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new technologies in South SudanTechnology increasingly offers more and more solutions to help reduce poverty across the globe. Considering South Sudan’s unpredictable climate and scarce resources, new technologies in South Sudan can provide a gateway of opportunities and security to the locals. This can be through new farming methods and equipment, schooling, banking and monetary management.

The Problems in South Sudan

South Sudan’s current climate is posing many challenges to its poverty-stricken population. The World Bank describes poverty as ‘ubiquitous’ across South Sudan, with it estimating that two-thirds of the population requires humanitarian assistance.

Estimates stated that floods are affecting up to 1 million people every year because the floods have forced many to evacuate their homes. This has had an impact on education with floods affecting 100 schools. As a result, more than 60,000 students have reduced access to education.

In the short term, people in South Sudan have had limited access to nutrition and health care. This has contributed to the fact that 60% of the population is facing malnutrition.

It is not just flooding that impacts South Sudan. Excessive drought, temperature changes and unpredictable rainfall have all damaged day-to-day life in South Sudan. Droughts have resulted in food insecurities leading to a loss of livestock and crops.

This is severely impacting the economy in South Sudan considering that 95% of the population work in sectors that rely on the climate. This includes agriculture, fishing and forestry resources.

In the 2020-2021 period the South Sudanese economy reduced by 5.4% due to lower exports of oil and agricultural output. This is having a large impact on the living conditions of individuals in South Sudan.

The Conflict in South Sudan

As a result of the unpredictable climate in South Sudan, many have had to migrate. In fact, up to 4 million people as of 2022 remain displaced due to climate-induced dangers – 1.6 million internally and 2.3 million in neighboring countries.

Migration has led to enhanced homelessness across South Sudan. This has reduced living standards and increased disease. A lack of infrastructure has led to more exposure to malnutrition, mosquitos and climate-induced diseases such as malaria and cholera.

Serious conflicts over resources in South Sudan between groups, especially in areas of extreme drought, has led to livestock raiding and exacerbated the displacement of people into concentrated areas making resource scarcity even more serious.

Furthermore, the large weaponry market that has spread throughout the territory to the failure of the South Sudanese government, fuelling the problem and resulting in wider political instability in South Sudan. Resource conflicts have increasingly become a method to gain political support and power.

UNHCR’s Efforts

To solve the issues of conflict and lack of institutional and infrastructural support in South Sudan, the resource and climate problems require mitigation and resolution. Technology could be a solution, but South Sudan has limited new technologies presently.

First, and foremost, technology can make farming more efficient and sustainable. For example, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is trying to develop sustainable and resilient infrastructure such as dikes and drainage systems to try and appease the problems in South Sudan. Moreover, UNHCR has provided flood-tolerant seeds and training for locals. To help with droughts, it has introduced new irrigation systems and set up tree nurseries to regrow forests. In Maban, five tree nurseries underwent establishment in four refugee camps. These activities are introducing new skills and opportunities for the locals, that are more resistant and malleable to the changing climatic conditions. Other technologies include high-efficiency cooking stoves, reusing agricultural waste and using solar energy to extract water from boreholes.

How the US is Helping

Next, greater investment into education and human capital development is vital for presenting more opportunities for the locals to be able to use new tech. The U.S. has provided more than $117 million to South Sudan on top of humanitarian aid. This is helping the government to invest more money into their infrastructure, allowing more to access education.

The U.N. has also been providing increased support across Africa. It is important that this continues as, alone, South Sudan does not have the fiscal capacity to create a stable socioeconomic climate.

A further key area for South Sudan is taking full advantage of technology to provide education to rural areas that otherwise do not have access. This seems to have had little traction so far but could prove to be a very advantageous development.

Lastly, introducing these new technologies and skills in South Sudan will help to address the migration problem, reducing the levels of migration and allowing the population to become more dispersed again. This will hopefully help to reduce conflict in South Sudan as well.

Looking Ahead

Behind this shift to new technologies in South Sudan in the long run, support through charity and initiatives will help to smooth the transition. For example, to help with conflicts UNHCR has started several peace initiatives in Eastern Equatoria to reduce further conflict between herders and farmers, and to incentivize the use of new technology in pastoralists’ original locations, rather than internally migrating.

As a result, it becomes clear that South Sudan can reduce conflict across the country if it introduces more sustainable technology to help with the unpredictable climate. This requires the support of other countries and the cooperation of the South Sudanese government if this is to successfully reduce poverty.

– Reuben Cochrane
Photo: Flickr

DharaviMumbai’s Dharavi is one of the world’s largest slums and is home to roughly 1 million people since it was established in 1884. Dharavi was initially inhabited by fishermen and later extended to migrant workers from south Mumbai. The slum’s conditions are dire and inhabitants have suffered from the spread of numerous epidemics and diseases due to the lack of sanitation, drinking water, roads and basic healthcare services.

Hidden Markets

Despite its harsh economic and social conditions, Dharavi is close to Mumbai’s two main suburban rail lines, which has made commuting to work easier for workers. Over the years, Dharavi has also developed a large number of thriving small-scale industries that produce embroidered garments, quality leather goods, pottery and plastic. Furthermore, there are estimated to be 5,000 businesses and 15,000 single-room factories located within Dharavi, making it a prime entrepreneurial realm with potential revenue that can total anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion USD a year.

Many of these initiatives are undertaken by women living in the slums, many of whom have taken the lead and become the main breadwinners of their families. In fact, out of the 65,000 rural markets in India, almost 75% are run by women.

Renuka Shinde’s Story

One such example is Renuka Shinde, who was forced to take up the role of the breadwinner after her husband left her and their three sons. Renuka traveled to Kolkata from her home in Dharavi to buy handloom saris to start her small business. At the end of a month’s hard work, Renuka brings home Rs 3,000 or roughly $48 by selling saris and other garments around Mumbai. Renuka makes a profit of Rs12,000 ($200) a month and this tends to increase during Indian festivals such as Diwali and also during wedding seasons.

Pushpalata Chittikindi’s Story

Another example is Pushpalata Chittikindi, who is left to fend for her two sons in the absence of her alcoholic husband. Pushpalata started making metal buckles and sold them piece by piece to nearby factories in the neighborhood. The businesswoman also worked as a cook and cleaner in her spare time. Following the advice of her friends, Pushpalata took a loan to set up her machine but lacked financial knowledge and experience with banks. Pushpalata took the help of a local NGO that gave out small loans to support local women.

With help from the NGO, Pushpalata started making Rs 250, about $4, per day. The businesswoman later pivoted to buying biscuits and snacks from wholesale stores and selling them from her home to nearby school kids. With the money she earned, Pushalata was able to pay off her loans in a year and rented a small store nearby, which she later named after her son, Sagar.

Women in Poverty

The biggest challenge to women looking to follow in the footsteps of Renuka and Pushpalata is access to credit – a first step to overcoming their financial struggles. In India, the poverty rate for women ages 25 to 34 was roughly 12% in 2020 and is said to increase to 14% following the dire effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, Indian men in poverty are roughly 100 men to every 120 women in poverty. The statistics highlight that there is disparity even within the parameters of poverty and that Indian women need support and guidance in their economic endeavors.

Addressing Credit Challenges

Thanks to the Vandana Foundation, an organization that provides low-interest micro-loans to female entrepreneurs in Dharavi, this challenge has become easier to overcome. In addition to the Vandana Foundation, many other NGOs such as the Light of Life Trust, Human Capital For Third Sector and Catalyst For Social Action, also play a big role to support India’s entrepreneurs and inhabitants.

A Take-away from Dharavi

The story of these women stands to show that although we tend to underestimate the power of small-scale local entrepreneurs, they are capable of making a considerable impact. If given the opportunity and starting resources, people have the power to change their financial circumstances and thus their lives, even in slums like Dharavi. There are hidden markets similar to the ones in Dharavi all over the world. By understanding where the opportunities lie and how to best support them, we can help people to help themselves and their communities.

Samyudha Rajesh
Photo: Flickr

Public Health in AfricaFor many people around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic was an eye-opening event that revealed the dangers and inadequacies of the world’s global health systems. However, for other people, outbreaks of epidemic diseases might be more of a lived reality. On the continent of Africa, many know a certain geographic region in sub-Saharan Africa as the “meningitis belt.” These 26 countries face the dangers of meningitis more than other places around the world, and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the vaccination of the MenAfriVac meningitis vaccine to 50 million children in these countries. African governments collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH, a nonprofit health organization, to develop the MenAfriVac vaccine and distribute it to more than 350 million people living in areas of high risk. While this scientific effort made an incredible difference in public health in Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic largely disrupted the processes that allowed these successes to continue. The pandemic reduced services aimed at preventing meningitis by 50% from 2019 to 2020. Despite recent setbacks, WHO developed a plan to address meningitis.

Meningitis: The Disease

Meningitis is a complex disease with several variations. It arises in viral or bacterial form with several types of viruses or bacteria causing meningitis. Some meningitis vaccines protect against several forms of meningitis.

The types of meningitis are important to consider because historically, different types of meningitis affected African communities. Prior to 2010, only 10% of meningitis cases were a form other than meningitis type A; however, after the introduction of the MenAfriVac vaccine, the number of cases of meningitis type A decreased significantly. Since 2017, no person has experienced a case of meningitis type A in the region. While deaths due to meningitis still totaled 140,552 people in Africa in 2019, the elimination of meningitis type A means that about 95% of people diagnosed with meningitis survived in 2021. Since 2013, however, meningitis type C led to several outbreaks in the meningitis belt.

At the end of 2021, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reported 2,662 cases of meningitis along with 205 deaths due to meningitis. Local mobile clinics and vaccination drives from WHO helped reduce the outcome of death from 85% of cases to 10% of cases fairly quickly.

The Defeating Meningitis Road Map

WHO assists with suppressing the outbreaks of meningitis such as in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo in late 2021; however, it also develops long-term plans to improve public health in Africa overall. In November 2020, the World Health Assembly approved the Defeating Meningitis by 2030 roadmap. WHO will implement the $1.5 billion plan in January 2023, which will begin the fight to control meningitis in Africa by 2030. The plan includes a goal to achieve a 90% vaccination rate using a new vaccine that will hopefully protect communities against new outbreaks of the disease. From 2023 to 2030, the plan also hopes to reduce deaths of meningitis by 70% and reduce cases of meningitis by 50%. Several steps to achieving these goals include increased disease surveillance to catch meningitis early and increasing awareness of services to improve overall public health in Africa.

With WHO’s plan to defeat meningitis by 2030, public health in Africa will greatly improve the lives of millions of people within the meningitis belt. Meningitis is mostly a preventable disease with the efforts of vaccinations and other measures of public health. As the rest of the world encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic, collaboration within a community goes a long way to keeping everyone safe.

– Kaylee Messick

Photo: Flickr

education in MexicoMuch of Mexico’s population faces economic struggles that have only magnified amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one of which includes the high dropout rate for school-age children, a challenge education in Mexico is facing.

Mexico Faces High Student Drop-Out Rates

Mexico’s enrollment rate is one of the most successful out of the Latin American countries. By the start of the 21st century, almost all of Mexico’s age-eligible population was enrolled in primary and lower secondary school. A study found that the enrollment rate for students in grades one to nine as of 2007 was around 95%. Yet, the country fails to secure a high rate of student enrollment through the end of lower secondary schooling, with the overall drop-out rate being close to 50%

Data shows that less than 60% of students finish upper secondary school (high school level) and of that percentage, a large number of children age-eligible for high school do not even attend, according to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study. Many students decide to end their educational pursuits around the age 15, due to financial reasons. Additionally, an estimated 5.2 million students, around 14% of Mexico’s school-aged children, had dropped out of school since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing financial hardship as the reason for their educational termination.

The Impact of Poverty

Although the government made secondary education mandatory in Mexico, it doesn’t directly enforce it. Additionally, “children marginalized by… poverty experience particularly high risks of dropping out” due to financial burdens, according to an article published in the International Journal of Educational Development. As children age, their school curriculum tends to become more difficult and financial costs tend to increase. Coupled with that fact, as children grow older they become more capable of contributing to their family’s financial status, whether that labor is through household duties or in the formal job market, the same article reports.

Mexico’s high dropout rates for school-aged children during and prior to secondary school therefore can have two reasons: the country’s poverty rates and the dependency on children’s labor to supplement household income, all of which especially escalated following the onset of COVID-19.

The Cancellation of Prospera

In recent news, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador canceled Prospera, a governmental program intended to keep children in school and improve education in Mexico, according to Social Protection. The government developed the program in 1997 in response to Mexico’s economic crisis during the years 1994-1995, renewed it as Oportunidades in 2002, then renamed it Prospera in 2014. Following its cancellation, a new program, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund, replaced the educational components of Prospera.

What was Prospera?

Prospera was a conditional cash transfer program (CCT) that not only focused on child education but health and nutrition; it supplied monthly cash subsidies to poor households, primarily those belonging to single and/or unemployed mothers, under certain conditions, Social Protection reports. These conditions included school enrollment and regular trips to health clinics for children.

The CCT program reached 6.2 million households and researchers found that during its implementation, educational attainment for children increased by about 10%, according to Social Protection. Other short-term positive impacts thanks to the program’s conditional healthcare visits included a decrease in maternal death by 11% and infant mortality by 2% and an average improvement in children’s nutritional health.

Long-term impacts of Mexico’s Prospera are still being studied, but one study found that the program’s beneficiaries were “37% more likely to have a job” than those who did not participate and the World Bank attributes one-third of the decrease in Mexico’s rural poverty rates to the program. The World Bank also notes that over 50 countries have replicated Mexico’s Prospera model, adopting similar CCT programs.

Reasons Behind Cancellation

Despite this, Prospera was not particularly popular among voters and Mexico’s president Lopez Obrador eventually canceled it. Data has shown that the program’s beneficiaries received 30% to 40% less in cash value than what was originally intended.

Additionally, the program failed to include 55% of families living in poverty and with household incomes that should have qualified for program consideration, according to Development Pathways.

The Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund

That being said, President Lopez-Obrador and his administration intend for the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund, Prospera’s replacement, to serve children’s educational pursuits without Prospera’s past corruption. In an effort to confront Mexico’s low enrollment and high dropout rates in secondary education and beyond, the fund will give monetary grants in the form of scholarships to teenagers attending upper secondary (high) schools, Social Protection reports.

This fund, however, does not account for “the removal of conditional health and nutrition requirements of Prospera,” Social Protection reports. Despite this fact, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund aims to “encourage [children’s] school enrollment and graduation” without making subsidies conditional upon parents meeting certain requirements.

The program targets families with school-aged children whose monthly income falls under the extreme poverty line and Mexico’s government claims “priority is given to families that live in areas of indigenous populations, areas with high degrees of marginalization or with high rates of violence,” according to Observatory on Social Development.

Mexico’s government has made efforts to improve education in Mexico and school enrollment through programs such as Prospera and, more recently, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund.

– Ashley Kim
Photo: Flickr

Safaricom’s Job ExpansionIn a move to fight competition, Safaricom in Kenya expanded its technical staff by hiring 400 employees with one new deal. The deal, completed in July 2022, will not only create new jobs for Kenyans and open the door for future employment but also will improve Kenyans’ access to technology. Nationwide access to the internet and reliable technology is critical to fighting poverty in Kenya.

Safaricom and its Role in Kenya

Safaricom is a mobile network and internet company based in Kenya. The company hires directly for countless fields, including tech, cybersecurity, commercial, corporate and more. Indirectly, the company is responsible for sustaining thousands of jobs, almost millions, of jobs. Indirect jobs, like contractors, have connections to the production or maintenance of a company’s products. Indirect jobs are also ones where someone’s business or employment is reliant on the services that the company produced. The jobs are indirect because they result from Safaricom’s internet spread or use of Safaricom’s technology and would not exist without Safaricom. Safaricom operates in at least 10 other countries, with recent expansions and more to come.

Allot, a secondary company that tracks cybersecurity and reliability, described Safaricom stating that “With 29 million connections, they are the largest telecommunications provider in Kenya and one of the most profitable companies in the East and Central African region.” In the fiscal year 2020-2021, Safaricom contributed $4,642,499,981.43 in earnings to Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP). Safaricom’s earnings amount to almost 5% of Kenya’s entire GDP. The economic impact of Safaricom’s work is indisputable, and Safaricom’s job expansion exemplifies its effects on technology usage and poverty reduction in Kenya.

Technology in Kenya

Kenya has the “best e-infrastructure in Africa,” making the country known for its technological development and innovation. Kenya’s information, communications and technology sector (ICT) is at the core of Kenya’s government’s latest projects to strengthen the country’s economy. The World Bank has reported that the ICT sector in Kenya still requires significant work to increase its impact on Kenya’s economy and to completely help its poorer citizens.

In April 2022, Kenya’s government created and began implementing the Digital Master Plan 2022-2032. Safaricom will be one of the companies tracking the Master Plan and its progress, specifically regarding data usage. The plan outlines goals, strategies and necessary steps to have Kenya align with global technological infrastructure advancements, and to strengthen and secure Kenya’s “digital economy.” A digital economy is the economic income and improvements from technology use, online activities and all the businesses that depend on the use of technology to strengthen their work and employee retainment. The Digital Masterplan, while not a direct plan to decrease poverty rates or unemployment rates, is meant to enhance the economy, which will result in reduced rates.

One of the key technological advancements in Kenya is the use of M-Pesa. M-Pesa stands for “mobile pesa” and allows users of M-Pesa to make secure transactions from their phones. Vodacom, a partner of Safaricom, and Safaricom itself produced M-Pesa first in 2007. M-Pesa has become a critical connector between rural and urban Kenya. It pre-dated apps such as Venmo and Paypal and has been a part of daily life with further expansions underway. M-Pesa is one of the primary technological tools in Kenya that have lifted thousands out of extreme poverty. Safaricom’s job expansion will help even more escape poverty once the expansion is underway.

Poverty in Kenya

Extreme poverty is when a person lives on less than $1.90 daily. Kenya’s extreme poverty rates were at their highest at 21% in 2016 but have since dropped to 17% as of 2022. Projections for Kenya’s poverty rate show the percentage of Kenya’s population in extreme poverty decreasing to 14% by 2025.

Poverty in Kenya has many causes including lack of education, poor health, and, as technology becomes a key source of income and infrastructure for Kenya, a digital divide. The World Bank noted that 44% of the urban population has access to the internet, compared to the rural population’s meager 27%. Older Kenyans know there are not enough basic skills for technology usage, especially in rural areas. The lack of skills will result in their being economically disadvantaged as technology becomes Kenya’s dominant source of income. Younger age groups are beginning to participate in courses in technology usage or computer science. However, not enough of the older Kenyan population, who struggle to escape poverty, are learning these skills. This is furthering the poverty rates and the technology divides.

Safaricom’s Work In Kenya and Its Future Impact

Safaricom’s job expansion continues the work of the company’s efforts to fight poverty and reduce unemployment rates. Safaricom has created access to financial services for almost 80% of Kenyans. Before Safaricom began operations, the number of Kenyans with access to financial services was 20%. Safaricom has closed education gaps by providing updated technology to schools or has supported local communities or refugees as they find their footing. The technology demand is growing in Kenya, and Safaricom’s job expansion of 400 new employees for the tech team will help meet these demands.

M-Pesa, a product of the tech team, has become one of Safaricom’s most economically valuable ventures, connecting poor rural Kenyans with financial services and mobile usage. M-Pesa earned Safaricom $896,454,132.48 in 2020-2021.

Safaricom is hiring new employees to meet demand and further the company’s reach with M-Pesa and projects like it. Safaricom’s job expansion might seem small. Safaricom is hiring 400 new workers compared to the 6,230 the company already has working as full-time, part-time or contract workers. However, the new workers are invaluable to the company and its ability to serve those who have become reliant on the company and its technology. Safaricom’s job expansion might not seem like a grand move, but there are now 400 tech developers who will benefit from a steady income. There will also be thousands more Kenyans lifted out of extreme poverty by Safaricom’s projects and technology advancements that rely on these new 400 tech developers.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in the Dominican Republic Joining the fight to tackle period poverty in the Dominican Republic, Batey Relief Alliance, a nonprofit organization in the Dominican Republic, worked with Always, a famous American brand of menstrual products, to distribute pads to Dominican women through their #ChicaAyudaChica campaign.

Period Poverty and its Effects

According to UNFPA, “period poverty describes the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products.” Though period poverty is a global issue, it is more prevalent in countries where women are disproportionately impacted by economic hardship. In the Dominican Republic, while the poverty rate is 3% higher for women compared to men, it is also important to note that “40% of women [carry] out unpaid work at home.”

Societal norms limit many Dominican women to domestic work rather than professional occupations. Women in rural Dominican Republic who do work often earn a total of $1 per day when the average package of pads costs $3, making it near impossible for them to afford the products. Thus, the cycle of period poverty persists.

Along with financial difficulties, women also struggled to access menstrual products due to COVID-19, as shown in a survey conducted in 30 countries including the Dominican Republic. Per the survey, 73% of health professionals noted that increased shortages and disrupted supply chains restricted women from buying menstrual products. In addition, 68% of health professionals highlighted that there was limited access to “facilities to change, clean and dispose of period products.”

Without access to sanitary products, most girls fear they will bleed through their clothing and be seen as “unclean” or “dirty” due to the taboo placed around periods and sexual health. In response, some girls trade sexual favors for money to pay for their menstrual products, while others simply stay home from school. These absences lead to lasting negative effects as these girls sometimes miss out on their education or drop out altogether.

How Batey Relief Alliance is Helping Dominican Women

Batey Relief Alliance is a non-political nonprofit founded in 1997 that addresses extreme poverty for women, children and families across the Americas and the Caribbean. In 2021, the organization revealed that 20% of Dominican girls in rural areas missed an average of 2-3 days of school monthly due to lack of access to menstrual products. Overall, a UNICEF report notes that only 56.7% of Dominican girls complete high school.

In response to period poverty in the Dominican Republic, the organization partnered with Always and a famous supermarket chain in the Dominican Republic called La Sirena to launch the ChicaAyudaChica campaign on April 6, 2022. The ChicaAyudaChica, or GirlHelpsGirl campaign is a response to the financial strain the pandemic placed on low-income families. The initiative grew using platforms like Twitter and Facebook to reach a bigger audience. By the end of the month, Always donated 20,000 sanitary pads to girls who lived in the rural province of Monte Plata, the seventh poorest town in the Dominican Republic.

Moving Forward

Even though the campaign is over, Always continues the fight against period poverty through its ongoing #EndPeriodPoverty movement, using social media as a tool to spread the word. As awareness of period poverty and its effects increases, the more young girls and women can gain control over their well-being and future economic opportunities.

– Blanly Rodriguez
Photo: Flickr

Children’s Cafeterias in JapanWhile Japan is one of the most developed countries in the world, the country has a pressing issue to solve — child poverty. According to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2017, Japan’s child income poverty rate stood at 16.3%, 2.9% greater than other OECD countries. To tackle this issue and meet the needs of children, some Japanese volunteers have set up children’s cafeterias in Japan, also known as Kodomo-Shokudo.

3 Facts About Child Poverty in Japan

  1. Single mothers face higher rates of household poverty. There is a link between child poverty and single parenting. In Japan, children from single-parent households tend to live in poverty because household incomes are relatively lower for this demographic and particularly low for single mothers. While this phenomenon is not exclusive to Japan, the country’s notable gender inequality between men and women is unusual for a developed country. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report of 2022, Japan did not make it into the top 100 — it ranked 116th out of 146 countries. In terms of the gender pay gap, the average monthly income for female full-time employees stood at 251,800 yen in 2020 ($2,359) in contrast to 338,800 yen ($3,174) for male employees.
  2. Education links to poverty. There is a correlation between child poverty, parents’ economic status and education. Research shows that the lower a household’s income is, the less likely the parents are to prioritize and value the education of their children. This trickles down, and as a result, these children feel less motivated to continue their education. This continues the cycle of poverty as education is a proven path out of poverty.
  3. Child poverty is an invisible issue. In Japan, child poverty is an obscured problem. In fact, anything related to poverty tends to be hidden. “Fear of being seen as disadvantaged in a society that values the appearance of financial security means poverty in Japan is largely hidden from view,” The Guardian reports. As a result of the stigma associated with poverty, many impoverished families ensure in every way possible that their children have a well-to-do appearance. Consequently, this misleads others into thinking poverty is not a reality in Japan and has led to the government’s underestimation of the seriousness of child poverty.

A Solution: Children’s Cafeterias

To address the issue of child poverty in Japan, a vegetable shop owner, Hiroko Kondo, came up with a practical solution – children’s cafeterias. Kondo established the first cafeteria in 2012. The story goes: a primary school teacher told Kondo that a particular student “had only a banana to eat for the day besides school lunch because his single mother was sick.” After hearing this, Kondo decided to open a cafeteria for disadvantaged children in her neighborhood and offered them low-cost but nutritious dinners twice a month.

The Impact

Kondo’s initiative has inspired many volunteers in Japan, leading to an uptick in children’s cafeterias in the country. By 2019, Japan noted 3,718 children’s cafeterias, a 62% increase from 2018. Interestingly, every children’s canteen operates differently. For instance, while one canteen opens between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. every Monday, giving free meals for children, another “opens from 5.30 a.m. and 7.30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday each month,” offering 300 yen ($2.07) dinners for children and adults.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many children’s cafeterias were able to keep their doors open. Some volunteers, however, changed the style of operation. Instead of providing meals in cafeterias, they made boxed lunches for children to collect.

Overall, child poverty is an issue in Japan that authorities often neglect. To tackle the problem, individuals like Hiroko Kondo took the initiative in 2012 by opening the first children’s cafeterias in Japan to offer needy children nutritious meals at discounted prices. More importantly, Kondo’s action has created a ripple effect — helping to address child poverty in Japan on a broader scale.

– Mimosa Ngai
Photo: Flickr

Energy PovertyGermany has typically received most of its oil and gas imports from Russia, being more reliant on them than any other EU country. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, these imports have plummeted, through EU sanctions and pipeline closures by Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy conglomerate. Germany has further committed to ending all reliance on fuel from Russia by 2024. Making this transition quickly is a monumental task, compounded by worldwide inflation and the lingering effects of the pandemic. As Germany’s energy market struggles to maintain affordable fuel for its citizens, many Germans are at risk of falling into energy poverty. Many different solutions are needed to combat this issue, such as reducing fuel usage, restructuring affordability, and finding alternative uses for fuel.

The German Gas Market

Natural gas accounts for 27% of Germany’s energy. Before the Ukrainian invasion, 55% of it came from Russia. EU sanctions and the partial closure of the Russian-owned Nord Stream pipeline has caused significant disruption to Germany’s energy market. Since natural gas is mainly used in Germany for heating homes and other buildings, there is a risk of many Germans falling into energy poverty this coming winter.

Energy Poverty in Germany

Energy poverty is when the cost of purchasing energy impacts one’s ability to cover other bills and expenses, or when a reduction in energy consumption impacts mental and physical health. One in four Germans are currently energy impoverished, up from one in six in 2018. The poor and disenfranchised are far more likely than others to slip into energy poverty. A member of Germany’s lower-middle class is now twice as likely to fall under the “energy poor” category compared to only one year ago. The German government is scrambling to ease the pressure of increasing prices for suppliers and consumers.

Germany’s Efforts to Curb Energy Poverty

One of Germany’s efforts to curb energy poverty is through reducing the use of natural gas, through both energy-saving measures and switching to different fuels. Most public buildings are lowering their thermostats, and monuments will no longer be lit at night. Heated swimming pools are banned. Germans are being encouraged to take cold showers. The government is also reducing taxes on other forms of fuel, giving discounts to people who switch to public transportation, and reopening old coal power plants.

Another measure in Germany’s efforts to curb energy poverty is a new gas levy, or tax, for consumers, which will be in place from October 2022 through April 2024. While this will alleviate the pressure of surging prices from suppliers to help them remain solvent, there are concerns that it will push many vulnerable Germans into energy poverty. To counteract this, the government is giving subsidies to low-income households and households with children.

The German government is also shoring up gas reserves for the winter, when need will be the highest. As of early September 2022, gas reserves had reached 80% capacity, which is much earlier than expected. The filled gas reserves will help stabilize the supply during the winter, and reduce the risk of people becoming energy impoverished.

The subsidies, gas reserves, and the cutting of gas usage will save thousands from pressures of gas usage, and ease some of the burdens off the market. Reduced market burdens will give Germany’s efforts to curb energy poverty the time to stabilize the market, stop German citizens from falling into energy poverty, and lift those who have out.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Yemen uses rainwater harvestingThe ongoing water scarcity crisis in Yemen continues to grow. Currently, the country stands as one of the most water-scarce regions in the world. With conflict and climate change making it increasingly harder to obtain fresh water sources, access to safe drinking water is a major concern for people living in Yemen. The World Bank and its partners started a promising project where Yemen uses rainwater harvesting techniques to provide accessible and clean drinking water to local people.

Yemen’s Water Crisis

Yemen is a water-stressed region, and the ongoing conflict has significantly exacerbated the crisis. A rapidly depleting store of groundwater resources in Yemen is negatively impacting the country’s economy, which mainly relies on irrigated agriculture. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that Yemen’s groundwater overdraft is twice the recharge rate, resulting in declining and unsustainable water reserves. Moreover, the Yemeni Civil War has significantly disrupted crucial infrastructure. The displacement of 4.2 million people in Yemen and extreme water mismanagement have worsened the water crisis.

The United States Agency for International Development states that about 20.7 million people in Yemen lack clean water and essential health services, leading to several dangerous diseases such as cholera. Outbreaks of cholera and acute watery diarrhea have been major health problems in Yemeni communities since the outbreaks began in October 2016. According to the Red Cross, approximately 2.5 million cases have been reported, with more than 4,000 deaths in the Yemen cholera outbreak.

Rainwater Harvesting Solution

With 60% of Yemenis living in rural areas, the country’s biggest infrastructural challenge is providing water access to remote communities. According to the World Bank, people in Yemen undergo hardship in gathering water for daily use by traveling to far-off wells.  The World Bank and its partners collaborated with Yemeni communities to build rainwater harvesting systems.

Rainwater harvesting is not a complex process. Cisterns are built, usually from stones or other materials easily accessible in Yemeni villages, and placed on roofs to collect rainwater. The collaborative effort constructed numerous cisterns in three towns: Al-Adn, Al-Anin and Hawf. The project resulted in the villages being able to store large quantities of water that was free of contaminants.

Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting cisterns have provided safe drinking water and resulted in employment opportunities for locals. The World Bank offered cash-for-work programs in villages, allowing locals to build cisterns and gain valuable work experience. Cisterns have also eased the burden on the women and children in the villages. Haliya Al-Jahal, one of the women the World Bank interviewed, said, “We no longer have to go through the struggle of fetching water from remote areas.” The cisterns, as Al-Jahal states, have “put an end to [their] misery.”

The Future of the Program

The Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) has supported the construction of about 1,279 public and 30,686 household harvesting cisterns across Yemen. This has resulted in providing 900,000 cubic meters of clean water to communities. YECRP has shown more promising results where Yemen uses rainwater harvesting to improve areas such as public health, agricultural production and economic gains.

– Umaima Munir
Photo: Flickr

food banks in AfricaAccording to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, approximately 702 to 828 million people worldwide suffered from hunger in 2021, and more than 30% of them were on the African continent. While there are many hunger relief efforts on the continent, food banks are the least prominent or known. There are many reasons for this, including bureaucracy in local governments, lack of funding, poor geographical location and poor infrastructure. Nevertheless, food banks in Africa are increasing in number despite the challenges and are making a significant impact on reducing food insecurity. Some things to know about food banks in Africa include:

Food banks are relatively new to Africa.

While there may be many hunger relief initiatives in Africa with long histories, food banks, especially those formed by local initiatives, did not form before the beginning of the 21st century. The earliest African food banks include the Egyptian Food Bank, founded in 2006, and FoodForward South Africa, founded in 2009.

Food is sourced directly from farmers and processing companies.

Most food waste in Africa comes from post-harvest and food processing levels of food distribution. This is unlike established food banking systems in the U.S. and Europe, which mainly source food waste from restaurants, supermarkets, grocery stores and other similar places. Other differences between these established systems and emerging ones in Africa and other parts of the world are challenging what is understood about food banking. As a result, food banking is being reevaluated on its impact on food insecurity.

Food banks expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, the number of people in Africa suffering from hunger increased by 46 million; by 2021, 278 million people on the continent faced hunger. New food banks in Africa stepped up to cope with the increase and served 906,026 people, increasing their reach by 169% compared to their impact in 2019. Through the Africa Food Bank Incubator Conference held annually since 2019, African food banks came together virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic to share advice and strategies contributing to their exponential growth.

In 2019, African food banks joined the Global Food Banking Network for the first time.

The Global Food Banking Network is a nonprofit organization supporting food banks worldwide. Except for its partnership with FoodForward South Africa, the organization had no presence in the African continent. In 2019, the organization partnered with 40 food banks in Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar and Botswana to form the Africa Incubator Program.

Food banks are helping food insecurity.

Food banking systems as a means to combat food insecurity and food waste in Africa will continue to mature as the continent continues to develop alongside the refinement of international interdependence. The present challenges to food banking in Africa can therefore be considered an opportunity to test innovative solutions in the fight against food poverty.

– Kena Irungu
Photo: Wikimedia Commons