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water insecurity in south sudan
South Sudan has been in a civil war since December 2013. As a result, millions uproot themselves and thousands die. Essential resources are scarce, particularly for the most vulnerable people. Specifically, water insecurity in South Sudan is a major crisis within the country. Moreover, this water insecurity permeates both the lack of drinking water and essential water for sanitation.

The South Sudanese Conflict

South Sudan’s people are currently engaged in a civil war between the government (led by President Salva Kiir) and the opposition rebels — led by former Vice President Riek Machar. The country splits along ethnic lines, which primarily determine where support lies. That is to say, the president is supported by the Dinka and the former vice president’s opposition forces, supported by the Nuer.

The conflict results in major displacement, creating internally displaced persons (IDPs) and casualties throughout the country. Due to this displacement, regular access to living resources and basic services, such as healthcare and education, have been greatly diminished. Of the displaced persons, it is estimated that 40% are adults and 60% are children.

A consequence of the conflict: 7.2 million people require humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, 3.7 million people displaced — 383,000 people have died and 1.8 million children are unable to attend school.

Does the Conflict Affect Access to Resources like Water?

In short, yes. The continued violence and inability to secure stable conditions with access to utilities like clean water and sanitation have caused a major water insecurity crisis in South Sudan. The water crisis specifically presents major issues for civilian populations, including a lack of water for infectious disease prevention.

USAID outlines the extent of limited access to water in South Sudan, as a result of the conflict. The organization estimates that only about 34% of people in rural areas have access to water. Given that 84% of the nation lives in rural areas, this statistic quite alarming. Additionally, 90% of those living in poverty reside in rural areas with the aforementioned, limited (or lack of) access to water. This affects vulnerable populations like IDPs, women and children. Furthermore, it hinders their ability to ensure basic health needs like hydration and prevention of infectious diseases like cholera, hepatitis E and Guinea worm disease (GWD).

Weaponizing Water

Infrastructure specifically used for water access systems has been a major resource that the warring parties target in attempts to harm the opposition forces, both military and civilian. To destroy their enemies’ access to water is to debilitate their ability to recover. Equally important, targeting water sources puts severe pressure on the civilians whom an adversary protects. Women in South Sudan particularly feel the effects of this strategy as it can take days to get to a safe source of drinking water. Women are the primary “water fetchers,” but the journey to water sources leaves them extremely vulnerable to death by starvation or thirst (during these on-foot trips). Worse still is the fact that women traveling into rural areas amid the country’s conflict puts them at risk of being killed or assaulted.

Water Insecurity, Nutrition and Disease Prevention

South Sudan’s resource security crises reveal how internal conflicts within countries do not just affect the warring parties or military; they affect civilians, infrastructure and public health alike. Water insecurity in South Sudan, especially, is one of the many resource insecurity crises that should remain a priority of USAID. The crisis shares an intimate connection to nutrition and disease prevention; addressing it will likely have multiple benefits for the citizens of South Sudan.

Kiahna Stephens
Photo: Flickr

chlorhexidine reduces neonatal mortality
Although the neonatal mortality rate across the globe has been consistently decreasing, neonatal death is still common in many regions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), annual infant deaths were at an all-time low of 4.1 million deaths in 2017, decreasing from 8.8 million in 1990. However, the death rate in Africa is over six times higher than it is in Europe, illustrating a severe disparity. As such, there is still much more that people can do to lower neonatal mortality rates. One potential solution is chlorhexidine, which reduces neonatal mortality.

How Chlorhexidine Reduces Neonatal Mortality

To combat mortality rates, Save the Children and governments in Nepal and Nigeria have implemented chlorhexidine, an antiseptic found in mouthwash. When used to clean the umbilical cord as soon as possible after birth, chlorhexidine reduces neonatal mortality by preventing infection in newborns, which is among the top drivers of neonatal deaths across the globe. Save the Children and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) partnered to create a chlorhexidine gel to distribute in wrapped pouches. Save the Children noted that this gel “was developed to be suitable for use in high temperatures, useful in sub-Saharan Africa and [South] Asia where the risk of newborn infections is high and temperatures are hot.”

