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Mexico's Oportunidades
Although parents in Mexico generally are aware of the long-term benefits of education, they sometimes pull their children out of school and send them to work. This is indicative of the vicious intergenerational cycle of poverty that afflicts many Mexican families.

The goal of the Oportunidades Program — Mexico’s primary anti-poverty program — is to put an end to this cycle by improving the health and education of the children. It represents 46.5 percent of the country’s federal annual anti-poverty budget and has so far benefitted 6 million people since its beginning in 1997.

The program conditionally supplements the families’ incomes and provides monetary educational grants so that parents can afford to send their children to school. Families are chosen by socio-economic evaluation and payments are given to the female head of the family.

The chief components of the program are as follows:

  • Education: Grants are provided for primary school students all the way through high school. As students progress in their educations, the grants become slightly higher for girls than for boys. This has resulted in an enrollment increase of 20 percent for girls and 10 percent for boys in secondary school.
  • Health: Government public health institutions provide basic health care for families with particular emphasis on preventative health care. As a result, children between the ages of one and five have a 12 percent lower incidence of illness. There has also been an 11.8 percent drop in anemia among children under age two.
  • Nutrition: Families receive about 155 pesos monthly in order to increase the quality of the children’s food consumption. Nutritional supplements are also provided for small children and pregnant women.

Up to a third of the decrease in poverty in rural areas can be attributed to the Oportunidades Program, according to a 2014 world bank report. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) also evaluated the program’s effectiveness and found that after three years, children in rural areas have increased their school enrollment, have improved diets and have received better medical attention.

Recently the Oportunidades Program, now called Prospera, has spread to urban areas and extended high school education grants. The program has also been successfully replicated in 52 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Oportunidades’ resounding success proves that conditional cash transfer programs, even on a large scale, do in fact reduce poverty and prepare the country for long-term economic growth. This investment in human capital — primarily the children’s well-being and education — is an exemplary way to not only reduce poverty but eliminate it.

Liliana Rehorn

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Egypt
Following the political turmoil of the last five years, the Egyptian economy is currently in a tenuous position. The World Food Program (WFP) explains that poor economic conditions such as increasing poverty and decreasing purchasing power among the poor are the primary drivers of food insecurity in Egypt.

The United Nations Development Project reports that the poverty rate is around 28 percent and overall unemployment now stands at 13 percent. Moreover, the Economist reports that Egyptian deficits are running very high and youth unemployment is currently a towering 40 percent.

A 2013 WFP report found that in 2011, 17 percent of Egyptians were food insecure. Additionally, according to a 2015 United Nations report, 45 percent of Egyptian children under the age of five suffer from anemia, which is a nutrient deficiency.

The news is not all bad, however, there are groups trying to make a difference. The WFP is one organization attempting to help the Egyptian people through these tough times. They currently provide a number of services designed to reduce hunger in Egypt.

One such program involves empowering low-income rural communities to adapt to global warming, diminishing agricultural losses by helping to create sustainable livelihoods. Another includes assisting the government to institute efforts aimed at preventing chronic malnutrition. Additionally, as part of the WFP’s Syrian Regional Refugee Response they are providing food assistance to Syrian refugees currently living in Egypt.

Along with these ongoing programs, the WFP partnered with the European Union in 2014 to initiate a $67 million project aimed at encouraging school participation among current or potential child laborers.

The project, entitled Enhancing Access of Children to Education and Fighting Child Labor, targets 100,000 children across Egypt by providing them and their families with food incentives to stay in school. Children who attend school receive an in-school snack that satisfies 25 percent of their daily nutritional needs, and their families receive a monthly food ration of 10 kg of rice and one liter of oil.

Egypt itself is also attempting to address some of these problems by launching its Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS), a data collection framework based on the United Nations Strategic Development Goals. Nihal El Megharbel of Egypt’s Ministry of Planning explains in the Egypt Strategy Support Program’s news bulletin that the country hopes to “reduce mortality by 20 percent and eradicate extreme poverty” by 2030 using the SDS.

The SDS will achieve this by substantially increasing Egypt’s capacity to collect meaningful data on food insecurity and poverty and using that data to develop data-driven solutions. Derek Headey of the International Food Policy Research Institute believes such a method has great potential explaining during a United Nations Development Program seminar that “some of the best national success stories have invested the most in measurement.”

Given that Egypt is the largest state in the Arab World, the country is central to the future of the Middle East. If it is to succeed where many other nations in the region are failing, it must take care of its people. The best way to accomplish this is by working to reduce poverty and hunger in Egypt.

James Long

Women's Empowerment to Fight Hunger in Asia
According to UNICEF, “In 2015, more than half of all stunted children under five lived in Asia.” Further, the organization notes that the wasting rate in Southern Asia is close to being “a critical public health emergency.”

In light of these concerning statistics, research has illuminated how an interdisciplinary female-focused approach to fighting hunger in Asia is the key to success for both child nutrition and the overall health of the community.

Gender inequality is more prevalent in South Asia than other parts of the continent, with a gender inequality index measuring .0536. This is on a scale from 0 being completely equal to 1 being not equal — the ratings in Singapore and The Republic of Korea are 0.088 and 0.125 respectively. Data suggests that improvements in women’s equality may hold the key to reducing South Asia’s current child undernutrition rate of 36 percent.

Groundbreaking research carried out in 1998 by the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., showed that gender inequality plays a large role in malnutrition.

While analyzing global data, the authors Smith and Haddad showed that improvement in women’s status and improvement in women’s enrollment in secondary education was responsible for over half of the reductions in child malnutrition.

Other major factors, such as food availability and improvements in a health environment, contributed to only 26 percent and 19 percent of the malnutrition reductions, respectively.

Further publications such as the World Bank Global Monitoring Report of 2007 highlight how creating diverse opportunities for women can directly combat hunger in Asia. Education benefits child nutrition by increasing access to information for expectant and current mothers and child malnutrition decreases when women have more control of the household’s resources.

Nutrition is not only important for child growth but is also an investment in preventative health. The danger of not supporting female-focused initiatives is potent, due to the foundational importance of nutrition on well-being.

Over 5 million individuals are currently living with HIV in Asia, according to UNAIDS, with 19,000 new infections in children in 2015 alone. In malnourished patients, HIV quickly progresses toward AIDS due to the immune system’s lack of essential nutrients.

Other opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis, which is present in its “latent” non-active form in one-third of the world’s population, can then thrive in the absence of a functional immune system and can threaten entire communities.

However, focused efforts are being made to improve nutrition with an interdisciplinary approach. CARE International, a U.K. based company, sponsored the Shouhardo Project in Bangladesh to fight child malnutrition through women’s empowerment.

By implementing community initiatives to confront early marriage, prevent violence against women, give more power to women in business transactions and have more political power in the local sphere, outcomes changed.

Before the project began, less than 25 percent of women reported being involved in decisions to buy or sell family assets, or use savings. At the end of the study period, almost 50 percent of women were included in such decisions. As a result, the data collected showed a 30 percent drop in child stunting.

More initiatives in Asia are focusing on women’s role in child well-being, such as the Every Woman Every Child movement, which recently launched a campaign to use mobile phones to educate women on nutrition for their children in India.

India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) has partnered with the Food and Agriculture organization of the U.N. to boost economic opportunities for women in rural areas, with the direct goal of fighting nutrition through such avenues.

These programs are evidence for why female leadership is so important, especially in an area where gender inequality is prominent. As such initiatives develop and are supported, communities will see unprecedented gains in the fight against hunger.

Patrick Tolosky

Photo: Flickr

Lao_PDR
Since 1990, hunger in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or PDR, has dropped from 34.5 percent to 20.1 percent in 2014. Though this decline of over 14 percent is promising, Lao PDR remains one of the world’s hardest hit countries by poverty. Citizens, mostly in northern and rural provinces, suffer from malnutrition, stunting and what the International Food Policy Research Institute, or IFPRI, calls “hidden hunger.”

Child nutrition is significantly lacking in Lao PDR. Forty-four percent of children are stunted due to poor diets that are lacking in key nutrients, including vitamin A, iodine, healthy fats and protein. As a result, over 40 percent of children in Lao PDR are anemic. The problem of “hidden hunger,” or a pronounced deficiency of key nutrients in childhood, has long term effects on the brain and the physical development of a child.

Lao PDR has the second highest rate of poverty in Southeast Asia, after Timor-Leste and continues to deal with gaps in its economics and wealth distribution. According to the IFPRI, Lao PDR ranks 61 out of 76 countries facing extreme hunger, with the country ranking at 76 being the most affected. Poverty and extreme hunger remains alarming in rural regions of the country, where access to healthcare and adequate nutrition remains scarce.

For example, in the province of Houaphan, 50.5 percent of the population faces extreme poverty. Those who live in this province often depend on agriculture to work and eat; however, the region is susceptible to natural disasters and wavering weather conditions, causing productivity to be low.

Recognizing the impact of climate and environmental factors on the nutrition of individuals, the government of Lao PDR launched the National Nutrition Strategy, aimed at addressing the causes of malnutrition, hunger and economic disparity. In conjunction with the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Administration, this strategy will tackle hunger at its most basic causes.

The FAO said, “To address the immediate causes (at the individual level), the focus will be on improving nutrient intake and reducing infectious diseases that affect the biological utilization of food.”

As the completion of the Millennium Development Goals quickly approaches, Lao PDR is still not quite on track when it comes to meeting them. Resources are needed to complete these goals and not enough are being provided to Lao PDR that will improve overall development.

Lao PDR depends largely on agriculture and farming, yet those regions are affected by poverty and lack the resources to contribute to the nation’s economic stability. It is in the nation’s best interest that the government develop those programs that focus on educating rural families on sustainable farming practices and how to effectively maintain agriculture and livestock in the face of climate change, so that poverty will give way to sustainability.

– Candice Hughes

Sources: FAO, International Food Policy Research Institute, UNDP, WFP
Photo: Flickr

hunger_in_africa
The first of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals is that of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. But according to the recently released 2014 Human Development Report, there are still 1.2 billion people living on $1.25 a day or less with little access to adequate food — and a vast majority of Africans fall into this group.

