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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

charity hub LebanonSince Lebanon’s deadly Beirut blast in August 2020, the country’s economy has been on a steady decline. Lebanon’s financial and economic crisis has plunged many Lebanese people into poverty. However, Charity Hub, an organization aiming to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, brings hope to the situation.

Poverty in Lebanon Since the Beirut Blast

Since the Beirut blast that killed around 200 people in August 2020, Lebanon’s economic crisis has led to a serious humanitarian crisis as well. According to the United Nations, more than half of Lebanon is now living in poverty. The country’s currency has depreciated and food prices rose by more than 670% between April 2019 and April 2021, leaving many without basic necessities. Healthcare availability and affordability have also been steadily declining. With the added impact of COVID-19, Lebanon’s healthcare system is strained, experiencing shortages of essential medical supplies.

Additionally, public services have become unreliable because of political tensions and the current instability of the government. Extreme poverty was increasing before the blast and this trend has only been worsening in the blast’s aftermath. Many people in Lebanon are unable to secure food, water, shelter and basic healthcare, especially as protests break out and civil unrest increases. The crisis impacts not just Lebanese people but also the large Syrian and Palestinian refugee population within the country’s borders.

Charity Hub

Established by Abdallah Khatab in December 2020, Charity Hub is an organization that “groups several NGOs and initiatives under one roof.” Charity Hub aims to “help fill in the gaps left by an absent government,” ensuring no Lebanese citizen lacks basic necessities during these unstable times. Charity Hub supplies medical resources, food, mental health services and more.

Although Charity Hub began with a goal of linking various organizations together to provide relief aid after the Beirut explosion, it has evolved into a full-fledged charity working to aid the Lebanese people. Charity Hub has teamed up with other organizations on projects such as distributing more than 6,000 cans of baby milk to more than 3,000 families and organizing beach cleanups. After the Beirut blast, in particular, the organization worked to repair more than 148 homes affected by the blast as well as about 20 small and medium-sized local businesses.

Charity Hub’s mission is to “focus on making the maximum positive effort” for the greater community. The organization uses data-driven models to find long-lasting solutions to problems that Lebanese people in poverty face. “The more problems arise, the more we try our best to find solutions. What we do is extremely rewarding,” founder Khatab tells The961. Charity Hub’s website gallery showcases the positive impact it has made thus far.

Looking Ahead

The economic, financial and humanitarian crises worsened by the Beirut blast have only been increasing in severity with the ongoing impact of COVID-19. As such, Charity Hub’s commitment to the well-being of people within Lebanon is stronger than ever. The organization is growing its team, working hard to ensure every person is able to secure food, shelter and medicine.

Although charities can only do so much without a stabilizing government and an improving economy, Charity Hub is a beacon of hope amid the country’s humanitarian crisis, helping to uplift the country and build a strong community in the face of adversity.

Laya Neelakandan
Photo: Flickr

drought in Southern MadagascarThe current drought in Southern Madagascar is the country’s worst since 1981. The food insecurity brought about by the drought has resulted in desperate families resorting to eating insects, ash, clay and even shoe leather. Desperate to fill their bellies, more than one million people are suffering from hunger. Furthermore, 16.5% of children younger than 5 meet the requirements of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM). Alarmingly, the GAM rate stands at 27% in the Ambovombe district, putting children in life-threatening conditions. Organizations aim to address these conditions, attempting to prevent a potential famine in Southern Madagascar.

The Impacts of Drought in Madagascar

Years of cyclones, soil depletion, locust plagues and a severe drought in Southern Madagascar have killed most crops, including “maize, manioc and beans,” leaving farmers without seeds for plants. The drought has also killed off local livestock.

Some Madagascans have cut down trees to make charcoal, although, this act contributes to aggravated drought conditions. The affected regions of Anosy, Androy and Atsimo-Andrefana are dependent on agriculture, livestock and fishing, which makes them particularly vulnerable to drought and storms.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation because it has prevented migrant workers from migrating in search of more work, escaping the drought in Southern Madagascar at the same time. The pandemic has also caused rising food prices since it began.

Famine Without Conflict

Madagascar is dealing with intensifying dust storms blanketing the region in thick dust and devastating crops. The World Bank predicts that droughts in this already drought-prone region will worsen in the coming years. The situation in Southern Madagascar is unusual because human conflict is not playing a role in the starvation of Madagascans, says David Beasley, World Food Programme chief. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, Madagascar is the only nation classified as facing a “famine humanitarian catastrophe” that is not involved in conflict.

FAO Recommendations

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says it needs $40.4 million to begin agricultural recovery from the drought in Southern Madagascar. A report by the FAO highlights the need for agriculture to move away from plants that need a lot of water, like maize, to plants that need less water, like sorghum. The FAO’s recommendations for recovery include:

  • Prioritizing replacing the livestock.
  • The “provision of inputs for cereal and vegetable production” as well as micro‑irrigation.
  • Cash transfers to support people during the off-season and high season.
  • Providing “fishing inputs and processing equipment.”
  • Implementing climate-smart agriculture.
  • Encouraging plant protection measures.
  • Implementing early warning systems.
  • Aiming to “promote large-scale quality seed multiplication at community level.”
  • Manage and eliminate diseases in animals as well as crop pests and diseases.

The US Assists Madagascar

In June 2021, the United States government invested almost $40 million in the recovery of Southern Madagascar through USAID. The funding will support the efforts of the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Support to the WFP will, from August to October 2021, “provide immediate food assistance for 465,000 people.” Supplementary nutrition to address acute malnutrition will be given to “19,800 pregnant women and new mothers as well as 63,400 children.” This funding will also support CRS in rebuilding wells, among many other efforts.

Looking to the Future

The United Nations declares that as weather patterns change, nations will face more humanitarian crises similar to the conditions Madagascar is facing now. Societies cannot depend on humanitarian aid to solve the problems of these crises, but must proactively prepare for the ways life on Earth must change in the future. The United Nations makes five specific recommendations:

  • Prepare for, respond to and prevent humanitarian crises by adapting and increasing community resiliency.
  • Invest in “resilience-building strategies” and preparedness.
  • Take advantage of scientific advances by using technology to predict and prepare for future disasters.
  • Aid the most vulnerable nations with improved access to finance and insurance.
  • Reflect “overlapping vulnerabilities” in the functionings “of international financial institutions.”

With the help of the international community, there is hope for Southern Madagascar to rebuild and recover. By implementing the guidelines of the FAO and the United Nations, Madagascar and other countries around the world can better prepare for future challenges.

– Hilary Brown
Photo: Flickr

city planning and poverty reductionWhen Bogotá, Colombia, elected Enrique Peñalosa mayor in 1997, Mayor Peñalosa faced an uphill battle. Informal settlements, faulty public transportation and congested roads increased poverty and reduced the quality of life for Bogotá’s citizens. Mayor Peñalosa had a plan, though, and his success in fusing city planning and poverty reduction provides a blueprint for developing world mayors around the globe.

Bogotá’s Challenges in the 1990s

Bogotá faced many challenges as a city in the 1990s. With a lack of city planning, informal settlements dominated the landscape. Nearly 200,000 illegal water connections existed and only 60% of the population had access to the main sewer system. Fearing crime and the bustle of moving cars, many could not enjoy the streets on which they lived, with impoverished neighborhoods lacking accessible public spaces.

With these challenges, Peñalosa knew there was only so much he could do. He realized that in his one term as mayor, he would not be able to lift every citizen of Bogotá out of poverty. Thus, he decided to look at the implications of poverty. To him, development constituted a “better way of living, not being richer.” The lack of access to water, food, housing, transportation and green space, which the wealthy class enjoyed in plenty, constituted poverty, not just a low monthly income. By addressing those issues directly, Peñalosa could combine city planning and poverty reduction without aiming to increase wages.

Formalizing Informality

One of the biggest problems urban populations face in the 21st century is informality. As of 2019, according to the United Nations, nearly one billion people live in informal housing or slums. Informal housing commonly leads to community marginalization and decreased access to food and water distribution networks. Fortunately, city planning and poverty reduction strategies can rectify these situations, and, Peñalosa did just that.

During his tenure as mayor, Peñalosa formalized 322 neighborhoods and provided nearly 700 sewers for informal settlements, drastically improving the livelihoods of those living in these neighborhoods. Utilizing many city planning strategies, he also provided better transportation access so that those living in these neighborhoods could access the amenities of the wider city. His strategy of focusing on formalizing and connecting informal settlements rather than increasing wages allows for a greater return on investment as the wider access to the city will naturally boost the quality of life.

Sustainability and Public Spaces

Peñalosa entered his tenure as mayor with the goal of developing Bogotá around people and not cars. In a city where just about 30% of people drove cars, designing a city entirely around this vehicle would be illogical. He especially wanted public spaces suitable for the most vulnerable, the elderly and children, aiming to reduce poverty by increasing standards of living.

Peñalosa focused on three types of public spaces for reducing poverty. He first focused on a common city planning and poverty reduction strategy: transportation. In his tenure he built roughly 220 miles of protected bike lanes, opening up the streets to more than just cars. He also formalized the public transportation network to allow more equitable access.

His second strategy for city planning and poverty reduction covered educational space, building libraries and public schools to accommodate 200,000 new students. The educational infrastructure serves as one of the most important tools in fighting poverty and boosting literacy.

Third, he focused on leisure spaces, ordering the construction and restoration of public parks. Access to these three spaces combined —  transportation, educational facilities and leisure spaces — can greatly reduce the impacts of poverty. Furthermore, the public status of these amenities meant that access would not depend on an individual’s wage.

Implications for Fighting Poverty

Mayors around the world can use Peñalosa’s tenure as a blueprint for their own cities. The strategies for city planning and poverty reduction that Peñalosa used were innovative at the time, but further research has shown their efficacy worldwide. Formalizing informal areas and expanding green space has become a norm for urbanists across the globe. While not without its flaws, Peñalosa’s strategy to combine city planning and poverty reduction helped fight poverty by focusing on raising living standards rather than pure income measurements.

– Justin Morgan
Photo: Wikimedia

Sexual Assault in South AfricaOver 50 care centers in South Africa provide support and resources for survivors of sexual crimes. They serve as “one-stop facilities” for those seeking help. Their mission is “to reduce secondary victimization, improve conviction rates and reduce the time between when a crime is committed and when the perpetrator is finally convicted.” These centers have had success but the overall number of sexual assaults in South Africa, which in reality are most likely significantly higher, are staggering.

Sexual Assault in South Africa

Sexual assault in South Africa is shockingly high. Estimates determined that a sexual offense occurs every 10 minutes. Between April 2019 and March 2020, police statistics reported 53,295 sexual offenses but it is likely that most crimes are not reported. The Medical Health Council estimates that victims only report one in nine attacks. Violence toward women seems to be a normalized part of society as data from 2000 shows similar results. Some claim women in South Africa might experience rape every 17 seconds. Others say every 26 seconds but regardless of exact numbers, it is clear sexual violence toward women is a massive problem for the country.

Police are defensive about sexual assault in South Africa. They say the rate of sexual offenses decreased in the province of Gauteng, but the Institute for Security Studies has pointed out a flaw in their logic. If one considers updated population statistics, the rate of sexual assault increases by 1.5%. As a result, one can determine that 127 people out of 100,000 people were victims of sexual assault.

Rape is an extremely underreported crime. A study in Gauteng in 2010 showed that one-quarter of women who underwent questioning experienced rape in 2009. However, “only one in 13 women raped by a non-partner reported the matter to the police, while only one in 25 of the women raped by their partners reported this to the police.” Therefore, as previously mentioned, statistics about sexual assault in South Africa only show a small amount.

Why Are Numbers So High?

A few factors can show why sexual assault in South Africa is so high. These include how the country struggled to move on from apartheid along with high unemployment, high poverty and unequal land distribution. Both the government and pro-democracy groups used violence to further goals, and after 50 years, society saw violence as normal. The government “used violence to keep control over the ‘non-white’ population, whilst the pro-democracy campaign encouraged violence as a means to further their goals.” The police used violence against women which led to many women fearing or mistrusting the police. This mindset continues to this day.

Police Conviction Records

Convictions for instances of sexual assault in South Africa are low. Around 14% of perpetrators receive sentences for sexual assault with that number going down to 3% when it is against adult women. Around one in 400 rapes in South Africa end in a conviction. Reports say some police take bribes so charges will go away and in Southern Johannesburg, around one in 20 pieces of evidence goes missing. The reasons why most women do not report sexual abuse are clear, as are the reasons why the real number is high. The chances of conviction are very low. While numbers and data often are skewed and naturally change over time, the overall amount of evidence suggests clear problems in the police force when it comes to responding to sexual assault.

Care Centers

Thuthuzela Care Centers have really helped people and since 2006, 51 centers have emerged. The centers are helping survivors and trying to improve conviction rates. Most are near or even attached to hospitals as sometimes medical assistance is necessary. For years, the centers made progress, and now, many centers get around 60-80 patients a month. During holidays, the number is up to around 100-120. The United Nations and the government are currently working to improve the centers even more.

Care centers operate using a five-step process:

  1. A survivor reports a rape case to a center or police station.
  2. The staff at the centers help the survivor obtain medical attention.
  3. The care centers organize counseling for the survivor.
  4. The staff at the centers help the survivor open a police case, which can occur at any time.
  5. The staff arranges ongoing counseling and court preparation for the survivor.

The care centers provide many services to help survivors. However, long-term solutions should also emerge so the actual root of the problem can reach a resolution. However, care centers are still a significant step in the right direction.

– Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr

Volcanic Eruption in the DRCOn May 22, 2021, the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo erupted. Hundreds of thousands of people experienced the aftershocks, including contaminated water and structural damage. The destruction of water infrastructure means 500,000 people now lack access to a safe water supply. In a press release, USAID announced that it would be committing $100,000 worth of humanitarian aid to secure clean and safe drinking water for citizens affected by the volcanic eruption in the DRC.

History of Mount Nyiragongo

The Nyiragongo volcano stands almost 12,000 feet tall on the eastern border of the DRC in the strip of Virunga Mountains, a chain of active volcanoes. The volcano is one of the most active in the world and has the largest, most active lava lake. Nyiragongo has erupted several times since 1884, with the most severe eruption occurring in 1977, taking up to 400 lives. The most recent eruption before 2021 occurred in 2002, resulting in about 100 deaths and displacing up to 400,000 people.

The Aftershocks of the 2021 Eruption

The 2021 volcanic eruption in the DRC led to about 32 deaths and thousands of displacements. On May 30, 2021, in a period of just 24 hours, 92 aftershock earthquakes and tremors occurred but only about four were felt by citizens. For safety purposes, more than 400,000 people were evacuated from the North Kivu area.

Cholera, a diarrheal infection caused by drinking contaminated water, is an increased threat since the eruption.  Natural disasters often increase the risk of epidemics, especially those transmitted via contaminated water. The eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in the DRC caused the destruction of a vital water pipe and damaged a water reservoir. The damage cut off water access for about 500,000 people.

On June 7, 2021, UNICEF and partners announced that they were working to restore the water supply to the area. For temporary water access, UNICEF “installed 15 emergency station chlorination points” close to Lake Kivu. UNICEF also committed to assisting a task force by “supporting installation of 1,500 meters of pipe on top of the lava to replace pipework that has melted.”

The Hope of Crisis Assistance

Prior to the 2021 volcanic eruption in the DRC, the nation was already struggling with a humanitarian crisis, following years of political violence and conflict. At the beginning of 2021, the United Nations predicted that 19.6 million people in the DRC were in need of humanitarian assistance. With more than five million displaced persons and the highest recorded levels of food insecurity before the eruption even took place, the humanitarian crisis in the DRC has only grown. The U.N. requires financial assistance from the international community in order to comprehensively address the crisis in the DRC.

The United States serves as the largest donor to the DRC, providing more than $130 million worth of humanitarian assistance in 2021 alone. The U.S. commitment of $100,000 for water security initiatives in the DRC will aid the efforts of organizations such as UNICEF, protecting the well-being of vulnerable Congolese people.

– Monica Mellon
Photo: Flickr