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Breaking the Language BarrierLanguage barriers are an issue that affects a variety of individuals worldwide. Whether it be refugees fleeing their home countries, immigrants looking for new opportunities or others who are moving across the world, the language barrier can lead to unanticipated setbacks. This single obstacle can lead to a whole host of challenges that can easily cause stress and frustration for incoming migrants. Fortunately, English as a Second Language (ESL) programs exist to help individuals overcome such challenges, breaking the language barrier.

About Language Barriers

Studies have shown a distinct correlation between the language barrier and poverty. As the language barrier is a direct impediment to effective communication, accessing community resources becomes far more difficult. This may lead to a state of poverty. For example, a study on the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community analyzed varying levels of poverty. Japanese Americans have a relatively low poverty rate of 8.4% while research has shown that Hmong Americans have poverty rates as high as 24%. This number is well above the U.S. average of 13.7%. According to the study, one of the main reasons for the disparity between the two groups resides in language issues and the ability to speak English fluently. Those who had limited English proficiency often experienced higher poverty rates than those with more English fluency. Below are two areas that language barriers affect:

  1. Healthcare: Language barriers weaken communication between a patient and doctor, contributing to low-quality health care services. In some cases, this can be hazardous to a patient’s safety. Many health care centers have proposed using interpreters, but this can be costly and weigh on many vital resources.
  2. Education: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that 40% of students all over the world do not have access to education in a language they know. This poses a challenge in the classroom. Students are unable to receive a quality education and may feel isolated without the ability to socialize and create bonds with their peers.

ESL and Organizations that Provide Classes

ESL programs are an important factor in breaking the language barrier. The classes many organizations offer are able to increase the confidence and success of many English learners. Refugees who participate in ESL programs have been shown to integrate better into their communities and feel more welcomed by the people around them. They are better capable of finding employment and are able to work toward successful lives in their new country. ESL is an important step in an English learner’s journey, and below are two organizations that offer such opportunities:

  1. English 1 on 1: An organization that is dedicated to providing free, conversational English lessons, English 1 on 1 teaches virtual English lessons to students. Its lessons are catered toward the individual needs of a student and cover a broad scope of topics. In order to make the biggest impact, English 1 on 1 teaches immigrants and refugees in the United States as well as organizations worldwide. Its students come away with a deeper understanding of the English language and the tools necessary to communicate with the society around them.
  2. The Refugee Resettlement Office of Western Washington: The Refugee Resettlement Office (RRO) provides a multitude of services for refugees in Western Washington. Whether it be providing assistance in the resettlement process or the development of strong employment-seeking skills, the RRO covers all bases. It also offers free conversational English lessons multiple times a week for its clients. Although not required, the lessons allow students to experience quite a number of learning levels. The RRO allows its students to progress and become stronger in their English abilities.

Language barriers are an obstacle that prevents many migrants from feeling as though they are true members of their communities. The challenges these individuals face may cause them to fall into a state of poverty. Breaking the language barrier is necessary to alleviate poverty as a result. English as a Second Language program has emerged for this specific purpose. Many provide their services free of cost and create lessons that are easily accessible. These programs can uplift migrants from poverty and lead to their future success.

– Mariam Kazmi
Photo: Unsplash

U.S. Foreign Aid During COVID-19The year 2020’s sudden outbreak of COVID-19 caught many countries off guard. The U.S. is demonstrating its status as a global superpower by releasing economic, medical and other foreign aid during COVID-19.

5 Facts About US Foreign Aid During COVID-19

  1. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has given more than $1.5 billion to different governments and organizations during the pandemic. The government split the money among various humanitarian, developmental and economic programs and organizations. The aid aims to help sustain governments at risk during the pandemic. It also intends to make the public more aware of COVID-19 and how to combat it. Additionally, the aid from the U.S. will go toward improving health education and hospitals, funding quick response teams capable of inhibiting COVID-19’s spread. The U.S. Government has also planned a $4 billion relief fund to aid high-risk countries through COVAX, a program that provides vaccines to low-income countries.
  2. The U.S. State Department works alongside other organizations. USAID and the CDC help the U.S. Government provide the necessary aid to countries at high risk. Congress created an emergency fund of $2.4 billion with the purpose of supporting both humanitarian programs and security and stabilization programs for countries in need. For example, foreign aid helps countries create safe and secure ways for citizens to receive necessary medical care during the pandemic.
  3. The U.S. gave the most foreign aid in 2020. In 2020, the U.S. gave around $35 billion in aid, with Germany close behind at just shy of $30 billion. The global amount of money that has gone toward COVID-19 relief measures is equal to about $16 trillion. U.S. foreign aid during COVID-19 is only around 1% of that. The majority of foreign aid during COVID-19 went toward short-term solutions, such as the aforementioned public health education programs and hospital care programs.
  4. U.S. foreign aid programs help combat more than just COVID-19. Recently, the House of Representatives passed an $11 billion bill to support countries in need, including through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
  5. The U.S. has approved $1.9 trillion in COVID-19 aid. Of that $1.9 trillion, the U.S. has dedicated $11 billion to fight the global pandemic. That $11 billion includes $800 million for aid programs from the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as the CDC Global Fund. The remaining $10 billion will support global health, humanitarian aid and economic aid.

To conclude, the U.S. has provided more aid than any other nation to help countries combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This has allowed many at-risk countries to minimize or at least lessen the impact of the disease.

Jake Herbetko
Photo: Flickr

Native American WomenThe 2017 film, Wind River, based on actual events, riveted the public with its reported death rate of Native American women on American reservations. Writer-producer Taylor Sheridan aimed to raise awareness of the overlooked death rate and has succesfully done so since.

Violence Against Indigenous Women

Where poverty is the greatest, indigenous women experience domestic violence rates 10 times higher than the national average for all races. In addition, 84% of Native American women experience violence in their lifetimes or one in three each year. The perpetrators are most often non-Native men outside the jurisdiction of tribal law enforcement.

Murdered indigenous women numbers rose to 500 in 2018, which is a low figure compared to the actual number of missing persons on reservations. Women have silently died and gone missing, underreported, for years. This is due to the discordance that exists between tribal, federal and local law enforcement. However, changes are being made ever since the 1978 ruling of Oliphant v. Suquamish, where it was ruled that Indian courts have no criminal jurisdiction over non-natives. In November of 2019, President Trump signed an executive order to investigate the matter of unsolved cases of missing or murdered Native Americans.

Legislatively Addressing the Issue

Several major changes have since been underway. For example, the Not Invisible Act of 2020 will increase national focus on violent crime against indigenous people and intergovernmental coordination on the high death rate of Native American women. This bill began in 2019 as the Not Invisible Act of 2019; the first bipartisan bill in history to be introduced by four tribal representatives: Deb Haaland, Tom Cole, Sharice Davids and Markwayne Mullin.

To complement the Not Invisible Act, Savanna’s Act became public law in October 2020. Named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a murdered young indigenous woman whose fetus was cut from her womb, Savanna’s Act will ensure the Justice Department reports statistics on all missing/murdered native women and reform law enforcement. In addition, the National Institute of Justice has created the National Baseline Study which is a study on the health, wellbeing and safety of Native American women, to also provide more accurate data on femicide.

Safe Women, Strong Nations

In addition, the Safe Women, Strong Nations project partners with native nations to combat abductions and murder. The project provides legal advice to the tribes in restoring authority and holding perpetrators responsible. The project works to raise awareness to gain federal action to eliminate the violence against native women.

Poverty makes it easier for native women to be overlooked. One in three Native Americans suffer from poverty, living off on average $23,000 a year. “Poverty is both the cause and the consequence of all the ills visited upon Native Americans.” It is common knowledge that poverty provides leeway for criminality, and with Native American reservations being economically disadvantaged, this is no exception. Addressing systemic poverty instead of turning a blind eye will help lower the death rate of native women. The reservations only need opportunity and U.S.  juridical attention. It is hopeful to see that the United States’ legislative representatives are addressing violence against minority groups but more work needs to be done to protect the well-being of Native American women.

