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NGOsNon-governmental organizations (NGOs) are nonprofit associations founded by citizens, which function independently of the government. NGOs, also known as civil societies, are organized on “community, national, or international levels” to help developing nations in their humanitarian, health care, educational, social, environmental and social issues. These citizen-run groups perform various services and humanitarian functions by advocating citizen concerns to governments, overlooking policies and encouraging political participation by providing information to the public.

History of Non-Governmental Organizations

Non-governmental organizations started emerging during the 18th century. The Anti-Slavery Society, formed in 1839, is the first international NGO. This organization had a profound impact on society, and it stimulated the founding of many other NGOs since opening its doors. Of note, many civil societies began to form as a result of wars. For example, the Red Cross formed after the Franco-Italian war in the 1860s, Save the Children began after World War I and Oxfam and CARE started after World War II. The term non-governmental organization emerged after the Second World War when the United Nations wanted to differentiate between “intergovernmental specialized agencies and private organizations.”

NGOs engage in many different forms throughout communities in the sense that they are a “complex mishmash of alliances and rivalries.” Some have a charitable status, while others focus on business or environment-related issues. Other non-governmental organizations have religious, political, or other interests concerning a particular issue.

The World Bank identifies two broad types of non-governmental organizations: operational and advocacy.

Operational NGOs

An operational non-governmental organization is a group of citizens that focus on designing and implementing development projects and advocacy. NGOs promote and defend particular causes, and operational NGOs fall into two categories: relief and development-oriented organizations. They are classified on whether or not they “stress service delivery or participation.”

An example of an operational NGO is the International Medicine Corps (IMC) in Afghanistan. The IMC installed a vaccination campaign against measles. They trained about 170 Afghani’s how to vaccinate children between the ages of 6 and 12, and conducted a two-week-long “vaccination campaign.” These efforts assisted 95 percent of children in the capital of Kabul.

Advocacy NGOs

Advocacy non-governmental organizations use lobbying, press work and activist events. This is in order to raise awareness, acceptance and knowledge on the specific cause they are promoting or defending. An example of an advocacy NGO is America’s Development Foundation (ADF). This NGO provides advocacy training and technical assistance in efforts to “increase citizen participation in democratic processes.”

Non-Governmental Organization Funding

Since non-governmental organizations are nonprofit organizations, they rely on membership dues, private donations, the sales of goods and services and grants. These funds cover funding projects, operations, salaries and other overhead costs. NGOs have very large budgets that reach millions, even billions, of dollars because of heavy dependence on government funding.

Another chunk of NGO funding belongs to the individual, private donors. A few of these donors are affluent individuals, such as Ted Turner who donated $1 billion to the United Nations. Most nonprofits, however, depend on multiple small donations from people to raise money.

Overall, non-governmental organizations function to build support for a certain cause whether it is economic, political or social. In addition, NGOs tend to bring people together, especially advocacy NGOs.

– Isabella Gonzalez Montilla
Photo: Pixabay

safer child labor lawsEritrea is a country in Africa founded in 1993. It is a fairly new country but has already faced many problems regarding poverty and its impact on the people who call Eritrea home. The poverty rate is roughly 50 percent of its 4.475 million inhabitants. Even before primary school, children often must start working due to the unfortunate circumstances that poverty created. A 2008 study showed that legislation already existed for safer child labor laws, but a 2016 study revealed Eritrea’s government offered very little implementation of these laws. With countless amounts of children in Eritrea’s workforce, the problem is less the actual laws in place, but the enforcement of these laws. Fortunately, Eritrea recently made big steps in furthering legislation for a safer workforce in 2019. Here is an overview of Eritrea’s progression toward safer child labor laws.

Eritrea’s Initial Legislative State

In 2008, the Bureau of International Labor Affairs conducted a study painting a clear picture of the state of child labor in Eritrea. Children in rural Eritrea often work labor-intensive jobs like working in fields, carrying water or collecting wood. Children in urban Eritrea can work as vendors selling cigarettes, gum or newspapers. At this time, there are some child labor laws in place to increase protection and safety. There is a minimum work age of 14. Children aged 14-18 have a daily work limit of 7 hours a day and they can only work between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Children under 18 cannot work in hazardous environments. These laws seemed like a positive start for Eritrean children.

The True Picture

In 2016, shocking evidence revealed the scope of the child labor issue in Eritrea. The U.N. released a full-detailed inquiry that determined Eritrea’s government was responsible for not only encouraging child labor, but participating in extrajudicial killings, tortures and sexual slavery. The Eritrean army, the National Security Agency, the president and the police force were all huge factors in worsening child labor conditions. This investigation did not change any legislation and was a major step back in Eritrea’s governmental support toward safer child labor laws.

Recent Progress

On June 3rd, 2019, Eritrea’s government ratified eight important conventions formed by the International Labor Organization (ILO). The ratifications exemplify huge progress for the country because it shows signs that there will be better enforcement of safer child labor laws from now on. ILO’s conventions include prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor. Eritrea’s goal is to eliminate forced labor and end all forms of child labor by 2025. With the government’s agreement to these eight ratifications, that goal is actually within reach. The future lives of millions of children who live in Eritrea will soon change for the better.
The progression of Eritrea’s government toward safer child labor laws from 2008-2019 has been a struggle. While Eritrea’s government initially appeared to show interest in creating a safer working environment for its children, further research proved how little it really enforced legislation. This year witnessed exceptional progress, lighting the way for a brighter future in safer child labor laws.

– Kat Fries
Photo: Pixabay

Sustainable Land Management PracticesRoughly 2 billion people across the globe rely on agriculture to make a living. However, due to unprecedented amounts of soil degradation (nearly a quarter of the world’s productive land is degraded), the livelihoods of farmers around the world are being threatened. Out of which, 40 percent of these degraded areas are located in extremely impoverished areas.  The UN-supported project “Sustainable Land Management Practices to Address Land Degradation and Mitigate Effects of Drought” (SLM Project) is attempting to teach farmers around the world sustainable farming practices that will reverse soil degradation and increase productivity.

The Problem

As previously mentioned, many small subsistence farmers are unknowingly contributing to the degradation of their own soil. This not only leads to less productivity for their farms, endangering their livelihoods but also contributes to deforestation which has massive effects on our whole environment. In the Philippines, the past 100 years has seen a near 50 percent drop in their forest cover and a massive spike in degraded lands, affecting around 33 million Filipinos. The farmers who are contributing to soil degradation and poor land health should not be blamed for their practices. Instead, we should follow the lead of the SLM Project and attempt to teach farmers sustainable farming practices that will protect their soil.

The Solution

Partnering with the Philippino Government’s Bureau of Soils and Water Management, the SLM Project has undergone the task of teaching countless Filipino farmers tactics to reverse soil degradation. Rosita Adalim, a Filipino farmer from the Bukidnon Province, is a perfect example of SLM’s preferred solution to the soil degradation problem. According to her, “Seminars on SLM helped improve my farming practices. I learned to adapt contour farming to prevent soil erosion especially in slope lands similar to my farm, which also restores soil fertility.”

After she was taught the science of soil degradation, Rosita became a “farmer-cooperator” or a local farmer taught by the SLM project who spreads the information she learned to the farmers in her community. Farmers like Lorenzo Caca have claimed that implementing the sustainable farming practices taught to him by the SLM project has led to his farm yield doubling.

These success stories make it clear that the SLM project has discovered a successful approach to protecting soil fertility while benefiting local farmers

The Implications

Reports from the United Nations’ Convention to Combat Desertification have concluded that “Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss.”  The World Wildlife Fund claims that increased soil erosion and degradation will likely lead to increased pollution, increased vulnerability to flooding and a myriad of other negative effects. There is considerable evidence that the declining productivity of farms due to soil degradation is also exacerbating poverty for subsistence farmers around the world.

If the global community follows the SLM Project’s lead, it will empower hundreds of millions of farmers by teaching them Sustainable Farming Practices. This will not only curtail soil degradation and increase food production, but these practices will likely lead to millions of impoverished farmers seeing improvements in their living conditions.

Myles McBride Roach
Photo: Flickr

 

UNDP GoalsIn 2018, the United Nations Development Programme implemented a new strategic plan to help developing countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The plan included fast-tracking towards Agenda 2030 by alleviating poverty, accelerating structural modifications and building resilience to crises. For example, in Fiji, one of the UNDP’s goals included alleviating poverty, which can be achieved by a surge of innovation that allows the locals to connect to services. This allowed the locals to shape the governance of the future. Many other similar goals succeded in 2018.

