Poverty in Sierra Leone
Poverty in Sierra Leone is alive and well. Freetown, the capital and largest city in Sierra Leone, was founded in 1787. It was known as the “Province of Freedom” because it was a British crown colony and the principal base for the suppression of the slave trade. The Maroons were the original settlers, consisting of 1,200 newly freed slaves from Nova Scotia. In 1800, a rebellion of Jamaican slaves escaped and moved to Freetown.

The British Empire’s abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was mostly due to the efforts of William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharpe and Lord Mansfield. They founded a naval base in Freetown in order to patrol against the illegal slave ships that still existed, fining every British ship found with a slave onboard.

Sierra Leone was officially named a crown colony in 1808. In 1833 British Parliament passed the Emancipation Act, which abolished slavery. As a result, over 50,000 freed slaves settled in Freetown by 1855. Their descendants, known as the Krios, now live in a multi-ethnic country. Krio is a widely spoken language throughout the country that some ethnic groups speak, though English is the official language.

Since Sierra Leone gained independence from the British in 1961, the country has experienced many economic, political and social challenges. A rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front plotted to overthrow the Joseph Momoh Government, causing a devastating civil war from 1991 to 2002.

The extreme brutality of this conflict caused over two million people to be displaced and resulted in more than 50,000 casualties. The war ended as a result of a U.N. peacekeeping and British military intervention. The country has made tremendous advancements in establishing a good government and keeping peace and security since the war ended.

Three years after the war ended, Sierra Leone was considered the poorest country in the world. Today, it is ranked at 177 out of 184 countries on the Human Development Index. This minor improvement is partly due to the assistance of international donors. Officials say Sierra Leone is on its way toward securing macroeconomic stability through democratization and stabilization, but large populations of youth who are former combatants are still unemployed, threatening the peace and stability of the country.

More than 60 percent of Sierra Leone’s population presently lives in poverty. Many people are living under the poverty line at less than $1.25 per day. The literacy rate is only 41 percent and 70 percent of young people in Sierra Leone are unemployed or underemployed as a result. The poorest people live in the Northern and Southern provinces of the country and consist mostly of landless people, particularly women in rural households.

The civil war and social unrest of previous years caused a severe economic decline that virtually destroyed the physical and social infrastructure of the country, leading to widespread poverty.  Sierra Leone’s development depends on consolidating peace, democracy and increasing its economic growth.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Global Finance, UNDP, Rural Poverty Portal

According to a new study, nearly forty two million women are living in poverty or on the brink of poverty. In over 40 percent of American households, women with children are the primary breadwinners.

One of the sole causes of poverty for women is the extreme gap between men and women’s wages in America. The national average wage has women earning 77 cents for every dollar men earn when you compare the yearly earnings of full time male and female workers. The National Partnership for Women and Families performed a study on California’s population, which shows that women can afford at least “62 fewer weeks of food for their families, seven fewer months of rent, and more than 1,900 fewer gallons of gas per year compared to men.”

For women of color, the distribution gap is even larger. African American women earn 67 cents to every man’s dollar and Latina women earn a mere 44 cents to every dollar men earn. In order to pull women away from the brink of poverty and into the middle class, this imbalance needs to be fixed.

When looking at poverty from a global perspective, 1,345 million people live on $1.25 a day. One of the main causes of poverty universally is the major lack of resources available to those that need them the most. Lack of resources can be defined as the inability to receive a proper education, decent healthcare and employment that is suitable for sustaining and affording necessities.

Poverty often times works as a vicious cycle. Without receiving a GED, or understanding the importance of receiving one, many adults are not able to attain a well-paid job.  Without holding a well-paid job, many adults are then unable to afford proper healthcare, and without healthcare mortality rates rise.  With higher mortality rates, for example in China, there is a greater likelihood for overpopulation and therefore higher rates of people living in poverty.

The cycle then begins again for children living in poverty. Young students living in poverty are five times more likely to not complete high school than children living in the top 20 percent of all family incomes.

The economy is also a large cause for poverty. As the economy becomes healthier, there are more options for jobs and better income rates, but when the economy declines job availability also declines. According to the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, the U.S. is no longer among the top 10 most economically free countries, but falls at number 12.

It is possible to become part of the top 10 again; within the past 20 years the global economy has increased by 20 percent.  Millions of people have managed to lift out of poverty and joined the middle class despite recessions and economic disasters.

Rebecca Felcon

Sources: Mercury News, Slate, Social Inclusion, American Psychological Association, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: The Guardian

The World Economic Forum is held every year for top leaders, thinkers and businessmen around the world to meet in Davos, Switzerland. The topics and discussions are over a range of ideas, but they all focus on making and shaping the world into a better place for everyone and achieving  poverty’s end. Bill Gates has been a regular attendee at these meeting and his newsletter that was released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation lays out the three myths about poverty that do more harm than good.

The first myth is that poor countries are doomed to stay poor. Gates cited China as a prime example of this. He cites the transformation places like Mexico City have undergone from 1980 to 2011 as an example of how poor countries have the ability to truly transform themselves. Bill Gates goes on to note that seven of the 10 fastest growing economies of the past half-decade have been in Africa.

Gates go on to say optimistically that by 2035  he believes that there will not be any country that is consider “poor” by the current World Bank standards. He see countries either being in the “lower-middle income or rich” category, he sees poverty’s End.

Bill Gates’ second myth is that foreign aid is a big waste. He cites the eradication of polio as an example of aid working. Today, there are only three countries that have never been polio-free: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. There is now a global effort to eradicate the disease completely by 2018, which will not only save the lives of scores of people, but also save about $2 billion dollars per year in preventative treatments.

Bill Gates’ third myth is that saving and prolonging life leads to overpopulation. He cites Thailand in the 1960’s as an example. Child mortality rates began to decrease, then in the 1970’s the government invested in a strong family planning program. Now Thailand’s child mortality rate is as low as the United States and Thai women are only having about two kids each.

The message is that if child mortality is high, then families will have more children in case a fair amount of them die. But if one invests in a strong family planning program and lower child morality, families will have fewer children because they are living longer.

Gates’ foundation does amazing things every year, and by issuing this information to the public he is helping to educate and make sure that people and governments have their facts straight.

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg
Photo: The Butterfly Project

Vertical Farms
As developing countries slowly modernize, a whole new set of challenges await them. One of those challenges is increased urbanization.

Urbanization is a symptom of modernity that is usually accompanied by a decrease in overall poverty.

As countries implement 21st century medical care and sanitation systems, populations have increased in well-being and life span, which can result in overpopulated cities. As cities become more and more populated, resources will become more scarce. This is especially true for food availability.

Luckily, a new brand of farming is coming to fruition that will help address the problems associated with increased urban populations; it’s called vertical farming.

Vertical farming removes the farms from traditional fields and places them in warehouses several stories high. This allows producers to place farms directly in the cities and away from the drought and disease that normally threatens reliable crop yields. Utilizing hydroponic water systems and LED lighting, the farms provide the ideal environment for plant growth. The LED lights further allow the farmers to dial in the specific spectrum of light ideal to that plant. Fluorescent lights were initially used but proved to be too inefficient.

As LED lights have become more cost effective, they have created the ideal environment for vertical farms. Farmers are even able to program the light to change throughout the day, mimicking the movement and intensity of the actual sun.

The efficiency of LED lights is not where it could be, however. Many farms currently use lights that operate at about 28% efficiency though engineers are developing LEDs that operate at 68% efficiency.

For example, in the Netherlands, engineers at Phillips have successfully created an LED that operates at 150% efficiency.

The beauty of vertical farms is their ability to be greener, more cost efficient and sustainable. Imagine a world where India has vast swaths of its cities dedicated to vertical farming; the amount of relief that could provide to impoverished individuals is staggering.

An example of vertical farming’s potential can be found in Scranton Pennsylvania. Soon, it will have the world’s largest vertical farm composed of a single story building with racks consisting of six levels. The farm will be able to house 17 million plants.

When one considers the challenges urbanization will bring to developing nations, vertical farming presents itself as a panacea.

The U.N. predicts that by the year 2050, there will be 6.25 billion people living in cities. As such, food production will have to increase 70% globally to sustain 2.3 billion people.

The U.N. also predicts that reliance on traditional, “resource-intensive” agricultural products will continue to grow, consisting mainly of livestock and dairy products.

Vertical farms present an opportunity for the world community to truly address hunger. With billions of people expected to occupy world cities in the coming decades, the demand for food will only increase. Vertical farms growing food locally, in a sustainable environment has a chance to provide food for millions who otherwise would go hungry.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: BBC, New Scientist, World Bank
Photo: Amazon

By 2028, India’s population will rise to about 1.45 billion people, overtaking China as the worlds most populated country. Currently, 69 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people live on less than $2 per day. This means families are struggling to provide basic human needs, often living on the streets or creating entire slum villages out of scrap material.

India’s expansive population and unequal distribution of economic opportunity has led to alarming levels of hunger and malnutrition.

The Global Hunger Index 2013, developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute along with Wealthungerhilfe, Institute of Development Studies and Concern Worldwide, ranks India 105 out of 120 countries.  This ranking is based on indicators of undernourishment, children under five underweight and child mortality of which India reported 17.5 percent, 40.2 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively.

Due to widespread poverty, hunger and perhaps, political gamesmanship, India has enacted the National Food Security Act (NFSA.)  This ambitious and controversial piece of legislation aims to supply nearly 800 million people with monthly food grains.  This includes 75 percent of the rural population and 50 percent of the urban population.

The monthly allotment is 5 kilograms of a combination of wheat, rice and coarse grains at approximately $.05, $.03 and $.02 per kilogram, respectively.  Those deemed extreme cases, about 24 million people, would receive up to 35 kilograms of food grains per month.  To coincide with these additional welfare distributions, the new law also designates that pregnant women will also receive one free meal daily until 6 months after childbirth.

Women will also receive a maternity benefit of Rupees 6,000 ($98.)

Under the law, children up to the age of fourteen will receive a free meal.  It also requires the State Government identify children who suffer from malnutrition and provide them with free meals.

Critics of the new law raise the question of whether the NFSA is the proper response the India’s hunger problem. Spending even more money on welfare during a period where the rupee has depreciated could be detrimental to the nation’s economy.

Another critical issue that the central government must address is the current food delivery system.  Although the new law calls for reforms of the Public Distribution System, the government must ensure that a majority of the food will reach the intended beneficiaries.  Difficulties in identifying the most needy as well as rampant corruption contributed to only 40 percent of distributed food grains reaching their target destination in 2005.

This historic effort to combat hunger within one of the poorest nations in the world should serve as an inspiration to other countries.  Despite the vast amount of obstacles and the sheer number of impoverished people, India has decided access to food is a right not a privilege.

Sunny Bhatt

Sources: Time, International Food Policy Research Institute, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, India Code



overpopulation public health
There is much debate whether overpopulation poses public health risks. Some believe it is the cause of hunger and poverty throughout the world while others feel that it has never been a problem.  It is important to shed light on this fear of overpopulation as its consequences are said to be evident in all developing countries.

Several reports about Africa’s growing population has been connected to the starvation of millions of people. Every year 32.5 percent of children in developing countries suffer from malnutrition. Sustainable population advocates have pointed to the approximate 200 million hunger-related deaths in the past twenty years. Deterioration in global biodiversity has also been linked to overpopulation. Substantial data of species loss has been presented by countries such as China, Brazil and Mexico. Human settlements that are gradually increasing according to the rate of population is said to ruin the benefits of nature and destroy habitats. The consequences of overpopulation is also suggested in access to education, primarily in Africa. In African classrooms, children are unable to learn due to overcrowding.  Access to water, medical care and housing are all diminished when there are more people that require aid. Data from the United Nations further suggests that by 2050, 10 percent to 15 percent of land that is farmed today will not be available. This could potentially lead to a food crisis as the current population increases at a faster rate.

Those supporting a sustainable population see hope in public policies being employed in countries such as Bangladesh, Iran and Thailand. Results from securing social services to women and families indicate a large decrease in undernourished people in Asia, from 23.7 percent to 13.9 percent. This downward trend from simply giving access to birth control and adopting policies that give aid to small families suggests that overpopulation is an issue that can be solved.  Policies that provide family planning to those in remote, rural areas in Asia has led to stability in undernourishment over time. By merely shifting the focus on public policy these countries quickly witnessed better health standards, quality of education and housing availability, all of which offer hope to the remaining developing nations.

– Maybelline Martez

Sources: Scientific American, Huffington Post, World Hunger

In Sub-Saharan Africa, its estimated that more than 60% of the urban population lives in slums. Africa is one of the most rapidly urbanizing regions of the world, and it shows no signs of slowing down. The continent’s proportion of urbanized population is projected to reach 60% by 2050. As the population of the continent also rapidly expands this will lead to more than one billion urban dwellers in Africa in the near future. If current trends continue most of these people will live in slums.

Mark Swilling heads the Sustainable Development Planning and Management program at the University of Stellenbosch, and he is concerned with the implications for sustainable development as Africa’s urban population increases. In a TEDxStellenbosch, Swilling describes how some African slums are undergoing a process of DIY urbanization. He describes how slum residents are compiling their resources to collectively improve their living conditions. The residents are working with architects and planners to restructure and organize their environment, and are operating in the complete absence of government assistance or business investment. As Swilling makes clear, such self-motivated development will play an important role in Africa’s future as urban slum populations continue to rise.

– Andrew Rasner

Sources: The Atlantic Cities, TEDxStellenbosch


A common thought among sociologists dealing with poverty is that “wealthier is healthier”; however, a study of subjects in India by sociologists  at Cambridge University in the UK indicates that literacy, rather than money, may be more crucially linked to health and wellbeing.

This correlation suggests that health may be one important result of the opportunities and understanding that literacy opens to the literate. Illiterate citizens in India may have trouble understanding medical labeling, accessing healthcare, or engaging in public health programs.  Literate citizens, by contrast, are able to access information more easily, and make more informed decisions.

This study comes on the heels of a recent increase in coerced sterilization of women in India, a increase which appears to be the result of policies targeted at the uneducated and illiterate. Government employees are hired to convince women in impoverished communities to received sterilizations, sometimes without full knowledge of the procedure’s consequences.  Oftentimes the women agree to be sterilized for a payment of $10, the equivalent of one week’s pay. This money comes directly from the government, which has also given doctors monetary incentives and mandatory quotas for sterilizations.  India currently performs 37% of the world’s female sterilizations (4.6 million last year alone). These are often carried out on illiterate women.

Despite this drastic measure to decrease the population, the Indian government has missed every one of its goals to curb India’s increase in population. India’s population is set to eclipse China’s by 2021.

While sterilization seems a coldly practical solution to the problem of overpopulation in India, education and literacy could empower women to make responsible preventative decisions. This knowledge could then passed down from generation to generation, creating a lasting effect on the populace.

As this recent study suggests, by educating the poor rather than sterilizing them, the Indian government could increase the wellbeing of its populace and decrease population at the same time.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: Business Standard, Bloomberg
Photo: Entrance Exams


Early this year the 7 billionth baby was born on Earth, thereby sparking a new round of discussion about the need to implement measures to control population growth.

Developing countries have the highest fertility rates worldwide, with women often having 6-7 children. Bill Gates noted that areas with the highest reproductive rates also have the worst health conditions. Thus, he explains, in order to guarantee that they have 2 children survive into adulthood, women in areas with poor health conditions have more children since only 80-90% of their babies will make it to school age.

The answer to the population problem, Gates says, is to improve global health. If health demographics improve because of better access to vaccines, healthcare, affordable drugs, and hospitals, more children will reach school age. Thus, families will not need to have as many children in order to ensure that some of them survive and, with the institution of family planning programs, fertility rates will drop.

However, in between the improvement in global health and the reduction in fertility rates there is a “demographic transition” in the population. With better health, more children will survive and live longer. However, before women start utilizing family planning programs, there is a sort of ‘lag time’ where both birth and survival rates are high. Thus there forms a bulge in the population that does not decrease until women stop having as many children. This means that even after there are improvements in global health, population may increase before it begins to steadily decline as a result direct result of lower fertility rates.

Hans Rosling says that in order to create a sustainable population for the future, there must be improvements in global health today that ensure that 90% of children everywhere in the world make it to their 5th birthday. Not implementing these measures today could mean the difference between 8.3 billion people and 9.3 billion people living on Earth in the near future.

– KC Harris

Source: The Borgen Project Slate TED
Source: A Matter of Instinct

Is Overpopulation Falling?In 1968, the American biologist Paul Ehrlich published the groundbreaking book The Population Bomb.  In the book, Ehrlich predicted that humans would reach carrying capacity and begin to die out due to global famine by the 1980s.  He proposed birth control as a method to curb dangerously exponential population growth.  In effect, Ehrlich’s book opened the floodgates on the topic of overpopulation, one that has only been magnified by an increased awareness of climate change in the last few decades.

Today, environmental journalist Fred Pearce sees the overpopulation discussion as a diversion from the real issue:  overconsumption.  Pearce explains that the global population is not exponentially growing because birth rates are actually falling.  Contrary to the predictions of Ehrlich, mankind was not afflicted with famine in the 1980s and his views on birth control became obsolete when the inhumane practices of China and India became international news.  Pearce points out that in the 1950s most women had five or six children in their lifetime.  This number has been reduced to two or three children in the 21st century.

The more pressing problem, Pearce says, is overconsumption. The richest 7% of the global population is responsible for 50% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. The rich, not the poor, are responsible for most of our environmental troubles. Pearce says he is “very wary of people sitting in Europe deciding what an appropriate population level is for a country far away.” Instead, we need to focus on curbing our consumption back at home.

– Josh Forgét

Sources: The Ecologist, New Scientist
Photo: CNN