubtful that any major breakthrough against famine or poverty will be possible.

Kyle Arendas
Photo: Pixabay