Here are the five UNDP goals reached in 2018.

5 UNDP Goals Reached in 2018

  1. Poverty: The UNDP succeeded at helping half of the countries in the world prioritize poverty reduction by aligning it with national and local interests. The global development network also helped 4 million people affected by poverty or crises to attain employment and improve their livelihoods. Of note, 20 million more people can now make use of financial services.
  2. Governance: The UNDP supported 56 counties to carry out fair electoral processes through digital means. The aim was to fight corruption and increase the likelihood of civic engagement. In fact, in 2018, 21 million people across the globe became newly registered to vote and 89 countries partnered with UNDP to reform discriminatory laws. For example, to tackle corruption in the Philippines, the UNDP and Google together created “DevelopmentLIVE” to give citizens the chance to livestream the monitoring activities for infrastructure projects that relate to the Sustainable Development Goals.
  3. Resilience: Conflict and crises often worsen poverty and inequality — this is why the UNDP invested more than $1 billion to improve resilience to shocks and crises in 2018. Thanks to this commitment 3 million people living in 12 different countries resumed accessing basic needs such as housing and energy. In 2018, the UNDP also partnered with the local municipalities in Turkey, funded by the EU Facility Projects, to be able to respond quickly and efficiently to shocks, such as the wave of Syrian refugees. This partnership launched the “UNDP Turkey Resilience Project in response to the Syria Crisis (TRP)” that prioritizes livelihoods through economic and social resilience.
  4. Environment: Oftentimes, the ones who are most affected by environmental disasters are those living in extreme poverty. Thus, UNDP goals included helping countries to protect the most vulnerable communities. Of note, 256 million tons of carbon emissions have been cut thanks to UNDP efforts. In addition, in 2018, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the UNDP worked together to encourage governments to incorporate the environment aspect into the framework of human rights for the mining sector.
  5. Energy: UNDP goals redirected countries from using fossil fuels towards renewable and affordable sources of energy. The organization provided around $1 billion in grants to 110 countries towards progressing this goal by increasing the percentage of clean energy usage in each countries’ national energy mix. For instance, Indonesian farmers worked on the Biochar project with the UNDP to develop bio-charcoal. This enabled female farmers to develop bio-charcoal home industries to boost their incomes and improve their living standards.

The UNDP aims to complete its agenda and reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, which is why it has built labs in more than 60 countries to accelerate the process.

– Nergis Sefer
Photo: Flickr

Health Costs of The Syrian Civil War
The Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has led to a monumental refugee crisis, hundreds of thousands of deaths, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and destabilization in the Middle East. Yet another devastating effect of the war is the health consequences for people still living in Syria. Civilian doctors and nurses in active war zones face significant challenges not encountered in peacetime. These include a massive amount of trauma victims, shortages of medical equipment and personnel, infectious disease epidemics and breaches in medical neutrality. Here are 10 health costs of the Syrian civil war for the Syrian people.

10 Health Costs of the Syrian Civil War

  1. Because of the war, Syrian life expectancy has plummeted by 20 years from 75.9 years in 2010 to 55.7 years through the end of 2014. The quality of life in Syria has also worsened. As of 2016, 80 percent of Syrians are living in poverty. Moreover, 12 million people depend on assistance from humanitarian organizations.
  2. The civil war devastated Syria’s health care infrastructure, which compared to those in other middle-income countries prior to the war. By 2015, however, Syria’s health care capabilities weakened in all sectors due to the destruction of hospitals and clinics. The country faced a shortage of health care providers and medical supplies and fear gripped the country.
  3. The Syrian Government has deliberately cut vital services, such as water, phone lines, sewage treatment and garbage collection in conflict areas; because of this government blockade, millions of Syrian citizens must rely on outside medical resources from places like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In 2012, the Assad regime declared providing medical aid in areas opposition forces controlled a criminal offense, which violates the Geneva Convention. By the following year, 70 percent of health workers had fled the country. This exodus of doctors worsens health outcomes and further strains doctors and surgeons who have remained.
  4. The unavailability of important medications presents another health cost of the civil war. Due to economic sanctions, fuel shortages and the unavailability of hard currency, conflict areas face a severe shortage of life-saving medications, such as some for noncommunicable diseases. Commonly used medicines, such as insulin, oxygen and anesthetic medications, are not available. Patients who rely on inhaled-medications or long-term supplemental oxygen often go without it.
  5. A lack of crucial medications has led to increased disease transmission of illnesses, such as tuberculosis. Furthermore, the conditions Syrians live in, for instance, the “tens of thousands of people currently imprisoned across the country… offer a perfect breeding ground for drug-resistant TB.”  Indeed, the majority of consultations at out-patient facilities for children under 5 were for infectious diseases like acute respiratory tract infections and watery diarrhea. According to data from Médecins Sans Frontières-Operational Centre Amsterdam  (MSF-OCA), the largest contributor to civilian mortality was an infection.
  6. In addition to combatant deaths, the civil war has caused over 100,000 civilian deaths. According to the Violation Documentation Center (VDC), cited in a 2018 Lancet Global Health study, 101,453 Syrian civilians in opposition-controlled areas died between March 18, 2011, and Dec 31, 2016. Thus, of the 143,630 conflict-related violent deaths during that period, civilians accounted for 70.6 percent of deaths in these areas while opposition combatants constituted 42,177 deaths or 29.4 percent of deaths.
  7. Of the total civilian fatalities, the proportion of children who died rose from 8.9 percent in 2011 to 19.0 percent in 2013 to 23.3 percent in 2016. As the civil war went on, aerial bombing and shelling were disproportionately responsible for civilian deaths and were the primary cause of direct death for women and children between 2011 and 2016. Thus, the “increased reliance on the aerial bombing by the Syrian Government and international partners” is one reason for the increasing proportion of children killed during the civil war according to The Lancet Global Health report. In Tal-Abyad’s pediatric IPD (2013-2014) and in Kobane Basement IPD (2015–2016), mortality rates were highest among children that were less than 6 months old. For children under a year old, the most common causes of death were malnutrition, diarrhea and lower respiratory tract infections.
  8. The challenges doctors and clinicians face are great, but health care providers are implementing unique strategies that emerged in previously war-torn areas to meet the needs of Syrian citizens. The United Nations (the U.N.) and World Health Organizations (WHO) are actively coordinating with and international NGOs to provide aid. The Syrian-led and Syrian diaspora–led NGOs are promoting Syrian health care and aiding medical personnel in Syria as well. For instance, aid groups developed an underground hospital network in Syria, which has served hundreds of thousands of civilians. These hospitals were “established in basements, farmhouses, deserted buildings, mosques, churches, factories, and even natural caves.”
  9. Since 2013, the Médecins Sans Frontières-Operational Centre Amsterdam (MSF-OCA) has been providing health care to Syrians in the districts of Tal-Abyad in Ar-Raqqa Governorate and Kobane in Aleppo Governorate, which are located in northern Syria close to the Turkish border. The health care MSF-OCA provided included out-patient and in-patient care, vaccinations and nutritional monitoring.
  10. New technologies have enabled health officials to assist in providing aid from far away. For instance, telemedicine allows health officials to make remote diagnosis and treatment of patients in war zones and areas under siege. One organization that has used this tool is the Syrian American Medical Society, which “provides remote online coverage to nine major ICUs in besieged or hard-to-access cities in Syria via video cameras, Skype, and satellite Internet connections.” Distance learning empowers under-trained doctors in Syria to learn about disaster medicine and the trauma of war from board-certified critical care specialists in the United States.

Conditions on the ground in Syria make it more difficult for Syrian citizens to receive vital medical aid from health care workers. Many people and organizations are working diligently to help injured and sick Syrians, however. These 10 health costs of the Syrian civil war illuminate some of the consequences of war that are perhaps not as storied as the refugee crisis. While aiding refugees is an undoubtedly worthy goal for international NGOs and governments, policymaker’s and NGOs’ agendas should include recognizing and alleviating the harm to those still living in Syria.

Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr


The UN’s 2016 High-Panel report on global access to medicine opens with an inspiring message: “Never in the past has our knowledge of science been so profound and the possibilities to treat all manner of diseases so great.” It is hard to debate that recent advancements in targeted cancer therapy and HIV drug development indicate a bright future for the Rx world. The potential for positive change may go unrealized, however, if access to medicine remains limited. To serve the 3.5 billion people without basic medical services, along with the 100 million who find themselves in extreme poverty because of high medical costs, governments and organizations have to confront the complex economic forces undermining global access to medicine. This article will discuss two such forces and consider how international actors have responded.

Too Big to Heal?

Economic orthodoxy holds that the equilibrium of a product’s supply and demand will determine its price, but medication prices do not adhere to this rule. This is because firms in the pharmaceutical industry possess the key to market distortion. Monopoly power or the ability for firms with outsized market shares to raise prices without experiencing a corresponding drop in sales. Pharmaceutical companies tend to obtain monopoly power for several reasons, such as:

  1. High entry costs, especially those associated with research and development. This excludes smaller, potentially disruptive firms from the market.
  2. The continuation of company consolidation. In the past 20 years, a group of 60 different pharmaceutical companies shrank to a mere 10.
  3. Large profits. Profits are huge, with the 10 highest-earning companies netting a 20 percent profit margin on average. This allows these companies to fortify their already-large market share. Most importantly, once a company patents a drug, it holds exclusive title to the production and distribution of that drug for 20-25 years.

During that period, no lower-priced, generic substitutes can enter the market. Equipped with this uncontested control, these companies can charge high prices for their products, as those who need them will have no other choice but to bear the cost. Yet some, especially individuals in poorer countries dealing with diseases like Hepatitis C and cancer, simply cannot afford these costs.

There are many individuals and corporations who are attempting to solve this problem, however. For example, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a pharmaceutical company based in London, England, is trying to put an end to exorbitant prices for prescription drugs in low-income countries. In March 2016, it announced that it would not seek patent protection for its drugs in 50 of the world’s poorest countries. By doing this, the company opened the path for smaller companies to bring lower-priced, generic versions of their drugs to the market. So far, the approach has been effective, earning GSK the top spot in the 2018 Access to Medicine Index. The positive publicity it receives from the ranking will hopefully motivate other companies to follow suit.

R&D Incentives

While the economics of monopoly power generates the problem of overpricing, the incentives of research and development make it such that many medicines needed in low-income countries go underproduced. As mentioned above, patents spell large rewards, but it costs $800 million on average for a company to obtain one and to bring a drug to the market. This pressures companies to develop the drugs that are most likely to produce a substantial financial return. Additionally, as the UN High-Panel notes in its report, this means that widespread, treatable diseases can oftentimes go unaddressed. For example, antimicrobial-resistant viruses and parasites threaten to kill as many as 10 million people annually by 2050, yet drug companies worldwide have developed virtually no new antibiotics in the past 25 years. In the absence of this innovation, however, public-private R&D partnerships have proven to be a successful substitute. The Global Fund is an example as it has saved 27 million people that malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis threatened by raising money from both public and private sources and collaborating with domestic task forces and commissions.

A Reconceptualization

Economic barriers to improve global access to medicine remain, but more and more people are starting to conceptualize the problem as an ethical one rather than an economic one. However, ensuring access to health care and maintaining market efficiency are not mutually exclusive. For example, cost-efficient drug production techniques are necessary to disseminate medicines at reduced prices. But other times “policy incoherencies,” as the UN High-Panel report calls them, force decision-makers to choose between the promotion of economic innovation and the provision of public health. Thanks to leading companies like GlaxoSmithKline and compassionate organizations like the Global Fund, the international community is starting to opt for the latter.

James Delegal
Photo: Flickr

Fight Disease in the DRC
With 80 million hectares of arable land and over 1,100 precious metals and minerals, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has quickly established itself as a large exporter in the lucrative diamond industry. Despite this, the DRC ranks 176th out of 189 nations on the UN’s Human Development Index and over 60 percent of the 77 million DRC residents live on less than $2 a day. Internal and external war, coupled with political inefficacy and economic exploitation, has hindered the country’s ability to combat poverty and improve health outcomes. Listed below are some of the most deadly diseases that are currently affecting individuals in the DRC and the different strategies that governments and NGOs have taken to fight disease in the DRC.

3 Deadly Diseases Currently Affecting Individuals in the DRC

  1. Malaria

The DRC has the second-highest number of malaria cases in the world, reporting 15.3 million of the WHO-estimated 219 million malaria cases in 2017. Of the more than 400 Congolese children that die every day, almost half of them die due to malaria, with 19 percent of fatalities under 5 years attributed to the disease. However, some are making to reduce malaria’s negative impact.  For example, the distribution of nearly 40 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets, or ITNs, has helped lower the incidence rate by 40 percent since 2010, with a 34 percent decrease in the mortality rate for children under 5. The DRC government procured and distributed the nets with international partners such as the Department for International Development, Global Fund and World Bank. In addition, the President’s Malaria Initiative, a program implemented in 2005 by President Bush and carried out by USAID, has distributed more than 17 million nets. UNICEF has also been a major contributor in the efforts to fight malaria and recently distributed 3 million ITNs in the DRC’s Kasaï Province. However, the country requires more work, as malaria remains its most frequent cause of death.

  1. HIV/AIDS

Among its efforts to fight disease in the DRC, the country has made significant progress recently in its fight against HIV/AIDS. As a cause of death, it has decreased significantly since 2007, and since 2010, there are 39 percent fewer total HIV infections.

This particular case illuminates the potential positive impact of American foreign aid. The DRC Ministry of Health started a partnership with the CDC in 2002, combining efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR, signed into U.S. law in 2003 to combat AIDS worldwide, has invested over $512 million since 2004, which has helped to fund antiretroviral treatment for 159,776 people. In 2017, it funded the provision of HIV testing services for 1.2 million people.

The country is also addressing mother-to-child transmissions. In the DRC, approximately 15 to 20 percent of mothers with HIV pass the virus onto their child. The strategy to end mother-to-child transmissions involves expanding coverage for HIV-positive pregnant women, diagnosing infants with HIV earlier and preventing new infections via antiretroviral drug treatment. UNAID, The Global Fund and the DRC Ministry of Health have undertaken significant work to accomplish these objectives and their efforts have resulted in the coverage of 70 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women.  However, much work remains to cover the remaining 30 percent of pregnant HIV-positive women.

Overall, there is still a lot of necessary work to undergo in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the DRC and around the world.  In total, UNAIDS estimated that HIV/AIDS was the cause of 17,000 deaths in the DRC in 2018.  While this is a decrease from previous years, it shows that the DRC still has a long way to go in order to fully control the spread of the disease.  Additionally, there must be more global funding. The U.N. announced on July 2019 that annual global funding for fighting HIV/AIDS decreased in 2018 by almost $1 billion.

  1. Ebola

Since 2018, the DRC has undergone one of the world’s largest Ebola outbreaks. On July 17, 2019, WHO declared the outbreak an international health emergency. Since August 2018, more than 2,500 cases have occurred, with over 1,800 deaths.

However, the country is making efforts to prevent the transmission and spread of Ebola in the DRC.  Recently, more than 110,000 Congolese received an experimental Ebola vaccine from Merck & Co. The vaccine is called rVSV-ZEBOV, and studies have shown the vaccine to have a 97.5 percent efficacy rate.  This vaccine provides hope that people will be able to control Ebola breakouts in the near future.

While there have been attempts to fight disease in the DRC in recent years, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and Ebola, each disease remains a major issue. In the coming years, the country must continue its efforts.

– Drew Mekhail
Photo: Flickr

child marriage in Yemen

Yemen, a Middle Eastern country of just over 26 million people, has many issues to deal with at the moment. The country is currently immersed in a civil war and is politically unstable. However, one issue in Yemen that has not gotten as much attention is the prevalence of child marriage in the country. In Yemen, almost 33 percent of girls are married before the age of 18 and 9 percent are married before the age of 15.

Poverty and Violence

Yemen was already the poorest country in the Middle East before the civil war broke out in 2015 and the conflict has only worsened the situation. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced due to the fighting, losing all of their possessions in the process. As families have become desperate for money, more and more girls are being married off in exchange for financial benefits.

The war has also disrupted the operations of social services in Yemen and made it harder for aid organizations to assist children and prevent them from being married off against their wills. Additionally, the conflict has allowed for the rise of armed groups within Yemen. A number of girls have been forcibly married to armed militia members for sexual exploitation. Much of this activity can be attributed to Ansar-al-Sharia, which is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda.

Cultural Norms

The prevalence of child marriage in Yemen is prompted in some cases by cultural norms and expected gender roles. The culture in Yemen tends to be patriarchal and male-dominated. For instance, Article 40 of the Personal Status Law says that women must obey their husbands, including asking his permission to leave the house. This legislation and culture it has helped create are not conducive to granting young girls rights with regards to who they marry; as such, there needs to be a cultural shift in the country to improve conditions for women and girls.

Effects of Child Marriage

Early marriage forces girls into harmful sexual relationships and often results in young girls undergoing dangerous pregnancies, a big reason why maternal and child mortality rates are high in Yemen. Child marriage also means many girls are denied an education, as they usually drop out of school to become wives. In some cases, parents take their daughters out of school even earlier because they believe that it is a waste of time to send their daughters to school at all when they plan to marry them off into a different family in the near future.

Improvement Efforts

Recently, the government of Yemen has taken some positive steps towards improving the issue of child marriage in the country. In 2015, for example, Yemen signed on to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), which included a target of pursuing gender equality and reducing the number of child and forced marriages around the world. Yemen’s government also recently passed an amendment to their constitution that legally prohibits marriage before the age of 18; however, as documented above, this provision has not been adhered to over the last 4 years due to the challenges presented by the Yemen Civil War.

Various groups are also working to combat child marriage in Yemen. For instance, the Expanded Service Delivery (ESD) Project, a nonprofit affiliated with USAID, is working on the “Safe Age of Marriage” intervention. This program seeks to alter social norms and cultural attitudes which allow for child marriage. Additionally, the program seeks to encourage girls’ education and protect girls’ rights. It has already been run as a trial program in the Al-Sawd and Al-Soodeh districts, which are two regions where only 8 percent of girls ages 15-17 are in school. The program ran for a year in these districts and after this time surveys showed that 95 percent of community members acknowledged the benefits of delaying marriage to adulthood, which was an increase of 18 percent from the onset of the program. In the future, the ESD Project will look to expand their work to other districts in Yemen.

Conclusion

While child marriage in Yemen is a major problem at this point in time, there is hope for the future. If the Yemen government can provide support for girls’ rights and help to enforce the constitutional amendment that was passed in 2015, then the situation should improve. In addition, it is important for NGOs around the world to continue funding efforts to help protect young children in Yemen from being married against their will.

– Clarissa Cooney
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in Botswana

Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa that is bordered by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. It has a relatively stable economy, boasting the fifth highest GDP per capita in Africa. However, in 2019, Botswana had the third-highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world with 21.9 percent of the population living HIV positive. This article will discuss the efforts that the government of Botswana and other global companies and organizations have made to help bring this epidemic to a halt.

“Masa” Program

HIV/AIDS rates have been steadily declining every year in Botswana since 2000, when the HIV/AIDS epidemic reached its peak in the country with 26.3 percent of people testing positive. In 2001, Festus Mogae, the President of Botswana at the time, pledged to devote significant resources towards stopping the spread of the virus. In 2002, through a partnership with the Botswana government, the American pharmaceutical company Merck & Co offered to donate antiretroviral therapy drugs (ART) free of charge to individuals in communities throughout the country. By 2013, the program, called “Masa,” had reached more than 220,000 individuals.The Masa program also helped fund infrastructure development and health care professional training. In addition, new treatment centers and resource centers were constructed to help treat patients and contributed to the decline in HIV/AIDS rates.

UNDP Efforts

In 2010, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) entered into a cost-sharing agreement with the government of Botswana. The agreement called for increased funding to help improve the capacity and effectiveness of HIV/AIDS treatment in the country. So far, the agreement has helped to improve Botswana’s institutional capacity to fight HIV/AIDS. In addition to these efforts, in 2010, the UNDP, in conjunction with the Unified Budget Results and Accountability Framework (UBRAF) helped fund additional HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. These efforts included a commitment to reduce the stigma of using HIV/AIDS-related services. This program has been successfully implemented in various communities across the country.

“90-90-90” Targets

In 2011, UNAIDS set what they dubbed “90-90-90” targets for the year 2020. The goal is to diagnose 90 percent of individuals with AIDS, have 90 percent of diagnosed individuals on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and ensure that 90 percent of individuals with AIDS achieve viral suppression. Botswana has already achieved these targets, as have other countries including Cambodia and Denmark. This is a testament to the commitment made by the Botswana government to fight HIV/AIDS.

New Health Strategies

In 2017, of the estimated 380,000 people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Botswana, almost 320,000 had access to treatment. However, in June 2019, President Mokgweetsi Masisi announced a renewed commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS in Botswana. This renewed focus includes two new five-year health strategies — the Third National Strategic Framework for HIV/AIDS and the Multi-Sectoral Strategy for the Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases — to help further tackle the problem of HIV/AIDS in Botswana. These health strategies are set to be reevaluated in 2023.

