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Relocate Afghan Refugees
The Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdrawal has left hundreds of thousands of Afghans either displaced or seeking refuge. The United Nations has estimated that
 up to 500,000 Afghans will flee Afghanistan by the end of 2021. As a result, as the Taliban’s power continues to grow, countries across the globe have opened their doors to help relocate Afghan refugees. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one global organization that is taking a lead in this relocation work. The IRC helps relocate Afghan refugees in Mexico, Uganda and Pakistan.

About the International Rescue Committee

Founded in 1933, the IRC responds to catastrophes and humanitarian crises across the globe. Since its inception, the IRC assists those who have had to relocate by providing them with lifesaving care and long-term stability. To date, the IRC operates in over 40 counties and 22 U.S. cities offering a range of support to people who have been uprooted and are struggling.

How the IRC Helps Relocate Afghan Refugees

For the past 30 years, the IRC has worked to provide aid to Afghanistan and continues to amid the ongoing crisis. On August 31, 2021, the IRC announced that the Mexican government will welcome 175 refugees arriving in Mexico City. Throughout its history and to date, Mexico has been a safe haven for those seeking refuge. Upon their arrival, the IRC provides urgent medical care, welcome kits, COVID-19 PPE and Psychological First Aid (PFA) to those who need it. The IRC has also announced plans to provide refugees in Mexico with cash cards to communicate with families still in Afghanistan.

Uganda is a second country that works with the IRC. Since 1998, Uganda and the IRC have supported over 1.5 million refugees and are currently working with the United States and United Kingdom embassies to provide asylum for Afghan refugees. Similar to Mexico’s approach, upon arriving in Uganda, refugees receive housing, medical assistance, COVID-19 PPE, sanitary products and temporary immigration cards. IRC staff onsite in Uganda have also provided refugees with a 24/7 medical clinic along with individual and group psychosocial services.

The IRC has also been working with Pakistan since 1980 and the partnership has helped more than 3 million Afghan refugees relocate. Despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has depleted much of Pakistan’s resources and ravaged its economy, Pakistani officials have assured temporary asylum for new refugees coming from Afghanistan. The IRC helps Afghan relocate refugees arriving in Pakistan by supporting them through cash assistance, health care, job training and “child-friendly spaces” where children can play and attend school in a safe environment. 

Types of Support the IRC Receives

  • Donations. The IRC website offers multiple avenues for people to donate. The Rescue Gifts page includes hundreds of gifts ranging from baby kits and survival kits to a year of school for two girls. People can also make a one-time or monthly donation that will go towards providing refugees with medical care and other emergency assistance. The IRC spends 87% of all donations on programming.
  • Volunteers. Volunteers help coordinate community outreach in various areas by hosting donation drives or working internships to get hands-on experience with refugee resettlement. They also help refugees adjust when they make it to the U.S. by hosting refugees in their homes with IRC’s partner Airbnb.
  • Community Support. Individuals can call their representatives and mobilize community members to contact their representatives. In addition, you can work alongside the IRC’s Policy and Advocacy team in the fight for policies and legislation. Text RESCUE to 40649 to start taking action

A Promising Future

The road ahead will be tough for Afghanistan and for the Afghan refugees. Nevertheless, the IRC’s support will change the course of the refugee crisis one donation at a time. 

– Sal Huizar
Photo: Flickr

agricultural-big-data-in-colombia-arai-yegrosMitigation and adaptation to climate change can take many forms. One of them is through technology and big data: information can help detect valuable patterns for decision-making that are crucial for agricultural products worldwide. By targeting issues such as food security, malnutrition and environmental degradation through data, creative and innovative solutions can be found for the most pressing agronomic problems of the 21st century. This is where smart agriculture through data is born.

Data and Agriculture

The effective use of data through analytics and modeling is an important tool of the U.N.’s Sustainable Goals; after all, data can help in locating solutions for myriad problems. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is committed to targeting agricultural problems with evidence-based big data tools.

Examples of CIAT’s actions include projects to improve Colombian agriculture, particularly working with Fedearroz, the largest association of rice producers in the country. CIAT’s researchers have been working in Colombia with the aim of granting local rice farmers independence from the limitations that agriculture often confers, such as climatic variability.

Colombia’s Rice Farmers

In 2014, an estimated $1.7 million in losses were avoided since Colombian rice farmers took CIAT’s counsel into account and did not farm for the first two seasons of the year. CIAT, employing Fedearroz’s agricultural yield and climatic data collected during the course of 20 years, created a big data model explaining how climatic and soil variation impact yearly rice yields.

CIAT advised farmers in three different regions of Colombia that they could avoid crop failure by not planting at all during their usual seasons. Instead, it suggested they use stronger rice varieties that are not as sensitive to solar radiation and rain variability. This resulted in the avoidance of great economic losses in more than 1,800 hectares for more than 170 farmers who relied solely on their rice yield.

Rice farmers in Colombia already struggle to stay competitive at an international level as rice production has fallen from 6 tons a hectare to 5 tons since 2007 due to climate variability. With big data modeling aiding with uncertainty, losses can be prevented and better planning can be employed for higher returns. Big data made from seasonal forecasts and prediction tools can let farmers know in anticipation what and when to plant while avoiding losses.

U.N.’s Global Pulse

CIAT’s big data scientists were awarded for their project in Colombia at the 2014 U.N. Climate Summit for their wielding of data to soften the impact of climate change. By harnessing the power of big data towards climate variability, it is possible to create area-specific models in the future, including those that attempt to cover Colombia’s most productive agricultural sites.

Even though CIAT’s scientists only covered rice yields in this study, more big data simulations are being built to extrapolate this model to other crops such as beans and maize. Potentially,  projects such as this one could propel a new era of agricultural big data in Colombia, a country deeply affected by rainfall variability and climate change in the past 20 years.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Disability-inclusive COVID-19 ResponsesFor those living in developing countries, there is a direct link between poverty and disability, as each factor has the potential to influence the other. The World Bank estimates that 20% of the world’s poorest “have some kind of disability.” As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate existing problems faced by marginalized groups, and particularly people living with disabilities, it is important that developing countries around the world implement disability-inclusive COVID-19 responses.

Throughout the entire world, roughly one billion people –15% of the total population– live with some form of disability. Within this figure, 80% of people living with disabilities reside in a developing country. People living with disabilities often face adversities such as “less education, poorer health outcomes, lower levels of employment, and higher poverty rates.”

Impact of COVID-19 On People With Disabilities

Through a policy brief, the United Nations found that people with disabilities face greater risks of contracting COVID-19. They risk developing severe and sometimes fatal conditions from the virus as well as health care discrimination. People with disabilities are often reliant on physical touch for support, which is difficult considering the importance of remaining socially distant and using hand-washing facilities. Additionally, people with disabilities often face secondary health conditions that are worsened by COVID-19.

Resource-rationing in healthcare facilities is often guided by ableist ideas on “quality or value of life based on disability,” making people with disabilities a lower priority with regard to life-saving resources. People living with disabilities face even worse conditions when living in poverty, particularly in the areas of education, health and transportation. Not only are some health care services inaccessible, but important information on how to stop the spread of COVID-19 is rarely provided by way of Braille, captions or sign-language interpretation.

Approximately 90% of children who live with a disability in developing countries are not in school, and school-shutdown mandates leave these children with even fewer resources. Without school, many are unable to receive resources such as sanitation, water and meal programs. Lastly, those who rely on public transportation for medical appointments or fundamental necessities are unable to travel. These adversities contribute to the global need for disability-inclusive COVID-19 responses.

Disability-Inclusive Responses to COVID-19

Although people with disabilities are often left out of global crisis responses, efforts to implement disability-inclusive COVID-19 responses continue. The Peruvian government implemented Legislative Decree No. 1468, which establishes protective measures for people with disabilities as prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this decree, the state recognizes people with disabilities as having the right to “personal security” and priority access to any services provided by the state. Although some Peruvians with disabilities still feel as though there are barriers that limit their access to resources, the government’s efforts still offer many benefits.

Inclusion International, a network that advocates for the human rights of those with intellectual disabilities, reported on a growing trend. Various regional networks are unifying to “identify, document, and advocate against the discrimination and exclusion that people with intellectual disabilities are facing in their region.” These efforts include the European COVID Impact report and Pan-African advocacy. Members of Inclusion International currently work to collect data and experiences about the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities in Latin America. This project, known as the Latin American Project, aims to identify the key factors that obstruct disability-inclusive responses to COVID-19. It includes countries such as Brazil, Peru, Uruguay and Bolivia.

Work remains to implement disability-inclusive COVID-19 responses, especially in developing countries. However, efforts to address the adversities of people with disabilities are certainly on the rise. With this work continuing into the future, inclusive advocacy will soon be the standard, not the goal.

Cory Utsey
Photo: Unsplash

poverty reduction in MalaysiaEstablished in 1963, Malaysia is a small country located in Southeast Asia. Since earning its independence, Malaysia has made considerable strides in working to reduce the national poverty rate, to the point where the country is expected to gain high-income status between 2024 and 2028. With the help of the United Nations and other organizations, poverty reduction in Malaysia is slowly reaching rural areas, which still remain disproportionally plagued by poverty.

A Flailing Poverty Line

Malaysia’s economic success cannot be explained without first noting the shift in an economic system previously dependent on agriculture to one built around commodity exportation. With about 40% of its labor force working in export activities, the country’s positive attitude toward trade and investment is responsible for the upwards trajectory in job growth and income expansion. Poverty reduction in Malaysia is apparent in its revision of the poverty line, increasing from $231.27 to $521.06 in 2019. That same year, however, rural households reported earning less than $2 per day.

Reports from government officials, which detail poverty reduction in Malaysia, ignore risks that many people face every day. The most impoverished 40% consist of rural villagers, migrant workers and refugees. These people are often left out of official poverty figures and lack a social safety net. Moreover, the dramatic economic growth seen in recent years is not accurately reflected in the poverty line, which is largely inconsistent with the current income levels of Malaysians. In his report, Professor Philip Alston explains that the impoverished have benefitted in gaining universal access to basic utilities. However, things like medical care and education are widely unattainable.

In areas such as Pulau Indah, an island not far from the capital Kuala Lumpur, many citizens live alongside heaps of garbage consisting of discarded plastic waste from Western countries. Here, sanitary living conditions are hard to come by. Education levels and medical needs prohibit people from building a life elsewhere. Most are even employed at illegal factories working to burn the waste that surrounds them. This leaves them in an inescapable cycle of poverty.

Villages Struggling to Stay Afloat

Problems are exacerbated in rural areas where the distance from hospitals, schools and jobs prevents residents from obtaining help. In water villages, which are clusters of homes sitting atop the water’s surface, the communities are subject to pollution and dangerous living conditions. While poverty reduction in Malaysia targets floating villages, providing them with basic necessities is still a hurdle. Access to clean water is a major problem as towns have no way of installing sewer systems. Even safe methods of electricity for heat or cooking are unaffordable. Thus, people resort to illegally extending power lines, risking engulfing entire villages into flames.

Casting a Safety Net

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is using an innovative strategy to aid poverty reduction in Malaysia. True to its mission of caring for the environment by improving people’s quality of life, UNEP sponsored a pilot project aimed at providing sewage treatment tanks to homes and schools in floating villages. This is major for a region like Sabah, which has 10,185 floating homes. These efforts are helping nearly 50,000 people gain access to sanitary living conditions. As part of a 36-month-long project, UNEP hopes to install 200 more treatment tanks in another village. Additionally, UNEP is encouraging the establishment of a facility where local people can work to produce the tanks themselves.

A business known as Hive Bulk Foods has also made considerable efforts at drawing attention to the waste issues in Malaysia and the impact of waste on impoverished communities. Founded by Claire Sancelot, The Hive encourages sustainable living and works with local farmers to source its ingredients. It operates as one of the only no-waste stores in Kuala Lumpur.

This push toward empowering rural communities to help eliminate poverty is apparent in the Malaysian government’s work as well. Legislation such as the 12th Malaysian Plan is based around promoting economic growth and poverty reform. Key policy measures that include providing help for undocumented citizens and re-evaluating the poverty line would ensure that poverty levels continue their downward trend for good.

– Nicole Yaroslavsky
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Sierra LeoneSierra Leone is a small country off the west coast of Africa where human trafficking is rife due to a concept called “Temple Run.” The phrase “Temple Run” refers to operations that traffickers run to lure young men and women into paying large sums of money to embark on risky journeys that victims believe will lead them to employment or educational opportunities, allowing them to escape poverty. Here is some information about human trafficking in Sierra Leone.

Human Trafficking in Sierra Leone

Authorities did not address human trafficking in Sierra Leone up until 2005 when Sierra Leone’s government instated the 2005 anti-trafficking law. “The 2005 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking,” making the punishment “up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.” This law is a step in the right direction but is not without flaws. The law allows for perpetrators to avoid jail time by paying a fine instead — a provision that received backlash from citizens seeking justice.

Even though there was finally a law against human trafficking in Sierra Leone, the ability to pay a fine in place of facing jail time makes trafficking a less punishable offense than rape. Sierra Leone decided to make a change. On August 28, 2012, Sierra Leone passed the Sexual Offenses Act. This act criminalized sex trafficking under its “forced prostitution” and “child prostitution” provisions and prescribed penalties of up to 15 years of imprisonment. This amendment made the crime of sex trafficking equal to the punishment for rape in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone decided to update the law again in 2019  to legislate harsher punishments for sexual offenses, including sex trafficking.

First Human Trafficking Convictions

Even with the 2005 Anti-Trafficking Law and Sexual Offenses Act in place, it was not until February 11, 2020, that the Sierra Leone High Court finally convicted perpetrators for human trafficking. One Sierra Leonean woman received a 20-year sentence and another woman faced an eight-year-long sentence for money laundering and human trafficking charges — the first two human trafficking convictions in Sierra Leone’s history. Sierra Leone is also currently working to replace the 2005 anti-trafficking law to increase penalties, improve victim protection and remove the option of paying a fine as an alternative to imprisonment, but this still remains as a pending draft to date.

How IOM Assists

The International Organization of Migration (IOM), an organization with links to the United Nations, is taking significant steps to help reduce human trafficking in Sierra Leone. In April 2019, the IOM launched a project called Reducing the Risk of Irregular Migration through Promotion of Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Support for the Youths. This project’s goal is to prevent human trafficking by reducing the struggles within the country that would influence migration out of the country. For example, in March 2021, the IOM held a $4.3 million vocational training program to help prepare “2,000 unemployed young men and women to meet the domestic demand for skilled jobs.” With more job opportunities, fewer citizens may be lured into human trafficking. The IOM is also trying to raise awareness about ‘Temple Run” lures and the dangers victims potentially face.

With these efforts, human trafficking in Sierra Leone should reduce as the overall quality of life in Sierra Leone improves.

– Ethan Douglas
Photo: Flickr

Urban Forests Reduce PovertyUrban forests take many forms, including parks, gardens, street trees and nature reserves. Around the world, urban forests reduce poverty by conserving the environment, creating economic opportunities and providing sustainable resources to people in need.

Environmental Conservation

As cities become more populated, urban forests help mitigate the negative effects of human activity on the environment. Trees can benefit human health by reducing water and air pollution, providing shade and improving mental health. Trees also conserve energy, absorb water runoff from storms and provide habitats for animals. Urban forests often consist of indigenous trees that can easily survive local climates and only need slight watering. As a result, urban forests are often low-maintenance, self-reinforcing tools that improve quality of life.

Impoverished communities may particularly benefit from urban forests. A 2021 analysis by the conservation nonprofit, American Forests, found that low-income areas tend to have limited green space, which makes them more likely to become urban “heat islands.” Heat islands are the result of minimal shade and widespread heat-absorbing asphalt. The “islands” can get up to 10 degrees warmer than surrounding communities, leaving the people in them at a greater risk of experiencing heat-related illnesses like heat stroke. As global temperatures rise, urban forests reduce poverty by helping people meet their basic needs, which include cool, fresh air and clean drinking water.

Economic Development and Sustainable Resources

Urban forests reduce poverty by creating jobs and helping people launch sustainable businesses. In their beginning stages, urban forests employ people for land restoration and forest planting. Urban forests also require employees for planning and management. Once urban forests fully develop, they offer a range of sustainable resources for both consumption and economic growth.

A study by researchers at Rhodes University found that impoverished groups use and benefit from non-timber forest products more than any other group. When urban forests are located in low-income areas, people can use raw materials from forests to start small businesses and make a living. Firewood from urban forests is particularly useful because people can use it to cook. Without firewood, people may lack the ability to cook, leaving them at an increased risk of food insecurity. In order to maintain a steady supply of wood, city planners must plant urban forests on adequately large plots of land.

The study by Rhodes University found that some communities in South Africa live below the poverty line, in part, because they lack sufficient land for forests. With proper planning and management, urban forests can be a pathway out of poverty for communities around the world.

Current Projects and Progress

Cities everywhere are beginning to acknowledge the value of urban forests. For example, Madrid in Spain is in the process of planting a 75-kilometer-long ring of forest around the entire city to reduce pollution and fight climate change. The United Nations is also working with Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, to help 30 countries across Asia and Africa grow forests. Global efforts to develop more urban forests offer hope of reducing global poverty and environmental degradation. Urban forests are practical, sustainable methods for improving lives and protecting the natural world.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

Sexual Assault in South AfricaOver 50 care centers in South Africa provide support and resources for survivors of sexual crimes. They serve as “one-stop facilities” for those seeking help. Their mission is “to reduce secondary victimization, improve conviction rates and reduce the time between when a crime is committed and when the perpetrator is finally convicted.” These centers have had success but the overall number of sexual assaults in South Africa, which in reality are most likely significantly higher, are staggering.

Sexual Assault in South Africa

Sexual assault in South Africa is shockingly high. Estimates determined that a sexual offense occurs every 10 minutes. Between April 2019 and March 2020, police statistics reported 53,295 sexual offenses but it is likely that most crimes are not reported. The Medical Health Council estimates that victims only report one in nine attacks. Violence toward women seems to be a normalized part of society as data from 2000 shows similar results. Some claim women in South Africa might experience rape every 17 seconds. Others say every 26 seconds but regardless of exact numbers, it is clear sexual violence toward women is a massive problem for the country.

Police are defensive about sexual assault in South Africa. They say the rate of sexual offenses decreased in the province of Gauteng, but the Institute for Security Studies has pointed out a flaw in their logic. If one considers updated population statistics, the rate of sexual assault increases by 1.5%. As a result, one can determine that 127 people out of 100,000 people were victims of sexual assault.

Rape is an extremely underreported crime. A study in Gauteng in 2010 showed that one-quarter of women who underwent questioning experienced rape in 2009. However, “only one in 13 women raped by a non-partner reported the matter to the police, while only one in 25 of the women raped by their partners reported this to the police.” Therefore, as previously mentioned, statistics about sexual assault in South Africa only show a small amount.

Why Are Numbers So High?

A few factors can show why sexual assault in South Africa is so high. These include how the country struggled to move on from apartheid along with high unemployment, high poverty and unequal land distribution. Both the government and pro-democracy groups used violence to further goals, and after 50 years, society saw violence as normal. The government “used violence to keep control over the ‘non-white’ population, whilst the pro-democracy campaign encouraged violence as a means to further their goals.” The police used violence against women which led to many women fearing or mistrusting the police. This mindset continues to this day.

Police Conviction Records

Convictions for instances of sexual assault in South Africa are low. Around 14% of perpetrators receive sentences for sexual assault with that number going down to 3% when it is against adult women. Around one in 400 rapes in South Africa end in a conviction. Reports say some police take bribes so charges will go away and in Southern Johannesburg, around one in 20 pieces of evidence goes missing. The reasons why most women do not report sexual abuse are clear, as are the reasons why the real number is high. The chances of conviction are very low. While numbers and data often are skewed and naturally change over time, the overall amount of evidence suggests clear problems in the police force when it comes to responding to sexual assault.

Care Centers

Thuthuzela Care Centers have really helped people and since 2006, 51 centers have emerged. The centers are helping survivors and trying to improve conviction rates. Most are near or even attached to hospitals as sometimes medical assistance is necessary. For years, the centers made progress, and now, many centers get around 60-80 patients a month. During holidays, the number is up to around 100-120. The United Nations and the government are currently working to improve the centers even more.

Care centers operate using a five-step process:

  1. A survivor reports a rape case to a center or police station.
  2. The staff at the centers help the survivor obtain medical attention.
  3. The care centers organize counseling for the survivor.
  4. The staff at the centers help the survivor open a police case, which can occur at any time.
  5. The staff arranges ongoing counseling and court preparation for the survivor.

The care centers provide many services to help survivors. However, long-term solutions should also emerge so the actual root of the problem can reach a resolution. However, care centers are still a significant step in the right direction.

– Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr

Law in South Africa
The poorest citizens of South Africa are amidst a turning point in their history. In July 2021, stress from socioeconomic and pandemic-related challenges boiled to civil unrest after the July 2021 arrest of former president Jacob Zuma. The relationship between circumstances of poverty and conflict drives a volatile history of fragility and rule of law in South Africa and presents challenges to overcoming poverty in the nation.

The Link Between Conflict and Poverty

Poverty and conflict are inseparable resultants of each other: where there is poverty, the fragility and rule of law of a governing body are prone to violence. When more citizens are subject to poor living conditions, the likelihood of conflict is increased. A 2011 report on conflict and poverty describes poverty as a “causal arrow… to the conflict.” This means fragility and rule of law in South Africa are reliant on the improvement of poverty-related conditions. This is due to political promises that call for the end of poverty in the nation. Recent violence suggests that citizens living in poverty believe promises fall short of action. South African unrest in 2021 is anecdotal evidence of the connection poverty and conflict have with each other.

South African Frustration

A 2014 report describes South African citizens taking part in violence as “clamoring for the redemption of the promises made to them.” This description explains the circumstance by which fragility and rule of law in South Africa are affected. Unrest in South Africa explains that poverty plays a major role in exacerbating conflict and makes it clear South Africa has a fragile economy. Those taking part in the widespread unrest were not exercising a meticulously planned attack on the South African government. Rather, those who were looting were filling the absence of governmental aid in the first place. For example, the nation is dealing with a third COVID-19 wave along with rising unemployment. Frustrations in poverty response allowed for unrest to grow in the nation. Jacob Zuma’s arrest was a tipping point in the conflict already consuming lives in South Africa.

Addressing Poverty in South Africa

Poverty reduction efforts in South Africa are mixed. Frustration pointed toward the government reveals widespread poverty. The South African economy has slowed its growth in the past decade. Additionally, the nation has a wide economic disparity between citizens. This disparity is affecting fragility and rule of law in South Africa substantially. In a 2012 report, the Brookings Institution described the nation as “the most consistently unequal country in the world.” Development in the nation has left out a large portion of those living in poverty which means some forgo financial stability.

Regardless of South Africa’s scenario, a key in reducing poverty means improving fragility and rule of law. The 2011 World Development Report argues that “strengthening legitimate institutions and governance to provide citizen security, justice and jobs is crucial to break cycles of violence.” This is the goal of current institutions within South Africa. In 2015, the African National Committee, the ruling party of South Africa, adopted The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as an addition to its 2012 National Development Plan. The combined goals aim for the elimination of poverty and the reduction of inequality by 2030.

COVID-19 Complications

Progress in sustainable development has not substantially reduced poverty. Rather, the World Bank estimated that poverty increased by 9% due to COVID-19. An increase in unemployment from coronavirus lockdowns highlights the current challenges in reaching the same goals.

Pandemic-related challenges to reducing poverty point to the boiling of governmental control. An increase in household instability during COVID-19 affected fragility and rule of law in South Africa. This explains the recent conflict in the region. Reducing poverty means improving fragility and rule of law in South Africa.

Addressing poverty and economic disparity in South Africa means answering the roots of conflict. Frustrations with the South African government lie within the ability for individuals to have access to human necessities. Foreign assistance and continual support for South Africa’s SDGs can aid efforts to reduce conflict that induces poverty in South Africa.

– Harrison Vogt
Photo: Flickr

SDG 7 in China
Updates on SDG 7 in China show that the country is taking strides to ensure its entire population has access to sustainable energy. U.N. member nations adopted the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, otherwise known as the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in 2015. Altogether, the SDGs comprise 17 goals that countries aim to meet by the year 2030. The seventh of these goals, SDG 7, aims for the entire world to receive access to affordable and sustainable energy. The United Nations has laid out SDG 7 through five different sub-targets by which it will tally and measure world progress.

Divided into numerous sub-targets, the ultimate aim of SDG 7 is to offer the world a mutually cooperative and unified destination for clean and affordable energy by 2030. In particular, it includes universally agreed-upon concepts such as establishing universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services, increasing shares of renewables in the energy mix and improving efficiency as well as international cooperation on energy.

World Progress So Far

Progress on SDG 7 has not been enviable. For instance, one challenging factor has been the low implementation of renewables across various states. The world’s two largest polluters, the United States and China respectively, utilize about 10% and 13% of renewables in their energy consumption. The onset of COVID-19 has only put global progress toward achieving these objectives on hold. However, COVID-19 has also left room for a positive and enthusiastic push toward meeting the SDGs. As of 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, approximately 759 million people did not have energy access. Its unfortunate implications were that during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the worst cases, up to one in four hospitals lacked access to electricity, a sign of the importance of making further progress on SDG 7.

Updates on SDG 7 in China

Many are watching China in regards to both the environment and SDG 7, as it has been a significant contributor to global carbon emissions. Like many other countries, it has made significant progress on some targets while lagging on others.

For instance, China’s progress on SDG 7.1, which is the goal of granting affordable energy access to everyone, has received high marks. Since 2010, it has managed to connect electricity to virtually all 1.4 billion of its citizens and has kept pace with both its growing energy and population needs. However, the country’s reliance on industrialization still means it uses a heavy amount of non-renewable energy.

China’s energy efficiency, which relates to SDG 7.3, has also been improving. An indicator known as National Energy Intensity displays the energy efficiency of an economy by showcasing the amount of energy it has per point of GDP. China has shown a steady and accelerating drop in intensity, a sign of good news about the energy necessary per point of its GDP.

As it relates to the above and with the Paris Agreement of 2016, China has committed to growing its proportion of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to 20% before 2030. It is ultimately aiming to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2060.

China’s Challenge

China is a significant player when it comes to progress on SDG 7; the scale of its economy makes it the largest investor in clean energy, peaking in 2018 with $125 billion in investments. This makes it the de facto leader in many renewables, from solar and to hydroelectric and wind. China’s greatest challenge going forward will be to replace its less sustainable forms of energy generation with more renewables.

With China’s massive rate of economic growth now clocking in at 18.3% in Q1 of 2021, finding a way to accelerate renewable energy use will be a crucial objective. As such a large country, meeting all of its citizens’ needs without non-renewables in the picture is unsustainable as it is difficult. As global climate infrastructure competition heats up, China, along with the rest of the world, should find the enthusiasm to convert post-pandemic recovery into progress the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

– Marshall Wu
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 and HIV in South Africa
HIV is one of the more prominent killers of Africans with over 400,000 deaths in 2019. A third of all new HIV infections stem from South Africa making it the largest HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic further hindered the medical response to HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Consequently, it set the country back from its five-year plan. Here are three facts about COVID-19 and HIV in South Africa.

South Africa’s Plan to Combat HIV/AIDS

South Africa launched a five-year plan to combat HIV, TB and STIs, spanning from 2017-2022. The National Development Plan (NDP) for the country is to reduce the epidemic as a public health crisis by 2030. As of 2016, South Africa has 3.9 million individuals on antiretroviral therapy (ART). It launched eight goals to combat the spread of HIV.

The first three goals involve reducing the spread and mortality of HIV amongst various communities. The NDP recognizes adolescent girls as the most vulnerable population. It plans to target interventions amongst sex workers, drug users, inmates and members of the LGBT+ community as key populations. Goal 4 discusses the plans to reduce the social and structural drivers of the spread of HIV. This includes social behavior as well as gender-based and sexual violence. The last four goals pertain to the stigma, information, governmental response and resources of HIV prevention.

The original launch of this five-year plan did not account for the possibility of a global pandemic entering the scene. COVID-19 and HIV in South Africa made for a very serious and deadly change for all South African citizens.

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Changed Things

Generally, the COVID-19 pandemic affected the ongoing HIV crisis in South Africa by shifting the priority. There were 57,000 COVID-19 deaths since the country’s first confirmed case on March 5, 2020.

COVID-19 placed immense pressure to socially distance in every country. It put a specific strain on healthcare services in South Africa. Fears of contracting COVID-19 via healthcare facilities slowed down health-related services for HIV patients. Upwards to 80% of South Africans live without medical insurance and rely on the availability of public health services.

The Long-Term Implications for South Africa

Lower-income workers in South Africa face greater rates of unemployment and income loss due to the pandemic. At the same time, impoverished communities are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. This is due to population density and a lack of access to sanitation. Expectations have determined that inequality disparity will worsen as poverty-stricken populations face greater economic hardships and disease infection.

A combination of COVID-19 and HIV in South Africa drastically affected the response of healthcare workers and medical availability. South Africa’s healthcare system was spread thin prior to the pandemic. With COVID-19 receiving medicinal priority, the NDP’s five-year plan for combating HIV ended up set back.

South Africa ordered a total of 31 million vaccine doses from companies Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. The country also entered an agreement with the United Nations to receive another 12 million vaccinations.  This is the first step in order to get the country back on track to combat the HIV epidemic as well as social inequality.

– Camdyn Knox
Photo: Flickr