Unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) are rapidly increasing as a radical method of ending poverty. Cash assistance has doubled in size since 2016 and now constitutes nearly 20% of the entire humanitarian aid sector. In opposition to tradition, advocates of UCTs believe that the way forward is to provide people in extreme poverty with cash and allow them to make their own spending decisions. This approach seems to attract skepticism. However, countless cash transfer programs have shown criticisms to be misplaced while revealing the incredible power UCTs have at transforming people’s lives. The following are myths about unconditional cash transfers.

Five Debunked Common Myths about Unconditional Cash Transfers

  1. “People will waste money on drugs and alcohol”: A stereotypically held view is that if people receive unconditional cash transfers, they will waste the funds on items such as drugs, tobacco, alcohol, etc. rather than making investments toward their future.  Contrarily, countless studies have shown the opposite to be true. A 2017 study from The World Bank and Stanford University found that people don’t spend the transfers on alcohol, tobacco and other such items. As a result, concerns regarding wasting the money were therefore “unfounded.”
  2. “People in poverty don’t know what they need”: Traditionally, governments and NGOs decide what form of humanitarian assistance a particular region requires, rather than letting the people themselves make the decision. For years, there has been an assumption in development that ‘the West knows best’ and that developing regions require intellectual guidance from more developed nations to progress. This approach underestimates the importance of resources and places knowledge as a determining factor of regional development levels. Furthermore, research has consistently shown that cash transfers allow those living in poverty to make effective individual choices that improve their lives. Spending choices routinely include increased investment in agriculture, health care and enrollment in education.
  3. “It is inefficient”: There is a belief that UCTs are simply inefficient. However, the available evidence suggests otherwise. Not only do the UCT recipients tend to spend their grants in a manner that effectively improves their lives, but they also do it in a way that is often far more cost-effective than existing aid programs. Just on its own, the World Bank spends nearly $1 billion dollars per year on aid programs. A 2015 study from The University of Chicago showed that skills training had a limited impact on poverty or stability in developing countries and was not cost-efficient. Conversely, cash transfers have proven to be a successful method of stimulating wealth and long-term earning potential with a more cost-effective result.
  4. “Giving people money will make them Lazy”: This is a common stereotype of welfare recipients. Again, evidence shows that the opposite is true. Studies have shown that cash transfers actually increase workers’ productivity. Moreover, unconditional cash transfers act as a kick-starter for many communities, stimulating them to invest more time and effort into achieving prosperity for themselves and their family.
  5. “It’s physically impossible to give away that much cash”: In the past, this may have been true. However, technological evolution now means that distributing large sums of money directly to individuals is not much of a challenge. GiveDirectly is an example of an NGO that uses electronic payment services such as M-Pesa and MTN that have unlocked the possibility of a mass-scale distribution of cash. GiveDirectly sends money to the recipients’ cell phones, allowing them to either convert this electronic balance into physical cash or use their cell phones to pay merchants directly. This gives people personal, secure access to life-changing financial aid.

Looking Ahead

In summary, the remarkable achievements of UCTs continue to defy expectations and change lives. Moreso, the world is beginning to see the merits of the cash movement, with recent research by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) suggesting that up to 50% of all humanitarian assistance could now be effectively distributed as cash. Hence, unconditional cash transfers have the potential to revolutionize the development sector and nudge societies closer to minimizing or alleviating poverty.
Henry Jones

Photo: Flickr

Children's Learning in Ghana
In 1970, Ghana’s educational system was among the most highly developed in Africa. The Ministry of Education (MOE) predicted that all untrained teachers would be removed from the educational system by 1975. Gross enrollment ratios increased significantly, as 60% of primary school teachers received training. However, the country’s economy declined dramatically in the late 1970s, leading to a near collapse of the educational system. The following is an overview of children’s learning in Ghana.

Education in Ghana

The quality of education in Ghana faces significant challenges that impact children’s learning. Almost 80% of children lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. A particularly negative issue is the poor delivery of education across the nation, impacting mostly public schools in rural areas. New research urges immediate action to increase access for all children and improve the reading, writing and math skills of primary school pupils.

Solutions for Improving Children’s Learning

In October 2020, the MOE launched a report that offered an in-depth analysis of fundamental learning in Ghana’s primary education. The report, titled “Spotlight on Basic Education Completion and Foundational Learning: Ghana,” is one of five reports and a continental report in Africa. It was produced in collaboration with the Global Education Monitoring Report of UNESCO and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa. This project offers an analysis of the current state of fundamental education and identifies important solutions for improving children’s learning in Ghana, including:

  1. Improving School and Teacher Training: Introduce organized resources and assistance for professional development sessions, emphasizing phonics and teaching at the appropriate level. All basic education schools should receive structured leadership training, and basic-level school teachers should have a diploma.
  2. Investing in Textbooks: Provide children with textbooks and materials in school.
  3. Decentralization of Education: Increase and promote a more responsive approach to educational needs. Education management, administration policy and finance can transfer some duties to schools, parents, districts and communities to give them authority over how schools are run. It is expected to assist all children in Ghana with a baseline of high-quality education.
  4. Infrastructure Expansion: Expand infrastructure by building new schools and developing STEM and Arts facilities across the country.
  5. Removing Levies: Stop levying schools for extracurricular activities to fund sports, culture and mock exams. Doing so would reduce the amount of funding needed for school improvement and assist low-income families who cannot afford the extracurricular charges.

Looking Ahead

The report has made significant progress in providing accessible and high-quality education in Ghana. Estimates show that 77% of children now complete primary school. The country implemented ambitious reforms, such as making senior high school free for all students. It also introduced the “One Teacher, One Laptop” initiative, where school staff received laptops from the government. In 2003, more than $500 million of donor funding went to Ghana’s educational system. From 1986 to 1994, the World Bank helped fund school infrastructure and the provision of textbooks. It also provided additional funding to cover expenses for head teachers’ housing. Despite the challenges that Ghanaian students face in their education, the Ministry of Education commits to prioritizing the aforementioned five main policy areas to improve children’s learning in Ghana.

– Lilit Natalia Manoukian
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Recovery Efforts in Africa
The global economy has felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic significantly, with developing countries, particularly in Africa, bearing the brunt of this crisis. The pandemic pushed millions of Africans into extreme poverty and further widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Africa’s COVID-19 recovery efforts aim to reverse the adverse effects of the pandemic on the continent.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Developing Countries

A recent report by the World Bank reveals that 696 million people, or 9.3% of the global population, lived below the poverty line in 2021, surviving on less than $1.90 per day. Experts expect the world economy will grow less than 3% in 2023, down from 3.4% in 2022., increasing the risk of hunger and poverty globally. They also predict that COVID-19 will raise extreme poverty by 0.9% in 34 countries and by 1.3% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Widening Inequality in Africa

Nigeria: Before the pandemic, 40% of the country’s population lived below the poverty line. The economic fallout from COVID-19 has further strained the country’s fragile health care system, with six out of 10 Nigerians struggling to access basic health care services.

Kenya: The pandemic has caused job losses and food insecurity in the country. The closure of businesses and disruption of global supply chains have hit the Kenyan economy hard, and the World Bank projects the country’s economic growth to slow down to 5% in 2023.

South Africa: The continent’s most industrialized nation has experienced rising unemployment and worsening poverty levels, exposing deep-rooted socioeconomic inequalities. At the end of 2022, there were approximately 500,000 fewer jobs in the country than in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed millions into poverty, and by 2022, South Africa had a poverty rate of 63%. According to a World Bank report, South Africa is the world’s most unequal country, with just 10% of the population owning more than 80% of the wealth.

Solutions and Initiatives Driving Africa’s COVID-19 Recovery Efforts

To address these issues, governments, NGOs and international organizations are implementing various initiatives aimed at providing immediate relief and fostering long-term development.

The World Bank: In April 2020, the World Bank announced its $160 billion COVID-19 emergency response, planning to distribute the funds over a period of 15 months. Some of the countries that have received financial support include Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa. The funds have been used to strengthen health care systems, support businesses and provide social safety nets for vulnerable populations. Specific projects include supplying medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE), increasing the number of health care workers and delivering cash transfers to affected households. The World Bank has also collaborated with other international organizations, such as the IMF, to provide debt relief to the poorest countries, enabling them to focus resources on fighting the pandemic. As of September 2021, the World Bank has provided COVID-19 emergency support to more than 100 countries, making this response the largest crisis response in the organization’s history.

The African Development Bank (ADB): In April 2020, the ADB launched its $10 billion COVID-19 Response Facility. This initiative has led to several measurable outcomes, including providing budget support to countries like Nigeria, which received a $288.5 million loan to strengthen its health care infrastructure and increase social spending. The facility has also enabled 1.3 million people across Africa to access electricity, created 1.8 million jobs and provided millions of people with agricultural technologies to improve food security. The ADB aims to continue supporting Africa’s COVID-19 recovery efforts by financing infrastructure projects, promoting regional economic integration and increasing access to quality health care and education.

Local Projects and Community-driven Efforts Donate Resources

Grassroots organizations, such as the Lagos Food Bank Initiative (LFBI) in Nigeria, the Solidarity Fund in South Africa and the Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) in Kenya, are working to alleviate the impact of the pandemic on impoverished populations.

LFBI, founded in 2016, focuses on providing food assistance and nutrition education to vulnerable communities. The organization has reached more than 2,000,000 beneficiaries and provided more than 2 million meals since its inception. During the COVID-19 pandemic, LFBI increased food distribution efforts and launched a door-to-door delivery program to ensure families receive the support they need.

Established in March 2020, the Solidarity Fund aims to mobilize resources to combat the pandemic and support the nation’s health response. The organization has raised more than $200 million, which has been used to purchase PPE, ventilators and other essential medical equipment for health care facilities. Additionally, it has supported food relief programs, providing food parcels to vulnerable communities.

Launched in 2004, SHOFCO is a grassroots movement in Kenya that works to improve urban slums through community-led initiatives, including education, health care and economic empowerment programs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, SHOFCO provided more than 1.5 million liters of free water to communities through its water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) program. The organization has also set up handwashing stations and distributed hygiene products, such as soap and sanitizer. Through its education program, SHOFCO has reached more than 700,000 individuals with COVID-19 prevention information and awareness campaigns.

Africa Takes Steps Toward COVID-19 Recovery

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating impact on poverty and inequality in Africa, there are glimmers of hope. Governments, international organizations and grassroots initiatives are working tirelessly to address immediate needs and foster long-term development. Efforts by the World Bank and the African Development Bank have provided critical financial support, strengthened health care systems and delivered assistance to vulnerable populations. Local organizations such as the Lagos Food Bank Initiative, the Solidarity Fund and SHOFCO are making a difference on the ground, providing essential resources and support to those most affected by the pandemic. Together, these collective efforts are driving Africa’s COVID-19 recovery, offering a path toward a more equitable and prosperous future.

– Eden Asipov
Photo: Flickr

Education in LaosLaos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia and is one of the five remaining communist countries in the world. Laos is also one of the poorest countries in the region with a GDP of about $18.8 billion in 2021. In comparison, Vietnam’s GDP stood at about $366 billion and Thailand’s GDP stood at about $506 billion. Poverty in Laos is evident in the nation’s struggling education system. Factors such as cost, accessibility and traditional beliefs have prevented children from enrolling in school. However, education in Laos has improved in recent times due to domestic changes and international help. These interventions have focused on building a better education system in Laos and getting more children into school.

7 Facts About Education in Laos

  1. High Dropout Rates. Laos’ education system sees a high number of dropouts, particularly at lower levels of education. This means very few reach upper secondary education levels. Only 81.9% of children complete their primary education, with 15% going on to pursue lower secondary education and just 3% progressing to upper secondary levels.
  2. Low Enrollment Rate in Rural Areas. Only 70% of children attend school in rural areas compared to 84% in the urban population. The low enrollment rate in rural areas is largely due to poor road access. Many children live in isolated, mountainous areas. As a result, traveling to the nearest schools is an almost impossible endeavor. Furthermore, parents in the rural population are typically low-income earners who can hardly afford the costs of education. They prefer to have their children work and earn income for the family. Another issue is the disproportionate oversupply of Laotian and international teachers in urban areas, which leaves many rural areas with few teachers.
  3. Gender-based Enrollment Disparity. Laos’ education system has a clear issue regarding gender equity and equality. There is a higher number of enrolled male children compared to female children. The enrollment rates at the primary education level for boys and girls are 75% and 71% respectively. At the secondary level, the gap is slightly wider, with 36% for boys and 31% for girls. This disparity is mainly due to the old-fashioned values that many Laotian families hold. Several families expect girls to shoulder the burden of caretaking and household chores. Hence, female education is not prioritized.
  4. Four-part Education Structure. Laos’ education system consists of four stages: early childhood education, general education, technical and vocational education and higher education. The enrollment rates drop significantly as the levels go higher. Primary enrollment, which also falls under general education, stands at 97%. In contrast, enrollment at the upper secondary level is just 3%. This results in most Laotian children failing to achieve their full scholarly potential.
  5. Inadequate Education Budget. Despite the struggles of the education system in Laos, the government does not prioritize funding and spending on the education sector. Only 3.3% of Laos’ total GDP goes into education — one of the lowest rates globally. Much of the spending, both domestically and from international aid, goes toward fighting poverty in Laos by providing basic needs such as food, water and shelter.
  6. Improved Education System and Government Reforms. Governmental reforms and policy changes have helped improve the quality of education and enrollment through the years. The education reforms of 2006 to 2015 sought to improve educational quality and align the education system with international standards. For example, these reforms focused on building more schools in rural areas to facilitate accessibility for children in rural Laos. Reforms have significantly increased enrollment. From 1975 to 1976, there were just 146 enrolled children in upper secondary education. From 2005 to 2006, the number of enrolled children increased to 45,198, demonstrating the effectiveness of the reforms.
  7. International Aid Impact. International aid has been vital in improving the quality of education in Laos. A Save the Children program aimed to “improve the quality of learning for children in Laos.” With $8 million in funding, the program enabled 3,000 children to attend primary school in 2012. In 2021, the World Bank, supported by other nations, announced funding of $47 million “aimed at improving preschool and primary education performance and enhancing education systems nationwide.”

The Promise of Progress

While dropout rates and low higher education attainment still stand as issues, Laos’ education system has seen significant progress over the years. Enrollment rates are steadily rising and the quality of education is improving. All of these are indications of a promising future for Laos’ education system.

– Max Steventon
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19’s Impact on Fiji
Over the last three years, COVID-19’s impact on Fiji has been devastating. The pandemic’s effects hit Fiji’s thriving tourism industry particularly hard, which in 2020 accounted for 38% of Fiji’s gross domestic product (GDP). As a result, Fijian leaders acted quickly to implement recovery efforts, aimed at supporting sustainable economic growth and adapting to the “new normal” that the pandemic imposed. While the general public met some of these measures with opposition, these measures remained necessary in the face of new unprecedented challenges.

The 2020 Initial Response

The COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through Fiji in 2020, with businesses closing and international travel restrictions put in place to keep the country safe from outbreaks. During this time, the focus was on adapting to the short-term new market realities brought by the pandemic, which resulted in these business closures. By July 2020, 50% of tourism-focused businesses had either temporarily or fully closed and 20% of non-tourism-focused businesses “indicated a need to defer loans,” according to an International Finance Corporation (IFC) report.

In 2019, 24% of the population lived below the national poverty line, a number that has slowly grown since 2013. Unemployment figures also rose from 4.3% in 2018 to 4.9% in 2021.

The IFC conducted a survey to better assess the situation. The survey received 3,596 responses from businesses, with 17% of those primarily servicing the tourism industry. This survey’s findings helped establish strategies for moving forward, with the long-term goal of reducing COVID-19’s impact on Fiji.

The 2021 Outbreak

After a year of minimal COVID-19 cases, an outbreak occurred in April 2021. By July 2021, COVID-19’s impact on Fiji worsened, with the nation averaging more than 900 new COVID-19 cases daily. The Ministry of Health and Medical Services led Fiji’s response effort to this outbreak and successfully implemented quarantine and lockdown measures, provided COVID-19 vaccinations and utilized contact tracing and cluster investigations to surveil infection trends. By that same month, more than 31% of the target population had received their first doses of the vaccine and Fiji had already fully vaccinated many frontline workers.

International partners also showed their support during this critical time. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom assisted by providing life-saving medical supplies and pledging donations. Multilateral organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the EU assisted by ensuring better accessibility to COVID-19 vaccines and equipment, including testing machines and miscellaneous medical supplies totaling more than $2.6 million in value.

Curbing Concerns in 2022

Despite controversies and civil unrest surrounding hard-line regulations, such as Fiji’s “no jab, no job” policy, the country achieved a significant milestone by the end of 2021. Approximately 90% of the target population had received second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Although the country’s health care efforts saw success in curbing the spread of the virus, the pandemic’s impact on Fiji’s economy continued, with significant public debt-to-GDP ratios resulting from the persisting 2020 deficits. In addition, the global economy witnessed some of the highest surges of inflation in the past 20 years. These inflated prices include shipping, import, energy and food costs.

To revive its tourism industry, Fiji re-opened its borders to travel with modified guidelines. However, despite these efforts, economic growth did not rebound as expected due to the lingering civil unrest from the previous year and the emergence of an Omicron variant outbreak.

Current Concerns and Trends

As of March 2023, Fiji has made significant progress in its vaccination campaign, with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services reporting a 95% full vaccination rate for the target population. Infection trends are continually decreasing as well, and over the past month, Fiji reported only one new case. One can attribute this positive development to the general public adhering to effective health measures.

The tourism industry is also gradually recovering, with international travel to Fiji fully resuming after a long hiatus. As of February 2023, travelers to Fiji no longer need to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or travel insurance. Initial figures from 2022 show that tourist arrivals sat at around 45% of pre-pandemic figures.

However, even with progress in the medical and tourism industries, economic figures are still hurting. David Gould, the World Bank’s lead economist for the Pacific, estimated that while economic output is growing, levels may not exceed pre-pandemic levels until 2024. One contributing factor may be the record-breaking 30% unemployment rate in 2022, according to the Fiji Times.

The World Bank’s Pacific Economic Update advises Fijian leaders to be cautious when accepting fiscal support. Concerns include global economic uncertainty, debt servicing and rising inflation rates. To address these concerns, re-budgeting and public spending cuts can help to maximize the efficiency of taxpayer dollars and to prevent future public debt. Once Fiji’s economic output recovers to pre-pandemic levels, policymakers can invest in fiscal buffers to allow for economic leeway during future economic disasters.


In 2021, the World Bank swiftly approved a $50 million credit for Fiji as vigorous support for unemployment assistance, strengthening the Fijian social protection system and ensuring equitable access to social protection services. While this relief is not a permanent solution to Fiji’s rising poverty levels, it did push GDP growth from -15.2% in 2020 to -4.1% in 2021 and then from 6.3% in 2022 to 7.7% in 2023.

To this day, the World Bank continues its support to lessen COVID-19’s impact on Fiji. After discussions held with the Fijian government and other civil and private organizations, the World Bank Group developed a Country Partnership Framework for Fiji with the primary goal of reducing poverty emphasized by the pandemic and increasing sustainable wealth from 2020 to 2024. To do this, officials prioritize fostering inclusive and private sector-led economic growth, building fiscal and climate-based resilience and increasing gender equality.

The framework paints a picture of a bright future for Fiji. However, humanitarian efforts from the broader international community must continue in order for Fiji to return to its once-booming economic self.

– Anthony Lee
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The largest country in Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is “among the five poorest nations in the world.” Political instability, humanitarian crises, and conflict have aided the fact that 64% of all Congolese lived under the poverty line in 2021. With the population growing, along with unemployment, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government, joined with international aid, has been making efforts toward poverty reduction in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Socioeconomic Issues

According to data from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government and the International Monetary Fund’s country reports, unemployment impacts 30% of young citizens, which the COVID-19 crisis has only impacted more. Within the workforce, there is a gap between genders. In 2021, Congolese women only made up 23% of the government, 14% of the parliament and 24% of communal councils. Unemployment is higher among women, at 10.2% juxtaposed to 9% for men.

The country is one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa in levels of morbidity and mortality, along with having a maternity mortality ratio of 378 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy for the Republic of Congo report. When it comes to education, the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen a shortage of qualified teachers, a high student-to-teacher ratio and poor school infrastructure.

Poverty is the main issue within the country, as estimates have stated that the poverty rate rose between the years 2019 and 2020 by 4%, according to IMF. This is in large part due to the outbreak of COVID-19, which aggravated an economic recession and made it hard for Congolese people to afford rent, electricity and water bills, food and health care.

National Development Plan

The IMF report outlines the country’s National Development Plan 2022-2026. The goal of the plan is to “build a strong, diversified and resilient economy.” To do so, the government plans on focusing on agriculture, industry, tourism, real estate, technology and economic zones. This plan to regrow the economy comes with the prospect of an agreement with the IMF that could provide monetary aid.

Agriculture is an essential employer within the DRC, making it the first priority in the plan. By focusing on it, the country believes it can “fight effectively against unemployment, poverty, uncontrolled urbanization, the disarticulation of the national territory, food insecurity, and the foreign aid deficit.” The development of industry could bring modernization to the country and create jobs. In a similar vein, developing economic zones can create a “new national economy” and open them up to globalization. Tourism is a potential new market for the country to open up to, along with digitalization.

Following a visit to the DRC on February 15, 2023, the IMF released a statement reviewing the country’s recent economic data, saying that the agency “looks forward to continuing engagement in support of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The World Bank

In 2022, the World Bank endorsed a Country Partnership Framework for the DRC that “promotes the stabilization and development of DRC, supporting strategic priorities and critical reforms to improve governance and deepen stabilization efforts.” The World Bank focuses on supporting the country’s developments in education, health and social protection.

As of June 2022, the World Bank aided poverty reduction in the Democratic Republic of Congo with $7.27 billion that financially supported 21 national projects and four regional projects. One of these projects is the Emergency Equity and System Strengthening in Education, which supports the country’s free primary education and lessens the burden of education costs on Congolese families. This project saw 2.5 million additional students enroll in school within 2021-2022 and allowed for around 60,000 teachers to receive regular salaries, the World Bank reports. The World Bank Urban Drinking Water Supply Project saw the installation of more than 450 community waterpoints, and the STEP-KIN project, launched in March 2021, is targeted to help 250,000 in its next phase.

The Human Rights Council

Recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council has been holding hearings with the Presidents of nations such as the DRC regarding peace plans. The speakers at this panel said that “human rights were at the centre of all global issues the world confronted today” and that “international financial institutions needed to undertake special measures to support developing countries in protecting basic rights to food, livelihood and a decent living.”

Félix-Antione Tshisekedi Tshilombo, the president of the DRC, spoke about political and military conflict within the country, a factor that can worsen poverty. The Human Rights Council and the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights recently addressed this conflict, reiterating a call for peace in Africa, along with assuring that “the U.N. Human Rights Office stands ready to continue our work to support the country in its efforts to overcome the human rights challenges that remain.”

As poverty reduction in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues, it is important to keep in mind how valuable foreign aid is to the rebuilding and restructuring of communities and countries.

– Audrey Gaines
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is a South Asian country with a history of economic troubles and high poverty rates. The World Bank ranked Bangladesh the 61st weakest economy in the world in 2021, with a GDP per capita of just $6,493. As one of the more impoverished countries in the world, and with children aged 0 to 14 accounting for around 26% of the country’s total population of 169.4 million in 2021, it is unsurprising that child poverty remains an area of focus for Bangladesh.

Education in Bangladesh

Education is one of the most pivotal factors affecting poverty and living conditions in any country, and there are multiple reasons for this. Implementing efficient and successful education systems can create a path to political participation. Another benefit of sufficient education is that it is possible to improve the overall health of a nation by teaching about good health practices and topics such as nutrition.

Improving the education system would not only reduce child poverty in Bangladesh but would also help prevent poverty from continuing into adulthood by increasing job opportunities. Increased jobs, driven by education, can stimulate the incomes of poor families and boost national economic growth by breaking the cycle of extreme poverty and underdevelopment.

Bangladesh has seen development in the rates of child education over recent years, with nine out of 10 children in school at the age of six, according to an education fact sheet from 2020. However, there are still some issues with education rates, particularly among children living in poverty. For example:

  • About 52% of children who lack foundational reading skills are within the bottom two wealth quintiles, demonstrating the undisputable link between poverty and education rates.
  • Completion of primary education stood at 83% but completion of higher secondary education declined to 29%.
  • Only 12% of children in the lowest wealth quintile complete higher secondary education compared to 50% from the wealthiest quintile.

Children’s Health

World Bank data records in 2020 place the infant mortality rate in Bangladesh at 24 per 1,000 births, a relatively high figure when compared to a rate of four per 1,000 births for the U.K. (a considerably more wealthy country) in the same year.

Children in Bangladesh are vulnerable to illness and disease with pneumonia standing as one of the most deadly conditions for infants. Pneumonia accounts for 19% of deaths in children under 5 annually, a 2021 research article by Ahmed Ehsanur Rahman and others says.

Malnutrition is another indicator of child poverty in Bangladesh and massively affects overall health by increasing the risk of disease, stunting growth and raising the risk of infant mortality. One way to measure malnutrition among children is stunting, which refers to children who fail to reach their expected height for their age due to various factors of poor health. According to the Global Nutrition Report, stunting impacted 28% of children under 5 in Bangladesh in 2019.

Access to Water and Sanitation

In 2020, only 58% of Bangladesh’s total population had access to a sufficient handwashing facility with soap and clean water. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in early 2020, made poor sanitation provisions much more concerning. The World Bank reports that, in 2020, only 59% of the population had access to “safely managed clean drinking water services.”

The provision of sanitation also impacts education. Across Bangladesh, in 2018, just 50% of primary schools provided gender-segregated toilets for girls to use, which has contributed to 25% of girls skipping school during their menstrual cycles.

In 2018, E. coli bacteria appeared in about 80% of water samples from “private piped water taps,” which is comparable to the rate of contamination in pond water. Poor water quality is particularly dangerous for children as they can easily contract diseases. This emphasizes the importance of ensuring high-quality water provision. WaterAid reports that 3.79 million people in Bangladesh lack access to clean water, 75.4 million people lack access to proper toilet facilities and more than 1,000 children under 5 face diarrhea-related deaths annually as a consequence of unclean water and poor sanitation in the country.

Taking Action

The World Bank launched a Multipurpose Disaster Shelter Project (MDSP) in 2022, which will run until June 2023, focused on providing safe havens for more than 14 million people in coastal regions of Bangladesh that are susceptible to cyclones and floods. The project involved the construction of 552 new shelters in Bangladesh, which will function as primary schools during normal weather conditions. The project also constructed more than 550 kilometers of evacuation roads and renovated 450 already established shelters.

The BRAC, a non-governmental organization based in Bangladesh, initiated its BRAC Education Programme (BEP) more than 30 years ago. The program works to build and operate schools, establish libraries and educational programs and implement a variety of other structural reforms to the education system in Bangladesh. In 2019, the BEP provided education to 3.17 million students in 35,957 schools set up as part of the program. The BRAC partners with charities from across the world to implement its programs in Bangladesh and beyond.

The World Bank approved $200 million in September 2020 for a project to improve access to safe water and sanitation in rural areas of Bangladesh through piped water schemes. The aims of the project look to improve overall access to water, sanitation and hygiene in Bangladesh.

In Dhaka, a Bangladesh city where only 20% of the population has access to a safe sewage system, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) launched SWEEP, a service that provides residents with safe and sanitary disposal of human waste. The program reduces the spread of disease among the urban poor by abiding by proper health and hygiene measures during the waste removal process.

Through the efforts of several organizations working to combat poverty-related conditions and hold children at the forefront of initiatives, the nation has made strides regarding child poverty in Bangladesh. With continued progress, children in Bangladesh can live an improved quality of life with full access to basic necessities.

– Sophie Sadera
Photo: Flickr

Saudi Arabia's Support to Yemen
On February 21, 2023, Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to deposit $1 billion into the central bank of its middle eastern neighbor to the south, Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in April 2022, promised $3 billion worth of aid to Yemen’s internationally recognized president, Rashal al-Alimi, in a bid to bolster the country’s struggling economy. Saudi Arabia’s recent support to Yemen aims to assist the Riyadh-backed government to introduce much-needed economic reforms.

The Crisis in Yemen

According to the World Bank, Yemen’s GDP per capita, steadily declining since the onset of the war in 2014, stood at $701.7 in 2018. This decline is likely the result of many governmental issues, but primarily an ongoing civil war entering its ninth year. According to the United Nations Population Fund, as a result of the devastating conflict, 21.6 million Yemeni people need humanitarian aid in 2023. About 80% of the population lives in conditions of poverty, struggling to secure their basic needs, including access to water, food and health services.

The conflict started when Houthi rebels took control of the country’s capital, Sanaa, with demands for lower fuel costs, which in January 2015, forced the Yemen government into exile. Later in March 2015, with U.S. support, Gulf states, including the UAE, driven by Saudi Arabia, began to push for “economic isolation and air strikes” against the Iran-backed insurgents.

Even with the help of multiple powerful countries, the civil war has all but torn to pieces Yemen’s already struggling economy. According to the Department of State, since the onset of the war, as of 2022, the U.S. has provided close to $4.5 billion worth of humanitarian aid to struggling Yemeni people.

Once importing 40% of its grain from Ukraine, food prices have skyrocketed in Yemen since supply chains came to halt following Russia’s invasion of the Eastern European country in February 2022. Additionally, oil refining and exportation — Yemen’s primary sources of income — have slowed acutely since Houthi attacks on tankers and crucial processing facilities.

According to the Middle East Institute, “…given that most of the oil exported from Yemen’s southern terminals is pumped out of fields in the southern part of the country, the Houthis’ attacks could reignite historical grievances over the distribution of resources.”

In an attempt to pay off debts and finance public work sector salaries, the Aden branch of the Yemeni central bank has printed new banknotes, increasing inflation in turn. Insurgent-regulated regions do not accept currency printed by the central bank of Aden.

Looking Ahead

The money that Saudi Arabia and the UAE pledged intended to combat these issues, however, it remains unclear as to whether Saudi Arabia’s recent support to Yemen in late February forms part of the $3 billion promise made with the UAE in April 2022.

Headquartered in Abu Dhabi and a sub-organization of the 22-member Arab League, the Arab Monetary Fund will help to ensure the correct use of Saudi Arabia’s recent support to Yemen in the form of the $1 million deposit. The financing intends to fund new initiatives to spur economic growth and address poverty in Yemen while “stabilizing the currency.”

A delicate ecosystem, the Arabian Peninsula is crucial in world oil and petroleum exports. Yemen sits at the very tip of the peninsula and Saudi Arabia neighbors it to the north and Oman neighbors it to the northeast. Aid pledged to Yemen is almost sure to have positive effects on Middle Eastern economies and the U.S. as supply chains are symbiotic relationships between countries.

– Stella Tirone
Photo: Flickr

Kwenda Social Program
The Kwenda social program is an initiative that the government of Angola launched to address the country’s social and economic challenges. Angola is a resource-rich country, but it has struggled with poverty and inequality for decades. The Kwenda social program aims to reduce poverty and promote social welfare through a range of measures that target vulnerable populations.

Angola’s Economic Struggles

Angola is the largest oil supplier in sub-Saharan Africa. Oil production accounts for about half of Angola’s GDP, more than 70% of the Angolan government’s revenue and more than 90% of Angola’s exports. The health and economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the subsequent drop in oil prices further crippled Angola’s struggling economy and exacerbated poverty levels.

Impressively, Angola’s government took swift action and unraveled the Kwenda social program in response to the economic strain on the population. The premise on which the Angolan government formulated the initiative is poverty relief for the country’s “poorest and most vulnerable.” The program became the first cash transfer initiative to deliver financial assistance through digital deposits. What makes the Kwenda social program unique is that along with its focus on economic relief, it provides human development and economic activities and aims to help 1.6 million families, 60% of whom are female-headed.

In terms of land area, Angola is “one of the largest countries in Africa,” with almost 70% of the population living within cities. However, that also means that a considerable chunk of the population lives in remote areas. Angolans living in these parts of the country face limitations due to debilitated infrastructure and a lack of public transportation.

This presented a significant challenge to the Angolan government during the economic crisis because the government could not easily reach a major portion (about 88%) of the rural population suffering from multidimensional poverty.

Benefits of the Kwenda Social Program

The Kwenda social program addresses the difficulties in reaching rural populations by combining digital tools with physical cash distribution. Furthermore, the Angolan government has established community centers in exceptionally remote communities with community workers to help facilitate physical cash deliveries to the poverty-stricken. These community centers play an integral role in collecting grievances from the local population, administering and implementing the program and providing health and educational services for disadvantaged youth.

One of the segments of the Angolan population that the Kwenda social program has particularly helped is women. This is because women lead many of the households (60%) that the Angolan government aims to help through the program. Another target group of people receiving financial benefits from the Kwenda social program is the elderly population. More than 10,000 elderly people receive cash transfers as a result of the program.

The Angolan government is not the only financier of the initiative. Of the $420 million set aside for the Kwenda social program, the World Bank is funding $320 million. Additionally, in 2022, the World Bank issued a statement of praise regarding the Kwenda social program. In 2021, the initiative completed more than 300,000 digital transfers to beneficiaries. Additionally, by January 2022, the Angolan government had registered more than half a million families into the program. Of those families, nearly half, 247,000, had collected one cash transfer at minimum.

Looking Ahead

The Kwenda social program is a significant initiative that has the potential to transform the lives of vulnerable populations in Angola. The program is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach that addresses the root causes of poverty and inequality. The program has already had a significant impact on the lives of thousands of households and has helped to promote social inclusion and women’s empowerment. With continued support from the World Bank, the government and other stakeholders, the program has the potential to bring about impactful and lasting change that can build a more inclusive and prosperous social fabric in Angola.

– Aemal Nafis
Photo: Flickr

Future of Ukraine
The future is often war’s largest casualty. For some 8,000 Ukrainian civilians and 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers who have fought to preserve their homeland, the future no longer exists. Nearly 14 million civilians are now disconnected from their homes. The future of Ukraine stands on a knife’s edge; however, a year after Russia’s invasion, there is at least a future to discuss. Moreover, there is a growing consensus that Ukraine’s recovery requires planning right now.

Economic Devastation

On February 23, 2023, the United Nations called for an immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukrainian territory. Although Putin, known for his violations of international law, will almost certainly ignore the resolution, it does beg the question of what a post-war Ukraine would look like. As a result of the war, a third of the country lives in poverty, with another 60% at risk of falling into poverty should the conflict continue. The war has destroyed $100 billion of infrastructure and forced 50% of businesses to close.

Marshall Plan for Ukraine?

Given this financial and physical devastation, one may wonder exactly what the future of Ukraine is. Participants during the Davos 2023 Summit discussed that rebuilding the country would require a recovery program comparable only to the Marshall Plan after World War II. With that plan, the United States contributed the equivalent of almost $200 billion to western Europe in aid. A Marshall Plan for Ukraine would cost three times as much as the original and would have to overcome the hesitancy of nations like the U.S. to further involve themselves in the country.

Estimates for Recovery

In September 2022, the World Bank, the European Commission and the Ukrainian government place the recovery estimate at $349 billion, of which around $100 billion is needed for short-term recovery. This includes financing the rebuilding of hospitals, schools, roads and bridges. It also consists of the clearing mines that prevent the cultivation of Ukraine’s fertile soil. In a separate communication a few months earlier, Ukrainian President Zelensky declared the target figure at $750 billion, citing the need for repatriation, humanitarian assistance and modernization.

Commitment to Providing Aid

Although allies are shying away from direct military assistance, international aid is crucial in keeping Ukraine afloat. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) leads the charge, which provided $12 billion in 2022 and plans to augment that support in 2023. This aid goes primarily to health care workers and educators, protecting the future of Ukraine in the short and long term. Additionally, the World Bank provided more than $18 billion in grants and loans for Ukraine as of February 2023, the vast majority of which comes from the United States.

Supporting Ukraine: In the Best Interest for Europe and Beyond

The future of Ukraine remains incredibly uncertain. However, a consensus is emerging that the situation cannot remain fraught when the war comes to an end. A weakened or failed Ukraine is a security threat to Europe and would create a refugee crisis because Ukrainian refugees would have no need to return to their country. As the Financial Times wrote in December 2022, “The potential geopolitical cost of failure is high…The fighting continues, but the time to plan for peace is now.”

– Samuel Bowles
Photo: Flickr