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Recover Better Publication
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the conditions that the world’s most vulnerable populations continually face. Social distancing and mobility restrictions are changing consumer behavior, disrupting supply chains and straining certain sectors, like tourism. These social and economic challenges are disrupting, and in some places halting, progress toward meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Through these unprecedented challenges, the U.N. is emphasizing the importance of using the global response to “recover better.”

The U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs released a new publication entitled Recover Better: Economic and Social Challenges and Opportunities in late July 2020. The report outlines plans for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals while taking into account the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Written by members of the U.N. High-level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs, the Recover Better publication comprises of seven essays, each addressing a different region or sector.

5 Takeaways from the Recover Better Publication

  1. New technologies and automation present great potential for developing countries. Their introduction has improved the quality and accessibility of communication, basic necessities and medical care. However, many unintended consequences may follow the implementation of new technologies in developing countries. For example, technology can add pressure to employment in human-labor reliant industries, exacerbate the digital divide and raise ethical issues. These include increasing inequality and data privacy issues, particularly with medical data. Considering the social and economic environment into which technology is introduced is a critical step in effective integration.
  2. As the global economy faces high levels of uncertainty, it is important to contextualize its current state by taking into account past patterns. Making recommendations for the future requires understanding the trends that were in place leading up to the pandemic. The global economy saw a deceleration in growth in 2019, which was particularly pronounced in developing countries. Both inefficient labor allocation and a lack of investment in research and development contributed to this slowdown. Importantly, the events of early 2020 exacerbated these issues.
  3. Allocating labor and resources toward a country’s strongest, most productive sectors is a critical factor in reducing income inequality between developed and developing countries. Utilizing comparative advantage in this way can maximize potential economic growth, leading to an increase in employment and higher wages. This way, countries can increase productivity in their strongest sectors while maintaining internal income equality.
  4. Natural resource management and sustainability should be at the forefront of each country’s socio-economic development plans. Recent industrialization has spiked carbon emissions and placed many environmental pressures on countries. In order to promote sustainable development, it is critical to improving the efficiency of natural resource use so that it is not surpassed by labor productivity and demand. The adoption and creation of sustainable technologies can help achieve that.
  5. The pandemic intensifies the challenges that low-income and vulnerable populations face. Nearly 71 million people will return to a state of poverty due to many socioeconomic factors, including job loss and recession. This will cause the first increase in global poverty rates since 1998. Among those groups most at risk for falling behind are inhabitants of conflict and post-conflict settings, youth, older persons, women, refugees, indigenous persons and those with disabilities.

While the Recover Better publication provides specialized insight into distinct areas of concern, it develops the general message that the Sustainable Development Goals can act as guidelines during recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. The principles shared in Recover Better can leverage COVID-19 recovery efforts to inform existing strategies used to promote sustainable global development.

– Sylvie Antal
Photo: Flickr

world hunger aid app
Chronic hunger is still an issue that plagues many countries and communities around the world. Many solutions proposed to solve world hunger have been ongoing for decades, yet the problem persists. In the technology-focused 21st century, these attempts at solutions have become increasingly digital. One such digital solution is a world hunger aid application from the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

The World Food Programme

The World Food Programme is the U.N.’s top organization in charge of managing and solving world hunger crises. It is focused on emergency food aid as well as helping communities maintain high nutrition standards. The WFP’s efforts are responsible for the allocation and distribution of billions of rations, worldwide to food-insecure communities each year.

Most of these food aid efforts happen on the ground, in the affected areas. However, a new initiative from the WFP can involve far more people in the crusade against world hunger. The solution is the world hunger aid application, “ShareTheMeal.”

ShareTheMeal: How Does it Work?

Launched in 2015, ShareTheMeal is a one-of-a-kind world hunger aid application. Its sole purpose is to allow users worldwide, to donate meals to adults and children around the world via their smartphones or tablets. To participate, users simply tap a button to send an $0.80 donation to the WFP, which covers the cost of one meal.

