Public Housing in Singapore
Tucked in the bottom corner of Southeast Asia, Singapore is presenting a hopeful solution to addressing global poverty. Once known for its widespread slums and poverty, 80% of its population were squatting in unsafe conditions and makeshift homes. Now, 50 years later, 80% of the population has access to safe and secure public housing in Singapore, a long-term solution that has helped to address the problems of poverty.

Poverty in Singapore

Poverty still exists in Singapore because, despite strong support from the government, there is still a problem of inequality and high costs of living. However, considering that most of the population is living in affordable government-provided housing, and home ownership is one of the highest in the world at 88.9% home ownership in 2021, the country looks to be heading in the right direction.

Public Housing

The idea of public housing in Singapore began in 1959 following a realization that private housing was unable to keep up with the growing economy. This was resulting in overcrowding, racial tensions and poor living conditions, according to Bloomberg. Following this, the government set up the Housing Development Board (HDB) to address the problem and by 1965, 400,000 people had moved into government-funded housing.

By 1985, the government-owned 76% of the land in Singapore, compared to 31% in 1949 and this has allowed for the building of this system of cheap and efficient housing.

Although modest in size and design, these houses have proper security, running water and electricity, according to Billion Bricks. There are 23 self-contained towns that hold this public housing around the coast of Singapore. Buildings go through the process of standardization to create easy assembly and uniformity.

This system is consistently praised for its ability to address problems of poverty, whilst also creating socioeconomic growth through racial integration and sustainable awareness. The HDB has created social cohesion by building communities within the apartments through public spaces, mixed-ethnicity and mixed-income integration and public gardens.

The positive implications of this system are endless. Both social cohesion and access to housing have a positive impact as people live in environments of stability and security. Support for the government has also increased, as there has been an establishment of higher levels of trust between the people and the state. As a result, the commitment of the government to provide for the people has increased, with 2017 seeing $1.19 billion in spending on public housing, according to the World Bank.

This is all good news for Singapore. The small country has balanced social well-being, government control and security to address deep-rooted problems of poverty.

What is Next?

The public housing in Singapore is unique in nature, and while the 60 years of creation is not easily replicable, it does provide some indication of how important government planning and support are in addressing poverty and promoting socioeconomic improvements. The Singaporean approach could be a lesson, particularly on the importance of social integration, planning and innovative urban design.

– Daisy How
Photo: Flickr

Electrify Senegal
Poverty ran at more than 36% in Senegal in 2022. But regardless of this fact, the nation actually has a rather high rate of electrification at nearly 80%, which is one of the highest in Africa. These high electrification rates however mask large disparities across different geographical and income groups, made most evident by the rate of poverty. Here is some information about efforts to electrify Senegal.

The Situation

Senegal’s power generation is highly dependent on liquid fuels, with only 10% of power generation from other sources. The expensive nature of liquid fuels means that the Senegalese government must heavily subsidize electricity generation and yet Senegalese consumers still pay more costs for electricity than other African nations at 24 cents per kilowatt hour. For comparison, the average cost per kilowatt in Nigeria is 6 cents.

To address these issues, the Senegalese government has put in place the Emerging Senegal Plan which aims to diversify and modernize energy sources, as well as increase private sector involvement via relaxing some sector regulations. Several international aid programs support this plan and the wider effort to fully electrify Senegal, thereby posing unique business opportunities for foreign investors.

Power Africa

Power Africa is a U.S. government-led public-private partnership that aims to double electricity access in Africa, with Senegal being one of its focus countries, according to the International Trade Administration. The initiative aims to provide resources for companies operating in the Senegalese power sector and as a possible result, increase efficiency and innovation and bring costs down.

Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)

A key supporter of Power Africa is the MCC, which in 2018 signed the Senegal Power Compact worth $550 million with the Government of Senegal. The compact targets three areas: improving the transmission network, increasing electricity access in rural areas and improving the governance and financial viability of the sector, all of which could electrify Senegal to a much greater extent.

If achieved, this not only will address geographical inequality but also alleviate the financial burden on the Senegalese government, potentially freeing up finances to refocus on other important areas.

The World Bank

In 2022, the World Bank approved $150 million from the International Development Association (IDA) to increase electricity access to Senegalese households, businesses and public facilities. In practice, this will see 200,000 households connected to the grid, including 40,000 households that are deemed vulnerable or previously difficult to electrify. Around 700 businesses, 200 schools and 600 health facilities will also benefit.

Business Opportunities

Lucrative investment prospects for foreign investors cover several sub-sectors of the Senegalese power industry, including but not limited to gas technologies, new plant equipment, renewable energy, transmission equipment, smart grid technology, household solar panels and energy efficiency technology, according to International Trade Administration.

Renewable energy and related technology are particularly prominent areas for investment as the government has strongly committed to this area as a means to fully electrify Senegal.

International Trade Administration also predicted that the funding from the MCC Compact will create business and employment opportunities for construction, procurement and engineering companies in the building and deploying of new power-generating infrastructure. Furthermore, ensuring energy efficiency and determining environmental impacts will create opportunities for consulting firms.

Looking Ahead

The combination of government focus, international aid and business opportunities suggests that Senegal is in a great position to achieve more widespread, if not full, electrification. Despite a current high electricity supply rate, fully electrifying Senegal could drastically improve power access in more rural areas and as a result, reduce the high rate of over 36% poverty.

– Saul Gunn
Photo: Flickr

Climate Shocks in Brazil
A recent report that the World Bank released has issued a stark warning, stating that climate shocks in Brazil have the potential to drive between 800,000 and 3,000,000 of its citizens into extreme poverty within the next decade. It highlighted an urgent need for Brazil to accelerate investments in renewable energy sources to mitigate the impact of changing weather patterns and foster sustainable development.

Rising Climate Shocks in Brazil and Social Consequences

The World Bank report highlights the increasingly severe climate shocks experienced in Brazil. Floods and droughts are becoming more frequent and intense, negatively impacting agricultural productivity and food security. These environmental challenges disproportionately affect the country’s poorest communities, leaving them particularly vulnerable to economic hardship, food scarcity and displacement. The Woodwell Climate Research Center modeled a study that revealed that 28% of agricultural lands are no longer in an optimal climatic range, with predictions that this percentage could reach 74% by 2060. Without action, the region is predicted to get hotter and drier.

The current trends suggest that the disruption of agricultural production by natural disasters will continue to impact food prices in Brazil. Unfortunately, the combination of extreme weather events and decreased crop yields leads to reduced food availability, driving prices higher and placing an additional burden on already strained household budgets. This drives agricultural populations to take on onerous loans to fund the next harvest, leading them further down into poverty. Weak governance and funding challenges further undermine climate action by hampering implementation and creating space for illegal activities. For example, facilitating land grabbing which is a major driver of illegal deforestation.

The Urgent Need for Renewable Energy Investments

To address the imminent threat of changing weather patterns and its devastating consequences on poverty levels in Brazil, the Brazil Country Climate and Development Report (CCDR) stresses the urgent need to prioritize and accelerate investments in renewable energy sources. Transitioning to clean energy will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance the country’s resilience to environmental shocks. Investments in renewable energy infrastructure not only have the potential to create new jobs and stimulate economic growth but also provide affordable and sustainable energy access to marginalized communities. Renewables generated almost half of Brazil’s energy supply and 82.3% of its electricity. In comparison, global averages stand between 15% and 27%.

A Wake-Up Call For Brazil

Brazil is in a strong position to benefit from climate action all the while growing its economy. The World Bank’s recent report serves as a wake-up call for the country to take immediate action in combating the issue. Fulfilling the pledge of zero illegal deforestation by 2028 could significantly combat the rampant phenomenon, with around 90% of deforestation being illegal. Enabling land stewardship, establishing indigenous territories and restoring degraded pastures could also remove an estimated 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) annually through “negative emissions.” The same goes for strengthening climate-smart agriculture by, for example, intensifying livestock production and increasing crop productivity which could halve the sector’s emissions.

Looking Ahead

Leveraging renewable energy, especially by becoming a leading producer of green hydrogen, could accelerate the transition to renewable energy, diversify exports and attract investments. Promoting energy efficiency, transitioning to low-carbon fuels and encouraging public transit over personal vehicles represent crucial steps for reducing carbon emissions.

Additionally, investing in urban planning, nature-based solutions and resilient cities can enhance sustainability and protect against climate shocks. Implementing economy-wide interventions, such as carbon pricing mechanisms can potentially incentivize low-carbon practices. These solutions offer a comprehensive approach to tackling environmental challenges, promoting sustainable development and building a resilient future. The CCDR concludes that the additional costs of the resilient and zero net pathway proposed in Brazil would account for 0.5% of the annual GDP, without considering the domestic and global benefits from the preservation of the ecosystem.

Furthermore, these investments open the possibility of the development of a green economy, thereby attracting international investment and promoting long-term environmental sustainability.

– Hanna Bernard
Photo: Flickr

Despite the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration of the end of the pandemic’s emergency phase, the economic and social consequences of COVID-19 continue to affect the world. According to the World Bank, the pandemic pushed an additional 97 million people into poverty in 2020, leaving governments struggling to recover from its widespread devastation. For example, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Rwanda has been particularly severe.

The Disruptive Impact of COVID

When the pandemic hit, Rwanda experienced a sharp decline in GDP, with a 39.1% drop during a six-week lockdown. Simultaneously, the national poverty rate increased by 10.9%. As a result, around 1.3 million people out of a population of approximately 13.4 million temporarily fell into poverty due to the effects of COVID-19. The pandemic disrupted the U.N’s Vision 2020 objectives in poverty reduction strategies, which had shown promising results in the past.

Previously, Rwanda had experienced an economic boom, including a real economic growth of 9.4% in 2019. It had also benefited from large foreign investment in industries such as hospitality and travel.

Rwanda, similar to many other countries, faced significant economic challenges due to the pandemic. A study conducted by Private Enterprise Development in Low-Income Countries revealed that 80% of businesses were closed from March to April 2020. By January 2021, the average business had laid off 25% of its workforce. 

The pandemic also affected education in Rwanda, with approximately 3.5 million students being unable to attend school as usual. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Rwanda has been especially harsh on women, who are often only able to secure employment in seasonal jobs.

The Government’s Response

The Rwandan government responded swiftly to the crisis, implementing various measures in March 2020, including a lockdown, border closure, curfew and social distancing requirements. In March 2021, an Economic Recovery Plan was introduced, featuring an Economic Recovery Fund worth $100 million to support severely affected businesses. The plan specifically targeted the once-thriving travel sector, providing financial assistance to 138 hotels. Additionally, the government allocated funds to educational institutions and factories, aiming to facilitate the return to school and work.

Recovery and Investment Abroad

Rwanda has attracted foreign investors and regained economic confidence. For instance, it received $200 million from the Asian Infrastructure Bank and raised $650 million through a Eurobond. These investments stimulated the Economic Recovery Fund, allowing the country to diversify its economy and foster innovation. The World Bank reported a 1.2% reduction in poverty by the end of 2020 as a result of these initiatives. And the government’s rapid response also ensured continued access to education, health care and nutrition.

NGO Findings

Innovations for Poverty Action surveyed Rwandan people as part of its Research for Effective COVID-19 Responses, which informed government policy in responding to the pandemic. Collecting information on health, food security, finance resilience, education and employment, it recommended policies in line with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, emphasizing an opportunity to boost Rwanda’s economy with these in mind. In the case of addressing the impact of COVID-19 on poverty, local charitable organizations continue to make efforts. The Dufatanye Organisation, for example, has fundraised for food support for those living with type 1 diabetes during the pandemic due to poverty’s impact on access to medication. Other organizations like the Centre Marembo Organization have also tried to address the impact of COVID-19 on the homeless by fundraising and mobilizing communities.

Moving Forward

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped global perspectives on community, economics and society, once again highlighting the issue of poverty. Despite the disruptive impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Rwanda, the government’s swift response has set the country on a path to strong economic recovery in 2021. Industrial production, exports and agricultural output have shown significant increases, leading to more employment opportunities and helping people escape poverty caused by the pandemic.

In conclusion, while the pandemic’s effects on poverty have been substantial, Rwanda’s proactive measures and collaborative efforts have laid the foundation for recovery and progress.

Rosie Lyons

Photo: Wikimedia

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.

5 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

Burkina Faso's PoorThe landlocked West African nation of Burkina Faso has rapidly become one of the world’s worst humanitarian situations in the past two years as food insecurity, displacement and internal conflict have created a dangerous storm of issues for locals, in particular, Burkina Faso’s poor. 

The country’s issues became worse after January 2022, when army officers staged a coup against the former Prime Minister, who was replaced by the army’s captain, leading to blockades on main roads leading into the country, stopping foreign aid and minimizing the country’s trading. 

The effects of these factors are slowly being reversed by organizations such as the World Bank, who have been working tirelessly to create jobs for the nation’s residents and provide immediate food support, as well as long-term solutions. 

Current state 

In 2018, there were less than 50,000 internally displaced people in the country, and at the end of 2022, that number rose to 1.9 million, showing the devastating impact of the country’s conflict. 

As military groups have blockaded cities, planted explosives on roads and taken down critical infrastructure such as bridges and water points, people have been stuck in the landlocked nation for over a year, with minimal food and supplies. With the country locked up by army blockades, farmers have not been able to move freely, leaving fields abandoned and food production to plummet. 

But farmers are not the only ones left without jobs, as delivery drivers bringing goods into the country have also halted, meaning no goods are on store shelves except cleaning products. 

These factors have collectively led to the number of people facing acute food insecurity multiplying nine-fold, as there is now an estimated 2.6 million food-insecure people. 

A report by the Norwegian Refugee Council has also predicted that the number of people facing acute, catastrophic levels of food insecurity will keep rising as it expects a 42% increase in food insecure people by August. 

Due to the army blockades, the last considerable shipment of food came in September, when 100 tonnes of cereal reached the town of Djibo, feeding an estimated 6,700 families. Only a small portion of those who need immediate assistance. 

The Norwegian report showed that the situation reached such dire levels in 2022, that almost 85% of families’ meals consisted of wild leaves. 

Immediate humanitarian aid continues to drop in the country’s air bridge, but as that is the only method of support reaching the country, the assistance provided is not enough for all of Burkina Faso’s poor. 

Initiating help

All of the above events struck the West African nation terribly. The global assessment by the Norwegian Refugee Council showed that by the end of 2022, there were 1.9 million people in need of aid, a 40% increase from the start of the year. Despite the increase in need, the funding requested by humanitarian organizations was only 42% filled by global NGOs, leaving many to survive without immediate aid. 

But immediate aid isn’t the only way to help the poverty-stricken nation. 

Organizations such as the World Bank have been carrying out job-creating initiatives such as their Forest Investment Program, which collected a total investment of $27 million, from the World Bank, the Climate Investment Funds and the European Union. 

The initiative has led to over 400,000 hectares of currently unused farmland falling under sustainable management. The planting of trees and preparation of the land will benefit more than 500,000 people, creating 5,000 jobs in 32 communes targeted for the project. 

In line with these investments, nearly 6,000 households have received improved stoves in an attempt to cut down on the use of wood for energy and cooking purposes, as well as make it cheaper to use stoves for Burkina Faso’s poor. 

Similarly, the World Bank has also begun executing its Regional Integration initiative, building new roads and improving damaged main roads for truck drivers within the country, as well as to the nearest ports in Togo and Ghana. 

As the country is landlocked alongside 32% of all African countries, access to these ports is of vital importance for the country to continue their exports and imports not only across Africa, but internationally too. One truck driver affected by these improvements told the World Bank that it used to take more than a week to travel 950 kilometers, but it now only takes two days. 

Previous initiatives by the World Bank, which began in 1980, cost the organization $325 million at the time but are now worth more than $14 billion, accounting for 13% of the entire continent’s portfolio. 

These long-term types of initiatives show great promise in helping countries like Burkina Faso in the long run, alongside all African countries.

– Sam Kalantzis
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Bangladesh
According to the Center for Policy Dialogue in Bangladesh, in 2020, 46% of children in Bangladesh endured multidimensional poverty — the experience of several deprivations at once.  The government and organizations are taking action to address the pressing issue of child poverty in Bangladesh.

5 Facts About Child Poverty in Bangladesh

  1. Low Educational Attainment Rates. According to UNICEF, Bangladesh notes a primary school net enrolment rate of 97.42% but a primary school completion rate of 85.85%. The primary school drop-out rate is 14.15%. The secondary net enrolment rate is lower than primary, at 70.25%. The secondary school completion rate is also concerning, standing at just 64.24%. The secondary drop-out rate is 35.66%. This data comes from the Annual Primary School Census (APSC) 2021 and the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS). Poverty plays a significant role in these low completion and high dropout rates.
  2. Child Labor. A study that UNICEF conducted in 2019 revealed that every one out of 10 boys between the ages of 12 to 14 in Bangladesh hold full-time jobs. While the income that these children earn varies, most boys younger than 14 earn an income of less than $40 per month. Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic pushing more families into poverty, more households have resorted to pulling their children out of school and pushing them into child labor to contribute to household income.
  3. Malnutrition. Stunting, which poor nutrition causes and detrimentally impacts the psychological and mental development of children, affects 36% of children under the age of 5 in Bangladesh, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). Moreover, this percentage rises to 50% among those who are living in extreme poverty and slums. About 5.5 million children under 5 suffer from chronic malnourishment.
  4. Gender Inequality. In Bangladesh, families tend to prioritize investing in the education of boys over girls. This is due to societal gender roles that dictate that females should bear the burden of household chores and caretaking. Impoverished families are also more likely to push their young daughters into child marriage to reduce the financial burden on the family.
  5. Insufficient Social Protection. UNICEF reports that about 30% of children in Bangladesh “live and sleep in public or open spaces (streets, stations, terminals, fields and parks) without the most basic amenities.” Additionally, about 82% of these children face abuse and harassment from pedestrians. According to Bangladesh’s Survey on Street Children 2022, children living on the street are vulnerable to illnesses. Additionally, a quarter of the street children surveyed report experiencing unjust treatment and abuse from law enforcement agencies. Despite these harsh conditions, 70% of street children in Bangladesh aspire to live a better life and many wish to attend school.

Taking Action to Reduce Child Poverty in Bangladesh

In 2013, the Bangladesh government collaborated with the World Bank to launch a program called Reaching Out of School Children (ROSCII). This initiative opened new opportunities for impoverished students to complete their primary education and pursue secondary education. Since 2017, the program provided quality primary education to 735,000 impoverished children from underserved rural areas and slums, with girls accounting for 50% of this number.

UNICEF reports that 90% of children in Bangladesh experience “physical punishment or psychological aggression” from caregivers or educators. To uphold the rights of children who experience violence, neglect and exploitation, UNICEF is striving to establish a child-friendly justice system in Bangladesh.

In 2015, the Government of Bangladesh launched the Income Support Program for the Poorest (ISPP), commonly known as the Jawtno program. “The program supported 600,000 poor pregnant women and mothers with children under five years, in locations with high child malnutrition and poverty rates. It provided cash payments to incentivize the parents’ use of services aimed at improving their children’s nutrition, cognitive development and readiness for school,” the World Bank highlights. The program recorded positive results. For instance, mothers used the cash payments to invest in their children’s development and engaged with their children more to strengthen the mother-child bond and prepare them for school.

The World Bank and UNICEF have supported the Bangladeshi government’s efforts to reduce child poverty in Bangladesh. With this support, the country’s government is working to ensure that all children live a higher quality of life.

– Gurjot Kaur
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