– Hayley Jellison
Photo: Flickr

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement The African Continental Free Trade Agreement is the largest free-trade agreement in the world with a 1.2 billion-person market and a combined GDP of 2.5 trillion dollars. It was signed in March of 2018 by 44 African heads of state, and following the initial signing, 5 more countries joined in July for a total of 49. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement’s primary focus is to increase intra-African trade by promoting free movement of goods and tariff-free trade. In fact, for the countries that joined, tariffs are expected to decrease by 90 percent within 5 years.

According to an article by The Economist, roughly 82 percent of African goods are exported to other countries. Due to high transport costs, poor infrastructure (e.g. in West Africa, less than one-fifth of the roads are paved) and time-consuming border procedures, it is more costly to trade within Africa than to export to foreign countries.

With the new free-trade agreement, a more competitive market will emerge that will reduce costs for consumers. Additionally, producers will have access to a larger number of potential buyers, as well as more investment opportunities from foreign countries. Strengthening intercontinental trade has the potential to protect the countries in Africa from the impact of exogenous trade shocks.

Maximizing the Impacts of AfCFTA

In order to reap the highest benefits from the new intra-continental free trade agreement, it is imperative to make adjustments to Africa’s trade structure. However, trade facilitation is not an easy task. It involves coordination between countries, transparency in policies and easing the movement of goods. Currently, intra-African trade accounts for only 16 percent of Africa’s total exports, while the bulk of its exports are to Europe (38 percent), China (19 percent), and the U.S. (15 percent). With the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates that intra-African trade will see a 52 percent increase by 2022.

Infrastructure Development

Reducing non-tariff barriers, like transport time for goods, is an essential component of solidifying the new free-trade agreement. According to the International Monetary Fund, the average cost of importing a container in Africa is about $2,492, which is significantly more expensive than the cost of exporting to another continent. This helps to explain Africa’s high incentive to export the majority of its goods.

In order to aid with the implementation of infrastructure projects, the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) has facilitated two main systems of information. The African Infrastructure Database (AID) concerns itself mainly with data management and stores information about ongoing infrastructure development projects including the location as well as relevant financial and economic information. The Virtual PIDA Information Centre contains regional and continental infrastructure projects and promotes investment opportunities.

Clearly, higher access to information regarding infrastructure projects can help countries organize themselves around infrastructure development efficiently. This will help to reduce the intra-African costs of trade by fostering more easily navigable and cheaper transport routes between countries.

Economic Integration

It is crucial to consider that the informal trade sector contributes to a large amount of overall trade in Africa. The Africa Economic Brief is a document published by Jean-Guy Afrika and Gerald Ajumbo that discusses the specifics of informal trade in Africa. It states that the informal cross border trade sector (ICBT) represents 30-40 percent of total intra-African trade. In West and Central Africa, women make up almost 60 percent of informal traders, and 70 percent in Southern Africa.

Problems that affect the formal sector, like infrastructure and trade, have a disproportionate effect on the informal sector—especially for marginalized groups such as women and youth. It is unclear how the African Continental Free Trade Agreement will affect these groups as trade is adjusted; however, an increased focus on local trade and easier trade routes will likely facilitate trade for everyone involved. Since informal trade struggles with the same main issues as formal trade, making trade more accessible in the formal sector can create positive spillovers.

The informal trade sector is an important one to protect. Big businesses often avoid trading with rural areas due to high transportation costs, so instead these areas rely on informal trade for food, clothing and other commodities. Furthermore, ICBT provides a vital source of income to individuals who are often low-income or low-skilled. According to the Africa Economic Brief, studies estimate the average value of informal cross border trade to be 17.6 billion dollars per year in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In order to provide support for informal traders in Eastern and Southern Africa, the United Nations is funding a project to help decrease gender-specific obstacles in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia. A focus on female empowerment will help maintain and improve the informal trade sector and contribute to poverty reduction.

With support from various organizations, countries in Africa are taking defining steps to reduce taxes, transport times, and an increase in market competition. Signing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement opens Africa up to free trade and, if facilitated effectively, it will have enormous positive implications for Africa’s economy.

– Tera Hofmann
Photo: Flickr