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drought in Southern MadagascarThe current drought in Southern Madagascar is the country’s worst since 1981. The food insecurity brought about by the drought has resulted in desperate families resorting to eating insects, ash, clay and even shoe leather. Desperate to fill their bellies, more than one million people are suffering from hunger. Furthermore, 16.5% of children younger than 5 meet the requirements of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM). Alarmingly, the GAM rate stands at 27% in the Ambovombe district, putting children in life-threatening conditions. Organizations aim to address these conditions, attempting to prevent a potential famine in Southern Madagascar.

The Impacts of Drought in Madagascar

Years of cyclones, soil depletion, locust plagues and a severe drought in Southern Madagascar have killed most crops, including “maize, manioc and beans,” leaving farmers without seeds for plants. The drought has also killed off local livestock.

Some Madagascans have cut down trees to make charcoal, although, this act contributes to aggravated drought conditions. The affected regions of Anosy, Androy and Atsimo-Andrefana are dependent on agriculture, livestock and fishing, which makes them particularly vulnerable to drought and storms.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation because it has prevented migrant workers from migrating in search of more work, escaping the drought in Southern Madagascar at the same time. The pandemic has also caused rising food prices since it began.

Famine Without Conflict

Madagascar is dealing with intensifying dust storms blanketing the region in thick dust and devastating crops. The World Bank predicts that droughts in this already drought-prone region will worsen in the coming years. The situation in Southern Madagascar is unusual because human conflict is not playing a role in the starvation of Madagascans, says David Beasley, World Food Programme chief. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, Madagascar is the only nation classified as facing a “famine humanitarian catastrophe” that is not involved in conflict.

FAO Recommendations

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says it needs $40.4 million to begin agricultural recovery from the drought in Southern Madagascar. A report by the FAO highlights the need for agriculture to move away from plants that need a lot of water, like maize, to plants that need less water, like sorghum. The FAO’s recommendations for recovery include:

  • Prioritizing replacing the livestock.
  • The “provision of inputs for cereal and vegetable production” as well as micro‑irrigation.
  • Cash transfers to support people during the off-season and high season.
  • Providing “fishing inputs and processing equipment.”
  • Implementing climate-smart agriculture.
  • Encouraging plant protection measures.
  • Implementing early warning systems.
  • Aiming to “promote large-scale quality seed multiplication at community level.”
  • Manage and eliminate diseases in animals as well as crop pests and diseases.

The US Assists Madagascar

In June 2021, the United States government invested almost $40 million in the recovery of Southern Madagascar through USAID. The funding will support the efforts of the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Support to the WFP will, from August to October 2021, “provide immediate food assistance for 465,000 people.” Supplementary nutrition to address acute malnutrition will be given to “19,800 pregnant women and new mothers as well as 63,400 children.” This funding will also support CRS in rebuilding wells, among many other efforts.

Looking to the Future

The United Nations declares that as weather patterns change, nations will face more humanitarian crises similar to the conditions Madagascar is facing now. Societies cannot depend on humanitarian aid to solve the problems of these crises, but must proactively prepare for the ways life on Earth must change in the future. The United Nations makes five specific recommendations:

  • Prepare for, respond to and prevent humanitarian crises by adapting and increasing community resiliency.
  • Invest in “resilience-building strategies” and preparedness.
  • Take advantage of scientific advances by using technology to predict and prepare for future disasters.
  • Aid the most vulnerable nations with improved access to finance and insurance.
  • Reflect “overlapping vulnerabilities” in the functionings “of international financial institutions.”

With the help of the international community, there is hope for Southern Madagascar to rebuild and recover. By implementing the guidelines of the FAO and the United Nations, Madagascar and other countries around the world can better prepare for future challenges.

– Hilary Brown
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Lebanon is currently experiencing an economic crisis that, according to the World Bank, is one of the most severe economic crises worldwide since the 19th century. The impact of the crisis is widespread. More than 70% of Lebanon’s population currently lacks access to basic necessities such as food. Not even the wealthy are insulated from the impact of the current crisis, as previously affluent families are being pushed into poverty. Syrian refugees in Lebanon are particularly vulnerable to the crisis.