ShareTheMeal also allows users to assist with its mission in several other ways. Within the user interface, the hunger aid application splits donation tiers into higher amounts, such as “Feed a Child for a Week” or “Feed a Child for a Year,” which correspond to a donation value, to fund that goal. The application also has a feature called “The Table,” where a monthly donation matches the user with the family they are supporting. This allows users to receive updates on how their donations helped a specific family.

In addition to its general donation tiers, ShareTheMeal has real-time, cause-specific donation sections. These include assisting with the famine crisis in Yemen and supporting Syrian refugees in Iraq. The application’s “Teams” option also allows users to form teams with friends, coworkers or family members to meet a donation goal.

ShareTheMeal’s Impact

To date, ShareTheMeal has donated more than 78 million meals to people in need via its 2+ million users on iOS alone. It has received thousands of five-star reviews for its efforts and was named the Google Play Store’s Best Social Impact app. ShareTheMeal has also been featured by several major global news outlets, from CNN, Forbes and Al Jazeera to Spiegel Online.

The application has directly contributed to the WFP’s efforts to continue providing aid to communities affected by global hunger. ShareTheMeal combines peoples’ desire to support a cause with the technology that permeates their everyday lives — in a masterfully simple idea that offers tangible results. In doing so, the application brings the world of charity to a new generation of contributors via its smartphone presence.

Outlook — Positive

As hunger persists around the globe, ShareTheMeal continues to grow and evolve today. The world hunger aid application announced that during the next five years, it aims to donate 800 million meals to the world’s poor. ShareTheMeal’s goal is massive, but with its millions of users, exceptional usability and the emotional connections it creates between users and those they assist (with their donations) — this clever piece of technology seems to be on track to succeed in its quest to end global starvation.

– Domenic Scalora
Photo: Flickr

viral hepatitis in IndiaViral hepatitis is one of the leading causes of death in India, where more than 60 million people are infected with this deadly disease. Known as a “silent killer,” hepatitis is a viral disease that can cause inflammation in the liver. Different types of hepatitis refer to the type of virus infecting its host. In India, Hepatitis A (HAV) is amongst the most common, particularly for children. However, other types of hepatitis, such as type E or type C, still pose a large threat to the health and wellbeing of Indian citizens.

Current Problems Regarding Viral Hepatitis in India

In India, Hepatitis B infects at least 40 million people, and Hepatitis C infects more than 6 million. As of now, viral hepatitis in India is becoming a serious health concern, especially amongst children. With few vaccinations available, many children aren’t able to prevent this disease. As of now, less than 44% of children are fully vaccinated against hepatitis. In contrast, Nepal and Bangladesh have more than 80% of their children fully scheduled for vaccinations. India has almost seven million children unvaccinated. As a result, this makes them more vulnerable to viruses such as hepatitis.

Only 1.2% of India’s national budget goes toward vaccinations. The lack of government assistance contributes to the overwhelming number of children that remain unvaccinated. Even this budget only goes toward six basic vaccinations, comprising diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, tuberculosis, polio and measles, meaning that it excludes hepatitis.

Another large contributor to the spread of this disease is poor infrastructure, often found in impoverished areas. Pipelines with water contamination are more likely to spread the virus, especially in urban cities. India has one of the largest water crises due to poor filtration and contaminated pipelines. Only 32% of piped water has been treated because rivers and lakes are more prone to sewage, leading to micro-contaminations. As Hepatitis A and Hepatitis E are waterborne viruses, it remains a priority for the Indian government to treat its contaminated water supply. This is especially vital for people living in impoverished regions. More than 37 million Indians have been infected with waterborne diseases, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths annually.

Promising Solutions for Viral Hepatitis in India

Although viral hepatitis in India is a large health concern, there are countless efforts to mitigate the spread of this deadly disease. For example, the World Health Organization and UNICEF have established the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. This program led 17 states in India to reach the Millenium Development Goal 7 (MDG). Additionally, the government of India established the National Virus Hepatitis Control Program, which gives access to more testing and treatment. This program focuses on rural areas and hopes to end viral hepatitis by 2030.