– Shelby Gruber
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid in Nagorno-KarabakhNagorno-Karabakh is a region in the country Azerbaijan and is home to an Armenian majority. While the region is within Azerbaijan’s borders, Armenia has claimed the region for itself. The first intense conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region was in 1988 when the Soviet Union was nearing the end of its existence. Recently, conflict in the region began again in late September 2020 and lasted for about a  month until a ceasefire was brokered by Russia. Additional ceasefires were brought into fruition by France with the help of Russia and the United States. Despite the ceasefires, the conflict in the region is continuing. The fighting in the region has drastically impacted the civilian population of the region. This has in turn created a strong need for humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The European Union Assists

The European Union (EU) is actively providing aid to the civilian populace affected by the conflict and has done so since early October 2020. The initial amount of aid provided by the EU was €900,000. Then, in November, the EU commissioned an additional €3 million to the civilians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. According to the EU, this humanitarian aid will provide the necessary assistance that humanitarian organizations partnered with the EU need to carry out their duties. This includes providing food, winter clothing and medical assistance.

The United States’ Aid

The United States is also providing its share of financial assistance. In total, the United States has provided around $10 million in humanitarian assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan since the 2019 fiscal year. Of the $10 million, $5 million has been allocated to the International Committee of the Red Cross and similar humanitarian organizations to help civilians caught in the crossfire of the conflict. Assistance coming from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will also be used for humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh. The support these two institutions will be providing will come in the form of food, shelter and medical support for the people impacted by the conflict.

People in Need

There are also NGOs that have provided humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh as well. One organization, People in Need, has done just this. People in Need is an organization dedicated to providing immediate aid to countries should a natural disaster or war take place.

People in Need has provided support, not to Nagorno-Karabakh, but to the city of Goris in Armenia. People in Need directed its humanitarian aid to this Armenian city because many of the displaced civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh have gone there for refuge. The displaced people either move on or stay in the city. People in Need have been able to provide hygienic supplies to 1,200 displaced families in Goris. Additionally, People in Need have provided 480 children, 600 women and 110 seniors with their own individual hygienic kits. People in Need have also taken into consideration the psychosocial needs of children impacted by the conflict. To help these children, People in Need opened a child-friendly space in the city library where children can engage with other children and partake in other activities.

While the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh continues, international institutions, individual countries and humanitarian organizations are trying to provide all the support possible to help the civilians impacted by the conflict.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

United States-Based Nonprofits Labeled by the United Nations as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, more than 80% of Yemen’s population is experiencing starvation, displacement and disease while the country is on an economic decline. The crisis began in 2015 due to a civil war, and since then, many organizations have stepped up to support the people of Yemen. A few of these organizations are United States-based nonprofits that are assisting those suffering. in Yemen.

CARE

During the aftermath of World War II, Arthur Ringland, Lincoln Clark and Wallace Campbell founded this organization. Today, it has worked in more than 100 countries and has assisted around 90 million people. Each year, CARE assists 3.4 million people in Yemen, specifically those who are experiencing the worst of the crisis. The assistance includes water, food and sanitation services. CARE also puts a lot of energy into reproductive healthcare by training healthcare workers to deliver babies safely and provide proper care. It is also working to rehabilitate maternity wards. Other long-term stability programs that CARE is working on in Yemen include food security, water sanitation, hygiene, economic empowerment for women and education. Even though the Yemen crisis started in 2015, CARE has been working in Yemen since 1992, working against poverty and for social justice.

Humanitarian Alliance for Yemen

In August of 2019, four United States-based nonprofits announced they would be creating an alliance, dedicated to battling the crisis in Yemen, called the Humanitarian Alliance for Yemen. The four nonprofit organizations part of this project are Project HOPE, MedGlobal, Pure Hands and United Mission for Relief and Development (UMR). Both Project HOPE and MedGlobal are organizations that focus on providing different forms of medical and healthcare to those in need, while Pure Hands’ focus is more on alleviating poverty and providing economic and disaster relief. Lastly, UMR is an organization that provides relief through food, education and economic security programs.

Led by MedGlobal, the team launched a medical mission in November of 2019. The people of Yemen have been suffering from many diseases and the purpose of this mission was to treat the diseases and other medical issues civilians are affected with. The alliance sent a team of 23 members who traveled to different parts of Yemen providing relief services including surgeries and medical training. It also sent supplies of medication and surgery and medical equipment to different healthcare facilities within Yemen.

The alliance continues to work in Yemen, most recently working against COVID-19 and the consequences it has brought.

International Rescue Committee

Founded by the suggestion of Albert Einstein, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been helping people since 1933. Throughout the years it has assisted refugees and others experiencing disaster and conflict, in places all over the world. The IRC has been working in Yemen since 2012, providing clean water and other aid. The IRC is still assisting Yemen to this day. Its work includes providing different kinds of healthcare through medications and disease treatment as well as sanitation, water and nutrition, to almost a quarter of a million people. It also focuses on women’s reproductive health care and protection from gender-based violence. The IRC has also been working to improve education access to millions of children.

A unique aspect of the IRC’s efforts in Yemen includes advocacy. It has called for a cease-fire, improved humanitarian access and brought the issue to the attention of the international community in an attempt to encourage peace.

Helping Hand for Relief and Development

Though it has only existed since 2005, Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) has provided many kinds of relief to millions of people all over the world. HHRD is not working directly with Yemen, but it has taken
part in assisting the refugees from Yemen. In 2017, thousands of Yemeni citizens fled their hometown to Djibouti, a country located near Yemen, in northeast Africa. HHRD created the Yemeni Refugee Relief Fund to assess the needs of the Yemeni refugees and gather more information on their situation.

HHRD also sent emergency relief items and began to implement long-term sanitation, water, healthcare and hygiene programs. The team also met with the Department of Refugees Affairs Director to discuss plans for refugee relief.

Foreign Aid to Yemen

While some of these United States-based nonprofits were founded due recent to global issues, others came into existence due to global issues from many decades ago. These combined humanitarian efforts provide significant hope for the people of Yemen by providing foreign aid to the most vulnerable.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

Vital Relief to VenezuelaThe country of Venezuela has an economy that is extremely reliant on its oil sales. About 99% of its exports come from the sale of oil. The natural resource also takes up a quarter of Venezuela’s GDP. Such high reliance on this resource has caused the country economic hardship in recent years. The GDP of the nation shrank by two-thirds between 2014 and 2019. The struggling economy has been devastating for the citizens of Venezuela. It has caused five million Venezuelans to leave the country and flee to neighboring ones. As of 2020, 96% of Venezuela’s population live in poverty when measured solely according to income levels. Despite the dire situation in Venezuela, countries and organizations are trying to deliver vital relief to Venezuela.

USAID’s Assistance

USAID is working on behalf of the United States to provide aid that Venezuelans so desperately need.USAID has provided more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid to vulnerable Venezuelan communities. The monetary aid is used by NGOs and organizations to assist the Venezuelan people. The assistance these groups provide includes food, health and sanitation supplies. The COVID-19 pandemic that has swept across the world has worsened the situation for many Venezuelans. On top of the severe economic situation, Venezuelans are now dealing with the impact of a pandemic a well. USAID has adapted its efforts to help Venezuelans during COVID-19. The funding of USAID has allowed affiliated partners to provide important healthcare assistance for the delivery of vital relief to Venezuela.

The European Union Helps Venezuela

The European Union (EU) has been active in providing support for Venezuela in these trying times. Since 2018, the European Union has provided a total of €156 million to not only Venezuela but to the neighboring countries that Venezuelans have fled to. Similar to the way aid from USAID is carried out, the EU’s funding goes to partners that then use it to help the Venezuelan people. The partners of the EU include multiple U.N. agencies, international NGOs and the Red Cross. The partners of the EU provide the same type of assistance the USAID’s partners do. However, the EU notes that much of the supplies go to groups that are especially at risk. These groups include children that are under the age of 5, the elderly and the indigenous people of Venezuela. The EU also provided enough aid for 500,000 Venezuelan people in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The monetary support of the EU continues to help in providing vital relief to Venezuela.

NGOs Assisting Venezuela

Other small NGOs in Venezuela are trying to provide help to Venezuelans as well. Fundación Madre Luisa Casar, for example, has secured multiple donations to provide support to the Jenaro Aguirre Elorriaga School that is located in the slum called Barrio 24 de Marzo. Its goal is to make sure that the children are provided the education and human rights they need.

Hogar Bambi Venezuela also helps children under 18 who are unable to live with their families due to abuse, mistreatment or economic difficulties. These two NGOs are just a few of many that are making vital relief in Venezuela possible.

With all the humanitarian aid coming in to provide vital relief to Venezuela, it is hopeful that the country will soon be on its way to recovery.

– Jacob. E. Lee
>Photo: Flickr

prosper africaAfrican markets claim six out of 10 of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Africa’s middle-class is likely to have an annual household consumption of $2 trillion before 2030, and by 2050, the U.N. predicts that Africa will be home to one-quarter of the world’s population. Prosper Africa is an initiative that strengthens U.S. investment in Africa.

US-Africa Ties

Nations such as Germany and China are competing for investments in Africa in preparation for its burgeoning role in the global economy. In the past 20 years, the United States has also attempted a number of initiatives to expand U.S.-Africa economic ties. Unfortunately, results have been modest because the focus has been on Africa as a foreign aid recipient rather than a strong future trading partner. However, Prosper Africa’s latest initiative, set to launch in 2021, offers hope for a more engaged economic partnership between the U.S. and Africa.

Prosper Africa

Prosper Africa was launched in December 2018 to “vastly accelerate” U.S.-Africa trade and investment through the coordination of 17 U.S. agencies and departments. This mutually beneficial endeavor not only opens market opportunities and grows Africa’s economic sustainability, but also protects the United States’ interests in the competition against other nations’ involvement in Africa.

Far from being a foreign aid program, Prosper Africa’s official website acts as a one-stop-shop for U.S. and African businesses and investors. It offers toolkits for African businesses and investors seeking to export or invest in the United States and vice versa for U.S. businesses and investors seeking to become involved in Africa. According to the website, Prosper Africa represents “a new way of doing business” through its portfolio of support services. To date, the initiative has serviced more than 280 deals valued at more than $22 billion. In keeping with its expanding ambitions, Prosper Africa’s budget request for the 2021 fiscal year rose from FY2020’s $50 million to $75 million.

Prosper Africa: 2021 Plans

On Nov. 17, 2020, USAID announced a new Prosper Africa trade and investment program for 2021. Valued at $500 million over five years, its goal is to expand Prosper Africa’s services. The four project objectives are increased trade, increased investment, improved business environment and providing support for USAID and Prosper Africa. A strong emphasis will be placed on private investment. By 2026, the program is expected to raise billions of dollars and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in both Africa and the United States.

It is still uncertain exactly what this program will look like. The program’s blueprints from Feb. 2020 describe its implementation approach fairly loosely. It aims to be flexible in shaping private sector demands concerning the facilitation and brokering of deals. Most of its transactions will take place directly through the firms and actors involved.

In addition to Prosper Africa’s website toolkits, local offices and trade hubs will provide further customizable services to align with the needs of different sectors. Some examples of services include investor matchmaking, transaction facilitation, targeted reforms and export support. Resource allocation will be determined by impact potential. Opportunities within the private sector will comprise the majority of activities and projects may be funded by grants or subcontracts. Throughout its services, Prosper Africa encourages African states to support economic transparency and rule of law.

Prosper Africa’s Chances of Success

Because Prosper Africa is effectively a harmonization of 17 U.S. agencies and departments, success largely comes down to effective cooperation. However, the initiative’s goals vary in difficulty. For example, Prosper Africa has already made impressive strides in streamlining its toolkits and providing specific U.S. services to aid transactions. However, more long-range goals, such as procedural reform and transparency, sector expansion, the rule of law and improving business environments may prove more challenging to achieve. However, from an economic standpoint, it is certainly encouraging to see Prosper Africa approach U.S.-Africa relations as an equal, viable trade partnership rather than merely an aid recipient.

Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr

Agent Orange Cleanup As the United States fought its campaign against North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, part of the military’s strategy included the deployment of Agent Orange, a chemical weapon used to defoliate jungles to expose enemy positions. The toxin was heavily used and has had disastrous health and environmental effects. Now, the United States is leading Agent Orange cleanup efforts in Vietnam. USAID is taking the charge to continue its environmental restoration efforts.

USAID’s Agent Orange Cleanup Commitment

In December 2020, USAID announced that it would commit to contributing an additional $20 million to cleaning up Agent Orange residue around the Bien Hoa Airbase, a major military base used by the United States during the Vietnam War. The airbase was used to store various types of munitions, including chemical weapons such as Agent Orange.

This adds to the $90 million that has already been committed to cleaning up the area around the Bien Hoa Airbase. Planning for the multi-year cleanup operation will be conducted by Trigon Associates, a woman-owned business based in Louisiana.

This recent contribution is part of USAID’s wider Environmental Remediation program, which seeks to decontaminate areas with high concentrations of residual Agent Orange throughout Vietnam. USAID has already completed a major decontamination project in Danang, which remediated 32.4 hectares between 2012 and 2018 at a cost of $110 million.

The current decontamination effort in Bien Hoa is set to last until 2030 and is projected to cost upwards of $183 million. According to USAID, Bien Hoa is the last remaining Agent Orange hotspot in Vietnam. These Agent Orange cleanup efforts are significant as they cleanse Vietnam of a chemical toxin that has been a source of much human and environmental suffering that has lingered for decades.

Agent Orange: Health Impact

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, exposure to Agent Orange is linked to Hodgkin’s disease, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s and prostate cancer, among other life-threatening illnesses. Its widespread use means that an untold number of both U.S. veterans and Vietnamese civilians were exposed to the toxin and are at risk of developing these conditions.

Agent Orange exposure has also been linked to birth defects in the children of those who have been exposed. An analysis by ProPublica indicated that the likelihood of having children born with birth defects was more than one-third higher for veterans exposed to Agent Orange versus those who were not.

In addition to causing the grave environmental harm of defoliation, Agent Orange has caused multi-generational human suffering. After spraying more than 20 million gallons of the defoliate over a period of 10 years between 1961 and 1971, the United States is now leading the campaign to clean up harmful residue and protect the people of Vietnam from further exposure.

International Partnership Between Old Foes

The fight against global poverty breaks down barriers and fosters closer ties between international partners, even ones that were once engaged in protracted conflict. Where the United States and Vietnam were once enemies, they are now cooperating in the Agent Orange cleanup, undoing the lingering effects of a brutal war and paving the way for mutually beneficial economic development.

– John Andrikos
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid efforts in AfghanistanAfghanistan’s evolution after two gruesome decades of immense adversity has caught the attention of countries all over the world. The South Asian nation has made breakthroughs in infrastructure, getting millions of girls in school and improving community development. Nonetheless, foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan are still crucial for the further development of the country.

Foreign Aid Skepticism and COVID-19

The world wants to see Afghanistan succeed, but despite willing donors, definitive complications hinder the level of aid that Afghanistan is severely reliant on. The imminent withdrawal of U.S. troops has caused violence from the Taliban to spike while pressures of long-awaited peace talks between the two powers unfold, making donors wary of sending money that could be wasted due to corruption based on past events.

On top of that, COVID-19 is running rampant and bruising economies all over the world, cutting aid efforts in half compared to previous years.

Afghanistan’s rooted systematic issues will continue to undermine any reconstruction and development efforts unless a clear and mindful plan is made that addresses the topical concerns affecting the nation and motions toward this kind of growth are beginning to come to fruition. There are several important facts to note about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

Cuts to US Forces Links to Cuts Toward Aid

To end the United States’ longest war, the Pentagon announced that a cut to U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 will be underway by mid-January 2021. This decision has already sparked vigilance and tensions between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, as there is a great concern that the Taliban will feel invited to expand its influence and interfere with hopes of peace and progress. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, urges that Afghans are in “acute need” of humanitarian support, stating that nearly 300,000 Afghans have been displaced by conflict in 2020.

Deadly attacks on Afghan forces show the Taliban’s intentions during a time where peace talks are being strained after months of stagnance and it has made donors feel uneasy about whether the Taliban could abuse any funding meant for aid. Even amongst suspicions, foreign donors like Germany are still showing support, urging the international community “not to turn their backs on Afghanistan.”

Ensuring Prosperity is an International Effort

After 19 years of promised reforms and attempts to grow the economy after the U.S. ousted the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan will still be reliant on international support for the foreseeable future. Ministers from about 70 countries and officials from humanitarian organizations have pledged a total of $12 billion to the war-torn country over the next four years, at Afghanistan’s international donor conference held on Nov. 23 and 24 of 2020.

Germany has pledged $510 million in civilian assistance, the United Kingdom pledged $227 million in civilian and food aid, Norway pledged $72 million in development assistance and humanitarian aid and the United States pledged $600 million in civilian aid but made half of it conditional on the progress of Taliban peace talks. The U.S. was not alone in donating with specific conditions. All donors stressed that aid would only come as long as Afghanistan shows that it is committed to the peace process and that all parties to the Afghan conflict must respect human rights.

