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health policyKerala, a state within India, is renowned for its effective policies in education, literacy, and healthcare. Kerala has the second-lowest rate of poverty in India, and that figure has been steadily declining since 1994. Health policies that provide affordable and accessible healthcare to the state’s low-income populations have been critical in its success defeating poverty, but relatively high levels of inequality and emerging health challenges, including an aging population and lifestyle diseases like diabetes, remain policy challenges for Kerala moving forward.

Kerala’s Current Health Needs

One of Kerala’s most pressing healthcare challenges is caring for its rapidly aging population. Kerala’s population over the age of 60 is expected to double by 2050, and as a larger proportion of people are retired, the state needs a healthcare infrastructure designed to support the health needs of the elderly.

A trustee of an NGO focused on healthcare for the underprivileged in Kerala, who wished to remain anonymous, pointed out changing lifestyles as the cause of some of Kerala’s growing health issues. Non-communicable diseases are on the rise; cancer and diabetes have become the two largest causes of death in the state.

While infectious diseases remain under control compared to other parts of India, re-emergence of certain diseases have led to rather high morbidity in some areas. Additionally, despite significant efforts on the part of the state to place healthcare in the hands of local authorities, and what the NGO trustee says is the highest ratio of doctors to the public in rural areas of any state in India, rural parts of Kerala still do not receive the same quality of care as do urban areas. Likewise, although Kerala has the lowest infant mortality and maternal mortality rates of any Indian state, the government still aims to reduce these rates further.

Policy Solutions

Because healthcare in India is managed at the state level, Kerala’s state government is responsible for formulating its own comprehensive healthcare policy. The state has a history and culture of providing health services to the public; as early as 1879, vaccinations were made mandatory for specific subsets of the population. Since India’s independence in 1947, Kerala has worked to expand easy, community-based access to primary care, prevention services, and specialized treatments.

Kerala’s decentralized healthcare model is a key component of its success in providing affordable and accessible care. After a statewide movement towards expensive private healthcare in the 1980s due to a lack of resources in the public health sector, in 1996, Kerala’s state government decentralized public healthcare through the People’s Campaign for Decentralized Planning. Decentralization shifted approximately 40 percent of state healthcare funding to local governments, prioritizing creating community-based services that are accessible to all regardless of income or caste, as a private-dominated system was consistently barring the poor from accessing care across Kerala.

Looking to the Future

Another key element of Kerala’s healthcare successes has been its willingness to generate policies anticipating future healthcare needs. As the state’s population ages rapidly, policy is already being generated to combat this coming issue. Senior care facilities are already being constructed across the state, existing facilities are being made more equipped for geriatric care, and the Pain and Palliative Care Policy of 2008 has increased the amount of home-based care at the local level.

Likewise, to combat the re-emergence of infectious diseases like diarrhea, typhoid, and Dengue fever, Kerala has invested in information-gathering at the household level in order to observe the spread of such illnesses. As diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease came to account for more than half of all deaths in Kerala, the National Programme for Prevention of CVD, Diabetes, Cancer and Stroke (NPCDCS) was introduced in Pathanamthitta district in 2010 and has since been expanded statewide.

This year, Kerala’s government passed a policy for comprehensive healthcare reform. This new policy seeks to reshape the state’s health services to better account for an aging population, re-emerging infectious diseases and non-communicable lifestyle diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and to expand mental healthcare. It will increase public spending on healthcare more than eightfold in order to further lower the price of public health services as well as providing treatment guidelines to ensure a more even quality of treatment across the state. This comes at the same time as the state is expanding its public health insurance coverage.

Impact on Poverty

Despite the government’s continued efforts to decrease the cost of healthcare and the fact that privatized healthcare services are still largely inaccessible to the poor, Kerala has accomplished several significant victories in providing affordable and accessible healthcare. According to the NGO trustee, no one needs to travel more than 10 kilometers to a primary health centre (PHC), and medicines are provided for free at PHCs across Kerala. Decentralization of healthcare has cut costs significantly, and the state’s new health policy seeks to encourage subsidized public healthcare even further while increasing insurance coverage.

Certainly, Kerala’s innovative health policy is a critical component of its low and steadily decreasing poverty rate. However, underprivileged individuals–including the poor, those in rural areas, women, and the elderly–continue to receive lower quality care and less of it. That is why NGOs and nonprofits like the trustee’s organization must continue to exist, and why the government continues its fight for constant improvement of Kerala’s health policy.

Macklyn Hutchison
Photo: Flickr

 

Fight Poverty with TechnologyIn the past two decades, Télecoms Sans Frontières (TSF), an international NGO, has provided more than 20 million marginalized people with means of communication which not only saves lives but also helps to make strides in poverty reduction. Headquartered in Pau, France, Télecoms Sans Frontièrs has assisted disadvantaged groups such as refugees and migrants in more than 70 countries. This is done through its use of emergency-response technologies.

For example, when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit numerous Indonesian islands on Sep. 28, 2018, Télecoms Sans Frontièrs quickly began to distribute aid. The NGO set up internet connections with local providers to ensure efficient humanitarian aid coordination in larger cities. Following this, the team visited isolated, comparatively poorer villages in Indonesia that lacked internet access to provide them with mobile WiFi. This is only one of more than 140 crises that Télecoms Sans Frontièrs has responded to since its founding in 1998.

TSF is currently undertaking eight humanitarian missions across seven countries. All missions involve means of technology access and adaptation. Keep reading to learn more about the organization’s mission to fight poverty with technology.

Télecoms Sans Frontièrs: 8 Global Missions To Fight Poverty With Technology

  1. The Information Diffusion System in Mexico aims to provide migrants and refugees with important information regarding their location. This is made possible through a network of micro-computers in eight centers across the nation. Screens at each center present news alerts and legal information such as asylum procedures. According to one Salvadoran migrant, “The screen helped me to ask for refuge, to know my rights as a migrant and to know the location of the consulate of El Salvador.”
  2. Technological management for Guatemala’s food aid program plays a critical role, especially because TSF combats the effects of brutal droughts in the Dry Corridor region. TSF partnered with the government and four other NGOs to efficiently run the “Operation Opportunity” food aid program, which financially supports the extremely impoverished. Among other technological roles, TSF determines the necessary equipment for fields and configures administrative technology.
  3. Emergency call centers for Venezuelan refugees in Brazil offer the ability to communicate with their relatives through an IP telephone solution. Moreover, the centers have proven essential for the refugees to carry out asylum applications, and for aid distributions. Efforts that help migrants obtain legal standing are key to escaping poverty.
  4. Internet connectivity for Middle Eastern and North African migrants and refugees in Bihać, Bosnia, not only allows them to contact their families but also benefits the humanitarian actors aiming to mitigate the issue. Organizations such as the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and UNHCR are few and are in desperate need of financial and human assistance. By providing internet connectivity that covers a total of 20,000 square-meters, humanitarian efficiency and coordination are vastly improved as Bosnia faces growing refugee populations.
  5. The community telecenter in Burkina Faso, in partnership with the Zoramb Naagtaaba Association, works to bridge the digital divide between the capital Ouagadougou and the rural region of Guiè. While the Internet proved to be a ground-breaking tool in industrializing Burkina Faso from 1997 onwards, Guiè has remained relatively isolated from technological and economic progress. Until late 2010, inhabitants of Guiè needed to commute up to 12 hours just to access the Internet. The region’s community telecentre not only provides internet connection and modern computer equipment but even offers computer training tailored for many occupations, such as for students and farmers. Education efforts like these are key to enabling social mobility and reducing poverty.
  6. A cybercafé established in Miarinarivo, Madagascar provides locals with the ability to carry out personal work with internet access. Additionally, the café provides its users with technological equipment such as computers and printers. Considering how the café’s users are predominantly adolescents, in partnership with the NGO IT Cup, these students are given introductory computer lessons essential to escaping poverty.
  7. The mLearning project for Syrian children has provided displaced and refugee children in war-stricken areas with educational resources all through the use of digital technologies. With tablets offering a range of tools such as courses, interactive documents, and quizzes, TSF’s digital program is a clear example of how the NGO aims to fight poverty with technology. Providing the younger generations of vulnerable regions with education is a central milestone towards escaping poverty.
  8. Connectivity between Syrian medical centers allows for coordination in TSF’s mission for hospitals to efficiently aid the country’s wounded. Since 2012, TSF has connected 53 hospitals, pharmacies and clinics by creating broadband connections and establishing over 20 satellite lines. In the last seven years, this has equated to the transferring of 35.9 TB of medical data along with the treatment of 3.2 million patients across these medical centers.

There’s no doubt that the critical role of technology in the 21st century is continuing to grow. Rather than feeling threatened by this change to tradition, TSF embraces any challenge to orthodoxy as an opportunity. For the past three decades, TSF has consistently adapted to and used these changing conditions to its advantage. In fields ranging from global health to economics, Télécoms Sans Frontières continues to fight poverty with technology and ultimately aims to secure human rights internationally.

– Breana Stanski
Photo: Flickr

Gender equality and nutritionWomen are disproportionately affected by malnutrition in developing countries, and as such it is now the focus on many global food programs to simultaneously improve gender equality and nutrition by providing better education and resources for female small farm holders.

