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Expo 2020 Dubai
Expo 2020 Dubai is a gathering of 192 countries each presenting and offering an opportunity to experience their culture, food and innovations. It is the latest of a World Expo tradition that began in London in 1851 as the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. Expo 2020 is taking place from October 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, showcasing and promoting different solutions and opportunities that may improve the lives of people around the world. Projects aim to accomplish this by “promoting alternative employment and income opportunities, women in the workplace, competitive products and services and improved market access.”

Overview

Expo 2020 Dubai is the latest of the world’s fairs with the official theme of “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” plus different sub-theming of sustainability, mobility and opportunity. The Expo 2020 is taking place in the Middle East for the first time. Until construction began at the site of the expo, the Expo occurred in an area of empty desert. The layout of the Expo is a vast 1,000-acre site comprising different zones in the shape of petals focusing on the sub-themes of sustainability, mobility and opportunity.

Due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place, individuals must comply with strict precautions, including mask and vaccination requirements and occupancy limitations on the number of people present at the Expo. One of the other crucial aspects of the Expo 2020 Dubai is that there is a record 191 countries participating and each nation has its own area or pavilion. The Expo is partnering with the United Nations, which has its own pavilion that focuses on its future goals, including sustainability. Once the expo ends at the close of March 2022, “around 80% of the built Expo will transition into residential, business and commercial developments.”

Expo 2020 Dubai Addresses Global Poverty

At the Kenya pavilion, some innovators show their solutions to the country’s problems of “unemployment, poverty and food shortages” through “home farming” using basic hydroponic systems. Dr. Peter Chege Gichuku established Hydroponics Africa Limited in Kenya in 2015 with the purpose and goals of eliminating “the root cause of poverty and food insecurity.” The company is hoping to “provide cost-effective sustainable farming methods without the use of soil and an 80% reduction in water.”

WaterAid provides an example of social development commitments. In Nepal, WaterAid promotes good hygiene practices by using Nepal’s routine immunization program as a “point of contact” to reach mothers and children. The Nepal Ministry of Health and Population leads the initiative with the “financial and technical support” of WaterAid. The project has a dual purpose of “[strengthening] Nepal’s routine immunization system by improving immunization coverage and people’s trust in immunization services” while simultaneously improving hygiene practices to prevent diseases stemming from poor hygiene practices.

Looking Ahead

Many more organizations are participating in Expo 2020 Dubai. They are promoting their solutions and putting forward ideas to address issues of global poverty. The Expo presents an ideal opportunity to present these new innovations to governments of all nations and their citizens. Global events such as Expo 2020 Dubai unite nations across the world with the understanding that global collaboration is necessary to address concerns of a global scale.

– Julian Smith
Photo: Flickr

Tamil Poverty in Sri LankaPeople in certain regions and ethnicities within Sri Lanka — more specifically, Tamil, a Hindu ethnic minority in Sri Lanka — feel the effects of poverty especially hard. This is part of the country’s more extensive history of ethnic tension and civil war. Here is information about Tamil poverty in Sri Lanka.

Civil War and Ethnic Strife

Ethnic conflict has been a significant contributing factor for poverty in Sri Lanka among Tamils. Under British imperial rule, authorities heavily favored Tamils over the Buddhist Sinhalese majority of the island. When Sri Lanka obtained independence, Sinhalese — who the British had long excluded — began to reverse this trend of Tamil dominance.

This shift in Sri Lanka would culminate in a 26-year war, ending when the Sinhalese-dominated government finally defeated the Tamil rebels in 2009. The conflict came at an incredible cost as tens of thousands of Sri Lankans died. The U.N. has accused both the Sri Lankan government and rebels of human rights violations during the conflict.

Post Conflict Poverty Among Tamils

The lasting economic effects of the civil war have been significant in Sri Lanka as Tamils suffer from poverty at much higher rates. Tamil-dominated districts are the poorest in Sri Lanka, and poverty among Tamil youth is 7% higher when compared to the rest of the country. These areas have well over half the population living on less than $2.50 a day.

Many Tamils lack access to work in Sri Lanka, and Tamils cannot interact with government authorities as they do not speak the same language. Tamils face poor working conditions when they can find work and have difficulty accessing health care. Education is also difficult to access, and Tamil child labor is more prevalent when compared to the rest of Sri Lanka.

The civil war also dramatically hindered Tamil fishermen from making a living in the waters around the island. Natural disasters since the civil war-like cyclones and floods have heavily impacted Tamil communities, and there is little effort by the Sri Lankan government to assist after such disasters. Very little rebuilding has occurred in Tamil regions that the civil war heavily damaged.

Displacement and Discrimination

To this day, displacement and discrimination impact impoverished Tamils in Sri Lanka. Despite the end of hostilities, the Sri Lankan government has maintained a sizable military force to occupy former rebel-held districts. This resulted in the seizure of land by the military, displacing many Tamils.

Tamil culture and religion have faced significant discrimination since the end of the conflict. Buddhist shrines have replaced Tamil religious sites without the consent of local Tamils. Additionally, Tamil communities are subject to abuses from security forces operating with little oversight. There are signs of promise, however, as more recently the Sri Lankan government has opened the door for Tamil refugees to return from India where tens of thousands had fled in the past.

Poverty in Sri Lanka affects minority Tamils disproportionately more than the rest of the country. Decades of ethnic tensions culminated in a lengthy civil war that devastated Tamil regions. Currently, these same Tamil regions have much higher rates of poverty and much lower access to essential services. In addition, the military has displaced many Tamils and many face discrimination. Yet, a recent repatriation program that Sri Lanka initiated shows promise for Tamils to be able to return to their communities.

– Coulter Layden
Photo: Unsplash

Food Waste in China
By November 1, 2021, China reported more than 97,000 COVID-19 cases and 4,636 deaths. Graphic representations of this data seem to show an upward trend as COVID-19 numbers continue rising. Apart from the direct health impacts of COVID-19, the pandemic has also exacerbated existing social strife, such as nationwide hunger. Along with high rates of hunger, China also reports high rates of food waste, with a recent report from July 2021 stating that the nation discards about 350 million tonnes of its farm produce. Addressing the issue of food waste in China provides a solution to growing rates of hunger in the nation. China’s Clean Plate campaign aims to tackle these two issues simultaneously.

Food Waste Globally

With the global population possibly expanding by 2 billion people by 2025, totaling more than 9 billion global citizens, the United Nations stated that “food production must double by 2050 to meet the demand of the world’s growing population.” Yet, about “one-third of the food” the world produces “for human consumption” annually, equating to 1.3 billion tonnes, goes to waste. Fruits and vegetables account for the greatest portion of food waste. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.”

Food Waste in China

In China, specifically, food waste or loss amounts to “more than 35 million tonnes of food.” This amount of food can “feed 30 to 50 million people.”

In August 2020, President Xi Jinping pressed for the nationwide Clean Plate campaign in response to food waste and the economic and food-centric devastation that COVID-19 caused. At the time of Jinping’s address, the southern end of China had suffered immense flooding, ruining crops and leaving the rest of the nation without a sufficient supply of produce.

In essence, the campaign directs that diners must finish the food on their plates. Encouraging empty plates may lead to less food waste. In response to the Clean Plate campaign, “the Wuhan Catering Industry Association urged restaurants in the city to limit the number of dishes served to diners” to reduce instances of over-ordering, thereby reducing food waste. Culturally, there is a traditional understanding that a clean plate is indicative of “a bad host,” implying that there is “an insufficient amount of food” for diners.

Jinping’s initiative encourages people to be more conscious of food waste in order to address food insecurity in the nation. The Clean Plate initiative has proven to be successful, continuing in an entrepreneurial and consumerist sense. Prior to the Clean Plate initiative, taking leftovers home was unheard of, but has since become a commonality.

Looking Ahead

To avoid past crises of food insecurity, initiatives like Clean Plate encourage consumers to approach food consumption more consciously. Traditionally, in China, ordering more food than necessary is an indicator of power, wealth and status. However, the Clean Plate challenges these traditions in the name of reducing food waste to address hunger in China.

– Maia Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19, Poverty and The Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI)
In the wake of its continuing devastation, Covid-19 has left, among other things, recessions across the world’s poorest countries. These recessions threaten to push more than 100 million people below the $1.90-a-day threshold that defines extreme poverty. To prevent poverty exacerbation, G20 countries have been called on by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to establish the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI). The initiative is designed to redirect funds planned for debt liquidation towards battling the pandemic and helping the most vulnerable populations.

How Does It Work?

Established in April 2020, the DSSI allows the suspension of government-to-government debt payments for 73 eligible countries. Over 60% of these countries accepted the offer as of 2021. The International Development Association and the U.N.’s respective lists of least developed countries encompass all countries cleared for suspension, minus Angola. Qualification for deferment also requires an application for an arrangement with the IMF, along with a commitment to use unfettered money towards social, health, or economic spending designed to remedy the effects of Covid-19.

Including interest and amortization payments, the total sovereign debt servicing payments in 2020 was projected to reach nearly $14 billion. Less than $4 billion of that belongs to the Paris Club group, prompting calls for other creditors like China and Russia to take part. Additionally, the G20 received requests to include entities such as banks and investment funds in the initiative, but this call has yet to receive a favorable response. About $5.7 billion in payments were deferred in 2020, with an additional deferment of $7.3 billion planned for June 2021.

The Unturned Stones

Reservations have been voiced regarding the ability of the temporary cessation of bilateral debt payments to provide adequate relief for the countries concerned. All debt is not the sovereign debt that is accounted for in the DSSI, and the fiscal ability of the approved countries is largely insufficient to weather the inclemency of Covid-19, even with debt deferment. At the vanguard of the call to private-sector creditors to adopt the initiative is the Institute of International Finance (IIF), a global association concerned with the finance industry.

Estimations from the IIF show that participation by private-sector creditors would provide an extra $13 billion in deferment. This would offer significant potential relief from the $35.3 billion owed collectively by the countries eligible for the DSSI. However, the IIF has made its concerns clear, particularly concerning the DSSI’s lack of consideration for the unique situation of each debtor country and the doubt that this causes for private-sector creditors.

The overall narrow eligibility scope of the DSSI has also been called into question. Middle-income countries have over eight times the amount of collective external debt outstanding compared to DSSI eligible countries. With $422.9 billion in debt payments in 2020 alone, these countries also run the risk of being financially incapable of dealing with Covid-19. After foreign investors pulled approximately $100 billion from middle-income countries’ markets in stocks and bonds, capital outflows leveled. The IIF, perhaps because of this observation, projected that the countries in question will encounter difficulties in borrowing money. The IIF also made projections that indicated unparalleled fiscal deficits in 2020.

Possible Solutions

Currently, no mechanism is in place to ensure that deferred debt payments will be used accordingly. One proposal involves the creation of a central credit facility (CCF) at the World Bank. This organization, if allowed, would require countries requesting relief to deposit deferred interest payments to certify that the funds would be used to negate the effects of the pandemic. Although the CCF has gained academic support and press recognition, whether countries will adopt it is uncertain.

Corporate or individual bankruptcy for countries is not an option.  The IMF attempted but failed to establish a sovereign resolution regime with its Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism (SDRM) proposal in 2002, ultimately because of conflicting opinions on how to structure its design. A notable implementation of a debt moratorium occurred in 1931 by Herbert Hoover, then President of the United States. His declaration was followed by a rush of countries defaulting. Although these countries recovered faster than countries that did not default, such countries were hard-pressed to find any foreign lending for more than 20 years after defaulting.

Forging A Way Forward

While COVID-19 inflicted disastrous financial difficulties on nations worldwide, initiatives like the DSSI work to counteract the damage. In April 2021, G20 government-to-government creditors extended the DSSI for the final time by six months, taking its activity through December 2021. Despite concerns about its implementation and consequences, the DSSI represents a positive attempt by creditors nationwide to help the most vulnerable in the wake of COVID-19.

– Mohamed Makalou
Photo: Unsplash

Ethical FashionWith a mission of empowering women through fashion, the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) unites people from impoverished communities across the world to turn their passions and skills into an income for themselves and their families. Women and men from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, Kenya, Mali, Tajikistan, Uganda and Uzbekistan are able to sell their crafted goods through the Ethical Fashion Initiative.

Goal to Reduce Global Poverty

Beginning its work in 2009, EFI proudly creates long-term and sustainable jobs. Beyond this, they also contribute to six of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) directly and two indirectly. The SDGs are 17 United Nations (UN) goals focused on providing a better and more sustainable future for the world.  The UN created the goals in 2015 with a timeline of achieving each by 2030.  EFI believes that to achieve the SDGs, sustainable and ethical fashion has to play a significant role.

The Ethical Fashion Initiative operates as part of the International Trade Centre’s Poor Communities and Trade Programme (PCTP). It continues the mission of PCTP to reduce global poverty through empowering entrepreneurs in impoverished communities. It also bridges the gap between development and fashion in these countries. Finally, it empowers community artisans to grow their skills and knowledge while making a consistent and reliable earning for themselves.

Supporting Communities and Building Infrastructure

Beyond just connecting these artisans to the fashion world, EFI works to support and sustain its artisan community. Beginning in 2015 with one hub in Kenya, the EFI now operates through hubs in various countries to create a business infrastructure.    With quality control initiatives, management support, workshops on industry education and professionalism, EFI does more than just provide a space to sell crafts.

Connecting Local Artisans to Global Brands

The Ethical Fashion Initiative has connected local artisans to global brands like Biffi Boutiques, Carmina Campus, Chan Luu, Instituto-E, Isetan, Karen Walker, Marni, Mimco, Osklen, sass & bide, Stella McCartney, United Arrows, Vivienne Westwood and Yanvalou Designs. Not only are these brands supporting the artisan of the Ethical Fashion Initiative, they too are working towards the end of global poverty.

Monitoring Progress through RISE

Respect, Invest, Sustain and Empower are the words behind EFI’s acronym RISE. RISE is the initiative’s program dedicated to monitoring and tracking the sustainability, supply chain and production of these artisanal products. RISE is also responsible for connecting the product to the consumer. The program is able to do this through its three-tier system: assess, control and trace. From “product passports” to highlighting specific local artisan communities, RISE communicates the EFI mission globally. RISE also demonstrates how the consumer can play a role in ending global poverty through sustainable fashion.

Beyond the products it connects the world to, the Ethical Fashion Initiative also connects the world to the people of its community. From purses and backpacks to pillows and shoes, the Ethical Fashion Initiative is taking a stance on global poverty. It is fighting for a better tomorrow through ethical fashion. This connected global market is more than just high fashion, it is a resource for many people to create a better future for themselves and the world.

– Annaclaire Acosta
Photo: Flickr

Japan’s Indigenous PeopleIndigenous people everywhere have struggled with prejudice, the challenge to keep their cultures alive and the societal pressure to assimilate. They also comprise “15% of the world’s” most extremely impoverished despite only making up 5% of the global population. Now, living predominantly in the prefecture of Hokkaido, Japan, the Ainu are Japan’s little-known native people and have faced all of these challenges since the 14th century. It was not until 1991 that the Japanese government acknowledged the group as an ethnic minority. Furthermore, it was not until 2008 that the government recognized the Ainu as Japan’s indigenous people. While legislation has improved conditions for the Ainu people over the years, problems of government accountability remain. The Ainu Association of Hokkaido continues to defend the group’s rights and culture.

