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Agricultural Sustainability in the DRCDespite the Democratic Republic of the Congo harboring the second-largest cultivable land in the world at 80 million hectares, food insecurity and malnutrition are pressing issues in a country that ranks among the poorest in the world. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) characterizes almost 22 million of the 89.5 million residents as severely food insecure, despite 70% of the employed population working in the agricultural industry. Lack of infrastructure combined with prolonged national armed conflict has led to only 10 million hectares currently under cultivation, leaving enormous potential for agricultural and economic growth. Agricultural sustainability in the DRC is crucial to address food insecurity and poverty.

The Joint WFP-FAO Resilience Program in DRC

A combined effort from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) focuses on the optimization of agriculture production as well as market revisions and improvements to reduce food insecurity and bolster a declining national economy. Improving agricultural sustainability in the DRC could prove effective in stabilizing a region with enormous agricultural potential.

The Need for Agricultural Sustainability

Providing direct financial relief to the DRC has proven both necessary and effective, especially in the wake of nationwide flooding in 2019 and 2020 on top of widespread armed conflict and displacement. Since 2018, USAID reports that the DRC has received roughly $570 million worth of direct food relief. However, direct relief does not equal sustainability and is a relatively short-term solution. The joint program from the WFP and FAO implements successful strategies to provide much-needed agricultural sustainability in the DRC and creates an important foundation for further improvements.

The Benefits of Cooperation

Promoting organizational cooperation and improving managerial structure has allowed for combined agricultural improvements nationwide. Since 2017, this project has reached 30,000 small farm households and stimulated cooperation that has improved organizational structure and operational capacities. This cooperation has allowed for the distribution of newer agricultural technologies and concepts such as improved seeds and more advanced tools to optimize production.

Increased cooperation has also helped eliminate local conflicts between farmers and has increased the total area of land being cultivated. The program has also provided 7,000 local women with functional literacy education, allowing for more female community engagement as well as involvement in managerial duties in farming communities.

Addressing Nutrition in the DRC

At a local level, the joint program has implemented enhanced nutritional programs to utilize the increasing resources. Increased cooperation and education have allowed for the growth of crops with enhanced nutritional value. To promote long-term sustainability, in 2020, the project utilized direct aid to establish 300 vegetable gardens, reaching 13,510 residents. The program also held 150 culinary demonstrations regarding optimal cooking techniques that are both affordable and nutritious.

Developing the DRC’s Infrastructure

Large agricultural areas such as the DRC rely heavily on infrastructure for transportation and storage of goods. The joint program has fixed 193 kilometers of agricultural roads since implementation in 2017, with 65% of the road rehabilitators being women.

Not only has the program enhanced transportation capabilities but it has also constructed 20 different storage buildings as well as 75 community granaries, allowing for the long-term storage of agricultural products. This enhanced storage capacity reduces waste from spoilage and allows product to be sold during favorable selling seasons, allowing for advanced agricultural sustainability in the DRC.

The Joint WFP-FAO resilience program in the DRC has made significant accomplishments in the country. With further efforts, agricultural sustainability in the DRC can be further developed to improve poverty in the region.

Jackson Thennis
Photo: Flickr

Improve Education in BangladeshIn a speech given at a Boston high school in 1990, Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” For many of the world’s impoverished, education is not an option. Today, more than 72 million children of primary education age are not in school and nearly 759 million adults are illiterate. While many maintain the capacity to survive without an education, the knowledge and awareness garnered through school allows the impoverished to improve their living conditions and rise out of poverty. USAID and the World Bank are working to improve education in Bangladesh as a means of addressing poverty.

The State of Education in Bangladesh

In the last 10 years, there has been progress when it comes to improving education in Bangladesh. According to USAID, nearly 98% of children of primary school age are enrolled in school. In 2016, 50.9% of all enrolled students were girls, meaning total gender parity. Both of these statistics are major accomplishments but there is much more to be done to improve education in Bangladesh.

While enrollment is high, the quality of education that the children are receiving remains quite low. Reading fluency is the barometer that is used to measure a school system’s quality, and in Bangladesh, most students are unable to pass basic fluency assessments. To put exact numbers to this, USAID conducted an assessment and determined that “44% of students finish first-grade unable to read their first word and 27 % of third-grade students cannot read with comprehension.”

This lack of literacy not only puts these students at a great disadvantage but stunts prospects of economic growth for Bangladesh. Education plays a significant role in sustaining and developing countries and economies which is why USAID and the World Bank have invested in improving Bangladesh’s education system.

The World Bank’s Education Efforts

On January 18, 2021, Bangladesh signed an agreement with the World Bank, financing $6.5 million to help more than 39,000 kids receive primary school education. The package also allocates funds to vocational training schools for approximately 8,500 dropouts. Mercy Tembon, the World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, says that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the education of children from lower-income households. The additional financing will help slum children and vulnerable youth to build the foundations necessary to improve their lives and increase their opportunities. The World Bank has given Bangladesh the means necessary to improve the quality of their education system and thus support the greater economy.

USAID’s Educational Assistance

USAID has taken a more hands-on approach in improving the quality of education. It works directly with Bangladesh’s Ministry of Primary and Mass Education to improve early grade reading for children to ensure that all children learn to read in their first years of schooling. USAID’s education programs in Bangladesh have:

  • Expanded access to schooling to almost 30,000 out-of-school children
  • Increased the reading fluency of third graders by 18%
  • Increased the first-word reading fluency of first graders by 36%
  • Trained nearly 17,000 new teachers on how to teach early grade reading
  • Issued more than two million reading materials to primary schools

Education as a Key to Poverty Reduction

Every young mind deserves the opportunity for education and with the help of the World Bank and USAID, Bangladesh has the means to offer that. Efforts to improve education in Bangladesh will uplift an entire nation. The state of education in the world is progressing and thus bringing about poverty reduction success.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Formative SupervisionWith a population of about 30 million, many Angolans do not have access to adequate healthcare. The limited access to quality healthcare is due to decreased funding due to the Angolan Government’s budget restrictions. The lack of funding affects the quality of public healthcare which people can receive at no cost. The public healthcare sector in Angola does not have enough healthcare providers with proper training and resources. The lack of resources in healthcare reflects in the low ratio of about one health center per 25,000 people and more than 50% of people are without access to healthcare services. In recent years, USAID’s Health for All project, using the Health Network Quality Improvement System (HNQIS), has implemented formative supervision in Angola. Implementing formative supervision in Angola has shown to improve the quality of healthcare by increasing the number of healthcare providers with proper training.

USAID’s Health for All Project

USAID’s Health for All program is a five-year project that began in 2017. It works with the Angolan Government to help improve the quality and access to healthcare in the country. The project’s focus is on addressing the issues of malaria and reproductive health since those are two of the main health concerns affecting the people of Angola. With the current funding being at $63 million, the program has been able to train 1,489 health professionals on how to diagnose and treat malaria and created reproductive health services in 42 health facilities.

The program’s use of formative supervision in Angola has helped in educating and providing healthcare workers with the necessary tools to effectively care for patients. The Health Network Quality Improvement System is the main tool that USAID uses to help improve the quality of healthcare because the system is used to evaluate the performance of individual healthcare providers. By tracking the performance of the healthcare providers in Angola, USAID can more easily determine which areas of the healthcare system need improvement. Under the Health for All program, USAID has been using formative supervision with healthcare providers who specifically tend to cases of malaria and reproductive health.

The Benefits of Formative Supervision

From October 2019 to March 2020, the Health for All project recorded improvements in the quality of healthcare through the use of formative supervision in 276 out of 360 Angolan health facilities with prenatal services. In addition to tracking the performance in maternal and reproductive health, the supervision has also helped in finding the areas in which the management of malaria has been lacking. There are now about 1,026 health providers that have been properly trained in managing malaria cases as a result of the project. This has in turn indirectly improved the quality of care regarding maternity since malaria causes 25% of maternal deaths in Angola.

Besides increasing the amount of funding that goes toward healthcare, the Health for All project has used such funding to be more interactive with healthcare facilities through the use of formative supervision in Angola. Formative supervision has shown to drastically improve the quality of care in the areas of malaria and reproductive health as supervision allows trained health officials to identify and fix integral issues pertaining to healthcare in Angola.

Zahlea Martin
Photo: Flickr

Access to Water and Sanitation
The U.S. investments that have been working toward improving access to water and sanitation have been particularly focussed on building a more water-secure world during the coronavirus pandemic. So far, the pandemic has affected the lives of billions all over the world and the most vulnerable in particular, already struggling with health and sanitation challenges. According to the OECD, before COVID-19, the African continent had already faced a slowdown in growth and poverty reduction. The organization added that “the current crisis could erase years of development gains.”

The pandemic could impact people already struggling with hunger and poverty. Several international organizations estimated that the number of starving people could have increased to 132 billion by the end of 2020.

To support countries struggling with water and sanitation access during the global pandemic, USAID re-configurated the priorities the Water for World Act of 2014 listed.

How does the global pandemic challenge water security and, in turn, how does USAID respond to these challenges? Before tackling these two questions, this article will give a brief background on the Water for World Act of 2014 and discuss its reconfiguration in light of the recent events regarding sanitation.

The 2014 Water for World Act and WASH Programs

The Water for World Act of 2014 is a reform bill that emerged from the 2005 Water for the Poor Act which made water, sanitation and hygiene – conveniently called WASH – top priorities in the federal foreign aid plan. In an attempt to make data more transparent, optimize aid strategies and improve water support, Congress voted for the Water for World Act in 2014. However, in 2020, the pandemic accelerated the need for global access to water and sanitation.

To address this concern, USAID re-designated 18 high-priority countries according to criteria such as lack of access to water, inadequate sanitation conditions and opportunities to make progress in these areas. Some of the high-priority countries are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, India, Kenya and South Sudan. In doing so, USAID intended to leverage WASH programs and enable vulnerable populations to have continual access to clean water during this critical period.

Current Challenges to Water Security

Access to water and sanitation is a basic human right and the current pandemic underscored the emergency to settle this right in the most vulnerable countries. Populations receive daily reminders to wash their hands and keep a healthy diet to prevent the propagation of the virus and save lives. However, the lack of clean, drinkable water is not only amplifying the already precarious living conditions of vulnerable populations, but it is also making it harder for these countries to stop virus transmission.

COVID-19 tends to affect vulnerable populations the most: poor communities, minorities and people living in crowded areas. According to UN-Habitat, it is clear that the pandemic affects the world’s most vulnerable populations the hardest because they lack sustainable access to water and sanitation.

For instance, India is the second-leading country in the world for most cases of COVID-19. It had almost 11 million cases on February 21, 2021. This number directly links to the country’s crowded rural areas and the lack of access to running water. At the end of 2020, more than 21% of the Indian population showed evidence of exposure to the virus. Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees living in a refugee camp are crowded with a population density four to seven times more than New York City, putting them in high-risk situations.

How WASH Programs Help

WASH programs helped high-priority countries respond to the pandemic in 2020. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, USAID and the World Bank financed WASH campaigns to improve the population’s handwashing behaviors.

Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, they collaborated with the local authorities to improve access to water and sanitation in health care facilities. In Haiti, WASH services included purchasing chlorine to clean water and installing water supply in markets, health centers, orphanages and prisons. According to the World Bank report, ensuring that these countries have safe access to water and sanitation is a necessary medium-term response to the pandemic.

US Investments and Improving Access to Water and Sanitation

U.S. investments aim to provide financial support for water service providers. For instance, in June 2020, USAID partnered with UNICEF in Mozambique to provide subsidies covering the cost of private water providers.

USAID also financed programs that relay information about handwashing. In April 2020, U.S. investments financed radio campaigns in Burkina Faso promoting a new handwashing system expanding access to hygiene in more areas. Data has shown that these programs made a difference in terms of transmission. In fact, transmission levels went down in both Mozambique and Burkina Faso from June to December 2020.

USAID also focused on health care facilities and on supporting health care workers in priority countries by training and protecting them. WASH programs trained more than 16,000 workers in diverse locations such as Senegal, India, Bangladesh, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. USAID support in Senegal was one of many successes: 447 officers and 549 health workers received training while the programs also resulted in the installation of 497 public handwashing stands in health facilities and high-risk places. They also distributed 2,423 handwashing kits to families with COVID-19.

Looking Ahead

Despite the crises of the past year, one can spot at least one positive outcome: global leaders have had to rethink access to water and sanitation. The pandemic increased global awareness about the importance of water and sanitation security, all over the world. U.S. investments to improve water and sanitation accessibility under the Water for World Act provide help during sanitary and water emergencies, even during these challenging times. The recent update about the high-priority status for designated countries is not the only positive news on the horizon. USAID administrator John Barsa has also signed the Sanitation and Water for all World Leaders call to action. His signature confirms what many have come to realize over the past year; international collaboration is key to fight the pandemic and secure better living conditions for all.

– Soizic Lecocq
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Herders and Poverty
Mongolia is situated in Central Asia and is landlocked by Russia to the north and China to the south. The country has a rich history that remains shrouded in mystery for many people. Its vast landscape consists of mountains, pastures and deserts. As a result, the geography creates suitable conditions for migrant herders to carry out their traditions. Sheep, camels, cattle, yak, goats and horses have provided for nomads for thousands of years.

History of Mongolia

Outer Mongolia used to be a part of the Mongolian Empire while Inner Mongolia was a province of China. The split of Mongolia developed first from internal strife within the Empire.  Genghis Khan ruled in the eastern territory for 34 years. The Manchus people ruled during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Through alliances with Chinese administrators, the Ming dynasty was able to start expanding its power. By 1700, the Qing dynasty gained full control of Mongolia. To alleviate tensions, the Manchus used strategies to pacify the Mongol Khans. The two groups proposed intermarriage between the two groups in order to stabilize the country. In 1945, Western powers recognized the sovereignty of Mongolia, while Inner Mongolia remained a province of China.

Poverty in Mongolia

There are two main factors that explain the decline of the herding economy: The end and privatization of livestock cooperatives and state farms and climate change. As a result, the socio-economic repercussions rapidly created a new underclass of extremely impoverished families. These families are predominantly unemployed migrant herders with few livestock to support them. In 2017, environmental challenges dealt a fatal blow to the last surviving migrant herders. Thus, around 600,000 migrant herders seeking employment flocked to Ulaanbaatar with their families. Due to their lack of income, many families had to live in yurts around the urban centers.

In an interview, Altansukh Purev told the Guardian, “We lost all our animals […] 39 out of 40 cows, almost 300 sheep. The cows wandered far away in the snow and never came back. And when we got up one morning, all the sheep had frozen to death. We had lost everything so we decided to leave immediately for Ulaanbaatar.” Migrant herders are particularly vulnerable to the “dudz,” an unusual weather pattern marked by dry summers and extremely frigid winters.

Aid for Mongolia

Mongolia experienced a period of recovery when mining sectors, tourism and trade partners brought substantial revenue.

More recently, USAID has reached out to Mongolia during the COVID-19 pandemic to implement strategies for sustainable growth. According to USAID, the Mongolian economy needs to move away from heavily relying on extractive industries and begin expanding its smaller business sectors. To date, USAID has provided more than 500 groups and cooperatives with technical assistance.

Additionally, Australia has awarded scholarships to 62 Mongolian students to receive higher education in Australia. A technical school in the south Gobi serves as a model for Technical and Vocational Education through competency-based training curricula. Australia also extends its assistance to target sustainable growth, safety regulations in the mining sectors and geoscience.

Migrant herders are finding more opportunities to improve their income, education and health through aid Mongolia has received. Although many migrants cannot go back to herding, training and education allow them to provide for their families.

Elhadj Oumar Tall
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Corruption in LebanonEvents surrounding the massive blast that decimated the cosmopolitan city of Beirut have sparked outrage regarding poverty and corruption in Lebanon. The conclusion that many journalists and analysts have come to is that the bomb that went off on the Port of Beirut was an accident due to negligence by a corrupt, inefficient and sectarian government. As a result of the blast, 200 people died, many more were injured and 300,000 became homeless. Not to mention the economic devastation to Lebanon, with an estimated cost of $15 billion in losses to the entire country. The bombing has damaged an already strained healthcare system that is dealing with a global pandemic, causing a humanitarian crisis. This has sparked massive outrage in the form of protests taking over government ministries, calling for a revolution and a complete overhaul of the political system. However, this catastrophe only represents the tip of the iceberg, as we will see how the problem of corruption (and its link to poverty) has been mounting in Lebanon.

The Troubles Underneath

Lebanon scores 28 out of 100 (0 being highly corrupt and 100 being least corrupt) in the Corruption Perception Index. This is in many ways due to the system of patronage. The country is ruled by a patronage system in which the political elite exchange political support for jobs, contracts and other benefits and resources distributed by sectarian division. Political rule is inherited through sectarian lines as the government and legislative seats are filled through the use of sectarian networks and contacts. The result is a political system made up of three parties that cannot be challenged by independent actors. Not to mention, a system with no accountability and massive inefficiencies.

Maya Terro, co-founder and executive director at FoodBlessed, spoke with The Borgen Project, stating “in Lebanon, the effects of corruption permeate every corner of public life.” She went on to explain that corruption is widespread at all levels of Lebanese society. The Lebanese public tends to view both the political institutions, such as political parties and parliament, and government institutions, such as public administration and the police, as “the most corrupt institutions of the country.” Terro then expanded on the economic life in Lebanon, pointing out that corruption, as well as a lack of proper infrastructure and bureaucracy, leads to disincentivizing of conducting economic activity in the country. Businesses are usually faced with a weak judiciary system that is subject to petty bribes as well as political interference.

Private industry is also hampered by an unreliable and unaccountable police force, public services covered in bribes and sectarian patronage. This scenario shows further problems with a public procurement system filled with favoritism. Protecting whistleblowers is one of the ways to combat this corruption. Unfortunately, a report from Transparency International in 2015 did indicate a lack of major laws protecting whistleblowers and access to information from the government, which are important when investigating corruption.

The Correlation with Corruption and Poverty

Poverty and corruption in Lebanon are highly linked. As the country is embroiled in corruption, half of its population lives under the poverty line. The top economic 1% in Lebanon owns a quarter of the wealth, with 0.1% making the same amount of income as the bottom 50%. The unemployment rate is a staggering 30%. In her interview with The Borgen Project, Terro pointed out that income inequality is a major drive for corruption. Those who are very well off are incentivized to engage in corruption to further their wealth while impoverished communities are motivated by poverty to make a living. She further explains, “I can say from my own observations and based on scientific research is that the wealthy have both greater motivation and more opportunity to engage in corruption, whereas the poor are more vulnerable to extortion and less able to monitor and hold the rich and powerful accountable as inequality increases.”

Additionally, “at the institutional level, economic loss and inefficiency are further exacerbated by corruption. Corruption also exacerbates poverty by creating a state of unequal opportunities in which advantages arise only for those within a corrupt clientelistic network,” says Terro. The power-sharing patronage system has caused further poverty and corruption in Lebanon to the point where a bomb blast occurred in the middle of an economic crisis that the country was experiencing.

Drivers of Change

When asked about her view on the roles of NGOs and aid organizations such as USAID have in helping with the issue of poverty and corruption in Lebanon, Terro said “it doesn’t fight it much because institutions like these only deal with the effects, they don’t and can’t do much when it comes to the root causes of corruption in Lebanon, which are many-fold indeed and vary sometimes from one institution to another and from one person to another.”

However, it is worth highlighting certain actions that NGOs have taken in tackling poverty and corruption in Lebanon. For one, Transparency International engaged in an investigative and documentary campaign that highlighted pollution of the riverside in the Bar Elias town and the sickness it was causing the locals after the government ignored the problem. Advocacy by NGOs has partly helped create the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which is composed of experienced professionals independent and inexperienced in politics. When asked about her view on what’s the best way to tackle poverty and corruption in Lebanon, Terro said “you need to start with the root causes and beyond filing reports and media — shaming the corrupt, not much has been done beyond that. What is needed is action, not more reports.” This action was manifested in the October Revolution and recent protests from cross-sectarian divisions demanding radical change to the political system. Finally, there is the mounting pressure that is coming from the international community (especially from Emmanuel Macron) in forcing the government of Lebanon to implement necessary reformations to receive necessary foreign aid.

Today, the country is currently going into uncertainty after the resignation of the designated MP Mustafa Adib after it became clear that Iran-backed militias are hijacking the French initiative to reform the country. Following Adib’s resignation, former Prime Minister and billionaire Saad Al Hariri took the position after being ousted from that position a year ago. The political class seems incapable of implementing a reformation that would topple the system it has put into power. It appears that the three factors showing hope to tackle poverty and corruption in Lebanon are the anger and revolt of the Lebanese people, external pressures by actors like Macron and civil society groups that have previously filled the vacuum left by the government. For example, the environmental NGO Al-Shouf Cedar Society, and the majors of different districts are in cooperation in the management of Al-Shouf Ceder Nature Reserve. When it comes to aiding refugees from Syria, Lebanese NGOs, which are mostly funded by the U.N., tend to be the primary provider of aid. After the blast in Beirut, three women affected by the explosion started the grassroots community organization Khaddit Beirut and identified 100 local businesses that it aims to help, thereby creating 1,600 jobs. The group aims to harness the local energy of volunteers to aid the recovery of the city after the tragedy happened.

Following the Beirut explosion, NGOs and the Lebanese government are highlighting poverty and corruption in Lebanon and are actively working to address the root causes. However, there is still much to be done to alleviate the political corruption in Lebanon. Civil society groups and Lebanese NGOs are critical actors in reforming political action.

Mustafa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Helping Venezuelan Refugees
Colombia is helping Venezuelan refugees following instability in Venezuela. Colombia has received over one million Venezuelan refugees and the Colombia-Venezuela border has been relatively porous. These Venezuelans are escaping hunger, hyperinflation and generally poor living standards while Colombia faces many problems of its own.

Background

Colombia and its people, although needing humanitarian aid for their own country, have continued to allow Venezuelans to come in. Colombia far surpasses other countries as the number one receiver of Venezuelan refugees. The government provides them services in refugee camps such as orthodontic treatment, legal assistance, psychological guidance, haircuts, manicures and food. This has been described by various Venezeulen refugees to be beneficial. However, there are concerns that Colombia might not sufficiently meet the demands for this new mass influx of people considering its existing problems with its own people.

Colombia today sees high rates of terrorism and crime, from dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and groups like The National Liberation Army (ELN). Armed robberies are also common there, and Colombia’s social systems and law enforcement have failed to address this issue. This results in events like a car bomb incident in January 2019 in Bogota which killed 22 people and injured 66 more, a bomb in January 2018 when a bomb exploded in front of a police station in Barranquilla, a bomb in June 2017 when three people were killed in a shopping mall and an incident in 2018 where two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver were killed along the Colombia-Ecuador border. The U.S. State Department rates Colombia with a Level 3: Reconsider Travel rating, citing these issues as well as health concerns from COVID-19.

Current Sources of to Help

Despite this news, there are things people can do to aid in helping Venezuelan refugees. The USAID program in the country is one example of helping Venezuelan refugees and aiding Colombia’s effort for this task. USAID has provided ventilators as well as $30 million of aid to Colombia amid the COVID-19 pandemic and humanitarian aid after Hurricane Iota struck the region in November 2020. But most of all, it is the Colombian people who are helping Venezuelan refugees.

At border towns, people have taken Venezuelan refugees into their homes, often indefinitely at no cost at all. In the 1980s and 1990s, Colombia was experiencing a decade-long conflict with FARC. This destructive conflict displaced more than seven million people, and groups of Colombians migrated to the then prosperous Venezuela. The Venezuelans during this conflict took Colombians in the same way as Colombians are taking in Venezuelans now. The Colombian border state of La Guajira is the perfect example of this, as over 160,000 Venezuelan refugees have taken refuge in La Guajira. Venezuelans now make up one-fifth of the population. The selfless help from local Colombians has made a difference in helping Venezuelan refugees.

Aid outside the Colombian government does a lot in helping Venezuelan refugees. This is true whether it goes directly to the local people or arrives through sources like USAID. The intertwining between Venezuelans and Colombians, promoted by Venezuelan refugee events hosted by Colombians before COVID-19, can also help alleviate anti-Venezuelan sentiment and provide the region more stability.

Justin Chan
Photo: Flickr

Solar PowerAs the world strives to move away from fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy sources, solar power continues to increase in popularity. It is free, clean and abundant. There is no harmful by-product, private companies do not control it and no drilling is required.

Geographic luck is a large part of what has allowed today’s developed nations to become economic powerhouses. Some countries were settled on pieces of land that were abundant with resources, like oil. Others were not so fortunate. This is what allowed some countries to rapidly advance and others to remain stagnant. There is one resource, however, that many developing nations have a tremendous supply of: sunlight.

The Geography

A large majority of developing nations are located in Africa and Southern Asia. Both of these areas receive more sunlight than almost anywhere else on the planet. Large swaths of land, particularly in the Sahara Desert, can serve as the perfect location for solar panels. The sand and scorching sun make it arduous and expensive to build structures on an urban scale. However, solar panels are relatively inexpensive to install and require little maintenance.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of the population lacks electricity, 89% of the days every year are sunny. With concentrated sunlight like this, it is projected that if just one in every 100 square miles of desert around the globe had solar panels, they would provide enough energy for every country on Earth. The Sahara is the largest desert in the world. Therefore, it is more than capable of supplying the energy needed by rural communities in Africa.

Why Solar Power Is The Ideal Energy Source

The reason why solar power is so crucial to developing nations, particularly in Africa, is because there are several rural communities that live far away from the power grid. While it is possible to extend the grids out to rural areas, it is often expensive. It is also time-consuming and does not resolve the larger problem at stake: the world’s dependence on non-renewable energy sources. Solar power is renewable, does not require connection to a major grid and has all the same applications as a power plant. The biggest application is their ability to generate electricity.

The Power Africa Off-Grid Project

In 2018, USAID in conjunction with the U.S. government launched the Power Africa Off-Grid Project (PAOP). Phase one of the plan is simple: produce enough solar power to bring electricity to six million inhabitants living in rural areas of Africa by 2022. The project spans 20 African nations and has already gained $1 billion in funding. Once phase one of the plan is achieved in 2022, phase two will begin which entails expanding electricity access to reach an additional 60 million people by 2030.

What This Means For The Future

The reason why solar power is so important to developing nations, aside from its eco-friendliness, is because solar power means electricity. Electricity is fundamental to any society trying to advance. Without it, productivity is largely limited due to the lack of light, access to clean water and the inability to keep food fresh via refrigeration. With access to electricity, an African school teacher who grades papers at night can flip on a light. Families can refrigerate food so that they do not have to spend time searching for fresh meat every day. Water can be cleaned through solar-powered purification systems. When the quality of life increases, productivity increases.

With solar power expansion through projects like POAP, developing nations are on the brink of becoming fully developed economies. Hopefully, these nations can serve as an example to the rest of the world of how fossil fuels do not have to be the end game. There are alternative solutions out there, they just need to be given a chance.

Jake Hill
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

Youth Development in the PhilippinesThe Philippines has an opportunity for rapid economic growth and the potential to greatly innovate industry across the country. This opportunity comes from the number of young people in the country. Young people account for 50% of the entire population of the nation, leaving it with immense potential for economic growth as these young people begin to enter the workforce. Youth development in the Philippines is crucial for the country’s transformation into a resilient nation.

The Education Problem

Unfortunately for the Philippines, an alarming portion of these young people are currently not in any form of education or employment. One-fifth of all youth in the Philippines are either jobless or not attending school or employment training.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines was facing an education crisis. The country placed last in reading comprehension and second to last in both science and mathematics in an international student assessment.

USAID: Youth Development in the Philippines

USAID has committed to help improve and promote public education and other forms of education in the Philippines. Starting in 2018, USAID began a five-year effort to create a series of programs aimed at uplifting economically disenfranchised Filipino youth who are at the most risk of poverty.

One program, in particular, YouthWorks PH is a five-year partnership between USAID and the Philippine Business for Education that engages the private sector to address the education needs of youth as well as the skill requirements of employers. This partnership will improve access to training and employment opportunities for at least 40,000 youth through an innovative work-based training approach. Young people are able to earn a competency certificate from a university or training institute while working in partner companies.

More than 5,000 young Filipinos will have access to free technical and vocational training as a result of this initiative partnering with Aboitiz Construction and D.M. Consunji, Inc. (DMCI), two of the biggest construction companies in the country.

This type of on-site vocational training will help prepare youth for well-paid employment opportunities and will create more skilled workers in the Philippines.

There are also other programs created by USAID specifically to increase the quality and accessibility of education in the Philippines. All Children Reading (ACR), is a program to increase the reading skills of Filipino children. ABC+ aims to address the interconnected factors that contribute to low education outcomes in the poorest performing areas of the Philippines.

Youth Development Potential

Young Filipino people could potentially bring about massive economic growth in the country. In order to fully capitalize on this opportunity, resources and development opportunities must be provided to the youth so that they can fully integrate into the workforce as skilled workers. For this reason, the youth development work of USAID is integral. Not only will it lift thousands of poor Filipino youth out of poverty but it will help create a stronger economy for the Philippines.

– Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr