Child Poverty in New ZealandChild poverty in New Zealand remains a major issue, with over 300,000 children affected. This is an increase of 45,000 from last year and is double the number of impoverished children in 1984.

A recent study conducted by Auckland University found similarly troubling information that 20 percent of the country’s high school students live in poverty. Looking at ethnic groups, one-third of Maori students and nearly half of Pacific students struggle with poverty.

To rectify this situation, New Zealand’s government has announced the foundation of the Ministry for Vulnerable Children. As the name might imply, this organization hopes to give the government concrete responsibility for the welfare of these students.

The study’s definition of poverty was obtained by looking at various indicators in students’ lives, such as concerns about and lack of food, technology and stable living situations. If students reported two or more of the indicators, they were defined as experiencing poverty.

Unsurprisingly, higher rates of poverty correlated with higher rates of depression and smoking. This is due to growing up in families who face the stress of poverty, then having to face those stresses themselves.

The Ministry for Vulnerable Children hopes to combat these issues. Yet despite its positive mission, there has already been some controversy surrounding the ministry’s announcement. Some people believe that the government should be concerned with all children, not just vulnerable children as the ministry’s name implies.

However, the Ministry of Vulnerable Children may still be poised for success. This is because the most recent report on income and poverty in New Zealand shows that there have been no increases in either. In fact, incomes have risen by nearly 12% overall since 2011.

This increase in income is sure to help offset the very high cost of housing that much of New Zealand faces. For some families, 60 to 70% of income is spent on housing and there is little money left to cover other expenses.

Hopefully, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children can take advantage of rising incomes and improve quality of life for all those affected by child poverty in New Zealand.

Nathaniel Siegel
Photo: Flickr

Mexico's Poverty Rate
The number of Mexicans living in poverty increased by two million between 2012 and 2014, according to Reuters. These figures of Mexico’s poverty rate highlight the challenges President Enrique Peña Nieto is facing in meeting pledges to help millions in need.


President Enrique Peña Nieto Struggles with Mexico’s Poverty Rate


“With his six-year term half over, Enrique Peña Nieto is trying to rally public confidence in his government’s economic plan amid lackluster growth projections,” said International Business Times.

While his efforts have focused on making Mexico a competitive nation, “the government is flailing in its battle against staggering income inequality and poverty rates that have remained virtually unchanged over the past 20 years,” according to International Business Times.

In 2014, Mexico’s poverty rate increased from 45.5 to 46.2 percent, corresponding to 55.3 million people in the country of approximately 120 million, said a spokesperson for the government’s social development agency.

According to Oxfam Mexico’s executive director, “while the wealth of Mexican multimillionaires is multiplied by five, 48 percent of state schools have no access to sewage, 31 percent have no drinking water, 12.8 percent have no bathrooms or toilets and 11.2 percent have no access to electricity.”

Under Peña Nieto’s administration, the problem has only worsened. While many Latin American countries have diminished their levels of poverty, Mexico’s have continued to increase.

Peña Nieto recognizes that income inequality, global economic turmoil and corruption have prevented Mexico from both an economic boost and a diminished poverty rate.

Jonathan Foxx, a political science professor at American University in Washington, D.C. suggested that “neither inequality nor poverty reduction have been major priorities of this administration, nor the previous administrations.”

The government has been criticized for being too focused on attracting foreign investment and strengthening large-scale private industries, rather than concentrating on reducing its poverty rate.

Professor Foxx added that Mexico’s poverty rate remains the largest concern, regardless of wide income disparities. “If the government was more effective at reducing poverty, then people would worry less about inequality,” he said. “But since neither is getting better, it’s hard to disentangle.”

A major shift in focus and strategy is needed if Mexico is to succeed in combating its increasing poverty rate.

Isabella Rölz

Sources: International Business Times, Reuters, World Bank
Photo: Flickr

Preschool Access
Attending preschool can drastically improve the intellectual capacity of children. Research has demonstrated positive effects on learning and development in both the short and the long run.

A recent study from Northwestern University suggested that children from lower income families tend to perform significantly worse in the first years of elementary school. This is due to the fact that they usually did not have the opportunity to attend preschool.

Policy expert Whitmore Schanzenbach suggested that “by the time they reach kindergarten, disadvantaged children already show an achievement gap relative to their higher-income peers.”

Schanzenbach emphasized that “the poverty gap in school readiness appears to be growing as income inequality widens.”

Teachers at elementary schools have reported that children from less privileged families have more difficulty paying attention and exhibit more behavioral problems given no kind of education prior to elementary school.

This is because the state and the government usually do not focus their attention on expanding preschool access to children from marginalized sectors. They have concentrated mainly on improving education for children over five years of age.

According to Schanzenbach, a common proposal to bridge this gap is to make formal preschool accessible to poor children under the age of five. Given many ways to expand these educational programs, specialists at Northwestern designed a program that is cost-effective.

In their proposal, a well-developed framework would introduce the highest quality curriculum and nurturing assistance that would ultimately help these young children prepare themselves for further education.

It is important to emphasize that this is a project designed to be introduced in developing countries and rural sectors, where preschool access needs to be attainable.

Schanzenbach concluded that “the expansion of early education programs along these lines will lead to improved educational outcomes for disadvantaged children.” She added a list of other benefits which included lower crime rates, reduced teenage pregnancy and a decreased reliance on the social safety net.

Read Schanzenbach’s full study here.

Isabella Rölz

Sources: Brookings, U.S. Department of Education, NYTimes
Photo: U.S. News

In rural Myanmar today, only 16 percent of households have electricity. The Myanmar government, in partnership with the World Bank, intends to drastically increase the number of connections to reach universal connectivity for rural residents by 2030 through the National Electrification Plan.

The Myanmar government has found that lack of access to electricity is more than a basic hindrance to the people of Myanmar. As it turns out, lack of access plays a major role in stunting community development and perpetuating the poverty cycle.

Students, in particular, suffer from the lack of universal connectivity, having to rely on expensive battery powered lights or candles. In a nation where the sun sets each evening before 7 p.m. year-round, that leaves a lot of rural school children in the dark.

Creating sustainable local businesses has also proven to be a challenge. Without electricity, markets are unable to operate at night, losing valuable employment opportunities for community members while causing a loss of community potential for outside investment.

Rural clinics also suffer due to the shortage of quality lighting but, more importantly, because of refrigeration issues. A wide variety of injectable medication requires constant refrigeration, such as lifesaving drug insulin.

The National Electrification Plan will be able to put an end to these problems. Designed with three checkpoints, the program intends to reach 50 percent access by 2020, 75 percent by 2025 and universal access by 2030, according to World Bank.

Due to some of the challenging geographic locations that require a connection, the program is incorporating solar power and mini-grid connections besides just increasing the size of the of the national grid.

As of Sept. 16, 2015, the Myanmar government was approved for a $400 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to move forward with the program. The entire project is estimated to require $6 billion of investments to connect all 7 million households.

The first phase of the project is estimated to cost $700 million and connect nearly 2 million homes and will be finished over the course of the next five years.

As for community welfare, 23,000 new connections have been designated for clinics, schools and religious buildings, and more than 150,000 public lights are planned to illuminate public spaces.

The Myanmar government hopes that the National Electrification Plan will help pave the way to increased economic and social prosperity throughout the nations, giving the people of Myanmar a brighter, more successful and sustainable future.

Claire Colby

Sources: Timebie, World Bank, World Factbook
Photo: Pixabay

Mounting Anger over Trash Build-up in Beirut
In early Aug. 2015, protesters stood outside Beirut’s government building demanding that officials deal with the thousand tons of trash piling up on the city’s streets. The most frustrated of the crowd accused the government of acting like a regime, ignoring the city’s demands for change.

Beirut’s former public landfill was based in the village of Naameh. It opened in 1997 and was only built to withstand a few years and about two million tons of rubbish. After 18 years and 10 million tons of trash, Beirut officials shut down Naameh.

The current issue is because the government failed to build a new one. “Everyone knew for the last six months that the landfill would close, but the government did nothing about it,” says one resident. With nowhere to dump it, trash collection for Beirut and its suburbs just stopped.

The city and its surrounding neighborhood generate 2,000 to 3,000 tons of trash each day and it is now cumulating into mounds on the streets. Many people have started wearing face masks. Others are setting fire to the filth, creating pillars of foul smoke and causing temperatures to climb above 90 degrees.

Lebanon rules with a very laissez-faire attitude. In lieu of recent unrest in the Middle East and problems within the country, the government has been unable to elect a new president and remains without a political figurehead that can pass legislation and finalize laws.

The Cabinet is reportedly near collapsing. Terms in office are being extended and elections for new leaders are put off. “The political deadlock is a huge contributing factor to the issue because there is no strong central government who can look at the options and find the most feasible one,” speculates Lama Bashour, director of an environmental consultancy agency called Eccocentra.

Residents claim that the government’s latest decisions have been undemocratic and unconstitutional, and have just exacerbated the country’s problems. “I’m angry, not just this, but at the general dysfunction of the country,” explains one of the city’s entrepreneurs. Some speculate that only radical actions could push the government to rule more effectively. All of the frustration and outrage surrounding this latest trash issue might be enough.

Some trash in rural areas has been removed but people report that it was just dumped somewhere else nearby. Sahar Atrache is an analyst that works for the International Crisis Group. She says that this half-hearted attempt is characteristic of Lebanon’s current government.

It is true that Lebanon’s resources and political power have been strained lately with the 1.3 million refugees estimated to pour into the country as a result of the Syrian crisis. The ICG recently published a report called Lebanon’s Self-Defeating Survival Strategies that explains, “Lebanon is surviving internal and regional strains remarkably well, but this resilience has become an excuse for tolerating political dysfunction.”

The city has been trying to deal with the matter on its own and has been starting to compost and recycle to keep waste build-up down. Some residents have begun their own local trash-pick up service.

Lillian Sickler

Sources: NPR, Crisis Group, UNHCR, LA Times, WSJ, ABC News, Times of Israel, Al Jazeera
Photo: NPR

Over the course of the last 200 years, the increase in average standard of living has largely mirrored increased urbanization. In 1800, just 10 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. The UN believes that this number will reach 55 percent in 2015. According to The Economist, 64.1 percent of the developing world, and and 85.9 percent of the developed world will live in urban centers by 2050.

Extreme poverty rates have declined precipitously over the last 30 years, and increased urbanization in developed countries suggests that this trend is likely to continue. However, while urbanization might spell economic progress in developing countries, it also poses environmental and humanitarian challenges.

Urban centers draw heavily on natural resources. The population density of urban environments brings challenges in terms of water availability, waste disposal and energy consumption. In cities like Nairobi, unplanned urban development has forced many into squalor – 60 percent of Nairobi’s urban population has been squeezed into five percent of the city’s total land mass.

What’s more, countless studies have noted that urbanization can exacerbate climate change’s negative impact on stream ecosystems. Urbanization can also exacerbate the risks posed by environmental hazards. Coastal cities are especially vulnerable to flash flooding – a risk that is rising along with the sea level.

Whether the environmental and humanitarian challenges of urbanization are met will depend largely on the responsiveness of local governments in meeting the individual needs of their communities. It will be up to local policy makers to maximize the benefits of urbanization while limiting the depths of its pitfalls. In doing so, local governments will need to draw on the ingenuity of urban planners, who face a diverse array of challenges in protecting their communities from environmental hazards and resource scarcity.

Like sustainable development models, sustainable urban planning models resist definitive archetypes, as renowned British architect David Adjaye has noted. “It has become clear that modern singularity must be refashioned into nuanced dialogues between geography, technology and culture,” said Adjaye. Urban planners will be called upon to architect fine-spun solutions, tailor-made for the communities that they serve.

However, it could be difficult for governments to resist the temptation of the short-term economic dividends of rapid, albeit unsustainable, urban growth. In addition, many developing countries may lack the financial resources and scientific expertise necessary to urbanize in and environmentally and humanitarianly sound way. Accordingly, it is essential that the U.S. government do its best to provide technical and financial support to urbanizing nations.

Parker Carroll

Sources: EPA, Huffington Post 1, Huffington Post 2, IRIN, New Security Beat
Photo: Flickr

Since gaining independence in 1991, the government of Uzbekistan has committed to reforming the education system and making this system a national priority. Free compulsory education for all children, as well as over 60 schools of higher learning, has lead Uzbekistan to achieve one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

Located in Central Asia, Uzbekistan has a population of over 26 million people. As the region’s most populated country, the government has taken significant measures to ensure high quality instruction for all children.

The Law on Education, established in 1997, states that all citizens have the right to education in Uzbekistan. After minor revisions, the law also encompasses that citizens are required to attend nine years of primary and secondary schooling. Students are then allowed to either continue with higher education for three years or seek vocational training, education that prepares children for a specific career path.

The Ministry of Public Education and the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Specialized Education are responsible for all pre-school, general education schools, higher learning establishments and vocational education. Together, they have been working to improve state educational standards and curriculum, reconstruct school buildings and strengthen teachers’ capacities at all levels.

Research shows that access to primary and secondary education in Uzbekistan is above average for the sub-region. The net enrollment rate for primary school is 97 percent, compared to the lesser 92 percent average of the Central Asian countries. Students also have a 100 percent transition rate to secondary school, indicating that the gap in access between primary to secondary school is virtually non-existent.

However, the Government of Uzbekistan does struggle with early childhood education. Only 20 percent of children aged 3 years old to 5 years old are attending preschool, a figure that was much higher prior to independence. The limited access to preschool and primary school for the 130,000 children with disabilities remains an area of primary concern.

Although methods such as homeschooling are available for these children, they have proven insufficient in meeting the educational needs of this young population. There are few schools and teachers with the necessary supplies and training to deal with children with severe disabilities and learning difficulties. Thus school quality has been a recent target for improvement. In 2006, a learning assessment given to a small group of Uzbek students illustrated that only 30 percent of children were considered to be competent in basic mathematic skills. Likewise, a mere 30 percent of children scored above a proficient level in the literacy assessment.

Many attribute the basic levels of math and literacy to the shortage of teachers. Although teacher salaries have been raised, a large gap exists between teacher wages and the average salary in Uzbekistan. Schools not only find it extremely difficult to recruit new prospects, but also to keep experienced teachers.

Although education in Uzbekistan has seen great improvement over the years, a lot more can be done in order to see the country succeed. According to UNICEF, the Government of Uzbekistan has to increase educational access to children in remote areas and those with special needs. In addition, school infrastructure must be structured to accommodate students with disabilities as well as create a safe and workable environment for teachers and students alike. With these changes, there is great hope that children in Uzbekistan will have a bright future ahead of them.

– Leeda Jewayni

Sources: Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, UNICEF, UNESCO
Photo: UNDP

A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that countries that become more democratic achieve about 20 percent higher gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the long run. Evidence showed that democracies were better at implementing economic reforms, investing more in public goods like education and reducing social unrest, all of which, to some degree, are tied to increasing GDP.

The researchers, Daron Acemoglu, Suresh Naidu, Pascual Restrepo and James A. Robinson, studied 175 countries between 1960 and 2010. Their study tackled the difficult task of comparing apples and oranges. There are countries that recently transitioned into a more democratic state, while others have had a long history of an established democracy. There are countries that hold elections, but practice only single party rule. There are countries that have been in and out of conflict. And there are countries with political institutions and economies that ebb and flow with a change in leadership. Nonetheless, Acemoglu, Naidu and Restrepo took on the challenge of creating a baseline for comparing different countries by developing an improved version of a democracy index.

Another challenge the researchers took on was to address the question, “does democracy need development first?” Some critics suggest that democracy would be economically costly when certain preconditions are not satisfied. For example, it is suggested that a benevolent dictatorship may be preferred when it comes to simple economies and poverty ridden-countries (or what some economist may label as those with “low human capital.”) Others argue that democracy promotes redistribution of resources that would discourage economic growth, or interest groups may end up dominating economic policies at the cost of the majority and hence increase inequality. The example of communist China and its economic powerhouse is often used to support the argument that political rights are not essential for economic growth.

However, Acemoglu, Naidu and Restrepo demonstrated that democracy does not have a negative effect for countries with low levels of economic development. Evidence showing increases in GDP were associated with democracy, no matter the stage of the country’s development. The researchers did note on the side that a population’s level of education did matter, but not in contradiction to their finding. Democracy had a stronger effect for economies with a greater fraction of the population with secondary schooling.

In sum, Acemoglu, Naidu and Restrepo found that there is a statistically significant positive correlation between democracy and future GDP per capita and this was especially so when examining countries that have switched from non-democracy to democracy into their next 30 years.

– Maria Caluag

Sources: NBER, The Regional Economist

Photo: TCF

hunger in swaziland
Swaziland is considered a low-income to middle-income nation. However, over 50% of the population lives below the national poverty line and makes less than 2 dollars per day.

Weather conditions contribute to the impoverished conditions. Droughts and flooding have caused years of food shortages and an increase in food prices. Maize, which is Swaziland’s main export, exceeded 100,000 tons 10 years ago and is now harvested at a rate of 70,000 tons. Weather, disease and unorganized food management programs are partly to blame for the plummet.

Health complications play a vital role in unsuccessful food productivity. For instance, Swaziland holds the highest rate of HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis in the world. Nearly half of all women are HIV positive, along with over 80% of tuberculosis patients. With such high prevalence rates of HIV, the number of orphaned children is well over 200,000. Sadly this number will jump by over 50,000 by 2015.

Stunting causes numerous health and work related problems for the population, as well. Roughly 31% of children and over 40% of adults are stunted.

All of these health issues contribute not only to high mortality rates but a poor economy. Reports show adults who are stunted miss more work days and are less productive then non stunted individuals. Stunted individuals have more health problems and are more sickly. Education is also affected by the effects of undernourishment.

Many individuals end up dropping out of school and/or repeat coursework. Therefore workers required to use critical thinking or reasoning skills often provide low productivity. According to “the Cost of Africa Study,” Swaziland loses 783 million per year due to hunger-related illnesses.

Many blame the poverty-related conditions and hunger on the Swaziland government. The king’s lavish lifestyle reportedly depleted funds meant for the starving Swazi people. Reportedly, the king also enjoys 13 palaces, a private jet and luxury cars. He is quoted saying to the starving people that “hard work and prayer” will bring you out of poverty. He says this while the plans to tear down a school for a remolding project for one of his palaces is in the works.

Swaziland is a small landlocked country surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique. Its population, which reigns in at just over one million, is ruled by King Mswati III, one of the last absolute monarchies in the world. Many people believe that hunger, disease and malnutrition would decline if Swaziland became more of a democracy. Mswati does not support democratic transition, however.

– Amy Robinson

Sources: World Food Programme, All Africa, WFP
Photo: Development Diaries

After 25 years, the civil war that plagued Sri Lanka and claimed thousands of lives is finally finished. The war, between the Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tigers separatist group, is estimated to have killed over 40,000 people in its final months.

The long war was between the Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE,) or simply the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE desired an independent state for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

The Tamils claim to have been victimized by the Sinhalese majority once the country became fully independent in 1948.

But, just because the war is finished, does not mean its opponents are any less quiet. In fact, many human rights groups are accusing the Sri Lankan government of destroying mass burial sites in order to cover its fingerprints on various human rights abuses.

Australia’s Public Interest Advocacy Center detailed an in-depth report chronicling the various abuses perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. The Tamil Tigers have been accused of using civilians as human shields and recruiting child soldiers. While these violations are heinous, the report lays the majority of the blame at the feet of the Sri Lanka government forces.

A United Nations report shows the majority of those 40,000 killed in the war’s final months can mostly be attributed to government action.

The team of investigators highlight the years 2008 and 2009, where the Sri Lankan government is accused of mass civilian bombardment. For example, in 2009, civilians were blocked by rebel fighters from leaving the war zone; the government shelled the entire area.

U.N. satellite images show the area the government shelled was occupied by up to 50,000 noncombatants. The government forces are also accused of purposefully targeting hospitals as well as blocking food and medicine to civilians and miscounting the number of civilians located in the war zone.

The abuses have been noted by the United States Government, resulting in intensified relations between the two countries. Recently, the U.S. has floated the idea of a third U.N. resolution against Sri Lanka. It responded by denying a visa request for a State Department official.

The government remains obstinate in the face of international pressure. Its President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that it would be a “great crime” to accuse the government of war crimes. He went as far as to say that those bringing these allegations against the Sri Lankan government shows they are “opposed to peace.”

It is uncertain where these U.N. resolutions will lead or if they will be effective at all in finding justice for the many thousands that were needlessly slaughtered by their own government.

– Zack Lindberg

Sources: Al Jazeera, CFR, ABC News
Photo: The Telegraph