Causes of Poverty in North KoreaNorth Korea, the only country in the world which still adopts Stalinist principles, has long been one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Recently, it scored 28.6 in the 2016 Global Hunger Index, a level which the International Food Policy Research Institute classified as “serious.” A report published by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) in 2013 estimated that about half of North Korea’s 24 million lives in “extreme poverty,” who are “severely restricted in access to fuel for cooking and heating.”

The two primary causes of poverty in North Korea are as follows:

Climate and geography
North Korea’s climate is less suitable for agricultural production than that of South Korea. Northern and northwestern winds that blow from Siberia cause the winters in North Korea to be bitterly cold, often involving heavy snow storms. This type of weather is particularly harsh in the mountainous regions in the north, contributing to the relative lack of arable land in North Korea. Due to the cold temperatures, single cropping is usually practiced in the north, while double cropping is possible in the south where winters are less severe.

Because of the country’s mountainous terrain, the regime has sought to increase agricultural production mainly through double cropping, rather than through expanding the cultivable area. However, due to factors such as short cropping season, prolonged and harsh winter, and uncertainty of the spring weather, the results have often been disappointing.

Despotic regime
Another one of the causes of poverty in North Korea is the despotic regime succeeded by the Kim family. During the 1980s, the North Korean regime embarked on a radical economic policy of self-sufficiency known as “juche.” This policy wreaked havoc on the country’s economy, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, after which the country could not import cheap fuel, its industrial base was fractured and its production of fertilizer decreased.

North Korea’s provocations on the international stage, such as the shelling of the South Korean island in 2010 and repeated nuclear tests, also resulted in numerous sanctions by the U.N., which restricted the amount of humanitarian aid going into North Korea.

These are the main causes of poverty in North Korea. Whether North Korea will be able to escape from poverty will heavily depend on the international community’s efforts, as well as the regime’s willingness to adopt open-market reforms, just as China did in the late 1970s.

Minh Joo Yi

Photo: Flickr

Facts and Figures of North Korea

Hidden behind the tensions of military bluster between the U.S. and North Korea lies a sad and often overlooked reality: North Korea is an incredibly impoverished country.

The conflict on the Korean peninsula can be traced back to when Japan controlled Korea till 1910. After the Japanese lost in World War II, the peninsula was divided between a communist northern half and a democratic southern half.

Tensions between the north and south erupted into war in 1950. The U.S. led a United Nations coalition to support the south; China was the principal ally of the north. The war ended in a stalemate with the current division becoming a demilitarized zone. North Korea has languished since, relying heavily on outside aid.

Most of the developed world stopped sending monetary aid to North Korea in 2009. South Korea ended aid in 2010 due to conflicts with the incoming government of Kim Jong Un.

Much of North Korea’s poverty problem stems from government spending, or the lack thereof. Most of the country’s budget is allocated to military and defense spending. This means that most of North Korea’s budget is not invested in its people.

This lack of aid has impacted North Korea’s investment in education, health services and infrastructure.

The average education level for a North Korean is only 11 years. The average annual income is only $1300. These disparities stem from the government’s sole interest in military spending, and its lack of interest in its people. These facts and figures of North Korea illustrate that the impoverished Asian nations strongly needs foreign aid, as well as restructuring its own budget, to combat its extreme poverty.

In the interest of its citizens, North Korea could decrease spending on its military and defense program. This could increase international confidence in the country’s financial and political system, therefore increasing foreign aid that could be used for basic services for its populace.

Until the North Korean government focuses on its people instead of its military, and makes serious efforts to combat these disastrous poverty-related facts and figures of North Korea, it will continue to be an impoverished nation.

Raymond Terry

Photo: Google

Buy American LawsThe Trump administration is dusting off Depression-era laws to advance its “America First” agenda. The aptly-named “Buy American” laws require firms to buy U.S. materials when manufacturing military equipment.

In 2013, $20 billion went to foreign entities, roughly 6.4 percent of military spending. That money is spent largely on raw materials like lumber, fuel and construction materials from Canada and other allies. The enforcement of these 80-year-old laws would force the government to spend that money within the states.

While 6.4 percent isn’t a large chunk of total expenditures, the concern is the message it could send to U.S. allies when they are cut out. Bill Greenwalt, a former Defense Department procurement secretary believes that by cutting out allies, the U.S. will spark retaliation legislation. Many nations depend on the U.S. for military goods. Buy American laws could kick off many global domestic purchasing regimes and ultimately hurt U.S. sales abroad.

Furthermore, those regimes could end up not being specifically military equipment. An domestic purchasing agenda could instigate allies and developing markets to look inward or to each other for goods and put up trading barriers to the U.S. such as quotas and tariffs.

If the U.S. positioned itself to try its hand at grand-scale manufacturing and set up the tariffs favorable to domestic manufacturers, U.S. consumers and developing nations could suffer. For the U.S. consumer, prices of normally imported goods such as clothing, pharmaceuticals and cell phones could increase. Many middle and lower class citizens would feel the strain of these price increases and the overall standard of living would see a decline.

Developing nations could suffer as manufacturing and exporting goods to developed neighbors are one of the biggest staples of economic activity. Favoring domestic production to the purchase of fair trade goods from these nations could stunt their economies and put their citizens at higher risk of falling into poverty.

For both the U.S. and our trading partners, Buy American laws could be a game of mutually assured economic stagnation. Manufacturers and consumers everywhere could feel the burden.

Thomas Anania

Photo: Google

Stateless People of Brunei
Brunei Darussalam or Adobe of Peace is a state on the northeastern coast of the island of Borneo. Since the discovery of vast oil fields in the 1920s, the state is among the wealthiest in the Asian Pacific region with a high standard of living among those living there.

The population of Brunei totals around 330,000, consisting of only 16% indigenous peoples. Roughly 64% are Malaysian and 20% Chinese. The government of Brunei has not reported that anyone in the state is seeking asylum. However, many stateless people are residing without citizenship. Here are seven facts about the stateless people of Brunei.

  1. Brunei has cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) by agreeing to share statistics of the number of stateless people of Brunei, and the number of those who have been granted citizenship.
  2. As of 2016, there were 20,524 stateless people living in Brunei. This is about 6.2% of the population living without citizenship.
  3. Obtaining citizenship in Brunei is difficult and can only be done after passing rigorous testing. Between 2009 and 2012, 2,420 stateless people were granted citizenship.
  4. Brunei law prohibits non-Bruneians, including stateless permanent residents, from owning property.
  5. Although somewhat hesitant to grant citizenship to stateless people of Brunei, each stateless person is given an International Certificate of Identity that enables them to travel overseas and do anything that you need identification for.
  6. Minors can be registered as nationals as long as the Sultan sees fit. And foreign women who are married to a national man can obtain citizenship by registering themselves as married to a citizen.
  7. Furthering the recognition of stateless people, the Brunei government has instituted a birth registration program for stateless children. The program establishes a record of where a child was born and who his parents are to prevent children from slipping through the cracks of the legal system. This information will help children to get education, healthcare and employment when they are adults.

Despite the fact that Brunei does not have asylum-seekers, it is moving forward in setting standards for its non-national residents.

Madeline Boeding

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Zimbabwe
Tensions run high in the landlocked southern African nation of Zimbabwe. Protests and civil disobedience exploded in recent years in response to the government’s persistent incompetence and malpractice. Worse still, the government in Harare responded to the mass demonstrations with violence and unethical treatment, worsening the state of human rights in Zimbabwe.

Today’s tumultuous wave of popular dissatisfaction is tied to the ruinous drought in the region, which threatened food security for millions and contributed to shortages of cash. With the government largely unable to prevent mass starvation nor compensate civil servants, the Zimbabwean people fear another period of national suffering.

Only nine years removed from the beginning of the crippling 2008 economic crisis, Zimbabweans directed their anger at the government for its failure to develop the country and its disregard for human rights. These grievances only worsened with the government’s retaliatory agenda, which resulted in the unlawful treatment of activists and others.

Protesters in Zimbabwe often encounter police violence and arbitrary imprisonment, and many are charged with false accusations of criminal activity. Even non-protesters are arrested and imprisoned for days, demonstrating the government’s blatant disregard for the rule of law and due process.

Also, freedom of expression in Zimbabwe is incredibly limited, showing that human rights in Zimbabwe are far from meeting acceptable standards. Police forces in Zimbabwe frequently deny the media the right to cover protests, and many journalists are arrested and detained for indeterminate amounts of time on false charges. Violence towards the media is common as well. One journalist covering protests in Harare was even clubbed by riot police.

The government’s general disregard for human rights reflects the influence of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe has been in control of the government for over three decades, during which time he did little to modernize Zimbabwe’s social and economic institutions. Mugabe uses political violence and unlawful seizures of personal property to further his own interests, tyrannical behavior that is common practice for the government.

Under the Mugabe regime, human rights in Zimbabwe are vulnerable to repeated, malicious attacks. When people remain submissive, they suffer from economic, social, and political destitution. When they speak out, they experience brutal reprisals.

Despite its long history of transgressions, the current regime will not last. At 93 years old, the geriatric President Mugabe’s days are very limited. Hopefully, Zimbabwe can peacefully oust out Mugabe’s pawns and develop a stable economy and strong human rights protections. With enough support from the U.S. and other countries, the people of Zimbabwe can evade another economic crisis and inch closer to a truly egalitarian democracy.

Isidro Rafael Santa Maria

Photo: Flickr

Things Democrats and Republicans Agree on About Global Poverty
Both houses of Congress are experiencing a debilitating degree of polarization in 2017. The Washington Post called the 2016 political climate on Capitol Hill a ‘golden age of partisanship,’ one that is likely to become only more acrimonious as the already fractious 115th Congress progresses. However, when it comes to poverty, both sides of the aisle often find common ground. Here are five things Democrats and Republicans agree on about global poverty.

  1. The Importance of the Foreign Aid Budget
    In the wake of President Trump’s proposed major cut to foreign aid, both Democratic and Republican members of the Senate spoke out in support of the current level. Joining the chorus of Democratic opposition to the proposal, Senator Lindsay Graham (Republican, South Carolina) described any bill outlining cuts to foreign aid as ‘dead on arrival,’ citing the importance of American leadership in disaster relief.
  2. Poverty as a Threat to National Security
    One of the things Democrats and Republicans agree on about global poverty is the threat it poses to national security. In an op-ed in Politico co-written by John McCain (Republican, Arizona) and Tim Kaine (Democrat, Virginia), the senators emphasize how poverty breeds the conditions that lead to extremism and ultimately violence against Americans. To avoid future wars and protect American soldiers, the senators warn, foreign aid programs must be retained.
  3. Poverty Alleviation as Beneficial to Economy
    In a speech on the Senate floor last February, Marco Rubio (Republican, Florida) stressed how bringing developing nations out of poverty cycles allow them to participate in trade with American exporters and creates a bigger market for U.S. products. During his tenure as Secretary of State, John Kerry described foreign aid as “not charity, but an investment in a strong America.” He then cited how foreign aid allows new economic partnerships to flourish with developing nations.
  4. The Need to Protect the State Department’s Budget
    Nurturing the ‘soft power’ capabilities of the State Department is another thing both parties agree on. President Trump’s Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, urged the State Department’s budget be maintained, saying that, if it wasn’t, ‘I’m going to need to buy more ammunition.’ Many congressional Democrats are in concert with Mattis, among them Patrick Leahy (Vermont) who condemned any state department cuts as a retreat from American leadership in global affairs.
  5. Food Security is Paramount
    In 2016, the Global Food Security Act received widespread bipartisan support, a bill that gives the executive branch authority to create a global food security strategy. The 7 billion dollar allocation achieved 100 cosponsors in the House from both parties, a definitive example of both parties cooperating to tackle global poverty.

The things Democrats and Republicans agree on about global poverty show the potential that exists for a bipartisan approach to poverty alleviation. Despite the fractious atmosphere in Washington in 2017, a clear common interest to tackle poverty head-on is visible between Democrats and Republicans.

Jonathan Riddick
Photo: Flickr

SDGs and Cooperation
This Monday, the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the international community to step up efforts to meet the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Secretary-General stressed that many regions worldwide are lagging behind with their sustainable development efforts. Guterres warned that without a stronger commitment to the SDGs and cooperation, the world will not meet the 2030 SDG deadline.

What are the SDGs?

The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals are a set of 17 ambitious goals that, among other things, aim to end global poverty and encourage development in struggling regions. These goals were agreed upon in 2015 and implemented the following year, and are meant to be fulfilled by 2030.

Despite the admirable intent of the SDGs, they suffer from the same critical issue that stymies other U.N. projects: they lack enforcement. Because the national governments of each member state are responsible for the organization and implementation of programs, they can easily ignore their commitment to the goals. Even worse, the SDGs are not legally binding and therefore countries around the world have little to no reason to ensure their realization.

The SDGs have only been in action for a little over a year, yet Guterres’ call to action indicates that the relatively new program is already struggling. As of now, the SDGs are well-intentioned but inconsequential.

Perhaps countries around the world hesitate to contribute because they believe the SDGs are too ambitious and ask too much, too soon. However, their hesitation is not justified.

At the very least, ending global poverty (the first goal out of the 17) is indeed possible. Since 1990, the number of people living off of the equivalent of $1.25 a day has been reduced by more than half. While 836 million people still live below the poverty line, it is not at all impossible to end poverty once and for all in the next few decades. Even if it is difficult to determine whether or not this goal can be achieved by 2030, this should not discourage countries around the world from refusing to try.

The Necessity of Commitment

In order for the world to end global poverty and encourage universal development by or around 2030, the international community needs to prioritize SDGs and cooperation. They cannot write off the SDGs as another romantic notion proposed by the idealistic U.N.; instead, they should seriously think about the benefits they can reap from a better world in 2030. That better world can be theirs, but they need to work for it first. The SDGs provide the guidance to get there.

Also, the international community needs to facilitate cooperation in order to more effectively tackle global poverty and inequality. As Peter Thompson, President of the U.N. General Assembly expressed, there must be “effective collaboration and partnerships between governments, private sector, civil society, local authorities, schools, universities and our communities.”

Streamlining cooperation between the public and private sectors is particularly important for the development and execution of on the ground development solutions. In the US, the proposed Economic Growth and Development Act (HR 2747) hopes to allow more opportunities for the private sector to contribute to foreign assistance programs. If the bill receives enough support to become a law, it could bolster U.S. efforts in the fight against global poverty.

Hopefully, the Economic Growth and Development Act will become a part of the U.S.’s toolkit in ending global poverty. Other countries around the world should encourage similar legislation so that the international community can further promote the importance of SDGs and cooperation in creating a better world.

Isidro Rafael Santa Maria
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Development Goals of 2030
When it comes to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030 that would eradicate extreme global poverty, rich countries are lagging behind.

Scandinavian countries are leading the way among 157 nations ranked by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). The United States is ranked 42 in the list while Russia was ranked 62 and China 71. The Bertelsmann Foundation, which looks at global challenges to recommend solutions for pressing political, economic and social issues, says that the most developed countries need to speed up to complete their end on the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030.

“A rising ‘my country first’ approach by many heads of government threatens the realization of the SDGs,” according to the SDSN. As reported by Reuters, the countries that are most on track with meeting the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030 are Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway.

“Leaders at the G20 summit in Hamburg must strengthen the commitment towards these historic global goals,” reads the headline posted by the Bertelsmann Foundation. It released a story on countries not in line with meeting their Sustainable Development Goals right before the G20 Summit in Germany. The foundation’s goal is to have this dilemma addressed by the major world leaders at the G20 Summit.

The problem is that the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030 are just goals that aren’t mandatory. Therefore, countries may not have this as a priority, or might not even plan on fulfilling them at all. This is why it is so important to lobby policymakers and contact representatives to let them know where about important issues such as these.

Vicente Vera

Photo: Flickr

Philippines and the EUAs of May 2017, the Philippines decided to end development assistance from the European Union. The Philippines is willing to reject €250 million worth of aid to prevent the EU from interfering in its internal affairs.

Relations between the Philippines and the EU have soured in the past year. In 2016, EU member countries called for strict monitoring of human rights abuses committed under President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ policy. Almost 9,000 people were killed in the Philippines since Duterte took office on June 30. Many were small-time users and dealers who police say were sho tin self-defense by officers during legitimate operations.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said that Duterte approved a recommendation from the finance ministry “not to accept grants that may allow interfering with internal policies.”

EU official Gunnar Wiegand defended the EU’s practice of setting conditions in exchange for aid. “You know why? Because it’s the money of our taxpayers. They want to know where their money goes,” Wiegand said.

The longstanding relationship between the Philippines and the EU became formal in 1980 in the European Cooperation Agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In July 2012, the EU-Philippines Partnership Cooperation Agreement provided a legal framework for further cooperation in a range of areas. These included political dialogue, trade, energy, transport, human rights, education, science, technology, justice, asylum and immigration.

This agreement also doubled the planned grant assistance to the Philippines for the period of 2014 to 2020. Funds increased to €325 million, up from €130 million in the period from 2007 to 2013. The Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines states that this seven-year support strategy focuses on “the rule of law” (improved governance and increased cooperation in the justice sector) and “inclusive growth” through sustainable energy and job creation.

The EU also provided aid to Manila’s efforts to end the insurgency in Mindanao, a 50-year conflict that killed more than 120,000 people, displaced one million and prevented economic growth in the region.

The EU is also one of the most important providers of aid to the Philippines in the case of natural disasters. One example of such was after Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The EU provided €180 million in humanitarian assistance and early recovery interventions to help those affected by Haiyan.

Wiegand stated that the EU will not “beg” the Philippines to accept its aid and that there are “no lack of other countries” for the EU to fund if the Philippines rejects its offer.

Some officials contend that this is only a temporary setback for relations between the Philippines and the EU. Economic Planning Minister Ernesto Pernia is skeptical of Manila’s decision. “I will not take that as policy. It is more of a reaction to criticism. I don’t think it’s going to remain as such,” Pernia said.

Hannah Seitz

Photo: UN Multimedia

What Trump’s New Cuba Policy Means for Cubans
On June 17, President Donald Trump announced that he is “canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.” After only two years of normalized relations, President Trump unveiled a return to the restrictions on travel and trade between the United States and Cuba. While many news outlets have covered the impact this change will have for American travelers, what Trump’s new Cuba policy means for Cubans is far worse.

Cuba is a small country with a very weak economy. While Cubans benefit from social services such as free health care and education, a crumbling infrastructure and the inaccessibility of basic goods create tremendous hardships. As a result of these challenges and a longtime dependence on the sugar industry, Cuba is in desperate need of foreign investment.

In the two years since restrictions relaxed, U.S. travel and trade helped mitigate the effects of these challenges. In 2016, 614,433 U.S. visitors traveled to Cuba, a 34 percent increase in U.S. travelers to the country’s hugely important tourism industry. The hassle and expense of the new travel restrictions are designed to stem this influx of visitors from Cuba’s richest neighbor. What the president’s new Cuba policy means for Cubans is less money circulating in the economy and fewer customers for the small business workers who depend heavily on tourism.

Similarly, the new trade regulations, which restrict trade with businesses owned by the Cuban military, are likely to end almost all trade between the two countries. Since Cuba’s is a state-run economy, it will be almost impossible for businesses to create deals that do not indirectly feed into the military. Cuba will be forced to pay high prices to import goods such as rice from China instead of dealing with nearby rice farmers in Louisiana. Again, this move reduces the amount of money in the Cuban economy and exacerbates the inaccessibility of much-needed goods.

What the president’s new Cuba policy also means is a decrease in private workers’ incomes and an increase in the inaccessibility of daily items. The good news is that none of these restrictions will take place immediately. The White House will most likely roll out regulatory amendments in the next few months. Further good news is that Cuba is a low-priority policy for most Americans, so even a small amount of outreach can have a big impact in amending the proposed changes. To truly help the people President Trump calls “voiceless,” American citizens should raise their voices to their representatives about the damage this new policy could cause to the Cuban people.

Bret Serbin

Photo: Flickr