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Water Management in ThailandThailand is a country known for its many wondrous sights, from its lush beaches to its luxurious temples that scatter the country. Despite these amazing locations that attract tourists is a lesser-known but just as impressive fact. Thailand is currently improving water and sanitation for the benefit of its people. The government in Thailand understands the need for Thai people to have better access to clean water and sanitation. According to a joint report released by the United Nations (U.N.) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015, Thailand has been able to provide better sanitation for 93% of its population. Additionally, improving water management in Thailand has led to 96% of citizens having reliable drinking water. These results show that the government of Thailand takes water quality and improved sanitation seriously.

Water Management Challenges in Thailand

What makes improving water and sanitation in Thailand difficult is the current challenges of droughts and floods. Flooding takes place in Thailand quite often during the monsoon season when the country receives heavy amounts of rain. Additionally, the overflowing of dams during heavy rains also contributes to flooding.

The government of Thailand plans to deal with these challenges by implementing water management projects in the country’s 25 river basins. The government will work with the communities that live in these areas to prevent further droughts and floods.

The Thai government also plans on making changes to the infrastructure of the country. These changes include improving the transportation system of water throughout the country. It plans on creating more inland and coastal ports to help further this goal and make Thailand a transportation hub.

Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6)

Thailand is strongly committed to SDG 6 of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. The purpose of SDG 6 is to help countries around the world improve water and sanitation. The U.N. notes that issues that come from lack of water resources and sanitation could displace 700 million people by 2030.

Fortunately, Thailand is already delivering on its commitment to SDG 6. The Thai Government’s 2017 Voluntary National Review reports that due to Thai policies and strategies, close to 100% of households have safe drinking water and proper sanitation. Another benefit of clean water and sanitation is that the infant mortality rate has decreased in Thailand. Thanks to improved water and sanitation, people are now less likely to contract a water-borne disease. The city of Bangkok has especially reaped some of the benefits from Thailand’s commitment to SDG 6. Clean and safe water is now so abundant that the average citizen in Bangkok consumes roughly 340.2 liters of water each day, which is more than the overall average of 277.6 liters.

Thanks to the Thai government’s commitment to improving water and sanitation, most of the people of the country are experiencing several benefits that go beyond simply quenching people’s thirst. However, the small number of people who still struggle with water and sanitation need prioritizing. Efficiently managing water and committing to achieving all of the SDG 6 indicators will ensure sustainable progression and development in Thailand.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Hepatitis BIn a difficult year, 2020 carried some bits of great news for global health and children around the world. The incidence of hepatitis B in children under 5 dropped below 1% in 2019, a huge milestone and a cause for celebration for the public health community around the world. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke positively about reaching the milestone by looking to the future: “Today’s milestone means that we have dramatically reduced the number of cases of liver damage and liver cancer in future generations.” The milestone marks the attainment of one of the Sustainable Development Goals to reduce viral hepatitis to less than 1% prevalence for children under 5 by 2020.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver which can lead to many health problems, the most serious of which being liver cancer. More than 250 million people worldwide are carrying a chronic hepatitis B infection, with 900,000 deaths from the disease occurring annually.

Mother-to-child infection is the most common, making the disease especially damaging to children. Infants are the most vulnerable to the disease — an overwhelming 90% of infected infants under the age of 1 become chronic carriers of the disease. This makes controlling hepatitis B in children very important to global health.

Methods of Control

The best method of prevention is through the hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine became available in 1982 and prevents millions of hepatitis B cases a year. The timing of the doses is extremely important and three are required to complete the recommended vaccination course. The first “birth dose” is most effective when administered in the delivery room or less than 24 hours after birth. The second dose should follow 28 days thereafter. The third and final dose follows at least four months after the first dose.

The WHO aims to achieve universal childhood vaccination as the vaccine offers lifetime protection for children who receive it at the recommended times. The vaccine is most effective for infants but the vaccine series is still recommended for children up to 18 years old. In 2017, the FDA approved a two-dose vaccine for adults.

Hepatitis B Vaccinations in Numbers

About 85% of children received the recommended three doses in 2019, a remarkable improvement compared to 30% who received it in 2000. The birth dose must be timely as it the most crucial part of the vaccination. This is why timely access to these vaccines is an urgent concern.

Unfortunately, despite rapid improvement, timely access to the birth dose remains unequal. Currently, 43% of children globally receive a timely birth dose. However, this falls to 34% in the eastern Mediterranean region and even further down to a lowly 6% in Africa. This serves as a reminder that, despite significant progress, efforts must continue to completely eradicate hepatitis B in children.

The Road Ahead

While the vaccine is the predominant form of prevention, recent efforts have focused on expanding ways to prevent mother-to-child transmission. The WHO called on countries to test pregnant women for hepatitis B and provide antiviral therapy before the birth of the child, if necessary. This significantly reduces the likelihood of mother-to-child transmission and is one of the key areas of improvement the WHO stresses, along with greater birth dose coverage. While hepatitis B prevention is not yet complete, reaching the 1% landmark is incredibly important and is the result of decades of hard work and effective policy.

Clay Hallee
Photo: Flickr

The Economic Value of PeaceThe Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) recently published its annual report, “The Economic Value of Peace,” demonstrating the economic consequences of violence throughout the world. The findings show that violence directly impacts the economy and countries’ macroeconomic performance. Countries that improve on peace average a 1.4% higher gross domestic product (GDP) per capita growth. Therefore, a decrease in violence corresponds to an increase in economic activity.

The Poverty-Violence Cycle

Without proper intervention, countries engrossed in conflict often fail to break from the perpetual cycle of violence-to-poverty. Such conflicts may directly damage essential infrastructure, institutions and even fundamental interpersonal relationships within a society. The effects are both short and long-term. The short-term cost directly affects the victim and the perpetrator while the long-term cost has ripple effects through lost productivity and undermining of societal structures. The consequences eventually translate to a loss in education, widespread food insecurity and high mortality rates.

The Economic Cost of Violence

According to the IEP, “the economic cost of violence for the 10 most-affected countries ranges from 23.5 to 59.1% of their GDP.” In 2019 alone, the global cost of violence came out to approximately $14.4 trillion — 10.5% of the world’s GDP or roughly $1,900 per person. Moreover, if the world decreased its violence containment spending by 15%, $1.4 trillion could be redirected to other economic activities that would lead to long-term growth. Democratic governments demonstrated significantly less economic costs compared to their authoritarian counterparts. The average authoritarian government had a cost that equated to 11% of its GDP while democracies averaged about 4%.

In countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, the cost of violence exceeds more than 50% of their GDP. Both countries face extremely high poverty rates. This amounts to roughly 80% and 50% of populations that live below the poverty line respectively, reinforcing the direct connection between violence and poverty. In 2018, the United Nations estimated that the conflict in Syria resulted in nearly $120 billion in infrastructural damage. By 2017, 50% of Syria’s infrastructure was considered non-operational and it is estimated that Syria experienced $226 billion GDP losses between 2011 and 2016.

How Peace and Growth Connect

The IEP Economic Value of Peace report confirms the direct link between violence and poverty. Violence both stunts the positive benefits of peace and has a direct, empirical effect on the economy. Nevertheless, there are global signs of improvement. As a result of an overall decrease in violent conflict, from 2018 to 2019, the global economic impact of violence has decreased by $64 billion. Fully democratic countries reduced their economic impact of violence by roughly 16% in 2020.

These signs of recovery demonstrate that development and peace go hand-in-hand as there is an undeniable relationship between violence and poverty. Without stable and secure institutions, a fundamental basis for a prospering economy is lacking. Violence creates insecurity and a poverty trap for a country’s marginalized people, causing them to undermine their governance. Nevertheless, consistent data shows that this can be reversed through peacemaking efforts.

Alessandra Parker
Photo: Flickr

Fires in Bangladesh
Rohingya refugees have been seeking a safe place to dwell for years. The Rohingya people are originally from Myanmar. However, the government has persecuted them for their Muslim beliefs since 1960. Their battle for independence and peace has seen little success. Recently, attacks on this ethnic group have worsened and more and more Rohingya are fleeing to Bangladesh. Unfortunately, some of their struggles continue in Bangladesh. A raging fire in southern Bangladesh left 15 people dead and hundreds missing. Aid workers are providing relief to those the fires displaced in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, government officials are working to end the Rohingya crisis.

Nowhere to Run

Many Rohingya refugees stay in Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar. Myanmar is located in southeast Asia and is notorious for Muslim persecution. Buddhism is the primary religion in the country, and, as a result, the Muslim Rohingya have experienced persecution. The country recognizes a total of 135 ethnic groups; however, it does not recognize the Rohingya people.

In August 2017, Myanmar used extreme tactics to remove the Rohingya people. Myanmar’s military began attacking Rohingya civilians using deadly force. As a result, the Rohingya people suffered starvation, torture and senseless violence.

The U.N. describes these tactics as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” During the initial attack, a total of 6,700 Rohingya people died, while many others were forced to flee from Myanmar. In refugee camps in Bangladesh, people set up bamboo huts as homes, hoping that they would be safe from further violence. Now, fires in Bangladesh leave these refugees homeless once again. To address this crisis, aid workers are now helping to rebuild communities and government officials are looking into the cause of the fires.

Coming Together

The Red Cross and the Bangladesh Red Crescent are assisting in relief efforts. Aid workers worked quickly to provide necessary supplies to refugees. Through their work, victims of the fire received food, blankets, water and clothing. In addition, rescue efforts are underway, as more than 400 people are missing. There is a dire need for help to search for these missing people.

The work of the humanitarian organizations is paying off for many of the refugees, some of whom have been reunited with their lost family members. One refugee, Ayesha Bibi, was relieved to be reunited with her husband after assuming he was dead.

There has been some speculation that arson is what caused the fires in Bangladesh. At this point in the investigation, government officials have no solid leads and are unable to confirm or refute these suspicions. As the fires have left the refugees homeless, the highest priority is ensuring their safety. Refugees have been using equipment and emergency tents provided by The Red Cross and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society to survive.

A Brighter Hope

These past few years have brought devastation to the Rohingya people. Fortunately, funding and outreach programs have helped to ease the strains of their hardships. The U.N. has recently allocated about $14 million for the Rohingya people. This money will contribute to rebuilding shelters and providing emergency relief. Although the fires in Bangladesh have left refugees homeless, hope exists for a more secure future.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Women in ScienceGender equality is vital for alleviating global poverty. Women represent 70% of the world’s most poverty-stricken people. Consequently, women need more opportunities in the job market and increased access to health and education resources in order to truly thrive. Uplifting and empowering women all over the world will lead to greater progress with global poverty reduction efforts. In particular, women in science have the potential to ignite impactful breakthroughs.

Society, Culture and Bias

Women’s empowerment starts with the foundation of education. Research shows that, as it stands, only 30% of the world’s researchers are women. One can explain this by cultural beliefs and social norms inhibiting women from pursuing a scientific education and career.

The gender gap in science underscores a societal bias. Furthermore, because the majority of researchers are men, research is less likely to head in the direction of improving the struggles and concerns that women face. Providing more opportunities in science and technology for women would help promote technological breakthroughs and progress for the betterment of both genders.

Women in Science

Data shows that although the share of women in science differs according to specific countries, women have experienced global underrepresentation in scientific and technological fields. For instance, in 2016, women represented 55% of all researchers in Tunisia, the highest rate in Africa. Alternatively, women comprised only 5% of all researchers in Chad.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the average share of women researchers in Africa was 24.8% in 2016. This is approximately 4% lower than the already low international average of 28%.

Gender Equality and Development

For decades, the U.N. has supported gender equality and women’s empowerment. For instance, it adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, a landmark agreement putting women at the center of human rights issues and global development.

Gender equality also plays a crucial role in global development. Women’s empowerment is part of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals adopted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These goals represent a global partnership aiming to end poverty, promote education and health, reduce inequalities and more.

The U.N. gender equality goal (SDG 5) focuses on various targets such as ending discrimination against women, preventing the violent treatment and exploitation of women and ending child marriage and female genital mutilation. Target 5.5. entails ensuring “Women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.” This target definitely extends to the scientific arena where women’s participation would mean scientific breakthroughs geared toward improving the struggles of women.

What is the OWSD?

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) is a program unit of UNESCO. This program unit has been supporting women scientists in developing countries since 1987. Supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the “OWSD provides research training, career development and networking opportunities for women scientists throughout the developing world.” Since 1988, more than 470 women in developing countries have received fellowships and more than 270 have graduated. The OWSD grants fellowships in various fields such as biology, agriculture, medicine, engineering and physical sciences.

The main goal of the OWSD is to encourage and support women’s roles in technological and scientific fields as well as in leadership. In doing so, the organization underlines the importance of the representation of women in scientific and technological progress in developing countries. The OWSD also emphasizes the need for collaboration between women scientists to build a global network to continue assisting women in science.

The Role of Women

Women’s empowerment represents a key part of reducing global poverty and can also positively impact global peace. Women’s empowerment links to a country’s prosperity. Countries that offer women equal employment opportunities also have lower poverty rates and a higher GDP. Women also play a significant role in the success and development of children. Research shows that women are likely to invest 90% of their income into the household. Income would go toward securing the basic needs of the family, enrolling children in school and investing in healthcare.

Gender equality promotes social and economic developments. In turn, a strong and durable economy can help build peaceful societies. As Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. Women executive director, stated in 2013, “There can be no peace, no progress as long as there is discrimination and violence against women.”

Women’s Empowerment for Global Development

According to the OWSD, in many developing countries women make up the majority of caregivers and agricultural workers.”If women are included as both participants in scientific research and as the beneficiaries of scientific research” the results will be highly impactful. By giving women consideration, resources and agency, the OWSD contributes to significant progress in developing countries. The organization not only contributes to scientific and technological progress but also endorses gender equality and fundamental human rights all around the world.

Soizic Lecocq
Photo: Flickr

Commitment to Development IndexThe Center for Global Development (CGD) releases the Commitment to Development Index (CDI) annually. The CGD analyzes the policies of the 40 most powerful countries in the world on their dedication to contributing to the development of low-income nations. It rates the countries based on performance in three overall categories and seven subcategories: development finance, exchange (including investment, migration and trade) and global public goods (including environment, security and technology). After scoring these sections individually for each country, the CGD then assigns each country an overall grade. The organization ranks the countries on the CDI based on these overall scores. In 2020, the top three countries were Sweden, France and Norway.

Sweden

Sweden ranks first on the Commitment to Development Index, with an overall score of 100%. Sweden received more than a 90% rating on development finance, migration, environment and security. The country scores well on all categories except technology, where it ranks 20th.

  • Development Finance. Sweden received a score of 93% because it spends 0.83% of its gross national income (GNI) on development finance. This is more than twice the average. Sweden also has proper transparency when it comes to spending. The country even has its own development finance institution called Swedfund. The institution’s goal is to alleviate poverty by investing in and helping to develop sustainable businesses in struggling and formidable markets.
  • Migration. Sweden received a score of 100% in this category because it has the most inclusive migrant policies compared to all the other countries on the CDI. Sweden has tightened its legislation since 2015 when it received 160,000 asylum seekers. The aim is to ensure that it can sufficiently take care of the people already in the country without being overburdened. Nevertheless, the country still welcomes more migrants than any other country on the CDI.
  • Security. Sweden received a 93% in security because it “contributes an above-average level of troops and finance to global peacekeeping missions.” Sweden also helps contribute to global health initiatives. Sweden has worked with the U.N. peacekeeping missions since 1948 and has sent more than 80,000 Swedish people to help.

France

France came second on the Commitment to Development Index with an overall score of 81%. France received more than a 90% score on investment, environment and security. France also scored well on trade.

  • Investment. France received a 91% in this category because it performs well with regard to business and human rights criteria. France created “The National Plan for the Implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” The plan “is a universal road map for implementing the standards aimed at holding businesses accountable with regard to human rights.”
  • Environment. France received a 97% in the environment category because it signed every necessary environmental treaty and produces few fossil fuels.
  • Security. France has a 93% in this category because of its peacekeeping commitments. It provides 0.066% of its GNI to peacekeeping, which is twice the average. For 2020-2021, France budgeted $6.58 billion for peacekeeping efforts.

Norway

Norway ranks third on the Commitment to Development Index, with an overall score of 78%, mostly because of its high rating on development finance. It ranks well on investment and security too.

  • Development Finance. Norway received a 96% in this category because it provides 0.89% of its GNI to development finance. It is also first in transparency for development financing reporting. The country is well known for its commitment to “development co-operation” because it “has a primary focus on promoting equality for all, especially for the most vulnerable, marginalized and less privileged ones in least developed countries (LDCs) and sub-Saharan Africa.”
  • Investment. Norway has an 81% in investment. This is because Norway implements the OECD’s Anti-bribery Convention and has a strong history of upholding human and business rights. Norway works closely with the Human Rights Watch, an organization working to expose abuse and improve human rights throughout the world.
  • Security. Norway received an 88% on security partly because it ranks well in health security. The country utilizes significant monitoring and surveillance methods for antimicrobial resistance. This work is important because it can help lower global health hazards.

Reducing Global Poverty

For 2020, the Commitment to Development Index ranked Sweden, France and Norway as the top three countries. These countries are significantly contributing to global development, and in turn, are contributing to global poverty reduction.

Sophie Shippe
Photo: Flickr

Distributing Foreign Aid
No unitary world body is responsible for coordinating and distributing foreign aid. Foreign aid efforts generally consist of bilateral or multilateral aid. One country directly grants bilateral aid to another, while several countries pool resources together before joint-delivering multilateral aid. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is an example of a bilateral aid organization because only the United States is part of its decision-making process. A strong example of a multilateral aid donor would be the United Nations or the World Bank, where the organizations themselves exercise a strong degree of autonomy over distributing foreign aid.

International Cooperation in Foreign Aid

The World Bank, United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are some of the biggest agenda-setters in foreign aid. While they all operate independently, each contributes to a shared effort and common understanding in achieving their goals.

In 2012, the United Nations convened a large conference to set targets and an agenda for goals in sustainable development by 2030. Of its 17 development goals and 169 targets, poverty topped the list and contained seven targets. The conference determined the most significant and salient issues relating to sustainable development until 2030. In support of this common objective, OECD also incorporated a platform regarding the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This exemplifies how one organization’s agenda can cross over and influence agendas that others set.

The Coordination Efforts of the OECD

The OECD advises the distribution and implementation of effective foreign aid flow among the aid members of its Development Assistant Committee (DAC). Within many different frameworks and groups, OECD utilizes a “gold standard” for foreign aid called Official Development Assistance (ODA). Since 1969, the largest countries convened within the DAC have adopted ODA as their primary source of distributing foreign aid. The definition of ODA is a complicated matter, because, for instance, the countries that are eligible for ODA change over time. Regardless, distributing foreign aid undergoes careful optimization to promote and target economic development and welfare in developing countries. These repercussions are wide-ranging. International bodies from the World Bank to the U.N. respect the standards that the OECD sets.

The OECD utilizes a top-down approach to achieving broader development and aid objectives. The organization regularly measures and assesses its progress in implementing its objectives. This includes providing advice to member countries. In its report on “Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets,” it provided member countries with an assistive overview of strengths and weaknesses when it comes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the U.N. set. Such feedback helps countries stay on track to best reach the goals. Overall, the study revealed uneven progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Some targets, such as infrastructure experienced near achievement, but other targets rated medium to low progress.

The World Bank

The World Bank is something of a twin to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, instead of preventing and dealing with financial catastrophes like the IMF, “the [World] Bank is primarily a development institution.” One can see the international links when the World Bank discusses ODA while considering foreign aid flows.

