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Electricity Access in the SahelOn March 11, 2021, the World Bank approved $22.5 million of funding for the Regional Off-Grid Electricity Access Project (ROGEAP) in the Sahel region of Africa. This region is one of the most impoverished areas in the world and few residents have access to electricity. However, the funding expects to increase electricity access in the Sahel by turning to a new source of energy — solar power.

Electricity Access in Sahel Region

The Sahel region stretches across the Sahara desert and includes the countries of Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, among others. Besides having arid climates, the common denominator for countries in the Sahel region is poverty. None of the countries mentioned above have a GDP per capita of more than $3,000, and with this lack of capital, comes a lack of electricity access. Furthermore, approximately 50% of the 340 million people living in the Sahel region do not have access to electricity, representing one of the lowest modern electricity consumption rates for any region on Earth. Insufficient generation, high petroleum prices and lack of financing for large electricity grids have all contributed to the area’s low connectivity.

This lack of electricity access in the Sahel has had destructive physical and economic effects on regional residents. Several public health centers lack sufficient energy generation, which puts the lives of patients requiring electricity for survival at great risk. Furthermore, rural areas of the Sahel often lack any electricity, forcing residents to use firewood in traditional stoves for cooking, which has led to adverse health effects from smoke inhalation and the dangers of cutting trees for fuel. Even if the electrical grid reaches some rural areas, most families cannot afford the cost. Many countries in the region currently generate more than 90% of their energy from expensive diesel or heavy fuel, which results in high energy costs for both the urban and rural impoverished. Without any policy changes, energy poverty will continue to ravage the Sahel region for the foreseeable future.

Turning to Solar Power Solutions

Thankfully, solar power presents an exciting new possibility for expanding electricity access in the Sahel. Experts see the Sahel as an area with massive solar potential, as many people living there, especially those in rural communities, have access to vast areas of flat land needed for solar panels. Furthermore, off-grid (individually owned) solar power systems present the lowest-cost energy option for 65% of the rural population in the Sahel region. Off-grid power sources are already becoming regional hallmarks as many residents live a significant distance from the power grid. According to the International Energy Agency, about 70% of Africa’s new rural power will come from off-grid power sources by 2040.

Seeing this potential, the World Bank increased funding for the Regional Off-Grid Electricity Access Project (ROGEAP) by $22.5 million. Grants from the International Development Association and the Clean Technology Fund have made this funding possible. The main goal of ROGEAP is to support the development of stand-alone (off-grid) solar products and the advancement of the solar market in a unified effort to boost electricity access in the Sahel. This project will assist in accelerating the deployment of stand-alone solar products, provide credits and grants for off-grid solar home systems and coordinate policies and standards to develop a prosperous regional solar market.

How ROGEAP Will Help

  1. It will provide electricity for public health centers and schools, which will, in turn, improve health and education in the region. The projected increase in the standard of living will likely lead to more people being able to secure well-paying jobs to support themselves and their families.
  2. It will create jobs within the blossoming solar market for people of all skill levels. Transitioning to solar power creates the need for jobs in installation, transportation and infrastructure industries. Additionally, entrepreneurial ventures in solar power will likely sprout from the new funding.
  3. It will improve the output and ease of production for many different jobs. For example, farming communities can use solar water pumps for easier irrigation and milling communities can use new solar milling equipment for more efficient production.

Lighting the Way Forward

By supporting the advancement of stand-alone solar products, ROGEAP aims to enhance electricity access in the Sahel for more than a million residents. The project will increase the use of solar power across the region and subsequently provide electricity for homes, schools, hospitals, farms and small businesses that previously lacked connection. The new funding will likely have a positive impact on health, education and employment in the region for decades to come. If the World Bank and other international agencies hope to continue this endeavor of expanding electricity access in developing regions of the world, projects supporting stand-alone solar power sources like ROGEAP seem to be a winning solution.

Calvin Melloh
Photo: Flickr

Rural Chinese PovertyThe World Bank has approved a $200 million loan to support the Chinese province of Hunan in expanding access to public services for rural residents. About 30 million people in Hunan live in rural areas and the loan will deliver equitable and efficient public services to this demographic in an attempt to alleviate rural Chinese poverty.

Rural Inequity in China

China has experienced remarkable economic growth in the past four decades and with it an undeniable drop in extreme poverty. However, the distribution of this poverty alleviation has largely benefitted urban residents over the rural population. More than 500 million of China’s residents live in rural areas and their remote locations in such a massive country have made reducing poverty particularly difficult. Rural Chinese people do not have access to big-city poverty reduction resources like quality education, healthcare and high-paying jobs. It is also harder for the government’s poverty alleviation programs to track down farmers scattered across the vast rural Chinese landscape.

Furthermore, local governments often bear a disproportionate responsibility for trillions of dollars in loans to pay for poverty alleviation programs and this debt hinders rural provinces’ abilities to complete internal improvement projects. Unfinished road construction projects force rural farmers to carry their produce across miles of difficult terrain to reach the nearest major road. Besides obstructing rural commerce, broken roads prevent people from being able to reach quality schools and well-paying jobs. Healthcare and treatment for COVID-19 are also highly inaccessible due to the crumbling infrastructure that keeps China’s rural people in a cycle of poverty.

How New Funding Helps

Hunan’s $200 million loan from the World Bank will serve as a template for other provinces and will help alleviate rural Chinese poverty in a few key ways. First, it will provide funding for rural public schools which often suffer from a lack of resources and staff. It will also increase financing for rural road maintenance and enhance the climate resilience of roads so that storms and flooding do not decimate residents’ main avenues of travel. Road improvement projects have an enormous impact on Hunan farmers as a recently completed 63km road project provided for more convenient transport, opened farmers to broader markets, and in effect, increased Hunan residents’ incomes by about 30%.

Also included in the loan are measures designed to strengthen local debt management, which will allow more of Hunan’s budget to go toward improving living conditions rather than repaying debts. Lastly, the loan will make budget information more accessible to citizens, which should decrease the amount of fraud and fund mismanagement experienced. In the past five years, China has reported more than 60,000 cases of corruption and misconduct in its poverty alleviation programs. In 2018 alone, the government recouped about $112 million of misappropriated poverty spending. With information like this available to the public rather than buried in private documents, Hunan expects a reduction in poverty-related fraud and embezzlement.

Poverty in Numbers

The World Bank loan will certainly create positive changes in the Hunan province but impoverished rural citizens overall still need much more support. The impact of rural Chinese poverty often gets understated as basic statistics do not tell the whole story. While the number of Chinese citizens in extreme poverty living on less than $1.90 a day has decreased by almost 750 million, a quarter of China’s population still lives on less than $5.50 a day. The World Bank sets $5.50 per day as the poverty threshold for upper-middle-income countries like China, so by this measure, a large number of Chinese people still live in poverty, most of whom are likely rural people.

The Road Ahead

The rural residents in Hunan and elsewhere in China have not shared the triumphs of national poverty eradication. In order to effectively assist impoverished rural citizens, China and the international aid community can draw wisdom from the strategy for the allocation of the World Bank’s new loan.

Spending on higher-quality rural education will increase the standard of living and offer rural residents a better opportunity for socio-economic growth. Completing road construction projects and making roads climate resilient will provide rural citizens increased commerce and more convenient access to education, healthcare and job resources. Strengthening local debt management will ease the strain of provincial loan repayment and allow greater spending on internal improvements. Finally, making budget information transparent and accessible for citizens will decrease cases of fund mismanagement and ensure poverty reduction programs are properly using expenditure to alleviate rural Chinese poverty.

Calvin Nordhougen
Photo: Flickr

education for girls in MozambiqueMozambique is one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the world but it has made economic progress in the past three decades as its income per capita rose from $373 in 1995 to $1,136 in 2017. However, Mozambique still lags behind most other countries when it comes to the crucial topic of gender equality, specifically in education. New funding from the World Bank seeks to address these gender discrepancies and improve education for girls in Mozambique.

Girls’ Education in Mozambique

There are several measurements of educational attainment by gender in Mozambique and none present an optimistic picture. About 60% of men in Mozambique are literate, as of the latest measurement, in comparison to only about 28% of women. This is largely due to high dropout rates for girls in primary school. More than 50% of girls in Mozambique drop out by the fifth grade and this drops to 11% by the secondary level of education. Solely 1% of women in Mozambique attend college, and once they graduate, their job prospects are grim.

In 2017, less than 4% of women in Mozambique had salaried jobs and only one quarter were landowners holding official rights. Due to these facts, many women find themselves forced to marry early in order to gain any financial stability. About 48% of women in Mozambique get married by age 18, most of whom have long since dropped out of school. This lack of education comes with increased health risks as the prevalence of HIV is three times higher among young women than young men. Furthermore, researchers estimate more than half of Mozambican women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime and believe it is justified.

The World Bank’s Efforts

Acknowledging the bleak state of girls’ education in Mozambique, the World Bank approved new funding for a project addressing low learning outcomes for girls in primary school and low retention rates for girls in upper levels of education. This funding includes grants of $160 million from the International Development Agency and $139 million from the Global Partnership for Education for a total of $299 million. The project will address the first problem of low learning outcomes by building 100 new preschool facilities in rural areas that lack quality education resources. It will also train and support teachers in grade levels one to three and expand children’s access to learning materials to improve reading skills for girls in primary school.

In order to address the second problem of low retention rates, the project will seek to create safe school environments for girls, increase the number of lower secondary schools across the country and make general improvements to the infrastructure of schools in order to retain more students. Furthermore, the funding will provide sexual and reproductive health programs and gender-based violence mitigation programs in an effort to decrease early marriages, HIV infections and domestic violence. The project will also implement mentorship programs for girls and expand the scope of virtual learning facilities, which will likely continue to be incredibly important education resources even in a post-COVID-19 world.

Potential Impact

Hopes are high that this project, with increased funding from the World Bank, will have a positive effect on the education of girls in Mozambique. Many rural families with children will have access to quality preschool facilities for the first time and girls in lower levels of primary school will have more resources to help them become literate. Girls in upper primary and secondary schools will also gain access to improved resources and revamped school infrastructures. New sexual and reproductive health programs have the potential to decrease the number of young women who are HIV positive and mentorship programs will build relationships among young women and provide activities and resources for school-aged girls.

Besides the direct and immediate effects the project will have on girls’ education in Mozambique, the country as a whole stands to benefit from the results of increased learning readiness and retention rates in the years and decades to come. According to the World Bank, increasing the percentage of women with secondary levels of education in a country by 1% boosts annual per capita income growth by 0.3 percentage points. Furthermore, one additional year of education can increase a woman’s personal income by up to 25%. Girls with basic levels of education are three times less likely to contract HIV and children born to women with basic levels of education are twice as likely to survive past age 5.

The Future of Mozambique

Mozambican girls and women have suffered from poor educational attainment due to a lack of opportunities, high dropout rates in primary school and low retention rates in upper levels of education. However, the new funding from the World Bank has the potential to improve girls’ education in Mozambique from preschool through secondary school by building facilities, expanding access to resources, enhancing infrastructure, implementing sexual health programs and introducing mentorship activities for young women. Increasing educational attainment for women has a ripple effect on their incomes, their families and their countries. A government choosing to improve girls’ education makes a sound investment in the country’s future.

– Calvin Melloh
Photo: Flickr

The Great Green Wall
A healthy planet helps maintain healthy people. Therefore, stemming deforestation and alleviating poverty are vital steps to improving global health. Understanding how health, poverty and deforestation relate is complex and alleviating the effects of poverty and deforestation is all the more so. Still, initiatives like the Great Green Wall give hope to global health experts.

How Poverty, Health and Deforestation Interact

It is valuable to understand how health, poverty and deforestation interact with one another:

Poverty and Health: Poverty and health have a complex albeit well-known relationship. Living in poverty means important health determinants—such as access to healthcare, nutritious food, clean water and safe shelter—are compromised. The relationship between poverty and health is a bidirectional one. As a result, living in poor health can also prevent one from making a living wage to care for oneself and one’s family. These issues, therefore, feed on one another.

Poverty and Deforestation: Of those living in poverty worldwide, 85% are in rural areas. Agriculture serves as their primary occupation and is vital to survival. Not only does deforestation spawn poverty, but poverty exacerbates deforestation. Farmers must clear trees for immediate profit, despite knowing the importance of keeping forests lush long-term. Planting trees where forests have undergone clearing, however, can hold topsoil in place and water can better absorb into the ground. This stymies erosion and replenishes groundwater. Even more straightforward are the building materials for shelter, food and shade that these new trees can one day provide.

Health and Deforestation: The compromised access to food and water to which deforestation leads are obvious factors negatively affecting health. There are also more complex interactions between deforestation and health, such as an increased prevalence of infectious diseases. Research has shown that as trees are cleared and spaces are urbanized, populations of disease-transmitting species like bats and rodents grow. This results in more outbreaks, and even instances of human disease formerly only found in animals. However, by providing short-term assistance and adding trees back to the landscape for long-term improvement, these effects can disappear.

The Great Green Wall

For a demonstration of not only how health, poverty and deforestation relate, but the positive efforts happening to influence their interaction, one can turn to the Great Green Wall. Initiated by 11 African nations in 2007, with another nine joining by 2019, the overall goal of the Great Green Wall is to plant roughly 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) of trees across the continent of Africa, extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. Though primarily a country-led effort, partners in this work include the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, the Government of France, the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

To the benefit of the people of Africa and beyond, this effort will undo some of the harm that deforestation practices have done and restore the myriad of benefits to having a natural barrier along the Sahara Desert. As previously mentioned, the destruction of forests compromises food security and access to water. This, in turn, leads to conflict and waves of emigration to neighboring nations. The creation of this barrier has the added benefit of creating a need for landscaping maintenance and therefore jobs in nearby communities.

The Wall was 15% complete by 2019. President Emmanuel Macron of France pledged to contribute $14 billion over the next 10 years, 30% of the necessary total. With this funding, the wall is on track for completion by 2030. But, importantly, the Great Green Wall will not stand alone. Work is happening across the globe that will help slow and occasionally reverse the effects of environmental degradation.

Organizations Fighting Environmental Degradation

Plant With Purpose works in Thailand, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Mount Kilimanjaro area in Tanzania. They not only plant trees, but educate people on sustainable farming. The Amazon Conservation Association has been partnering with locals for 20 years to conserve the Amazon Rainforest in a scientifically informed and sustainable way. Following the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon, the Brazilian government noted a 70% decline in deforestation in 2014. Supporting these groups and policies means promoting the health and wellbeing of people across the globe.

Amy Perkins
Photo: Flickr

Post-pandemic debt crisis
With the 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic came a drastic slow in economic activity and collapse in government revenue, prompting a widespread increase in both government and private debt levels. Currently, at the beginning of 2021, with no concrete prediction for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and the private sector continue to accumulate great foreign currency debt. There is a steady increase in government loans for funding and there has been at least a 20% reduction in 2020 remittances from global citizens and diasporas. Developing nations report skyrocketing borrowing needs that are usually that advanced economies can usually only manage. Additionally, central bank purchases of corporate bonds to boost the money supply of local firms have stifled the debt ratings of local firms in emerging markets and developing economies. As a result, our world is facing rising budget pressures, which a wave of sovereign debt downgrades that are likely to lead to a post-pandemic debt crisis are accompanying.

Context and the Role of the IMF

In comparison to the end of 2019, in addition to already unusually elevated figures and debt distress, expectations have determined that 2021 debt ratios will increase by 20% GDP in advanced economies, 10% in emerging market economies and 7% in low-income economies. Unfortunately, the emerging and developing world have much smaller borrowing capacities, and so for some, a post-pandemic debt crisis appears imminent.

In the past, debt crises have set the global economy into long-lasting instability. In order to prevent such an economic downfall on top of a global health crisis, many of the leading international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have prepared to help keep nations afloat. While the IMF has provided over $30 billion in emergency funding to its member countries in a response to the pandemic, it has also given direct attention to implementing measures that contribute to debt-service relief. Here are some of these measures.

4 Measures to Contribute to Debt-Service Relief

  1. Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT): Undergoing establishment in 2015 as a response to the Ebola outbreak and receiving modification in March 2020 for the COVID-19 pandemic, CCRT allows the IMF to provide grant funding for debt relief to the poorest and most vulnerable nations that a natural disaster or public health crises have hit. The purpose of the CCRT is to aid eligible low-income member countries to meet the balance of payment needs that disasters create. This stops the reassigning of resources to debt service, preventing a post-pandemic debt crisis.
  2. Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI): In a collaboration between the IMF Managing Director and the President of the World Bank, a call emerged for the bilateral creditors to suspend debt service payments from the poorest member countries until the end of 2020, extended to June 2021. Accepted in April 2020, this debt suspension allows 73 low and lower-middle-income countries to temporarily receive relief from their debt service payments. In addition to releasing the countries’ resources to COVID-19 relief, this initiative prompted the International Institute of Finance (IIF) to also call for private-sector creditors to grant debt payments forbearance to their debtors in a similar way. Many private firms have volunteered to aid in debt relief as a result.
  3. Short Term Liquidity Line (SLL): With the increase in global uncertainty, the IMF has established a short-term liquidity line (SLL) with the unique design of being a liquidity backstop for its member countries who have superior policy and fundamentals, but are in need of increased immediate liquidity needs as a result of the external shocks that came with this global pandemic. This liquidity line has a lower cost structure than other typical IMF lines of liquidity such as the Flexible Credit Line (FCL). This allows for a country to retain cost savings relative to reserves, and benefits related to lower yields on public debt.
  4. Capacity Development: In addition to its financial support, the IMF is also offering real-time policy guidance and capacity development to more than 160 of its 190 member countries. This advice is for specifically navigating debt management strategies, cash management, financial supervision, cybersecurity and economic governance through the pandemic. The IMF has collaborated with tax administrations and budget officers to restore and support halted or slowed business operations. It has also launched online learning platforms available to government officials, members and the general public for the widespread reach of solutions to aid in economic recovery during and post-pandemic.

Cause for Optimism

With the measures above, as well as the collaborative effort of the entire globe, according to the IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, “the global economy is beginning to climb back from the depths of the crisis, but this calamity is far from over.”

Thankfully, the IMF continues to show its commitment to providing financial support, capacity development and debt relief, especially for its poorest, most affected and vulnerable member countries in this unprecedented time, as the world works to stave off an impending debt crisis.

Rebecca Harris
Photo: Flickr

Social Safety Nets in EthiopiaSocial safety nets play a pivotal role in distributing wealth and opportunities to the world’s most at-risk communities. Every nation has one to a certain extent but the strength of those safety nets largely varies. The United States government can afford to transfer non-contributory benefits to low-income U.S. citizens without making much of a dent in the national budget but the opposite is true for less wealthy, developing countries. Though the approach is quite different, social safety nets in Ethiopia exist and work to reduce poverty.

Population Growth and Development

For the last 15 years, Ethiopia has been celebrating strong economic development. Due to its rapid population growth, large pockets of poverty have been popping up more frequently in urban areas. The challenge then becomes building social protection programs fast enough to keep up with the country’s population.

Ethiopia’s problems are structural, meaning that accessibility to labor markets is one of the key reasons urban areas appear to be stuck in a stalemate. Still, in 2016, Ethiopia took its first big step in the right direction by creating its first social protection system to target the urban impoverished and gender inequality.

The Urban Productive Safety Net Project (UPSNP)

According to the World Bank, the objective of the UPSNP “is to support the Government of Ethiopia to improve income of targeted poor households and establish urban safety net mechanisms.” As one of the few programs in sub-Saharan Africa, the UPSNP is a vanguard for social safety and economic relief and has already established many parts of the much larger structural framework envisioned. These include mobile childcare and primary education facilities to inspire mothers’ participation and pilot programs to encourage and empower young workers and behavioral change interventions to establish better business practices.

Results of the UPSNP

The results of this ongoing project have been quite successful in ensuring growth that is both economically sufficient and socially inclusive. Since its start in 2016, the UPSNP has assisted more than 600,000 beneficiaries, 60% of them being women, and distributed livelihood grants to more than 51,000 small business owners. Another accomplishment is the opening of bank accounts through the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia for all its beneficiaries, adding up to more than $11.3 million saved. Additionally, the UPSNP connected more than 60,000 beneficiaries to basic social services such as health insurance and family support and developed COVID-19 adaptable transfer systems.

The Road Ahead

With the overwhelming success of the UPSNP, Ethiopia is carving the way for a new social safety net project called the Urban Productive Safety Net and Jobs project (UPSNJP). This new project focuses on incorporating disadvantaged youth into labor markets and support for refugees and homeless people. In cooperation with its predecessor, these social safety nets in Ethiopia are restructuring the economy to strengthen the bridge between citizens of urban communities, labor markets and the rights that are due to them.

The Government of Ethiopia has come a long way since the early 2000s when it had one of the highest poverty rates in the world. Ethiopia has made significant progress, and with further support of global organizations, Ethiopians can be supported and safeguarded, even in the wake of COVID-19.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Digital FarmingThe expansion of the digital age catapults the world into new methods of productivity. Utilized in the sectors of farming and agriculture, technology increases capabilities. Primarily, the introduction of mobile phones for digital farming heightens this change. Expanding internet and digital connection in the developing world has the potential to bring about positive outcomes that will help reduce poverty.

4 Ways Digital Farming Increases Productivity

  1. Network Building: Digital technology increases productivity by integrating mobile phones and internet services into the daily practices of farmers. Mobile technology builds networks through which farmers share information about improved practices and ecological data. In Africa, the price of mobile internet dropped by 30% since 2015, allowing more of the general public to utilize these new methods. This increase also required government involvement to establish national strategies and manage communications.
  2. Job Opportunities for Women: In regard to farm production, giving women more access to mobile technology allows productivity to grow by 4%, leveling the playing field between men and women. This provides women with access to knowledge and information regarding the detailed aspects of farming that at one point remained out of reach.
  3. Data Sharing: Implementing new farming technologies requires a commitment to the progression of change. Nations must look long-term to prepare for these changes in production to yield viable results. The costs necessary for production and distribution will decrease through the utilization of networking, where farmers gain the ability to make decisions that are well informed. Higher levels of data available fuel these improvements and streamline investments toward international food production.
  4. Increased Efficiency: Mobile technology will support the growth of efficiency and accuracy through a connected network of farmers. Data indicates that when a developing nation’s internet access increases by 10%, the GDP of this nation may increase by 1.35%, improving the economy. Rwanda has been praised for its work to improve the digital penetration of the economy. Rwanda helped 93% of its population gain access to a 3G network and is one of the fastest-growing African economies.

The Future of Digital Farming

Mobile technologies offer lasting improvements in the agricultural sector but risks still exist. The World Bank acknowledges these risks, such as a lack of cybersecurity, a concentration of service providers and potential job loss because positions will shift. However, the benefits of digital farming in developing countries seem to outweigh the risks. As a result, farmers are able to expand their knowledge and improve their farms. This in turn improves their yields, addresses food security, and most importantly, alleviates poverty. The World Bank states that digital technology should not be seen as the answer to all problems, however. Investments for road improvements, uninterrupted electricity and post-harvest storage facilities are also crucial and should not be overlooked.

– Kate Lucht
Photo: Flickr

Myanmar’s EconomySmall businesses are the “backbone” of Myanmar’s economy. Not only do they create jobs, but they provide higher levels of fulfillment, support and cultivate communities and neighborhoods. Overall, small businesses improve Myanmar’s standard of living. The World Bank reports that Myanmar’s economic growth baseline will drop to 0.5 from 6.8 due to COVID-19. The pandemic could reverse Myanmar’s significant progress in poverty eradication. Even so, there are businesses that are still operating and contributing to Myanmar’s economy’s recovery.

Meet U Min Htin

U Min Htin is an education service provider in Myanmar. Before the pandemic, the education market flourished. Now demand is slowing as citizens focus on surviving the pandemic rather than honing professional skills. Like most institutions worldwide, U Min had to transition services online. Although the business is not doing as well, as usual, he counts his blessings. The service is still available, and he has not gone bankrupt. The need for education services will rise again. As Myanmar’s economy recovers, the demand for educated professionals will naturally increase.

Meet Javier Phua and Melissa Koh

They are the owners of Easy Speciality Coffee. Their business suffered considerably at the start of the pandemic. Most of their customers are from outside Myanmar, and border restrictions forced them to return and remain home. However, Easy Specialty Coffee is recovering strong. Incredible menu changes as well as food delivery services have helped their business stay alive. They have begun providing relief to those struggling from COVID-19 through their new Coffee for Food initiative. All proceeds from selling coffee beans go to this initiative. They also offer free coffee to frontline medical workers.

Meet Daw Moe Moe Kyaw

She is a sugar trader in Myanmar. The pandemic has significantly slowed operation and increased costs. New restrictions prohibiting Myanmar truck drivers from entering China now forces her to switch drivers at the border. Now it takes double the time and capital to move her products. Also, communication with her Chinese partners is continuously interfered with as China hardens regulations on chat services. Also, foreign bank transactions take five times as long to get approved, affecting cash flow. Despite these drawbacks, Daw’s sales are still increasing. Sugar is one of those commodities that will likely maintain its high demand.

Meet Myint

Myint makes and sells multipurpose cloth bags in nearby villages and markets. The local government restrictions on social gatherings are slowing sales. However, she has been able to stay afloat thanks to a grant she received from the United Nations Women’s Rahkine Program. Rather than close her business, Myint is transitioning her business online. She is also seeking other ways that will allow her to sell in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.

A New Economic Pillar

E-commerce is a potential saving grace for Myanmar’s economy. Myanmar has seen a significant increase in online sales since COVID-19. The government’s new economic relief plan now prioritizes the protection and support of e-commerce. Online businesses are now considered a pillar of Myanmar’s economy. Although e-commerce looks hopeful, supply chain disruptions, expense increases and demand declines are still real problems that will not go away.

In Conclusion

The Myanmar Times reports that almost a third of businesses have closed temporarily due to COVID-19. Naturally, small businesses are limited in cash flow and have slim profit margins. The effects of this pandemic stress the strain even more. However, these businesses and many others provide hope for a fully recovered Myanmar economy. With their ability to adopt new business models, change operating procedures and provide relief to their neighbors, all businesses worldwide should take notes.

LaCherish Thompson
Photo: Unsplash

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

2020 Afghanistan Conference
On November 23, 2020, and November 24, 2020, the governments of Afghanistan and Finland and the United Nations hosted the 2020 Afghanistan Conference in Geneva. The Conference is a quadrennial summit that serves as a chance for the international community to renew its long-term assistance commitments to Afghanistan. Seventy countries and 30 international organizations participated in this COVID-19-conscious summit at the UN Palais des Nations. The groups discussed the ways in which Afghanistan can develop economically, politically and socially. Talks went on in light of a worldwide pandemic and a year of new clashes as well as historic peace talks.

Changes in Funding for Afghanistan

The 2020 Afghanistan Conference serves as a “pivotal moment for aid-dependent Afghanistan.” The changes in funding that Afghanistan will receive in the coming years were a prioritized issue. From 2017 through 2020, Afghanistan received a yearly $3.8 billion from its donors. On the other hand, more recently, estimates determined a 17% drop in funds as Afghanistan has received $3.3 billion for 2021 from donors. Many expected the considerable drops in funding, however. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s economy will contract at least 5.5% by the end of 2020. This is a COVID-19-related crunch that the entire world is feeling. “Donor fatigue” is a concurrent effect as the pandemic stretches the global aid system thin. Donor-reliant nations such as Afghanistan are taking a hit. As the United States Institute for Peace considers funding “a critical ingredient” for stability in Afghanistan, an incoming drop in funds may have detrimental impacts both economically and politically.

Peace Talks in Afghanistan

2020 was also a year for monumental peace talks in Afghanistan, but not a year without violence. In February 2020, a monumental peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban had resulted in a considerable withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan; forces will have reduced from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January 2021. But violence continues, and in October alone, 35,000 civilians experienced displacement in Helmand Province, and another 16,000 underwent displacement in Kandahar. With the U.S. clearly on the withdrawal, the Afghan government now leads negotiations with the Taliban, who were not invited to the 2020 Afghanistan Conference but made a statement with the hopes that the international community would deliver aid “collected in the name of the people.”

Roles of Afghan Women in the Nation’s Civil Society

Another primary concern at the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, specifically among Afghan-based groups working for peace and development, was the future roles that Afghan women may play in the nation’s civil society. The Kabul-based group Equality for Peace and Democracy made an address. It exalted the impact that gender-based equality has in a society striving for a place on the world stage. The aid group CARE, which noted that women and girls have experienced exclusion “from meaningful participation” in Afghan society, hopes that donors will make more economic and political opportunities for women in Afghanistan a requirement for financial assistance.

Naturally, the epidemic, declines in donorship, historic developments in regional peace and potential upheaval of civil society all presented humanitarian worries for Afghanistan’s immediate future. As the nation enters the second wave of COVID-19, food prices will continue to rise globally. In addition, a third of Afghanistan’s population is predicted to face “crisis or emergency levels of hunger” through March 2021. The more mountainous regions of Afghanistan, which typically face bitter winters, will have even more vulnerable food security. The 2020 Afghanistan Conference, however, was a productive way to bring these issues to light and an opportunity for the international community to learn about these problems and pledge to help treat them.

Stirling MacDougall
Photo: Flickr