Honduran Refugees
Honduras, the small Central American country nestled between Guatemala and Nicaragua, is home to a rich, cultural heritage, stunning wildlife, beaches and forests. Despite the beauty this country has to offer, many of its citizens are seeking a safe haven far from the country they know. Here are 10 things you need to know to better understand Honduran refugees.

  1. The countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador often are reported on in tandem. This grouping, referred to as Central America’s Northern Triangle, experiences similar problems leading all three to their high refugee rates.
  2. Honduras is struggling with an incredibly high homicide rate. The country is currently tied with El Salvador for highest homicide rate in the world and in 2015, over 17,000 homicides were recorded across the Northern Triangle.
  3. Many of these killings are related to gang or criminal organization activity. Citizens of Honduras run the risk of being extorted by these groups and are often threatened with violence if they are unable to pay fees.
  4. Honduras is dangerous for women. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that women fleeing the Northern Triangle often report being assaulted, extorted and threatened. Honduras averages at 10.9 female homicides per 100,000 people. In comparison, the same statistic for the U.S. is 1.9 per 100,000.
  5. The number of Honduran refugees is growing. Nearly 10 percent of the region’s 30 million citizens have fled in the past 10 years. An analysis from the Council on Foreign Relations said that the amount of people from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala living in the U.S. increased from 1.5 million to 2.7 million between 2000 and 2013.
  6. In addition to the threat of violence, Honduran refugees may also be fleeing from their countries for climate-related reasons. Honduras is experiencing prolonged drought effects due to the El Nino weather phenomenon.
  7. This drought is having a severe effect on food prices and on farming in the country. Bean and maize harvests have been cut in half due to the drought leading to an increase in food prices.
  8. Malnutrition is a serious risk for families. The U.N.’s World Food Project reports that around a quarter of children aged six months to two-and-a-half years struggle due to chronic malnutrition.
  9. The U.S has begun attempts to help the situation. In 2015, the Obama Administration appropriated $750 million to help address root causes of the influx of refugees.
  10. The U.S. Refugee Admission’s Program has been established to aid refugees from the Northern Triangle. The program will seek to identify families in need, and then relocate them as permanent residents in the U.S.

Though the situation in Honduras looks grim, the U.S. has the opportunity to make a difference through programs that will alleviate poverty-induced violence and restore the country that is home to so many refugees.

Jordan Little

Photo: Flickr

Access to Clean Water
Many communities in Latin America lack access to clean water transported through piped infrastructures, and water problems have been the source of much strife. Water in Bolivia made international news in 2000 when the country’s municipalities were privatized, causing costs to skyrocket and leading to four months of violent riots in Cochabamba.

Fortunately, recent movements have been more peaceful. They often take a community approach to change, transforming one neighborhood at a time. Three projects in three different Latin American countries have given communities reliable access to clean water.

Maria Auxiliadora in Aguilares, El Salvador
Ninety-eight percent of El Salvador’s water is contaminated. A growing movement is working to legislate access to clean water as a human right. In the meantime, one community has taken matters into its own hands.

Sixty percent of Maria Auxiliadora’s population used to lack clean drinking water. People were forced to pay high prices or rely on polluted water, all of which had to be trucked in. Franciscan foundation Tau partnered with the Association Foundation for Cooperation and Common Development in Salvador (CORDES) to change that. The organizations built a safe well that is maintained by the community’s 50 families, each of which has a water meter and pays for the amount it uses.

Alto Buena Vista Barrio in Cochabamba, Bolivia
The arid city of Cochabamba is making headlines again but this time in a positive way. While water transportation in Bolivia has improved, poorer neighborhoods don’t have access to piped water yet. Many are forced to rely on truck deliveries, facing constant shortages and contamination problems. The supply they receive is barely enough for drinking, let alone washing.

In southern Cochabamba, the people of Alto Buena Vista have decided to take matters into their own hands. Following the example of Maria Auxiliadora, El Salvador, they plan to build a well and use a similar metered system.