In 2021, one of the World Bank’s primary objectives is to soften the economic blow of COVID-19. It plans to deploy up to $160 billion by June 2021 in support of countries’ responses to the virus. For example, the World Bank provided nearly 7,000 infection, prevention and control supplies and more than 31,000 personal protective equipment to Papua New Guinea. In Ghana, it supported the training of thousands of health professionals and technicians. Today, the World Bank is the largest external financier of education in developing countries. In its 2020 annual report, the World Bank estimated that the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, would contribute to the creation of at least 1.9 million jobs through the projects it financed in the fiscal year 2020.

Looking Forward

Thanks to organizations such as the World Bank, the U.N. and OECD, foreign aid benefits from higher levels of cooperation than ever. While no unitary body exists to overlook aid distribution, these organizations are filling the gap. Their efforts foster hope for even greater effectiveness in distributing foreign aid.

– Marshall Wu
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

American Peacekeeping
The role of United Nations peacekeeping forces – impartial troops that the U.N. deployed to ensure the promotion of human rights and democratic ideals – has been in question for years, especially due to concerns over their efficacy in situations where decisive military action is necessary. It is partly due to these concerns, as well as general opposition to international organizations from the Trump Administration, that American contributions to peacekeeping efforts have waned over the last five years. However, recent evidence shows that American peacekeeping not only plays an important role in the stability of many fragile democracies but that it often serves American interests more efficiently than U.S. military action could.

Controversy Over American Peacekeeping

U.N. peacekeeping efforts have long been the subject of controversy over their efficacy in conflict zones. Peacekeepers bind themselves to neutrality and may intervene only when the country in question invites them and use force exclusively in self-defense.

Traditional peacekeeping operations had the intention of maintaining demilitarized zones between warring parties in order to prevent either party from taking advantage of the other through abuse of cease-fires. An example of this includes the U.N. peacekeeping operation based in Jerusalem to prevent violence between Palestine and Israel. Peacekeeping’s detractors often point to this example as proof of the endless and ineffective nature of peacekeeping, given the failure of the Jerusalem mission to produce a peaceful regional agreement despite being implemented over 70 years ago. A better-known example of inefficacy in peacekeeping is the Rwandan genocide, where U.N. blue helmets – rendered powerless due to orders forbidding them to intervene – became witnesses to the slaughter of over 800,000 people.

Given the failure of the Rwandan peacekeeping mission and the fact that the kind of territorial conflicts the peacekeeping program intended to prevent are becoming less common, many believe that peacekeeping has no future in an era that ideological conflict and extremism define. This perspective, however, ignores blue-helmet successes and peacekeeping’s cost-efficiency in comparison to military interventions.

The Success of Peacekeeping

Blue helmet successes in East Timor and Sierra Leone point towards a new kind of peacekeeping that includes the mandate of military force where necessary in combination with the promotion of locally-led sustainable development initiatives. In East Timor, a country that integration with Indonesia and a desire for independence once tore apart, pro-integration militias began a bloody campaign which resulted in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of many more. After successfully registering hundreds of thousands of citizens to vote in a poll that demonstrated overwhelming support for independence, the U.N. provided peacekeepers with a mandate to restore stability to the region and assist in creating a local government. The multinational forces were successful in their use of force to quell violence in East Timor, and worked with local leaders to implement a new government that the Timorese designed rather than having Western nations force one upon them.

One can also see the efficacy of peacekeeping in the example of Sierra Leone, where a bloody civil war raged over the last decade of the 20th century. In the wake of a conflict that human atrocities characterized, U.N. peacekeeping operations (though initially modest) eventually brought nearly 18,000 troops into the region with the intention of restoring peace and disarming the country’s warring parties. In 2000, the U.N. negotiated a cease-fire under the Abuja Agreement, at which point peacekeeping operations shifted to prioritize the facilitation of fair elections and the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure. Peacekeepers remained in the region until 2005 to ensure stability, and later surveys found that over 80% of Sierra Leoneans approved of the U.N.’s response to the conflict.

American Support for Peacekeeping

Under the Trump Administration, American contributions to the program have decreased from 29% of the American peacekeeping budget to under 25% over the last five years. Despite being the only organization for effective “burden-sharing” in the international effort for security, the Trump budget cuts stemmed from the belief that American contribution to the U.N. was unfairly large. The U.S. is currently the largest contributor to peacekeeping operations. Each country’s participation, however, depends on its size, wealth and veto power.

Despite claims that peacekeeping does not benefit American interests, recent studies show that it can be more efficient than American military intervention. A study by the Government Accountability Office found that, though U.N. peacekeeping operations cost roughly $2.4 billion (USD) over three years in the Central African Republic, a hypothetical American military operation with similar objectives would cost more than twice as much. When one factors this cost-analysis into the benefits to the U.S. from the global security gained by peacekeeping operations, it becomes clear that continued contribution to peacekeeping is in the best interest of American security.

Kieran Hadley
Photo: United Nations

Assad's Human Rights Abuses
In October 2020, Representative Wilson (R-SC-2) introduced House Resolution 4868, titled the Stop U.N. Support for Assad Act of 2019. The bill, referred to to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, is one of the latest pieces of legislation to acknowledge dictator Bashar Al-Assad’s alleged human rights abuses. It also refers to several cases in which his regime and its associates may have exploited or hindered humanitarian aid projects in Syria. The regime is largely responsible for the challenges in Syria necessitating foreign aid. It has also cultivated intricate ties to businesses and entities used by the United Nations and related regional NGOs. This has resulted in procurement contracts that are financially advantageous to the regime. H.R. 4868 has spotted this cycle in which the Assad regime benefits from the very problems it has created. The bill hopes to install mechanisms to prevent the corruption of foreign aid.

Humanitarian Response in Syria

The United Nations Humanitarian Response in Syria is a multinational project. Currently, the United States is at the helm as the largest donor to the cause. Since 2011, the U.S. has provided about $6 billion USD to Syria through the United Nations. The U.S. government donated $435 million USD in 2018 alone. The returns on these massive payments are less than satisfactory, however. For the past eight years, the Assad regime has maintained what the bill refers to as “weaponized access to U.N. aid.” In so doing, it extracts funds to continue the regime’s inhumane and notorious “starve or surrender” siege campaign. The regime has notably used this tactic to control entire cities.

In February 2018, the U.S. Ambassador to Syria said it was clear that the aid is “not neutral.” Instead, the Syrian government turns aid into a weapon for the government and not an edge for humanitarian groups. The U.N. Office for the Coordination Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, echoed this concern. It was obvious that the Syrian government was obstructing the places in greatest need. The reality is that the Assad regime orchestrated the U.N.’s choices in terms of procurement contracts. This left the U.N. no choice but to use local companies or state-owned industries to operate. In the process, it essentially became a customer of the Assad regime business and a potential source of funding for Assad’s human rights abuses.

Interfering with Aid

A 2016 study found that U.N. operations in Syria gave $4 million USD to Syria’s state-owned fuel industry, $5 million USD to Syrian Arab Army-operated blood banks and $8.5 million to charities that Assad family members co-opted. The NGOs working in Syria with the U.N. effectively must select Assad-affiliated local partners. For example, the U.N. required its agencies and related NGOs to purchase mobile phones from Syriatel, a company that Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Bashar al-Assad, owned.

The Stop U.N. Support for Assad Act lays out a strict set of guidelines for the United States to follow. These guidelines ensure that funds reach their expected recipients without seizure by Assad-related entities. Priority, the bill says, must go to where the need for humanitarian aid is greatest, not where delivery is easiest. Potentially adversarial groups, including the Syrian, Russian and Iranian governments and any entities controlled thereof, must be actively circumvented in the funding process. While extremely necessary for the delivery and use of humanitarian aid, procurement contracts have become the doorway groups like the Assad regime enter to interfere and profit from the donated funds.

According to the Stop U.N. Support for Assad Act, an organization must set up a separate, strong and impartial mechanism to police the procurement contract procedure. With such a mechanism, the act would ensure that no Assad-backed companies or any other associated entities will benefit. The Secretary of State, the bill says, has a limited time period to investigate potential procurement contracts. Then, they must report their findings to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, or any other relevant committee.

Aiding the People, Not the Government

Foreign aid to Syria must make it there impartially, adhering to the U.N. Supplier Code of Conduct by avoiding all possible links to record human rights abuses. If the bill passes, the United States will likely be the creative force in the conceiving and operating of a procurement contracts vetting mechanism. It will be the latest creation in the fight against poverty. Such a step would ensure that no government or entity profits from humanitarian aid, but instead that the aid goes wherever it is most necessary.

Stirling Macdougall
Photo: Flickr

digital finance sourcesIt is no secret that cash is becoming more and more obsolete in developed nations. Venmo, Cash App, Square, PayPal, Zelle and Google Pay — none of these popular money transfer services require a physical transfer of cash. The onslaught of a global pandemic has only accelerated the shift to cashless transactions amid efforts to minimize physical contact. China is rapidly moving forward with central bank digital currency (CBDC) trial rollouts while the United States Federal Reserve is conducting ongoing research to potentially develop its own CBDC, a “Digital Dollar.” In lower-income nations, digital finance sources have the potential to transform economies.

Digital Finance in Developing Countries

In developed countries, the notion of an entirely cashless society is not far out of reach. However, the story is very different in developing nations. Many individuals are excluded from participating in even the most basic financial systems and instead rely primarily on physical cash. As of 2017, about 1.7 million adults globally were “unbanked.” This means they lacked any account with a financial institution or mobile money provider. This is nearly one-fourth of the world’s population.

Some of the most commonly cited barriers to account ownership include insufficient funds and inaccessible banking services. Virtually all unbanked adults live in developing economies, with women over-represented among this cohort. Digital finance services delivered via mobile phones, the internet or cards, function as a means of including these unbanked populations. The benefits of digital financial inclusion are prolific.

Digitizing Financial Inclusion

The strong link between financial inclusion and a wide array of global development goals is becoming increasingly clear. Significantly, seven of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 explicitly mention financial inclusion as central to achieving these objectives.

Digital technologies offer financial services at lower costs, fostering opportunities for large-scale inclusion by enabling institutions to serve lower-income customers profitably. Such broadened financial access can sustainably transform emerging economies. A 2016 report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that digital finance alone could boost the annual GDP of all emerging economies by $3.7 trillion by 2025 due to productivity gains of businesses and governments.

Digital services include those such as M-PESA, a mobile phone-based transfer, payment and micro-financing service. Mobile money has lifted an estimated 196,000 Kenyan households out of extreme poverty from 2008 to 2016.

The Benefits of Digital Finance Sources

  • Increased Security: Digital footprints provide greater transparency and hold individuals and institutions accountable, reducing vulnerability to fraud and corruption.
  • Time and Cost Savings: Digital services are quicker and more efficient, lowering costs for both providers and consumers.
  • Financial Inclusion: The lower costs and convenience of mobile services make them accessible to more people, including those living in remote or rural areas.
  • Women’s Empowerment: Women with access to financial services like loans, savings accounts and mobile payments can achieve independence. It has been found that women with digital savings accounts also spend more on development endeavors like education.
  • Higher Tax Revenues: Digital finance has been proven to increase tax-paying compliance, and in turn, government revenues.

Given the wide-ranging benefits of digital finance sources, it is clear why many organizations are attempting to accelerate the transition from cash-based to digitized economies in the developing world. A growing number of groups such as the U.N.-based Better Than Cash Alliance are working to extend the reach of financial services by using digital technologies to go where physical banks cannot, bringing access to mobile money, savings accounts, credit and insurance to the under and unbanked. Digital finance is more than a trend of modern societies. It is a vital tool for achieving inclusive and sustainable development in emerging economies that are still far from being cashless.

Margot Seidel
Photo: Flickr