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Digital Payment System in Pakistan
Pakistan has a primarily cash-based economy that thriving illegal markets and low government revenue plagues. A new digital payment system in Pakistan could change this. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Pakistani government worked in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch this brand new digital cash transfer system. Additional support came from the United Nations, the World Bank and the United Kingdom.

This new digital payment system called Raast or “direct way” can instantly transfer money between two entities. Although the idea is not new and there are several other financial transaction systems on the market, Raast is the first one that received sponsorship from the Pakistani government, linking financial institutions and government entities. The government’s main goals are to make money transfers more transparent and thereby reduce corruption, increase government revenue and create a more inclusive economy.

Increased Transparency, Tax Revenue and a Less Corrupt Economy

A payment system such as Raast records every transaction in real-time and establishes a log of payments. This allows users to keep track of their transfers, and since the information is visible to all involved parties, users can report complaints or mistakes much more easily. When the Pakistani government and its citizens use Raast, it makes it possible for citizens to receive their pensions, salaries or other payments from the government much more quickly. The increased efficiency and transparency also supports small businesses and other micro-enterprises. Instead of paying cash or sending checks through the mail, they can instantly pay suppliers and distributors. This makes running a business more efficient, reliable, accessible and less prone to corruption.

The new digital payment system in Pakistan also makes it easier for the government to collect taxes by using the technology to track how much people owe and when they made payments. In 2019, the World Bank reported that Pakistan’s government collected half of what, theoretically, it should have been able to take based on its economy. Tax evasion is widespread, but it is also complicated and timely to file taxes in Pakistan. The World Bank found that there are many individuals and companies that would like to file taxes, but do not because of the time and money the process requires.

A More Inclusive Economy

In 2018, the Global Findex reported that only 7% of women age 15 and older had a bank account, and of the most economically disadvantaged 40% (men and women), 14.2% had an account. Particularly during the pandemic, it has been difficult for these underserved groups to receive government support without a bank account. Raast has the potential to serve vulnerable groups because it does not require people to travel to a physical bank, and is cheaper and easier for individuals to set up than a traditional bank account. In a report about payment systems, the World Bank stated that “secure, affordable, and accessible payment systems and services help expand financial inclusion, foster development and support financial stability.” However, without proper implementation, an endeavor such as this digital payment system in Pakistan could fall short of its goal.

In a statement at the launch, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA) Queen Máxima, discussed how important it is for all banks and service providers to adopt the new technology and to encourage individuals to use it instead of cash. If enough people and institutions use the program, it will reach its accessibility potential and spur economic growth. As Queen Máxima stated in her keynote address, the hope for this new digital payment system in Pakistan is above all to create a more digital and accessible economy.

 Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

The Safe Delivery AppAcross the globe, thousands of women die every year as a result of complications during birth. A variety of organizations have been developing to combat these preventable deaths. The Safe Delivery app, a maternal healthcare app, provides one of these solutions. Below are four facts outlining the app’s purpose as well as its successes since its release in 2012.

4 Facts about the Safe Delivery App

  1. Maternal mortality is an issue around the world. Every year, more than 300,000 women die from causes related to pregnancy. Women typically die in pregnancy and childbirth for five main reasons: “severe bleeding, infections, unsafe abortion, hypertensive disorders, and medical complications like cardiac disease, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS.” There is also a greater chance of death for pregnant women who lack proper assistance. Unfortunately, in sub-Saharan Africa, less than 50% of women during birth have a trained midwife, nurse or doctor to help them through the process. Many instances of maternal mortality are 100% preventable when access to quality maternal care is provided.
  2. The Safe Delivery App educates. The University of Copenhagen, the University of Southern Denmark and the Maternity Foundation launched the app to provide skills and to assess knowledge of those assisting with births in remote areas of developing nations. The app consists of 12 modules that address numerous childbirth emergencies and the appropriate preventative procedures for each. It uses “animated instruction videos, action cards, drug lists, practical procedures, and an individualized e-learning component, MyLearning,” to guide healthcare workers. The Safe Delivery app also works offline so healthcare workers can access the modules in any place, at any time.
  3. The app’s creators collaborate. Some key partners include The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Jhpiego, the Danish Emergency Relief Fund and MSD for Mothers. The app’s creators have teamed up to prep for launching the app in even more countries. For instance, Merck for Mothers is working with the Maternity Foundation to incorporate user feedback into the app’s design. They are also collecting user data through case studies and stories to help improve the app’s adoption in other countries. Additionally, the creators of the Safe Delivery App partnered with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to study the effectiveness of the app; for the study, the app trained 58 birth attendants across four different regions. After collecting feedback, the UNFPA found there was an “association between high user engagement and improvements in the health workers knowledge and competencies when handling childbirth emergencies.”
  4. The Safe Delivery app is succeeding and improving. The Safe Delivery app boasts over 17,000 downloads in 44 low- and middle-income countries. In 2019, the top five countries were Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Somalia and Togo. Also in 2019, a total of 10,418 users actively used the quiz functions. According to research conducted by Merck for Mothers, “Workers’ skills in handling complications increased by more than 100%” after using the app for 12 months. In 2017, a Hindi version of the app launched for users in India; this drastically increased healthcare workers’ skill sets in the region. The Maternity Foundation has also released multiple case studies that show the positive impact of the Safe Delivery app. For example, the Maternity Foundation tracked the app usage of 62 health workers across eight facilities in Congo. According to the Maternity Foundation, “The study showed a significant increase in the healthcare workers’ knowledge and confidence when handling post-partum hemorrhage and neonatal resuscitation.”

Since the launch of this maternal healthcare app, researchers have seen great improvements in healthcare knowledge. While maternal mortality is still an issue around the world, innovations like the Safe Delivery app can eradicate the dangers of childbirth.

Sara Holm
Photo: Flickr

Treat Sickle Cell DiseaseCRISPR gene-editing technology is now being used to treat various illnesses. This holds the potential to be a life-changing development for many people and may treat those plagued with sickle cell disease around the world.

What is Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle cell disease is most prevalent in African countries, where having one copy of the sickle cell gene helps protect people against malaria. However, having two copies of this gene results in sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease occurs because of a genetic mutation that causes red blood cells to develop a sickle-shape and this obstructs healthy blood flow. The condition can cause serious pain and negative health effects, usually resulting in early death. When considering children with the disease, 70% are born in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, these countries do not have adequate resources to properly alleviate the symptoms of this condition, let alone treat them.

A Potential Cure

In recent months, it has been discovered that CRISPR gene-editing technology may be the key to curing sickle cell disease. CRISPR–Cas9 is a naturally occurring defense system that edits DNA sequences to fight viruses in the human body. In the past decade, scientists have discovered how to harness this system’s ability to manipulate DNA in chosen ways. The result of this is CRISPR gene editing is a powerful technology that can correct genome defects and even alter entire genomes.

CRISPR technology works by editing genes, which modifies how the body functions. First, medical professionals remove patients’ bone marrow and treat it. Then, CRISPR allows scientists to “cut and paste” bits of the genome by either cutting or adding a sequence of DNA into the genome. This can correct genetic mutations, ultimately improving a patient’s health.

In the U.S., a trial of using CRISPR to cure sickle cell disease is yielding promising results. The treatment uses CRISPR technology to activate a gene that instructs the body to produce fetal hemoglobin instead of adult hemoglobin. The presence of fetal hemoglobin prevents the blood cells from sickling. In this way, the treatment alleviates the health complications typically resulting from sickle cell disease. The subject of this trial is much healthier and has made exceptional progress in her recovery. These spectacular results have left many people hopeful that CRISPR technology could successfully treat sickle cell disease, with more widespread results by 2022.

The Future of CRISPR Treatment

For CRISPR treatment to reach its full potential, it must become more accessible to those who need it most. Therefore, the underprivileged in sub-Saharan Africa would benefit greatly. One suggested way to overcome accessibility barriers is through a tiered-pricing system. This system would offer gene therapy treatment to patients in developing countries at a reduced price, while patients in high-income countries would be expected to pay for the treatment in full.

There are currently logistical barriers to this solution, as gene therapy can cost thousands of dollars. The cost of CRISPR treatment would have to be greatly reduced (beyond the normal price drops of tiered pricing) to be successfully made available to the underprivileged. Additionally, this treatment requires consistent doctor visits. Much of sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to health clinics and other essential resources, such as refrigeration.

Breaking Down Barriers

Organizations are helping to eliminate the barriers blocking CRISPR treatment for sickle cell disease in developing countries. The National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $200 million to this cause in 2019. This money will help make gene therapy accessible throughout the world and improve the quality of life for thousands. With the promise of affordable CRISPR gene modification therapy, there is hope for individuals worldwide to treat sickle cell disease. Permanently improving the quality of life is the end goal. Those living in developing countries, the global poor and those vulnerable to falling into poverty will be the most to benefit from this exciting, technological development.

– Hannah Allbery
Photo: Flickr

Mobile BankingMicrofinance programs are a popular development tool that gives poor households loans and access to formal banking and other financial services so that they can generate income and market their enterprises. Others have questioned the true extent of the effectiveness of this bottom-up approach to development in actually reducing poverty in recent years. However, the rise in access to mobile banking in the developing world brings hope of a new generation of microfinance.

Microfinance as a Development and Poverty Reduction Policy

Mobile phones have been one of the fastest-growing devices in the developing world. International reports found that global mobile phone ownership is growing exponentially, especially among young people in emerging economies. Although ownership is higher in developed economies, a median of 45% of people in developing countries now owns a cell phone compared to only about 25% 10 years ago. The new groups of people with access to technology have created opportunities both for investors and the world’s poor.

Mobile banking accounts and transactions are now accessible in two-thirds of the developing world. Moreover, they are beginning to exceed the number of traditional banking methods in some regions. This growing market is not only multiplying the success of banks but also giving entrepreneurs new ways of selling and profiting from their labors. Through mobile banking services, customers are also gaining access to loans and insurance to protect themselves and their families if they become vulnerable to falling back into poverty.

Mobilizing Myanmar

Mobilizing Myanmar is a prime example of the impact of these new financial programs. A woman from Myanmar started this program to increase tech and communication access for women and the poor with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She was inspired by having limited connections during her childhood in Myanmar. In 2013, the program noted that SIM cards cost over $2,000 USD and now, thanks to its hard work and partnerships with the Myanmar government, over half of the adult population has a cell phone. The successes of this approach to microloans and development has gained the attention of major international aid organizations due to its potential to boost people out of extreme poverty. This is because reports have indicated that users had better health outcomes, more financial stability and security and new sources of income.

Benefits of Mobile Banking

Mobile banking has also been more accessible for users who are illiterate as many apps are pictorial, especially those pertaining to farming. Agricultural productivity is yet another opportunity for mobile finance services to increase market access and demands. Mobilizing Myanmar also cites access to a phone and mobile money as an opportunity for online learning for children unable to attend school. It also presents new opportunities for women in the developing world as approximately 42% of women across the globe are not incorporated into the formal financial system. Mobile banking can help women gain control of their household finances. It has also proven effective as a means for group savings in parts of Myanmar.

While questions remain in many regions of access to a cell tower of even basic electricity to power cell phones in order to operate mobile banking, the cost of setting up these systems is a relatively low-cost investment. Also, once set up, these financial systems and microcosms, with regulations in place, can sustain themselves and reinvest in their communities. Thus, although mobile banking is by no means a perfect solution to lifting the world out of poverty, it has proven to be an effective development tool and a reliable investment. Mobile banking is just one way that modern technology can help the world’s poor lift themselves out of poverty.

Elizabeth Stankovits
Photo: Flickr

Farm Radio International
In 2016, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report stating that most of the world’s poor are small-scale farmers living in rural areas. Without targeted efforts to improve the lives of these rural farmers, “the eradication of poverty by 2030 will be impossible.” Fortunately, many organizations are committed to these targeted efforts. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports research into drought and flood-resistant crops that can withstand environmental challenges. Additionally, the foundation supports the World Food Program’s (WFP) initiative to purchase excess yields from small-scale farmers. This gives farmers a source of income and allows WFP to provide food aid quicker because their supply is local. Along with these forms of aid, a Candian NGO, Farm Radio International uses radio, a vastly accessible and effective tool, to provide essential information geared towards community development.

Farm Radio International

Farm Radio International focuses its efforts on rural communities in Africa. It has developed broadcasting partners in 41 African countries and has over 100 partners working on radio projects in 11 countries in Africa. In these rural communities, radio is often the primary source of information for small-scale farmers. Farm Radio International recognizes this key avenue of communication and has spent the last 40 years developing radio resources, technologies and projects committed to providing development information to impoverished rural farming communities all over Africa.

Radio is a tremendous tool for development for various reasons. It is widespread and accessible — radio can reach billions of people every year, even rural communities, and it can do so in their native languages. Radios are cheap and convenient. Since they are portable, listeners can work or travel while listening to radio programs. Radio is also often an interactive, allowing listeners to call in and ask questions or provide feedback to broadcasters. Lastly, radio is capable of providing information quickly, making it essential for emergency situations.