Impact of Sociocultural Norms

Sociocultural norms have placed many women in secondary decision-making roles in their families. Women are less likely to receive any education on general health and nutrition, less empowered in financial decision-making within their families and less able to control what food they put on the table. Oftentimes, the main breadwinner in a family is male, while women are reduced to more supporting and complacent roles.

Additionally, many programs are male-centric, neglecting the specific nutritional needs of women. As a result, women in developing countries have more iron deficiencies and have higher rates of being an unhealthy weight (obese or underweight). When women suffer from more chronic illnesses, it further reduces their ability to contribute meaningfully, and they further relinquish control on financial decisions. Gender equality and nutrition both improve when women are the focus of food security initiatives.

Integrating Gender Equality and Nutrition

Antonelle D’Aprile, the country director for the World Food Programme in Nicaragua, is a leader in combining gender equality and nutrition into a cohesive program that truly empowers women farmers. The WFP Women Economic Empowerment Strategy was first implemented in 2016 and has helped 300 female farmers reach higher financial independence and economic development.

The strategy ensures that women are the decision-makers by providing them with proper agricultural training and access to agricultural equipment that optimizes their crop yields. There are courses for women to improve their financial education and business planning skills so that they can begin growing above the sustenance level and sell excess crops for income. This program to improve gender equality and nutrition also focuses on a man’s role in sharing domestic chores with women and supporting the economic development of their wives. It has been so successful, officials in El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru are replicating the program in their own countries.

The Role of the Private Sector in Gender Equality and Nutrition

While nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are the backbone of nutrition-improvement programs, private sector companies are also necessary if female farmers are to reach their true potential. CARE has partnered with the PepsiCo Foundation to implement one of the largest gender equality and nutrition programs in the world called “She Feeds the World.”

With the help of the PepsiCo Foundation, CARE has initiated several projects throughout the world, such as one in Peru, which teaches women how to test soil quality to optimize crop yield. Other initiatives to improve gender equality and nutrition, focus on teaching women to more efficiently use natural resources like water, seeds and natural fertilizer. With this boosted production, these female farmers have enough extra income to send their children to school, feed their family nutritious meals, expand their business, employ others and make substantial savings.

Private sector companies are also very important in terms of collecting data and analyzing information to improve gender equality and nutrition. It is very difficult to measure an abstract concept like “decision-making power,” but private sector companies have the financing, personnel and expertise to collect adequate data so that resources are making the largest impact.

Empowered Female Farmers Feed Others

Empowering women is the key to improving nutrition for everyone. According to studies, the relationship between gender equality and nutrition is strong. Giving women equal access to basic resources and services could increase yields on female-owned farms by 20-30 percent. This would translate to an increased agricultural output of 2.5-4 percent in developing countries.

A 20-30 percent increase in agricultural output on female-owned farms would lift 150 million people out of poverty.

Women are the backbone of many developing countries. In Sierra Leone, an initiative has focused on empowering grandmothers to be the champions of improved nutrition practices in families. As very respected members of their families, they are teaching and cultivating healthy habits in infants and young children, an approach which has already seen success.

Female small farm holders are central to improving nutrition security in developing nations. World food initiatives are ensuring that women are not left behind – in fact, they are making sure that women lead the fight to improve gender equality and nutrition around the world.

– Julian Mok
Photo: Flickr

reduce poverty in Malawi
In 2016, about 51 percent of Malawians lived in poverty, an improvement from 65 percent in 1997. Still, with more than 80 percent of the population employed in the agriculture industry, frequent droughts and floods are major issues that devastate farmers and Malawi‘s economy. Keep reading to learn how irrigation projects are working to improve the situation of poverty in Malawi.

Flood Control and Irrigation Systems

Flood control and irrigation systems funnel floodwater into areas of storage for future use. One system is diversion canals, such as the Red River Floodway in Winnipeg, Canada. The diversion canal prevented 10s of billions of dollars in damage since 1968 and is the second-largest earthmoving project after the Panama Canal. Diversion canals are artificial floodways that send floodwater to ponds, rivers, reservoirs and irrigation systems. Most farmers do not relocate unlike the displacement that a dam causes to locals in the dam’s region. Although the Red River Pathway is a highly ornate design, a basic diversion canal helps indirectly reduce poverty in Malawi and benefit those that crop-damaging floodwaters affect.

The pathways direct flooded water away from homes and crops in order to flow into rivers, ponds and artificial lakes. The plan is to use collected in the future. The pathways directing floodwater that destroy homes and land are a long-term solution to floods and droughts. The downside to these pathways is the unknown cost of infrastructure necessary to accomplish this system as no one, including Malawi, has proposed or implemented major developments in the country.

Infrastructure Development

A prerequisite to water management is infrastructure development to provide stored water from floods to irrigation systems. Pipes allocate water to farmers, whether above or below ground and irrigation systems, such as surge flooding, bring a simple solution to irrigation for a country where only 9 percent have electricity. Surge flooding is a system of gradually releasing small amounts of water into the land. This allows for better infiltration and less runoff.

Malawi relies heavily on charities and countries for aid, and developmental progress has been slow. The country ranks as one of the least developed countries. Investment in the county’s infrastructure could reduce poverty in Malawi, help the economy grow and diversify into other areas besides agriculture, such as the energy, telecommunications, banking, manufacturing, information technology and tourism sectors. Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima has been Vice President of Malawi since 2014 and stated a need for change in not only investment in infrastructure development, but also many other areas that are undeveloped. He understood that half of all Malawians, particularly women in rural regions, are in extreme poverty and that an emphasis on development is the key to the countries future success.

Climatic Effects on the Economy

Climatic changes frequently affect Malawi, though it receives support externally. Recently, the World Bank donated $70 million to Malawi to help it recover from Cyclone Idai, yet external aid is simply a short-term solution. Improving infrastructure to combat climatic changes, such as cyclones, floods and droughts, supports the people of Malawi that have crops that natural disasters easily damage. Floods and droughts destroy crops in which more than 80 percent of Malawians rely on for food and a meager income. One solution to reduce the cycle of flood, drought and famine is through an intelligent design implementing irrigation and flood control across Malawi.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

NGO Innovation AwardEach year the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) and the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) host more than 500 representatives of nongovernmental organizations around the world in their Annual Consultations in Geneva. These delegates debate refugee issues affecting both international and regional audiences as well as discuss new advocacy issues.

These annual consultations discuss data analytics as a pathway to better welfare systems; the implementation of the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees; the maintenance of moral, legal and safe aid to refugees; and UNHCR’s transition to an increasingly decentralized, local system.

Starting in 2018, the UNHCR has presented annual NGO innovation awards to celebrate NGOs they believe embody innovative practices required to truly integrate refugees into their new societies.

Honoring Partnerships and Connectivity in NGOs

Through the NGO Innovation Award, the UNHCR showcases exceptional NGOs with new kinds of solutions in refugee aid in order to inspire further innovation in the field. Recipient NGOs fall into two categories: inclusive partnerships and connectivity.

UNHCR describes previous winners of the partnership category as having people-centered, community-based, non-traditional and creative partnerships. Focusing on inclusion and diversity, these organizations drive solution-based, positive interventions in their environments.

In the category of connectivity, UNHCR looks for organizations that demonstrate creative and novel solutions to connectivity challenges of displaced people (e.g. literacy or access to finance).

The Winners Are Archetypes of Innovative NGOs

One of the 2018 winners was SINA Loketa (SINAL), a team of six Africans from different countries helping young refugees and marginalized youths become self-sustainable and self-actualized members of their (new) communities. Specifically, this NGO aims to help individuals from these two disadvantaged communities to design and launch social enterprises from their refugee camp and host community in Uganda.

Each year, SINA Loketa leads 90 new scholars through a personal and professional transformation based on project-based learning and hands-on experimentation. After being matched with a mentor, these individuals go through training covering team building, trauma healing, one-on-one life coaching, social innovation and entrepreneurship.

SINA Loketa envisions directly creating thousands of jobs by their startups and reducing Ugandan youth unemployment by three percent by 2028.

The second winner of the 2018 NGO Innovation award was Artemisszio, a charitable foundation based in Budapest, Hungary. It strives to build an open, tolerant society based on interculturality. Artemisszio focuses on young people disadvantaged by rural circumstances, incomplete schooling, Roma ethnicity and migration. This organization helps them integrate into the labor market and into society as a whole.

Artemisszio works with central members of these marginalized individual’s communities to create supportive relationships outside of the NGO. For example, the organization hosts classes for health care workers, educators, police and military personnel, about interculturality and stress management. Artemisszio also spearheads a multitude of other innovative outreach programs, including teaching at local primary and secondary schools.

An Archetype for Future NGO Innovation

The first two winners of the NGO Innovation Award, SINA Loketa and Artemisszio, engage disadvantaged members of society as well as society as a whole to create cohesion between them. Their multifaceted approach bridges what initially seems like a fixed divide between these two groups in both Hungarian and Ugandan communities.

UNHCR is calling for innovative solutions to issues that are constantly evolving. Each year they celebrate solutions that introduce refugees as positive influences in their new communities.

The answer to what is the NGO Innovation Award lies in the annual celebration of organizations that fill a need in their communities that had not been duly addressed previously. These two winners can serve as an inspiration for current and future NGOs to better their communities.

– Daria Locher
Photo: Flickr

HarassMapSexual harassment in the form of street harassment (catcalling, wolf-whistling, etc) is something that most women around the world have experienced. In fact, globally, at least 75 percent of women 18 years and older have experienced some form of sexual harassment; that’s at least 2 billion women of the 2.7 billion women who inhabit the earth. While some have used the #MeToo movement as a way to bring light to this issue, others have used technological advancements to combat this reality that most women face. This was the case for HarassMap, created to combat sexual harassment.

The Story of HarassMap

HarassMap was created by a group of four women in Cairo, Egypt; that were fed up with the amount of sexual harassment they were not only experiencing, but also hearing about or witnessing first-hand. These women were fighting sexual harassment in their own ways; one of them was working at a women’s rights organization where she started an anti-harassment program in 2005. She noticed the amount of harassment she and her coworkers experienced while commuting to and from their place of work. In fact, Egypt has one of the highest reported rates of sexual harassment for women wherein 90-99 percent of women 18 and older experienced some sort of harassment. Street harassment was something women in Egypt were used to and tolerated. No one ever did anything to stop it and women did not stand up for themselves nor did they report their experiences.

As these women worked with different NGOs to raise awareness about sexual harassment and focus on forcing people to confront it and discuss it, some of the NGOs lost interest and started supporting legislation that would deal with the legal side of stopping harassment. This didn’t stop the people at HarassMap though. They continued to fight harassment using social standards and eventually got their app developed within a year. Their goal was to shift the blame from the victims to the harassers, encourage intervention from bystanders, give women a safe place to report their harassment or assault without fear of judgment and start a conversation about confronting this epidemic. They launched the app in December 2010, and it has been active ever since.

What is Harassmap?

HarassMap is specifically for women in Egypt. It allows them to anonymously report harassment to the police or let other women know about areas where harassment is high. To report harassment or intervention, all one needs to do is log on to the app or site, input where the harassment or intervention took place, write out the report and submit it. The app then anonymously adds the report to a map as a ping where people can read what took place.

The app focuses on deterrence of harassment by allowing men and women to tell their stories while also praising those who interfere and help when someone is being harassed. The website contains helpful information for visitors, ranging from a how-to guide on interfering and definitions, all the way to legal and psychological advice for those who have been harassed or assaulted. The app itself serves not only as a safe environment where women can report their harassments but also a place to learn about sexual harassment and how to deal with it.

Since the Launch

The app is still active, and its creators have gained worldwide accreditation and won several awards for their tireless efforts to combat sexual harassment and change the conversation surrounding it. Some of these awards stem from Cairo University, World Summit Youth and My Community Our Earth Partnership. The app has also been partnered with Cairo University and other corporations to increase the prevalence of the app and its message. Its developers have also offered classes to combat sexual harassment for businesses and universities to provide a safer environment for women in Egypt. They have also done work outside of Egypt as well, by working with NGOs and setting up similar technology across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Since the debut of the app, different sexual harassment and sexual assault laws have been passed as well. One of the laws, passed in June 2014, makes sexual harassment illegal in Egypt for the first time. Those who are caught harassing can face as few as six months or as many as five years in prison and pay as much as LE 50,000 ($3,000) in fines.

Even though HarassMap is growing and reaching other countries, it is still only available to Egyptians who have access to a smartphone or computer; however, it is encouraging an important conversation. One can hope that women will feel safer on the streets of Egypt and all Egyptians will be able to discuss sexual harassment and assault in a productive and boundary-breaking way.

– Sydney Toy
Photo: Flickr

severe smog
China has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. With an annual GDP of over $12.34 trillion in 2017, China is the second-largest economy in the world behind the U.S., which has an annual 2017 GDP at over $19 trillion. While China’s economy may be growing rapidly, and possibly on the verge of passing the U.S. within the next decade or so, economic growth has come at a significant cost including severe smog.

China has relied extensively on fossil fuels for new manufacturing and power production facilities. The expansion of manufacturing facilities, combined with poor regulations, has led to serious smog problems in Chinese cities, especially in Beijing. Now, the Chinese government is acknowledging the negative health impacts of extreme smog production after ignoring it for years.

What is Smog?

Smog is severe air pollution that looks like a thick fog. The most common form of smog is photochemical smog. Photochemical smog forms when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere. Nitrous oxides commonly release into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels and factory emissions. VOCs commonly release into the atmosphere by paints and cleaning products. The end product of this chemical reaction creates a thick, brownish fog that can be unhealthy for humans, plants and animals.

Background Behind Beijing Smog

Coal-burning facilities are the number one culprit behind Beijing’s severe smog. Since China opened up to the world for trade in the 1970s, the nation has become a manufacturing-based economy. This is because Chinese workers receive little pay to manufacture products compared to what companies would have to pay in other countries. On top of that, Chinese products tend to be much cheaper to produce.

Beijing has become a major example of poor air quality due to the significant increase of coal-burning facilities. It also has a large number of vehicles on roadways along with unique topography.

Negative Health Impacts of Smog

Besides severe smog being unaesthetic and producing a thick, brown fog, it also has serious health impacts for humans, plants and animals. Beijing’s smog can cause short-term health problems such as heart attacks, asthma attacks and bronchitis. Thick smog can even lead to increased traffic accidents from poor visibility. Over the long-term, smog contributes to serious conditions such as respiratory failure and even cancer. To make things even worse, nearly one million Chinese residents died in 2012 because of smog-related diseases, the most out of any country in the world.

Smog also disproportionally impacts poorer residents because unhealthy air quality conditions are typically worse in poorer communities. Poorer residents also have a harder time accessing high-quality health care, which makes it difficult to receive adequate medical treatment for smog-related health issues.

“These pollutants are understood to affect human health in several ways, but most importantly they have been observed to cause people to die prematurely,” said Jason West, a professor for the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at UNC-Chapel Hill. “When we breathe, pollutants in the air can react with our airways and the surfaces of our lungs, and some pollutants like PM2.5 can enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body.”

Epidemiological studies have shown that people who live in places with high air pollution tend to die earlier than people who live in places with cleaner air, affecting causes of death that include heart attack, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

How China is Alleviating Smog

Before China’s Academy for Environmental Planning pledged $277 billion to combat urban air pollution, smog conditions throughout Chinese cities were severe. There were concerns about the 2008 Summer Olympics, which were held in Beijing, over severe smog issues. In December 2016, Beijing had to close down schools and airports because of severe air quality problems.

Furthermore, most residents have to wear masks in efforts to reduce the amount of unhealthy particle matter being trapped in their lungs. However, since 2013, nearly four million homes in the northern parts of China have converted to natural gas, a cleaner alternative than burning coal.

The average amount of unhealthy air particles that can penetrate the lungs and cause health problems has fallen in urban areas. Between 2016 and 2017, the concentration of negative air particles fell to 43 micrograms per cubic meter, a 6 percent decrease but much higher than the World Health Organization’s maximum recommended concentration 25 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24 hour period. The Chinese government has also released a new Three-Year Action Plan in 2018. By 2020, the plan hopes to decrease sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides by 15 percent.

Chinese NGOs

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) throughout China are also helping to combat severe smog issues. Most of China’s NGOs such as the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) are concerned with legal actions against smog polluters. CLAPV has helped over 10,000 people via the phone and has pursued over 100 legal cases.

With negative health consequences such as respiratory problems developing because of smog, many residents have long-term health problems. Therefore, NGOs provide outlets for helping Chinese citizens sue polluters for damages, which in the long run, helps to alleviate severe smog issues.

Chinese smog is certainly a problem, and cities such as Beijing and Hong Kong feel the effects. Although smog may be a problem, there are solutions that will greatly reduce its negative health consequences. American companies such as Apple are investing millions of dollars in renewable energy projects in China, which reduces fossil fuel consumption, leading to reduced smog. The Chinese government’s Three-Year Action Plan shows promise, and the U.N. has already found that unhealthy particle matter has decreased throughout Chinese cities, although there is still work to do.

– Kyle Arendas
Photo: Flickr

zero extreme poverty
The Philippines ranks on the top twelve list of the most populous countries in the world. Yet, in 2015, the number of Filipinos living under the poverty line made up over 21 percent of an already large 100 million people. While this rate indicates improvement, in 2006 the rate was 5 percent higher, NGO leaders such as Armin Luistro and Reynaldo Laguda knew that more could be done.

Specifically, operational changes for NGOs Philippine Business for Social Progress (BSFP), Habitat for Humanity Philippines and Peace and Equity Foundation had to be made. These NGOs rolled out plans dedicated to special and long-term interventions that targeted extremely impoverished Filipino families. The focus of these plans centered on rural fishing and agriculture communities, as well as marginalized indigenous peoples.

The Zero Extreme Poverty Goal

In 2015, 17 NGOs unified to form The Philippines’ Zero Extreme Poverty Goal (ZEP PH 2030). Together, they strive to lift at least one million Filipino families from extreme poverty by the year 2030. This is the year that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are due which adds momentum to the cause.

Beginning as a coalition of a handful of NGOs, ZEP now houses corporations who wish to join the Filipino fight against poverty. Indeed, ZEP prides itself in maintaining a diverse team made up of groups with unique strengths. Different members and partners of the coalition are organized into eight different clusters. They are as follows:

Various Programs

  1. Education seeks to ensure that youth have access to education and employment opportunities. ZEP aims to ensure that two million youth are employed by 2030.
  2. Health supports the health of Filipinos in impoverished communities. The program conducts awareness campaigns on maternal, child health and nutrition in target areas to promote health policy advocacy.
  3. Livelihood is led by the Peace and Equity Foundation within ZEP, and with fellow committee members, ensures the coalition’s ability to provide assistance to the extremely poor.
  4. Environment works to maintain and improve upon ecosystem services within The Philippines in order to sustain healthy communities. They aim to guarantee a number of benefits to the country, like a 10 percent increase in agricultural areas by 2028.
  5. Agriculture and Fisheries seeks to bring complete self-sufficiency to small fisheries and farms by 2030, through initiatives such as market empowerment and accessible support services.
  6. Housing and Shelter provides safe and sufficient homes with basic facilities to extremely impoverished families. Involved organizations within the cluster, including Habitat for Humanity, also work with local governments to implement social housing programs and projects.
  7. Partnerships for Indigenous Peoples helps build self-sustaining indigenous peoples communities, whether it be through advocacy means or by establishing community-based plans. Implemented programs include promoting women and children’s rights.
  8. Social Justice serves as the overarching cluster and theme of ZPH, in which the coalition’s diverse private and public groups align in the Filipino fight against poverty. By engagements with local governments and through policy programs, ZPH aims to end conditions within the Philippines that prevent the poor from finding self-sufficiency.

A Personal Approach

A primary strategy used by ZEP in order to maximize their efficiency is community consultation. Participating NGO programs employ a personal approach. They ask local Filipinos for their experiences and stories to truly understand the needs of poor communities. Organizations within the community can then easily refer to other member organizations of ZEP, whether they be businesses or NGOs, who specialize in the community’s needs.

In one case study, ZEP assisted an indigenous father of two in the foundation of a basket business. His business has since expanded, employing dozens of workers. ZEP reports that 63 families have benefitted in the process. In another case, ZEP assisted a single mother of seven children in improving her family’s living conditions. Moreover, the education cluster is supporting the families oldest child to pursue her academic career. Stories like these illustrate the promise of the ZEP goals.

Hope for the Future

By December of 2018, the coalition had implemented poverty-reduction programs in 109 cities. 10,000 families were provided with aid and assistance. However, ZEP’s Filipino fight against poverty is far from over. They continue to relentlessly assist communities in need as well as work to further expand themselves as a coalition. Nevertheless, the Zero Extreme Poverty goal coalition always stays true to its core values of social justice, service and diversity.

Breana Stanski
Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in TajikistanTajikistan is hardly at the forefront of many Westerners minds when it comes to global poverty. This landlocked and mountainous nation, nestled in the heart of Central Asia, is often forgotten about, but it requires assistance just as much as many other developing nations around the globe. For those interested in how to help people in Tajikistan, opportunities do indeed exist, largely in the form of NGOs working on the ground.

32 percent of Tajiks live below the poverty line, a rate significantly higher than its Central Asian neighbors. The nation is by far the most economically deprived in the Central Asian region, and its problems are frequently compounded by its unstable economy and geopolitical situation. More than one million Tajiks work in Russia and other ex-Soviet republics, leading 50 percent of the country’s GDP to be reliant on remittances. Additionally, its rarely-policed border with Afghanistan has led to pressure from Al-Qaeda extremists in its most remote corners.

How to help people in Tajikistan is reliant on the NGOs and aid organizations that operate there. Save the Children (STC) has had a presence in Tajikistan since 1992. Around 10 percent of school age children are currently absent from the education system. STC works to ensure Tajik children are in full-time education, especially girls. They have also made strides to protect the large homeless child population in the capital, Dushanbe, and have paid special attention to orphans. Consider donating or volunteering for STC to join them in their efforts.

The U.S. government has also joined the fight against poverty in Tajikistan. USAID has implemented the Feed the Future initiative, which assists farmers in achieving the crop development they need to sustain their families and communities. Thousands have achieved a more secure and sustainable relationship with their land as a result. USAID has multiple opportunities for American citizens to join them in their work. Volunteers are accepted on various projects both at home and abroad, and they are also eager to build partnerships with businesses and organizations to further their mission.

Rural Tajiks in the nation’s remote areas also receive support from groups such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Its agricultural financing facility is helping alleviate the crushing debt faced by many agricultural communities due to uncertain crop yields. A 25 million euro investment through the Tajik Agricultural Finance Framework (TAFF), set up by EBRD, has allowed farmers access to purchasing the crop of their choice, diversifying production and allowing for more economic stability. The EBRD also accepts volunteers, as well as businesses interested in partnering with non-profits that work in the Central Asia region.

These organizations offer the most salient answer for how to help people in Tajikistan. Through participating with these organizations, those interested in alleviating the crushing poverty experienced by many Tajiks can make a tangible difference.

Jonathan Riddick

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The IARAN Keeps Its Eyes on the FutureMeet the Inter-Agency Regional Analysis Network (IARAN), a team of nine that is changing the way non-governmental organizations (NGOs) think about aid.

The IARAN, which gained international acclaim when it published “The Future of Aid, INGOs in 2030” report in July, helps humanitarian organizations all over the world by informing NGO strategy through its research about the changing nature of global humanitarianism. Paramount to its mission is ensuring that NGOs around the world harness foresight and modernized approaches to aid when addressing crises.

The group first worked with Save the Children International in 2012 and is now partnering with the international-nonprofit Action Against Hunger to introduce the organization to more proactive and sustainable methods of programming. In both its test-run with Save the Children and its current pilot phase, the group has seen real change in the way each organization operates — an indicator of success.

The Borgen Project spoke to the IARAN Director Michel Maietta and Communications and Event Manager Leonie Le Borgne about the IARAN’s progress thus far and its ambitions going forward.

“The vision that is behind this program is actually how to contribute to alleviating poverty in a more efficient and preemptive way,” Maietta said. “Most of the humanitarian NGOs are very reactive. Naturally, you want to react when there is a threat. But the problem with reaction is that in the long-term there is no sustainability, and the problem will remain, the vulnerability will remain.”

To create sustainable solutions to the problems endangering the world’s most vulnerable, Maietta argued, NGOs must anticipate and address the root causes of global crises before they manifest. Many of today’s organizations have not practiced such foresight and as a result have not been able to adapt to new challenges or innovate in meaningful ways, yielding disastrous results.

“The refugee crisis that Europe is facing today is a direct consequence of the inability of the humanitarian system to directly access the population in Syria,” Maietta said.

Alternatively, when NGOs prepare for the future and create mechanisms that reduce damage down the line, they greatly increase their potential for positive impact. Planning as far as 15 years in the future can save lives as well as money, and more generally, increases organizational efficiency.

The IARAN aims to bring strategies of preparedness into the humanitarian mainstream.

“[The IARAN is] completely unable to diagnose the Hurricane Irma impact,” Maietta said when describing the IARAN’s scope of influence, “but what we can do is address the root causes of Irma, which are the warming of the Atlantic Ocean and climate change, and then help game changers to design a preemptive strategy that can actually correct or re-address these root causes.”

Preemptive planning also allows organizations to be quicker and more flexible in their responses to disaster.

“Reactivity and life-saving response, and then strategy, preemptiveness and the capacity to address root causes of the problems — the two can be done together. But, you need both. You cannot have one or the other.”

In addition to developing and expanding their work with NGOs, Maietta and his team are also working to enhance the humanitarian leadership graduate programs of two universities in France and Australia. The aim is to ready the next generation of humanitarian managers and directors for the global challenges ahead. This leadership is crucial for the creation of lasting and effective change within NGOs.

“We strongly believe that the humanitarian actors today are very good tacticians, because they are very, very reactive,” Maietta said, “but the humanitarian system needs to have strategic leaders, leaders that can handle strategy in a very complex way, because the context where we are interacting is very complex.”

The IARAN additionally publishes between 35 and 50 reports a year on a variety of issues, ranging from alleviating poverty to addressing undernutrition to responding to global migration crises. It will also produce a book in the next year that will discuss the organization’s findings from the last four years, including how it developed its methodology and promoted organizational change in Save the Children and Action Against Hunger.

While the IARAN and its many projects are instrumental in promoting change within humanitarian organizations, the organizations themselves must act for any real progress to occur.

“The mission of IARAN is to offer food for thought but change will not happen without the actors,” Maietta said. “The actors need to be able to be the protagonists of the change.”

Time will only tell if NGOs take up Maietta’s call to action.

Sabine Poux
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