A History of Hardship

The Ainu people’s current circumstances of poverty come from a history of colonialism. During Japan’s Meiji era, which lasted from 1868 to 1912, the Japanese government prioritized settlers’ land rights and disregarded the Ainu’s rights. This disrupted the livelihoods and economic activities of Japan’s indigenous people, who largely relied on fishing salmon and hunting deer. A greater effort to strip the Ainu “of their culture and traditions” took root as well. As part of the government’s forced assimilation efforts, the Hokkaido Aborigine Protection Act of 1899 encouraged Ainu people to shift to an agriculture-based economy, but the land they were relocated to was known to be largely barren.

Japan’s indigenous people are still marginalized. Many reside in lower-income areas of Hokkaido. According to CNN, “High levels of poverty and unemployment currently hinder the Ainu’s social progress.” As of 2013, 44.8% of the Ainu received welfare assistance from the government, 11.7% more than Japan’s total population. Relatively few Ainu attend institutions of higher education.

Support for the Ainu​

Founded in 1946, the Ainu Association of Hokkaido exists to advocate for Ainu rights. In an interview with Minority Rights Group International, Ainu Association of Hokkaido Deputy Head Yupo Abe said that, for many years, Ainu people did not know that the government was exploiting them. This was because their indigenous identities went unacknowledged and many did not have education regarding land entitlement. It was only until the Ainu Association of Hokkaido met with other organizations doing similar work for indigenous groups that it realized the Ainu needed to reclaim their culture and fight for their rights.

Discussions with other native people who had experienced similar cases of discrimination led the Ainu Association of Hokkaido to utilize various platforms. This includes the United Nation’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations. The group lobbied for concrete actions from the government to improve the lives of Japan’s indigenous people.

Pushing for Progress

With the establishment of the Advisory Council for Future Ainu Policy in 2008 and the Council for Ainu Policy Promotion of 2009, the Ainu Association of Hokkaido has had some success in bettering conditions for the indigenous of Japan. A shifting focus to Ainu cultural awareness also stands as a positive trend. Driven by Ainu pressure and economic desire, the Japanese government spent at least $220 million building the Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony in Shiraoi, Hokkaido to honor Ainu culture. Though the pandemic led to many delays, the museum and park opened in July 2020.

Some still recognize the need for more work. Hokkaido University law professor, Kunihiko Yoshida, expressed in a BBC interview that the space is not likely to create meaningful change. “The Ainu still cannot fish their salmon and dams are still being built that submerge sacred sites. There’s no self-determination, no collective rights and no reparations. It’s just cultural performance,” he said. However, some Ainu believe that the project is beneficial because of job creation, which could potentially lift some out of unemployment and poverty.

As the ethnic minority of Japan, the Ainu people still struggle with discrimination in multiple ways. At the same time, growing cultural awareness and action suggests a broader desire for change. The Ainu Association of Hokkaido supports the Ainu community, and in time, steps toward progress might spark a national journey toward change.

Safira Schiowitz
Photo: Flickr

Every Last One CampaignWorld Vision is a humanitarian organization established in 1950 to help vulnerable people “reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.” Since its start, World Vision has assisted in several crises throughout the world such as the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa in the 1990s. In 2015, World Vision launched a campaign known as Every Last One. The campaign spans eight years and amounts to $1 billion. Overall, its goal is to provide relief, assistance and opportunities to approximately 60 million vulnerable people worldwide by 2023. The aid seeks to empower people “to lift themselves out of poverty.”

Campaign Context and Details

World Vision notes that around 689 million people all over the world live in extreme poverty. This specifically translates into subsisting on less than $1.90 a day. The COVID-19 epidemic has introduced additional challenges to vulnerable people across the globe. According to the World Bank, the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially thrust 150 million people into extreme poverty by the close of 2021. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse decades of poverty reduction progress globally as well as strides made in education and health.

For this reason, the humanitarian organization has framed its Every Last One campaign in terms of “life, hope and a future.” The life aspect involves providing people with “access to clean water and essential healthcare” services. Hope refers to training and equipping teachers, parents and pastors with the skills and resources needed to “protect children from violence” and supply emergency relief aid to people facing natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.

Finally, the concept of a future focuses on economically empowering people to create “improved and resilient livelihoods” through education initiatives, books and training as well as recovery loans for those affected by the pandemic. In all its work, World Vision strives for gender equality, acknowledging that empowering girls and women is essential for reducing global poverty. To date, the call for donations and investments continues.

Financial Transparency and Accountability

World Vision has provided evidence that the Every Last One campaign is economically viable. On its website, the humanitarian organization has posted its financial reports and financial highlights of 2020 as a gesture of accountability. These highlights indicate that the organization has dedicated 88% of its operating expenses toward initiatives that help “children, families and communities in need,” with the remaining 12% set aside for management and fundraising efforts.

Moreover, the organization’s financial reports indicate that it received a grand total of $1,233 million in revenue in 2020, the majority of which came in through “private cash contributions.” It has also worked on decreasing overhead expenses by 3% from 2019 through improved stewardship practices. These figures indicate that World Vision has a sustainable system in place to make the most impact and ensure that disadvantaged people receive the most benefit.

Contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals

World’s Vision’s Every Last One campaign may prove instrumental in assisting the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The U.N.’s target to end global poverty by 2030 is the first among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicated in the United Nations’ Agenda. The Agenda itself recognizes that meeting such a goal within the given time frame would require massive global mobilization and collaboration among various groups and organizations. Therefore, World Vision’s own initiative may play a significant role in realizing the U.N. SDGs.

– Jared Faircloth
Photo: Flickr

Will and Jada Smith Together BandTogether Band is an organization that raises money for various causes in an innovative and trendy way aimed at persuading younger generations to support issues they care about most. It works toward the United Nations’ 17 global goals to create a more sustainable world by 2030. Recently, Together Band also partnered with Will and Jada Smith.

Together Band

The U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals include no poverty, zero hunger, gender equality, clean energy, equal education, good health, clean water, economic growth, industry innovation, sustainable communities, responsible consumption and production, marine conservation, land conservation, justice, reduced inequalities and partnership.

Each U.N. SDG has an associated color and Together Band produces bracelets of each color. The bracelet color a customer purchases determines which goal their money targets. Together Band directs proceeds to The Freedom Fund, Renewable World, Women Working Worldwide and Power for the People, among others.

Not only do the proceeds go to humanitarian funds but the materials and production of the bracelets are impactful as well. The clasp on each bracelet is repurposed metal derived from seized illegal firearms in Central America. The aim of this sourcing is to end armed violence in conflict-torn countries. The band is made from 100% upcycled plastic found on shores in coastal communities and on remote islands. Finally, formerly trafficked Nepalese artisans use the materials to craft the final product. The jobs created help communities build stable economies.

Together Fund

Together Band created the Together Fund to combat COVID-19. Now, when a customer purchases a bracelet, 50% of the proceeds go to support COVID-19 relief while the other 50% continue to go to the original organizations that the bracelet supported before the pandemic. The organization splits COVID-19 relief funds between the U.N. COVID-19 Solidarity Fund for WHO and Médecins sans Frontières.

Together Band added COVID-19 relief to their initiatives because communities around the globe urgently need accessible healthcare. “It’s important that we act quickly in response to COVID-19 to ensure patients can access the care they need as well as supporting disease prevention and frontline health workers across the globe.”

Partnering With the Will and Jada Smith Foundation

Celebrities Will and Jada Smith created the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation in 1996 in order to make the world “better because we touched it.” The foundation has donated millions of dollars for innovative solutions to the world’s problems. Recently, the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation partnered with Together Band to tackle both COVID-19 and racial injustice. Working with WJSFF, Together Fund has expanded to support U.N. Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities and Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Money can be donated to the fund directly from the WJSFF homepage. Half of the proceeds go to additional COVID-19 relief funds such as the World Health Organization, Alight and Doctors Without Borders. The remaining half supports nonprofits that fight racial injustice. They include My Brother’s Keeper, the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative and the Leadership Conference Education Fund.

In addition, Will and Jada Smith’s son, Jaden Smith, founded an eco-friendly version of bottled water called Just Water. Just Water customers now have the option to round up their purchases in support of the Together Fund.

Overall, the Smiths are an inspiring example of a celebrity family using their fame to support humanitarian causes and reduce global poverty.

Sarah Eichstadt
Photo: Flickr

child soldiers in MyanmarFor half a century, Myanmar has struggled to reduce its number of child soldiers. Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has a long history of using children in armed conflict, which began when the country gained independence in 1948. In 2002, Human Rights Watch listed Myanmar as the country with the highest number of child soldiers. Though Myanmar has taken action to reduce this, the number of child soldiers in Myanmar is still disturbingly high, requiring greater intervention.

Previous Use of Child Soldiers

According to the Child Soldiers Global Report 2001, 20% of Myanmar’s army was made up of children younger than 18. Although Myanmar’s legislation does not establish compulsory military service laws, it does require each district to meet a recruitment quota. District authorities that fail to meet the quota often receive fines. Hence, to meet the quota, many underage children are coaxed into joining the army through financial rewards or prestige. Other times, the army abducts children from public areas, forcing them to become soldiers. The highest number of recruited child soldiers in Myanmar occured between 1990 and 2005 when the military junta was in power.

During this time, Myanmar received several on-ground assessments by the Committee of Experts of the ILO, followed by recommendations to revise the Village Act and the Towns Act. The Committee requested that the government amend these Acts to comply with the Forced Labor Convention of 1930. Hence, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified by Myanmar in 1991.

After several concerns raised by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch verified that Myanmar had approximately 70,000 child soldiers in 2001. Myanmar’s government responded to international concerns in a letter to the U.N. Security Council in 2004. In the letter, the government demonstrated no interest in making any legislative amendments nor any intention to prosecute local authorities for forced labor and child abuse by stating that “the Myanmar Armed Forces is an all-volunteer force and those entering military services do so of their own free will.”

Gradual Measures to Reduce Child Recruitment

Finally, in 2005, four local officials received prison sentences for the illegal imposition of forced labor after supposedly recruiting child soldiers. In 2009, several rebel groups such as the Chin National Front signed unilateral deeds pledging to stop recruiting child soldiers.

In 2012, Myanmar signed the Joint Action Plan. This committed the government to work alongside the U.N. to prevent child recruitment. Following the Plan’s implementation in 2012, which established stronger age assessment procedures and the adoption of military directives prohibiting the recruitment of minors, 956 children and young people were released from the army. Further improvements occured in 2015 when Myanmar signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the use of minors in armed conflict.

Since then, Myanmar’s government and the U.N. have launched several public awareness campaigns, also establishing a hotline so that citizens can report cases of recruitment of minors. As a result of the continuing decrease in child recruitment and Myanmar’s efforts to protect children, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres removed Myanmar from his annual “list of shame,” which names countries that have committed grave violations against children.

The Need for More Action

Despite Myanmar’s recent efforts to decrease the number of child soldiers, in 2021, the United Nations verified the recruitment and use of 790 children in the previous year. With 56 children dead and 17 children abducted, the U.N. believes Myanmar will return to the “list of shame” unless the government follows U.N. recommendations, including:

  • Release children using the framework of the Joint Action Plan
  • Make the 156 pending cases of suspected minors a priority among national courts
  • Prosecute those who are guilty

With 10 armed attacks in national schools in 2020, the United Nations also strongly recommends that Myanmar endorses the Safe Schools Declaration, which requires states to commit to safeguarding schools and universities from armed hostilities.

Existing efforts as well as implementing U.N. recommendations will help to fully eliminate the use of child soldiers in Myanmar, protecting the well-being of children across the country.

– Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr

Refugee CampsRefugee camps house people who had to migrate as a result of unsafe conditions in their home countries. Displaced people hve to leave everything behind in order to find safety. Recently, the United Nations reported that two refugee camps in Ethiopia were on the verge of running out of food. The refugees, dependent on organizations to bring them that food, were at risk of starvation.

What is Happening in Ethiopia?

Conflict has enveloped the Tigray region of Ethiopia. In November 2020, The Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the government began fighting. Two refugee camps in this region containing 24,000 refugees recently could not access aid. About 170 food trucks transporting the necessary food supplies ended up in the Afar region and were unable to move. Without these resources, the refugees will likely starve.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is working to relocate the refugees. They are also trying to ensure safe travel out of the camp by discussing the issues with Tigrayan authorities.

The Increase of Refugees

The amount of refugees and displaced people around the world is higher than ever. As of 2020, the world had the largest refugee population ever recorded. About 25 million people experienced displacement, including 11 million children. This has only made conditions in refugee camps worse, as overcrowding compounds with a lack of resources.

The Problems with Refugee Camps

Displaced people who come to live in refugee camps often have nothing. They have no income, few to no possessions and no food. They rely entirely on what humanitarian organizations can provide for them. Unfortunately, what organizations can provide often falls short of what is necessary to survive. Two main problems that refugee camps deal with are inadequate food and water. The malnutrition and dehydration that occurs in refugee camps increase the risk of disease, like diarrhea and cholera, for the people living in the camps. Improving amounts and access to food and water will help to improve health conditions at refugee camps.

The UNHCR recommends at least 2,100 calories and 20 liters of water per person per day. However, in 2006, refugees in Tanzania received only 1,460 calories per person per day. A 1987 study of a Thailand camp showed that 30% of the camp’s population suffered from malnutrition. The UNHCR also estimates that more than half of the refugee camps across the world are unable to provide refugees with the 20 liters of water a day that they need.

Part of the problem with water is that it must also be accessible to all people in the camps. One way the UNHCR aspires to provide this is by ensuring there are water taps within 200 meters of every household. This way, individuals do not have to travel long distances to retrieve water, burning the already limited amount of calories they have.

Ways to Improve

There are a few things that can improve living conditions at refugee camps around the world. One important way is to begin to place a higher emphasis on making camps a long-term solution. When a refugee experiences displacement for more than five years, the UNHCR calls their situation a protracted refugee situation. Currently, two-thirds of refugees live in a protracted situation and the time they spend in this situation increased to 20 years. This means that more people live in camps for longer periods of time.

If displaced people are living in camps for such extended periods of time, then they are no longer temporary placements. This translates into a need to make refugee camps more permanent and more equipped to support people actually living there. The construction of more permanent housing, rather than tents, and fully functioning toilets and showers would help achieve permanent living conditions.

Camps can also allow refugees to set up businesses like barbershops and fruit stands. Some camps in Bangladesh currently allow refugees to farm patches of land to grow fruits, vegetables and spices. This is another way to increase food production and better conditions in the camps.

Looking to the Future

The struggle will continue to ensure that people living in refugee camps have enough resources to adequately survive and have livable conditions in camps. Transporting goods becomes especially difficult in war-ravaged regions. Roads are unreliable and food trucks are vulnerable to attack. Displaced persons, however, often have nowhere else to go and deserve for the world to put in its best effort toward helping them. This can begin with creating refugee camps as more permanent establishments, as cities and homes in and of themselves.

– Alessandra Heitmann
Photo: Flickr