The Status of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Approximately 1.7 million refugees are believed to be living in Lebanon as of 2020, with 1.5 million originating from Syria. Of these Syrian refugees, more than 80% are not legal residents, placing them in a precarious position. Syrians who have legal status either entered the country before 2015 or have a sponsor in the country. These Syrians must also pay a $200 fee every year. Lebanon practices non-refoulement of refugees, which should protect the right of Syrian refugees to live in Lebanon. However, the Lebanese government implemented policies that streamlined the process for Syrians to leave Lebanon in 2020 and expressed interest in having Syrian refugees return to their country of origin.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon often struggle to access services such as educational opportunities despite having the legal right to attend public schools. Because they typically live in temporary or informal housing, it can be difficult for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to locate Syrian refugees in order to help them. Factors such as language barriers can also present a challenge to Syrian refugees. Approximately 90% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live on less than half of the Lebanese minimum wage.

Syrian Refugees in the Lebanese Economic Crisis

Due to political instability, debt, banking problems and economic stagnation, Lebanon entered its current crisis in October 2019. Prior to October 2019, approximately 55% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon lived in poverty, demonstrating that the Syrian refugee community needed support even prior to the crisis. Today, approximately 90% of Syrian refugees live in extreme poverty, showing a significant increase in poverty levels during the economic crisis.

As poverty levels among Syrian refugees in Lebanon increased, the value of Lebanon’s currency, the Lebanese pound, decreased. Between 2019 and 2021, Lebanese food prices increased by 402%. Consequently, Syrian refugees who generally struggled to afford basic necessities prior to the start of the crisis now have even less purchasing power. Syrian refugees in Lebanon are accumulating debt because they lack the funds to buy everyday necessities. Even for Syrian refugees who can afford everyday necessities, accessing products, such as medication, is proving difficult as pharmacies face shortages.

Not all refugees are equally impacted by the crisis. Syrian refugee households headed by women experience disproportionately high rates of food insecurity. Children in these households are particularly vulnerable to the crisis. Unfortunately, Lebanese child labor rates nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020. Additionally, the rate of child labor is higher in Syrian refugee households headed by women than in households run by men.

The economic crisis is also contributing to anti-refugee sentiments. Prior to the start of the crisis, Lebanese politicians used the pending economic crisis to justify anti-refugee rhetoric. As economic conditions deteriorate for the entire country, native Lebanese people blame Syrian refugees for taking their opportunities away.

Providing Aid for Refugees

Several organizations provide support for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Organizations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are longstanding aid providers for refugees living in Lebanon. UNHCR Lebanon has prioritized humanitarian assistance to Syrians through cash cards, vouchers and ATM cards in order for them to secure basic necessities at local markets. These purchases, in turn, stimulate the local economy. In 2018, the UNHCR provided cash support of $175 per month to nearly 33,000 Syrian households. Similarly, the WFP provides food assistance to Syrian refugees and struggling Lebanese by providing e-cards credited with $27 at the start of each month so that individuals can buy food from local stores.

As poverty increases in the country, the need for aid to the general population is increasing. With cities such as Tripoli facing poverty rates as high as 85% among their residents, the Lebanese government is focusing on providing widespread relief for the population. The Lebanese parliament recently approved measures to support more than half a million families in Lebanon, fortunately including Syrian refugees.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

Switzerland helps IraqIn June 2021, Switzerland contributed $1.1 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) to assist hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Iraqi people as well as Syrian refugees in Iraq. These vulnerable groups of people struggle with food insecurity and have little access to income-generating opportunities. Switzerland helps Iraq by providing funding to the WFP to secure immediate needs and support the Urban Livelihoods projects.

Funding From Switzerland

The finance from Switzerland partially funds Urban Livelihoods projects. The initiative assists and trains around 135,000 people by helping them create businesses and employment opportunities that will provide a sustainable income, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with the Urban Livelihoods projects, funding from Switzerland supports the WFP in providing monthly food assistance to struggling families and refugees. The WFP uses mobile cash transfers and electronic vouchers to enable families to buy food from markets. In 2021, due to the added impacts of the pandemic, the WFP increased the amount of monthly cash assistance. In cases of “sudden displacement,” the organization “also provides ready-to-eat food packages to support families before they can access a market.”

Refugees in Iraq by the Numbers

As of February 2021, 329,500 refugees live in Iraq. The refugee population in Iraq consists of:

  • Roughly 241,650 Syrian people.
  • About 40,850 refugees from countries besides Syria.
  • An estimated 47,000 stateless individuals.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq hosts almost all of the country’s Syrian refugees. Urban areas host 60% of the refugees, while other refugees reside in nine refugee camps in Kurdistan.

The Syrian Civil War

Pro-democratic protests began in Syria in March 2011. Demonstrations against “high unemployment, corruption and limited political freedom” began after several surrounding countries protested similar conditions. President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government met the protests with lethal force, which further increased the push for his resignation. As tensions rose, protesters armed themselves, initially in self-defense, and eventually, to drive out security forces.

As unrest continued, the government’s response intensified. Assad continued to use violence as he strove to end what he termed “foreign-backed terrorism.” Rebel groups emerged and the conflict turned into a civil war. Foreign countries took sides, sending ammunition and armed forces to either the Syrian government or the rebels. The conflict worsened as jihadist entities such as al-Qaeda became involved. The Syrian Civil War continues to this day, with more than 380,000 documented deaths by December 2020 and hundreds of thousands of people missing.

Switzerland’s Relationship With Iraq

Iraq and Switzerland share a positive relationship that continues to strengthen. Switzerland helps Iraq with projects focusing on “migration and peacebuilding” as well as stability. In October 2020, Switzerland established the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Strategy for Swiss focus in the region. Switzerland will follow the strategy until 2024, and thereafter, the plan will be reassessed. The strategy prioritizes five themes:

  1. Peace-building, security and human rights.
  2. Migration and safeguarding vulnerable people.
  3. Sustainable development in the region.
  4. “Economic affairs, finance and science.”
  5. Digitalization and the latest technologies.

In Iraq specifically, Switzerland focuses on “peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need and sustainable development.” Switzerland’s contribution to the WFP covers all three goals as improving local economies is essential to advance these goals.

Urban Livelihoods Projects

Switzerland helps Iraq and the WFP by funding Urban Livelihoods projects that assist “up to 68,000 people in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Wassit.” People who take part in Urban Livelihoods projects receive a cash stipend if they work on community activities such as clearing public areas, renovating schools, planting trees and recycling.

Smallholder farmers from camps for displaced people are also a focus of the projects because farming can serve as long-term income-creating opportunities. Projects increase the cash flow to local economies, which strengthens the economic resilience of entire communities.

In addition to Switzerland, many more countries also support Urban Livelihoods in Iraq, including Belgium, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden. The pandemic made the WFP’s projects even more essential as unemployment increased, making Switzerland’s contribution vital. The WFP calls on the international community to collectively contribute $10.1 million in order for the project to reach as many as 300,000 people in Iraq.

Through the commitment and generosity of countries and organizations, vulnerable people in nations such as Iraq can look toward a potentially brighter tomorrow.

Alex Alfano
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

COVID-19 On Poverty In Sri Lanka
The COVID-19 pandemic has had countless effects on every aspect of life. However, it has particularly affected the economy and poverty levels. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Sri Lanka has halted significant poverty reduction progress due to how the pandemic has affected work stability and household income.

The Severity of the Pandemic

In May and June 2020, Sri Lanka faced increasing COVID-19 rates. The country is currently reporting about 1,282 new cases each day with the peak occurring on May 25, 2021. Sri Lanka remains on the lower end of the proportion of the South Asian population infected. However, the extremely low vaccine rate makes the situation dire. The country has administered approximately 5.3 million vaccine doses so far.

The Unstable Situation for Workers

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Sri Lanka is clearly visible in the labor market and job stability. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka had made significant progress in reducing poverty. However, a majority of workers still work in agriculture and service with low incomes and poor job quality.  About 70% of these jobs fall in the informal sector, a sector vulnerable to job losses and wage cuts.

Increased unemployment along with low wages and little opportunity to save put workers in a tough situation when the pandemic began. Even workers who had formal employment still clearly felt the effects of the pandemic. For instance, certain export industries struggled due to decreased demand and restrictions on travel.

However, the pandemic caused these groups of people to lose their stable wages and fall below the poverty line, contributing to an increase in overall poverty. The unemployment rate overall rose by about 0.6% from 2019 to 2020. However, this figure may not take into account the workers with part-time employment or informal jobs. The increase in poverty rate is dramatic, going from 9.2% to 11.7% from 2019 to 2020 based on the $3.20 poverty line.

Effects on Households

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Sri Lanka and the ensuing instability in the labor market has had significant effects on households and forced many to adjust their lives. In just the first few months of the pandemic in 2020, nearly 40% of households had lost all of their income and 93% faced some consequences from the pandemic.

Sri Lankans are still feeling the effects of the initial economic shock. Because of reduced income, families have to find alternative ways to meet their basic needs. For many, food insecurity is now a prominent issue. As a result, many people have cut back on food consumption. To save on costs, households may consume less nutritious food, which could adversely impact the health of people, especially children.

The Government Assists

When there is a crisis as widespread and impactful as the current pandemic, governments will often take action to mitigate the effects on people. It is impossible to fully negate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Sri Lanka. However, some of the programs may help reduce the impact and prevent the complete collapse of the economy.

Using welfare programs that had already been in place, such as the Samurdhi program, the Sri Lankan government was able to lessen the blow to people who lost part of or all of their income. During the first wave, the government gave five million families a payment of Rs 10,000. During the second wave, it gave 1.4 million families Rs 5,000.

Along with these payments, the government also instituted programs to help with employment and training for public sector jobs to help keep people employed with a stable income. Other organizations such as the World Food Programme and CARE have also been working in Sri Lanka to ensure food security.

As more Sri Lankans receive vaccines and cases decrease, Sri Lankans will hopefully be able to return to their normal lives. Being back at work with a stable income will have an immense impact on the livelihoods of millions and government programs will help restore the economy. Sri Lanka had already been making progress in lowering poverty and will hopefully get back on track after the pandemic ends.

Ritika Manathara
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid in Central Asia
Central Asia comprises Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. The combined population of these countries is about 72 million. Promising foreign aid efforts in Central Asia are working to combat a variety of issues in these countries.

Food Distribution

One critical area for foreign aid in Central Asia has been food security. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been leading a program to provide food to impoverished children in Tajikistan. This program has given vegetable oil and flour to more than 22,000 households in Tajikistan.

This has been part of a more significant effort by the WFP School Feeding Programme to ensure student food security in Tajikistan. The School Feeding Programme has helped more than 600,000 students across the country.

Russia is a critical contributor to these aid programs. Since 2012, Russia has given more than $28 million to the School Feeding Programme to facilitate food distribution and the modernization of food infrastructure for schools.

The World Food Programme and Russia are not the only sources of food aid in Central Asia. The United Arab Emirate’s 100 Million Meals campaign has distributed more than 600,000 meals to Central Asia as of June 2021.

The organization gave out food baskets with enough food to feed an entire family for a month. It assists families in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The campaign coordinated with other charity organizations within these three countries, and the campaign target has already increased from 100 million meals to more than 200 million meals.

Electrical and Water Supply

Another critical area for foreign aid in Central Asia is the development of electrical infrastructure and water management. The U.S. recently started an effort via USAID to develop a sustainable and reliable electricity market in the region. An October 2020 agreement between USAID, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan planned to create an electrical market with “expected economic benefits from regional trade and… reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

USAID also recently started the Water and Vulnerable Environment project, which will help all five Central Asian countries. The project aims to “promote regional cooperation to improve natural resources (water) management that sustains both growths, promote[s] healthy ecosystems, and prevent[s] conflict.” This is the second water management project USAID has supported in the region in recent years, as it recently completed the Smart Waters project.

The Smart Waters project successfully ensured that dozens of citizens received degrees in water management or received additional training in the field. The project also trained almost 3,000 people in “water resources management, water diplomacy, water-saving technologies, and international water law through 100 capacity building events.”

Medical Assistance

USAID partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021 to help Uzbekistan address the management of drug-resistant tuberculosis. The project’s goal is to better manage the disease by providing assistance to Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Health. The program conducted 35 training sessions throughout Uzbekistan, which resulted in more than 600 specialists receiving certification to prevent, identify and treat drug-resistant tuberculosis.

In recent years, foreign aid in Central Asia has resulted in food distribution, medical assistance, efforts to develop an electrical grid and assistance in water management. The U.S., Russia and the United Arab Emirates have contributed to these efforts alongside various international and local organizations.

– Coulter Layden
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Syria
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria and other war-torn nations has been severe. Some countries have cut foreign aid to Syria amid the pandemic, which will greatly affect Syrians already living in dire circumstances. Other countries and organizations have increased aid, recognizing that now more than ever, foreign aid is urgently needed in Syria.

The Crisis in Syria in Numbers

During the pandemic, many Syrians have lost sources of income. A drastic rise in food prices and a drop in the value of the Syrian pound are further exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis. In 2020:

  • About 4.5 million people became food insecure, bringing the total to about 12.4 million food-insecure people, nearly 60% of the population.
  • Food prices in Syria increased by 236%.
  • The poverty rate increased to a staggering 90%.
  • Roughly 24 million people require humanitarian aid to survive.

Decreased Foreign Aid

Global economic struggles have led to cuts in foreign aid budgets across the globe. At a March 2021 Brussels donor conference, the U.N. asked countries to pledge $10 billion to alleviate the effects of the Syrian civil war, which the pandemic has further aggravated. The international community only pledged $6.4 billion in aid to Syria. A clear example of the impacts of reduced aid is apparent in the humanitarian relief efforts of the World Food Programme. The organization had to reduce food apportionments to Syrians by 30% in order “to stretch existing funding.”

Adding to aid concerns, the United Kingdom, normally a world leader in foreign aid, plans to donate almost 50% less in 2021 than it did in 2020. The cut has been met with much domestic and international backlash. However, other countries have dramatically increased aid. Germany’s 2021 pledge is its largest in four years, promising more than $2 billion worth of aid to Syria.

Organizations Aiding Syria

Funded by national governments and private donors, various organizations are working to alleviate the effects of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria. The World Food Programme (WFP), which provides food to nearly five million of Syria’s most vulnerable people every month, won the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in 2020.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have started coordination and planning for the vaccines promised through COVAX to cover the priority 20% of the Syrian population. Boosting the low vaccination rate in Syria will undoubtedly help alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria.

The Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) is also essential in coordinating aid. Since the U.N. created it in 2014, the SCHF has worked to increase the quality of humanitarian assistance in the country. It assigns funds to the NGOs and aid agencies best suited to meet shifting needs so that funding has the greatest reach and is utilized most effectively for the most significant impact.

The SCHF has already laid out its first “standard allocation” strategy for 2021, dividing the money among efforts that will improve living conditions, provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and foster long-term resilience by creating livelihood opportunities. Its “reserve allocation” sets aside funds to address unforeseen challenges that may arise.

The Road Ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated poverty and food insecurity in Syria. Due to the global economic crisis caused by COVID-19, there will likely be more gaps in humanitarian relief funding. Wealthier countries need to step in to assist more vulnerable countries during their greatest time of need. While organizations commit to helping Syrians most in need, support from the international community will ensure a stronger and more comprehensive response.

Hope Browne
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian crisis in MadagascarThree years of drought and a sharp recession caused by COVID-19 have left a third of Southern Madagascar’s population unable to put food on the table. Extreme malnutrition rates are on the rise and many children are having to beg to help families survive. Immediate action is needed to avert this humanitarian crisis in Madagascar.

Food Insecurity and Malnutrition

In southern Madagascar, the situation has been progressively worsening. The number of people needing humanitarian assistance has doubled to 1.3 million due to “famine-like conditions.” The World Food Programme (WFP) stated that successive droughts and a lack of jobs linked to COVID-19 restrictions are to blame. With 300,000 people in need of safe-living support, governments and humanitarian organizations need to act immediately. Weary communities have few resources to fall back on.

Furthermore, many people have had to leave their homes to search for food and job opportunities. Approximately 1.14 million people, or 35% of Madagascar’s population, are food insecure. This figure is nearly double what it was last year due to the second wave of COVID-19. The pandemic resulted in fewer seasonal employment opportunities between January and April 2021, which affected families relying on this form of income.

Children are the most vulnerable to the food crisis. Many children have dropped out of school to beg for food on the streets. By the end of April 2021, more than 135,00 children were estimated to be acutely malnourished in some way, with 27,000 children between the ages of 6 to 59 months suffering from severe acute malnourishment.

Drought Conditions

According to the WFP, Madagascar’s susceptibility to climate shocks is contributing to the ongoing crisis. A WFP official stated that rains usually fall between November and December. However, the entire area only received one day of rain in December 2020. Thunderstorms have also been wreaking havoc on the fields, destroying and burying the crops.

With markets closed because of COVID-19 restrictions and people forced to sell their possessions to survive, the U.N. warned that drought conditions are expected to persist well into 2021. The anticipated conditions are forcing more people to flee their homes in search of food and jobs. WFP South Africa and Indian Ocean State Region Director Lola Castro explained that “the population of the South relies on casual labor and goes to urban areas or to the fields to really have additional funds that will allow them to survive during the lean season.” However, she noted that “this year there was no labor, they moved around without finding any labor anywhere, both in urban areas or in the rural areas, due to the drought and due to the COVID lockdown.”

Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian organizations delivered assistance across the Grand Sud, the southernmost region of Madagascar, between January and March 2021. Organizations supplied food aid to 700,000 people and improved access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for 167,200 people. Furthermore, 93,420 children and pregnant and lactating mothers received dietary care and services. The WFP also provided food assistance to almost 500,000 severely food insecure people in the nine hardest-hit districts in the south. Given the rapidly deteriorating situation, it intends to scale up its assistance to reach almost 900,000 of the most vulnerable by June 2021.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and persistent droughts, the humanitarian crisis in Madagascar is worsening. The country needs more support to fund lifesaving food and cash distributions as well as malnutrition treatment programs. Moving forward, it is essential that the government and humanitarian organizations make addressing the humanitarian crisis in Madagascar a priority.

Aining Liang

Photo: Flickr

Ethiopian maternal and child mortalitySince the year 2000, Ethiopia has halved its maternal and child mortality rate. While this statistic seems impressive on the surface, the rate of maternal and child mortality in Ethiopia remains one of the highest in the world. The child mortality rate stands at 67 deaths per 1,000 children. The Ethiopian maternal mortality rate (MMR) per 100,000 live births is 412. This number is 25 times the United States MMR.

The Global Context of Maternal and Child Mortality

The rate of maternal and child mortality in Ethiopia is best understood by examining the larger global context of maternal and child mortality. Globally, neonatal mortality remains significantly high, with 7,000 newborn deaths a day. Neonatal mortality comprises 47% of the deaths of children under 5. This number is up 7% from 1990 when it stood at 40%. Furthermore, the greatest number of neonatal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

Globally, the MMR has dropped 38% from 2000 to 2017, which is the most recent WHO estimate, but it is important to note that even though the overall global MMR has reduced, some regions still disproportionately experience very high MMR rates. The greatest number of maternal deaths occur in Africa, just as with neonatal mortality. In fact, in 2017, 66% of all maternal deaths occurred in Africa.

A key cause of maternal and newborn mortality is malnutrition. Due to COVID-19, the World Food Programme predicted that the number of food-insecure people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) would double to 265 million by the close of 2020. Food insecurity often links to malnutrition or undernutrition. Therefore, this fact has the potential to increase maternal deaths due to a lack of iron and other essential nutrients. The WHO estimates that, as it stands globally, 40% of pregnant women are anemic. Anemia makes these women vulnerable to fatal bleeding and infections during childbirth. Furthermore, while high-income countries have very low anemia figures for pregnant women, in certain LMICs, up to 60% of pregnant women struggle with anemia.

Global Aid Organizations Leading the Battle

Fortunately, during and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, global aid organizations have been collaborating with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and other regional bureaus to continue to decrease the rate of maternal and child mortality in Ethiopia.

As a major player in combatting maternal and child mortality in Ethiopia, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) focuses on providing Ethiopian women, children and families, especially those in underserved communities, access to quality healthcare. USAID works with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and regional bureaus to institute better training so that healthcare workers can improve the care provided at various levels (facility, community and household). USAID ensures access to integrated services such as prenatal checkups, skilled care for labor and delivery, newborn care, preventative care for childhood illnesses and nutritional guidance.

Quality of Care Network

Ethiopia is a member of a 10-country Quality of Care Network created by the WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The Network launched in 2017 with the aim of halving maternal and child mortality by 2022 and improving patient care. In Ethiopia, this commitment involves clinical mentoring and coaching since learning is an essential aspect. Ethiopia chose 17 districts that represent “pastoralist, urban and rural populations” to operate as “learning districts.”

Maternal Mortality Reduction

These coordinated efforts seem to be making headway according to the 2020 Gates Foundation Goalkeepers Report, which tracks progress on SDG goals. In 2019, the Ethiopian MMR was down to 205 deaths per 100,000 live births which would meet the Quality of Care Network goal of halving maternal and child mortality by 2022.

Ethiopian child mortality was down from 66 deaths per 1,000 children under 5 in 2015 to 52 deaths in 2019, which represents more modest progress. However, the Goalkeepers Report warns that COVID-19 could reverse progress made on global goals and asserts that a global collaborative response is essential in all areas.

It is critical to maintain heightened vigilance in coordinating efforts to continue to improve maternal and child mortality rates in Ethiopia despite COVID-19 challenges, so that progress is not lost.

Shelly Saltzman
Photo: Flickr

The Rwandan Genocide
Rwanda. 1994. 100 days. This was all it took for a band of Hutu extremists to commit the Rwandan Genocide, killing just under a million civilians. The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda has prompted yearly remarks around the world. The United Nations sponsors these, discussing the horrific implications of the event. Survivors have come forth to tell their stories as they work to make impacts to prevent genocides in the future.

What Was The Rwandan Genocide?

Two neighboring castes lead Rwanda; the Tutsis and the Hutus. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi was a power struggle between these dividing castes. Although the Hutus largely outnumbered the Tutsis, with “about 85% of Rwandans,” the Tutsi had been in power for a long time. In 1959, the Hutus overthrew the Tutsi monarchy and civilians fled to neighboring countries. Rwanda remained under the Hutu dictatorship for many years following.

Long thereafter, a group of Tutsi exiles formed a rebel group known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). They stormed Rwanda in 1990 and fought until 1993 when both parties agreed upon a peace deal.

However, the peace agreement broke on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, a known Hutu, was shot down. Hutu extremists blamed the RPF for the killing. Soon thereafter started the mass genocide that resulted in the killing of over 800,000 people. Government troops backed up the Hutus, many of whom forced civilians and youths to fight and to exercise the slaughters. The RPF stormed the capital, Kigali, on July 4, 1994, to gain back power.

Help from The World Food Programme

The Rwandan genocide forced many civilians into starvation, often unable to provide for themselves or their families. The World Food Programme provided emergency food assistance to those in need, targeting the “fundamental role food plays for vulnerable communities fleeing from conflict.” One Rwandan that the WFP helped is Liberee Kayumba. A survivor of the genocide, she was only 12 when she lost both of her parents and brother, experiencing starvation following the conflict. Now working as a monitoring officer for the Mahama Refugee Camp organization, she helps others suffering from food insecurity.

On the WFP’s Website, Liberee tells her story. She says that the memories from the genocide helped motivate her to want to help people in need. Liberee remembers how food availability was the main problem after the genocide for her and other survivors. Therefore, she has exact memories of the meals the WFP distributed, which she thinks saved her life.

The United Nations Conducts The International Day of Reflection

The U.N. has mandated an information and educational outreach programme to help survivors and others cope with the ramifications of the Rwandan Genocide and their resulting losses. This program emerged in 2005 with the main themes of preventing genocide and supporting survivors. Around the world, events such as “roundtable discussions, film screenings, exhibits and debates” occur yearly.

The slogan of 2020’s event was International Day of Reflection. It marked the 26th anniversary of the genocide, with a virtual observance for all to join in on. Multiple officials and survivors made sure to show up, including Jacqueline Murekatete. She is a lawyer, human rights activist and founder of the nonprofit organization Genocide Survivors Foundation. Murekatete lost her entire family in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide when she was only 9 years old.

The U.N.’s yearly observance reminds us to reflect on past events and recount what we can do to promote resilience and growth among countries facing hardships. Those this horrific event impacted have the chance to mourn and reflect, looking toward the greater good as individuals strive to create a better future for all.

– Natalie Whitmeyer
Photo: Flickr