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Technology Aids the Construction of Refugee SheltersCOVID-19’s impact on Bangladesh has greatly affected not only the population of 166 million people but also Bangladesh’s 1.1 million Displaced Rohingya People (DRP). When COVID-19 halted the construction of disaster shelters for the DRP, the World Bank and the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) uniquely partnered to remotely design the complex structures. Through this collaboration, the World Bank illustrates how technology aids the construction of refugee shelters in Bangladesh.

How the World Bank Helps the Rohingya

Since its establishment in 1991, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee settlement, now houses a population of nearly 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, a stateless Muslim minority group. Decades of persecution in the primarily Buddhist country of Myanmar has caused the Rohingya people to seek refuge in neighboring nations, leading to an influx of refugees into Bangladesh.

However, although welcoming, Bangladesh was not prepared for this extreme influx of refugees. The influx stretched its already scarce resources in an attempt to provide for a continuously growing population. In August 2017 alone, after a massive Burmese attack on Rohingya territories, the Bangladesh refugee camp Kutupalong Balukhali saw its population grow from 200,000 to 500,000. Within weeks, Kutupalong Balukhali had become one of the world’s densest refugee settlements.

With a growing population and few resources, Bangladesh began to plan and implement many multi-purpose disaster shelters/community service centers (MPSC), a part of the World Banks’s Emergency Multi-Sector Rohingya Crisis Response Project. These shelters attempt to resist the nation’s frequent climate disasters and have their own solar panel supplies.

Construction Delays From COVID-19

Construction of these shelters came to a halt in March 2020 and extended until October 2020, as Bangladesh, like the rest of the world, entered a COVID-19 lockdown. The LGED had no access to the building sites. A major delay ensued as the shutdown also made it impossible for any topographic surveys to occur, a necessity for drafting the building layouts.

GIS Technology and Drone Imagery

Innovative measures helped ensure the construction of safe spaces for more than one million Displaced Rohingya People currently residing in Bangladesh. The World Bank updated its Emergency Multi-Sector Rohingya Crisis Response Project to remotely support the LGED.

With the assistance and resources of the World Bank, the LGED acquired the GPS coordinates of the many disaster shelter sites through Geographic Information System (GIS) technology in addition to drone images. The use of drone images and GIS allows for the design of these shelters to take place without the need for physical presence on the site. In this way, technology aids the construction of refugee shelters in Bangladesh.

The “integration of these datasets in coordination with different officials who were in different locations due to countrywide lockdown” presented some difficulties. Despite this, the team proceeded with the plan. The coordinates and drone images aided the project team. The team placed the GPS coordinates over the drone images to get an accurate visual representation of the site and to determine the number of solar panels needed. Meanwhile, “real-time coordination with the architect, structural engineer, field engineer, safeguards specialists and the World Bank team was done using a video conference system.”

The Road Ahead

While the nation is still largely affected by COVID-19, facing 921,559 cases by July 1, 2021, COVID-19’s impact on Bangladesh will be eased as its robust Rohingya population can soon seek shelter. Harnessing the power of technology can provide innovative solutions to resolve pandemic-induced barriers in humanitarian efforts.

– Caroline Bersch
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 and Poverty in Kyrgyzstan
Nestled in the mountains of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has long suffered from high poverty rates and underdevelopment, but the past decade saw Kyrgyzstan’s per capita GDP rise by nearly 50%. The COVID-19 pandemic has halted progress, however, with 700,000 people in Kyrgyzstan sliding into poverty from 2019 to 2020. COVID-19 and poverty in Kyrgyzstan are interlinked in several ways.

An Economy Based on Remittances

The World Bank classifies Kyrgyzstan as a lower middle-income country with a per capita GDP of about $1,200. Much of Kyrgyzstan’s national wealth comes from remittances, especially in rural areas, from which migrants move to work in Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkey. In 2019, citizens abroad sent back nearly $2.5 billion, or 30% of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP. Official statistics show that without remittances, Kyrgyzstan’s 2019 poverty rate would have increased by more than half.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many migrant workers returned home, cutting off remittance flows that kept rural families alive. Others stayed abroad but sent family home, increasing the burden on Kyrgyzstan’s rural residents. Due to the informality of their work, many migrants lost their jobs during the pandemic and did not qualify for the government aid that other more protected workers qualified for.

Rising Food Prices

In 2019, the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that 46% of the Kyrgyz population did not meet their daily calorie needs. From June 2019 to June 2020, food prices rose by 17%, pushing even more vulnerable households into food insecurity and highlighting the correlation between COVID-19 and poverty in Kyrgyzstan. During the same period, the price of flour increased by around 30%.

Kyrgyzstan’s poverty levels have close ties to food prices. According to the World Bank, when food prices rise, Kyrgyzstan’s poverty rate follows closely behind. Rising food prices use up savings of low and middle-class people, pushing them into vulnerability.

While faltering remittances largely affected rural populations, the rising food prices have mainly increased urban poverty in Kyrgyzstan. While those in rural areas have access to farms, urban residents in poverty require assistance to meet their basic food needs. Food imports that fed urban populations fell due to Kyrgyzstan’s weakening currency, hurting low- and middle-income people in cities.

In March 2020, to combat food insecurity, the government instituted price caps, took legal action against companies raising prices and handed out food to vulnerable citizens in urban areas. In April 2020, nearly 95% of households in Bishkek received aid from the government, while in rural areas, 26% received aid. The government’s efforts mitigated the worst of Kyrgyzstan’s increased food insecurity.

Informal Labor

Before the pandemic, informal employment accounted for 71% of all employment in Kyrgyzstan, a large cause of poverty. Informal workers, usually in the construction, trade or industry sectors, usually have no contracts with their employer, increasing their risk of exploitation. During the pandemic, as unemployment rose, informal employees found themselves without the same social protection systems and labor rights as formal employees.

The construction industry, one of the largest sectors of the Kyrgyz economy, employs an especially large amount of informal labor. Due to falling investment and government restrictions, the construction sector has suffered particularly badly, with business owners reporting major drops in employment.

The Government and World Bank Assists

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the World Bank has created three assistance programs totaling $88 million to combat the effects of COVID-19 and poverty in Kyrgyzstan. The programs target both urban and rural poverty, focusing on food insecurity, the environment and low wages.

One of the programs, the Emergency Support for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, is providing $25 million in microloans to small and medium-sized businesses suffering from the effects of the pandemic. With a focus on entrepreneurs, this World Bank program aims to help modernize Kyrgyzstan’s economy and workforce.

The World Bank also implemented the Social Protection Emergency Response and Delivery Systems to protect those most at risk of sliding into poverty. This response includes grants for vulnerable families with children and enhanced unemployment insurance for workers across all economic sectors. In the long run, this program will focus on developing income-generating skills in order to make the benefits of relief sustainable after the pandemic has passed.

The World Bank’s third program, the CASA-1000 Community Support Project, will fund small infrastructure projects across Kyrgyzstan. Community members will define and carry out the projects so that each locality has its needs met. The program will support projects in every sub-district, ensuring widespread impact.

The World Bank also supplied emergency funding for Kyrgyzstan’s healthcare system, with $12 million delivered as of March 2021. The funding helped the country acquire 266 hospital beds, 26 ambulances and 342 sets of breathing support equipment, along with funding for medicine, PPE and other supplies necessary for combating the pandemic.

Progress and the Road Ahead

As of July 2021, more than 2,000 Kyrgyz had died of COVID-19 and more than half a million have entered into poverty. The government, in partnership with the World Bank, has taken action to fight both the health and economic effects of the pandemic. New legislation and World Bank programs aim to bring Kyrgyzstan through the pandemic with a stronger economy and a less vulnerable population.

Justin Morgan
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccination in Dominica
In the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, many people are now receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. Through the combined efforts of several world organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dominica has received a steady supply of vaccines to help combat COVID-19.

Vaccines from COVAX

As of July 2021, the island of Dominica had seen 194 coronavirus cases and no deaths since the outbreak back in March 2020. As of April 2021, Dominica has received 28,800 doses of the vaccine through the COVAX Mechanism, which it will distribute throughout the country. Dominica is one of the 10 countries in the Americas that have received doses of COVID-19 vaccinations at no cost through COVAX.

“We will continue to work with the country to support vaccination along with the entire package of known public health and social measures that we know can help stop the spread of [COVID-19], protect health services and save lives,” said Dr. Yitades Gebre of the PAHO and WHO in an interview with those organizations.

Campaign for COVID-19 Vaccination in Dominica

As of early July 2021, Dominica has administered nearly 40,000 doses to its population. More than 20,000 people, or around 29% of the population, have received at least one shot, and nearly 20,000 more have received both doses of the vaccine. However, even though the COVID-19 vaccination in Dominica is underway, it will still take some time. Recently, the government has been able to give about 25 doses per day and it is on track to have another 10% of the population fully vaccinated in the next 585 days.

People are still contracting the virus as vaccination levels increase, but the U.S. has deemed Dominica a low-risk country. However, the Dominican government has declared that travelers must submit a negative COVID-19 test 24-72 hours before entering the island. People traveling from Dominica must also submit another negative test before reentering the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control advises that they self-quarantine for seven days upon their arrival.

With the majority of Dominicans still not fully vaccinated, the country’s basic COVID-19 prevention tactics are still in full effect. All residents must continue to socially distance themselves from one another, wear masks at all times in public areas, keep up personal hygiene and self-quarantine if they have contracted the virus or been in contact with someone who has. However, the Dominican government and organizations like the U.N. and PAHO remain hopeful that the pandemic will be under control soon enough on the island.

Economic Support for Pandemic Recovery

Not only have WHO and PAHO helped more Dominican citizens receive COVID-19 vaccination in Dominica, but the World Bank Group has also offered support to help Dominica recover from the pandemic. It has given the Dominican government $25 million in COVID-19 relief to help lay the foundation for long-term economic recovery. As of 2009, Dominica’s poverty rate was about 30%. Funding from the World Bank Group will improve the island’s economy by helping restore stability and jobs as the government works to combat the coronavirus.

Demetrous Nobles
Photo: Flickr

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

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in ZimbabweThe effects of COVID-19 have been felt throughout the world. However, countries that were already experiencing poverty and health disparities are in worse shape now. Zimbabwe is one particular country that is struggling with the COVID-19 crisis. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Zimbabwe “further complicates Zimbabwe’s economic and social conditions.” With global aid and support, Zimbabwe can successfully recover from the effects of the pandemic.

COVID-19’s Economic Impact on Zimbabwe

According to a June 2021 economic analysis conducted by the World Bank, the number of  Zimbabweans living in extreme poverty increased to 7.9 million in 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study also reveals that the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Zimbabwe escalated extreme poverty overall to almost 50% in 2020. The COVID-19 crisis has also impacted basic public services in the areas of “health, education and social protection.”

Prior to the pandemic, poverty in Zimbabwe was already on the rise. In 2011, the number of Zimbabweans living in poverty increased from three million people to 6.6 million people in 2019. Before COVID-19, rising fuel and food prices contributed to the rising level of poverty in the country. However, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Zimbabwe has only exacerbated the dire circumstances with increased job losses and reduced household income.

It was reported that at least 30% of formal jobs within the country were lost due to the increasing number of COVID-19 restrictions. The country has lost roughly $1 billion from a lack of tourism. Zimbabwe still has restrictions at hotspots such as Mashonaland West, Masvingo and Bulawayo provinces. Intense restrictions require businesses in these areas to trade until 3 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. Limited trading hours economically impact the revenue of businesses.

Avoiding Another Lockdown

As Zimbabwe prepared to enter a third wave of the pandemic, another nationwide lockdown seemed unavoidable. The president of the Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz), Israel Murefu, warns that another lockdown would have a disastrous impact on the economy. Due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, businesses have suffered nationwide and Zimbabweans suffered extreme job losses.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Zimbabwe has left its mark on the country. The rising level of unemployed Zimbabweans has caused a spike in extreme poverty cases. Murefu states that “adapting production processes to the new normal requires a huge capital outlay and takes time,” adding that the country should avoid another lockdown.

Global Assistance

Aside from internal changes that need to occur such as the government creating policies that will protect the impoverished and provide resources to people hit hardest by the pandemic, aid from world superpowers would help Zimbabwe get back on track.

Zimbabwe is experiencing a significant shortage of vaccines. As cases continue to rise, it is more important than ever that the global community steps in to help. It was reported that China would be providing Zimbabwe with 2.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June 2021. As more people receive vaccinations, COVID-19 restrictions can ease and Zimbabwe can find its way to economic recovery.

Zimbabwe has reported more than 43,000 COVID-19 cases as of June 24, 2021. As cases continue to rise, the Zimbabwean government has committed to improves its COVID-19 awareness campaigns across the country in order to help reduce the spread of cases. A reduced burden of COVID-19 cases will decrease the economic burden stemming from strained healthcare services in the country.

It is also important for other countries and international players to provide more vaccine doses to Zimbabwe. Being that the country is unable to acquire enough resources to combat COVID-19, the generosity of other countries will help Zimbabwe regain stability. Though the recovery of Zimbabwe’s economy and job market will take time, recovery progress will accelerate if the global community is able to reach out a helping hand and share resources.

– Jordyn Gilliard
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in BangladeshBangladesh, a South Asian country bordered by India, is one of the most impoverished and most densely populated countries in the world. Bangladesh currently has a population of 161 million in an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Iowa. Bangladesh’s economy relies heavily on agriculture as 63.2% of the country’s population works in industry and agriculture. Even with an unemployment rate of less than 4%, the poverty rate is 21.8%. The dense population, small area, reliance on agriculture and poverty rate cumulatively create a crucial need for clean water. Humanitarian organizations aim to improve the water quality in Bangladesh.

10 Facts About Water Quality in Bangladesh

  1. Water quality in Bangladesh has been a long-term struggle. Since the country’s independence in 1971, international aid agencies have helped Bangladesh with its water crisis. At the time, a quarter of a million Bangladeshi children were dying each year from bacteria-contaminated surface water. Bacteria and pathogens, such as E. coli, cholera and typhoid, were causing severe health problems for both children and adults.
  2. Bangladesh relies on groundwater. Because of contaminated surface waters in the region, 90% of the population relies on groundwater. Groundwater is the water that lies below the earth’s surface between soil pore spaces and fractures of rock formations. This water source is accessible through tube wells in the region.
  3. UNICEF and the World Bank attempted to improve access to water in Bangladesh. To combat the poor-quality surface drinking water and provide more water for agriculture, these organizations funded the installation of about four million tube wells between 1960 and 1970. The tube wells created access to groundwater throughout the entire country. Unfortunately, this led to mass poisoning due to contaminated groundwater.
  4. The largest mass poisoning in history occurred in Bangladesh. In the 1990s, arsenic was detected in the well water. The wells dug in the 1960s and 1970s were not tested for metal impurities, impacting an estimated 30-35 million people in Bangladesh. Ailments from exposure to arsenic include gastrointestinal diseases, physical deformities, cancer, nerve and circulatory system damage and death. About 1.12 million of the four million wells in Bangladesh are still contaminated with arsenic.
  5. Poor water quality significantly impacts public health. Arsenic poisoning is now the cause of death for one out of five people in Bangladesh. An estimated 75 million people were exposed to arsenic-laden water. The poisoning can cause up to 270,000 future cancer-related deaths. E. coli is also still present in 80% of private piped water taps and 41% of all improved water sources. Sickness from poor water quality is a major issue and 60% of Bangladeshi citizens do not have access to modern health services.
  6. Poor water quality impacts agriculture. Bangladesh relies heavily on agriculture with 70% of its land dedicated to the cultivation of rice, jute, wheat, tea, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables and fruits. The contaminated tube wells provide a majority of the water used for irrigation. As a result, high levels of arsenic are absorbed by many crop plants, specifically rice and root vegetables. This can be deadly to those who consume the produce.
  7. Contaminated wells are still in use. After the testing of tube wells in 1997, the government painted the contaminated wells red and the safe wells green to reduce exposure. However, officials used poor testing kits to examine the wells, leading to incorrectly marked wells. Unfortunately, many green-marked wells hold contaminated water that the public still uses. Additionally, the wells that were marked red were never properly closed off and can still be used today.
  8. Poverty plays a role in access to clean water. Both the wealthy and the impoverished in Bangladesh struggle greatly with poor water quality. However, the population living below the poverty line struggles three times more from water-related diseases and illnesses. Roughly two million people in poverty still lack access to improved water sources. Bangladesh is also one of the most impoverished nations in the world, with a per capita income of around $370. This greatly affects the government’s ability to combat the water crisis.
  9. Poor water quality limits the country’s potential. The economy, public health and education all rely on access to clean and usable water. Poor water quality has led to stunting in more than one-third of Bangladeshi children. These developmental impacts limit education and result in an increase in poverty. The mortality rate of those who have come in contact with contaminated water sources will continue to devastate the economy. Over the next 20 years, this could lead to a loss of about $12.5 billion for the Bangladesh economy.
  10. The water quality in Bangladesh can improve. There are many ways to combat the water crisis in Bangladesh. Creating mechanisms to enhance rainwater capture would provide a better-quality source of usable water. Along with rainwater capture, water purification methods and the construction of a water treatment plant would eliminate contaminants from surface and groundwater. Funded projects by groups like Charity: Water, Lifewater and WaterAid are working to improve sanitation and water quality in Bangladesh.

The Road Ahead

Bangladesh has shown steady and vast improvements in many areas. Life expectancy has grown dramatically in the past few years and now averages 72 years. Bangladesh’s per capita income has also increased and is growing faster than Pakistan’s. Furthermore, Bangladesh shows an upward trend in per capita GDP with an increase of 6% per year. However, water quality still poses a critical issue in Bangladesh. With commitment from the government and humanitarian organizations to resolve the water crisis, Bangladesh will continue to grow and prosper.

Kate A. Trott
Photo: UNICEF

Law in Timor-LesteAll states face economic, social and political pressure, but when the pressure exceeds a state’s ability to control it, the state becomes fragile. The Fund for Peace uses the Fragile States Index (FSI) to assess the vulnerability of 179 countries every year. The Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste has shown significant decreases in economic and environmental fragility in recent years. In 2020, for the first time, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) report on the state of fragility did not list Timor-Leste as a fragile state. In the FSI’s 2021 report, Timor-Leste ranked first of all the world’s countries for yearly reduction in overall fragility score. Improvements to fragility and rule of law in Timor-Leste have also helped the nation reduce poverty.

History of Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste, formally known as East Timor, is one of the world’s youngest nations. It was a Portuguese colony until 1975, then remained under Indonesian sovereignty until 1999. In 1999, the U.N. organized the East Timorese Independence Referendum, in which citizens chose independence over greater autonomy within Indonesia.

Timor-Leste became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century after the formal ratification of independence in 2002. Timor-Leste has devoted the last 20 years to rebuilding infrastructure and formal institutions damaged by past conflict. Around 1.3 million people call the newly peaceful, democratic nation home.

Economic Growth in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste’s poverty rate dropped from 50% in 2007 to 42% in 2014, indicating economic growth. Less poverty means less violence, so the drop in poverty means improvement in fragility and rule of law in Timor-Leste. The Timorese government has put great effort toward reducing disparities within the economy, especially through education.

After decades of conflict, the Timorese needed to rebuild nearly all institutions from the ground up. Between 2005 and 2008, the government devoted significant funding to primary education, leading primary education enrollment to increase from 68% to 85%. However, older youth and adults still lacked the education to participate fully in society and the economy.

In 2010, with only 36% of the population functionally literate, the World Bank launched the Second Chance Education Project. The program set up nine community learning centers with flexible hours, providing a second chance to those too old for primary school. By the time the project ended in 2017, 1,670 students had participated in the mature education course, 55% of whom were women. Timor-Leste’s recent efforts put the country on target to achieve U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 4 (quality education) by 2030.

Social Improvements

Improvements in health and nutrition directly improved fragility and rule of law in Timor-Leste. Malnutrition is the country’s leading cause of premature death and disability. Timorese children suffer the third highest stunting prevalence in the world, with more than 50% of children younger than 5 identified as stunted. Experts believe that loss of productivity due to malnutrition costs Timor-Leste $40 million per year.

To combat malnutrition, the World Bank implemented the Community Driven Nutrition Improvement Program. Operating in 49 villages, the four-year program taught families how to grow and cook nutrient-rich foods. The program gave more than 1,000 families sweet potato cuttings and provided more than 400 families with seeds for their home and community gardens.

With the help of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), Timor-Leste has also brought its malaria epidemic under control. The GFATM funded and helped launch the National Malaria Control Program in 2003. Following the launch, Timor-Leste saw a 97% decrease in reported cases, which dropped from around 223,000 cases in 2006 to only around 6,200 in 2012. The program followed a six-part strategy:

  1. Enhance early detection and effective therapies.
  2. Distribute long-lasting insecticidal nets.
  3. Conduct indoor residual spraying.
  4. Improve epidemic prevention, preparedness and response.
  5. Educate the public.
  6. Enhance monitoring and research.

Political Improvements

Timor-Leste’s democracy continues to flourish. Since gaining independence in 2002, the state has successfully held four peaceful, free and fair multi-party elections, all of which ended with a smooth transfer of power. Democratic stability will continue to improve fragility and rule of law in Timor-Leste. As one of Southeast Asia’s most stable democracies, the 2020 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Report classified Timor-Leste as on target for SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

The Timorese government now prioritizes rebuilding infrastructure and public services. The Timor-Leste Road Climate Resilience Project is currently restoring 110 kilometers of road connecting three of the main districts in the country. Inability to travel throughout the country isolates communities and isolation hurts the economy. The project will connect 410,000 citizens, encouraging greater economic activity. The road will also help decrease malnutrition by giving families access to diverse foods grown in other parts of the country. The road restoration project is nearly 80% complete.

Goals for Timor-Leste Through 2024

In November 2019, the World Bank Group established the Country Partnership Framework for Timor-Leste. It plans to transform Timor-Leste’s “natural wealth into improved human capital and sustainable infrastructure” with three main objectives:

  1. Promote private sector-led growth and diversify the economy.
  2. Improve human capital.
  3. Continue to rebuild infrastructure, especially transportation.

Along with Timor-Leste, the OECD also removed Egypt, Malawi, Nepal and Rwanda from the list of fragile nations in 2020. As fragility and rule of law in Timor-Leste and other nations improve, their neighboring nations will also find more stability. There is always room for improvement but the world should take a moment to celebrate the significant progress in the small, young country of Timor-Leste.

– Ella LeRoy
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in LatviaMany know Latvia, a small country in Eastern Europe that Lithuania and Estonia border, for its seaside capital city and rich cultural heritage. Following its swift recovery after the 2008 financial crisis, the country’s elderly population overshadowed Latvia’s strong economy. Brought on by a declining working-age labor force, the rate of elderly poverty in Latvia remains a point of concern.

The Vulnerability of the Elderly

In 2015, the World Bank unveiled a report titled “The Active Aging Challenge for Longer Working Lives in Latvia,” which presents data on the status of elderly poverty in the country. In coordination with the Latvian government, the project set out to discover how to develop a strategy to promote “longer working lives” while emphasizing the need to make better use of the existing workforce.

The results point to shrinking younger generations as the main contributor to elderly poverty over declining life expectancy rates. The report highlights two key risk factors that are causing the working population to dwindle: emigration and low fertility rates. An overall population decline of 0.5% each year is due to emigration siphoning workers out of the country.

However, low birth rates fail to provide the backup labor necessary to keep the economy stable. By 2035, this trend predicts that working-age populations will decrease by 23%. Furthermore, a report that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published determined that those in the 65 and older age group will increase in number by 50%, catapulting the elderly poverty rate in Latvia to double the average in comparison to other EU countries.

Lack of Safety Nets and Workforce Integration

The Latvian pension system is one of the problems which inherently stands in the way of solving elderly poverty in Latvia. Back in 1996, the government introduced the NDC scheme, or in other words, the pay-as-you-go system. This allowed individuals to make contributions to their retirement fund as they wanted. However, with the elderly population on the rise, it has become evident that those who made low contributions find themselves with very little to support themselves on.

Women in the 75 and older age group made the smallest contributions. The poverty rate of Latvia remains the highest across OECD countries. Additionally, the country has the lowest level of income among older people of OECD countries. Those who choose to remain employed find that only 40% of Latvian companies provide any training. This makes integration into the workforce much harder. Latvia has the highest proportion of people in the European Union with healthcare and education inequalities. This is due to a lack of training by firms and workers.

Lending a Helping Hand

The Riga Acting Seniors Alliance (RASA) aims to support Latvian individuals older than the age of 50 who are at risk of elderly poverty and help reintegrate them into society. Most notably, it connects seniors to others who share the same interests.

Caritas Latvia is another group that targets lonely seniors, the unemployed and people in poverty. It implements home visits, food and clothing drives, crisis centers and other volunteer work to help people in need. Caritas has pointed out that it will not be able to complete its work until spending on social protection increases to include the elderly at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

Looking Forward

The country’s government recognizes the problem of elderly poverty in Latvia and has incorporated elderly poverty reform into its legislative goals. A survey that the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) conducted in 2019 found a 0.4% decrease in populations at risk of poverty in comparison to a similar study in 2017. This drop was due to the rise in the minimum wage, changes to the income tax application and increased social benefit offerings such as pension plans. The changes signal a promising start to resolve Latvia’s core socioeconomic issues as well as a commitment to achieving progress.

– Nicole Yaroslavsky
Photo: Flickr

Fetal Mortality Rate in Russia
The Russian Federation is the largest nation by land area in the world, and its approximately 146 million people, according to Worldometer, are remarkably diverse and varied across this vast territorial expanse. While this broad and beautiful nation has problems both similar and different to all nations of the world, one real issue that is relatable across all borders, regardless of culture, is the danger of losing one’s child at the time one gives birth. The fetal mortality rate in Russia is no exception.

This is a problem that purveys all species of animals, yet for humans, the struggle to survive childbirth has become easier in many places across the world with the succeeding decades. For Russia, remedying its fetal mortality rate will go hand in hand with fixing their nations own blighted poverty, as the two play off of one another in a Sisyphean loop.

The Poverty and Fetal Mortality Rate in Russia

The numbers across the board in 2021 are markedly better than those at the start of the century. However, in comparison to 50 years ago, the fetal mortality rate in Russia has actually been improving at a steady rate, even as national poverty, currently at just 13% nationally, continues on its own uneven road.

The U.N. Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation estimates that nationally in 1970, approximately every 31 out of 1,000 births resulted in the death of the child in the Soviet Union. That number is today on par with the fetal mortality rate of far poorer nations, yet during this time, the Soviet Union was, under Leonid Brezhnev, still a powerful, if declining, force across the globe. The succeeding decades have since produced a consistent decline in these numbers, yet they have remained alarming to varying degrees, and for varying constituents, during this time.

By 2002, a bit more than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, now led by ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin, had shaved the number of estimated infant deaths per 1,000 children nationally from approximately 31 to 14.8 across 30 years. However, regions and cities like Tula, amongst the poorest regions in Russia, still recorded nearly 17 per 1,000. But, as a scathing report on the conditions on the ground told at the time, even these numbers, high as they are, might yet be untrustworthy and lower than in reality.

In this report, the infant mortality rate in St. Petersburg in 2001 was just 9.3 per 1,000 births. Meanwhile, in the region of Chuktskity Okrug, that number was actually more than four times higher than the national average at just over 42 per 1,000 live births. Therefore, one can surely conclude that the wealth and internal infrastructure of the region certainly has a part to play in the fetal mortality rate both regionally and nationally.

The Numbers Today

Today, the national number has continued to shrink in comparison to the old data, yet this onus remains a terrible burden on the massively expansive nation; in 2019, estimates determined that Russia had only 4.93 infant deaths on a national scale, which is a far cry from approximately 31 out of 1,000 just slightly more than 50 years ago. While Russia’s rates have officially dropped, again buoyed by the more readily available healthcare of the larger cities like Moscow, the country’s official standing regarding the fetal mortality rate is nuanced.

However, while some facts change across the decades, other things remain the same. Available reports from all of these periods show that the nation was not infrastructurally integrated enough to sustain mothers or their children with the necessary resources, education or medical attention. Today, like in 2010, 2000 and 1970, the poorest regions in the federation, as well as within cities themselves, continue to suffer this trauma and unfair indignity at higher rates than their city-dwelling fellow citizens.

Russia: Between a Proverbial Rock and Hard Place

With sanctions against Russia omnipresent and the nation’s government itself outwardly hostile towards global nonprofits since 2012, external as well as internal human rights and advocacy groups have struggled to positively affect change. Population and Development was a Russian NGO that focused primarily on the promotion and protection of the reproductive health of Russian citizens before it shut down alongside so many others. The United States Agency for International Development, which has previously invested time and energy towards the betterment of Russian society through education and health initiatives, has had limited power and prestige in Russia in the years since 2012, as the country kicked it out in September of that year. Vladimir Putin’s government’s newest crackdown in April 2021 has left still fewer external or internal options for advocates to effectively affect positive change across the society, apart from the World Bank.

While the Russian government has largely discontinued or silenced internal and external assistance, cooperation with the World Bank has continued and might be the surest recourse for the fetal mortality rate in Russia. While Vladimir Putin has said that “Russia’s fate and its historic prospects depend on how many of us there are…,” his government alone has not been up to fixing all that ails the nation’s fetal mortality rate, and so continues to place its population in the most dangerous of positions. On the other hand, since 1992, the World Bank has been helping the Russian Federation advance the internal dynamics of their nation, from the hard and soft infrastructure necessary to producing stable economic circumstances to the education and resources necessary to create healthy environments for mothers to have, and then subsequently care for, their children.

Helping Russia

In such an unforgiving natural environment, the people require all of the help they can to sustain themselves and their families from generation to generation. Ultimately, organizations like the United Nations, USAID, Population and Development and other organizations can still help Russia with its poverty and fetal mortality rate, should they only receive the chance to do so once again.

– Trent Nelson
Photo: Flickr