COVID-19 Causes Donation Restraints

Afghanistan is one of many countries taking an economic plunge due to COVID-19. The poverty level jumped from 54% last year to 70% during the pandemic, with more than half the population living on $1.14 a day, despite the billions of dollars devoted to the country over the last two decades.

A global pandemic combined with fragile circumstances emphasizes the need for foreign aid in Afghanistan, but with the heavy burden of COVID-19, most international donors have made significant restrictions on how much they can give. At the last donor conference in 2016, countries pledged a total of $15.2 billion for the years 2017-2020 compared to the $12 billion for 2021-2024.

Past Corruption is Obstructing Development

The U.S. government’s independent oversight authority on Afghan reconstruction, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reported on October 20, 2021, that $19 billion of the total $63 billion that the U.S. has spent on Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2002 was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

With corruption forming such a stain on Afghanistan’s reputation and leaving remnants of distrust amongst potential donors, it is apparent why obtaining the necessary aid for growth and development has been such a hindrance for the war-torn country. That is why it is vital to ensure that future investments being made toward reconstruction are not lost and exploited.

Prospects for Peace

The Afghan government and the Taliban have endured a three-month impasse regarding peace talks that were finally brought to a close on November 2, 2020. The Afghan government and the Taliban are now expected to implement an agenda on how they can be partners in developmental changes and advancing realistic and sustainable peace plans.

As the world carefully watches the peace talks unfold, there is hope for a new start. Afghanistan is ready to transform into what it has envisioned for decades, and with realistic compromises set in place, there is an assurance that donors and the international community will feel less wary about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

Demining Zimbabwe's National ParkLocated in southeast Zimbabwe, Gonarezhou National Park is home to 11,000 African elephants, which is how it earned its name as the “Place of Elephants.” Unfortunately, it is also the site of thousands of buried landmines. These landmines were placed by the Rhodesian army during Zimbabwe’s Liberation War and have remained there for more than 40 years. Although there have been efforts to remove these mines, they continue to be a constant threat to the people of Zimbabwe and local wildlife. Demining Zimbabwe’s national park will have several benefits for the country.

APOPO: Demining Efforts

The United States has provided a grant of $750,000 to the nonprofit APOPO to demine the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor, where a large portion of the undetonated landmines reside. The Sengwe Wildlife Corridor covers a stretch of land that connects the park to South Africa and is used regularly by migrating elephants.

The area that APOPO has been designated to work is one of the largest in the world: 37 kilometers lengthwise and 75 kilometers in width. With almost 6,000 landmines per kilometer, communities in the surrounding area are unable to access potential land for farming and endangered species are at constant risk.

The presence of the minefield prevents the elephant population of the park from migrating and potentially mixing with other elephant populations. This presents a long-term risk of limiting the already shrinking African elephant gene pool.

APOPO has established a five-year plan for demining Zimbabwe’s national park, expecting to remove all undetonated landmines from the area by 2025. It estimates that it will remove more than 15,000 landmines before the end of its operation in the corridor.

The nonprofit will be working in tandem with the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust to maintain that the process will not impede conservation goals for the park.

The project also complements USAID programs to support community-based natural resource management, provide climate-smart agricultural technologies and improve the value chain for communities to sell their products for a fair market price.

Poverty in Zimbabwe and COVID-19

Zimbabwe is currently facing severe economic hardships that have only worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 50% of Zimbabweans experienced food insecurity and 40% faced extreme poverty. This number is projected to increase as conditions worsen with the onset of the pandemic and severe droughts. Inflation in the country has been rampant, with prices of food increasing by 725%, resulting in a severe loss of purchasing power for the poor. The pandemic has impacted the already economically challenged country by decreasing trade and tourism.

Aiding Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe

The United States and APOPO hope that by clearing out the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor, ecotourism in Zimbabwe will begin to thrive. As it stands currently, only 8,000 tourists on average visit Gonarezhou National Park compared to the 1.8 million tourists that visit the neighboring Kruger National Park of South Africa. Demining Zimbabwe’s national park means providing an extended opportunity for increased tourism in the struggling country. The efforts of APOPO, with the support of the United States, may be able to help economic recovery, reduce the impact of the pandemic and uplift communities that are battling poverty.

-Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr