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World Poverty Declines RapidlyOxford University’s poverty and human development initiative published a world poverty report.  As world poverty declines, the report notes that “never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast.”  In fact, if some countries continue to improve at current rates, it is possible to eradicate acute poverty within 20 years.

The academic study measured new deprivations, such as nutrition, education, and health. By examining more than income deprivation, the study is able to convey the bigger picture.  The new methodology is entitled to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI).  Past studies identify income as the only indicator of poverty.  This is a misrepresentation because multiple aspects constitute poverty.

The MPI measures poor health, lack of education, inadequate living standards, lack of income, disempowerment, poor quality of work, and threats from violence.  These factors provide a holistic look as world poverty declines.

Dr. Sabina Alkire and Dr. Maria Emma Santos developed the new system.   They named the system “multidimensional” because it is what people facing poverty describe.  “As poor people worldwide have said, poverty is more than money,” Alkire said.

This increased information and understanding better inform international donors and governments.  “Maybe we have been overlooking the power of the people themselves, women who are empowering each other, civil society pulling itself up,” Alkire said.  The new data could incentivize donors to provide assistance.  International and national aid contribute to declining rates.  Improvements to infrastructure, education, and healthcare help decrease poverty rates.  Trade has improved the economies of Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone.

Rwanda, Nepal, and Bangladesh experienced the greatest decrease in poverty rates.  It is possible that “deprivation could disappear within the lifetime of present generations.”  Close behind in the ranks of poverty reduction were Ghana, Tanzania, Cambodia, and Bolivia.

The study is supported by the United Nations’ recent development report.  The UN report stated that poverty reduction was “exceeding all expectations.”

Check out the MPI interactive world map for more details.

– Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: The Guardian

Opposition-Led Northern Syria Lacks Foreign AidOpposition-led northern Syria, which is controlled by rebels, are receiving little to no aid. Most of the aid is going to territory controlled by President Bashar al-Assad, thereby creating resentment and tension with those who are designated to receive the aid. Unfortunately, the U.N. adheres to al-Assad’s rules, which restrict access to territories run by the opposition. Although Syrian refugees in government-controlled areas are receiving ample aid and are cared for by the U.N., those in opposition-led areas lack food, fuel, blankets and medicine. However, the U.S. is using independent non-profit organizations to contribute generously to help deliver these necessities to the opposition-controlled areas.

According to a U.S. diplomat involved in Syrian policy, U.S. involvement through these non-profit independent groups must remain confidential to protect staff in Damascus who are still working under al-Assad. Thus, many Syrians living in opposition-led areas have no idea that the West is contributing to their aid. In the struggle to deliver aid to these areas, eight U.N. aid workers have been killed, demonstrating the complexity of fully providing aid where it is needed. The unfortunate reality is that Assad’s government is still recognized by the U.N. and is supported by Russia.

A Syrian director of the aid office in Sawran asserted that aid should be given to the people, not to the government. Many officials from these non-profit groups are arguing that as the conflict is getting worse, it is getting harder and harder to deliver assistance to opposition-controlled areas. There is also a huge amount of aid coming into Syria from Gulf countries but, again, the majority of it is to aid the Syrian opposition in its war against Assad and not to meet humanitarian needs.

In times of such desperation, many people are sleeping “crammed in leaking tents without heat or electricity. They crowd like cattle in metal chutes.” They receive two meals a day, sometimes one, or none at all. Children are said to “slosh through muddy puddles” in big sandals, so big that they fall off their feet. Recently, during a shoe donation campaign, the refugees ended up burning the shoes as firewood while desperate for heating fuel.

The medical group in Syria is requesting the international world to cross the Turkish border and deliver aid. Currently, the Turkish government is providing a refugee camp for Syrians outside of the Northern rebel-controlled border. These camps are equipped with heat, electricity, and other necessities. Additionally, schools with therapists are provided for refugee children to help them deal with post-traumatic stress.

Leen Abdallah

Source: New York Times

Early Marriage as a Form of ViolenceIn 2020, more than 140 million girls will be attending a wedding – their own. Of these 150 million girls, 50 million will be attending their own wedding before they have even celebrated their 15th birthday.

These numbers are based on current rates of early marriage, according to the UN.

Most child marriages occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In fact, nearly half of all young women are married before the age of 18 in South Asia. In Africa, this percentage drops, but only to one-third.

In light of International Women’s Day, whether child marriage should be considered a form of violence against women and children is up for debate. According to UN Women, early marriage increases a girl’s chance of becoming a victim of sexual violence in the home. It also limits a girl’s access to education because she is often expected to have children and take care of her husband and household. It is also associated with increased health risks due to early pregnancy and motherhood.

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was recently presented a petition by the World Young Women’s Christian Association (WYWCA) that urged CSW to help end child marriage by 2030.

Yet, fighting early marriage will be an uphill battle. In many countries and cultures, marrying at a young age is traditional and is not seen as a problem. In some areas, particularly poorer countries, there are not enough resources for girls to continue in school as their male counterparts. Marriage serves as an easy way to justify girls abandoning their education to stay at home. Another issue plaguing poorer countries and people is the practice of a “bride price.” Some fathers will marry their daughters off for the price of a cow, especially during difficult times. According to Catherine Gotani Hara, Health Minister of Malawi, “Someone will come in and give a father a cow for a girl when they are eight or nine years old and when they reach puberty they will give another cow.” Out of need or necessity, a daughter may be worth two cows.

Getting around the barriers surrounding child marriage will require the support of governments and the passing of legislation that raises the legal age of marriage, as well as provides more resources for schools so that girls can reach the same level of education as their male counterparts. Currently, this is what happening in Malawi. The rate of child marriage in Malawi is currently 50 percent but by 2014, the age of legal marriage will hopefully have moved up from 15 to 18. Only time will tell if these steps will help eradicate child marriage.

– Angela Hooks

Source: Guardian

World Day of Social Justice
Days ago, on Wednesday, February 20th, the global observance of the World Day of Social Justice was honored by the U.N. It was first observed in 2009. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the U.N., uttered some words of remembrance this year when he expressed that in order to achieve a better and more ideal world, there will be a need for a more “inclusive, equitable and sustainable development path built on dialogue, transparency and social justice.”

The World Day of Social Justice is dedicated to the hopes of better employment, social justice, and equality for all. By breaking social barriers of race, gender, disability, and religion, such an idealistic goal can be met. Ten years after political leaders’ decision to tackle global poverty and unemployment, a promise was made to better develop social justice. Thus, in 2007, the World Day of Social Justice was launched by the U.N. General Assembly. Although relatively new, each year the cause becomes more known and incorporates more and more people and institutions, such as various schools and colleges, to take it into account.

Social justice holds a powerful force to influence and lead better lives, equally and positively affecting people from all over the world and from different backgrounds. With the growth of poverty, particularly child poverty, all over the world including in the U.K., poverty awareness is becoming increasingly important. Future policies must better address poverty in hopes of fulfilling social justice and promoting coexistence.

– Leen Abdallah

Source: New Free Press

How Quinoa Can Lead to Nutritional SecurityFebruary 20th marked the beginning of the International Year of Quinoa, a project designed to raise awareness of the benefits of quinoa and its ability to bring nutritional security. The project was launched by the United Nations and the Andean Community of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to help reach the Millenium Development Goal of reducing world hunger to a half by 2015.

Quinoa contains essential amino acids and vitamins, yet has no gluten. It is easy to grow because of its adaptability to different environments – thriving in below-freezing temperatures, as well as altitudes way above sea level. Thus, cultivating quinoa in areas with arid farming conditions and high malnutrition rates is both a possible and effective way to help combat global poverty and improve the standard of living in many countries. During the project’s launch, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon commented that the International Year of Quinoa will act as “a catalyst for learning about the potential of quinoa for food and nutrition security, for reducing poverty.”

Bringing awareness to the value of quinoa worldwide is beneficial not just to the fight against global hunger and poverty, but to quinoa farmers as well. As the price of quinoa rises due to its increased popularity with large companies, farmers that cultivate quinoa will experience higher incomes.

– Angela Hooks

Source: AllAfrica
Photo: NY Times

North Korean Prison Camps Uncovered Using Google Earth
Using new Google Earth images, analysts and human rights groups have uncovered visual proof of several prison camps operating in the oppressive North Korean state. Long an unconfirmed and secret program that the country continually denied as foreign propaganda, the regime’s prison camps are now verifiable through high-definition satellite imagery.

The UN has been encouraged by rights groups to investigate the situation that has persisted for nearly 50 years, as there are thought to be nearly 200,000 political and civilian prisoners held in a series of camps – many detained as punishment for attempting to flee North Korea in search of food or work, according to a report by the National Human Rights Commission.

With the release of the latest satellite imagery courtesy of Google Earth, a newly constructed prison camp can be seen in Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, that did not exist when the last images were released in 2006, according to the North Korean Economy Watch website. Analysts were able to determine such details as a 13-mile-long fence, with two checkpoints and six guard posts, and a seemingly nonoperational coal mine.

Reports of conditions inside North Korea’s prison camps have been few and far between, as very few prisoners have ever escaped alive, with little chance of ever leaving the prison at all once they are in. The accounts of life inside, where perceived “enemies” of the regime and three generations of their family can become imprisoned for the rest of their lives, are extremely harrowing. Such stories include prisoners “forced to to survive by eating rats and picking corn kernels out of animal waste.”

Other such conditions include abuse, torture, sexual violence, and disease; analysts suspect that nearly 40 percent of prisoners die of starvation and malnourishment, while those who survive are worked to death in harsh conditions for up to 16 hours per day. Prisoners who attempt to escape and are caught face execution.

The role of Google Earth has played a large part in the increased amount of knowledge that rights groups have available on the prison system. Former prisoners have, with the improvement in imagery that is now high-definition, been able to work with analysts in pinpointing the exact features of the prison camps that they were in, including their barracks and camp execution grounds.

Although the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, stated that steps are needed in order to take stronger action against the regime, she also acknowledged that the UN had hoped that the change in leadership would improve the human rights situation in the country. Ms. Pillay stated that the UN will look into creating an international investigation into the North Korean prison camps system since it is clear that the situation is not improving.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Telegraph

 

UN Refuses to Compensate Haitian Cholera Victims
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is no evidence that anyone in Haiti had ever gotten cholera before 2010. However, since the outbreak began that year, almost half a million Haitians have gotten the disease, and nearly 8,000 have been killed by it.

Cholera is a horrible disease with a surprisingly simple treatment. Victims suffer from extreme diarrhea, but if they are constantly supplied with oral re-hydration in order to replace lost water and electrolytes, they will almost always survive. Unfortunately, poor infrastructure and a lack of water sanitation systems has resulted in many Haitians not getting the treatment they need.

As a result of these deaths, the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti has filed a claim against the UN, stating that evidence demonstrates that the UN was responsible for the outbreak in the first place. Allegedly, UN troops from Nepal were carrying the disease as they were sent to Haiti to assist after the 2010 Earthquake.

On Thursday, February 21, 2013, the UN rejected the Institute’s claim on the basis of diplomatic immunity. Although there are many efforts at the international level to eradicate the cholera epidemic in Haiti, the U.N.’s official decision states that “the claims are ‘not receivable’ because they concern ‘a review of political and policy matters.'” As the UN refuses to compensate Haitian cholera victims, thousands more may suffer until enough money can be raised to implement Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s plan for eradicating cholera in the region.

Jake Simon

Source: U.S. News
Photo: The Guardian

Polio Vaccine
Nine public health workers were recently killed by gunmen in Nigeria, according to The New York Times. The women were giving the polio vaccine to patients as part of a drive to eradicate the disease. The United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization both have a hand in funding and running the aid effort. No group has claimed to have committed the murders but local militant groups are suspected.

Polio has not been an epidemic in the developed world for quite a long time. The polio vaccine is easily found and administered in most areas of the world. Nigeria is one of the few countries in which polio continues to cause a real threat to the population. A large factor in this deadly situation is a high level of mistrust of the vaccine. Rumors about the CIA and Western governments using the vaccine to spread AIDS and sterilize women have both been spread.

It is surprisingly easy to believe that such things would be happening since such things have indeed been done before. Building trust on both personal and international levels is important to defeating the last holdouts of polio. The absence of the disease from the rest of the world can’t be the only proof that health workers can bring to their communities, there needs to be greater trust and less fear.

To combat the myths about the polio vaccine and the fear of receiving it, Bill Gates of  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has begun to address those issues head-on. Bill Gates recently gave a lecture outlining the importance of the vaccine’s availability and dispelling the popular myths about what it does.

The presence of a big name like Gates will go a long way in getting rid of these misconceptions that are putting people’s lives in danger. Watch Bill’s lecture here.

– Kevin Sullivan

Sources: The New York Times, BBC
Photo: Vaccine Truth

UN Central Emergency Response FundIn December of 2012, the United Nations had called for financial support for the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) which has financed humanitarian programs that saved millions of lives. Donors pledged $384 million for 2013. On January 21, the United Nations announced that $100 million was to be allocated to 12 poorly-funded crises around the world.

Since 2006, the UN CERF has helped speed up relief efforts by collecting donations to ensure that programs providing life-saving assistance receive adequate funding. Since then, the Fund has managed to secure a total of $900 million to address crises. In 2012, CERF allocated a total of $465 million to programs delivering humanitarian aid in 49 countries including Syria, South Sudan, Haiti and Pakistan, the highest amount allocated in a year.

On December 11, 2012, in a statement at the high-level CERF conference, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, praised the Fund’s work in aiding those affected by crises. “CERF’s support has been critical to saving the lives and livelihoods of millions of people throughout the world,” Amos said. “It has bolstered the transformative agenda, which aims to strengthen humanitarian response, and our efforts to have a robust and well-coordinated UN-led humanitarian response in support of national efforts.”

Amos reviewed CERF’s work in supporting Syrians in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, refugees in South Sudan, and disaster response in Haiti and Cuba post-Hurricane Sandy. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had also praised the fund’s range of services: “From flood zones to war zones, CERF stops crises from turning into catastrophes.”  Ban Ki-Moon emphasized the Fund’s ability to mobilize funds “in stubbornly under-funded situations” through its “quick, targeted support” mechanism.

CERF supports the following countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Burundi, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen. CERF selection criteria include humanitarian needs and analysis of funding levels. These situations include the Sahrawi refugee operation in Algeria, life-saving programs in Eritrea and agencies working in Afghanistan.

The objective is to target ‘forgotten’ or ‘neglected’ emergencies. A second round of allocating funding will follow in July 2013. Amos reiterated that the CERF continues to help millions of people “after the media spotlight fades.” She hopes more governments will cooperate with CERF in providing funds to those trapped in “hidden emergencies.”

“CERF is more than a message from the international community – it is a real help for the most vulnerable members of our human family,” concluded Ki-Moon.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: UN NewsUN NewsOCHA

Accountability Promised on Aid PledgesAt the African Union Summit, British Prime Minister and Chairman of the G8, David Cameron re-asserted his conviction today to end extreme poverty. Patrick Wintour of The Guardian notes Cameron’s emphasis on “responsible capitalism” and accountability, the latter to which Cameron cited there will be “an accountability report when the G8 meets in Northern Ireland in June”.

Accountability seems to be a buzzword in recent politics as the pressure mounts for the United Nations to succeed in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, set to expire in 2015. The time is coming for individual nations to own up to the promises they had made to succeed in these goals in 2010.

The Guardian reports that Cameron promises to pressure western countries that have been less proactive on their aid pledges. The news source contends, “Britain has maintained its pledge to ringfence 0.7% of its gross domestic product for aid, something which has been fiercely opposed by some in Cameron’s party.”

This percentage yields a large impact and is a higher percentage of the gross domestic product than what the United States has contributed, which was reported to only contribute 0.19% of its gross domestic product in 2010. Although the size of the American economy is much bigger than that of most nations, the country may be held accountable for its false promises. In the past few years, the allocation of funding for foreign aid in the U.S. Budget has decreased because politicians seek to assuage the repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis.

– Nina Narang

Sources: The Guardian, The Huffington Post
Photo: The Muslim Weekly