Posts

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

Italy's Foreign Aid
On October 30, 2021, Italy will host the G20 summit, the annual economic forum on international cooperation and financial stability. In addition to policy coordination between the world’s major, advanced and emerging economies in efforts to achieve global economic growth, the summit also focuses on development programs in impoverished countries. A closer look at Italy’s foreign aid shows the extent to which Italy helps the world’s most vulnerable people.

Italy’s Foreign Aid

According to U.N. standards, Italy is not contributing enough to foreign aid. Italy is the 10th-largest Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) donor for the Development Assistance Committee (DAC). The country spent $4.2 billion on official development assistance in 2020. However, this represents only 0.22% of the country’s gross national income. It falls below the U.N. target of 0.7% as well as the DAC average of 0.32%.

Current Fund Allocation

Bilateral aid consists of grants that go to countries without a multilateral intermediary. Italy dedicates 31.1% of its bilateral aid to hosting refugees in donor countries. The country was on track to reach the U.N.’s official development assistance (ODA) target up until 2017. It then started to decrease funding as in-country refugee costs decreased by 76% from 2017 to 2019.

Furthermore, along with many other countries in the European Union, much of Italy’s foreign aid has gone toward border control instead of basic services such as water, food and education. These services are key elements that help fight poverty and decrease the likelihood of forced migration or the need for border control. A June 2019 Instituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) report found that the country lacks a consistent strategy surrounding development cooperation, largely due to Italy’s fixation on migration and its opportunistic and transactional approach to foreign policy.

Bilateral vs. Multilateral

Although it seems Italy could be doing more to help the world’s impoverished, it is important to note that most of its official development assistance (62%) goes to multilateral institutions. This means that the government authorizes non-governmental organizations (NGOs), think tanks and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank Group to allocate foreign aid accordingly. While some multilateral groups can have political leanings, NGOs and think tanks tend to operate apolitically. This minimizes the risk that Italy’s foreign aid only serves to reinforce political ambitions or national security through distribution.

For example, through Italy’s earmarked contribution of more than $82 million to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UNDP considers Italy a “vital partner in their mission to end extreme poverty” and is helping the country operationalize its G7 commitments through the Africa Centre for Sustainable Development in Rome. Once established, the goal of the Centre is to accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa by advocating the best practices regarding food security, access to water and clean energy.

Italy in the G20

As host of the G20 economic forum, Italy has an important position among other members in leading discussions on development and poverty. In fact, in a telephone conversation with the European commissioner for international partnerships, Emanuela Del Re, the Italian vice minister of foreign affairs, asserted that the G20 could be “the relevant international forum to define measures to ensure that vulnerable countries are part of the socio-economic recovery.”

While Italy should be contributing more toward its foreign aid as a whole, its commitment to multilateral cooperation is a promising step in alienating aid from internal politics. Furthermore, by prioritizing the management of the pandemic in economically developing countries in the G20, Italy could reevaluate its interest in migration as a central development issue and create the opportunity for a more balanced allocation of foreign aid.

– Annarosa Zampaglione
Photo: Flickr

Aid in Uruguay
Among all of the Latin American countries, Uruguay is unique for numerous reasons. Compared to many other countries located in the Americas, Uruguay has a fairly high per capita income. Rates of inequality and poverty are extremely low in Uruguay and extreme poverty itself is virtually nonexistent. Uruguay’s middle class is vast compared to other nations in the Americas. Its middle class makes up more than 60% of the country’s population. Uruguay’s economy has been so successful that back in 2013, the World Bank gave Uruguay the status of a high-income country. Given how successful Uruguay’s economy has been, it seems hard to believe that the country would need any form of aid. However, U.S. aid in Uruguay is prevalent in the country, and it benefits the people of Uruguay and the other nations in the Americas.

The US/Uruguay Relationship

The relationship between the U.S. and Uruguay dates back to 1867. The relationship between the two countries is incredibly strong due to its longevity. Both the U.S. and Uruguay have aligned values. Among these is the importance of democracy, viable economic policies and protection of the environment. Because of the long-existing relationship between the two countries and their similar values, it is less surprising that there is U.S. aid in Uruguay.

