Posts

Sweden's Foreign AidMany countries allocate a portion of their gross national income (GNI) to foreign aid. However, few countries rival Sweden’s foreign aid. Sweden has a reputation as a generous country in the international community; it gives generous donations to struggling countries for a variety of reasons. The three nations that Sweden provides the most aid to are Tanzania, Afghanistan and Mozambique. Additionally, Sweden distributes its aid to many areas within these three countries. This article highlights Sweden’s efforts to help these impoverished countries.

Tanzania

Tanzania and Sweden have been partners for over half a century. The relationship between the two nations started back in 1963. Since then, Sweden has achieved multiple substantial successes in Tanzania. For example, Sweden has helped deliver electricity to about 20% of the newly powered areas since 2006. Sweden also provided financial assistance to one million small businesses. In this case, over 50% of those beneficiaries were women or young people. Additionally, in 2013, Sweden provided Tanzania with $123 million in official development assistance (ODA). It also provided $103 million in 2015.

According to the website Sweden Abroad, Sweden’s foreign aid in Tanzania is intended to help the country achieve sustainable growth and to give impoverished people opportunities to care for themselves, either by providing them with employment or by starting small businesses. Looking to the future, Sweden will decrease their aid as poverty decreases in Tanzania.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan has also received a tremendous amount of support from Sweden’s foreign aid. One of the core focuses of Swedish aid in Afghanistan is in promoting gender equality for women. Unfortunately, literacy among women in Afghanistan is around 18%. Sweden has worked hard to reduce that statistic. Thankfully, Sweden has increased the number of women attending school. In 2001, one million women attended school in Afghanistan. By 2016, there were 8.2 million children in school, 40% of whom were girls. Sweden has increased the number of girls in school, in part, through the implementation of schools run by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. Currently, these schools teach about 70,000 Afghan children. Of that number, 62% are girls.

Sweden has also made strides in protecting women from violence. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, U.N. Women and Women for Afghanistan Women have teamed up to ensure the protection of Afghan women. These agencies have established refuges within 20 provinces of Afghanistan. These refuges offer services including legal assistance and guidance following gender-based violence.

Mozambique

Similar to Tanzania, Mozambique has received Sweden’s foreign aid for many years; Swedish aid to Tanzania started during the 1970s. Sweden has aided Mozambique in many ways, including by preventing child marriages, promoting gender equality and renovating hydroelectric plants. The Pungwe Programme is one specific example of Sweden’s aid in Mozambique. This program takes care of the Pungwe River. Over one million people use the Pungwe River, including Mozambicans in addition to some Zimbabweans.

Hopefully, other countries will follow Sweden’s example and increase their investments in the global community. Sweden’s work in Tanzania, Afghanistan and Mozambique is commendable; however, it will take more aid to bring developing countries into the modern era.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Aid to AfghanistanThe period of 2018 to 2020 brought with it a series of difficulties for the people of Afghanistan, including droughts, floods and pandemics. A severe drought in 2018 impacted 95% of the country’s farmland and dried up crucial water sources. More than 250,000 people were displaced and at least 1.4 million civilians required emergency aid. Following the drought, 2019 had the opposite occurrence: heavy rainfall activated widespread flooding in nine provinces, impacting more than 112,000 people. These crises continue to be felt in 2020 as both old and new challenges exacerbate conditions for the poorest Afghans. Countries all over the world are pledging to provide aid to Afghanistan.

Conditions Affecting Afghanistan

  • COVID-19: In November 2020, Afghanistan documented 44,133 coronavirus cases and 1,650 fatalities. The socio-economic impacts have been extensive. Average household debt rose by 36,486 AFS (US$474) and the poverty level increased from 54% to 70%. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s economy is predicted to contract by at least 5.5% due to the 2020 impact of COVID-19.
  • Displacement: Nearly 286,000 Afghans at home and 678,000 abroad suffered displacement in 2020, bringing the total displaced to approximately four million. Internal displacement camps are rife with insanitation, poor healthcare, unemployment, limited potable water and food insecurity. According to estimations by the 2020 Humanitarian Needs Overview, one million displaced people will require aid by the end of 2020.
  • Political Uncertainty: Political instability has been a mainstay in Afghanistan for decades and continues to trouble both citizens and the international community. Despite ongoing 2020 peace negotiations with the Taliban, fighting continues in the region. As a result, desperately needed health clinics have suffered closures and 35,000 Afghans were displaced from the Helmand Province in October 2020 alone.
  • Women’s Rights: Conditions for Afghan women and children have improved in recent years, allowing 3.3 million girls to receive an education. Additionally, women have experienced expanding opportunities for political, economic and social engagement. However, government participation is still strictly limited and women are still at high risk of violence.
  • Food insecurity: Afghan farmers still had not fully recovered from the 2018 drought and 2019 flood before the impact of COVID-19 on the country raised food prices, and with it, further food insecurity. Estimates warn that one-third of the population have already exhausted their savings and are in crisis levels of food security, with 5.5 million of them in emergency levels. However, farmers are hopeful that improved climate conditions will alleviate some of the damage done in previous years of difficulties.

2020 Afghanistan Conference

International donations fund at least half of Afghanistan’s annual budget. This is unlikely to change anytime soon, especially as COVID-19’s toll on the country’s economy also decreases government revenues. There was concern that the 2020 Conference would see a diminished aid pledge from Afghanistan’s largest donors, but the meetings that took place on November 24 secured a minimum of US$3.3 billion annually for four years contingent upon a review of Afghanistan’s progress in areas of peace, political development, human rights and poverty reduction. The United States is one such donor, pledging $300 million for 2021 and promising another $300 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if the ongoing peace talks prove successful. To this end, the “Afghanistan Partnership Framework” details the principles and goals of Afghanistan’s growth in peace-building, state-building and market-building.

Rebuilding Afghanistan

While some have expressed concern that the donations for aid to Afghanistan are not enough to cover costs and that the contingency requirements will be very difficult for Afghanistan to implement without compromises, there nevertheless is hope that tighter restrictions will prevent fewer funds from being lost to corruption. Despite the future challenges ahead of Afghanistan, Afghan leaders reiterated their commitment to “finding a political settlement that can not only bring an end to the suffering of the Afghan people but strengthen, safeguard and preserve the gains of the past 19 years.”

– Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr

green energy to rural AfghanistanFor many Afghans, the country’s past wars and economic hardships have taken a heavy toll and even with the strides made towards rehabilitating the country over the past decade, the scars of the past remain ever-present in the lives of tens of millions of its inhabitants. As Afghanistan seeks to recover and increase development in the wake of destruction and instability, fortification of critical infrastructure has become more important than ever, with one of the most important priorities being access to energy and electricity. As of 2020, many Afghans, particularly in rural areas, live either with unreliable access to electricity or even no access at all. With best estimates claiming that only 30% of the Afghan population are connected to the country’s central energy grid, finding innovative ways of servicing the remaining 70% and bringing green energy to rural Afghanistan is a top priority for infrastructure development and aid in the country.

Energy Poverty in Rural Afghanistan

According to recent reports, most Afghans have limited access to electricity. Lack of development in areas outside of urban centers continues to severely affect tens of millions of people. In 2017, more than half the population lived below the national poverty line. Afghanistan continues to sustain one of the highest poverty levels in the world. Many of the impoverished population live beyond the reach of integrated energy systems and continue to rely upon burning fuels such as diesel and kerosene to generate power for necessities such as cooking and generating heat. These methods can lead to local air pollution through the production of carbon monoxide and other harmful toxins, which can contribute to respiratory problems and other health issues.

What is a Mini-Grid?

Recent advances in green energy infrastructure have provided an alternative to the more harmful energy sources, with the implementation of renewable-powered mini-grid technology. Mini-grids are self-contained energy networks designed to provide energy and electricity to a small, localized area. These networks can vary in size and complexity and as such can offer a spectrum of energy output levels, ranging from “micro-grids” that produce only a few kilowatts to larger networks capable of producing up to 10 megawatts. Mini-grids can run on numerous fuel sources but over the past decade, renewable networks have gained recognition for their utility in both developed and under-developed areas due to their cost-effectiveness and their low environmental and health impact. Bringing reliable green energy to rural Afghanistan is a fundamental component of poverty reduction, as it provides the ability to build infrastructure for digital communication, transportation and education.

The UNDP’s Energy Goals in Afghanistan

Recently the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a project with the aim of harnessing solar-powered and hydro-powered mini-grids to provide green energy to rural Afghanistan. In early 2020, the UNDP approved the Afghanistan Rural Energy Market Transformation Initiative to be backed by $17.2 million from the organization’s Green Climate Fund and additional support from the country’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. The initiative is projected to span 60 months total and to develop renewable mini-grid networks in central and southeast Afghanistan, with pilot projects in the regions of Kandahar, Parwan and Khost. These preliminary sites are intended to serve as examples of the potential of green infrastructure in the country, with further development already planned for the regions of Uruzgan, Daykundi, Bamyan, Laghman and Paktika. While the initiative has been approved by the U.N. and has the joint support of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, its expansion will largely rely upon future investment from the country’s energy sector, allowing for additional mini-grid networks to be installed over time. If instituted on a wide scale, mini-grids are estimated not only to improve health conditions and provide reliable energy access to millions of people but also to place Afghanistan on track to meet the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal 7.

Though still in the early stages of development, this effort to bring green energy to rural Afghanistan is indicative of a growing trend towards decentralized and renewable energy solutions. Mini-grids are a prime example of how innovative technologies are creating innovative solutions to energy poverty around the world, all while remaining environmentally conscious.

–  Matthew Otey
Photo: Flickr

Refugee CrisesWars, persecution and horrific conditions caused by extreme poverty created 36 million refugees around the world. 24 million of these refugees come from just 5 countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. Here’s a look into the five largest refugee crises of our time.

Syria

Syria has 5.6 million refugees and is among the largest and most well-known refugee crises today. When the government cracked down on peaceful student protests, the Syrian Civil War started March 15, 2011 and has now killed 500,000 people.  Bombing infrastructure destroys living conditions resulting in 6 million people being displaced. With 70% of Syrians living in extreme poverty, nearly 11 million Syrians need humanitarian aid. Due to conflict, aid groups are struggling to access the areas that need assistance.

One-fourth of the world’s refugees are from Syria. Turkey and Germany host many Syrian refugees. The neighboring country of  Turkey hosts the most refugees in the world, totaling 3.6 million Syrian refugees. To handle the large influx of refugees in its country Turkey is working to improve refugee conditions. Germany hosts 1.1 million Syrian refugees. Germany recently obtained the EU presidency and plans on reforming the asylum rules so there will be a more equal number of refugees among EU states. The Syrian refugee crisis has lasted a decade and affects over 17 million people globally. If Turkey and Germany continue to work to adjust laws regarding asylum, more Syrian refugees will be able to find a safe haven in those countries.

Venezuela

Venezuelan refugees number 3.7 million. In 2014, oil prices fell and created an economic collapse. The current inflation rate of 15,000%  has pushed 14 million Venezuelans to live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day. Shortages of food, water, and medicine constantly threaten the health of Venezuelans. Hyperinflation and lack of resources drive refugees from this crisis into bordering countries such as Columbia.

Columbia hosts the second most refugees in the world with 1.8 million Venezuelan refugees. The Columbian government is working to include Venezuelan refugees economically by providing Special Stay Permits that allow more than 100,000 refugees to earn a living working in the country.

Afghanistan

Forty years of conflict following the Soviet invasion in 1979 created 2.7 million refugees from Afghanistan. Political uncertainty and conflict have led to 2 million people being displaced in Afghanistan. Natural disasters and attacks on aid workers prevent those displaced from receiving much-needed support. Pakistan and Iran host most of these refugees.

With one out of every ten refugees being from Afghanistan, this crisis needs immediate attention. Pakistan hosts 1.4 million Afghan refugees and is working with the UN to provide more schooling opportunities. However, if conditions improve in Afghanistan, it is possible that 60,000 refugees could return to Afghanistan.

South Sudan

Around 2.2 million refugees are from South Sudan. South Sudan is the youngest nation in the world after becoming independent from Sudan in 2011. In 2013, a civil war broke out causing 383,000 deaths due to violence and hunger. Meanwhile, 4 million people became displaced from their homes. Food insecurity caused by famines and war has left 5.5 million people hungry.  Malnourishment greatly affects the development of children, who make up 63% of this refugee population. This is the largest refugee crisis in Africa, with most refugees fleeing to Ethiopia and Uganda.

Uganda hosts 1.7 million refugees and works to integrate them into society by providing them with land.
Currently, there is a mental health crisis among refugees. Suicides are on the rise, and COVID-19 puts an even bigger strain on the health of South Sudanese refugees. If Uganda gains more funding, it can improve the mental health of refugees by providing more support. Uganda’s progressive approach to refugees can help South Sudanese refugees start a new life.

Myanmar

The Rohingya Crisis has created 1.1 million refugees from Myanmar. Myanmar is a Buddhist country, but the Rohingya Muslims are a minority group. The Myanmar government refuses to recognize the Rohingya people as citizens, therefore they are a stateless people. In 2017 the Myanmar army burned up to 288 Rohingya villages and carried out mass killings.  To escape persecution, over 700,000 people have fled to Bangladesh and now stay in the largest refugee camp in the world: Cox’s Bazar. In 2020 the United Nations International Court of Justice has called for an end to the violence against the Rohingya and for the government to recognize the Rohingya as citizens.

Future of Refugees

Conflict and poverty are creating refugees in 2020. Most refugees originate from Syria, but Venezuela’s numbers are beginning to rise to the same level. Host countries need to continue to reform government laws to include refugees in their communities. Millions of people, both refugees and host countries, are globally affected by the current refugee crises.

— Hannah Nelson

Photo: Flickr

afghan womenAlthough Afghanistan’s Constitution, ratified in 2004, forbids discrimination and declares that “man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law,” gender inequality still persists. Women are repeatedly denied opportunities for social, educational and economic advancement, leaving 80% out of the workforce and only 8% with more than a primary education. Gallup surveys conducted in 2018 identify Afghan women as the “least satisfied women in the world,” with more than half reporting that they would permanently leave the country if given the opportunity due to discrimination, food insecurity and violence. The good news, however, is that the United Nations Mine Action Service has enacted a new initiative in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province that mobilizes women to escape poverty and empowers them to clear war-torn communities of the remnants of war.

Poverty and Conflict

The World Bank estimates that the number of people living in areas overwhelmed by conflict has doubled since 2007, a rate that has increased alongside poverty expansion. People living in fragile and conflict-affected situations, or FCS, are 10 times more likely to be poor. Forty-three of the world’s most impoverished countries are classified as FCS regions. Proximity to conflict directly affects education, infrastructure, health and the economy. In violent areas, children are less likely to travel to school, families are more likely to suffer long-term medical conditions and communities lose valuable opportunities for monetary mobility and advancement.

The Taliban has sustained a significant presence in Afghanistan for over a decade and has remained a constant threat. More than 1,400 people were killed or injured by landmines in Afghanistan in 2018, a number that has tripled since 2012. Mines and other explosives are certainly detrimental to infrastructure after detonation, but unexploded devices can be equally as destructive. Construction projects are largely avoided for fear of encountering an explosive during the building process. This leaves many areas without roads, essential buildings and airports, all assets that could play a role in reducing poverty.

Dauntless De-Miners

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) began a de-mining pilot program in 2018, featuring 14 brave Afghan women in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province. After receiving training from the UNMAS de-mining experts, the women strap on Kevlar vests and sport protective face shields that enable them to search the soil using massive metal detectors. Once a detector beeps, the team member will kneel and sift through the dirt until the mine or explosive is found and deactivated.

The primary goals of the program are to clear mines, educate villagers and equip Afghan women with the tools they need to escape poverty. The team works approximately nine hours per day, but depending on location, mine removal projects may be short-term. In circumstances where land can be swiftly searched, the team uses the remaining time to learn vocational skills taught by UNMAS workers, training that has the potential to change their status. Additional education for Afghan women, who would otherwise receive very little, is crucial to broadening their job opportunities, increasing household income and helping them rise out of poverty. UNMAS also requires women to participate in meetings that decide how to use the land that is newly mine-free, which showcases their growing presence and immense contribution to their historically war-torn communities.

Fatima Amiri was one of the Bamiyan province’s first team members, and she is frequently highlighted for her dedication. She works tirelessly for her team after witnessing the devastating effects of hidden and unexploded devices. A member of her community traveled to a mountain on the Day of Eid, or the end of Ramadan, and never returned. Amiri realized that day she wanted to rid the surrounding area of mines, and she notes that now, “no one says that women are weak.”

Brace for Impact

Afghanistan’s fearless team is looking to expand its efforts beyond the Bamiyan province in the coming years. Since its inception, the team has covered more than 51,500 square meters and is projected to clear their land of mines and explosives by 2023. Most of the cleared region is now being used to build infrastructure or for farming, a lifestyle that boosts community economies and indirectly improves Afghan women’s social status. The de-mining women are recognized for their success and newly respected for providing their fellow community members with safety, food security and ways to maintain a steady income, three things crucial to overcoming conflict-induced poverty. The community’s appreciation erodes traditional gender norms that have restricted Afghan women for centuries by proving their value as productive members of society capable of protecting thousands in war-torn communities.

Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr

Gender Violence and Domestic Abuse in AfghanistanGender violence in Afghanistan has reached epidemic levels. Due to a healthcare system in a state of crisis, victims are unlikely to come forward, and even less likely to receive care for injuries sustained from long-term abuse. Thankfully, many organizations are working to address this problem in Afghanistan.

The Facts about Gender Violence in Afghanistan

Eighty-seven percent of women have experienced one form of gender violence in Afghanistan, and 62% have experienced all 3 forms: psychological, physical and sexual. Impoverished victims are more likely to remain silent because they lack the ability to speak to a healthcare professional. Plus, they are less likely to be taken seriously. Long-term physical abuse can lead to burns, disabilities, internal bleeding and gastrointestinal disorders, among other physical and mental health problems. Sexual violence also often leads to STDs and unwanted pregnancies.

An often overlooked form of gender violence in Afghanistan is child marriage, which is extremely prevalent despite the multiple laws in place to prevent it. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that one in five girls will be forced into a union by age 18, with 5% forced to marry by age 15. The biggest concern for forced child marriages is the chance of a high-risk pregnancy, which often puts the victim’s life at risk and hinders any possibility of growth or education. Child marriage is born of poverty because impoverished families will marry their daughters off in exchange for money, or the chance of the girls marrying someone financially stable enough to provide for them. This practice dehumanizes young girls and effectively denies them human rights.

Working Against Domestic Abuse

The World Health Organization, in a new healthcare protocol for gender-based violence, defines 22 forms of abuse and sets the standards of care for healthcare professionals. The report emphasizes the seriousness of gender-based violence. However, the lack of healthcare workers in Afghanistan limits its ability to respond to this problem. Healthcare professionals are the first witness for most victims, which means that they are extremely important in making sure that the victim doesn’t go home to an unsafe situation. Witnesses are also valuable to the prosecution of the offender.

The UNFPA has trained more than 2,500 new recruits in how to spot signs of violence and respond with sensitivity to victims in Afghanistan. Along with these recruits, the UNFPA trained 875 judges and 850 healthcare staff. The UNFPA has multiple Family Protection Centers with hundreds of trained counselors, whom they dispatch to hospitals and centers for emergency care. These new centers, which allow women and girls to make discreet reports, saw over 1,400 disclosures of violence in just one year after their foundation. This is a big step forward, since Afghanistan’s government did not formally make violence against women illegal until 2009.

The Future of Girls in Afghanistan

Violence against women in Afghanistan not only common but expected. In the current environment, it is up to the country’s health ministry and the public to take women seriously and give young girls a chance to thrive. However, solutions to domestic violence don’t just have to focus on the health care and justice systems. For example, by funding STEM and political programs for young girls, the Girls LEAD Act would give girls a chance to climb out of poverty and craft a future where violence does not belong. In addition to the work being done by the UNFPA and the WHO, this act shows the potential for international action to help reduce gender violence in Afghanistan.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Pixabay

hunger in AfghanistanAmidst a country recovering from drought and conflict, COVID-19 threatens to increase the severity of food insecurity in Afghanistan. Food insecurity and hunger persist in Afghanistan; many people do not have the resources or access to consistently obtain enough nutritious food to live a healthy life. Many causes of this issue have accumulated over the years, such as a lack of education, underemployment, conflict, natural disasters and the poverty that accompanies food insecurity. Currently, more than 50% of Afghanistan’s population—over 17 million people—live under the national poverty line.

A lack of income results in less purchasing power and thus a decreased access to food, especially nutritious food. In Afghanistan, around 11 million people live with severe food insecurity; kids aged five and under account for two million of those living with food insecurity. Without access to proper nutritious food, starvation and malnutrition can stunt children’s growth, hindering brain development and causing growth and developmental impairments.

Three Main Reasons for Hunger in Afghanistan

  1. Drought: In 2018-2019, Afghanistan faced such a severe drought that the country is still struggling to recover from. This drought affected 22 out of the 34 Afghan provinces, causing major population displacement because people could not feed themselves. The majority of Afghans typically rely on subsistence agriculture. However, the drought destroyed crops, and markets can be hard to access. Ordinarily, 12% of the population cannot easily reach markets. This influx of people, as well as halting agricultural livelihoods, placed pressure on the cities people fled to.
  2. Floods: Floods are a common disaster during the rainy season and are a reason food insecurity and hunger persist in Afghanistan. Since March 2020, flash floods have caused damage to infrastructure and contributed to the loss of lives across 18 provinces, affecting around 15,300 people. The flooding destroyed thousands of houses and decimated thousands of crops; displaced families lost their livelihoods and precious possessions all at once. Close communities usually host those displaced while waiting for the rain to cease. However, given the current circumstances with COVID-19, this allows for an easier transmission of the virus. With farmland and crops destroyed, people still recovering from an intense drought now have even less to live off of.
  3. Conflict: A war spanning nearly two decades has also contributed to mass hunger in Afghanistan. Since 2001, the conflict between the Taliban and the United States, allied with the Afghan Northern Alliance, has killed tens of thousands of civilians and intensified problems of food insecurity, poverty and poor sanitation. As a result of the war, Afghanistan became isolated, unable to really participate in the global economy, meaning agriculture remained the main source of livelihoods—nearly 70% of Afghans depend on agriculture. However, agriculture alone is not reliable. War, along with drought and floods, have destroyed farmland and obstructed markets, leaving people without income and nourishment.

Added Pressure of COVID-19 Causes Hunger in Afghanistan to Worsen

COVID-19 makes the hunger problem much worse, exacerbating an already grim situation. Because of the virus, the price of food is rising. Due to heavy demands and little supply, prices for items like wheat flour and cooking oil increased by 23%. Additionally, the cost of rice and sugar increased by 12% more than it was previously valued. With a lockdown in place, most of those who work in Afghanistan’s large informal sector are not getting paid, so they have no way to purchase food, especially with the inflated prices.

Additionally, more than 115,000 Afghan migrant workers also returned from Iran due to lockdowns to rejoin their communities. These returning workers could potentially carry COVID-19, but also add even more strain to those trying to bring relief to the hunger problem.

Amidst the fight for food security, The World Health Organization (WHO) is sending aid to Afghanistan. The organization operate sites where people can collect food or cash, up to $40, to cover their food needs for two months at a time. Without a way to earn money, this gives people a reprieve from worrying about how to feed families.

The World Bank is also working with the Afghan government to create a warning system to recognize droughts in order to deal with the impending water shortage beforehand. An early response will allow people to prepare instead of struggling to survive during the crisis.

Since 2017, the government’s Citizen’s Charter Program has created community grain banks to help prevent food insecurity during the winter. The grain banks are located in 4,000 villages across the country.

Food insecurity and hunger persist in Afghanistan. Droughts, flooding, and conflict only exacerbate the problem, and the COVID-19 pandemic only threatens to worsen the situation. While there is still work to be done, organizations like The WHO and the World Bank, as well as Afganistan’s Citizen Charter Program, are working to help those facing hunger in the country. 

– Zoe Padelopoulos 
Photo: Pixabay

Afghanistan Teenage Girls Innovate Low Cost VentilatorThe Afghan Dreamers is a group known for its impressive list of feats. The group consists of young women between the ages of 15-17. It was the first-ever all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan. The team overcame many challenges in order to compete in the FIRST Global Robotics Competition in the U.S. in 2017. Now, the girls on the Afghan Dreamers team are adding a new achievement to their list; the group has engineered a low-cost ventilator out of car parts.

Covid-19, Ventilators, and Afghanistan

One of the major challenges facing countries around the world during the Covid-19 pandemic is a lack of essential supplies, specifically ventilators. The virus oftentimes infects people’s lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. Ventilators work as life-saving equipment and help people breathe when they can no longer do it on their own. However, they are extremely expensive pieces of machinery. It usually costs around $30,000 per ventilator. As a result, this makes them highly inaccessible, especially when there is an influx in demand.

Afghanistan has 15,750 confirmed cases of Covid-19, though experts believe this number to be an underestimate due to a lack of available tests. Herat, home of the Afghan Dreamers, has 2,689 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and is the second most affected city in the country. As of April 2020, the entire country of Afghanistan had only approximately 300 ventilators.

Creation

Armed with this information and a passion to help the world, the Afghan Dreamers set out to make a low-cost ventilator. They engineered their machine using a design from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T) and parts from old Toyota Corollas. Producing their ventilator cost around $500, a steep decline compared to the machinery’s aforementioned $30,000 price tag.

Though the girls may make innovation look easy, creating their ventilator was no simple task. First, they had to find a design to follow. After much searching, they came across the design from M.I.T., which was open source and purposefully low cost. Once they were able to get to work, they had to ensure they were staying safe. They all worked on a different part of the ventilator. When they had to meet up, they made sure to take precautions, such as wearing gloves and masks, to protect themselves from potential health risks. They did all of this while fasting for Ramadan.

What’s next?

The next step for the Afghan Dreamers is getting the Health Ministries in Herat and Kabul to approve their prototype ventilator. If the Health Ministries approve the design, then factories can begin replicating the girls’ machine. This would speed up production and allow the country to create many more of the life-saving devices. Though getting their ventilator approved may seem like a challenge, the young women are no strangers to hard work.

The Afghan Dreamers is a remarkable group that strives to change the world. The young women on the team are innovative, strong-willed and dedicated to creating solutions to difficult problems. By engineering a low-cost ventilator, they have provided an opportunity not only for improving healthcare but also hope and inspiration to people—especially women and girls.

Paige Musgrave

Photo: Flickr

Internet Access in Afghanistan

One of the biggest issues facing developing countries is stunted infrastructure. Many developing countries lack the funds and institutions necessary to efficiently carry out mass infrastructure revamps that would connect all parts of these countries and enable more people to get safer, better-paying jobs. Of course, for developing countries like Afghanistan, this type of development also includes internet access as well. Internet access is so critical for long-term growth that the United Nations even listed it as a key outcome under its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Importance of Internet Access to Development

A lack of internet access can be stifling for economic growth in any country. Many international businesses are unwilling or hesitant to invest in countries that have no broadband connection. In this era, the internet is the medium through which many interactions essential for economic progress take place, such as:

  • Potential higher-paying employers can contact and hire employees.
  • Students can take classes, study, and turn in assignments.
  • Workers can unionize.
  • Citizens can keep educated about international events and help keep their representatives accountable.

However, this staple of modern development is widely not available to those who live in impoverished countries. Lack of internet access is especially a problem in the Middle East, as not only does terrain stifle modern development, but extremist groups like the Taliban oppose it as well. Afghanistan is one of these countries, as only about 17.6 percent of the population has access to the internet. The broadband that the population has access to costs about $80 per month for 1 Megabit per second (Mbps), making broadband access unaffordable for much of the population that has a Gross Net Income (GNI) per capita of $570.

Progress: Internet Access in Afghanistan

The good news is that there have been significant improvements within the past 10 years in Afghanistan’s internet infrastructure. In 2013, only 5.9 percent of the population had internet access, this means Afghanistani people have seen triple inaccessibility in just six years. Afghanistan now has a rather intensive fiber optics network laid down in 25 of its provinces with assistance from its neighboring countries, mainly Pakistan, as well as some international organizations like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Due to these coordinated efforts, there are more than 8.7 million people using the internet in Afghanistan today. This number is expected to increase with de-escalation of the conflict in the region and further diplomatic talks with Afghanistan’s hegemonic neighbor China with plans to coordinate infrastructure development.

Internet access in Afghanistan still has a long way to go before it is considered comparable to any developed country, due in part to political, economic, social and even geographic reasons. Even so, the Chairman of Afghan Telecom Gul Aryobee remains optimistic about the prospect of further development in the Information Technology sector since the country has already seen such rapid improvements in less than a decade. He recognizes all the challenges that the internet in Afghanistan faces, but he remains strong in his conviction to meet the SDGs set by the United Nations and fully believes Afghanistan has the potential to develop exponentially with the continued assistance of other countries and international organizations.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Flickr

 

Air Pollution in Nigeria
Nigeria has the largest number of deaths due to air pollution in Africa, while the country ranks fourth for air pollution across the globe. Statistics indicate that in 2016, 150 fatalities occurred per 100,000 people as a result of this environmental issue. The State of the Global Air Report that the Health Effects Institute (HEI) published determined that Nigeria’s air quality is amidst the most lethal worldwide. Atmospheric threats such as generator fumes, automobile emissions and crop burning cause air pollution.

In 2016, The HEI indicated that industrialized countries like Russia and Germany have reported lower death rates than Nigeria with 62 and 22 per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, developing countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and India have reported much higher rates with 406, 207 and 195 deaths per 100,000 people.

Causes of Air Pollution in Nigeria

Air pollution emits through generator fumes which produce the deadly gas carbon monoxide. Automobiles with older engines are also likely to emit unhealthy fumes into the atmosphere. In households, kerosene stoves produce flames that contribute to the poor air ventilation. The nation creates over 3 million tons of waste yearly and most Nigerians burn their waste in their neighborhoods rather than discarding it, contributing more pollution to the atmosphere. Another aspect that contributes to the air pollution crisis in Nigeria is the use of firewood and coal to cook.

Additionally, indoor air pollution in Nigeria is also a big issue, as the amount of fine particulate matter levels in many households surpass air quality guidelines by 20 times. In 2012, according to the WHO, Lagos, Nigeria experienced nearly 7 million deaths caused by indoor and outdoor air contamination.

Air contamination across the African continent kills over 700,000 people annually; more people die from air pollution than unsanitary hygiene practices and undernourishment. Casualties as a result of the air pollution crisis in Nigeria has increased by nearly 40 percent in the last 30 years. Nigeria has some of the highest rates of unhealthy air quality across the African continent. Overall, Nigerian cities contain the most unhealthy air quality with 10 urban areas being classified on a list of 30 cities in Africa with the most unhealthy air quality.

The Effects of Air Pollution in Nigeria

While developed countries have effective solutions in place to handle air pollution, underdeveloped countries are struggling to handle this environmental issue. Some countries have begun taking appropriate measures to handle it, though. As a result, the number of people exposed to air pollution has decreased from 3.5 billion in 1990 to 2.4 billion in 2016.

The report also indicated that 95 percent of the globe’s citizens are intaking polluted air. In 2016, extended subjection to air pollution contributed to roughly 6 million deaths, all resulting from diseases such as strokes, lung disease, lung cancer, bronchitis, asthma and heart attacks. Air pollution is one of the top leading causes of fatalities, particularly in underdeveloped countries, even after smoking, increased blood pressure and unhealthy diets. Exposure to air pollution also increases the risk of developing cancer.

Solutions to the Air Pollution Crisis

In order to effectively handle the air pollution crisis in Nigeria, it is important for the country to provide regular inspections of automobiles to ensure that older cars are not releasing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. It is also integral that Nigeria removes cars from the road that are toxic to the environment.

The implementation of efficient electric energy will help decrease the need for generators, which produces unhealthy air pollution in households and work environments. However, Nigeria does have access to sustainable energy resources that are capable of providing power to its citizens. These methods are safer for the environment and the usage of them decreases the use of gasoline-powered generators, thus decreasing pollution.

Nigerians can reduce air pollution in the household by substituting fuelwood for biogas, which is a form of biofuel that is instinctively manufactured from the decay of natural waste. Biogas will provide sustainable options for preparing food and heating the household while eliminating air pollution both inside the household and the outside environment.

In terms of trash disposal, recycling methods will be helpful to make certain that people are not burning waste. Additionally, daily waste removal from households will also help to properly dispose of trash, which reduces the fragmentation of waste and prevents odors that contribute to air pollution.

Additionally, factories that are within metropolitan areas follow guidelines regarding sustainable practices in order to decrease air pollution in Nigeria. The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) monitors operations to ensure that these work environments are abiding by the pollution proclamations.

In conclusion, the execution of environmentally friendly practices in Nigeria will help decrease the air pollution crisis in Nigeria that is present in households, businesses and the outside environment. In order for the elimination of air pollution to be effective, the country must pursue the regulations for all Nigerians.

Additionally, it is necessary to inform communities regarding the sources and consequences of air pollution in order for them to effectively take action in decreasing the issue. Furthermore, those that become more knowledgeable of the issue are then able to educate others and persuade the Nigerian government to continue to enforce legislation against air pollution.

Diana Dopheide
Photo: Wikipedia