Chlorhexidine gel has become wildly popular in Nepal, where USAID created the Chlorhexidine “Navi” Care Program to distribute chlorhexidine gel. In Nepal, around half of deliveries happen at home, making newborns even more exposed to infection if they are not delivered in a clean environment. In fact, a large majority of deaths in Nepal occur within the first month of life. Moreover, infections cause half of those deaths. In Nepal, chlorhexidine has reduced neonatal mortality by 24% and decreased the rate of infections in newborns by 68%. The Chlorhexidine “Navi” Care program’s objective aims to distribute chlorhexidine gel to all 75 districts of Nepal.

The Lifesaving Effects of Chlorhexidine

Nepal is not the only country to see chlorhexidine reduce neonatal mortality rates. Nigeria, one of the most populous countries in Africa, has also seen success. Its neonatal mortality rate has dropped from 48 deaths per 1,000 births in 2003 to 37 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. According to many estimates, infections cause at least one-third of newborn mortalities in Nigeria. In March 2016, Nigeria created a plan to scale-up the use of chlorhexidine to lower neonatal mortality rates. If this program succeeds, it will save 55,000 infants. Although this scaling up program started slowly, the Nigerian government has committed to continuing the use of chlorhexidine to prevent infection and fatalities. To do so, it has a plan in place to help local governments achieve their goals.

Across the globe, there are large imbalances in neonatal mortality rates. Countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia have a much higher neonatal death rate than countries such as Australia, Canada or China. In developing countries where poverty rates are higher, neonatal death skyrockets due to a lack of resources. This simple, cheap and over-the-counter chlorhexidine gel is saving lives across the globe. As chlorhexidine becomes even more accessible to every community, it is hopeful that neonatal deaths will continue to decrease.

Hannah Kaufman
Photo: Flickr

International COVID-19 Relief
While COVID-19 relief policies have provided much needed economic support to the American people, Congress has passed several international COVID-19 relief measures as well. These relief packages have provided various resources, from supplying healthcare commodities to funding research vaccine development. These packages assist foreign nations in preparing for and responding to the novel coronavirus 2019.

International COVID-19 Relief Efforts

As the virus has developed, Congress has approved several measures to respond to the outbreak and assist the international community. In early March 2020, the first of these measures allocated $1.25 billion in supplemental funding to the International Affairs Budget. Later in the month, Congress allocated $220 million more in international resources, followed by a third supplemental of $1.12 billion. Finally, in early July 2020, Congress allocated nearly $10 billion in emergency funding for COVID-19 relief.

In total, Congress has allocated nearly $12 billion to respond to the needs of the international community and fight against the reversal of decades of poverty reduction work. The funds have had a broad effect, reaching nearly all regions of the global community.

Africa

The United States’ response to COVID-19 in Africa has been extensive. However, the country’s partnership with UNICEF in Senegal highlights just how much of a difference international funding makes. Through financial support, USAID has partnered with UNICEF in training over 500 community health workers, constructing just under 500 hand-washing stands and distributing over 2000 hand-washing kits. In total, the funding has supported the disinfectant measures of over 400 schools, 1,800 houses and 1,400 health structures.

Asia

Perhaps no Asian nation has benefited more from international COVID-19 relief than Nepal. As part of USAID’s Sahara project, the organization has “assisted nearly 400 municipalities in locating areas at heightened risk of COVID-19 transmission, screening migrant returnees for COVID-19 symptoms, and coordinating relief efforts related to the disease outbreak.” The program has assisted nearly 7,500 households in finding medical assistance. It has also supplied over 1 million families with counseling on sanitation practices over the phone and reached nearly 3.6 million people via social media.

Europe and Eurasia

One of the most severely affected European nations, Italy is an excellent display of the effectiveness of international COVID-19 relief. According to USAID’s website, the “U.S. support includes $50 million in health, humanitarian, and economic assistance implemented by USAID to bolster Italy’s response to COVID-19.” To be most effective, USAID has both paired up with non-governmental organizations to supplement its efforts and the Italian government in order to provide health commodities.

Latin America and the Caribbean

USAID has been extremely active in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly in Haiti. Through financial support, the organization has been able to provide Haiti with health commodities. USAID has also trained nurses to assist in testing, which is critical for an efficient response to the virus. According to its website, USAID has “assisted with the sampling and testing of more than 2,600 people since the beginning of May.”

The Middle East and North Africa

The nation of Tunisia provides one of the most compelling examples of the effectiveness of international aid in the Middle East and North Africa. Along with UNICEF, USAID helped provide sanitation kits to schools, daycares and health care facilities. Their efforts reached nearly 100 facilities. The organization also granted $6 million to support frontline workers and aid in a national campaign to spread awareness and prevent a second wave.

As COVD-19 has unfolded, the United States has made several contributions to aid the global community. These examples highlight a few of the many ways that the international response has made a difference in nations worldwide.

– Michael Messina
Photo: Pexels

Healthcare in the Pacific
The COVID-19 crisis has cemented itself as a problem that all countries in the world must face. Complicating matters is the fact that circumstances surrounding COVID-19 are quite dynamic — changing by the day. As such, experts release new information and studies about the new coronavirus, constantly. Therefore, healthcare workers need to stay informed. For small, proximal nations in the Pacific, this is especially important. Healthcare in the Pacific faces a unique set of challenges. As Fiji’s Hon. Minister for Health and Medical Services, Dr. Ifereimi Waqainabete, says, “The global spread of COVID-19 to countries and territories indicates that ‘a risk somewhere is a risk anywhere’ and as a global village, the increasing incidence of the disease in some countries around the world is a threat to the entire Pacific.”

The Challenge

In many Pacific nations, it is challenging to ensure that all healthcare workers remain updated. “The majority of nurses and midwives in the Pacific are located in remote rural areas and outer islands, which means they often miss out on regular trainings and updates,” says UNICEF Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett. These remote workers service more than 2 million people in the Pacific.

The Solution

To address this problem regarding healthcare in the Pacific, governments of nations therein have recently collaborated with UNICEF, the U.S., New Zealand and Japan to launch a new program called Health Care on Air. This is the first regional training program of the sort. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has invested $1.85 million in this program.

Health Care on Air consists of 33 half-hour-long episodes to be broadcasted on the radio and other communication channels. While standard communication platforms like TV and online training are available in the Pacific — they do not reach all workers. Importantly, radio is the only form of media that reaches every corner of the Pacific. These episodes will teach healthcare workers skills and give them the necessary knowledge to deliver effective services, during the pandemic. In addition to the training sessions, participants will be able to ask questions and share information through UNICEF’s RapidPro platform. Notably, the platform works with free SMS and other smartphone messaging apps.

Project Scope

The project is especially concerned with reducing human-to-human transmission and limiting secondary impacts of COVID-19. Secondary impacts, i.e. the additional burden and expense on healthcare systems caused by COVID-19. Efforts to limit these secondary impacts focus on preparing healthcare centers to quickly adapt to new knowledge and specializations. The focus on reducing transmission and increasing adaptability is key for Pacific Island countries. This is because they cannot handle large-scale infections in the same way that larger, developed countries do.

The first episode aired on July 10, 2020, in Fiji. The program will eventually show in 14 additional countries in the Pacific — including the Cook Islands, Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Tuvalu, Niue, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, Republic of Marshall Islands and Tokelau. Notably, more than 5,000 healthcare providers will benefit from this program.

Applying Lessons Learned

In the future, the lessons learned from the Health Care on Air program will be integrated into national nursing accreditation programs as well. While the COVID-19 pandemic is a major world crisis, it is the hope that these new and innovative communication systems will continue to serve communities in the Pacific for years to come.

Antoinette Fang
Photo: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command

End Tuberculosis Now Act
Kosovo is a country in southeastern Europe that declared independence from Serbia in February 2008. It is Europe’s youngest nation, but also one of its smallest and poorest. Kosovo ranks 137th in the world for GDP per capita and the country’s overall budget is just above $2 billion. Despite the fact that Tuberculosis (TB) is a completely preventable, treatable and curable airborne infection, the virus continues to spread throughout developing nations—including Kosovo—killing more people per year than any other infectious disease. The End Tuberculosis Now Act seeks to address this silent pandemic by refocusing U.S. efforts towards effective TB prevention and treatment in Kosovo and other developing countries. Neither the House nor Senate has held a vote on the End Tuberculosis Now Act since its introduction in August 2019. Kosovo demonstrates the importance of this act and why Congress needs to address it.

Kosovo’s Tuberculosis Rates

Among its neighbors in southeastern Europe, Kosovo has one of the highest TB infection rates, trailing only Moldova and Romania. From 1999 to 2006, total TB cases in Kosovo were declining. This progress has since stopped, with infection rates plateauing at the rate they were in 2006. A limited budget has severely hampered Kosovo’s efforts to combat and eradicate TB.

Kosovo’s insufficient health system is one reason behind the country’s spread of TB. A majority of Kosovo’s residents are dissatisfied with their health service. In addition, the nation’s top health authority is not responsible for contact tracing, testing, treatment or any other method that people use to combat TB. Instead, non-governmental organizations have received this responsibility, resulting in a lack of central planning. The End Tuberculosis Now Act would refocus USAID efforts on TB prevention and treatment in developing nations like Kosovo, providing a unified example of how to properly stop the spread and financially support affected individuals.

Kosovo and COVID-19

For some of the same reasons it struggles with TB, Kosovo is also struggling to stop the spread of COVID-19. Compared to its neighbors, the country’s pandemic response is falling short. Kosovo is much smaller than Albania, Montenegro and Greece, but has many more COVID-19 cases and deaths than these nations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the aforementioned weaknesses in Kosovo’s healthcare system. For example, temporary medical facilities built to increase the nation’s hospital capacity have not been properly set up to prevent COVID-19 transmission between healthcare workers and infected patients.

No matter how valiant Kosovo’s efforts to combat COVID-19 are, the country is ultimately limited by its $2 billion yearly budget. The same is true when it comes to their fight against TB. Kosovo simply lacks the capital to properly test, treat and prevent the spread of both COVID-19 and TB. The End Tuberculosis Now Act will give developing nations like Kosovo a better chance of defeating TB while teaching them how to tackle similar pandemics.

Putting the Tuberculosis Fight on Hold

As the COVID-19 pandemic takes center stage, the fight against TB has been put on hold across the world. Despite this, TB has continued its spread. Approximately 80% of worldwide programs to combat the disease have experienced disruptions in their supply chains since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manufacturers of TB tests have pivoted to developing COVID-19 tests, reducing the overall availability of TB testing. This means massive drops in diagnosing TB. In one year, an infected individual can spread the virus to 15 people, making the diagnostic process extremely important. As testing capacities decrease, TB will continue its spread unabated in developing nations. Kosovo was already struggling to contain TB before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could now get much worse. The End Tuberculosis Now Act is a critical component in increasing testing capacities in Kosovo to combat the spread of TB.

More Important Than Ever

TB is a preventable and treatable disease, yet it continues to kill more people worldwide than any other infectious disease. The End Tuberculosis Now Act would increase investments in TB prevention and treatment measures while saving countless lives in developing nations like Kosovo.

Furthermore, the bill would ensure that nations and non-governmental organizations receiving aid from USAID would stand by their commitments to eradicate TB. This refocusing of aid would provide the World Health Organization and the Stop TB Partnership with more resources to fulfill their missions.

Moving Forward

Kosovo’s continued fight against TB demonstrates the importance of the End Tuberculosis Now Act. The bill, introduced in August 2019, would save lives in developing nations and help combat a completely preventable and treatable disease. Congress must pass this bill to increase the quality of life for the world’s poor and help eradicate TB in developing nations.

Marcus Lawniczak
Photo: Flickr

Politics in Venezuela
Venezuela is the most poverty-stricken country in Latin America. The nation’s position in poverty has led to Venezuelan citizens requiring aid from the United States, more so than any nation in Latin America. Some argue that poverty in Venezuela is mainly due to the politics in Venezuela. Notably, the politics within the country receive influence from both inside and outside parties. Below is an introduction to how the politics of Venezuela has influenced these seven facts about poverty in Venezuela.

7 Facts About Poverty in Venezuela

  1. The average person living in Venezuela lives on 72 cents per day.
  2. Inflation has decreased the value of the Venezuelan currency.
  3. Although it is rich in oil, it does not export enough of it to boost its economy.
  4. The U.S. has placed sanctions on Venezuelan trade, further accentuating poverty in Venezuela.
  5. Almost 5 million people have immigrated from Venezuela in the past 5 years because of the extreme poverty levels there.
  6. “Multidimensional poverty” affects 64.8% of homes in Venezuela (“multidimensional poverty” includes aspects of poverty other than just income).
  7. The income poverty rate is at 96%.

How Politics in Venezuela Plays a Role in Poverty

The President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, has not allowed Venezuelans to receive aid from the U.S. The U.S. does not recognize Maduro as the legitimate president and that makes it much more difficult for Venezuelans to receive the aid that they desperately need. Also, Maduro has control over the country’s military. Therefore, people do not have much of a choice, but to follow him or to risk their lives.

Maduro has denied the U.S.’s foreign aid so that it does not go to the people suffering from poverty in Venezuela. He does not want to lose his power and if the aid is given to the people that oppose him, it could give them an edge that they need to overthrow him. Additionally, he mistrusts the U.S. because of incidents in the past. Maduro (and others) suspect that USAID worked alongside companies in the U.S. to cause a coup in Cuba. All of this was said to be under the guise of foreign aid.

A Hopeful Newcomer

Enter a new player — Juan Guaido. Guaido was elected by the National Assembly as president because Nicolás Maduro unconstitutionally kept the power of the presidency after his term was over. The U.S. officially recognizes Guaido as the president of Venezuela, even though he has no real power yet. Also, only around 20% of Venezuelan citizens approve of Maduro. He is a ruthless leader who allows for the occurrence of violence within his country.

Moving Forward in the Wake of COVID-19

Countries in Asia, such as Russia and China, are backing Maduro. However, the European Union is about to follow suit with many other nations and recognize Guaido as the President of Venezuela. The current state of the world has not helped any country, Venezuela is no exception. The country was already in crisis before the pandemic and now COVID-19 has made it even harder for them to get back on their feet.

With that said, hope is not lost. If there is any country with the capabilities to find a way to get the people of Venezuela what they need to survive, it is the U.S. The pandemic has caused people to take a hard look at the world around them and re-analyze many decisions. People all over are rising to the challenge and the Venezuelan crisis should be no different.

Moriah Thomas
Photo: Pixbay

gender discrimination in niger
Niger is a country located in West Africa that spans more than 1.3 million square kilometers and is home to approximately 22.3 million people. It is ranked the lowest out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI). A prominent issue is its weakened education system, where children in Niger spend a mere two years on average. Additionally, there exists a gender gap that exacerbates discrimination against girls’ education. To combat this burgeoning issue, a variety of organizations have been working towards eliminating gender discrimination in Niger to provide better quality education for girls.

UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been focusing on reform of Niger’s education system for five years. Starting in May 2015, the project targeted several schools in the town of Torodi. While this small town has been left out of many national development programs, UNESCO is working to successfully implement accessible schooling services to all girls in the region. The program also facilitates tutoring sessions and encourages female teachers to be employed in local schools.

UNESCO recognized that due to the rapid population growth, empowering the youth through education would go a long way towards improving the country’s socioeconomic standards. Moreover, with organizations like UNESCO teaming up with the government of Niger, the country is seeing positive developments in girls’ education. They reported a jump from 27 % to 65 % in girls’ primary school enrollment between 2000 and 2014.

UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also played an active role in reducing gender discrimination in Niger’s education system since 2012. Through significant investments and thorough management, enrollment into primary schools has increased remarkably, especially with girls. Approximately 66% of the 71% of children enrolled in primary schools are girls. While these numbers are promising, factors like child marriages and safety concerns remain to be a significant barrier to girls’ education. UNICEF has laid out several objectives and solutions to overcome these issues.

According to a UNICEF representative in Niger, “only one in two girls goes to primary school, one in ten to secondary school and one in fifty to high school.” UNICEF partners with Niger’s government at the ministerial level to ensure that that access to girls’ education is a policy priority. In doing so, UNICEF monitors how Niger is meeting its education goals. Additionally, UNICEF works at the community level to monitor that both boys and girls receive quality education. For girls, UNICEF realizes the cultural and societal issues at play, like the expectation of housework and child marriages, and works with those effected to overcome these obstacles.

USAID

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has signed a ten year deal  (2014-2024) with Niger’s national education sector to help decrease the gender discrimination present in its education system. USAID also promotes parental education to the community as a whole. Well-educated parents are more likely to enroll their children in school as well as encourage the completion of their curriculums.

International organizations are continually working to help Niger’s government through funding and managing the country’s education sector. Reform of the country’s education system has been progressing over two decades and has made notable improvements in terms of enrollment rates. As the country progresses into the next decade, organizations like UNESCO, UNICEF, and USAID plan to further support children in Niger by working to provide them with equal and quality education. Such improvements in education and gender discrimination can have a ripple effect, bringing positive change to Niger’s social, political, and economic systems.

– Omer Syed
Photo: Flickr

Honduras Uses U.S. Foreign AidAs one of the poorest countries in Central America, Honduras is one of the three countries in the region that receives U.S. foreign aid. However, in 2019, U.S. foreign aid to Central America came to a halt. The U.S. government denied foreign aid meant for three countries in the region: El-Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. According to NPR, mass amounts of refugees migrating north caused the U.S. to suspend aid. In April of 2020, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo issued a press statement ensuring the resumption of foreign aid to Central America. Despite the reassurance of continuing U.S. support in the future, the suspension of foreign aid left many programs and people in Honduras without their usual financial support. Honduras alone has requested over $65 million in U.S. foreign aid for 2020. With U.S. lawmakers doubting the effectiveness of this type of financial support, here’s how Honduras uses U.S. foreign aid.

Maintaining Governance

Honduras uses U.S. foreign aid to maintain its governance. In 2018, Honduras spent $55 million on agencies that provide government assistance. These agencies encourage public participation in government and make sure governments maintain checks and balances and separation of powers. In short, these agencies keep the government ethical, honest and accountable to the people. USAID funded this entire sector of Honduras’ U.S. foreign aid. As a U.S. foreign agency, USAID works to strengthen democratic institutions and citizen participation in Honduras.

Human Rights

In 2018, Honduras spent about $6 million on preserving human rights under the law. Honduras uses U.S. foreign aid to fund many agencies that protect international human rights. Partially funded by USAID, Honduras’ human rights agencies ensure that all people find justice and fairness under the law. The U.S.-Honduras Bilateral Human Rights Working Group, a product of USAID, works to strengthen human rights institutions, citizen security and migration issues in Honduras. Without U.S. foreign aid funding human rights groups, vulnerable impoverished Hondurans, who are most susceptible to human rights violations, would have decreased legal resources.

Agriculture

Honduras spent $11 million on its agriculture industry in 2019 and $22 million in 2018. The country’s economy relies heavily on the international trade of its agriculture. The agricultural industry also employs 39% of the population in Honduras. With a large section of the population relying on agriculture as income, investing in agriculture is imperative to the country’s economy. Because of Honduras’ high poverty rate, a large part of the agriculture industry employs impoverished Hondurans. U.S. foreign aid is essential to the poverty-stricken portion of Honduras’ agriculture industry.

Education

Honduras uses U.S. foreign aid for considerable education development. In 2019, Honduras spent $24 million on basic education. This includes improving early childhood, primary and secondary education in Honduras. USAID largely funds this sector of Honduras’ foreign aid. USAID works with Honduras’ education systems on education reform, teacher training and alternative education for many children who can’t afford secondary school. Without U.S. foreign aid, impoverished children in Honduras could lose access to basic education and alternative education.

Minimizing Crime

Crime is a serious problem in Honduras. Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. However, in 2012 Honduras began investing in crime prevention agencies, and investment has been increasing ever since. Honduras spent $25 million of U.S. foreign aid on crime-prevention agencies in 2019 compared to less than $300,000 in 2014. These agencies provide training to combat international crime and corruption while promoting international cooperation. In correlation with investments in crime-prevention agencies, homicide rates in Honduras dropped drastically in 2012. This portion of U.S. aid directly impacts Honduras’ impoverished communities where violence is prevalent.

Conclusion

The suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Central America created some doubt in the usefulness of foreign aid. However, Honduras uses U.S. foreign aid to fund agencies that work to better some of the most serious and significant problems affecting Hondurans. Many of these agencies help the most vulnerable and impoverished populations in Honduras.

– Kaitlyn Gilbert
Photo: Flickr

U.S. foreign aid
Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, built the foundations of U.S. foreign aid from 1947 to 1949. Marshall wanted to help reconstruct Europe after the brutalities of World War II by providing financial funding and technical support. The initiative was a great success. In 1950, President Harry S. Truman followed in Marshall’s footsteps and started the Point Four Program. The program’s goal was to reduce poverty and at the time, communism. Though many different agencies helped with foreign aid, none were specifically dedicated to foreign, economic development. President John F. Kennedy soon realized the need to bring these organizations together into one agency that could help foreign countries with their economic and social growth. Therefore, in 1961, the Foreign Assistance Act created USAID in the hope of uniting different countries in the name of development and modernization. Below are more U.S. foreign aid facts that everyone should know.

What Does the US Really Give?

While the U.S. is perceived as one of the top contributors of foreign aid, only about 1.2% of the U.S. federal budget goes to foreign assistance. This perhaps represents a lesser-known U.S. foreign aid fact. However, the U.S. gives the most in absolute terms. Notably, a comparison of GDP income ranks the U.S. as one of the lowest, out of 27 countries. Only 0.18% of the nation’s GDP income goes toward foreign aid. The U.S. is not giving nearly enough as it might otherwise.

How Foreign Aid Helps

One of many U.S. foreign aid “facts” that many people think true — “no matter how much is given, it makes no difference,” could not be further from the truth. Even with the estimated 1.2% given, millions of lives are saved as a result. Over the last 20 years, foreign aid lifted countless people out of extreme poverty, while fighting disease and malnutrition.

USAID invests in nearly 140 countries, providing 31 million education materials to children in need. Investing in childhood education is a surefire way to increase the chances for an objectively better future. “Nutrition-specific interventions” reach about 33 million children up to age five, along with other healthcare services. Despite these drastic improvements, there is still much more to do to improve the lives of the world’s poor.

How the US Benefits

Out of many, often overlooked U.S. foreign aid facts — is that the aid benefits both the recipients and the U.S., itself. Aid programs are extremely efficient ways to boost the U.S. economy. They operate via a domino effect — i.e., when poverty rates decline, more and more people can afford U.S. products. This increases the demand for products and leads to the creation of more U.S. jobs. Simply put, providing aid to poverty-ridden countries helps the U.S. fund domestic businesses and jobs. U.S. foreign aid contributes to both national and global security; it provides a safer country, domestically and a safer world abroad.

The benefits of U.S. foreign aid are plentiful, but the crux of the matter is that helping others when it is within the power of the U.S. is the noble thing to do. For more information on U.S. foreign aid and global poverty — click this hyperlink to hear more from the President of The Borgen Project, himself.

Katelyn Mendez
Photo: Flickr

hunger in turkmenistanThis time last year, the London-based Foreign Policy Centre reported that Turkmenistan was “a country teetering on the edge of catastrophe.” An economic crisis has exacerbated hunger in Turkmenistan. Additionally, Human Rights Watch calls Turkmenistan “an isolated and repressive country.” Without freedom of speech or information, the authoritarian government leaves no room for economic autonomy, thus resulting in hunger among citizens.

Economic Crisis and Hunger in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan sits on 9.9% of the world’s gas reserves, with 19.5 trillion cubic meters. Statistics like these attract foreign investors, which in theory should boost the nation’s economy. However, in 2019 Turkmenistan entered its worst economic crisis since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The state heavily controls the economy, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) lists Turkmenistan as the “least competitive economy among the EBRDS’s countries of operations,” meaning that economic autonomy is essentially nonexistent. The Foreign Policy Centre’s report labeled Turkmenistan’s economy as a “Potemkin economy,” meaning its public record of ordinary, satisfactory GDP figures — a result of strictly regulated state companies — hides a crumbling economy.

In 2018, a video of a Turkmen student cutting up his debit card, salting it and cooking it for dinner circulated around media sites. The student, who was studying abroad in Ukraine, spoke on the matter, saying that “the [bank] cards stopped working and, as a result, I’ve lost 15 kilograms.” While the banks never released explanations, economists suggest that the debit card failures may be a result of Turkmenistan’s active black market. Officially, the exchange rate is three and a half Turkmen manats to one U.S. dollar. But the black-market rate is closer to 22 manats to one U.S. dollar. The government would lose large sums of money with students trying to withdraw from their banks in foreign countries.

The Turkmen government lacks transparency about its crop supply as well; in 2018, Deputy Chairman Esenmyrat Orazgeldiev released data stating that Turkmenistan had overshot its yearly harvest goal, and had harvested 1.099 million tons of cotton. However, reports from the Agriculture and Water Resources Ministry and the International Cotton Advisory Committee said that the country had harvested between 300 and 450 thousand tons. A similar inconsistency in reports occurred for the wheat harvest. These economic and agricultural struggles have led to widespread hunger in Turkmenistan, particularly in the form of major food shortages across the country.

Food Shortages

For the past three years, hunger in Turkmenistan has resulted from dire food shortages. The Diplomat conducted an interview with Turkmen “activist-in-exile” Fareed Tukhbatullin in 2018, and Tukhbatullin recalled fights breaking out among citizens waiting to purchase necessities such as bread, flour, vegetable oil and eggs, all of which are in short supply despite being government-regulated foods. Inflation and the disparity between the official manat’s value and the black-market manat’s value have made importing ingredients and farming equipment nearly impossible. In the interview, Tukhbatullin emphasized that there are no official news coverings or statistics released in Turkmenistan about this crisis, but he estimated that 60% of the population is unemployed and living with food insecurity. Last month, Turkmenistan increased its regulation of subsidized foods by enforcing the use of registration books by individual households. Families are instructed to bring their books, which have a certificate containing their address and the number of people in their household, to food stores, where their purchases will be documented.

Foreign Aid Reducing Hunger in Turkmenistan

Currently, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working to stabilize Turkmenistan’s economy and strengthen its international connection around Central and South Asia. USAID also provides assistance to dairy and meat-producing livestock farmers to keep their livestock healthy, and it works to connect the farmers to local and international markets. In July 2020, USAID announced the launch of its hotline for Turkmen farmers. The hotline is accessible over email and telephone, and it offers necessary advice on the exportation of goods to foreign markets. USAID claims that this extra support will help the Turkmen farmers “maximize their revenues, stabilize seasonal sales, and expand the markets for quality Turkmen products.” USAID also worked between 2010 and 2019 to introduce Turkmenistan into the International Financial Reporting Standards, which allows the country more access to the global economy.

Turkmenistan has not known peace or stability since its independence in 1991. Inflation, food shortages and disconnect from the rest of the world have plagued the country for almost 30 years, and government officials worry that this instability will soon lead to catastrophe. Helping the citizens of a highly isolated country is extremely difficult, but organizations like USAID are doing what they can to end hunger in Turkmenistan.

— Anya Chung
Photo: Flickr