Here are six facts to know about hunger in Africa:

1. Although Africa is the second largest continent and covers close to one fifth of the Earth’s land area, the 54 countries that comprise the continent cannot feed their people. This is not due to a lack of food but instead a lack of agricultural infrastructure, raised food prices, drought and conflict.

2. In the most recent estimate (2010), approximately 239 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were hungry. Out of those, 30 percent were undernourished.

3. There are many mouths to feed. African population growth expanded from 221 million in 1950 to 1 billion in 2009 and is expected to be 4 billion in the year 2100. With such a high population, it is nearly impossible to produce enough food for everyone.

4. Poverty is a cause of hunger, hunger is a cause of poverty. Living under the poverty line makes it extremely difficult to buy food. Without food and with hunger, a person has lack of energy and can develop health problems which mean lost days at work and more medical needs.

5. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, 160 million African children are malnourished, and one in five children will never reach 5 years of age.

6. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are a major cause of death in women and children. These deficiencies are often referred to as “hidden hunger.” To combat this problem, UNICEF reported that “The WHO, the New Economic Partnership for African Development, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Micronutrient Initiative  and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition” have ensured that two-thirds of the sub-Saharan population now have access to iodized salt and children have been give vitamin A supplements.

While these facts are startling and seem unconquerable, they do not need to be. By moving to action, Africa can put an end to its hunger crisis. Moves to action may include donation to a charity or NGOs, such as The Borgen Project and contacting your state senator and asking them to support increase aid in U.S. foreign policy to end hunger in Africa.

Kori Withers

Sources: UNICEF, NPR, United Nations, World Issues 360, Hunger Notes, United Nations Development Program
Photo: Flickr

food
The average person makes approximately 200 food-related decision per day. This statistic makes it seem as though food is one of the few things over which we have control. Or do we? While the choice is entirely up to each individual, do we always have all the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision?

Socially learning which foods are poisonous and which are nutritious was a crucial evolutionary step. But in the era of the grocery store, information about food is abundant and often confusing. What is more, food information provided by labels, the media or even so-called independent reviewers usually comes with ulterior motives.

According to Public Health Perspectives blogger, Beth Skwarecki, the concept of nutrition can be manipulated for marketing purposes or to even create a fear fad. Take, for example, the controversial topic of genetically modified organisms. There is so much information both against and for it that most of the information is more confusing than informative to consumers.

As a teacher of nutrition at a community college, Skwarecki says that it is important for people to develop their “baloney detectors.” Once you understand the science behind each topic, it is much easier to make an informed decision.

This method might work in developed countries, but what about people in poor countries? Residents of the industrialized world have better access to information, so that if someone takes the time to research the issue, he or she can make better food choices. But what about people in developing nations that depend on foreign aid to cover their most basic nutritional needs?

Low income and food insecure people are the most vulnerable to lack of nutrition. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, while substantial progress has been made over the last decade in agricultural practices, progress in nutrition and health of poor farmers and consumers in developing countries is still slow.

One of the strategies proposed is to increase access to nutritional food. However, this also means implementing educational programs that would allow people to understand where their food comes from, and where to find the most added-value nutrition.

So whether it is for people in advanced nations or in the developing world, one of the most important elements to nutrition is having access to correct information. In the end, this comes back to the most basic notion of having a say in what we eat, and how we allow the content of our food to impact our lives.

-Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: Public Health Perspectives, International Food Policy Research Institute
Photo: The World Bank

child_eating_global_hunger_index
Every year the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welthungerhilfe, and Concern Worldwide release a Global Hunger Index (GHI) report that documents the trends in global poverty and hunger across the globe. The report calculates each country’s index number by combining three equally weighted indicators. The first indicator, undernourishment, is reflected as the percentage of undernourished people within the country’s population. The second indicator is the proportion of children younger than the age of five who are underweight. The last indicator is the mortality rate of children younger than the age of five, which reflects an inadequate diet and an unhealthy environment.

The GHI ranks nations on a 100-point scale with 0 representing no hunger and 100 representing a large portion of the population suffering from hunger. This year’s index indicates that global hunger is decreasing as the world’s GHI score has fallen by 34 percent since 1990; however, world hunger remains a serious and important issue.

India’s GHI has decreased from 65 to 63, but the nation is still plagued by high levels of hunger. The Indian people also have one of the highest populations of underweight children. South Asian countries have the maximum number of hungry people in the world, followed by sub-Saharan Africa.

Because it takes years for a country’s economy to improve, the organizations that author the GHI Report offer other alternatives to combat global hunger. Welthungerhilfe, one of the largest NGO aid organizations in Germany, has provided over 6,800 projects that have been carried out in over 70 countries. Concern Worldwide, another NGO, focuses on long term development work by addressing the root causes of poverty through education and advocacy work.

– Lienna Feleke-Eshete

Sources: International Food Policy Research Institute, Jagran Josh
Photo: Rediff