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Investing in Peace
The World Bank recently estimated that, by 2030, up to two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor would live in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCS). FCS have serious impacts on poorer countries: conflicts reduce GDP growth, on average, by 2% a year and force millions of people to flee their homes. The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide has more than doubled since 2012, exceeding 74 million in 2018. Of these people, almost 26 million are refugees, the highest percentage ever recorded, with developing countries hosting 85%. This puts a financial and social strain on host countries while also devastating generations of refugees. Constant displacement makes it difficult for refugees to maintain a stable source of income, have consistent access to basic necessities and receive an education. In fact, one in five people in countries that FCS affects suffers simultaneously from inadequate monetary, educational and basic infrastructure resources, making social mobility difficult. As a result, investing in peace is very important.

The Correlation Between FCS and Poverty

There seems to be a correlation between living in FCS and poverty, as the 43 countries with the highest poverty rates in the world are in FCS in Sub-Saharan Africa. World Bank data shows that economies in FCS have maintained poverty rates of over 40% in the past decade, while economies that have escaped FCS have cut their poverty rates by more than half. On an individual level, a person living in FCS is 10 times more likely to experience poverty than a person living in a country that has not experienced fragility or conflict in the past 20 years.

A solution to poverty might be investing in peace: invest in businesses, organizations or development agencies that work to lessen the prevalence of FCS around the world. While humanitarian interventions may bring about peace in the short term, they often do not address development after the establishment of peace. In addition, many conflicts around the world have become protracted and complicated, making humanitarian interventions less effective in the long run. Development agencies, on the other hand, work to establish peace in three-time frames: before, during and after conflict.

Before Conflict

One important step in lessening the prevalence of FCS around the world is to prevent conflict before it begins. This means identifying and addressing a point of conflict within a country or community before it becomes widespread, complex and potentially violent. Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, emphasized the importance of investing in conflict prevention: “Instead of responding to crises, we need to invest far more in prevention. Prevention works, saves lives and is cost-effective.” Estimates have determined that for every $1 the United States spends on conflict prevention, it saves $16 in future response costs. On a larger scale, this finding emphasizes the importance of investing in peace to curb the need for an expensive humanitarian intervention when the conflict is widespread, complex and violent.

One example of an American law promoting investments in conflict prevention is the Global Fragility Act of 2019. It focuses on U.S. foreign aid to prevent violent conflict in fragile countries and strengthens research to identify foreign assistance programs that are most effective at preventing conflict and violence. The act authorizes $1.15 billion over the next five years to fund violent conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts in countries in FCS. The act also benefits U.S. taxpayers, since violent conflict prevention is much more cost-effective than containing a conflict through humanitarian intervention.

During Conflict

Some development agencies around the world make medium-term to long-term investments in countries with ongoing, protracted conflicts. The investments aim to preserve human capital and strengthen local institutions working to promote peace and protect civilians. These investments serve as a social safety net for those at risk, providing them with basic necessities and services such as access to water, food and education. Violent conflicts can significantly affect the accumulation of human capital in a population, and the effects can be long-lasting if the conflict is prolonged across generations. Thus, it is important to provide people with this social safety net to ensure that they can rebuild their lives economically and socially after the conflict ends.

A successful example of investment in a country amid conflict is the World Bank’s investments in Yemen. Yemen has been in crisis for nearly a decade, since the Houthis overthrew its government, resulting in what the U.N. has called “the worst [humanitarian crisis] in the world.” Millions of people have been internally displaced while suffering from medical shortages and threats of famine. The World Bank’s International Development Association has allocated $400 million to creating jobs and providing refugees with essential resources under its Emergency Crisis Response Project (ECRP). As a result, 4.3 million people have received access to community services (water, sanitation, better roads, etc.) and 9.5 million workdays have emerged. Another component of the ECRP is a $448.58 million cash transfer to poor and vulnerable households. As of April 9, 2020, the transfers had reached 1.42 million households or 9 million individuals. The World Bank’s Engagement Strategy for Yemen 2020-2021 will continue funding for the ECRP and other initiatives to provide essential services, preserve Yemen’s human capital and strengthen local organizations helping those in need. 

After Conflict

Investing in post-conflict peacebuilding is another way in which development agencies can help those living in FCS. Investments in peacebuilding can supplement humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts by promoting economic and social growth after a conflict has ended. An important part of promoting economic growth is investing in micro to medium-sized businesses as a means to create jobs and jumpstart the local economy. It is also important to invest in the government to ensure that it can provide its citizens with essential services and resources well after the conflict has ended.

One agency investing in post-conflict peacebuilding is the United Nations (U.N.) Peacebuilding Fund (PBF). The PBF is a financial instrument used to sustain peace in countries in FCS. The PBF invests with other U.N. entities, governments, multilateral banks, NGOs and national multi-donor trust funds. Since its inception, 58 member states have contributed to the fund, with the allocation of $772 million to 41 recipient countries from 2006 to 2017. The Secretary General’s PBF 2020-2024 Strategy calls for the investment of $1.5 billion to countries in FCS over the next five years. The largest distribution of funds (35%) will go towards facilitating transitions from humanitarian missions to peacebuilding and future development. 

Looking Forward

Preventing, creating and maintaining peace in FCS is a daunting task that may take years to accomplish in certain areas. It is important to invest in peace at all three stages of conflict to save lives, save money and preserve resources. There are currently numerous multilateral aid agencies investing billions of dollars into countries in FCS, and one would hope that these efforts, along with humanitarian interventions, will lessen the prevalence of FCS around the world. Investing in peace could be the beginning of the end of global poverty, and if the world works together to lessen FCS, it could lift millions of people across out of poverty globally.

Harry Yeung
Photo: Flickr 

undervalued foreign aid
If there is one certainty about the process of lawmaking, it is that enacting a bill into law requires persistence. Thousands of bills never pass the House of Representatives, much less receive the Senate or Presidential approval. This is especially true when it comes to the way Congress undervalues foreign aid. Govtrack.org allows anyone to view who cosponsors pending bills and track the bill’s progress through Congress. Even more telling, however, is the website’s indication of the probability that any given bill will be enacted into law.

Nonprofit organizations like The Borgen Project mobilize thousands of Americans to contact their elected officials in support of foreign aid and international relief. Nevertheless, bills regarding foreign assistance commonly have prognoses under 5%. Compared to the prognoses for bills regarding homeland security and domestic business protections, these numbers highlight the lack of urgency for foreign aid at the federal level. In the fiscal year for 2019, foreign assistance comprised less than 1% of the federal budget. Given the growing severity of humanitarian crises amidst the pandemic, why does Congress continue to undervalue foreign aid?

A Bipartisan Call For Support

A common misconception exists that Republicans are the main cause of undervalued foreign aid. Democrat-identifying voters at large typically prioritize foreign aid more than Republicans. However, Congress members in both political parties lend their support and cosponsorship to undervalued foreign aid bills. Over time, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have installed effective foreign aid initiatives. Recently, Congress members from both parties rejected President Trump’s proposal to cut to the International Affairs Budget by one-third.

While bipartisan protection of the existing aid budget is optimistic, senators and representatives are slow to demonstrate support for pending legislation. For example, the Global Fragility Act has gained a modest 20 cosponsors since its introduction in April 2019. Its prognosis, like many similar acts, stands at 3%. In contrast, an act entitled H.R. 1252: To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 6531 Van Nuys Boulevard in Van Nuys, California, as the “Marilyn Monroe Post Office” garnered 50 cosponsors and received enactment within a year.  When new bills and initiatives lack attention and cosponsorship, it is difficult for foreign aid to create widespread benefits. This is especially true in an unprecedented time of crisis. Oftentimes, seemingly non-urgent and low-impact acts gain more congressional momentum than urgent and potentially life-changing foreign assistance. This observation indicates a disparity in support of domestic and foreign interests.

