Desertification is a process that destroys fertile land. This can be caused by drought, overpopulation, over-farming, deforestation and climate change. The effects of desertification are seen in many parts of the world, but is predominantly in India, Australia, Asia and Africa. More than six million acres of land in India are turned into a desert-like state annually. The U.N. estimates about 30 million acres of land across the globe are impacted by desertification every year.

The most vulnerable region is a 3,000-mile stretch of land that includes ten countries in the Sahel region of Africa. The Sahel is the area between the Saharan Desert and the Sudanian Savannah. This region is under constant stress due to frequent droughts and soil erosion. A dense forest can become a field of dust in a matter of years, making mass migrations inevitable. Africans frequently migrate south in search of fertile land.

Desertification in Senegal and Beyond

Desertification affects about 46 percent of Africa. Yet, the process of reversing its effects is slow going, usually taking a decade to see major improvements. Agriculture in Africa tends to result in low productivity, as most of the land is characterized as a semi-desert. Clearing the land of trees also reduces the structure of the soil. Coupled with wind erosion, the topsoil blows away and leaves a desert-like land. The issue is seen in many parts of the world, but it is most prevalent in Africa.

The country that is arguably the most damaged by desertification is Senegal. Migrations in Senegal are common, as wind erosion, deforestation and climate change wreaks havoc on farms and livestock. In 2015, Khalidou Badara, a cattle herder in Senegal, said, “There are almost no more trees, and the grass does not grow anymore, and so each year, we have to go further and further away to find grazing for our cattle.” Those most affected by desertification in Senegal move to Gabon, a country in West Africa, or even to Europe or South America. More than half of Senegalese work in agriculture, and desertification forces those with meager profits to move elsewhere to escape poverty.

The Great Green Wall

One ambitious initiative created to reduce desertification in Africa is the Great Green Wall. Once completed, the Great Green Wall will be the largest living structure on the planet, spanning more than 4,500 miles across the entire Sahel. The idea is that planting trees can combat desertification, create jobs, improve food security and bring migrated populations back home. The initiative began in 2007 and has already planted 12 million trees in Senegal. The wall prevents the Saharan Desert from encroaching on land most affected by desertification in Africa, while simultaneously reducing soil erosion. More than 37 million acres of degraded land in Ethiopia was restored as a result of this initiative.

There are similar results in Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Niger. Only 15 percent of the project is complete, and the Great Green Wall is creating a lasting impact. The Great Green Wall’s goals for 2030 include restoring 247 million acres of destroyed land and creating 10 million jobs in rural areas.

Will Desertification Halt or Slow?

As climate change continues to place a burden on poor farmers in the Sahel region, scientists and initiatives, like the Great Green Wall, continue to restore the region to its original structure. The Great Green Wall is growing every month. Its ambitious goals for 2030 express that their work will not slow in Africa. The greatest impact of these solutions lies in preventing further desertification in Africa so that those in poverty can depend on fertile land for food and sufficient income to escape poverty.

Lucas Schmidt

Photo: Flickr

Senegal Poverty Rate
Senegal, the westernmost country in Africa, has a population of about 13 million people. Nearly half of the Senegalese population—46.7 percent, to be exact—are living in poverty. The following 10 facts explain and give context for the poverty rate in Senegal:

  1. The poverty rate in Senegal is determined in terms of consumption. Estimates of consumption per household are divided by the number of adults in the household. This number excludes children, who are assumed to consume less than adults. From here, a minimum acceptable standard of consumption is calculated and individuals below this level of consumption are considered poor.
  2. Geographic disparities exist between rural areas and Dakar, the capital city and the largest city in Senegal. In rural areas, 66 percent of residents are considered poor, compared to 25 percent of residents in Dakar. Additionally, the general poverty line in Dakar is almost two times higher than it is in rural areas.
  3. As of 2011, 38 percent of Senegal’s population was living on $1.90 or less per day.
  4. As of 2016, Senegal’s GNI per capita was $950.
  5. Senegal’s economy relies on industries such as mining, construction, agriculture, fishing and tourism, but it also heavily relies on foreign aid and remittances. Nearly 75 percent of the population works in the agriculture sector, which is regularly threatened by inclement weather such as drought and climate change.
  6. Senegal has a poor economy and, as a result, many Senegalese people emigrate to other countries. An economic crisis in 1970 ignited migration, which had accelerated by 1990. Many migrants left for Libya and Mauritania for opportunities in their thriving oil industries. Others left for more developed countries such as France, Italy and Spain for other economic opportunities.
  7. Senegal’s GDP rose at an average of 4.5 percent each year from 1995 to 2005. After 2005, however, while the rest of Africa enjoyed economic growth, Senegal’s economy started to decline. From 2005 to 2011, Senegal’s economy rose at an average rate of 3.3 percent. Decline in economic growth, especially during this period, can be attributed to drought, floods, rising fuel prices and the global financial crisis.
  8. The World Bank reported that GDP growth is too low for significant poverty reduction in Senegal.
  9. The fertility rate in Senegal is almost 4.5 children per woman. Young people comprise a large portion of the population at 60 percent of the Senegalese population. Additionally, Senegal has an illiteracy rate of 40 percent and a high unemployment rate of 12.7 percent, both of which provide dim outlooks for Senegalese youth. According to the Hunger Project, 22 percent of children ages five to 14 are working and not attending school.
  10. Unlike many countries facing extreme poverty, Senegal has one of the most stable governments in Africa and is considered a model for democracy in Africa. Since its independence from France in 1960, Senegal has elected four presidents and has witnessed three peaceful political transitions.

Despite the fact that the poverty rate in Senegal is high, many projects have been implemented to reduce the poverty rate. President Macky Sall unveiled the Emerging Senegal Plan (ESP), which strives to prioritize economic reforms and growth. The International Monetary Fund is providing assistance for the ESP from 2015 to 2017.

In an attempt to take a fresh look at poverty, Senegal’s national statistics office distributed the second Senegal Poverty Monitoring Survey. The World Bank, the Canadian government and the World Food Programme provided financial support. The survey, however, has room for error, because it is heavily dependent on the time of year that residents fill it out, as consumption levels vary based on the harvest.

Furthermore, microfinance has begun to play a key role in reducing poverty in very poor countries, such as Senegal. This program has allowed very poor individuals who are excluded from traditional banking to obtain microloans. The Hunger Project introduced the Microfinance Program (MFP) in Senegal, which strives to incorporate female farmers and entrepreneurs to give them a larger voice in the community. Three of the MFPs in Senegal have been approved by the government to operate as rural banks. MFPs provide credit and savings programs and have allowed many farmers to move beyond exclusively subsistence farming.

Economic growth will be the key component in reducing poverty in Senegal. These projects from the Senegalese government and various organizations hope to spark economic growth and help reduce the poverty rate in Senegal.

Christiana Lano

Photo: Google

Common Diseases in SenegalThe 2015 Ebola epidemic did not signal the end of Senegal’s health issues. Just like other developing countries, Senegal also has problems with the spread of common diseases.

The spread of some of these diseases correlates with poor sanitation systems and infrastructure, but also concerns unique to West Africa. Here are the seven most common diseases in Senegal.

  1. Bacterial and protozoal diarrhea
    Also known as traveler’s diarrhea or TD, this disease can affect anyone in Senegal. Pathogens transmitted through poor sanitation systems, food and water cause this disease. As a result the disease is prevalent in Senegal, where 52 percent of the population does not have access to improved sanitation facilities.However, it can also occur anytime someone does not handle food properly. The symptoms of this disease include vomiting, bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and fever. TD can be treated with antibiotics.
  2. Hepatitis A
    A virus of the liver, hepatitis A afflicts many countries around the world. People typically spread the disease by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the feces of an infected person or being in contact with an infected person. Because this virus also occurs in areas where sanitation issues exist, Senegal has high risk for the disease.Symptoms include nausea, abdominal pain, fever and joint pain. Although the disease does not typically cause death, acute liver failure can occur, with risks increasing with age. Hepatitis A does not currently have a specific treatment, but can be prevented with improved sanitation.
  3. Typhoid fever
    Typhoid fever is a common disease throughout the world, especially in the developing world. Typhoid persists in a bacterium which can be transmitted through contaminated food or water in food preparation. Once again, being that Senegal has water contamination issues, this virus is likely to affect Senegal’s population.The symptoms of this disease include high, sustained fevers, stomach pains and a rash with rose-colored spots. Because typhoid commonly spreads through food, it is mainly prevented by handling food properly and hygienically. Typhoid can be treated with antibiotics.
  4. Malaria
    Malaria, another one of the most common diseases in Senegal, plagues many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This disease has a 9 percent mortality rate overall, taking top priority among health officials. Female Anopheles mosquitoes cause the malaria illness, especially after a large amount of rain.Symptoms include fever, aches, chills and sweats. The most common form of prevention tackles the root of the disease: mosquitoes. Mosquito nets help stymie mosquito bites and provide a temporary source of protection from a problem that has yet to find a solution. PATH, a health organization in Senegal, helps vaccinate young children against the disease.
  5. Schistosomiasis
    Comparable to other common diseases in Senegal, schistosomiasis affects primarily tropical areas of the country. Parasites that live in the snails found in contaminated fresh water can transmit the disease. Because of the conditions of its inception, the disease affects nearly two million people in Senegal.Symptoms include itchy skin, fever, chills and cough. Prevention includes proper water treatment and not swimming in freshwater areas. Schistosomiasis can be treated with medication.
  6. Meningococcal meningitis
    With the number of suspected cases dropping every year as of 2014, the diseases seems to be losing hold in Senegal; however, it remains problematic. Meningitis commonly occurs in large urban centers where close contact in crowded living conditions helps transmit the bacteria person-to-person by respiratory droplets, because of its highly infectious nature.Forty-seven percent of Senegal’s population lives in urban areas, which increases the risk for spreading the disease. Symptoms include stiff neck, high fever, headaches and vomiting. Primary prevention includes avoiding people with the disease and getting vaccinated. The disease can be treated with antibiotics.
  7. Yellow Fever
    Primarily affecting those who work in heavily forested areas in Senegal, yellow fever is a viral infection spread from monkeys and other humans by mosquitoes. The infection is most common in areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South America. In mild cases, yellow fever can cause fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. But about 15 percent of yellow fever cases can become more serious leading to heart, liver and kidney problems. No specific treatments exist for this disease, however, medication can be helpful for its symptoms.
    Likely the most endemic disease in Africa, HIV/AIDS affects high-risk groups in Senegal, particularly sex workers. This autoimmune disease has no cure, yet treatment does exist and lengthens the lifespan of many people with the disease.While the prevalence among adults in Senegal remains relatively low at just 0.4 percent, the country is still involved in programs that help prevent transmission in the country, including a governmental collaboration – the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR). PATH also provides education, prevention, and treatment programs for female sex workers in Senegal.

These common diseases in Senegal come about primarily due to a lack of basic infrastructure to ensure hygienic and safe communities. With the right support and government priorities, these debilitating diseases can be reduced or eliminated and the people of Senegal can pursue prosperity.

Selasi Amoani

Photo: Flickr

Economy of Senegal
Year-round, the legume tree Senna Italica can be harvested in the drought-prone country of Senegal. In the commune of Kaymor, women in multiple villages grow the shrub on a large scale to compensate for losses the economy of Senegal has faced as a changing climate threatens their agricultural production.

The shrub provides some 300 women with agriculture training activities to capitalize on the economic benefits, and also brings medicinal benefits. The Senegalese use the plant to treat stomach discomfort, venereal diseases, jaundice, intestinal worms, and even skin irritation. Tea made from its leaves is said to help induce labor, and a root infusion can apparently be used to treat sore eyes. For now, its medicinal use makes local trade more common than anything else.

But outside of Senegal, the plant is still in demand. To the north, in Mauritania, people smoke the seeds. In Eastern Africa, the plant is mainly used to feed livestock. And internationally, the crushed dried leaves of the plant are used in hair conditioner and dye sometimes called “natural henna.”

Senna Italica is easy to produce, available for harvest only two months after it is planted, and seemingly immune to the rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall that agricultural researchers believe will only get worse.

The economy of Senegal is growing regardless of the shrub, In fact, Senegal is second in Africa only to Cote D’Ivoire for growth. For that reason, many of the local women harvesting the plant are happy to reap its medicinal benefits and use the excess profit to buy groundnut seeds for their husbands.

Groundnut seeds are one of the staple cash crops of Senegal, so men so far are less involved in the harvesting of Senna Italica, busy harvesting crops they have relied on for centuries. Yet village women are quickly discovering that as much money can be made from a hectare of the medicinal plant as two hectares of groundnuts, which are only seasonal.

In a local growers association of 70 women, each harvest can produce 500,000 CFA francs (close to $800) to support the local economy. With poverty still affecting 46.7% of the population, helping local economies helps the economy of Senegal, and this medicinal shrub offers an efficient way to empower women and fight poverty.

Brooke Clayton

Water Quality in Senegal
Officials say that the water quality in Senegal, a country on the west side of Africa, is improving, compared to past studies that showed a lack of access to drinking water and higher levels of contaminants.

A 2015 World Bank report stated that, at the end of 2008, the access rate to drinking water in Senegal was at approximately 85% and would reach the target of 90% by 2015. These statistics come from data provided by the Millennium Drinking Water and Sanitation Program (PEPAM), which reveals slightly more optimistic numbers than that of the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP). The JMP reported an access rate of 69% at the end of 2008 and attainment of 81% access rate in 2015.

Sanitation, however, remains the main concern for the water quality in Senegal. Estimates from PEPAM and JMP both show that access rates with respect to sanitation are lower than they should be, according to the World Bank’s report.

Access to drinking water in rural areas has seen improvement in recent years, and further data from PEPAM shows that targets will most likely exceed in this category. However, data from JMP suggests uncertainty in meeting targets regarding rural drinking water security. Regardless, improvements in this area are evident.

According to a report from the World Health Organization, the level of sanitation facility usage had improved by 52% by 2012. In addition, Senegal saw a 74% increase in the use of drinking water from improved sources, also in 2012.

The report also noted that Senegal’s government made commitments to 24 improvements for the country’s water quality. These were announced at the Sanitation and Water for All High-Level Meeting in 2014. The commitments included goals for sanitation and hygiene and included increasing financing for water quality and focusing on equity.

Past studies have shown that, in the spring of 2002, the Senegal River estuary contained high levels of bacteria. The water quality in Senegal has since seen improvements, and this area, in particular, has been found to have fewer contaminants.

The water quality in Senegal has seen several improvements over the past few years and will continue to benefit from future goals set by global organizations.

Leah Potter

Photo: Flickr

Located on the northwestern coast of Africa, Senegal is lauded as one of the most stable democracies in Africa. It is the only country in post-colonial Africa that has avoided a military coup against its democratic government. However, the democracy of Senegal still experiences lapses in its democratic process, a common ailment of African nations establishing independence post-colonization.

2004 marked the beginning of the most significant violent conflict in Senegal’s recent history. Located in the southwestern corner of Senegal lies Casamance, a province which has been vying for independence from the Senegalese government since 1982. Civil unrest in Casamance came to a head in 2004, with instances of violent conflict being documented well into 2014. The conflict between the Casamance rebels, known as the Casamance Movement of Democratic Forces (MFDC), and the official Senegalese military has displaced thousands and taken a serious toll on civilian life.

While a ceasefire was signed by both warring factions in 2014, fighting between the Senegalese army and the MFDC continues today, albeit at a much smaller scale. Little has been done to reincorporate internally displaced Senegalese people into the state and remediate the living conditions of those affected by the civil strife of the separatist movement. Below are 10 facts about Senegalese refugees and their status as liminal bodies in a warring state.

  1. Sixty percent of Senegal’s population lives on less $3.10 a day, making it extremely difficult for them to obtain even the most basic human necessities such as food, water, shelter and vaccines.
  2. The richest 20 percent of Senegal hold 46.9 percent of the country’s wealth, illustrating that those displaced by conflict have limited economic resources to rebuild their lives.
  3. The most recent data concerning casualties resulting from the conflict states that approximately 14 civilians, including persons of refugee and internally displaced status, have been killed since February. The continued destruction of human life despite the three-year-old cease-fire illustrates that the conflict still seriously threatens the stability of the nation.
  4. The Senegalese government reports that the MFDC has repeatedly looted local villages to fund its military campaigns. However, the only official report on this comes from a readily biased Senegalese account, illustrating that the control of information is perhaps detrimental to the nation’s democracy.
  5. According to the most recently conducted study, there are an estimated 62,638 internally displaced people (IDP) in and around Senegal as a result of this civil strife.
  6. While physical displacement is the most severe form of displacement, less extreme forms of displacement, including the postponing of infrastructure development, has decreased post-war job opportunities and caused economic stagnation.
  7. Stigmatization of the entire Casamance region has also had impacted civilian life and citizens’ ability to relocate and establish themselves within the larger Senegalese economy.
  8. Humanitarian efforts to aid IDPs have largely focused on conflict resolution and the rebuilding of infrastructure and have not necessarily addressed the most basic and urgent needs of returning IDPs.
  9. The number of non-military landmine deaths was estimated to be around 748 as of December 2008. Efforts to remove landmines exist but are typically run by the Senegalese government, which is more or less unresponsive to the needs of Senegalese refugees and IDPs located in war-torn areas.
  10. Corruption within the MFDC led to a largely war-based economy, which has since devolved into drug trafficking and has initiated a new wave of terror for the people of Casamance. Drug trafficking is especially heavy between Casamance and Guinea-Bissau, and some Senegalese refugees in this area have looked to the notoriously violent narco-trafficking trade for work.

While the recovery statuses of the Casamance region and the Senegalese refugees’ areas are problematic, political and social stability is slowly being reinstated. Approximately one-third of IDPs have returned home in recent years, and the worst of the bloodshed has subsided. Further international intervention seems to be required for complete resolution.

Spencer Linford

Photo: Flickr

Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Senegal has had a successful run as a country. For example, it is considered one of the most stable democracies in West Africa. Nevertheless, nearly 50 percent of the population experiences malnutrition or hunger in Senegal.

The economy relies mainly on the agricultural sector, with most of the citizens being employed in the industry. Even with the success of farmers, however, not nearly enough nourishment is provided to the 13 million people who call Senegal home.

Food insecurity is mainly caused by the fluctuating food prices and unpredictable harvests that happen every year. The truth is that these unpredictable factors cause hundreds of thousands to experience hunger in Senegal.

Some unfortunate results of the fluctuating factors are that more than one million children under five are at risk of food shortages, threatening their growth and their lives.

In fact, the rate of hunger and malnutrition has become such a problem that the World Health Organization estimates that the country is on the threshold of an emergency. Half of the population is living on less than $1.25 a day, providing little room for families to ensure their loved ones are well-fed.

To alleviate hunger in Senegal, organizations like the World Food Programme (WFP) and Freedom from Hunger are supporting those who are suffering. For example, WFP collaborates with the government to provide nutritional support to families with young children. Freedom from Hunger also provides financial and educational services to women and families in rural areas of the country.

Furthermore, volunteers from organizations that seek to improve the state of hunger in Senegal encourage pregnant and lactating women to participate in nutrition awareness sessions. Rural areas of the country are also targeted by these helpful volunteers, for they typically house the most vulnerable in the country.

The government has begun to take part in helping its country, as well. Recently, the government employed a voucher system, under which each household receives a voucher to use for their family’s monthly food needs. In 2017, the UN reiterated their desire for Africa to reach its Zero Hunger Goal by 2030 under new Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. In order for this to happen, Senegal has to keep up the work being done to help families in need, as well as go further in making sure the citizens have proper information concerning nutrition.

Senegal is a nation with low incomes and severe food deficit. The country is on the mend, though, with the help of nonprofit organizations and programs designed to teach families how to receive nutrition in the smartest and most economical way. If governments and organizations keep up the good work, they can lift the burden of hunger in Senegal.

Jacqueline Artz

Photo: Flickr

Senegal's poverty status
Senegal has emerged as one of the most promising countries in the developing world. However, in recent years, with decreased growth in agriculture, poor infrastructure and longstanding under-investment, Senegal’s poverty status has become a top priority for both the public and private sectors. Currently, 33.6 percent of the over 14 million people living in Senegal live in poverty and 25 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from stunting — down only a few points from a 2012 report.

The U.S. Government Global Food Security Strategy lays out a path to achieve targeted sustainable development goals to end global poverty. Included in this strategy is the global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, which seeks to end global poverty using a strategic and planned approach. Focusing on targeting investments for maximum impact, Feed the Future works toward inclusive agriculture sector growth, gender integration, improved nutrition, private sector engagement and climate-smart development.

Senegal is one of the 19 focus countries selected to benefit from this strategy based on five criteria: level of need, an opportunity for partnership, potential for agriculture growth, an opportunity for regional synergy and resource availability.

Through collaborative efforts like Feed the Future’s public-private partnership opportunities, private businesses can work alongside public sectors to help improve food security, research and irrigation to reduce poverty in Senegal and other countries.

These public-private efforts have already shown progress toward ending poverty in Senegal. According to a document released in September 2016 outlining the program’s strategy through 2021, “Right now, the world is closer than ever before to ending global hunger, undernutrition, and extreme poverty, but significant challenges and opportunities remain, including urbanization, gender inequality, instability and conflict.”

To help ensure progress is sustained in developing countries like Senegal, the U.S. Government and private partners are working to make sure the impact of new programs are felt community-wide. “In the past, we thought our job was done when we taught a farmer how to plant a new crop. Today, our job isn’t done until we also help her — and her neighbor — learn how to run a successful business. We don’t want our impact to stop at just one family, business or community. We want communities around the world to see real change at a large scale.”

The new strategy also includes in-depth sections on the positive effects investments in science, technology and research have on reducing global hunger, ending poverty and achieving sustainability. Noticeable progress is evident in the number of farmers who have applied improved technology and management practices, rising from 1,226,119 in 2011 to 9,038,480 in 2015.

In terms of ending poverty in Senegal, 4 million new private investment funds were leveraged by Feed the Future to help end poverty in 2014.

Ashley Henyan

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Senegal
Senegal is a rapidly developing nation in West Africa. Like many developing nations, it is gaining access to lots of new technologies but still lacks many key tools for effective education among other issues.

More specifically, many schools in Senegal do not have electricity. While many technologies exist to foster education that can help to raise people out of poverty, few of these technologies can be used without a stable power source. However, the oil industry is emerging in strength and may be able to help end poverty in Senegal.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Senegal’s economy has been stable and growing at a rate of 6 percent. This is in part due to the development of the country’s oil industry. Oil is one of the world’s most demanded commodities. Despite this fact, the oil resources of Senegal and West Africa are mostly untapped.

Yet, interest in the region is increasing. The Scottish-based company Cairn Energy has stated they plan to spend nearly $70 million exploring projects to drill in Senegal; Australia’s FAR Ltd is considering setting up commercial operations in a basin off of the coast. This basin is speculated to contain at least 200 million barrels worth of oil.

The managing director of FAR’s development plan said that the expansion plan will yield “a world class oil field that can support a commercial development.” FAR has also noted that the costs of operating offshore have decreased by more than 20 percent since 2014. Because poverty in Senegal affects so many citizens, the government must take advantage of its emerging position as a major oil producer for the region.

Senegal’s economy is based largely on the agricultural sector. In addition to the lack of educational technology, poverty in Senegal often stems from agricultural workers who face the threats of drought and climate change.

However, the country benefits from peaceful leadership and one of the most stable democracies on the continent. With this in mind, the burgeoning oil industry may be able to help end poverty in Senegal.

Nathaniel Siegel

Photo: Flickr

empathy video games
Recently, an increasing number of indie video game developers have been producing games, interactive media and virtual realities that aim to teach people about pressing social issues.

These broadly termed “empathy video games” commonly seek to evoke compassion in the player by creating an experience that provides a detailed look into the trials and tribulations the game’s characters undergo.

These games have covered a broad range of topics such as cancer, gender dysphoria and child abuse, according to The Telegraph.

Lately, a number of empathy video games have sought to raise awareness and understanding for issues related to global issues such as poverty and the refugee crisis. Here are a few examples of empathy video games:


North, by Outland Games, aims to demonstrate the difficulties refugees face when attempting to migrate and integrate into new places. You play as a refugee seeking asylum in a strange city, finding yourself disoriented and confused as you attempt to decipher the customs and codes of those who govern.

“In terms of its design…we worked on a web documentary about European migration policies with a few other journalists from across Europe. We also worked in refugee centers and saw all these people getting lost in endless paperwork and absurd procedures. So we had all this background knowledge and personal attachment to the refugee situation that we wanted to come across in the game,” said Gabriel Helfenstein, one half of the duo that comprises Outlands Games.

The game does not attempt to realistically emulate any of the world’s ongoing refugee crises; rather, it highlights the universal emotions of horror, grief, confusion, frustration and guilt that accompany all refugee situations. This is reflected in its design, which takes on a dark, surreal form.

Project Syria

Project Syria is a virtual reality project that places the user in two separate scenarios: in the midst of a bomb explosion on a busy street in Aleppo and in a refugee camp. The team behind Project Syria conducted extensive research to depict the situations as accurately as possible.

“…we managed to find two handicam videos of the explosion and traced the location to find out exactly where and when it happened,” Vangelis Lympouridis, co-producer of the project, told Motherboard.

“We pulled still frames from the videos, created panoramic shots, and used those to build the Aleppo neighborhood hit by the blast. For the refugee camp, we sent a team to the camp to record the situation. The audio is all real, which really creates a sense of presence.”

Project Syria has been billed as “immersive journalism” for its capacity to put people inside the story. Its creator, Nonny de la Peña, has previously created several other immersive environments to help ordinary people understand the plights of those affected by pressing social problems.

“I want to tell important stories,” de la Peña told The Telegraph. “And I want to do that in a way that brings them to life as much as possible and helps the audience find out about, or better understand, or feel more strongly about, a particular situation. Virtual reality has the unique ability to make you feel present on scene and that in turn generates a very powerful feeling of empathy.”

Cross Dakar City

Cross Dakar City focuses on the issue of child beggars (enfants talibés) in Senegal. The game follows Mamadou, a child beggar who is trying to cross the streets of Dakar in order to find his parents and return home. Mamadou has to avoid fast-moving vehicles, trains, bombs and rivers during the six levels of the game.

This is a widespread problem in Senegal — there were an estimated 50,000 child beggars in the country in 2010, according to Human Rights Watch. The problem arises when poor parents send their male children to Islamic schools to secure a better future for them.

At the schools, Muslim religious leaders sometimes send the young children out to beg on the streets. Though the practice was outlawed in 2005, critics, including the game’s creator, Ousseynou Khadim Bèye, say that the government has done little to enforce the new rules.

In a phone interview with Motherboard, Bèye explained the rationale behind his making of the game. “I wanted to make something that had a positive impact on Senegal and to reach the widest public as possible with this game and highlight the issue of child begging in Senegal. Players have to ensure that Mamadou crosses the streets of Dakar with their iconic local taxis safely. Many child beggars, who are as young as seven, become accident victims; they are also subject to kidnappings and sexual abuse,” he said.

“They also live in terrible conditions, lack access to electricity or water and have very little food,” said Bèye.

Since its release in May 2015, Cross Dakar City has been downloaded 50,000 times. Bèye has plans to make more socially-charged games in the future. “Ultimately, I want to partner with non-profit organizations and make more games on themes like solar energy and deforestation that make people more aware of how these issues are affecting communities in Africa,” he said.

Hazy Days

Mike Ren’s “Hazy Days” is a breathing simulator game that seeks to demonstrate the struggles that China’s high levels of air pollution inflict on its citizens, particularly children.

The player controls Xiao Feng, a little girl about to visit her grandmother for Chinese New Year. The game seeks to replicate her day-to-day experience in a polluted environment.

The player controls her breathing, trying to inhale oxygen molecules and avoid air pollution particles on her walk to school. The goal is to make it through a week without getting sick, so Xiao can visit her grandmother for Chinese New Year.

As the week progresses, more and more air pollution particles build up in Feng’s lungs, illustrating the build-up effect that pollution has. Though it is possible to make it through the week without getting sick, it is a very challenging endeavor.

China’s air pollution problem continues to get worse, despite the widespread media coverage. Air pollution is harmful to everyone, especially children, whose lungs are still developing. Common health problems that develop include asthma, chronic bronchitis, weakening of the immune system and higher rates of cancer. Hundreds of thousands of premature deaths have been linked to air pollution levels.

The emergence of these “empathy video games” points to the expanding efforts to make global issues such as poverty and the refugee crises more well-known in the minds of the general public.

Anton Li