In Yemen, the custom of early marriage just met a vocal challenger.

Going viral last week was a video of 11-year-old Nada al-Ahdal ranting about her parents’ decision to forcibly marry her off to a much older man. “What have the children done wrong? Why do you marry them off like that?” she asks the camera. Her powerful words have touched a delicate nerve amongst Yemenis, some of whom have upheld and continue to practice the custom of early marriange for generations. According to a 2006 joint report by the Ministry of Public Health and Population, the Pan-Arab Project for Family Health and UNICEF, this tradition is still widely practiced: 52% of Yemeni women and girls are married by the time they turn 18.

The recent video highlights Yemen’s history of early marriage laws and the government’s and society’s unwillingness to modernize conceptions of marriage. In 1994, the official age for lawful marriage stood at 15. Five years later, the law was abolished on religious grounds, eliminating a minimum age for early marriage. A brief legislative effort in 2009 to amend the situation was ultimately stalled and aborted, despite that fact that Yemen is party to multiple international treaties that require married couples to be at least 18 years old. Overall, the issue remains to be addressed, leaving countless children susceptible to premature marriage and the social and economic disadvantages that come with it.

Interviews with Yemeni girls and women reveal troubling facts. In rural areas, some girls were married off at the age of 8. Once married, women often have little power in their marriages which can also mean they have limited control over the timing and spacing of children, which increases the risk of reproductive health problems. Early marriage also diminishes the chance that wives will return to school to complete their education, putting them at a distinct social and economic disadvantage. Verbal and physical abuse against women is also prevalent in early marriages in Yemen.

In some ways, Nada al-Ahdal’s words do not just refute the practice of robbing girls of their childhood and sexual purity; they also underline the crucial “cycle of poverty and early marriage” that plagues tens of millions of women around the world. Poverty and early marriage tend to be mutually reinforcing phenomena: girls born into poverty are more likely to have mothers who ‘transmit intergenerational poverty’ and lack social assets and networks. In addition, early marriages greatly increase the chance that young girls will live in poverty. The cycle, parallel to the strong customary tradition of early marriage most prevalent in rural areas, reinforces young women’s roles as undereducated child-bearers with limited social networks.

Nada al-Ahdal eloquently defends her decision to flee from arranged marriage. But behind her words lies Yemen’s ugly reality of women’s disempowerment and its central role in the country’s greater puzzle of poverty reduction and economic growth. As one of the poorest nations on earth and a hotbed of terrorist activity, poverty in Yemen has resulted in a globally destabilizing situation. Instituting a minimum age for marriage could be a key policy for addressing women’s inequality and poverty. In doing so, Yemen would have a more solid foundation for development and more human capital to support its economy.

– Zach Crawford

Sources: BBC, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), Human Rights Watch, Save the Children’s “Champions for Children” report, Washington Post
Photo: Washington Post

It often goes unreported, with other countries in the Middle East garnering all the headlines, but since the Arab Spring in 2011 poverty levels have been increasing dramatically in the small nation of Yemen. As a result, roughly one fifth of the country’s population, 5 million people, are suffering through a severe food crisis. This number includes one million acutely malnourished children. According to a World Food Programme (WFP) report, half of the children in Yemen under the age of 5 have had their growth stunted.

With only 3% of Yemen’s land being arable and the rising poverty levels preventing people from buying imported food, the situation is only going to worsen. Currently, WFP operates an emergency program in the country with a budget of $250 million. But with the increased shortages this year, the program needs an additional $80 million in order to complete extended operations.

The humanitarian crisis does not end with the food shortage. 6 million people in Yemen have no access to healthcare, and beyond the 5 million suffering severe food shortages an additional 5 million are in need of food aid. Additionally, 340,000 people have been displaced due to fighting since the Arab Spring, placing a further strain on aid efforts.

The Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is an international initiative aiming to provide assistance to one third of the population of Yemen. In order to meet targets, like providing food to 7 million people, water to 3 million, and healthcare services for 4.2 million, agencies are seeking $716 million in aid money. Currently funding has provided less than half of that target. If funding goals can be reached, assistance can also be provided in education and protection services, possibly affecting half a million children.

With Yemen’s transition towards full democracy and general elections scheduled for 2014, it is crucial that the humanitarian situation be addressed. Otherwise, internal strife could ultimately derail the whole process.

– David M. Wilson

Sources: The Examiner, World Food Programme, Irin News
Sources: BBC

Every year the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies) pay tribute to the United State’s federal workers by recognizing those who have made significant contributions to the U.S. Medalists are honored based on their commitment, innovation, and the impact of their work on addressing the needs of the nation.

This year USAID worker and her team are one of the finalists for the 2013 National Security and International Affairs Medal, one of the eight Sammies medal categories. Cara Christie and USAID’s Horn Drought Emergency Response Team are among the finalists in this category for their tireless endeavors in leading the relief effort following the drought in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya in the Horn of Africa. Christie coordinated the relief effort from her office in Washington D. C.,  providing immediate emergency relief to the affected countries and enacting methods to improve their agrarian economies after they had been decimated by three years of the worst drought that the Horn of Africa has ever seen.

Not only did Christie lead the relief efforts, but she is credited with recognizing the significance of the impending famine almost a year before it unfolded. Christie convinced her superiors in USAID of the need to be proactive by making advance preparations in the fall of 2010—a move that hastened aid to the region and saved lives. Christie used lessons learned from other drought response situations to come up with a program pairing health, nutrition, water, and sanitation program with food and voucher programs that helped repair the damaged economies in the Horn of Africa.