Domestic Benefits As An Obstacle

Generally, undervalued foreign aid lacks impetus because of the framework that Congress created around foreign aid as early as World War II. From World War II to the Cold War era, support for foreign aid depended on how much that bill could bring domestic benefits back to the United States. This precedent informs how Congress evaluates foreign aid to this day. Senators and representatives often select foreign aid based on the likelihood of it bringing economic benefits to their particular geographic region.

While it is natural for elected officials to consider the American economy, an empirical question exists as to whether foreign aid realistically compromises American interests. In short, it does not. Foreign aid, specifically when USAID drives it, brings billions of dollars to the American economy each year. This has been the case since the late 20th century.

Combating Domestic Fear

Another notable reason for why Congress undervalues foreign aid is the fear of benefiting autocratic governments. This contributed to the lack of foreign aid during the Cold War, and this fear surged once again in the early 21st century in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Foreign aid bills that grant basic resources to civilians rather than governments lack support from Congress based on these anxieties. However, to generalize about developing countries based on preconceived fears or stereotypes only blocks progress, both domestically and abroad. Congress is more than capable of making informed decisions about foreign aid without compromising the security of their constituents, who call in support of pending aid legislation more often with each international crisis and tragedy.

Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr

Protests in Hong KongIn February 2019, the Hong Kong government proposed new changes to its extradition law that would change the country’s security and judicial laws altogether. The new changes will allow people to be tried in mainland China for crimes committed in Hong Kong. This has caused multiple protests in Hong Kong.

Why People in Hong Kong Are Protesting

The cause of the uproar lies in the inequality between freedoms and liberties for citizens of China versus citizens of Hong Kong. On a late Sunday in March, people in Hong Kong began protesting against changes to Hong Kong’s current extradition law. What began as peaceful protests about 11 weeks ago, turned violent after many protesters clashed with police during one of the largest protests ever held in Hong Kong.

Due to the authorities’ violent response to the protesters, including the use of beanbags, tear gas and rubber bullets, the protests slowly turned into a movement against Hong Kong’s government as a whole. The indefinite suspension of the bill that began the protest movement just sparked more controversy, given that many are speculating that the chief executive, Ms. Lam, does not have the authority to formally withdraw the bill. As many as 2 million people walked the streets to show their displeasure with the government’s response.

As of yet, the protesters have five demands. They want the resignation of current chief executive Carrie Lam and to keep mainland Chinese tourists out of Hong Kong. They also demand the removal of the word “riot” to describe the demonstrations, the release of those that have been arrested during the protests and an investigation into the police and its alleged excessive use of force.

Relation Between Protests and Poverty in Hong Kong

These protests are likely to have detrimental impacts on the poor population. Approximately one in five Hong Kong residents live below the official poverty line. Many receive a monthly income of less than $700. Additionally, monthly rent currently makes up 70 percent of the median household income for half the population in Hong Kong. This further contributes to people’s economic demise while also allowing avenues such as illegal housing markets to open up.

The minimum wage in Hong Kong has not increased in the past several years. To make matters worse, the government began outsourcing jobs in 2002 as a way to downsize and reduce spending. However, the plan led to the development of a poor working class, which now must rely on social programs like the Low-Income Working Family Allowance (LIFA) scheme and the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) scheme. These schemes help families who cannot support themselves solely with their monthly wages.

As the situation further deteriorates in Hong Kong, the government will continue reducing expenditures. This will be more costly for those living below the poverty line as social programs are the first to be cut. The economy will worsen as tourism declines and the effects of the trade war with China fully sink in. In turn, this will leave approximately 1.38 million people without any form of government assistance.

How to Help

For situations like this, it is important to have bills like the Global Fragility Act passed in Congress, since this bill would not only work towards preventing conflict from occurring but it would also address those regions that are more at risk of developing violent conflict.

Protests and poverty in Hong Kong are deeply intertwined. As the government cracks down, the poor will be the first to suffer. That is why it is important to urge Congress to take action and help those who need it the most. By contacting your representative in the Senate and encouraging them to pass the Global Fragility Act, also known as S.727, each person can be a part of the movement that is improving living conditions across the globe.

Laura Rogers
Photo: Pixabay

the global fragility act
The Global Fragility Act of 2019 (H.R.2116/S.727) is one of the first-ever whole-of-government efforts to recognize regions where violent conflict exists or could potentially arise and address those issues through diplomatic, development and security efforts. Its main goal is not only to stabilize these areas but also prevent the emergence of violent conflict in countries that are at a higher risk or are more fragile due to a lack of governance and economic opportunity, as well as extreme poverty.

What Is the Problem?

With the current levels of humanitarian crises and extreme poverty worldwide, there is a great need for a bill like the Global Fragility Act. Globally there are over 134 million people that are in need of aid with the main causes being conflict and natural disasters. Additionally, over 550,000 people die annually as a result of violence, which has led to an increase in the need for aid from $3.5 billion in 2004 to about $20 billion currently. Unfortunately, when some provide assistance to address these issues, places mostly use it to address the consequences of violence rather than the root causes.

What Is the Global Fragility Act?

The Global Fragility Act is a bipartisan measure that will steer away from the focus placed on the symptoms of violence and instead solve the problem before it starts. It covers 12 different goals which will address the causes of fragility such as instability, weak governance and a lack of economic opportunities. The bill will resolve these issues by enhancing stabilization in the areas where conflict is prevalent.

According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the bill aims to “establish an interagency initiative/strategy to reduce fragility and violence, select pilot countries where the U.S. will implement the initiative, provide critical funds for stabilization, prevention and crisis response, [and] mandate evaluation and accountability.”

The inter-agency initiative is the first of its kind and will include the joint efforts of the U.S. State Department, Defense Department and USAID. These agencies will select countries and regions where conflict and violence are the most prevalent based on the most current data available regarding fragility, violence and number of people forcibly displaced, among other indicators. Additionally, the Global Fragility Act will also establish the Stabilization and Prevention Fund and the Complex Crises Fund. The Department of State and USAID will manage these with the intention of taking preventative or responsive measures to crises. Furthermore, the Act will also establish indicators to monitor the progress in the pilot regions, while also requiring the agencies involved to send biennial reports to Congress regarding how the program has developed in each region.

Who Are Its Sponsors?

The Global Fragility Act is a bipartisan effort given that it addresses issues that go beyond party adherence. As has been mentioned there are two versions of this bill, the House H.R.2116 bill and the Senate S.727 bill. Sponsors for the House bill include the following: Representatives Engel (D-NY), McCaul (R-TX), A. Smith (D-WA), Wagner (R-MO), Keating (D-MA) and Rooney (R-FL).

The senators in support of the S.727 bill include Senators Coons (D-DE), Graham (R-SC), Merkley (D-OR), Rubio (R-FL) and Young (R-IN). There are a number of additional supporters, but these are the main sponsors, as well as the ones who introduced the bills to their respective chambers.

Where Does It Stand Now?

Currently, the Global Fragility Act has passed in the House of Representatives; however, it has yet to be approved in the Senate. On June 25, 2019, the Bill went to the Senate for consideration. Once the Senate approves it, it will then move on to the President to sign into law. However, everyone needs to support it for it to receive approval. The U.S. public can involve themselves and help turn this bill into law. U.S. senators are only a call, email or letter away. Constituents can find their senator’s contact information here and they can email Congress here. Voicing support for this bill would not only contribute to raising people out of poverty but also strengthening U.S. national security.

Laura Rogers
Photo: Pixabay

 

10 Facts About Poverty in Central America
Recent news has increasingly mentioned the Northern Triangle, which includes Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and its migration crisis. Each of these countries have economic systems that have similar financial agreements with outside countries. These 10 facts about poverty in Central America will identify issues, solutions and trends that lead back to Central America’s poverty crisis.

10 Facts About Poverty in Central America

  1. The Economy: The political economy of Central America has parallelled that of the world for the past five decades. A combination of factors such as a vulnerable bureaucratic system, a shifting population and aggressive globalization are causing Central America to experience gentrification on a national level, creating more significant gaps between economic classes.
  2. Climate Change: Changes in nature such as unusually warm temperatures, nutrient-poor water and the comeback of the southern pine beetle are occurring throughout the region of Central America. This insect is a result of a change in climate where the ocean temperature rises significantly, placing additional demand on presently strained water reserves.
  3. Population: In the past five decades, Central America’s population has continued to increase with the most considerable change occurring up to the mid-1970s, after which the difference in community numbers became highly sporadic. As the population continues to increase, resources like infrastructure and the economy struggle to match demand. As a result, the levels of poverty and extreme poverty have increased by approximately one percent between 2014 and 2017 and extreme poverty increased two percent between 2014 and 2016. Congresswoman Alicia Barcena mentioned the need for public services such as social security and labor inclusion, and how pairing these resources with increased wages could lessen the amount of poverty.
  4. Legislation: Central American countries are making efforts through previous legislation to alleviate their economic hardships. Since 2004, the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement has promoted stronger trade and stability throughout these regions. FTA reduces the barriers that countries previously had to access U.S. exports. As a result, traded goods all originate between Mexico and Canada with the exceptions of agricultural commodities. These areas give considerable attention to the conditions and the rights of workers in their countries. Countries are currently updating NAFTA to address additional concerns such as how to verify labor standards and eliminate the time restraint on labor violations.
  5. Clean Water Accessibility: Nicaragua is the only country in the region that has substantial access to waterways but the surrounding countries, like Honduras, Guatemala and Peru, do not due to the steep terrain that can make up significant portions of their countries. These collections of water are rarely safe for consumption even if they are accessible. For many households, accessing water is a timely chore that can take hours traveling back and forth between sources of water and homes, and limit people’s ability to attend work or school. For example, around 63 percent of Honduras’ population is living below poverty and those who live in rural areas work as farmers; as a result, their earnings rarely go to education, but rather daily tasks like water collection. To help with water accessibility, Doc Hendley started Wine to Water. Wine to Water is a nonprofit organization that works to bring clean water to underserved communities. It has served over half a million people in over 300 communities, across five continents. To date, it has worked in Honduras within eight communities and aided over 11,000 people.
  6. Literacy: Many regions have limited water supplies that are safe or close in the distance, meaning that in a single day, a trip for a container of water takes several hours. As a region, Central America has lower literacy rates with an average of 79.4, compared to the global average of 83.7. The countries in Central America with the highest literacy rates are Costa Rica and Panama, while the country with the lowest is Guatemala.
  7. The Northern Triangle: The Northern Triangle is a subregion in Central America between El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. These countries have a secure connection with each other economically due to legislation that passed during the 1980s and 1990s. The majority of those changes, however, have had macroeconomic effects on the region leaving large portions of the population enduring unequal access to resources and encouraging many to migrate elsewhere, working against stimulating its economy. The House Committee of Foreign Affairs introduced legislation to address the causes of migration and authorized $577 million in foreign assistance for the years 2020.
  8. Women in Central America: Central American women are facing challenges to raise their economic status while being met with social obstacles. For example, some women in El Salvador meet with sexism, fragile protection and few rights. These challenges, along with limited assets, the possibility of extortion and insufficient education about business management and finances make some businesswomen wary of growing or succeeding with their activities.
  9. Migration: Many people have made efforts to migrate to other countries due to the rising concern of survival. Droughts, economic instability, increased violence between gang members and civilians, corrupt legal systems and a weak government have made daily life challenging.
  10. Violence: The violence in Central America has been on the rise for decades, causing hundreds of thousands of migrants out of the region. Of those who remain in the area, the violence, extortion and corruption are frequent. Legislation such as the Global Fragility Act of 2019 prevents and addresses the primary causes of violence in various countries.

These 10 facts about poverty in Central America emphasize the point that poverty is a broad issue with a number of solutions. While situations in Central America may seem dire, the efforts by nonprofits like Wine to Water and legislation like the Global Fragility Act of 2019 should aid in improving the area’s conditions.

– Kimberly Debnam
Photo: Flickr