The Purpose of US Aid in Uruguay

There are two main reasons the U.S. gives aid to Uruguay. One is to encourage Uruguay to take active involvement in international affairs. The other is to help Uruguay improve security within its borders. Uruguay might be a high-income country, but its military is not fully professionalized. The aid that the U.S. provides can allow Uruguay to develop its military further, which would help strengthen the country’s security. Doing so will also allow Uruguay to help in international affairs. Uruguay has a long history of helping with peacekeeping missions and has provided vast amounts of personnel to peacekeeping operations conducted by the United Nations (U.N.). These peacekeeping operations allow Uruguay to help its neighbors in the Americas.

Economic Partnership

Both the U.S. and Uruguay have economic partnerships as well. According to the most recent available data, the U.S. had $1.6 billion of foreign direct investment in Uruguay in 2017. Around 120 U.S.-owned businesses are in operation in Uruguay as well. While Uruguay’s economy is in a healthy state, the economic relations with the U.S. ensure that it can maintain its economy with help from a reliable ally.

US Support of Uruguayan Education

U.S. aid in Uruguay has also come in the form of education. Uruguay has been a full supporter of Fulbright programs for some time. The Fulbright Commission and its programs allow students from various countries to study abroad. The Uruguayan government contributes $500,000 annually in support of these programs. This monetary support allows Uruguayan students to obtain scholarships that will allow them to travel to the U.S. to pursue postgraduate studies.

The Uruguayan government also spends up to $100,000 for English teachers to assist Uruguayan students in learning English. Studying in the U.S. is beneficial for Uruguayan students and any other students as well. Obtaining new knowledge will allow these students to return to their home country and obtain well-paying careers. This, in turn, will be beneficial for the economy of the home country.

The U.S. aid in Uruguay and the economic relationship that both countries share are beneficial for both sides. In particular, Uruguay can strengthen itself and be a servant of peace in the Americas. The economic relationship that Uruguay has also allowed the country to maintain its healthy economic state.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in Cambodia
The IDPoor card is a critical resource in the United Nations’ new COVID-19 Cash Transfer Programme. This program aims to support socioeconomically disadvantaged citizens who COVID-19 in Cambodia has impacted. The IDPoor card, which the country implemented in October 2020, is a form of payment to impoverished families and individuals that helps them access essential resources like food, housing, healthcare treatment, education and more.

IDPoor Card in Action

The Cash Transfer Programme provides Cambodians with financial resources for housing security and healthcare access. The Cambodian government registers individuals in need of economic assistance and indicates how much aid they can receive. With financial support from the U.N. and UNICEF, the Cambodian government has significantly improved the daily lives of impoverished Cambodians.

Yom Malai is a Cambodian woman who received the IDPoor card and described her experience in a U.N. News Article: “We collect the money from a money transfer service,” she says. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a great help for my family. In addition, if we ever need to go to the hospital, we get medical treatment, care and medicine free of charge.”

Malai also explained the review process necessary to receive a card. It includes interviewing applicants and recording details about each household. By doing this, the government gains a holistic picture of each family’s financial resources and needs. Malai’s experience demonstrates the necessity of the IDPoor card in reducing global poverty, particularly in regions that are suffering economically due to COVID-19.

Poverty on the Rise

Even before COVID-19, Cambodians faced a disproportionately high amount of poverty. The U.N. calculated the hypothetical rise of poverty in this region in 2019, predicting that the impoverished population would increase to 17.6%, more than two times the impoverished count in 2019. Moreover, COVID-19 exacerbated many Cambodians’ financial disadvantages as the country’s economy limited jobs and healthcare needs increased. Specifically, the unemployment rate in Cambodia in 2020 was 3.2%, much higher than the 2019 rate of 0.7%.

The Cash Transfer Programme provides financial assistance to citizens registered with an IDPoor card. Each monthly payment depends on a household’s specific situation and needs. The already existing Cash Transfer Programme received further funding and spread to include as many impoverished Cambodians as possible. This act is a ray of hope amid the impact of COVID-19 in Cambodia.

For individuals who qualify, the card also acts as a form of medical insurance. It allows registered Cambodians to receive healthcare treatments or consultations without being charged. This healthcare coverage is extremely helpful to families as medical bills and incurred costs are large components of poverty.

In a UNICEF article, a young woman named Leont Yong Phin conveyed how her IDPoor card has helped her. “I’m still paying back a loan from when I got bad typhoid,” she says. “This money means I can repay and afford food. We’ve never had help like this before, it’s so reassuring.”

Encouraging Equity

In addition to providing necessary economic support and medical access, the IDPoor card program is essential for encouraging equity in Cambodia and reducing the disadvantages that come with certain socioeconomic conditions. By reviewing applicants’ economic history and family situation, the government can adequately provide the support necessary to address all citizens’ needs. In this way, the Cash Transfer Programme helps Cambodians with daily expenses and works to end inequity across the country.

Although the impact of COVID-19 in Cambodia has been significant, the IDPoor card and Cash Transfer Programme are greatly improving life for many Cambodians. With more support from international organizations like the United Nations, nonprofit organizations and even individuals, the program can provide even more resources to impoverished Cambodians.

– Kristen Quinonez
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in BruneiAccording to the 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, there were more than 50,000 cases of human trafficking reported in 148 countries. The report suggests that human traffickers prey mostly on women, children, migrants and unemployed people. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is no surprise that the United Nations fears that the number of human trafficking victims will increase. In 2020, 114 million people lost their jobs and children had to stay home. The Business and Human Rights Resource Center has emphasized the vulnerability of those low down in the supply chain, particularly those working in countries that had failed to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in the past. Human trafficking in Brunei is on the rise, prompting action from the government and organizations.

Migrant Workers in Brunei

Wealthy in natural gas and oil, Brunei houses more than 100,000 foreign workers who come in search of low-skill jobs. However, many migrant workers have fallen victim to human trafficking in Brunei. Employers withhold their wages, switch their labor contracts, confiscate their passports or confine them into involuntary servitude through physical abuse. Traffickers mostly take advantage of foreign workers’ illiteracy and lack of knowledge of local labor laws. Debt-based coercion and the withholding of salaries is also a frequent experience for domestic workers. The U.S. Department of State 2020 Report suggests traffickers from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand use Brunei to transit sex slaves.

Vulnerable Women and Children

With one-third of human trafficking victims in East Asia being women, traffickers force thousands of women and girls into prostitution. Thousands of children who are trafficked in Brunei each year experience domestic servitude or sexual exploitation, according to the 2020 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. However, according to the United Nations, there was an influx in cyber trafficking, making the industry worth $8 billion by the end of 2020. During lockdown in Brunei, traffickers often live-streamed sexual abuse of children on social media. Furthermore, thousands of victims experience deportation or receive convictions for crimes without investigation into whether they were trafficking victims.

Brunei’s Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking

Despite passing an Anti-Trafficking in Persons Order in 2019, which differentiates migrant smuggling and human trafficking crimes, Brunei’s government failed to prosecute or convict any traffickers between 2017 and 2021. The last conviction for human trafficking in Brunei was in 2016. The government has also failed to allocate any resources to victims or the repatriation fund upheld in the Order.

This comes after Brunei demonstrated efforts to diminish human trafficking by ratifying the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons (ACTIP) in January 2020. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) created the Convention to affirm its commitment to prevent and combat human trafficking by establishing a legal framework for regional action. As it ratified the Convention, Brunei is responsible for implementing domestic laws to enforce the ACTIP at the local level. However, Brunei’s government has not introduced or amended any laws since the ratification.

Attempting to demonstrate that efforts to stop trafficking are active, Brunei has carried awareness campaigns for employers of foreign workers. These materials are in both English and Malay. In 2020, Brunei’s labor department distributed business cards containing its hotline for reporting violations in more than 500 factories and plants. Nonetheless, Brunei employers withholding wages and confiscating migrant workers’ documentation remain common practices. No improvements received recognition in Brunei’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report in comparison to the previous year.

Outside Recommendations

As the United States Department of State suggested in its 2020 report, to effectively tackle human trafficking in Brunei, it is necessary that the government not only increases efforts to investigate and convict traffickers but that it also allocates funds to protect and shelter victims. Brunei must also ensure labor contracts are in the employees’ native language and that workers can retain a copy of their contract and documentation.

Furthermore, the government should direct awareness campaigns at both employers and employees so they are aware of their rights. Campaigns must be available in different languages, particularly those that are common among migrants such as Indonesian, Thai and Filipino. The government must also offer nondiscriminatory essential services to victims of trafficking to protect people regardless of their nationality.

To prevent traffickers from targeting children, teachers must receive training so they can identify and report cases of suspected abuse. It is also important for children to obtain education about their rights and the dangers of social media. This can stop cyber trafficking from taking place. To combat cyber trafficking, the local government must carry out human trafficking campaigns digitally as well.

The Road Ahead

Brunei’s government has done more than just create hotlines for people to report potential human trafficking or labor violation cases. It has publicized numerous labor inspections of government ministries and agencies to promote transparency and accountability. The government of Brunei has also partaken in the Youth South East Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) to continue to raise awareness on human trafficking. By participating in the United State’s YSEALI, young citizens of Brunei attended seminars on how to actively combat human trafficking. As people learn about human trafficking and raise awareness, human trafficking in Brunei will hopefully soon decrease.

Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr

Human trafficking in the Republic of the CongoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is an African country that is home to more than 105 million people, forming the second-largest country on the continent. The DRC is rich in natural resources such as coal, gold and petroleum, which provide the country with economic sustenance. However, human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo stemming from governmental corruption and internal conflicts continues to plague the country.

Economic Background of the DRC

Economic growth in the DRC decreased from 4.4% in 2019 to merely 0.8% in 2020. The slowed growth rate correlates with limitations related to COVID-19. Private consumption, government investment and non-mining sectors dipped because of pandemic-related complications and limited government spending. The Democratic Republic of the Congo falls in the bottom 10 countries in the Doing Business 2020 annual report. The Human Development Index (HDI), which measures holistic standards of living, placed the DRC in the bottom 15 countries for 2020.

The pervasiveness of poverty in the DRC is reflected in the estimated 73% of Congolese people who lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2018. About one in six people living in conditions of extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa are from the DRC, with more than four in 10 Congolese children classified as malnourished. The Human Capital Index (HCI) indicates Congolese children operate at roughly one-third of the potential productivity possible with full education and complete health. The DRC ranks below average in the HCI compared to other sub-Saharan African nations.

Human Trafficking in the DRC

In a 2019 report, the U.S. Department of State classified the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a Tier 3 nation in its handling of human trafficking. The classification is due to the Department of State’s determination that the DRC “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.”

While the Congolese National Army (FARDC) showed no cases of child recruitment for the fourth year in a row, the FARDC is said to have recruited child soldiers through partnerships with local militias. The Congolese government reported additional cases of sexual violence but did not differentiate sex trafficking crimes from general sexual violence crimes. Furthermore, there continues to be a lack of victim identification procedures and criminalization of trafficking crimes.

The U.S. Department of State recommends several mitigation methods for handling human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. Some overarching recommendations include efforts to “develop legislation that criminalizes all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties which are sufficiently stringent.” Additionally, the U.S. Department recommends the use of “existing legislation to increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict and adequately sentence traffickers, including complicit officials.”

United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking in the DRC is not going unnoticed. In 2020, the United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking announced its commitment to a short-term program to deliver humanitarian aid to human trafficking victims or those who are fleeing crises. For the DRC, the project focuses on “supporting underage girls trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation in artisanal mining zones in Kamituga, Mwenga territory, South Kivu province in eastern DRC.” Additionally, the project will provide clothes, shelter and mental support to trafficked women and young people in the DRC.

US Assistance

In 2020, the U.S. ambassador to the DRC, Michael Hammer, initiated a $3 million program with the U.S. Agency for International Development focusing on combating human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. The program prioritizes three tasks:

  1. Create effective anti-trafficking legislation and initiatives.
  2. Gather and communicate data on human trafficking.
  3. Reform “existing legal and medical services for victims of trafficking.”

The program also aims to strengthen prosecution efforts against human traffickers, reflecting the recommendations of the U.S. State Department. “The best way to prevent trafficking is to hold those responsible for it to account and to end impunity for this heinous crime,” said Ambassador Hammer at the program’s introduction. Hammer believes that the program, along with increased accountability for human traffickers, will provide pathways for development, security and humanitarian progress in the DRC.

International aid and development programs from prominent figures such as the U.S. can aid in eliminating practices of human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. With international assistance, human trafficking may no longer be a prevalent humanitarian problem for Congolese people.

Jessica Umbro
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

HIV/AIDS in EswatiniDue to its investments and reliable infrastructure, Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is one of the most stable African countries. Similarly, Eswatini runs an internationally recognized, successful educational and training institution known as the BirchCooper Graduate Institute. Despite the ability to provide a high quality of life to citizens, Eswatini has the highest HIV prevalence in the world. However, the country is taking positive steps to combat HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, which one can clearly see in its most recent HIV/AIDS achievements.

The Problem

There are many factors that contribute to high rates of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, such as multiple sexual partners, low condom usage, sexual violence and commercial sex. Due to these factors, HIV/AIDS has reached a staggering 27% rate among adults. While this rate is already high, women and girls are at an even higher risk of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini due to income inequality.

In Eswatini, social barriers cause many women to engage in transactional sex to earn money. This practice increases the risk of HIV and further fuels the HIV epidemic. In fact, while young women in Gambia, South Africa, the Congo and Gabon are three times more likely to have HIV than young men, young women in Eswatini are five times more likely to have HIV than young men.

5 Facts About HIV/AIDS in Eswatini

  1. Due to how quickly the epidemic is spreading, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in Eswatini.
  2. Because of the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, more than 95% of adults and 84% of children are on antiretroviral treatment.
  3. Due to the impact of drought and other factors, economic growth has stagnated and the poverty rate remains high at almost 60% in 2017. Impoverished countries usually lack adequate resources for an effective HIV/AIDS response.
  4. Gender discrimination is prevalent in Eswatini, with females experiencing significantly more HIV/AIDs stigmatization than males. Women also receive less economic, educational and emotional support.
  5. The high HIV/AIDS rate in Eswatini significantly impacts children as roughly 45,000 children from 0-17 have become orphans due to AIDS-related parent mortality.

Taking Strategic Action

Eswatini has made significant efforts to address the HIV/AIDs epidemic. Eswatini has implemented the National Multisectoral HIV and AIDS Strategic Framework (NSF) 2018-2023 with multiple objectives:

  • Decrease HIV rates among people aged 15-49 by 85%.
  • In the age bracket of 15-24, reduce HIV prevalence by 85%.
  • Decrease “new HIV infections among infants aged 0-1 year to less than 0.05%.”
  • Reduce AIDs-related deaths by half.

Aside from prevention and treatment aspects, the strategy also includes social protection and assistance, covering “orphaned and vulnerable children,” gender-based violence issues and HIV stigma.

The Good News

Eswatini’s efforts to combat its HIV/AIDS epidemic have been extremely successful in helping alleviate its HIV burden. In December 2020, Eswatini became “the first country in Africa to achieve the United Nations HIV targets.”

The 95-95-95 goal directs that, by 2030, 95% of people would be aware of their HIV status, 95% of affected people would be on treatment and 95% of those on treatment would be virally suppressed. In fact, Eswatini reached this goal 10 years before the expected year of 2030. This success is a clear indication that Eswatini has made significant strides in controlling HIV/AIDS.

As the burdens of HIV have damaged the fabric of Eswatini society with serious physical, mental, social and economic implications for its citizens, the country is moving toward a better and brighter future. Eswatini’s success serves as an inspiration for other countries battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Calvin Franke
Photo: Flickr

Fetal Mortality Rate in Russia
The Russian Federation is the largest nation by land area in the world, and its approximately 146 million people, according to Worldometer, are remarkably diverse and varied across this vast territorial expanse. While this broad and beautiful nation has problems both similar and different to all nations of the world, one real issue that is relatable across all borders, regardless of culture, is the danger of losing one’s child at the time one gives birth. The fetal mortality rate in Russia is no exception.

This is a problem that purveys all species of animals, yet for humans, the struggle to survive childbirth has become easier in many places across the world with the succeeding decades. For Russia, remedying its fetal mortality rate will go hand in hand with fixing their nations own blighted poverty, as the two play off of one another in a Sisyphean loop.

The Poverty and Fetal Mortality Rate in Russia

The numbers across the board in 2021 are markedly better than those at the start of the century. However, in comparison to 50 years ago, the fetal mortality rate in Russia has actually been improving at a steady rate, even as national poverty, currently at just 13% nationally, continues on its own uneven road.

The U.N. Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation estimates that nationally in 1970, approximately every 31 out of 1,000 births resulted in the death of the child in the Soviet Union. That number is today on par with the fetal mortality rate of far poorer nations, yet during this time, the Soviet Union was, under Leonid Brezhnev, still a powerful, if declining, force across the globe. The succeeding decades have since produced a consistent decline in these numbers, yet they have remained alarming to varying degrees, and for varying constituents, during this time.

By 2002, a bit more than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, now led by ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin, had shaved the number of estimated infant deaths per 1,000 children nationally from approximately 31 to 14.8 across 30 years. However, regions and cities like Tula, amongst the poorest regions in Russia, still recorded nearly 17 per 1,000. But, as a scathing report on the conditions on the ground told at the time, even these numbers, high as they are, might yet be untrustworthy and lower than in reality.

In this report, the infant mortality rate in St. Petersburg in 2001 was just 9.3 per 1,000 births. Meanwhile, in the region of Chuktskity Okrug, that number was actually more than four times higher than the national average at just over 42 per 1,000 live births. Therefore, one can surely conclude that the wealth and internal infrastructure of the region certainly has a part to play in the fetal mortality rate both regionally and nationally.

The Numbers Today

Today, the national number has continued to shrink in comparison to the old data, yet this onus remains a terrible burden on the massively expansive nation; in 2019, estimates determined that Russia had only 4.93 infant deaths on a national scale, which is a far cry from approximately 31 out of 1,000 just slightly more than 50 years ago. While Russia’s rates have officially dropped, again buoyed by the more readily available healthcare of the larger cities like Moscow, the country’s official standing regarding the fetal mortality rate is nuanced.

However, while some facts change across the decades, other things remain the same. Available reports from all of these periods show that the nation was not infrastructurally integrated enough to sustain mothers or their children with the necessary resources, education or medical attention. Today, like in 2010, 2000 and 1970, the poorest regions in the federation, as well as within cities themselves, continue to suffer this trauma and unfair indignity at higher rates than their city-dwelling fellow citizens.

Russia: Between a Proverbial Rock and Hard Place

With sanctions against Russia omnipresent and the nation’s government itself outwardly hostile towards global nonprofits since 2012, external as well as internal human rights and advocacy groups have struggled to positively affect change. Population and Development was a Russian NGO that focused primarily on the promotion and protection of the reproductive health of Russian citizens before it shut down alongside so many others. The United States Agency for International Development, which has previously invested time and energy towards the betterment of Russian society through education and health initiatives, has had limited power and prestige in Russia in the years since 2012, as the country kicked it out in September of that year. Vladimir Putin’s government’s newest crackdown in April 2021 has left still fewer external or internal options for advocates to effectively affect positive change across the society, apart from the World Bank.

While the Russian government has largely discontinued or silenced internal and external assistance, cooperation with the World Bank has continued and might be the surest recourse for the fetal mortality rate in Russia. While Vladimir Putin has said that “Russia’s fate and its historic prospects depend on how many of us there are…,” his government alone has not been up to fixing all that ails the nation’s fetal mortality rate, and so continues to place its population in the most dangerous of positions. On the other hand, since 1992, the World Bank has been helping the Russian Federation advance the internal dynamics of their nation, from the hard and soft infrastructure necessary to producing stable economic circumstances to the education and resources necessary to create healthy environments for mothers to have, and then subsequently care for, their children.

Helping Russia

In such an unforgiving natural environment, the people require all of the help they can to sustain themselves and their families from generation to generation. Ultimately, organizations like the United Nations, USAID, Population and Development and other organizations can still help Russia with its poverty and fetal mortality rate, should they only receive the chance to do so once again.

– Trent Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Drones Protect Botswana's MothersChildbirth in Botswana carries high risks, especially because remoteness threatens safe deliveries for women. If complications arise, it can take hours to transport patients to adequate medical facilities. The lengthy travel time to get medical assistance can prove lethal. In response, the U.N. devised a solution involving drone technology. Drones protect Botswana’s mothers by delivering essential medical supplies. Excessive bleeding is a primary cause of maternal mortality and medical drones can now deliver blood to women who need it. In May 2021, Botswana became the third African nation to implement the Drones For Health project in order to improve maternal health.

Botswana’s Maternal Mortality Rate

Prior to Botswana’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, the country had one of the highest poverty rates in the world. Since then, abundant resources and an adept government significantly reduced poverty. Botswana is now considered an upper-middle-income country. However, childbirth risks remain high. Botswana’s 2019 maternal mortality rate was 166 deaths per 100,000 births.

While the worldwide maternal mortality rate dropped by nearly half from 1990 to 2010, progress has been slower in many sub-Saharan African countries. Through projects like Drones For Health, Botswana works toward a 2025 goal of reducing its maternal mortality rate to 71 deaths per 100,000 births.

How Maternal Mortality Impacts Poverty

Maternal mortality harshly impacts poverty as a mother is often a central figure in a household and in society, taking on multiple functions and responsibilities. Surviving children often drop out of school in order to fulfill household obligations or take on employment to compensate for lost household income due to a mother’s death. Children without mothers often have deficient health outcomes because they are less likely to be immunized and often do not receive adequate healthcare when sick. Furthermore, due to the severe economic challenges of losing a mother, some young girls are forced to marry early.

The Drones For Health Initiative

Botswanan academics and government officials worked with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to put the Drones For Health initiative in motion. The medical drones have launch pads in four locations across the country, all situated next to healthcare facilities. The drones protect Botswana’s mothers by completing quick deliveries of blood. As long as the cargo is less than two kilograms, the drones can also carry medications and other medical supplies. Medical drones are also able to bypass infrastructure limitations such as uneven roads or missing bridges. These barriers prevent land-based vehicles from delivering blood to remote areas. In addition to providing a life-saving service, the battery-powered drones cause much less pollution than a land vehicle making the same trip.

Poverty is the main predictor of women’s endangerment during deliveries. Without traveling to medical facilities or hiring a midwife, childbirth becomes exponentially more difficult and risky. Botswana’s medical drone project exemplifies the benefits of creative and tech-savvy strategies to reduce maternal mortality.

– Lucy Gentry
Photo: Unsplash

Fashion can Contribute to PovertyFashion can contribute to poverty, but it is also a powerful force that lifts women out of poverty as it has stirred up a feminist movement. Brands that provide a living wage for female garment workers empower them to lead dignified lives. Additionally, these fashion brands give women access to a fair supply chain, proper work and fair wages. As a result, fashion consumers that support ethical fashion brands help advocate for women’s rights through their shopping decisions.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement supports women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. One example of the feminist movement in the fashion industry is the production of t-shirts with feminist quotes. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by Bangladeshi garment workers. However, Oxfam reported that same year that no Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. These workers received 35 pence an hour during 54-hour workweeks, amounting to about £82, which is well below the living wage estimate. This is a clear example of how fashion can contribute to global poverty.

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing produced by garment workers all over the globe. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks. This is equal to 10 to 18 hours per day for wages that are two to five times less than what is needed to live sufficiently. In addition, the majority of profits made from fast fashion are paid to top fashion CEOs. In fact, Oxfam states that CEOs earn in four days what a garment worker will make in one lifetime.

Brands that pay garment workers a living wage allow employees to afford essential needs, such as housing, food, transportation, education and savings. In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia stated that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also found that increasing the cost of clothing by $0.20 would ensure Indian garment workers earn a living wage.

SOKO: Ethical Fashion

SOKO empowers garment workers by addressing the most vital human rights abuse in the fashion industry: the non-payment of a living wage. This women-led, ethical jewelry brand produces collections made by more than 2,300 independent Kenyan artisans. SOKO’s virtual manufacturing platform connects with a global marketplace to receive orders and payments. By leveraging technology, artisans earn five times more with SOKO compared to an average artisan workplace. In addition, this U.N.-endorsed brand guarantees workers freedom and sovereignty by limiting artisans’ work to 50% or less of their total capacity. As a result, SOKO artisans have experienced a 12% increase in average artisan income, and SOKO’s sales have impacted 11,400 beneficiaries.

Empowering Girls and Women

The U.N. reports that investing in girls and women helps improve their livelihoods in the long term. Moreover, studies from the World Bank show that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family’s needs, provide care for their family and send their children to school. This helps improve the lives of children and women all over the world. Empowering women also leads to reduced maternal and child mortality levels. When garment workers can afford to send their children to school, economic growth improves and poverty decreases.

The lives of underpaid garment workers are a testament to how fashion can contribute to poverty. Brands that support their garment workers contribute to the feminist movement. Brands support the movement by investing in female education, providing living wages, establishing safe working conditions and empowering workers. Consumers can support the movement by supporting ethical brands that strive to uplift the garment workers making their clothing.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr