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The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Pakistan
As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the developing world, the World Bank estimates that there will be between 119 to 124 million additional people added to poverty due to economic standstills. Developing countries are at high risk of an increase in poverty, including Pakistan. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan is substantial, but the government and other organizations have been cooperating to minimize the impact.

COVID-19’s Impact on Pakistan

In Pakistan, to date, there have been more than 22,000 COVID-19 related deaths. Vaccination programs have experienced delays, with only about 2% of the population of Pakistan currently vaccinated. To receive the vaccine, residents pay around $78, a luxury that many Pakistanis cannot afford. Due to the U.K. strain, cases are rising again. However, government officials are hesitant to enforce a strict lockdown as they did in March 2020. Rather, the government utilized the popular “smart” or “micro” lockdowns, where only specific areas go into lockdown. However, limited data exists on the success rates of these strategies.

Pre-Pandemic Pakistan

Even before the pandemic, Pakistan’s health system had limitations. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), before COVID-19, Pakistan had a ratio of one doctor to 963 people and a lack of universal healthcare. Before the virus, the poverty rate in Pakistan declined by 40% over the last two decades. However, the economic impacts of the pandemic halted poverty reduction progress.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Children

COVID-19 has impacted women and children in Pakistan more significantly than men. Due to the virus, these vulnerable groups are suffering several consequences. Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in Pakistan. In June 2020, nearly 42 million children were out of school, with 17 million children younger than 5 missing routine vaccinations.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the shutdowns due to COVID-19 have disproportionately affected women, and in particular, the garment industry, which makes up a substantial part of Pakistan’s exports. In Pakistan, the majority of the population has employment within the garment industry, with approximately one in seven women working in this sector.

To rectify the bleak situation, the Pakistan Workers Federation and the Employers Federation of Pakistan issued a joint statement of cooperation and the government provided wage support. These efforts also included a “no lay off” order and an interest rate reduction for employers who retain their employees.

The Good News

While the situation looks bleak, the government and organizations are taking action to relieve the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan. The U.N. Development Programme established a COVID-19 Secretariat at Pakistan’s Planning Commission in 2020 to facilitate the economic and social response to the pandemic in conjunction with U.N. agencies. The Secretariat supported the Pakistani government’s 2020-2021 budget and National Action Plan for COVID-19.

To alleviate the lockdown’s hardships in 2020, the government issued unconditional cash transfers of approximately $70 to 12 million vulnerable households to prevent food insecurity. To continue to support the most vulnerable population, Ehsaas, the federal social protection program, made extra payments to 4.5 million families. Under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash initiative, another 7.5 million households received monetary assistance.

Dr. Sania Nishtar, the leader of Ehsaas, said in an interview with Mckinsey, that Ehsaas “invested” heavily in time, money, energy and effort to build infrastructure, including an SMS-based request-seeking mechanism, which allowed for ease in eligibility determinations and digital payments.

The World Bank ranked Ehsaas as one of the top four social protection programs by coverage. In March 2021, the World Bank issued a statement supporting the program by approving $600 million to expand Ehsaas. The fund allocation will facilitate the expansion of the programs to reach more informal workers.

Looking Ahead

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan is significant, however, the government and organizations are working together to provide social protection to the most vulnerable groups and will continue to do so as vaccination rates increase.

– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram
Photo: Flickr

Italy's Foreign Aid
On October 30, 2021, Italy will host the G20 summit, the annual economic forum on international cooperation and financial stability. In addition to policy coordination between the world’s major, advanced and emerging economies in efforts to achieve global economic growth, the summit also focuses on development programs in impoverished countries. A closer look at Italy’s foreign aid shows the extent to which Italy helps the world’s most vulnerable people.

Italy’s Foreign Aid

According to U.N. standards, Italy is not contributing enough to foreign aid. Italy is the 10th-largest Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) donor for the Development Assistance Committee (DAC). The country spent $4.2 billion on official development assistance in 2020. However, this represents only 0.22% of the country’s gross national income. It falls below the U.N. target of 0.7% as well as the DAC average of 0.32%.

Current Fund Allocation

Bilateral aid consists of grants that go to countries without a multilateral intermediary. Italy dedicates 31.1% of its bilateral aid to hosting refugees in donor countries. The country was on track to reach the U.N.’s official development assistance (ODA) target up until 2017. It then started to decrease funding as in-country refugee costs decreased by 76% from 2017 to 2019.

Furthermore, along with many other countries in the European Union, much of Italy’s foreign aid has gone toward border control instead of basic services such as water, food and education. These services are key elements that help fight poverty and decrease the likelihood of forced migration or the need for border control. A June 2019 Instituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) report found that the country lacks a consistent strategy surrounding development cooperation, largely due to Italy’s fixation on migration and its opportunistic and transactional approach to foreign policy.

Bilateral vs. Multilateral

Although it seems Italy could be doing more to help the world’s impoverished, it is important to note that most of its official development assistance (62%) goes to multilateral institutions. This means that the government authorizes non-governmental organizations (NGOs), think tanks and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank Group to allocate foreign aid accordingly. While some multilateral groups can have political leanings, NGOs and think tanks tend to operate apolitically. This minimizes the risk that Italy’s foreign aid only serves to reinforce political ambitions or national security through distribution.

For example, through Italy’s earmarked contribution of more than $82 million to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UNDP considers Italy a “vital partner in their mission to end extreme poverty” and is helping the country operationalize its G7 commitments through the Africa Centre for Sustainable Development in Rome. Once established, the goal of the Centre is to accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa by advocating the best practices regarding food security, access to water and clean energy.

Italy in the G20

As host of the G20 economic forum, Italy has an important position among other members in leading discussions on development and poverty. In fact, in a telephone conversation with the European commissioner for international partnerships, Emanuela Del Re, the Italian vice minister of foreign affairs, asserted that the G20 could be “the relevant international forum to define measures to ensure that vulnerable countries are part of the socio-economic recovery.”

While Italy should be contributing more toward its foreign aid as a whole, its commitment to multilateral cooperation is a promising step in alienating aid from internal politics. Furthermore, by prioritizing the management of the pandemic in economically developing countries in the G20, Italy could reevaluate its interest in migration as a central development issue and create the opportunity for a more balanced allocation of foreign aid.

– Annarosa Zampaglione
Photo: Flickr

solar microgridsThe United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped establish three solar microgrids in rural Yemeni communities. Earlier this year, the British charity Ashden honored the scheme as one of 11 recipients of its prestigious Ashden Awards. These annual awards recognize initiatives whose efforts to deliver sustainable energy have produced important social and economic advantages.

Solving a Fuel Shortage and Economic Crisis

Yemen’s energy infrastructure cannot transport power to rural towns and villages. Thus, many of these communities depend upon highly-polluting diesel generators. However, longstanding conflict and crippling embargoes have made fossil fuels scarce and expensive. Moreover, oil prices have fluctuated in recent years, and poverty has skyrocketed. This crisis has affected approximately three-quarters of Yemen’s population. Current estimates indicate that more than two out of five households have been deprived of their primary source of income. It’s also been found that women are more acutely impacted than men.

Now, the energy situation is shifting. The UNDP has provided funding and support to three different groups of entrepreneurs that own and operate solar microgrids. The three are located in Abs in the district of Bani Qais in the northwest and in Lahij Governate in the south. Their stations provide clean, sustainable energy to local residents and at a much lower price. The solar microgrids charge only $0.02 per hour as opposed to the $0.42 per hour that diesel costs.

Such savings for households and businesses have greatly impacted the local economies. Not only can people work after sunset, they also possess more disposable income. According to Al Jazeera, approximately 2,100 people have been able to save money and put it toward creating their own small businesses. These include services for welding, sewing, grocery stores and other shops. So far, a total of 10,000 Yemenis have benefitted from the energy provided by the three solar microgrids.

Empowering New Leaders in Business

The entrepreneurs who founded and now run the microgrid facilities in Bani Qais and Lahij Governate are young men. However, the power station in Abs is completely owned and operated by women. These Abs women receive training in necessary technical skills and study business and finance.

Some expected the scheme to fail due to the sophisticated knowledge it required and the relative inexperience of the facilities’ operators. Well, one year has passed, and the solar microgrids are running at full capacity. The project thus offers a valuable model for creating jobs in a country where civil war has shattered the economy and hobbled basic infrastructure.

Specifically for the women in Abs, though, a steady income and the ability to provide a much-needed service have increased their self-confidence. These women can feed their families and use the university educations they each worked for to a great extent. As the station’s director explained, their work has even earned them the respect and admiration of those who used to ridicule them for taking on what was once considered a man’s job.

Looking to the Future

The success of the UNDP’s project’s first stage shows a possible solution to Yemen’s problem of energy scarcity. The UNDP now works to find funding for an additional 100 solar microgrids. Since civil war began in 2015, both sides have tried to limit each other’s access to the fossil fuels that Yemen depends upon. Pro-government coalition forces have prevented ships cleared by the U.N. from unloading their cargoes in the north. On the other side, Houthi-led rebels have recently suspended humanitarian flights to Sanaa, the country’s largest city and its capital. This is all in the midst of hospitals struggling to care for patients during the pandemic.

The UNDP’s solar microgrids are a source of hope among the many conflicts plaguing Yemen. More still, it is likely others will soon follow in the footsteps of the three initial young entrepreneurs. These solar microgrids stations have empowered Yemeni communities to build better and more sustainable futures and will for years to come.

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

Tuberculosis in Tuvalu
Tuberculosis (TB) is the world’s deadliest infectious disease, yet millions of people remain undiagnosed. TB diagnosis is a challenge for many island communities. In order to be diagnosed, patients usually have to go to the main island. This was the case for tuberculosis in Tuvalu.

Tuvalu is a remote Pacific island with a population of 11,500 and only one hospital. Travel to the hospital is difficult and increases the risk of transmission, especially when it includes a crowded boat full of people. TB rates are high in Tuvalu but are declining with only about 15 new cases each year since 2016 – a great improvement from the rate of 36 new cases each year in the 1980s. The death rate in 2017 was 19 per 100,000 people. Thanks to a couple of developments that have made diagnosis more achievable – namely GeneXpert machine, portable x-ray machines and training for health teams – Tuvalu is actively reducing rates of TB since 2018.

GeneXpert Machine

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Fund have provided a GeneXpert machine to the government of Tuvalu. This machine reduces the duration of the TB test and allows for diagnosis of the drug-resistant strains, which are increasingly becoming a problem. Using the machine, the test only takes about two hours. Without this technology, the TB test takes at least two-six weeks.

It is a relatively new test that works on a molecular level to identify mycobacterium tuberculosis as well as rifampin resistance in a sputum sample. Another positive is that limited technical training is required to run the GeneXpert tests. These tests are being used around the world and prove to be an incredible feat of science.

Portable X-ray Machines

Because x-ray machines are now portable, more people can be reached and examined, including those on the outer islands. Mobile health teams travel to smaller islands and carry out chest x-rays for those presenting TB symptoms.

Thanks to portable x-ray technology, the number of TB diagnoses is increasing. Dr. Lifuka at the Tuvalu hospital said, “We can now actively find cases in the outer islands where there are no facilities, and we can assess everyone, even those who previously faced difficulties coming to the hospital.”

Training for Health Teams

Of course, none of this would be possible with the technology alone. Trained professionals are needed to help diagnose and treat people with tuberculosis in Tuvalu. They travel to patients’ houses and provide medication. Because of the stigma surrounding TB, patients won’t always get their treatments. This is why Tuvalu Red Cross community-based health promoters and other trained professionals treat patients at home.

Though TB rates remain rather high in Tuvalu, as well as throughout the Pacific, the new technology implemented in 2018 is promising. Technology will not be enough, however; system-wide approaches aimed at reducing poverty and development of infrastructure on the outer islands will also be needed in order to eradicate TB. Furthermore, Tuvalu needs to continue to improve TB surveillance in order to inform public health agencies of the strategies proven to be most effective. Hopefully, the new technology will help spread awareness of TB to all the members of the community. The change is already evident, as cases of tuberculosis in Tuvalu have declined consistently over the past 10 years, and detection has increased. In 2008, they were only able to diagnose eight cases a year. In 2017, there were 23. The new technology and training programs will continue to save lives on this small, isolated island.

Fiona Price
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ Education in Albania
Albania is a small country located in southeastern Europe neighboring Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. The country has endured many socioeconomic hardships since the fall of communism in 1991 but is now on the rise from one of the poorest countries in Europe to a middle-income country. As in most countries, education is an integral part of social, cultural and economic development. Here are 10 facts about girls’ education in Albania.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Albania

  1. Most girls attend primary and secondary schools. Albania considers the first nine years of school mandatory, which it calls primary education, although most students complete three additional years of school which are part of secondary education. According to the World Bank, the female net enrollment ratio for girls of primary school age (ages 6-15) was 94 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, 89 percent of females ages 15-18 enrolled in secondary schooling in 2018. However, these percentages of girls in the Albanian school system are still very good, as nearly the entire population of eligible girls attended some type of schooling.
  2. A little over half of the population of young adult women attend tertiary schools. Tertiary schooling is typically at universities and students aged 18 and older can study to obtain a bachelor’s, master’s or a Ph.D. The gross enrollment rate in 2018 was 68 percent for women in tertiary education, up from 39 percent in 2009. Even though the gross enrollment rate in 2018 for tertiary schooling is not as high as the net enrollment rates for additional schooling, these numbers show that girls’ education in Albania is rising.
  3. There are more girls receiving an education than boys. In the same study that the World Bank conducted, only 90 percent of boys of primary school age enrolled in school, compared to 94 percent of females in 2013. As for secondary schools, the male net enrollment rate stood at 84 percent compared to 89 percent for females in 2018. Thankfully, boys’ education and girls’ education in Albania have a very small gap between them. However, since 2009, there has been a significant gap between the gross enrollment rates in tertiary schools by gender. The most recent data has the male enrollment rate in tertiary education at 43 percent, a 25 percent difference between genders.
  4. Unemployment for women could impact tertiary education enrollment. Women’s participation in the labor force has dropped drastically from 78 percent in 1989 to 46 percent in 2005, likely due to the collapse of communism and social upheaval in 1991. This number did not reach 50 percent until 2013 and has been gradually rising since then. For decades, Albania has held onto strong patriarchal values that place women outside of the labor market. Because of these values, “women of reproductive age are discriminated against in the market because they may start a family, and thus have fewer opportunities for retraining and qualification.” If women experience exclusion from employment and have to operate in the domestic sphere, they may not see the value of an education, thereby contributing to lower rates of enrollment beyond compulsory schooling.
  5. Women earn less than men on average. In addition to hiring difficulties, women also earn 10.5 percent less than their male counterparts. The good news is that Albania has a lower gender wage gap than most of the European Union. The E.U.’s gender wage gap average was 16.2 percent in 2016. However, the gender wage gap could exist due to women’s lack of participation in the labor market, or vice versa. This could also be related to the rising net enrollment rate for girls’ education in Albania, specifically in tertiary schooling.
  6. Similarly, there is a low representation of Albanian women in decision making. In 2007, women occupied only 7 percent of seats in Albania’s parliament, with only nine women total in senior-level positions and 2 percent of local government leaders women. In 2017, the number of seats that women occupied in parliament rose to 21.4 percent. Having years of low representation of women in the Albanian government has allowed for the gender-based discrimination in education and employment to run rampant throughout the country. With fewer women involved in decision making, girls have fewer protections, making something as necessary as education difficult to obtain.
  7. There are low government expenditures on education. Unfortunately, Albania spent only 3.95 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education in 2016, according to UNESCO. A government undermines the value of an education when it invests so little in it.
  8. However, the Albanian government is helping girls in other ways. The Albanian government has spent this past decade focusing on undoing the decades of gender inequality through the law, specifically the Law on Reproductive Health, Measures on Domestic Violence and laws on Prevention and Elimination of Organized Crime and Trafficking Through Preemptive Measures on Personal Assets. In 2015, the Prime Minister of Albania publicly announced to the United Nations the national government’s commitment to gender equality. Following this, the national government adopted the Gender Equality and Action Plan 2016–2020 with the aim to consolidate efforts by all institutions to advance gender equality. The government used funds to benefit women’s enterprises and support services for survivors of domestic violence.
  9. Other organizations have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of women in Albania. The Mary Ward Loreto Foundation is an organization creating programs to empower adolescent girls and protect them from domestic violence and trafficking on the ground in rural communities in Albania. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has partnered with the Albanian national government and civil society to create programs to end gender-based discrimination, like the Gender Equality and Gender-Based Violence Programme in 2015. UNICEF has partnered with Albania’s Ministry of Education to implement new systems to improve access to education for children throughout the country. In November 2019, the World Bank loaned Albania $10 million to improve women’s access to economic opportunity.
  10. Female education is on the rise in Albania. Female enrollment has been rising since 2009 by roughly 1 to 2 percent every year. The total net enrollment rate is at 96 percent, so, fortunately, the majority of Albania’s children have access to public education. Despite having a lower percentage of girls attending primary and secondary school, over half of the women aged 18-22 enrolled in tertiary education at 67.58 percent in 2018. The girls who enrolled in education continue on to undergraduate and graduate studies.

Albania is a country rich in history. Unfortunately, much of that history has allowed gender-based discrimination to take root, even affecting girls’ education in Albania. Because of its changing political and social climate, patriarchal beliefs and a lack of protection for women have allowed the country to leave them behind. The good news is that women are catching up. Albania has worked tirelessly this past decade to undo gender inequality through laws, civil society and partnerships with global organizations to provide women the resources they need to succeed, starting with a promise of an education.

– Emily Young
Photo: Unsplash

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Lesotho
For those living in the landlocked country of Lesotho, life is far shorter than it is in most of the world. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Lesotho that help reveal the reasons for its low life expectancy, as well as what the country has done and needs to do to improve the lives of those in Lesotho.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Lesotho

  1. HIV/AIDS: By far the most important of the 10 facts about life expectancy in Lesotho is that it has the second-highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world. Health services are difficult to access and poor quality once received, contributing to an increase in the disease. Sentebale, a nonprofit created by Prince Harry, works in Lesotho to provide holistic care for children with HIV and those who have been orphaned as a result.
  2. Unemployment: Landlocked in Southern Africa, Lesotho has always depended on neighbors for employment. A majority of the working population traveled to South African mines for work, but recent retrenchment has left 24 to 28 percent of people jobless and without income. There have been few domestic opportunities to offset this deficit and improvement in Lesotho’s private sector will be crucial to creating much needed local jobs.
  3. Low Agricultural Output: Only a small portion of Lesotho’s land is arable enough for steady crop growth. This combined with recent droughts has created intense food scarcity. Some progress is happening as the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation has created several Nutrition Corners that help parents find nutritious food for their children’s development, despite limited quantities. The World Food Programme has also planned to distribute food to 103,000 beneficiaries and additional food to nearly 5,000 children by 2024. This should greatly improve life expectancy by providing for the most basic of needs.
  4. Natural Disasters: The effects of climate change are evident in the 10 facts about life expectancy in Lesotho as the country continues to experience floods, droughts and other intense weather. This jeopardizes Lesotho’s material security, further disrupting the Basotho people’s lives. In response, the United Nations Development Programme has designed several projects to restore degraded landscapes and enhance climate resilience.
  5. Gender Roles: The HIV/AIDS crisis disproportionately affects women in Lesotho because they often must take in sick relatives or community members on top of performing existing domestic responsibilities. This amount of pressure forces women to pursue risky work such as prostitution or human trafficking. These jobs often damage women’s wellbeing and make it hard for them to live long and healthy lives.
  6. Few Social Services: One of the most interesting 10 facts about life expectancy in Lesotho is that Lesotho has a relatively large population of elderly citizens despite the HIV/AIDS crisis. The country created its Old Age Pension to provide each citizen over 70 years old with roughly $40 per month. While the social service has had a tremendous impact by making elderly people stable caregivers for their families, including orphaned grandchildren, it is one of the only social services in Lesotho. More programs of this caliber would drastically improve the total health of the population and thus increase Lesotho’s life expectancy as well.
  7. Improving Education: Education has been a consistent priority for Lesotho, and one that has yielded substantial results. After implementing free primary education, enrollment among children increased from 65 percent to 85 percent in three years. The next goal for Lesotho is to decrease the price of secondary school, as many children cannot currently afford to enroll. The best chance for the Basotho people to raise their life expectancy is to become educated, empowered and informed people.
  8. Water and Sanitation: Several people in Lesotho (18.2 percent) do not have access to dependably clean water despite several dams present. The water is instead transported to South Africa for profit which leaves local people thirsty. Organizations such as The Water Project are building wells, water catchments and other water solutions for the people of Lesotho.
  9. Few Accessible Doctors: Lesotho has one doctor per 20,000 people, compared to the one per 400 in the United States. This makes health care inaccessible and costly for most of Lesotho. Lesotho recently added a residency program in family medicine, which will hopefully increase the retention rate of doctors and create a reasonable ratio of doctors to patients.
  10. Infant, Child and Mother Mortality Rates: An important cause of the reduced life expectancy in Lesotho is an infant mortality rate of 44.6 deaths per 1,000 births and a maternal mortality rate of 487 deaths per 100,000 births. This is largely due to preterm birth complications that come from the frequently poor living conditions of mothers. Both infant and maternal health outcomes are looking much better after Lesotho’s hospitals introduced free deliveries, providing a safe place for mothers to deliver cost-free.

Lesotho is attempting to make the lives of the Basotho people better. Free primary education, enhanced feeding programs and efforts at improving the health sector bring new hope and promise for the country. Though Lesotho needs to do more to fully help its people, its people’s lives are slowly growing longer and their quality of life should continuously improve.

– Hannah Stewart
Photo: Flickr