Despite an aggregate economic growth, Vanuatu’s regions are developing unevenly, leaving some areas more vulnerable than others. To achieve its Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty in Vanuatu from the current rate of 12.7 percent to two percent, both local leaders and international actors need to consider the country’s unique vulnerabilities and strengths.

According to the CIA World Factbook, 26 percent of the population lives in the urban centers of Port Vila (capital) and Luganville. Vanuatu’s population of just over 277,000 inhabits 65 of the 80 islands in the country’s archipelago.

This geography plays a key role in understanding poverty in Vanuatu. According to the U.N. Development Programme, geographic factors create a more statistically significant barrier to energy and basic goods than do vulnerabilities in population such as age, gender or income level.

Vanuatu’s geography is defined by dramatic tropical volcanic mountains that rise from shallow coastlines. It is along these edges that most of Vanuatu’s population lives, either in port towns or rural villages.

Even in a relatively small island nation, the plight of the urban poor and rural poor are not easily delineated. Indeed, different areas experience varied iterations of development. For example, from 2006 to 2010, rates of food poverty (not having sufficient access to basic food goods) declined from approximately five percent to three percent in Port Vila, but increased from approximately two percent to eight percent in Luganville over the same period. Similarly, while average poverty rates in Luganville increased from 2006 to 2010, overall rates of poverty in rural areas fell.

These discrepancies emerge largely because of geographic location, which determines principle economic activities such as fishing and tourism. Access to basic foodstuffs also depends on weather patterns and agricultural production, which are especially interdependent on small, shallow islands.

These coastal communities are threatened by rising sea levels and increasingly frequent tropical storms such as Cyclone Pam, which swept through the Pacific in 2015, destroying up to 96 percent of food crops on some of Vanuatu’s southernmost islands.
Although Vanuatu is susceptible to extreme weather, traditionally sound building practices offer light, but flexible, protection and help. These practices aid in minimizing fatalities in emergencies.

An increase in telecommunication infrastructure also proved to be life-saving. When Cyclone Pam hit, SMS text alerts notified island residents. In many cases, it was the only effective warning system that allowed citizens to prepare accordingly. This access to modern technology can help growing populations confront increasingly frequent extreme weather movements.

Despite these obstacles, the Asian Development Bank reports the overall poverty rate of Vanuatu as low relative to other small nations in the Pacific. Recently, increases in tourism, agricultural production and foreign aid and investment are reflected in Vanuatu’s positive economic growth.

USAID recognizes the delicate geographic circumstances of Pacific islands such as Vanuatu, as nearly 50 percent of the Pacific Islander population lives within a mile of a coastline. USAID is committed to alleviating poverty in Vanuatu by building infrastructure that will withstand pressures from both climate change and extreme weather.

By understanding the unique circumstances of island nations such as Vanuatu, the U.S. and other global economic powerhouses can allocate aid in ways that are both culturally and geographically appropriate, helping to lift these vulnerable populations out of poverty.

– Laurel Klafehn
Photo: Flickr

President Kuczynski's Plans to Reduce Poverty in Peru
Since assuming office in July 2016, Peru’s President Kuczynski has promised to modernize the economy and fight poverty in Peru. By expanding basic services and aspiring to membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Kuczynski hopes to leave Peru a “fairer, more equitable, and more united” nation.

During the past decade, Peru experienced a commodity boom and increase in tourism, both of which contributed to impressive economic growth. Peru’s GDP and GNI per capita sharply increased over this period, and consequently, development surged.

Poverty in Peru dropped from 55.6 percent in 2005 to 22 percent in 2015. Peru has become a regional leader in education coverage, reducing dropout rates and reducing unwanted teenage pregnancy, among other indicators. The chief-economist for the Development Bank of Latin America praised Peru for consolidating its fiscal position and expanding the middle class.

Despite recent development, poverty in Peru still exists. As of 2012, 25.8 percent of the population was living below the poverty line, with nearly 5 percent living in extreme poverty.

Despite some progress in government programs aimed at helping Peru’s poorest citizens, basic services and infrastructure remain insufficient in rural areas.

To combat ongoing poverty, President Kuczynski seeks to launch a “social revolution.” Aimed at helping the most impoverished citizens, the new administration promises to expand access to basic services while also advancing Peru’s national policies and institutional involvement. These plans build on Peru’s active role in complying with the millennium development goals and show a strong commitment to the new challenge of achieving the sustainable development goals.

The main tenants of President Kuczynski’s social revolution are providing safe drinking water, improving the quality of basic education, implementing universal health care, ending informal employment, fighting corruption and developing better infrastructure.

An early sign of success for the revolution is the $74.5 million joint investment between the Government of Peru and the International Fund for Agricultural Development intended to create rural employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. The targeted regions of this investment are characterized by chronic and extreme poverty and conflict.

Additionally, the Kuczynski administration seeks to institutionalize its modernization by attaining OECD membership.

Supporting President Kuczynski, Peruvian Prime Minister Fernando Zavala has expressed progressive, development-oriented policies to complement Peru’s rise into OECD membership. World Bank vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, Jorge Familiar, supports this ascent, claiming the OECD’s dedication to “better policies for a better life,” complements the World Bank’s goals of poverty eradication and improved prosperity for all.

President Kuczynski has big plans for Peru, but the vast development across the nation in the past decade provides a promising foundation. Expanding basic services to the poorest citizens and positioning governmental affairs towards institutional advancement forecast a hopeful future for reducing poverty in Peru and realizing Kuczynski’s goal of a “fairer, more equitable, and more united” nation.

McKenna Lux

Photo: Flickr

Sanitation and Water for All: A Global Partnership
Access to clean water is a basic human right. Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is a partnership made up of over 150 country governments, research and learning institutions, external support agencies and civil society and private sector organizations that aims to drive political action that will contribute to accountability and the effective use of resources.

The organization aims to universally and permanently provide safe water and sanitation services across the globe. By fighting for secure and equitable access to clean water, SWA is motivating governments to prioritize this issue and strengthening legislative presences relating to clean water and sanitation.

SWA recognizes the failings of the global community in providing the world’s people with adequate sanitation facilities and access to clean water as well as the implications of these failings. Approximately 2.4 billion people live today without access to quality sanitation means, and 663 million still lack improved water sources.

Both children and adults die every day from diseases caused by unsafe water or lack of appropriate sanitation and hygiene. These diseases strain already ineffective health systems in vulnerable communities and take away from economic productivity. When women and girls are required to walk dozens of miles each week to obtain clean water, they effectively miss out on educational opportunities or chances to become involved in civil society.

The SWA was initially founded with the purpose of addressing water-related millennium development goals and aiding countries that were struggling to reach these goals. Now the partnership focuses on the sustainable development goals (SGDs) related to the WASH sector and is committed to playing a crucial role in reaching SDG targets.

The SWA identifies and outlines the issues involved with the inability to address the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) sector of policy. Investment in WASH often competes with the financial need to support health, education, infrastructure and other aspects of society.

Another issue is that while many countries have decided upon comprehensive plans relating to water and sanitation, they often lack the capacity to implement these plans in an influential way. This inability to successfully put plans into action can defer investors and political leaders from further contributing to the WASH-related legislature. On the other hand, many countries still lack the information and aid to even construct a plan to protect and improve water, sanitation and hygiene.

Through the alignment of donors behind transparent and accountable means of national planning, the harmonization of countries and organizations, mutual accountability and management of results, the SWA hopes to continuously advocate both domestically and internationally for people who lack clean water or sanitation.

Sanitation and Water for All aims to “turn the current situation around by creating a virtuous cycle of robust planning, institutional strengthening, better resources utilization and higher investment” that has the likelihood of creating an environment where everyone has access to clean water and effective sanitation measures.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Education in Papua New Guinea
Endemic problems facing education in Papua New Guinea (PNG) continue nearly unabated despite the passing of the 15-year-long time frame established by the U.N. for securing its ambitious Millennium Development Goals. Included among its eight commitments was dramatic education reform to address systemic gender-based discrimination, a goal that has hardly been realized in the Oceanic nation.

In a 2012 report, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) tallied total enrollment in primary education to be a meager 29.3 percent of all PNG children. The research found that the male-to-female ratio is nearly equal during those early education years, with 16,821 males and 16,120 females enrolled in some level of schooling in the relatively wealthier Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

That seeming equality morphs as children age, however, especially when comparing different regions of the country. Female enrollment rates decline significantly in poorer regions that are also marked by a horrific record of abuse toward women. That state of affairs is attributed by many to the historic degradation toward women found worldwide, and in particular regions of the country like the Eastern Highlands.

Indeed, the literacy rate between men and women in that region was 51 percent and 36.5 percent, respectively. In 2009, grade 12 enrollees were made up of just 180 females to their 494 male colleagues. Much of the blame has been leveled at a lack of will and ability to actually fund initiatives aimed at attaining universal gender equality in spite of such officially professed goals.

Similar to the reality throughout the world, PNG girls and women face an exorbitantly high likelihood of experiencing rape or assault at some point in their lifetime. Human Rights Watch pegs that figure at a staggering 70 percent for PNG, well above the one in three average for much of the majority world.

The World Health Organization notes that this problem is exacerbated in low-income regions with poor social attitudes toward women, like rural PNG, and often increases the risk for physical and mental health problems. As those problems increase, the amount of professional and personal self-improvement women and girls can achieve diminishes, thus perpetuating the problem of gender inequality for education in PNG and elsewhere.

Some progress toward reforming education in Papua New Guinea has been made. AusAID found that total enrollment rates have increased from 52 to 63 percent between 2007 and 2009 among primary-aged students. At that same time, completion rates for students enrolled up to grade eight rose from 45 to 56 percent.

In 2012 the government rolled out a new round of subsidizations for tuition fees, building on the apparent success of similar policies enacted in the early 1990s. The new policies have positively affected enrollment among female children and have promoted retention rates among children who seek to continue on with their education at various levels.

In fact, a unique problem has arisen over the last several years involving a lack of resources to accommodate so many current and prospective students, with the numbers expected to continue climbing. For example, nearly 14,000 high school-aged students are expected to continue their education in Papua New Guinean colleges and universities despite glaring inadequacies in terms of quality of educational infrastructure and low numbers of qualified educators.

Ravinder Rena, who published research in 2011 which studied the causes and challenges facing primary education in Papua New Guinea, laments that the quality of most things associated with the PNG education system is derelict and in need of reforms on nearly every level.

“But, if the government can maintain its financial commitment to education, then Papua New Guinea’s educational system most likely will continue to progress,” writes Rena.

James Collins
Photo: Flickr

Diseases in Eritrea
Located in the Horn of Africa, the country of Eritrea is bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti and has a population of about 5.6 million. Constant conflicts, the threat of war and severe droughts have transformed Eritrea into one of the poorest nations in Africa. Because the country has little money to spend on health care, many diseases in Eritrea remain a constant threat to travelers and citizens.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals traveling to Eritrea are at risk of contracting typhoid, malaria, meningitis, rabies, yellow fever and hepatitis A and B. These diseases can be contracted through contaminated food and water, sexual contact, mosquito bites or non-sterile medical or cosmetic equipment. Many of them, however, are highly preventable through vaccination.

Diseases such as rotavirus are the leading causes of fatal diarrhea in children under five in Eritrea. In 2010, an estimated 1,201 children under five died from rotavirus.

The Zika virus is also a growing concern among Eritrea’s citizens. As in many countries, non-communicable diseases in Eritrea are steadily growing more prevalent. These diseases include cardiovascular diseases, malnourishment, hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and cancer.

However, it is also important to note that Eritrea’s government has made substantial progress in disease control and improving the overall health of its citizens. In 2000, as a member state of the United Nations, Eritrea adopted the eight Millennium Development Goals, committing to further development and human security. Since then, Eritrea has made tremendous strides in providing health care to its 5.6 million citizens.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that eight of Eritrea’s major vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer a public health issue. Cost-effective vaccinations for diseases in Eritrea that still pose a concern, such as rotavirus, have also become available.

Public health concerns such as measles, maternal and neonatal tetanus in Eritrea have been reduced to less than 90 percent as of 1991. Eritrea has been certified as dracunculiasis-free and polio-free due to an increase in vaccinations. In addition to this, the country is seeing a steady decline in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, with HIV infection rates in the population at less than 1 percent.

Shannon Warren

Photo: Flickr

 Education in China
A white paper released on Oct. 17 reveals China’s progress in poverty eradication as well as governmental measures taken to improve prosperity. According to this document, the main priority of poverty relief measures was the improvement and expansion of quality education in China between 2011 and 2015.

Over the past three decades, China has lifted more than 700 million citizens from poverty, accounting for 70% of the world’s total across that time. Through this experience, China has gained a wealth of knowledge in crafting and implementing development-oriented poverty relief policies. The white paper confirms that from 2011-2015 such measures placed particular emphasis on education.

The government enacted policies to promote compulsory education in China, bridge the education gap between rural and urban areas, grant living subsidies to students and improve education infrastructure in poor and rural regions. These measures were supported by the government’s investment of 189.84 billion yuan ($28.17 billion), and an additional 14 million yuan earmarked for living quarters for teachers in rural areas. In less-developed central China, the efforts resulted in a 30% increase in children enrolled in kindergarten.

As a supplement to the education measures, the government enacted a nutrition improvement program for students receiving compulsory education. In order to promote sustainable nutrition improvement, the program helped popularize nutritional knowledge among parents and students. In 2015 alone, the government invested 500 million yuan toward nutrition improvement for students and families, benefiting 2.11 million children in 341 Chinese counties.

China’s commitment to and success with poverty reduction demonstrates a commitment to the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (U.N. MDG) of eradicating extreme poverty. The U.N. MDG report shows that the proportion of Chinese living in extreme poverty fell from 61% in 1990 to 30%, and again down to 4.2% in 2015.

The Chinese government has made it a top priority to complete poverty eradication by 2020. By addressing needed changes to the education system, the government presents a commitment towards sustainable poverty eradication. Funding education in China will help ensure the prosperity of future generations, and China’s efforts provide a promising model for global poverty reduction.

McKenna Lux

Photo: Flickr

The leading causes of death among children around the world include preterm birth complications, pneumonia, birth asphyxia, diarrhea and malaria. Malnutrition has been reported to be the underlying contributing factor to these health complications. Although progress is being made in limiting the extent of malnutrition, many starving children from disadvantaged groups are being overlooked in this mission.

Malnutrition makes children more vulnerable to common infections, increases the severity of these infections and also extends the recovery process. If the severity of malnutrition persists, by 2030, there will be an estimated 129 million children under the age of 5 whose growth will be stunted due to malnutrition.

Children can experience wasting if malnutrition is severe enough. In 2015, about 50 million children under the age of 5 were wasted and 17 million children were severely wasted.

Despite the magnitude of malnutrition, some children continue to go unnoticed because of where they live or the circumstances in which they were born. The odds of a child surviving depend on factors such as whether the child is living in a rural area or if the child belongs to a disadvantaged ethnic group.

Children who are disabled or affected by war are disadvantaged when it comes to the aid they receive. Save the Children published a report in 2015 titled “The Lottery of Birth” that revealed in more than 75% of low and middle-income countries, inequalities in child survival rates are worsening.

The Save the Children report explains that although overall progress is being made in reducing the number of under-5 childhood deaths, this change is mostly attributed to the progress being made in more privileged groups of children. The report calls this disparity an “unfair lottery of birth” given that factors that are simply a matter of chance are determining whether children live to celebrate their fifth birthday. The report also notes that if the world were to pursue an equitable means of reducing child mortality, progress would ensue 6% faster over the course of 10 years.

In order to tackle the inequality that underlies the distribution of aid to malnourished children, countries need to follow in the footsteps of countries, like Rwanda, Malawi, Mexico and Bangladesh, that have combined rapid and inclusive reductions in child mortality, thus ensuring that no groups of children are excluded.

The U.N. also adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, which is replacing the Millennium Development Goals. This new framework is even more ambitious in its goals for child and maternal survival rates and in its commitment to work toward a more comprehensive solution for global malnutrition. The purpose of the Agenda for Sustainable Development is to ensure that all people can “fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.”

Although progress has been made, in order to more effectively and efficiently tackle the issue of malnutrition, poor and marginalized groups need to have access to the same quality services as any other group suffering the same conditions.

Kayla Mehl

Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality
President Obama recently penned an article on gender equality, highlighting the strides made over his past two terms.

President Obama’s article appeared in a recent issue of Glamour Magazine. In it, he detailed the upbringing he had (raised by both his single mother and grandmother) that influenced his feminist views. He also discusses his successes and failures as a father, admitting that there were times when the pressures of raising two daughters often fell to his wife while he was off pursuing his career.

He cites the changes that have already been made in the past 50 years: from women gaining the right to vote to the ability to achieve financial independence, or being nominated as a major party’s presidential candidate for the first time.

Still, there is work to be done.

In the past eight years, during his Presidency, Obama has made concrete steps towards promoting equality amongst all genders. According to a White House press release, President Obama has created the White House Council on Women and Girls, as well as appointed the White House Advisor on Violence against Women, the Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s issues, and two female Supreme Court justices.

Furthermore, when he signed the Affordable Care Act into law, he ensured that insurance companies could no longer charge higher premiums based solely on sex. More recently, with the help of Vice President Joe Biden, Obama has launched the It’s On Us campaign to help change the conversation and stigma surrounding sexual assault.

Obama’s gender equality policies extend beyond the domestic, however. Abroad, he and the First Lady launched Let Girls Learn in March of 2015, which aims to bridge the disconnect between adolescent girls and access to quality education.

Prior to that, in 2011, he announced Executive Order 13595 and the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. This act aims “to support women’s voices and perspectives in decision-making in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity.”

Already, the United Nations’s Millennium Development Goals have achieved equality in primary education for girls and boys. The hope is that the new Sustainable Development Goals (launched in 2015) will take this a step further.

On its website, the U.N. explains why gender equality is so important: “Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”

Sabrina Santos

Photo: Flickr

The Southeast Asian nation of Malaysia is not a desperately poor country. Poverty in Malaysia is fairly low — the percentage of citizens at or below the national poverty line was 0.6 percent in 2014. Life expectancy and the infant mortality rate are about the same as in the U.S. and the GDP is growing.

Reducing poverty in Malaysia has come a long way since 1990 when the United Nations introduced the Millennium Development Goals. The first goal for the U.N. — to halve the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day by 2015 — was reached in Malaysia.

However, Malaysia has significant poverty and income inequality lurking just below the surface. While extreme poverty in Malaysia (income of less than $1.25 per day) is down to less than one percent, more than 25 percent of the population lives on less than $5 per day. Furthermore, about 60 percent of Malaysian families live on less than $1600 a month according to Al Jazeera.

About 20 million of the 30 million people in Malaysia live on the peninsula and approximately 72 percent of the population is urban.

The area in the need of the most support is the rural sector of Sabah on the island of Borneo. Borneo is a large island shared by Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia so migration around the island is common.

The country is now home to about 2 million immigrants due to migration and recent political turmoil in neighboring Thailand. At this time there is no process for asylum seekers in Malaysia.

Both legal and illegal immigrants are known to be treated harshly and do not receive government support. It is imperative for the Malaysian government to address the needs of migrants as they make up over 10 percent of the population.

Malaysia also has relatively high levels of income inequality. The GINI index measures how much income levels deviate from totally equal distribution. Malaysia places higher than most countries, including all of its neighboring countries and the United States, with a GINI index of 46.2.

Malaysia stands out among its surroundings despite these problems. Nations like Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines all hover around a 25 percent poverty rate and an infant mortality rate that is between three and seven times higher than Malaysia.

Malaysia is also the only country among them with a functional and robust social welfare system. It is clear that further steps must be taken but remarkable progress has been made to reduce poverty in Malaysia in the past few decades.

John English

Photo: Flickr

Inheriting Poverty

Thanks to the global push kick-started by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate poverty by 2030, 1 billion fewer people live in extreme poverty than 20 years ago. However, the high probability of inheriting poverty is a major obstacle in the effort to cultivate a poverty-free generation.

According to Eurostat, the transmission of poverty is higher than the transmission of being able to rise above poverty, with transmission rates of 68.9 percent and 55.9 percent respectively.

While having low-income parents and experiencing material deprivation play a significant role in determining poverty transmission, complex social and health conditions are also leading causes of lowered investment in children’s futures and, consequently, higher child poverty rates.

Inheriting poverty is particularly common in the developing world where high fertility rates and infant mortality rates lead to lower investment in children’s health and education, according to a report by Save the Children U.K.

Additionally, the immediate economic pressures on low-income households often lead to reliance on children to leave school and enter the labor force at an early age. As a result, attaining higher education is devalued which further contributes to the cycle of poverty and low academic achievement.

Currently, half of all countries have no data on child poverty but looking at primary school enrollment may be the key to identifying those most at-risk of inheriting poverty.

In one survey of primary school enrollment in Bangladesh, researchers found that nearly one-fifth of all children had not enrolled in school at all — the majority of which consisted of children from poor households.

Boys from low-income households were the most at-risk of leaving school early or not entering at all due to the perception of school as an indulgence that is only afforded by the very young and “those whose labor is of little alternative value,” according to Save the Children U.K.

Beyond Bangladesh, analyzing enrollment rates is a useful indicator of child poverty that can be applied globally to allocate education resources in regions that need them most.

A parent’s level of education also has a strong influence over their children’s highest level of education. According to Eurostat, the transmission of a low level of education is 34.2 percent, 59.2 percent for a medium level and 63.4 percent for a high level.

Although the transmission rate of a low level of education is the smallest of the three education levels, respondents in the studies that had a low level of education were more likely to have also had parents with a low level of education (34.2 percent) in contrast to those who had parents with a high level of education (3.4 percent).

Increasing parental income may be one solution to lowering the transmission of low educational attainment. Research by Barnardos reveals that for every 1 percent increase in a parent’s income, their child’s math and reading scores increase by 4 percent.

Ensuring equitable and free access to education is the next step to breaking the cycle of inherited poverty. The economic benefits of guaranteeing children from low-income households access to education far outweigh the cost of having an educated population.

As UNICEF aptly stated in a 2012 report, “a commitment to protecting children from poverty is, therefore, more than a slogan or a routine inclusion in a political manifesto; it is the hallmark of a civilized society.”

Daniela Sarabia

Photo: Pixabay