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W.T.O Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala On Ending Poverty
On March 1, 2021, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala took office as the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She is the first woman and the first African to hold this office. After experiencing the Nigerian Civil War, she came to the U.S. and studied development economics at Harvard University. She also received her doctorate in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2003, she served as Nigeria’s finance minister. After a second appointment ending in 2015, she also served as a foreign minister and worked for the World Bank for 25 years, overseeing an $81 billion portfolio. In her newly appointed role, Okonjo-Iweala promises to influence and implement policy in order to restore the global economy.

What is the World Trade Organization?

The World Trade Organization is an international organization that deals with the “rules of trade between nations.” Member governments negotiate trade agreements that are then ratified in their own parliaments. All major decisions are made by the membership as a whole, either by ministers, their ambassadors or delegates.

The WTO plays an important role in reducing global poverty. Studies show that free trade helps impoverished countries “catch up with” developed nations. More than three-quarters of WTO members are developing countries. Every WTO agreement holds particular provisions for these countries, including longer time spans to carry out agreed-upon policies, “measures to increase their trading opportunities” and assistance to support these countries in building the necessary infrastructure to improve their economies. Least-developed countries are often exempt from many provisions.

The WTO also aims to reduce living costs and improve living standards by mitigating the effect of protectionism on consumer costs. This means that products are more affordable for those with a lower income. In addition, lowering such trade barriers stimulates economic growth and employment, creating opportunities for the impoverished to increase their incomes.

Okonjo-Iweala and Poverty

Okonjo-Iweala’s long list of achievements includes many in the realm of poverty reduction. As the minister of finance in Nigeria, she helped Africa’s largest economy “grow an average of 6% a year over three years.” She also helped create “reform programs that improved governmental transparency and stabilizing the economy.”

As the board chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, she contributed to ensuring vaccine equity. During her 25-year career at the World Bank, she rose to the second-most prominent position of managing director. Okonjo-Iweala ran for the office of director-general of the WTO with the strong belief that trade has the power to lift people out of poverty.

Okonjo-Iweala is also a supporter of COVAX, aiming to resolve vaccine nationalism. During the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine nationalism is a problem that disproportionately affects impoverished countries. COVAX is a global vaccination effort launched by Gavi and leading partners to ensure vaccine equity.

In a January 2021 article, Okonjo-Iweala writes that “All manufacturers must step up and make their vaccines available and affordable to COVAX,” in order to ensure equitable and timely vaccine distribution to low-income countries. She also warned against repeating history.

In 2009, a small number of high-income countries bought up most of the global supply of the H1N1 flu vaccine, which left the rest of the world lacking. If history were to repeat itself during the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on impoverished countries, and the world at large, would be devastating.

Okonjo-Iweala’s Plan

As director-general of the WTO, Okonjo-Iweala’s immediate plans focus on ending the COVID-19 pandemic with vaccines for all. In a statement outlining her vision for the future of the WTO, she says “the WTO can and must play a more forceful role in exercising its monitoring function and encouraging Members to minimize or remove export restrictions and prohibition that hinder supply chains for medical goods and equipment.”

She also says that member nations of the WTO need to adopt a stronger stance in preventing vaccine nationalism and protectionism. International cooperation, in her opinion, is the only way to come up with the vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics needed to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Okonjo-Iweala has promised to face the economic and health challenges presented by the novel coronavirus head-on. Importantly, she notes that “a strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Okonjo-Iweala promises to work in a collaborative effort to “shape and implement the policy responses” necessary to restore the global economy.

Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr

School Feeding Program in RwandaRwanda is a small, densely populated country in Africa, located just south of the equator. Though the country has made great strides in poverty reduction since the 1994 genocide, 55% of the population still lived in poverty in 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic halted a period of economic boom and, as a result, the World Bank expects poverty to rise by more than 5% in 2021. International aid and development programs in Rwanda are more important than ever, especially when it comes to providing reliable, nutritious food sources. Chronic malnutrition affects more than a third of Rwandan children younger than 5 and the World Food Programme (WFP) considers nearly 20% of Rwandans food insecure. One key initiative aiming to eradicate malnutrition in Rwanda is the WFP’s Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda.

History of the Home Grown School Feeding Initiative

The WFP’s Home Grown School Feeding initiative works with local governments, farmers and schools to provide nutritious, diverse daily meals for students and enrich local economies. These Home Grown School Feeding programs currently operate in 46 countries with each program tailored to the needs of local people.

The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda began in 2016, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Mastercard. The program serves daily warm meals to more than 85,000 learners in 104 primary schools. The program benefits both students and their families in several major ways.

5 Benefits of the Home Grown School Feeding Initiative

  1. Improves Nutrition. Agriculture is the basis of Rwanda’s economy, but desertification, drought and other problems are decreasing harvests. As a result, many families struggle to grow enough food to feed themselves. The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda provides students with meals of either maize, beans or hot porridge. The school-provided meal is often the only regular, nutritious meal available to many students.
  2. Improves Hygiene. Along with kitchens and ingredients, the WFP also supplies schools in Rwanda with materials to teach basic nutrition and hygiene. One strategy includes installing rainwater collection tanks and connecting them to handwashing stations. Additionally, WFP workers build or renovate bathrooms at each school. Connecting the school to a reliable water supply also benefits the local community by decreasing the distance villagers travel to access water. School handwashing stations are also open to the community, improving health and hygiene for everyone.
  3. Improves Focus, Literacy and School Attendance. According to Edith Heines, WFP country director for Rwanda, “a daily school meal is a very strong incentive for parents to send their children to school.” In primary schools where the WFP implemented the Home Grown School Feeding Program, attendance has increased to 92%. With the implementation of the program, students report increased alertness in class and better grades and performance. One child from Southern Rwanda, Donat, told the WFP that before his school provided lunch, he was often so hungry that he did not want to return to school after going home at lunchtime. Now that his school provides lunch, he looks forward to class each day. Literacy rates have also improved dramatically at schools where the program operates and the WFP reports that student reading comprehension has increased from less than 50% to 78%.
  4. Teaches Gardening and Cooking Skills. The WFP develops a kitchen garden at every school involved in the Home Grown School Feeding program. Children participate in growing and caring for crops, learning valuable gardening skills that they can take home to their parents. Children are also instructed in meal preparation and in proper hygiene.
  5. Diversifying Crops at Home. Students also receive seedlings in order to provide food at home and to diversify the crops grown in food-insecure areas. Crop diversification can help improve soil fertility and crop yields. Sending seedlings home also promotes parent and community involvement in the program, ensuring the program’s long-term stability.

Looking Ahead

The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda has improved the quality of life for many children living in poverty as well as their families. By fighting to end hunger in food-insecure areas of Rwanda, the WFP has improved hygiene, nutrition, school attendance, literacy, crop diversity and more. The continuation of the program in Rwanda and in other countries around the world will enable further progress in the fight against global poverty.

Julia Welp
Photo: Flickr

Rwanda’s Ecotourism IndustryThe Rwandan genocide in 1994 was a national tragedy resulting in an estimated 800,000 deaths in a period of 100 days. However, 27 years after the massacre, the small, landlocked nation of 12 million people is thriving. A mix of social and political factors has contributed to a thriving nation. Rwanda’s ecotourism industry also plays a significant role in alleviating national poverty.

A Closer Look at Rwanda

Over the past quarter-century, Rwanda changed its course, moving positively toward economic growth and increased prosperity. According to the World Bank, poverty in Rwanda declined substantially from 2001 to 2017, dropping from 77% to 55%. Since 1994, Rwanda has maintained political stability. Stability allowed the country to develop a cost-free and compulsory primary education system with “one of the highest primary enrollment” rates in sub-Saharan Africa.

The country instituted a universal healthcare program and made great strides in legislative gender equality. In 2019, women made up 61% of Rwanda’s parliament. The percentage of female parliamentary representation is substantially greater than most western democracies. Continued economic and social growth is necessary in order to continue poverty reduction progress.

The Role of Rwanda’s Ecotourism Industry

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education.” Ecotourism can be a tool to unite communities, build environmental awareness and grow underdeveloped economies across the world. Over the past 27 years, Rwanda capitalized on this opportunity and created a growing ecotourism industry.

Tourists flock to Rwanda to wander through hiking trails in the country’s four national parks. Others are drawn specifically to the bamboo forests where visitors can see mountain gorillas, an endangered species, in their natural habitat. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Rwanda is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world. The tourism sector in Rwanda is “more than 80% nature-based,” indicating that ecotourism forms a substantial part of the tourism sector.

Tourism in Rwanda

Rwanda’s tourism sector experienced its highest annual growth in 2019, netting more than $498 million and attracting an estimated 1.63 million tourists. For the past seven years, “tourism has been ranked as the first foreign currency earner in Rwanda,” contributing 14.9% of Rwanda’s GDP in 2018.

Rwanda’s tourism sector has increased jobs and significantly contributes to the overall growth of the country’s economy. Tourism in Rwanda employs more than 3% of the labor force. For the Rwandan government, tourism is a critical tool for alleviating national poverty, explicit in both policy and poverty reduction strategies. Not only does tourism create jobs but the wealth generated from a booming tourism industry can help facilitate a country like Rwanda in its ability to access clean water, reliable energy and sanitation services.

“Africa’s tourism industry continues to flourish and supports more than 21 million jobs, and for the developing countries, tourism is an enormous tool for sustainable development,” says Mukhisa Kituyi, former secretary-general of UNCTAD.

How COVID-19 Impacts Rwanda

Pre-pandemic, Rwanda was experiencing an economic boom. In 2019, the economy grew by more than 10%, on its way to grow further in 2020. Instead, due to COVID-19, Rwanda’s economy shrank, with a projected decrease in GDP of 0.2%. As a result of COVID-19, the World Bank projected that poverty rates would increase by 5.1%, placing an additional 550,000 Rwandans in poverty in 2021. Overall unemployment rose from 13% in February 2020 to 22% in May 2020 and 60% of workers who remained employed saw significant salary decreases.

As the pandemic forced global recessions and travel restrictions, Rwanda’s ecotourism industry took a major hit. Tourism was expected to decrease by more than 70% worldwide in 2020. Rwanda’s finance minister, Uzziel Ndagijimana, confirmed that in March and April 2020, the tourism industry missed out on roughly $10 million in revenue.

The Road to Rwanda’s Recovery

Since reopening in the summer of 2019, Rwanda’s growing ecotourism industry shows signs of recovery. While international tourism rates are down, domestic tourism rates are up in comparison to past years. According to Rwanda’s leading daily newspaper, The New Times, increased domestic tourism is expected to restore a revenue sharing program where the Rwandan government will redistribute the earnings from domestic tourism to communities living in and around the visited national parks. This policy is likely to enhance the growing ecotourism sector and aid communities that have suffered economically throughout the pandemic.

-Zoe Tzanis
Photo: Flickr

impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ghana
Ghana’s poverty rate has halved over the past 20 years, but COVID-19 stunted the country’s progress. Amid an economic crisis, many Ghanaian people have lost their jobs, healthcare and education due to the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ghana is severe, especially for women and children.

Child Labor is on the Rise

Global child labor decreased by nearly 40% between 2000 and 2020, but COVID-19 forced many children into the workforce. Before the pandemic started, 160 million children participated in child labor. If countries cannot mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19, around 168.9 million children could be in child labor by the end of 2022. Children in low-income countries like Ghana are particularly at risk of experiencing child labor. Between expansive school closures, increased unemployment and lost family members due to COVID-19, Ghanaian children have become more susceptible to child labor since the pandemic started.

Children and families often turn to child labor because it is the only option available to meet their basic needs. Ghanaian children as young as 8 years old work jobs in industries such as mining, carpentry, fishing and transporting goods to support themselves and their families. Most countries have developed economic relief packages to assist families who are struggling, but it can be challenging for low-income countries to afford adequate social protection programs. The World Bank found that low-income countries, on average, spend only about $6 per capita in response to the pandemic. Adequate social protection programs may be necessary to fully combat the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ghana.

Educational Opportunities are Sparse

Many Ghanaian children have lost their educations since the pandemic started because of school closures or the need to drop out and support their families. At a shortage of proper funding, schools in Ghana struggle to afford food, technology for remote learning and resources for students with disabilities. Food insecurity has increased for students who formerly relied on their schools to provide meals every day. According to a recent study by Innovations for Poverty Action, 72% of Ghanaian children in public schools did not receive their usual daily lunches and 30% said they experienced hunger as a result of their schools closing. Without access to education, Ghanaian children are at risk of hunger and exploitation due to the vast impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ghana.

To combat malnutrition, UNICEF is providing children with micronutrient supplements, such as iron folate, to improve children’s health. The Girls Iron Folate Tablet Supplementation (GIFTS) Programme, which UNICEF helped the Ghana Health Service implement and develop, has reduced anemia in girls from the Northern and Volta Regions of Ghana by 26%. UNICEF is also helping Ghana attain educational resources and create school programs that are inclusive to students with disabilities.

Ghana’s Limited Healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic has decreased access to healthcare in Ghana, particularly for pregnant women seeking antenatal care. According to UNICEF, many pregnant women did not receive any antenatal care during the pandemic, either because it was unavailable or because they feared contracting COVID-19 at a health facility. Additionally, many children who were supposed to get standard vaccinations when the pandemic broke out did not receive them due to a vaccine shortage and fears of catching COVID-19 at health facilities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with Ghana to make healthcare more accessible, ensuring health facilities are safe and have the resources they need. As the first country to receive the COVAX vaccine in February 2021, Ghana has been on the road to recovery from COVID-19 for several months. The country also received 350,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in May 2021. The Ghanaian government, UNICEF, Gavi and WHO are collaborating to endorse and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, which will help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ghana.

Unemployment and Wage Reductions Skyrocket

According to the World Bank, more than 770,000 Ghanaian workers experienced wage reductions between March and June 2020 because of the pandemic and 42,000 workers experienced layoffs. While some businesses received support from the government, others did not or were unaware that such resources were available. Many businesses had to close at the beginning of the pandemic, which led to long-term financial struggles. The World Bank is working with the Ghanaian government to help businesses overcome damage from the pandemic and gain resilience in preparation for other economic changes. The organization is focused on raising awareness about government support programs like the Coronavirus Alleviation Programme, which protects jobs and benefits small businesses. The World Bank is also working on creating long-term, educational solutions that prepare young people in Ghana to enter the workforce with adaptability, certifications and a wide range of skill sets.

Solutions in the Works

Many organizations are working alongside the Ghanaian government to combat the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ghana. Organizations like UNICEF and Human Rights Watch are actively working to provide Ghana’s impoverished people with the resources needed to survive, including food, water, healthcare and education. The COVID-19 vaccine offers hope that Ghana will recover from the pandemic, opening the door for improvements in healthcare, education and jobs.

Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Lebanon
Lebanon is facing an economic crisis of unparalleled proportions. COVID-19 has severely impacted economic activity in Lebanon as it has in other countries throughout the world. However, the Lebanese economy was in freefall even prior to the pandemic. Since the economic collapse began in 2019, Lebanon has seen triple-digit inflation, heightened unemployment and a skyrocketing poverty rate. Stringent lockdowns in January 2021 kept the spread of COVID-19 under control. However, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Lebanon is severe, exacerbating Lebanon’s pre-existing crises and hindering economic recovery.

The Economic Crisis in Lebanon

Lebanon was once a popular destination for tourists who wanted to experience the Middle East’s beauty and rich culture. However, economic collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated one of the largest sectors of Lebanon’s economy: tourism. Economic instability has exacerbated precarious living conditions for millions of impoverished Lebanese people.

Public debt defaults and a banking liquidity crisis forced many businesses to close even before the pandemic hit. Lebanon’s economy has steadily contracted since 2019. The impact of COVID-19 increased Lebanon’s unemployment rate from 6.04% in 2019 to 6.6% in 2020, the highest rate seen in a decade. The failure of Lebanon’s economic and financial systems has resulted in millions unable to afford basic necessities.

Lebanon and Syria

The ongoing Syrian Civil War that began in 2011 has had significant ramifications in Lebanon. It has also contributed to the collapse of the Lebanese economy. Lebanon has had a long and fluctuant history with its much larger neighbor, Syria. Substantial business relationships exist between Lebanon and Syria’s political and economic elites. Lebanon’s economic disasters remain intrinsically tied to the decade of destruction in Syria. This has created a crisis of its own in Lebanon.

Lebanon houses more Syrian refugees than any other country. With Palestinian refugees included, refugees make up roughly a quarter of Lebanon’s population. These refugees live in camps and shantytowns that offer little protection from the elements and are void of public services. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon living in extreme poverty from 55% to 90%.

Civilian Poverty and COVID-19

Refugees are not the only ones struggling in Lebanon. With a poverty rate of more than 55%, material deprivation and the suffering it causes are widespread among the 6.8 million Lebanese natives and refugees alike. Many social support services were cut in response to the debt crisis, which left many with little assistance in the face of catastrophe.

Furthermore, August 2020’s Beirut port explosion killed at least 200 people, destroyed thousands of buildings and caused billions of dollars in property damage. Lebanon initially dodged a severe COVID-19 outbreak. However, medical services and ICU beds became heavily strained when cases peaked in January 2021. Thousands of Lebanese people have taken to the streets in past years to protest what they see as a corrupt and inept political class that has consistently failed the citizens of Lebanon.

COVID-19 Aid

In January 2021, The World Bank approved a $264 million project to reduce poverty in Lebanon. The Emergency Crisis and COVID-19 Response Social Safety Net Project (ESSN) will “provide emergency cash transfers and access to social services” to about 786,000 impoverished Lebanese people “reeling under the pressure of Lebanon’s economic and COVID-19 crises.” The project will also focus on developing social security nets in Lebanon to ensure an improved response to future economic shocks.

Exactly 147,000 households living in extreme poverty will receive financial support for one year. Additionally, “87,000 children between the ages of 13-18 will receive a top-up cash transfer to cover the direct costs of schooling.” A core objective of the ESSN is to create a sustainable social safety net that can readily support impoverished Lebanese people even after the World Bank’s aid ends. It is vital for aid to focus on those most vulnerable as the ESSN project highlights.

The Road to Recovery

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Lebanon has been harsh. While wealthy nations’ economies suffered from lockdowns and closures, the economic effects of the pandemic were even more acute in impoverished nations struggling to recover from pre-existing catastrophes. COVID-19 has made poverty more widespread, narrowing pathways out of poverty.

While the worsening situation in Lebanon has attracted international attention and support, the structural issues that led to extreme poverty have only been alleviated, not solved. With continued commitment and support from the global community, Lebanon can successfully rebuild and recover.

Will Pease
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South SudanAs the world’s youngest country, South Sudan faces many obstacles to economic and political stability. Continued conflict, natural disasters and COVID-19 further exacerbate the developing nation’s economic strife in the aftermath of years of civil war. Outside of foreign aid, South Sudan’s economy heavily relies on two main sources: oil production and agriculture. Both these sources experienced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, negatively affecting economic growth and livelihoods in the country. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South Sudan calls for the support of foreign aid in order for the country to successfully recover.

South Sudan’s Oil Industry

South Sudan is one of the most oil-reliant countries in the world. More than 90% of its revenue and more than 70% of its GDP stems from its abundant oil fields. Since gaining its independence, South Sudan produces nearly three-quarters of former Sudan’s entire oil output, equating to almost 500,000 barrels per day. However, the volatile oil industry is experiencing a lower demand and a decline in prices due to the pandemic. Regarding the global oil demand, “containment measures and economic disruptions related to the COVID-19 outbreak have led to a slowdown in production and mobility worldwide, producing a significant drop in global demand for oil.”

COVID-19’s Effects on Agriculture and Food Security

The agricultural sector accounts for 15% of GDP in South Sudan and employs roughly 80% of South Sudan’s population. With more than 80% of the population residing in rural areas, agriculture, livestock farming and fishing make up the livelihoods of many households.

A devastating combination of flooding, drought, locust swarms and the pandemic created high levels of food insecurity in South Sudan. More than 6 million people are facing crisis-level food insecurity and roughly 1.4 million children under 5 may suffer from acute malnourishment in 2021.

The IMF Assists

In response to the worsening humanitarian crisis, the world continues to reaffirm its commitment to eliminating poverty in South Sudan. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a disbursement of  $174.2 million in March 2021 for emergency assistance to South Sudan in the wake of COVID-19. The assistance aims to provide economic relief due to the collective impact of plummeting oil prices, floods and the pandemic in general. According to the IMF, the funding will “finance South Sudan’s urgent balance of payments needs and provide critical fiscal space to maintain poverty-reducing and growth-enhancing spending.”

World Bank Projects in South Sudan

On June 8, 2021, the World Bank announced two new projects equating to $116 million to curb poverty in South Sudan by committing to “strengthen the capacity of farmers, improve agricultural production and restore livelihoods and food security.” The first project, the South Sudan Resilient Agricultural Livelihoods Project (RALP), amounts to $62.5 million and commits to training farmers to better manage their businesses, utilize new agricultural technology and implement climate-smart practices to improve agricultural output. The project will also assist farmers with “tools, machinery and seeds required to improve productivity.”

The second grant of $53.7 million supports the Emergency Locust Response Project (ELRP). The grant will fund South Sudan’s response to desert locusts. The project will provide income opportunities to vulnerable people to assist them in producing more food and improve their economic situation. The project also encourages “the restoration of pasture and farming systems” in the region.

The Road Ahead

The World Bank expects levels of poverty in South Sudan to remain high for the time being due to food insecurity and the lack of access to essential goods and services. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South Sudan is harsh. Data as of April 2021 indicates that 82% of the population lives below the poverty line. However, the recent aid to South Sudan gives the country’s oil industry and agricultural production an opportunity to recover to pre-pandemic levels. The government’s priorities lie in addressing the lingering conflict and stabilizing its economy amid an economic, humanitarian and public health crisis. With continued aid and support, South Sudan can successfully recover and achieve stability.

Gene Kang
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Afghanistan
Since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Afghanistan in February 2020, the total number of confirmed cases rose to 93,288, with deaths reaching a toll of 4,871 on July 1, 2021. Low government capacity and limited public health resources have hampered Afghanistan’s ability to contain the virus, amounting to only 0.9% of the population becoming fully vaccinated. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan has been a domino effect across the country as many have fallen below the poverty line.

COVID-19 and Afghanistan

As COVID-19 continues to spread, Afghan citizens grapple with increased instability in the form of Taliban attacks on national security. The reduction of U.S. troops and decreased NATO assistance resulted in a 29% increase in civilian casualties and heightened corruption.

One of the most extreme effects of the pandemic is the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan. In 2020, the economy contracted by 1.9%, and poverty levels rose from 41.6% to 45.5%, with more than half of the population living under the poverty line. These higher levels correspond with a significant rise in food insecurity, as suppliers raised prices in response to trade restrictions. However, the World Bank and USAID initiatives promise enhanced development of humanitarian aid efforts for Afghan citizens.

The Domino Effect: How Poverty Affects Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is part of a domino effect. As COVID-19 in Afghanistan continues to spread throughout, poverty levels climb as more civilians fall into unemployment, resulting in them being unable to purchase sufficient amounts of food because of a rise in prices.

According to the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the combination of COVID-19 and rising urban poverty levels are resulting in 16.9 million Afghans facing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity. Of these 16.9 million, 5.5 million are experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity, severely threatening their health.

The surge and impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan, along with food insecurity, is partly due to the early closing of borders. In March 2020, one of Afghanistan’s primary food import and export sources––Pakistan––closed its routes to and from suppliers to prevent the spread of COVID-19, resulting in a food shortage.

Although borders opened again in July 2020, the initial closing proved to be disruptive. Nearly half of the children below 5 years old will face acute malnutrition by the end of 2021. To put food on their tables and fund medical treatment, several Afghan civilians resorted to selling their organs illegally. These combined infrastructure and economic pressures outline a need for aid to Afghanistan.

Relief Efforts

To combat the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan, various organizations implemented insecurity-reduction measures. In July 2020, the United States government designated more than $36.7 million to support COVID-19 relief efforts in Afghanistan through USAID. The United States allocated these funds primarily toward refugee assistance, health and disaster assistance and support for the Afghan government. This contribution proved helpful, as Afghanistan’s domestic revenues increased by 1.4% in the first quarter of 2021.

Additionally, the World Bank approved and issued a grant of $97.50 million in February 2021 to support Afghan civilians suffering the effects of droughts and COVID-19. By extension, a portion of this sum will go toward improving nutritional and food insecurity, which worsened as a result of widespread droughts and disease. This grant will also finance the Early Warning, Early Finance and Early Action Project (ENETAWF). The project aims to aid approximately 2.2 million impoverished Afghans and 78 districts struggling with poverty, drought and food insecurity.

Individuals in and outside of the United States can also support COVID-19 humanitarian aid efforts in Afghanistan by supporting Afghan businesses. Greater demand for goods will result in the creation of companies and jobs and the economy’s growth, so more funds go toward alleviating the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan.

– Riya Sharma
Photo: Flickr

Overfishing in West AfricaWest African people rely on fish as a primary protein source and a form of income, supporting the livelihoods of close to seven million people. Due to overfishing and illegal fishing, fish stocks are dropping, and as a result, the West African population risks food insecurity and increased poverty. Roughly 40% of the region’s fish is caught illegally. Overfishing in West Africa threatens to permanently hobble the economies of many developing countries in the region and destroy fish stocks for generations. In order to curb this threat, organizations are taking action.

Something Fishy

In West African countries, artisanal fishing has been a dominant career for generations. However, industrial fishing operations, mostly from China and the EU, threaten artisanal fishing. These countries use massive ships to trawl fish from the West African seas at a rate that could permanently wipe out the stock of fish in the region if left unchecked. In addition to depleting one of the region’s key food supplies, illegal overfishing in West Africa steals an estimated $1.3 billion in revenue from the region each year.

Local fishers try their best to compete but continue to struggle. According to a study, boats from the EU and China fish 11 times more efficiently than local artisanal fishers in West Africa. Even when foreign nations fish legally, they hardly pay their fair share. The EU, for example, pays West African nations just 8% of the value of fish it catches. As a result of these practices, West Africa loses out on an extremely valuable resource with very little compensation in return.

Not Enough Fish in the Sea

While the long-term environmental and economic impacts of overfishing are very concerning, the immediate hunger of people in West Africa is more pressing. The region faces an all-time high level of food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing conflict in the region. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies estimates that 23.6 million people in West Africa will face crisis levels of food insecurity in 2021.

Increased food insecurity goes hand-in-hand with other economic problems. Hundreds of thousands of people from West Africa migrate to European countries in hopes of finding work, a number that continues to grow. Many of these migrants cite lack of job opportunities and inadequate access to food and other essential services as reasons for leaving.

It is imperative for West African countries to crackdown on illegal fishing in order to address the problem. Researchers from the Sea Around Us project argue that policymakers should focus on supporting artisanal fishing as it creates more jobs and is better for the environment. Furthermore, placing limits on the industrial fleet operations of other countries will return control back to the region and ensure sustainable fishing.

The World Bank’s Solution

While the problem of overfishing in West Africa is daunting, organizations have mobilized to help solve the issue. The West Africa Regional Fisheries Program (WARF-P) is a three-phase initiative with a $170 million investment in the region’s fisheries. According to the World Bank, the program focuses specifically on reducing poverty and food insecurity by ending overfishing.

Phase one of WARF-P saw commendable success in Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone. The program has helped shape new laws regarding overfishing and has given local fishers access to more resources. In Cabo Verde, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone, the project helped register 34,000 small-scale fishing vessels in order to better monitor fishing activity. The project began in 2010 and ended in 2019.  WARF-P positively reported that illegal fishing has reduced in all beneficiary countries.

While these investments in the region are helpful for local communities, the investments fall short of compensating for the multi-billion dollar losses from overfishing in West Africa. It is vital to spread awareness on the issue and urge local governments to take action to prevent future losses. At the end of the day, proper management of these oceans falls on the shoulders of West African leaders.

Reeling it in

West Africa is a region that is very susceptible to the impacts of poverty, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Overfishing in West Africa will potentially haunt the region forever if local governments do not comprehensively address the issue. West Africa’s fish belong to the people of the region first and foremost. On the bright side, the benefits of solving the problem are immense and immediate. Food insecurity will drop while local employment rises, reducing poverty in West Africa.

– Jeremy Long
Photo: Flickr

Globalism Reduces PovertySeveral factions surround globalism, some cite statistical reduction in poverty, while others decry effects on local communities. As in all reductive thinking, oversimplification misstates the complexity, succumbing to the facility of a universal perspective. What is absolutely clear, however, is the initial decades of global trade created categorical winners and losers — the most impoverished 5% gained $.07 in daily income, while the top 1% averaged $70. The theory that globalism reduces poverty is multifaceted, and such, globalism is best described as a “two-way street.”

Global Inequality

As the global pool of wealth undeniably grows, financial resources are increasingly concentrated among a powerful economic cadre, actually increasing global inequality. Subsequently, inter-national economies are seeing more parity, but intra-national wealth distribution is increasingly unequal.

Absent the economic investment from global trade, however, developing nations struggle to modernize. Lacking foreign capital investment to create sustainable industries, an estimated 95% of Indian youth are forced into informal child labor. In the nation-state equivalent of “Sophie’s Choice,” governments are forced to participate while the premise that globalism reduces poverty remains dubious.

Relative and Absolute Poverty

Early returns from globalism showed a reduction in extreme poverty from 36% to 19% between 1990-2008 and capitalists trumpeted imminent eradication of poverty by the benevolent “invisible hand” of market forces. Undoubtedly a monumental achievement, millions have benefited from access to foreign markets.

As always, the devil is in the details. Poverty is an indiscriminate measure, a theoretical categorization defines the powers that be. For the World Bank, poverty is a function of daily income. But, between 1990-2018, the threshold indicating extreme poverty has preposterously risen a mere $0.90 while global GDP grew by $60 trillion during the same period. Given such disproportionality, it is difficult to see how globalism reduces poverty.

Global Poverty or Global Inequality

Ambiguous poverty metrics belie a true consequence of globalism, that the top percentile claimed more than 60% of growth. To retain these substantial gains, it is the providence of influential international corporations and institutions to promote globalism. Exceedingly fungible, poverty metrics become a prism through which various interests and policymakers justify exploitative agendas, often accompanied by stifling conditionalities.

As the International Monetary Fund and European Union counsel draconian measures to fledgling economies, local “governments often find it politically easier to cut the public expenditures for the voiceless” impoverished as connected wealthy classes are “disinclined to share in the necessary fiscal austerity.”

Equally as true in developing nations, entrenched hegemonies have little incentive to shoulder the burden of globalism and frequently siphon economic growth for personal enrichment. Irresponsible stewardship of finances and resources, as always, disproportionately affects voiceless and impoverished communities.

Generations after the ouster of foreign monopoly United Fruit Company from Latin America, indigenous farmers’ share of profit is essentially stagnant as corrupt domestic entities pocket revenue. Globalism reduces poverty only when sufficient protection is guaranteed to populations most at risk of exploitation and achieved only when international, federal, corporate and municipal institutions communicate with disenfranchised communities.

Paternalism in South Africa

Under the best of circumstances, sudden inundation of investment and foreign influence is devastating. For countries without robust legislative institutions, it is cataclysmic. The hyper-racialized-apartheid bureaucracy of South Africa was particularly ill-prepared for the rapid modernization required by globalism.

Despite democratic revolution, political bodies could not address the dual responsibilities of erasing paternalistic and racist policies while simultaneously reentering international trade. After centuries of protectionism and isolation, South African society was a manicured house of cards temperamentally opposed to foreign influence.

The draconian society, which enslaved the Black majority, created a delicate homeostasis and the post-apartheid government was manifestly incapable of protecting the citizenry as globalism began in earnest. A systematically underprivileged class was ripe for exploitation.

Skills-Based Bias

During apartheid, underpaid, low-skill labor provided the engine for economic growth in South Africa. Known as “lumpenproletariat,” these peri-urban shantytown workers relied on the largesse of landed aristocracy for survival.

As a matter of course, economic opportunities through education represented an existential threat to White hegemonies. Because “it is surely the lack of opportunities of the less advantaged that is the real concern” in reducing poverty, undereducated South Africans were dispositionally unable to profit from economic growth.

Compounded by exclusion from land ownership, Black South Africans possessed neither the capital nor the skills for socio-economic gain. Various policy initiatives for Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) have targeted inequality, but generations of subjugation cannot be erased during the short lifespan of South African democracy.

Case Study: South African Winemakers

Overregulation and heavy subsidies throughout the 20th century created an extremely inefficient South African wine industry. Traditional focus on bulk production for domestic markets encouraged widespread plantation of high-yield, low-quality cultivars that were antithetical to international demand for higher quality. With a contorted supply chain entirely unfit for global competition, South African winemakers responded by replanting 50% of vineyards between 1990 and 2005.

To finance these changes, producers required foreign investment. At the behest of multinational distributors, conglomeration through a spate of mergers destabilized traditional market structures — the consolidation of Distillers and Stellenbosch Farmers Winery eliminated 2,000 jobs alone.

Moreover, a weak currency forced producers to rely on foreign capital for infrastructure improvements to replace apartheid-era slave labor. As South African winemakers became increasingly dependent on external financing, mechanization reduced permanent employment by 60%.

The Unequal Distribution of Benefits

Nonetheless, foreign investment allowed the wine industry to grow. Exports increased tenfold during the 90s, and by 2002, South Africa was the fastest-growing sector in the all-important British market. Representing 45% of domestic exports, the fortunes of South African winemakers were existentially linked to unpredictable foreign markets.

But, native producers have seen little benefit. As of 2018, the average return on investment for those costly infrastructure upgrades is an abysmal 2%. And after three decades of democratic rule and countless land reforms, Black ownership in the wine industry is 3%. However, a goal of 20% by 2025 was established in 2007.

A Two-Way Street

In the hyper-competitive wine trade, “survival is not made any easier by the fact that globalization is a two-way street.” The South African wine industry is just one example of countless local communities at the mercy of free markets.

Nonetheless, increased trade and economic growth from globalism affect poverty. The 21st century will be judged by how well the fruits of international wealth are distributed to the most vulnerable populations. As early growing pains subside, poverty eradication is within grasp if the world so chooses.

Kit Krajeski
Photo: Flickr

educational and cultural development
Africa is a continent rich in natural resources, accompanied by a vibrant culture that educates the youth in many ways. The oral storytelling, artwork and scientific advancements within Africa are why a new crop of rising African scholars see a brighter Africa for the educational and cultural development of the African future. Yet the previous generations of Africans, especially from the sub-Saharan countries, have faced a tough battle in attaining educational progress. Only two-thirds of children in sub-Saharan countries complete primary education, according to the Global Partnership for Education.

Studies from the World Bank showcased the correlation between educational attainment and overall lower unemployment and social outreach: a child who finishes primary school is more likely to finish secondary school and pursue university. Community centers and resources aimed at increasing education create a better array of job-ready individuals who will be able to create a new economy for countries in dire need of infrastructural change.

Giants of Africa

Giants of Africa is a nonprofit, pro-sport and pro-educational program that focuses on helping children around Africa with the opportunity of achieving high educational and athletic development. With annual inclusive camps, the founder and president of basketball operations for the Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujiri, has been working since 2003 to educate and cultivate physical, psychological and emotional development for underdeveloped communities. These camps have helped many exceptional African youth players find a pathway way into the NBA and the African National Leagues around the continent. However, more importantly, they have uplifted the educational and cultural development in Africa.

Ujiri has worked vigorously to do two things. First, he wants to find a new crop of African talent, both female and male, to a direct pipeline into the NBA and WNBA, or even collegiate programs. The basketball camps have been a safe place for many African youths to take shelter in. Second, he wants to establish a network of camps that help in the educational and cultural development of the youth in Africa. Ujiri’s specialization in sub-Saharan countries coincides with their growing population.

There has been an establishment of different basketball camps across Africa, mainly those around the most impoverished communities. One of the largest camps is in Somalia, where Giants of Africa works with girls who are in danger of sex trafficking. Partnering with the Elman Peace Centre, Giants of Africa created camps that invited more than 50 girls in 2019 to participate. Here are the areas where Giants of Africa created the camps.

Giants of Africa’s Camps

  1. South Sudan: The establishment of a community center in South Sudan’s capital has been instrumental in giving more than 53 young children rigorous educational lessons. This occurred through a partnership between Giants of Africa and the Luol Deng Foundation.
  2. Kenya: In Kenya, Giants of Africa have teamed up with The Mully’s Children Family organization that focuses on helping displaced women and children who have HIV/AIDS, children stuck in child labor and victims of sex trafficking. Giants of Africa has been instrumental in funding food, education, shelter, educational training, healthcare and counseling resources.
  3. Nigeria: In Nigeria, which is also where Ujiri is originally from, funds went toward making a permanent community center after the annual camps took place. There, Giants of Africa partnered with Little Saints Orphanage in Lagos to establish a community system for the orphaned youth. Ujiri has used Giants of Africa’s sponsorship with Nike to donate Nike apparel and equipment as well as organized funding for the orphanage.

The combined average unemployment rate of South Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria is more than 25% and faces an unprecedented future without the investment of the rest of the world. Africa is an entirely different world with so much potential to blossom.

Educational Performance with the Necessary Tools

Research from a recent World Bank study demonstrates just how important youth development can be towards educational performance, cultural development and social mobility. These camps helped more than thousands of susceptible young children who are the future of Africa.

These results are more relevant now than ever with Africa housing a population in which more than 63% are under the age of 25. Inhabitants within sub-Saharan Africa make up the largest growing youth in the world. The attainment of formal education along with formal events of communal work services could impact the world on a global scale. A recent study that Richard Reeves, a British economist from the Brookings Institution, conducted, found that sub-Saharan countries do revere educational attainment and the social mobility that goes along with it. This goes hand in hand with the results of community outreach and higher-income status.

The lack of research on how community centers and funding have helped Africa grow economically and educationally is a testament to the lack of resources available to them. With the largest growing population in the world, the key to global porosity lies in sub-Saharan Africa.

Conclusion

The continent of Africa is now facing a period of educational advancement for the youth. This has occurred not only through the extravagant work of Masai Ujiri but also through the action of many grassroots organizations that see the potential in Africa. Countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Somalia are at a crossroads with the future of global society. Not only has Giants for Africa established a pipeline for extraordinary young basketball players to forge their journey into a better professional and educational future, but it is also helping the children who are also at a higher risk of not continuing their education.

– Mario Perales
Photo: Unsplash