Some smaller nonprofit organizations are also working to prevent the spread of hepatitis. For example, Water.org has 34 partnerships in India, including with UNICEF and the World Bank. Additionally, Water.org has been able to provide more than 13 million people with water and sanitation with $599 million from its partnerships. The BridgIT Foundation has similar goals in solving the water crisis in the most affected counties. As of now, it has built wells in 30 villages. In addition, it partners up with the Rural Development Society and the Sri K. Pitchi Reddy Educational & Welfare Society to reach more than 30,000 people who don’t have access to clean water.

The Path Ahead to Reform

Although eradicating viral hepatitis remains a priority in India, reform begins with the basis of the problem. By improving its resources, such as sanitation and vaccination, India will be able to reduce the spread of viral diseases like hepatitis. With the number of government and local efforts, there is a large chance of mitigating viral hepatitis in India in the near future.

Aishwarya Thiyagarajan 
Photo: Flickr

updates on sdg goal 1 in the dominican republicAccording to the Sustainable Development Report, the Dominican Republic is making good progress on eradicating poverty. This is the first of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report states that 0.2 million Dominicans live under the poverty line of $1.90 a day, which is approximately 111 Dominican Pesos (DOM). This is an improvement from 2014, when 4.3 million Dominicans were making less than 111 DOM a day. Though the U.N. considers the Dominican Republic to have completed this goal, challenges remain for its second part. This would require the country to have every working Dominican earn more than $3.30 per day, which equals 187 DOM. Here are some important updates on SDG Goal 1 in the Dominican Republic.

Updates on SDG Goal 1 in the Dominican Republic

According to the report to the 2030 Agenda, the annual growth of real GDP in the Dominican Republic has been 5% annually since the 90’s. Additionally, poverty has declined from 40% in 2003 to 25.5%. The government claims that “Per Capita income has increased in the last decade, placing the country as a high middle-income economy.” Extreme poverty in the Dominican Republic is under 6%.

While financial poverty has improved, there is still multidimensional poverty influencing the small nation. Many residents face issues in public services, housing and regressing to poverty. Furthermore, this newfound economic boon is not distributed equally throughout the land. There are still greater amounts of poverty among kids and teenagers in rural areas and the unemployed.

To combat this, the Dominican government has promised to utilize its public policies to deepen its emphasis on universal social security, health care and education services. The government also wishes to address gender equality in the workforce. This would mean tackling the workplace wellbeing of the most vulnerable of the population, including women, children and those who work dangerous jobs. The government has also focused on reducing unemployment, which went down 2.6% between 2014 and 2017. While these numbers are good overall, women, teenagers and those in low-income housing still struggle to find jobs.

SDG Goal 1 Around the World

These updates on SDG Goal 1 in the Dominican Republic make it clear that this country is ahead of many others in terms of meeting this goal. While the SDG initiative has incentivized countries around the world to improve their citizens’ lives, there is still a lot of work to be done. 736 million people around the world still live in poverty, which means 10% of the global population is impoverished.

However, the number of people living in poverty around the world has decreased drastically since 1990. By the end of the decade, the SDG initiative will have hoped to “reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions.” Overall, the program aims to “ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular, least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions.” It is fair to say that the Dominican Republic is on the right track to fulfill this goal.

Pedro Vega
Photo: Flickr

Correlation Between Disability And Poverty
In many countries, disabled individuals are marginalized and given access to fewer resources when compared to their abled counterparts. When it comes to global poverty, it is crucial to understand the inequity placed upon disabled communities as they are one of the most discriminated against groups, especially in impoverished areas. Disabled communities are also more susceptible to the risks and dangers of the coronavirus and have limited access to safe care.

A Need for Accessibility

In countries such as China and Brazil, there is an 80% positive correlation between disability and global poverty. Currently, more than 85 million people are disabled in China yet are lacking medical resources, especially in rural areas. Poor infrastructure such as narrow sidewalks or overcrowded buildings hamper easy movement for people with disabilities. In China, over 300 disabled persons have co-signed a letter in allowing online maps to locate certain ramps or “barrier-free facilities” to create better mobility for these communities.

With such efforts, however, a few improvements have been made to provide equitable opportunities for the disabled. As of now, over 1,500 local governments in China have added barrier-free facilities—such as ramps, wider sidewalks, and lifts. This allowed more than 147,000 families, primarily from low-income households, to access certain facilities once inconvenient for disabled people. Consequently, more strides have been made on a digital platform, such as providing consultations for disabled communities that are limited in resources.

Human Rights Violation in Institutions

Similar to China, Brazil has previously overlooked the quality of life for its disabled population, especially in care homes with very poor conditions. In 2018, the Human Rights Watch made it a priority for Brazil to provide better care options for people with disabilities who are otherwise confined to poorly run institutions. Many of these institutions were barely even providing basic necessities to residents, such as food and hygiene care. There were no opportunities for social enrichment or personal advancement.

“Conditions are often inhumane, with dozens of people crammed into rooms filled with beds packed tightly together,” the Human Rights Watch report concluded. After interviewing over 171 disabled people living in these institutions, it was clear that improving conditions in these facilities was imperative to better quality of life for disabled residents.

However, the Brazilian government is taking multiple actions to protect their disabled population from inadequate care in these institutions. In 2015, Brazil passed a bill that has been in the works since 2003: the Inclusion of People With Disabilities Act. This bill provides clearer definitions for classifying people with disabilities, as well as allocating more resources for the disabled population. For example, at least three percent of public housing, 10 percent of taxi grants, and two percent of parking lots will be reserved for people with disabilities.

Raising Awareness and Providing Aid

Aside from China and Brazil’s strong correlations between disability and poverty, disabled communities are universally more disadvantaged and vulnerable to a lower-income status. However, many countries are dedicated to raising awareness about the intersectionality between disability and socioeconomic status. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has been ratified in at least 177 countries and has subsequently led these countries in allocating aid for people with disabilities. Along with the convention, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development made a universal framework that provides guidelines for protecting disabled persons from discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and the workplace.

Smaller organizations have also taken on roles to improve the socioeconomic status of the disabled community. For example, the Christoffel-Blindenmission (CBM) International is an NGO organization that provides job opportunities, healthcare, and education for people with a range of disabilities. Since 1908, this organization has supported at least 672 projects across 68 countries and eventually provided resources to over 10.1 million people. Another example is the Emergency Ong Onlus, an Italian foundation that has reached over 16 million people across 16 countries with free medical care. Primarily specializing in humanitarian relief, the foundation focuses on four intervention areas: surgery, medication, rehabilitation, and social reintegration.

Issues regarding disabled victims of poverty are often neglected and met with discrimination in many countries, including the United States. However, numbers of organizations and local projects are strenuously putting effort into resolving this ongoing humanitarian problem. With the current mass mobilization, there is definite hope in the future of providing equitable opportunities to one of the most vulnerable communities.

– Aishwarya Thiyagarajan
Photo: Flickr

 

types of foreign aid
U.S. foreign assistance is defined as “aid given by the United States to other countries to support global peace, security, and development efforts, and provide humanitarian relief during times of crisis.” In 2019, the United States disbursed a total of $29 billion in foreign aid across all sectors to over 200 countries or geographical areas, amounting to 1% of its total budget. Within each category are many specific sectors, such as agriculture and food security, environment and climate change, gender equality, education, global health and many others. These sectors may overlap, and improvements in one area often lead to improvements in other areas as well, as many of these issues interconnect. Below are five types of foreign aid.

5 Types of Foreign Aid

  1. Military Aid: Military aid is any type of aid given to strengthen security measures within a country. An estimated 33% of total U.S. foreign aid is dedicated to the military sector. In 2018, $33.1 billion went toward military aid. The country that receives the largest amount of military aid from the U.S. is Afghanistan, which received about $5 billion in military aid alone. The country also received $953 million for developmental and other purposes, according to USAID. Contributing to the financial security of other countries may reduce conflict between nations and improve global security as a result. Military aid allows for nations to build relationships with allies, improve democracy, establish foreign military bases or potentially support counterterrorism efforts in other countries.
  2. Economic Aid: Economic aid is a general category that describes transfers that support the economies of recipient countries. The donor can either be an independent country or a large international organization. Aid of this type can be in the form of loans, grants or credits. The most common type of economic aid is Official Development Assistance (ODA), in which money goes toward the development of the recipient’s economy. The U.S. dedicated 0.16% of its total Gross National Income (GNI) to ODA in 2018, according to the OECD.
  3. Humanitarian Aid: The primary purpose of humanitarian aid is to improve the social wellbeing and the living situations for people in the recipient country. This can take place in response to a natural disaster, in which emergency supplies like first aid, water, food and clothing go to a country in need. Organizations may also send services such as healthcare volunteers to help with recovery efforts. In 2018, the U.S. disbursed $6.9 billion in emergency response assistance to foreign countries. For example, the U.S. dedicated about $700 million to Syria during the COVID-19 pandemic, to assist with emergency food, water, sanitation and medical care for vulnerable populations.
  4. Bilateral Aid: The most simple definition of bilateral aid is when a single country gives aid to another. This is a common occurrence within many countries, in which a developed country may transfer resources to a developing country. The donor country may introduce restrictions in terms of how the other country uses this assistance, such as by designating it to a specific sector. A donor country may offer funding through an international organization, but as long as “decisions regarding fund disposal are on balance taken at the donor’s discretion,” then it is still considered to be bilateral.
  5. Multilateral Aid: International organizations disperse multilateral aid, rather than a single country. These organizations, such as the World Bank, the United Nations and around 200 other groups, receive their funding from multiple nations and governments. They disburse that money to countries so they can use it for improvements in a variety of sectors.

Other types of foreign aid include “multi-bi” or “non-core” aid, which donor countries give to international organizations to disperse for a specific reason or to a specific area. Despite having separate categories and sectors, different types of foreign aid can influence one another, and no one type is most important.

– Sydney Bazilian
Photo: Flickr

inequality in chinaChina, a vast country harboring nearly 1.4 billion people, is situated in East Asia. In 1944, China, one of the four Allied powers during the Second World War, became a pillar in forming what would later become the United Nations. Furthermore, China has become one of the fastest growing nations throughout the world. Despite its longstanding partnership with the U.N. and its rapid economic growth, widespread inequality and poverty still exist in China. Here are seven facts about inequality in China.

7 Facts About Inequality in China

  1. Income inequality is due to many systemic factors. Location within the country, families, lineage and hukou (home registration) play a vital role in individuals’ income. Another element is the swift economic expansion that has overtaken the country, which many view as a necessity for the country’s development.
  2. Rapid economic expansion has both hindered and helped China. In 1978, China opted to expand its economy, which has made its GDP rise by nearly 10% annually. The swift growth has allowed over 850 million people — more than half of the population — to remove themselves from poverty. However, 373 million people still make $5 a day on average in China. Due to China’s rapid expansion, inequality across social, economic and environmental spheres persists.
  3. The merit-based Hukou system plays a pivotal role in the income gap between urban and rural locations. Moreover, it hinders rural workers from migrating and contributing to the larger urban centers spread across the country. China’s eastern seaboard is home to numerous densely populated cities, which has left the western regions predominantly rural. This system favors the upper echelon of society while discriminating against former farmers from villages.
  4. China has 23 provinces, yet five are autonomous. These self-governing regions include Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Taiwan is considered a province yet it still has its currency, localized government and the national flag. Hong Kong and Macau are considered administrative regions, with the former set to be absorbed by the mainland in the coming years.
  5. In 1979, Mao Zedong, founding father of the People’s Republic of China, implemented a one-child policy that aimed to control the rapidly growing nation. More than three decades later, the country changed the policy to allow for two children per family in 2015. Despite strict efforts to diminish the surge in population, China still has a large proportion of children across all developing nations and a significant child poverty issue.
  6. Child poverty is a big issue in a country of nearly 1.4 billion. China holds one out of every five children across the developing world. Child poverty in China is a generational issue that can be traced back to family dynamics. However, the country is providing social assistance for children attending their education and for being fed an adequate amount. This strategy is known as a conditional cash transfer, and it helps children climb out of poverty.
  7. Healthcare hurts the poor. Nearly 200 million farmers have fled their respective regions to find work in cities, but the China has adopted a “pay first, claim later” form of healthcare. China has aimed to tackle healthcare through its rural poverty alleviation program; however, high medical expenses have adversely affected rural populations.

Despite China’s rapid economic growth, the country has suffered and experienced backlash over its imbalance in the social welfare of its citizens, its impact on climate change and the economy. These facts about inequality in China highlight elements that have played a role in perpetuating inequality and how it has predominantly affected those from rural settings. However, the country is determined to turn the tide on these challenges and has made headway moving forward, supported by the U.N.

– Michael Santiago
Photo: Needpix

American ExportsThroughout the past several decades, nations in Southeast Asia have seen significant declines in extreme poverty rates. As poverty has fallen and these nations have developed economically, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has become the United States’ fourth-largest trading partner. While the United States does rely heavily on this region for imports, trade with ASEAN also supports American exports and bolsters nearly 346,000 American jobs. The following five countries in Southeast Asia are critical trading partners and demonstrate the economic benefits that can coincide with a decrease in extreme poverty:

1. Malaysia

Malaysia has been extremely successful in reducing poverty throughout the past several decades. According to the United Nations, “… in 1970, 49.3% of Malaysian households were below the poverty line.” As of 2015, the figure had fallen to 0.4%. As poverty has fallen, Malaysia has also grown economically, developing profitable manufacturing, petroleum and natural gas industries.

As the country has reduced poverty and developed economically, it has become an important trading partner to the United States. The United States imports electrical machinery, tropical oils and rubber from Malaysia. It also exports soybeans, cotton and aircraft to the nation. In total, the trade between the two nations totals around $57.8 billion each year and supports nearly 73,000 American jobs.

2. Thailand

Thailand is another country that has seen impressive levels of poverty reduction in recent decades. According to The World Bank, poverty rates fell from around 65% in 1988 to under 10% in 2018. The nation has also evolved economically, developing large automotive and tourism industries as poverty rates have fallen.

Trade between the United States and Thailand has steadily grown, totaling $48.9 billion in 2018. When analyzing imports, the United States relied on Thailand for machinery, rice and precious metals. In terms of exports, the United States provided the nation with electrical machinery, mineral fuels and soybeans. In total, the exports to the nation supported nearly 72,000 American jobs. Additionally, exports to Thailand have been increasing in recent years, growing nearly 14.5% from 2017 to 2018.

3. Vietnam

Vietnam is perhaps one of the most astounding examples of poverty reduction and economic development. The World Bank reports that “the poverty headcount in Vietnam fell from nearly 60% to 20.7% in the past 20 years.” As it has done so, the nation developed one of the most rapidly growing middle classes in Southeast Asia, became a center for foreign investment and developed key industries in electronics, footwear and textiles.

While the United States has come to heavily rely on Vietnamese imports, Vietnam is also a rapidly growing market for American exports. In fact, American exports of goods to Vietnam increased by 246.9%, and American exports of services to the nation increased 110% since 2008. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, “U.S. exports of Goods and Services to Vietnam supported an estimated 54,000 American jobs in 2015.”

4. Indonesia

Though the nation still has significant progress to make, Indonesia is another nation that has seen a reduction in extreme poverty rates. Since 1990, the nation has managed to half its poverty rate and make significant economic advancements. Currently the largest economy in Southeast Asia, the nation has developed notable industries in petroleum, natural gas, textiles and mining.

Trade with the nation totaled around $32.9 billion in 2019. While the United States imported apparel and footwear from the nation, it also exported soybeans, aircraft and fuels to Indonesia. In total, American exports to Indonesia are growing, increasing 19.1% from 2017 to 2018 and supporting nearly 56,000 American jobs.

5. Philippines

While poverty is still an issue in the Philippines, it has seen significant declines in recent years. According to the World Bank, poverty fell from 26.6% to 21.6% from 2006 to 2015. The nation has also made significant improvements in developing industries outside of agriculture. While agriculture composed nearly one-third of the nation’s GDP in the 1970s, it currently represents 9.3%, split between an emerging industrial and service sector.

Trade with the nation currently provides $29.6 billion each year, and exports to the Philippines grew 3% from 2017 to 2018. Mainly, the Philippines relies on American exports for electrical machinery, soybean meal, and wheat. Overall, exports to the Philippines support an estimated 58,000 American jobs.

Affecting nearly one in five American jobs, international trade is a critical part of the American economy. As demonstrated by Southeast Asia, a reduction in global poverty rates not only contributes to global economic development but also supports the export industry and American jobs.

– Michael Messina
Photo: Pexels

COVID-19 in AfricaOn a world map of the distribution of COVID-19 cases, the situation looks pretty optimistic for Africa. While parts of Europe, Asia and the United States are shaded by dark colors that implicate a higher infection rate, most African countries appear faint. This has created uncertainty over whether or not the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is as severe as other continents.

Lack of Testing

A closer look at the areas wearing light shades reveals that their situation is just as obscure as the faded shades that color them. Dark spots indicate more infections in places like the U.S. However, in Africa these are usually just cities and urban locations, often the only places where testing is available.

Although insufficient testing has been a problem for countries all over the world, testing numbers are much lower in Africa. The U.S carries out 205 per 100,000 people a day. Nigeria, the most populous country, carries one test per 100,000 people every day. While 8.87% of tests come back positive in the U.S, 15.69% are positive in Nigeria (as of Aug. 4, 2020). Nigeria was one of 10 countries that carried out 80% of the total number of tests in Africa.

As a continent that accounts for 1.2 billion of the world’s population, the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is even more difficult to measure without additional testing. To improve this, the African CDC has set a goal of increasing testing by 1% per month. Realizing the impossibility of reliable testing, countries like Uganda have managed to slow the spread by imposing strict lockdown measures. As a result, the percentage of positive cases in Uganda was only 0.82% (as of Aug. 4, 2020).

A Resistant Population

COVID-19 in Africa has had a lower fatality rate than any other continent. Fatality rates may even be lower than reported. Immunologists in Malawi found that 12% of asymptomatic healthcare workers were infected by the virus at some point. The researchers compared their data with other countries and estimated that death rates were eight times lower than expected.

The most likely reason for the low fatality rate is the young population. Only 3% of Africans are above 65 compared with 6% in South Asia and 17% in Europe. Researchers are investigating other explanations such as the possible immunity to variations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as higher vitamin D in Africans with more sunlight exposure.

Weak Healthcare Systems

Despite these factors, the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is likely high. Under-reporting and under-equipped hospitals contribute to unreliable figures. Most hospitals are not prepared to handle a surge in cases. In South Sudan, there were only four ventilators and 24 ICU beds for a population of 12 million. Accounting for 23% of the world’s diseases and only 1% of global public health expenditure, Africa’s healthcare system was already strained.

Healthcare workers have the most risk of infection in every country. In Africa, the shortage of masks, equipment and capacity increases the infection rate further amongst healthcare workers. Africa also has the lowest physician to patient ratios in the world. As it can take weeks to recover from COVID-19, the recovery of healthcare workers means less are available to work.

Additionally, those that are at-risk and uninsured can rarely afford life-saving treatment in Africa. For example, a drug called remdesivir showed promising results in treating COVID-19. However, the cost of treatment with remdesivir is $3,120 – an unmanageable price for the majority of Africans. These factors will determine the severity of COVID-19 in Africa.

Economic and Psychological Factors

Strict lockdowns have helped some nations in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Africa but at a very great price.

Lack of technology often means that all students stop learning and many lose their jobs. More than three million South Africans have become unemployed due to the lockdown. The lockdowns have also resulted in much higher rates of domestic violence, abuse and child marriage. Many such cases go unreported and mental health services for victims or those struggling through the pandemic are unavailable. In Kenya, the U.N. has appealed for $4 million to support those affected by gender-based violence.

The slow spread of COVID-19 in Africa has allowed the continent and leaders to prepare, and the young population will lessen the impact. Although there’s reason to be hopeful, there’s no doubt that there will be an impact on Africa’s economy and future. This calls for the need of foreign assistance – not only in controlling COVID-19 in Africa but in the recovery of the continent for years to come.

Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr

poverty in Benin
Benin, a nation in West Africa, has a population of 12 million people. Estimates have determined that 30% of the workforce in Benin works in the cotton industry. Even though the country is one of West Africa’s top producers of cotton, poverty in Benin remains quite high. In 2018, 46.4% of citizens fell below the poverty line.

Reliance on Any One Crop is Risky — Particularly Cotton

Reliance on cotton has a variety of harmful effects that prevent major economic growth and the reduction of poverty in Benin. Unlike farmers in many other cotton-growing areas of the world, many cotton farmers in West Africa work on small-scale farms rather than large plantations. Because of the relatively small size of farms, most farmers lack the technology and efficiency of larger farms, which reduces productivity and profitability. For example, most farms rely on rainfall to water their crops and must pick cotton by hand, which is a tedious and time-consuming task.

Growing cotton presents a variety of dangers to the environment and the health of farmers. Cotton is a challenging crop to grow, and common practices in Benin rely heavily on harmful pesticides as well as large amounts of fertilizer. Around the world, cotton only accounts for 2.4% of cultivated land but uses 6% of total pesticides. Some have linked pesticides in Benin to pesticide poisoning as well as eye, stomach and skin irritation. As pest incidence has risen and soil fertility has decreased, reliance on these agrochemical inputs has increased. This can account for up to 60% of production costs for small farms.

Relying on cotton presents other challenges besides health risks, soil degradation and reliance on outside inputs. When so many people rely on selling cotton, many communities become highly sensitive to changes in global prices for cotton. Deregulations in the global market have made it harder for farmers in Benin to compete. Due to the recession caused by COVID-19, the price of cotton has recently reached a 10-year low.

Crop Diversification Efforts to Reduce Dependence

A variety of programs have emerged to mitigate the risks of growing cotton as well as initiatives to encourage farmers to grow other crops. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) runs a variety of programs in Benin, including its Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM) program and its Farmer Field School (FFS). IPPM aims to educate farmers on the risks of some pesticides while encouraging crop diversification and improved farming practices to decrease pest incidence naturally. FFS educates small groups of farmers on optimal planting and fertilizer use that reduces costs and increases crop yields.

Some private organizations and individuals have stepped in to address poverty in Benin as well. Father Godfrey Nzamujo, a former professor at the University of California, Irvine, left the U.S. and came to Benin in an attempt to use his Ph.D. in microbiology to address food security through zero-waste, sustainable farms. He started a farm in 1985 that focuses on creating zero waste and thoughtful crop rotation to maintain natural soil fertility and prevent reliance on fertilizer. Since then, he has opened multiple centers across 15 countries to share his organic farming techniques with others. With support from the U.N., Nzamujo has been able to educate 30,000 farmers.

Pesticide Action Network, an organization from the U.K., also works in Benin to promote organic cotton farming and reduce the use of harmful pesticides. It helps farmers find natural alternatives to pesticides and gain access to farming equipment that increases efficiency. This equipment is often useful for a variety of other tasks as well, as milling equipment can grind neem seeds to make natural pesticides and grind maize for food.

Each of these programs utilizes a variety of methods, but they ultimately have the same desired outcome. By promoting sustainable farming practices and diversifying crops away from cotton, farmers in Benin can have greater crop yields, more fertile soil for future seasons and resiliency to external shocks. Decreasing these farmers’ need for expensive fertilizers and harmful pesticides increases their profits, decreases food insecurity and reduces poverty in Benin.

Progress in Diversification Remains Slow

Despite all of the benefits of crop diversification, Benin has been slow to move away from its heavy dependence on cotton. In 2018, raw cotton accounted for 34.5% of Benin’s export revenue. A major reason for this is private and public investment as well as government subsidies that keep cotton competitive, particularly in the last four years of the presidency of Patrice Talon. This is no surprise, as Talon made his fortune selling agricultural inputs and later entering the cotton ginning industry.

As nearly half of the current population of Benin lives in extreme poverty, the time to make major changes is now. With an increase in crop diversity and a transition toward more sustainable agriculture, food insecurity and poverty in Benin could greatly reduce.

– William Dormer
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