Not only does Farm Radio International recognize the usefulness of radio, but it also works to make radio as effective and impactful as possible through three programs: Radio Resources, Radio Innovations and Radio Projects.

Radio Resources

Radio Resources focuses on making broadcasters and their stations the best they can be for small-scale farmers. It provides training and packages for broadcasters to help them improve their stations and connects broadcasters to facilitate online discussions. Radio Resources also relays relevant news to small scale farmers.

Radio Innovations

Radio Innovations develops new technologies that make radio more interactive and a staple in these communities. It uses new technologies to connect audiences and broadcasters. For example, it developed text message alerts to notify farmers when it is time to tune in for the broadcast. The project is working to create a large range of programs to have the greatest impact possible such as cooking series, drama series, farmer development strategies and weather advisory.

Radio Projects

Radio Projects uses on the ground research and consultations to develop radio programs that target specific needs in the community. Some Radio Projects topics include:

  1. Agriculture: Agriculture explores the best farming practices and ways to prevent, control and get rid of pests, such as the fall armyworm.
  2. Environmental Sustainability: Environmental Sustainability teaches sustainable practices such as plowing across the slope, planting cover crops and how to build stone boundaries that prevent runoff and soil erosion.
  3. Gender Equity: Gender Equity addresses the specific needs of women. For example, one program sought to reduce maternal and infant mortality by facilitating conversations about proper nutrition and addressing cultural taboos about breastfeeding.
  4. Health and Nutrition: Health and Nutrition educates about nutritious crops and how to grow them, such as sweet potatoes. Additionally, it encourages the consumption of local nutritious crops and livestock, like teff, sorghum and guinea fowl.

Farm Radio International works directly with communities and individual farmers. For example, in Ghana, Farm Radio International started radio programs addressing the chronic malnutrition found in the country. These programs educated farmers on low-cost and highly effective behavioral changes to increase yields.

One man, Peter Bongkumum, explains the impact of Farm Radio International; he now uses strategies such as planting in rows, using fertilizers and reducing the number of seeds in each hole to have better and cheaper yields.

Bongkumum says, “I am very happy and very proud of myself and my farm… I’m using the higher yield and income to pay my school fees, as I am doing an online learning course on education.”

Farm Radio International is uplifting small-scale farmers, a group disproportionately impacted by global poverty, by putting information and resources directly into their hands. Through interventions like these, global poverty reduction is within reach.

– Paige Wallace
Photo: Flickr

healthcare in Chad
Chad is in the top ten countries for oil production in Africa. However, very little of the revenue of oil sales goes into improving the living conditions and healthcare in Chad.
 In Chad, it is reported that 66% of the population is living in poverty. The World Bank reported in 2018 that 88% of the Chadian population does not have access to electricity. Additionally, it is estimated that 44% of the population does not have access to clean drinking water. These factors create obstacles for the healthcare system. Here is what you need to know about healthcare in Chad.  

Access to Health Services 

Chad has a very low number of healthcare professionals. The World Health Organization reported that there are 3.7 doctors per 100,000 people. This number is well below the global average of 141 doctors per 100,000 people. The number of healthcare professionals remains low in Chad due to the many insecurities the Chadian population faces. Due to ongoing violence, 122,312 people have been internally displaced in Chad. This factor causes an obstacle that inhibits the population from seeking education and training. 

Chad spends approximately $30 per capita on healthcare. Spending on healthcare in Chad fell by $14 per capita from 2014 to 2017. The decrease in funding has caused many healthcare facilities to be poorly equipped and unable to pay healthcare workers, leaving the Chadian population with minimal access to medical services. 

Maternal Health 

Maternal health is considered to be a major indicator of the strength of a healthcare system in a country. Currently, in Chad, 80% of births are not attended by a skilled professional, whereas in the United States, only 1% of births are not attended by a skilled professional. This lack of access to maternal health professionals causes Chad to have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. In 2017, the World Health Organization reported the mortality rate in Chad to be 1,140 deaths per 100,000 live births. This number is far higher than neighboring countries such as Sudan and Libya, who have mortality rates of 295 and 72 deaths per 100,000 live births, respectively.

The lack of access to maternal healthcare in Chad is made more severe by many young teenage girls becoming pregnant in Chad. UNICEF reported that 68% of girls below the age of 18 are married and under five percent of these girls have access to contraception. The World Health Organization cites that maternal complications are the leading cause of death in girls aged 15 to 19 years old. Mothers under 18 years old are also more likely to experience systemic infections and neonatal complications. These complications can become fatal to young mothers in Chad due to the lack of access to maternal health services.  

Malnutrition

Chad experiences some of the highest levels of malnutrition in the world. In the central Chadian town of Borko, almost half of all child deaths are due to malnutrition. Also, 40% of Chadian children experience growth stunting due to a lack of access to food. Chad goes through periods of severe drought causing food insecurity and lack of income for many families. The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) has set up a hospital in Chad. ALIMA reported that the malnutrition ward is overrun and the organization had to expand malnutrition treatment services to cope with the demand. 

The Burden of Diarrheal Disease

Diarrheal disease is among the leading causes of disease burden in developing countries. In 2017, diarrheal disease caused 1.6 million deaths globally and 528,000 of these deaths occurred in children under the age of five. In Chad, mortality due to diarrheal disease is 300 per 100,000 people. Chad’s diarrheal mortality rate is higher than the mortality rate observed in developed countries, which is reported to be 1 per 100,000 people. Diarrheal diseases are perceived to be treatable; however, they are highly fatal in Chad due to the lack of healthcare services.

Healthcare Improvements

Due to the instability in Chad, external organizations are working to improve the living conditions and access to healthcare in Chad. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with the United Nations to provide immunizations and sanitary facilities to Chadian children. The initiative aims to decrease the mortality rates of diarrheal disease and other communicable diseases such as measles and pneumonia. 

Doctors Without Borders is another organization working to improve the conditions in Chad. The organization is currently running projects in six different areas around Chad. In 2018, these programs conducted 142,400 health consultations. Doctors Without Borders focuses healthcare efforts towards treating and preventing malaria, HIV/AIDS and malnutrition.  

The World Food Programme has established the School Meals Program to help decrease childhood malnutrition. The program ensures that all children at elementary school receive a hot meal throughout the school day. The program also encourages families to send their daughters to school by giving girls in grades five and six a ration of oil to take home. The School Meals Program aims to feed 265,000 elementary-aged children.

Healthcare in Chad faces many challenges regarding the high burden of disease, political instability and low availability of healthcare training. With a heavy reliance on outside organizations, the Chadian healthcare system needs to improve to be able to effectively tackle these challenges. Healthcare in Chad requires foreign aid funding to be able to increase access to healthcare and properly train medical professionals. The United States currently spends less that one-percent of its annual budget on foreign aid. With increased funding, the United States government has the power to increase healthcare for the Chadian population.

Laura Embry

Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Algeria
Algeria is located on the Northern coast of Africa and is home to 42.2 million people. The nation adopted a universal single-payer healthcare system in 1984, which allows anyone to access healthcare at no cost to themselves. The nation’s economy is largely reliant on oil prices and sales, but these have proven to be volatile in the past several decades. Due to this economic instability, 23% of the population lives below the poverty line, even though the nation has some of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world. What is even more startling is the 29% youth unemployment rate. Given that such a large segment of the population falls below the poverty line and cannot find work, many Algerians are reliant on their publicly funded healthcare system to provide for them in times of need. Here are five facts about healthcare in Algeria in light of the country’s economic hardship.

5 Facts About Healthcare in Algeria

  1. The Public Healthcare Network has Struggled Recently: In 2019, Algeria’s public healthcare network ranked as the 173rd most secure healthcare network out of 195 nations. This stems from the chronic economic insecurity that dominated the nation due to drops in oil prices. The “breakeven” price for oil in Algeria was $157 per barrel in 2020. However, the price fell to just $20 a barrel, leaving the nation to stumble upon hard times. Yahia Zoubir notes that many Algerian medical professionals have chosen to take their practices out of the nation due to the “chronically insufficient healthcare system.”
  2. A Private Healthcare Sector Exists within Algeria: In 2015, there were 250 operational private clinics, and the government approved plans for the construction of the first private hospital in the nation. Many questioned the utility of the private sector because it fills in the gaps of the public sector, but it can only serve those who could afford it. Essentially, the presence of the private sector heightens disparity in the quality of care that the healthcare system provides to Algerians in different socio-economic classes.
  3. COVID-19 has Highlighted Major Issues with the Public Healthcare Network: As noted before, the national economy took major hits in 2019, and the nation announced a 50% cut in public spending as a result. Due to an inability to provide physicians with the necessary equipment and a general lack of human capital, there were 17 beds per 10,000 Algerians, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015. Because of this limited hospital capacity, COVID-19 patients easily overran public healthcare in Algeria.
  4. Where Health Officials Fail, the People Provide: Throughout the pandemic, government officials were notorious for failing to communicate with the public to slow the spread of the virus. Villages located further away from urban centers encountered these issues most prominently. Despite this, the Algerian people demonstrated resilient and innovative capabilities. The United Nations Development Program notes two distinct ways Algerians are reacting to the pandemic. First, in urban centers, many merchants are turning away from their cash-based system and moving toward e-commerce. E-commerce limits the amount of person-to-person contact involved in economic transitions of all sorts. Meanwhile, villages are working together to limit the spread of the virus themselves. Notably, a village called Tifilkout went into self-confinement to protect its citizens and other villages in the area. This plan originated from the tradition of “wise men” leading the village. These solutions demonstrate that while healthcare in Algeria may be unstable, the people will still assist one another regardless.
  5. The Algerian Struggle has Incited a Global Response: Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have also stepped up to assist in COVID-19 relief. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to donate $20 million to fight COVID-19 in Africa. The money will go towards ensuring that PPE and treatments are available to all who need them, not just those who can pay the most. While these efforts going towards Africa generally, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has demonstrated its commitment to Algeria in the past. In 2002, it joined groups working to fight the spread of malaria, and through its assistance, Algeria was the second nation in Africa to become malaria-free.

Healthcare in Algeria has struggled for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic exposed many of its weaknesses. However, the pandemic has also allowed communities to respond to such weaknesses in full force. While Algerians are working to protect one another through e-commerce and social distancing, the international community is banding together to support the nation as well.

Allison Moss
Photo: Flickr

The Fight Against Locusts
Asia, the Middle East and Africa are in a battle with an entity that threatens the food security of 10% of the population. This problem has come and gone before and goes by the name of the desert locust. These locusts fly in swarms of 10s of billions, in coverage ranging from a square third of a mile to 100 square miles. For reference, a swarm the size of one-third of a square mile could eat the equivalent of 35,000 people.

The leading cause of the sudden outburst of locusts is the months of heavy rain that Africa and Southwest Asia had towards the end of 2019. Locusts thrive in wet conditions when breeding and the rain sparked a massive emergence of the bugs.

The locusts could become the cause of food insecurity for millions of people. The reason for this is the sheer number of insects and also how quickly they can travel. They swarm from one food supply to the next, while moving from one country to the next within days. When they decide to land in a town or city that seems to have an abundance of crops, they will eat anywhere from 50 to 80% of all the plants. This has resulted in many countries and international institutions increasing cooperation, as the locusts do not discriminate against which country they deplete of resources. Below are five of the ways that collaboration has developed in the fight against locusts, which highlights the importance of working together during national emergencies.

5 Cases of International Cooperation in the Fight Against Locusts

  1. The World Bank has put together a $500 million program called The Emergency Locust Response Program to immediately assist farmers in the Middle East and Africa. This will help the citizens of affected countries with cash transfers, and will also go towards investing in agricultural industries. The first four countries that will receive the aid are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. They will collectively receive $160 million of the $500 million total.
  2. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has paired with the United Nations to strengthen technology that tracks locust swarms. The administration typically helps track weather and other changes in the environment, but now will use its resources to help monitor the locusts. It is trying to re-purpose technology to track smoke in order to follow the migration of locusts. This will help prepare countries and cities better, as they will have a more accurate prediction of when the swarms will reach them. These institutions are also developing different types of bio-pesticides, which will have less of an impact on humans and crops.
  3.  India has offered a detailed plan to Pakistan and Iran to team up against the swarms effectively. Pakistan has yet to accept the deal, but if accepted, the countries would “coordinate locust control operations along the border and that India can facilitate the supply of malathion, a pesticide, to Pakistan.” The plan originated in hopes of trying to save some of the estimated $3 billion of lost crops within the affected regions.
  4. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has contributed $19 million to the FAO to fight the locusts in East Africa. The money will go to Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, which are three of the worst-hit countries. The aid will help these countries afford airplanes to perform aerial spraying and training for infestation fighters on the ground.
  5. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed another $10 million to the FAO. This money will go towards the same countries as the USAID contribution went to. The countries have gratefully accepted the money, yet still need more support. However, contributions from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are closing the gap between necessary resources and obtained resources.

The cooperation between organizations and countries in the fight against locusts proves to be the silver lining of the infestation. International institutions are effectively planning, tracking and coordinating efforts to minimize the problem for farmers and food-insecure people around the world.

– Aiden Farr
Photo: Pixabay

Hunger in AfricaSub-Saharan Africa is the region in the world that hunger affects the most. In fact, 319 million people experienced undernourishment in 2018. In sub-Saharan Africa, one in four suffers from hunger, and according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 28 countries in Africa are dependent on food aid. Sub-Saharan Africa is a hotbed of chronic hunger largely due to its extreme poverty. However, poverty not only causes widespread hunger in Africa, but it also creates poverty. Malnutrition depletes nations of strength and productivity, effectively keeping the entire nation trapped in poverty. Africa will not escape poverty until it escapes hunger.

Chronic Hunger

Chronic hunger in Africa occurs when the daily energy intake is below what is necessary for a healthy and active life. The word “chronic” implies that it occurs for an extended period of time. While the current state of hunger in Africa may seem bleak, Africa has made progress. Malnutrition has declined by 4% between 2000 and 2014 due to economic growth and smart policies. However, malnutrition still remains a large issue in certain populations.

Hunger in Children

Children are most at risk for hunger in Africa and the hunger crisis particularly impacts them due to the fact that the first 1,000 days of a person’s life are critical in regards to nutrition. When a child does not receive proper food in the first 1,000 days, they can suffer physical and mental developmental delays, disorders, inability to fight disease and high infant mortality rates. Bill Gates noted his experience in African nations where people asked him to guess a child’s age based on their height. Children who Gates thought were 7 or 8 years old were in reality 12 or 13. This is due to the stunting that 28 million children in Africa experience. Malnutrition leads to stunting that not only impacts children’s height but also brain development. Stunted children are more likely to fall behind in school, miss critical reading and math milestones and go on to live a life in poverty.

Multiple Factors

Hunger in Africa is a complex crisis with many root causes. SOS Children’s Villages outlines some key causes of widespread hunger in Africa.

  1. The population continues to increase in sub-Saharan Africa and food production cannot keep up.
  2. Unfair trading structures lead to the European Union (E.U.) and the U.S. subsidizing domestic agriculture, resulting in farmers being unable to compete with cheap food imports.
  3. The high level of debt that characterizes many African nations, combined with poor governance and corruption, impede economic development. This consequently perpetuates mass poverty and hunger.
  4. The disease profile of Africa including AIDS and malaria creates an obstacle to individuals digesting their food properly. It also inhibits the productivity of the labor force leading to food scarcity.
  5. Conflict in Africa breeds economic instability, unproductivity and a growing refugee crisis.

However, the hunger crisis in Africa is not only complex due to its causes, but also because other issues largely interconnect with it and amplify it. For example, climate change creates weather patterns such as droughts that cause food insecurity. Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique are all examples of nations facing successive crop failures and poor harvest due to drought, with Southern Africa experiencing its lowest rainfall since 1981.

A lack of access to clean water and sanitation leads to increased rates of disease that create another obstacle to nutrition. Poor health care infrastructure in Africa amplifies the obstacle of disease to malnutrition. A lack of health care stops children from getting vaccines such as the rotavirus vaccine that would lead to children having fewer bouts of diarrhea. Furthermore, health care can provide individuals with supplements and vitamins to make up for key gaps in their diets, as the nutrition strategy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shows.

Organizations Working to Aid Africa

The complexity of the hunger crisis makes it incredibly difficult to combat. Fundamentally, Africa needs more research and funding. Bill and Melinda Gates are two people who have done tremendous work in Africa, donating over $600,000 to their Alliance to End Hunger Program. Through his work, Gates recognizes the complexity of hunger and notes that if he had one wish, it would be for the world to better understand malnutrition and how to solve it.

However, the continent is making progress to reduce widespread hunger in Africa. For example, organizations such as the SOS Children’s Villages provide family strengthening programs that give short and long term aid including food, access to medical care, school supplies and support with financial and household management. SOS Children’s Villages also provides emergency relief for the hunger crisis and famine to countries including Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Malawi. SOS Children’s Villages is currently active in 46 African countries, providing aid to 147 villages that would otherwise be in acute danger of malnutrition or starvation. Programs such as these need to not only continue but also to experience amplification via increased funding and research.

– Lily Jones
Photo: Pixabay

Chinese Investment in Africa
China’s rise to economic prominence is unparalleled in modern history. In just 40 years, China has become the manufacturing center of the world, built an enviable infrastructure system and created a robust middle class by lifting 800 million people out of poverty. The regime has also expanded Chinese investments abroad, funding a wide range of projects in far-flung corners of the globe. China’s international strategy has met with skepticism from the West due to allegations of corrupt business practices and sketchy dealings between often authoritarian states. This article will explain the effects of Chinese investment in Africa specifically, exploring the impact through the perspective of the international community, China itself and the receiving African nations.

The Extent

The value of Chinese investment in Africa since 2005 has passed $2 trillion. Chinese investment has many dimensions but primarily focuses on infrastructure and resource extraction. The regime’s plan to extract and ship resources through Chinese-built infrastructure connects more foreign markets to China as part of an ambitious megaproject called the Belt and Road Initiative. In doing so, China benefits by ensuring its supply of material needed to further economic growth and receiving nations benefit through job creation and economic diversification. Additionally, Chinese entrepreneurs own over 10,000 businesses on the continent.

One can only accomplish a proper understanding of foreign influence in Africa comparatively. Chinese interests in Africa are primarily commercial, but raise alarm bells in the West due to the scale of China’s acquisition of hard assets. Meanwhile, the West has had cultural and political interests in Africa for centuries, interests that continue today through the presence of Western military bases, political boundaries and cultural footprints of language and religion.

The Benefits

The ease and effectiveness of Chinese investment have provided many benefits for African nations. From its perspective, China provides fast access to capital and prompt delivery of services and workers. Additionally, Chinese loans do not need receiving nations to meet the ethical restrictions that organizations like the IMF require. The nature of Chinese investment often produces tangible results. Infrastructure projects increase access to transportation, healthcare, education and telecommunication services for ordinary Africans. Resource extraction diversifies the economy and can immediately sell to China’s booming market, as Chinese trade to Africa generally eclipses $100 billion every year.

Outside of investment, China plays an active role in addressing poverty on the continent. In 2018, the regime approved a $60 billion aid package and currently participates in five U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa. In general, African nations view China as a valuable ally with no history of colonialism, but also as an avenue for successful economic development.

The Concerns

While the economic benefits of Chinese investment are numerous, allegations about the regime’s business practices and intentions are of justifiable concern. The lack of accountability measures and regulatory mechanisms on the continent have led corrupt actors to hijack many Chinese-funded projects. In many cases, extraction and infrastructure markets are more concerned with connecting resource markets to China than considering the needs of the population. The influx of Chinese entrepreneurs and cheap goods have also decimated domestic industries such as the Nigerian textile market.

Additionally, Chinese investment projects often lack sustainability regulations and native Chinese laborers frequently dominate them. In fact, every million dollars of Chinese investment only creates 1.78 jobs for African citizens. Chinese lending practices have also received criticism for creating trade imbalances and debt for countries unable to pay them back in time. Finally, Chinese intentions are hard to ascertain, and as their economic influence grows, so does their ability to influence Africa’s diplomatic and political landscape.

The Solutions

Despite the shortcomings of Chinese investment in Africa, there are policy and organizational solutions actively addressing these issues. The findings of international organizations such as the U.N. and WHO can influence the state of Chinese business dealings. In particular, the Ease of Doing Business Index and WHO influence provides international awareness and transparency to Chinese investment projects. African nations have also realized the need to implement more effective regulatory mechanisms in order to combat corrupt dealings.

Additionally, nations such as Nigeria and South Africa have accepted deals from the U.S. and E.U. as a way to mediate Chinese diplomatic influence. China has also sought to improve its image, improving procedural transparency and establishing NGOs throughout Africa. The Beijing Gender Health Education Institute has opened a division in Africa, where it seeks to empower LGBTQ individuals by producing documentaries and spreading visual works. Transnational NGOs with Chinese offices such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the “Free Lunch for Children” campaign have started operating in Africa as well.

Despite uncertainty dominating it, Chinese investment in Africa has provided undeniable benefits to ordinary Africans. Ensuring that Chinese actions receive mediation will take the concerted effort of international institutions and accountability mechanisms. With concentrated reforms and an open diplomatic dialogue, Chinese financial support will be instrumental in helping the international community alleviate global poverty.

– Matthew Compan
Photo: Flickr