La Mosquitia, Honduras
La Mosquitia’s water sources are also polluted, causing widespread illness. Rain collection only provides relief for a season, and good wells are difficult to build because of contamination and brackish water. Two organizations, Charity: Water and the Arlington Rotary, have been building biosand filters to help. These systems filter water using sand and decomposing organic material. While there is still work to be done, the community’s plight has improved significantly.

While achieving countrywide access to clean water in Bolivia, Honduras and El Salvador is a work in progress, the three communities above are experiencing a better quality of life. Hopefully, they will pave the way for others to trade inefficient and ineffective methods of water transportation for clean and reliable ones.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: Flickr

Across the world, landfills are awash with plastic that takes at least 500 years to decompose. Poverty in Colombia is on the rise, and so too in numerous countries around the globe. In addition, there is a major shortage of inexpensive housing for the 40 percent of people in Africa and Latin American who are homeless. Thankfully, a new Colombian enterprise has found a way to solve both of these problems simultaneously, thus helping to alleviate poverty in Colombia.

Conceptos Plásticos

The organization Conceptos Plasticos turns recycled plastic into interlocking, lego-like bricks that can be easily and inexpensively assembled by four people in five days. The houses do not require adhesives, so they be dismantled and transported easily.

Founder Oscar Mendez created this program as part of his architecture graduate thesis. Inexpensive, mobile housing that helps the environment serves as the perfect solution for impoverished people in Colombia.

The lack of dwellings and abundance of plastic make Colombia the perfect place to launch this project. Across Latin America, 33 percent of families live in unsuitable homes. His project acts as a solution to poverty-stricken Colombians’ difficulty of getting the materials and skilled labor required to build in remote, rural area.

Another complication is the large amount of internally displaced people. Since so many citizens do not stay in a permanent location, investing in homes proves very difficult for many even those who have the resources.

An Environmental and Fiscal Solution

The environmental impact of these homes is wonderful — Bodega, Colombia alone throws away 750 tons of plastic, and Conceptos Plasticos transforms this unused resource into inexpensive housing.

The organization boasts prices are 30 percent cheaper than other systems; each house costs about $130 per square meter, or $5,200 total. Their traditional model is 40 square meters, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room and bathroom.

The blocks can be used to build larger structures as needed. Ease of construction and mobility sets this organization apart from others, and having a house that can be taken apart and moved is invaluable for people in unstable living situations.

Since its founding in 2010, the organization is accomplishing a remarkable amount bl. In Guapi Cauca 2015, Conceptos Plasticos built homes for 42 displaced families. Last year, they built three shelters and four houses.

On July 14 of this year, the organization was one of five out of 2,500 organization to win a funding from the Venture, a competition for businesses providing positive social change.Conceptos Plasticos was awarded the highest amount of $300,000.

Founder Oscar Mendez states that “We will improve all of our processes and increase our capacity. We want to replicate our business model in other countries.” This funding will help him to not only alleviate poverty in Colombia, but the money will also allow Mendez to provide his innovative housing solution to people all over the world.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: Flickr

Education in Costa Rica
Education in Costa Rica has come leaps and bounds from its past. The highly-rated education system in Costa Rica continues to lead Central and Latin America by example, striving to provide both highly accessible and high quality education to all.

Costa Rica’s literacy rate is approximately 95 percent, one of the highest in Latin America. In 1869, the country was one of the first in the world to make primary education mandatory and free. Costa Rica is also one of the few countries in the world without a standing army, and part of the funds that would have been spent on the military are instead redirected to education.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), almost seven percent of the country’s GDP is spent on educational programs. The government has also issued a mandated goal for allocated funds to rise to eight percent by 2018. This percentage of GDP spending on education is exceeded only by Iceland, New Zealand and Denmark.

In the book, “The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica,” it is said that every Costa Rican pueblo is known to have five things: a local store, a football field, a church, a bar and a school. Some schools in the most rural parts of the country only have two students, but regardless of the number of children in the pueblo, they will always have access to an education.

While accessible schooling for all children is a noble goal, the quality of education must also be upheld. The smaller the school, the less resources the school and its teachers have. Children in rural areas often miss days or weeks of school to work, or ultimately drop out to help support their families.

According to the 2015 U.N. Development Programme’s Human Development Report, Costa Ricans spend an average of 8.4 years in school, and only 50.6 percent of the population receives at least some secondary school education.

While the necessary amount of money is being spent to ensure education in Costa Rica is a priority, according to the OECD the gap in educational outcomes based on family income has grown significantly larger in the past 20 years. It is critical that Costa Rica not only increases education funding, but also focuses on how that money is spent, specifically by spreading resources more equitably across schools.

The Costa Rican Ministry of Education is working alongside UNICEF and other international organizations to confront the factors contributing to students permanently leaving school and to provide quality education to all.

Yo me apunto” (“I’m in”) was launched in 2015 with the hope of encouraging students to stay in school and to reintegrate young adults back into school. The program reaches 155 schools and offers educational programs for students living in areas of poverty.

By continuing initiatives like “Yo me apunto” and increasing focus on establishing better educational outcomes, education in Costa Rica will continue to be an exemplary model for the rest of Latin and Central America and beyond.

Erica Rawles

Photo: The Costa Rica News

Conditional Cash TransfersIn development assistance, there is always a hand that gives and a hand that takes away. Policymakers now face the fact that up to 20 percent of foreign aid administered by NGOs and government agencies can end up in the hands of corrupt local leaders. However, conditional cash transfers may be the solution.

A recent report by the Inter-American Development Bank suggests that conditional cash transfers offer a way out of this dilemma. This form of foreign aid offers cash grants to citizens in exchange for compliance. This could mean enrolling their children in school, completing regular medical exams or attending job skills training.

In Latin America, where youth unemployment hovers around 14 percent, this means lower risks of radicalization. Roughly 60 percent of the young adults in this region work in the informal sector, where there are markedly low wages, no benefits and job insecurity.

When this occurs, many of those who might have been productive citizens turn to more lucrative (and illegal) activities. And so the conditions for terrorism flourish.

Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) for the poor in Latin America have posted consistent gains over the past 15 years. They provide money for nearly 129 million individuals of working and post-working age. In addition, some of the countries suffering from the harshest degrees of poverty are taking advantage.

UNICEF reports from 2008 found that in Paraguay, CCTs increased household per capita income by 31 percent while reducing food expenditure by four percent.

Child school attendance also rose, as beneficiary families were able to save 20 percent more than without assistance. UNICEF also reports that families enjoyed seven percent greater access to credit. Finally, they invested 45 percent more in agricultural production.

These are significant results for a country tackling one of the most corrupt and poverty-stricken parts of the continent. Home to radical groups such as Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, the triborder area—between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina—is a perfect case for why the United States should ramp up its aid to Latin America.

The endemic poverty in this area allows one to bribe a local security agent for $35 ($15 for Paraguayan officers), buy an AK-47 for $375, or solicit women under 23 years of age for as little as $15.

In this sort of environment, traditional aid projects for nutrition or housing are less effective.

Researchers from Transparency International reveal that in areas like the triborder, local leaders inflate the amount of requested aid, inviting speculation by gangs and smugglers.

Much of the aid is then misused: corrupt leaders sell food surpluses for personal profit, award housing contracts under threat. In addition, other goods (such as prescription drugs) enter the triborder’s $1.5 billion black market.

Conditional Cash Transfers offer immunity from these abuses by requiring greater accountability from both local leaders and the community. Because they are cash benefits, municipal officials are unable to divert goods as “losses” or favor particular groups.

Instead, they ensure that valuable U.S. aid reaches the hands of those who need it most—citizens doing their part to break the cycle of poverty.

Alfredo Cumerma


Poverty in Central America
The area of Latin or Central America includes the countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Central America also includes the Caribbean Islands. Poverty in Central America is pervasive: half the population lives below the poverty line.

In rural areas, the figure rises to two-thirds. Seventy-five percent of rural people struggle to meet basic food needs. Income from traditional exports, agriculture and textiles is in the control of a few of the most powerful and richest.

Despite considerable advancements in wealth distribution, vast inequalities still exist. According to a report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), “The poorest 20% of the population receive only 3% of all income; the wealthiest 20% receive 60%.”

The farms generally belong to the wealthy; the poor work on them. Small farmers often work deteriorating plots that produce low yields. This leads to food insecurity, hunger and the need for other wage-producing work.

Rural poverty in Central America is widespread, but percentages differ within separate countries.

Honduras is the worst affected: 75 percent of the country’s rural population lives in poverty and 63 percent lives in extreme poverty.

Guatemala is next: 54 percent of its rural population lives in poverty.

Nicaragua and El Salvador both have 47 percent of their rural population living in poverty.

Panama has 37 percent and Costa Rica has 23 percent of rural poverty rates.

Indigenous populations have the highest rates of poverty in Central America. They also have the lowest income and lack access to much needed services. Some of these include housing, schools and healthcare.

Indigenous peoples account for more than 40 percent of the total population in Guatemala and seventy-five percent of them live in poverty. In Panama, indigenous peoples make up eight percent of the population and 95 percent live in poverty.

Agriculture is a major employer of the rural poor, providing jobs for more than 30 percent. As a result, IFAD believes that agriculture could be used to help ease poverty in Central America. The area is a major producer of the world’s bananas, coffee, maize and sugar.

IFAD reports, however, that the area is “highly vulnerable” to the world market. It is also vulnerable to other factors it has no power over, such as climate change and natural disasters.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced in June that there has been much progress in reducing poverty in Central America. Despite these advancements, the area still desperately needs more social services.

UNDP called on the governments of the area to invest in “better employment opportunities, in financial systems that prevent over-indebtedness and reducing gender gaps.”

In a press release on June 16, 2016 UNDP stressed that “The main threat to progress in Latin America and the Caribbean is the relapse of millions of families back into poverty.”

The poor and those who are not considered living in poverty but who are not cushioned from external forces need four important elements to keep them from falling back into poverty: public security system, healthcare system, economic assets and job skills.

Rhonda Marrone

Photo: Pixabay

 Latin AmericaAccording to a recent UNDP report, 25 to 30 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean are at risk of slipping into poverty. This number represents more than a third of those who began living on more than $1 a day since 2003 in the region.

These at-risk Latin Americans are a part of a group of over 220 million people in the region who are vulnerable, living on more than $4 a day but less than $10 a day: not technically poor, but not part of the middle class.

The report noted that between 2015 and 2016, the number of poor people in the region rose for the first time in decades. This year, Latin America is expected to experience economic contraction for the second year in a row.

While the economic slowdown is part of the reason these people are threatened with looming poverty, the report emphasizes that a large contributing factor is a lack of economic resilience. Much of the region’s jobs revolve around small enterprises the service sector, which have low productivity and high rates of informality. Also, the report noted that taxes laid an undue burden on the region’s poor.

The report stressed four factors, called a ‘resilience basket,’ that are essential in preventing regression into poverty among at-risk populations in Latin America. These four factors are: social protection, care systems (particularly for children and older persons), physical and financial assets (such as owning a car, a home, savings or bank accounts that act as ‘cushions’ when crises hit) and labor skills.

Overall, the report highlighted the importance of ‘multidimensional progress’ as a means of poverty reduction and prevention. It demonstrated that the circumstances that promoted initial economic growth in Latin America were different from factors that would create a sustainable environment for prolonged economic prosperity.

The report’s proposed solutions included improved tax policies to allow room for the region’s poor and vulnerable classes to grow without government obstacles, as well as increases in productivity of low-skilled labor jobs. It also advocated for investment into women’s policies, considering that Latin America and the Caribbean women work three times more at home than men and, despite studying on average more than males in the region, still earn less in the labor market.

Jessica Faieta, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and Caribbean, said at the report launch, “The challenges of sustainable, holistic and universal development do not end at a certain income threshold: we don’t ‘graduate’ from development challenges unless we can respond accordingly to the multiple dimensions that enable people to live the lives they consider valuable.”

Latin America, while a diverse region without a single pattern of development, still lacks many of the necessities for sustainable prosperity. Outside of improved economic growth in Latin America, improved conditions to sustain progress and further eliminate poverty in the region are necessary.

Adam Gonzalez

Photo: Flickr

Social Entrepreneur CorpsFounded by Greg Van Kirk, the Social Entrepreneur Corps (SEC) diagnoses needs and implements innovations that help marginalized, impoverished and vulnerable families build a better life for themselves.

The volunteers and employees of the SEC play an important role in creating impactful social innovation. They can “gain the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to become the high impact leaders and social entrepreneurs of the future.” In addition, the SEC has been “leading innovative and dynamic impact immersion programs for 10 years and over 1,000 participants have joined [their] diverse programs.”

The organization utilizes well-structured programs where participants are mentored by field leaders, who are experienced development professionals.

One of the SEC’s initiatives includes a needs and feasibility analysis, in which participants perform research through observations, surveys and informal conversations in order to analyze needs of impoverished communities.

Another is an innovative-design initiative, in which participants use their research to develop and give consultations to local community members on ways to improve their state of poverty.

As one SEC participant states, “from giving presentations in Spanish to local organizations to going on campaigns in rural regions, every activity gave me the chance and the courage to step out of my comfort zone and push my boundaries as far as I could.”

Communities in Latin America, for example, are reaping the benefits. The Jutiapa region in Guatemala had a successful village campaign which benefited women entrepreneurs in the region. In one day, participants “served over 150 people and helped the women to sell 69 pairs of glasses, 35 eye drops, 30 packets of vegetable seeds, 8 solar lamps/cell phone chargers and one water purification bucket.”

The female entrepreneurs earned nearly $240 in net profits, which is the equivalent of over two months’ wages for the average rural Guatemalan.

The Social Entrepreneur Corps has played an important role in breaking the cycle of poverty in Latin American countries. The organization’s efforts continue to inspire families and communities.

Vanessa Awanyo

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

Reports of Chikungunya Fever are on the rise in Peru, raising concerns at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC has added Peru to the Level One Watch List for Chikungunya Fever, as the disease moves toward epidemic proportions in the country. The Peruvian Ministry of Health is taking precautions to limit the spread of the disease in the country, which may have spread from neighboring countries.

Minister Velasquez of the Peruvian Ministry of Health and Minister Candace Vance of Health Ministry of Ecuador have signed an agreement to jointly fight the disease. This agreement allowed Peru to identify the first indigenous case of Chikungunya Fever.

The Peruvian Ministry of Health of has put together a national plan to combat the disease including a surveillance agency MOH to monitor infectious disease coming across the border. They have also placed an epidemiological fence in areas where the disease is prevalent and spray shops and homes to eradicate the disease.

In partnership with Ecuador, the are closely monitoring outbreak and implementing vector control in areas where the outbreaks arise in. Ecuador has suffered more than 15,000 cases of Chikungunya Fever this year alone.

Across Latin America, rates of mosquito-borne disease are increasing; the joint action plan between Ecuador and Peru marks a first step in interstate cooperation to combat mosquito-borne diseases.

Chikungunya fever, much like malaria, Yellow fever, Typhoid fever and Dengue is spread by the bite of a mosquito. Chikungunya symptoms begin about 3-7 days after being bitten by the Aedes Egypti mosquito.

The symptoms include fever, joint pain, headache, muscle ache, rash or swelling. These symptoms left untreated can severely disable an individual. Symptoms can last anywhere from a week to a month depending on the severity of the case.

Robert Cross

Sources: CDC, EL Universo, Outbreak News Today, PMOH, Peru This Week
Photo: Información desde América Latina