It may seem strange that an award given for service to the United States could be received by a team dedicated to giving relief to another country, but in reality Christie’s actions were crucial to U.S. national security interests. The Horn of Africa represents one of the regions of the world that most threatens U.S. national security because it houses some of the most conflict prone states in the world, including Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. It also is in close proximity to Yemen, a major center of U.S. counterterrorism action. The U.S. also houses the military base Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, which serves as the most important staging ground for U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Aid efforts in the region, along with in the rest of the world, contribute to stability and thereby hold radicalization at bay, furthering U.S. interests, and making the U.S. more secure.

– Martin Drake

Sources: Washington Post
Photo: USAID

child soldiers
The subject of many a documentary, news report, and even novel, the figure of the child soldier emerged onto the global stage in the late 20th century, largely the result of publicized conflicts in places like Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The heartbreaking and sometimes frightening images of children—almost all of them African boys—turned into violent killers captured the attention of many in the west.  Like most images, these tell only a part of the story.  Here are five important and sobering facts about child soldiers.

1. Not all child soldiers are African. The organization Child Soldiers International reports that “since 2000, the participation of these soldiers has been reported in most armed conflicts and in almost every region of the world.” No exact figures have been compiled, but some estimates put the number at 250,000 child soldiers currently fighting in conflicts around the world. Countries, where child soldiers can be found, include Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq, the Philippines, Colombia, Thailand, India, Somalia, and Yemen.

2. They do more than just fight. Child soldiers not only fight on the front lines, but they also serve as runners, spies, and in some cases human shields. Many of them are also sexually abused and exploited.

3. Not all child soldiers are boys. Girls under 18 are often recruited or captured during conflicts, and most of the time they suffer sexual abuse and exploitation. An estimated 40% of them are girls.

4. They are both recruited and forced into serving. Many soldiers are violently kidnapped and forced to serve in armies or in opposition groups.  Some, however, are drawn in because poverty and deprivation leave them vulnerable to the promise of money, food, and clothing if they take up arms. Desperation proves to be a powerful motivating force for some children.

5. They can be and have been rehabilitated. Despite the horrors they have suffered and in many cases committed, these soldiers are children forced or lured into war. Many organizations around the globe work to provide the therapy, medical attention, and education that these children need. Hundreds of former soldiers have benefited from this kind of care and been reunited with family members and loved ones.

– Délice Williams

Sources: Child, Peace Direct USA
Photo: MW

USAID to Develop Middle East Clean Energy

On June 10, 2013, Tetra Tech, Inc. announced that it had been awarded a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development to assist in clean energy development in the Middle East. Tetra Tech will use the $400 million multiple-award to provide technical assistance for clean energy program development in “critical priority” countries. Five U.S. based companies, including two small businesses, will share the five-year contract.

Tetra Tech will partner with USAID to create new strategies in addressing the demand for clean energy services in countries deemed “critical priority”. Currently, five nations have been named as participating in the project- Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, South Sudan and Yemen. The contract does allow for more countries to be added later.

The contract specifies Tetra Tech’s responsibility to assist in improving governance structures to support clean energy development, assess the environmental implications of carrying out the new services and to encourage participation from the private sector in clean energy strategies. They will seek to reduce global warming by promoting the use of renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies. Additionally, Tetra Tech has been contracted to help national and local governments improve their capacity in the energy sector to cope with natural and man-made disasters.

Tetra Tech, based in California, has over 350 offices worldwide. Many of their international contracts support development in South America and the Middle East. They currently are participating in four other USAID initiatives in Afghanistan including engineering support, electricity service improvement and land reform. Tetra Tech specializes in programs focused on developing water, environment, energy, infrastructure and natural resources.

– Allana Welch

Sources: Financial Post, ReNews, USAID, Tetra Tech
Photo: Tetra Tech

Universal Primary Education
Since 1999, when 106 million children were not in school, much progress has been made. Today, approximately 61 million are out of school, and yet more progress is needed. In the past five years, due to the economic crisis, many nations decreased their foreign aid spending and thus progress was hindered. According to the World Bank and the U.N., the majority of children not attending schools live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with at least half living in areas that are politically unstable.

Despite some progress, it is crucial to note that there is a percentage of people/areas that is not accounted for in the statistics of progress and primary education. For example, according to the U.N., 90% of primary aged children living in developing countries are now in school as opposed to that percentage being 82% in 1999. While the rise in percentage sounds great, “broad figures [have the tendency to] mask localized problems,” and thus, in actuality some countries barely have any primary aged children attending school. The children who are most unaffected by the progress and recent advancement are the extremely poor and the minorities. Nigeria, Yemen, Ethiopia, South Sudan, India,  Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Bangladesh account for half of the world’s children not going to school.

There is a demand for new donors or ‘funders,’ now that many nations have cut back on their foreign aid, from the private sector and through public fundraising. Part of the U.N. 2015 Millennium Goals was to ensure that all children have equal access to primary education and to increase females’ enrollment in schools. However, experts are claiming that education goals are difficult to reach due to issues such as child labor, cultural values, and other reasons. For example, in some cultures, it is valued more that daughters stay home while the sons receive an education. The women assume the housewife role while the men are valued to be the knowledgeable providers.

In addition to child labor and cultural values, there are many concerns regarding harassment and safety of the children attending schools. For example, some female students in Sierra Leone reported being sexually harassed by teachers in exchange for good grades. And it is almost impossible to forget the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl, who was shot by the Taliban for her advocacy of education for girls. Despite the unfortunates, where instituting education does work, it makes an incredible difference. Rebeca Winthrop, the director of the Center of Universal Education at the Brookings Institution in Washington, expressed that there are children who continue to learn even in refugee camps. Where there is desire, willingness, and determination, there is much hope for universal primary education and even further schooling.

– Leen Abdallah
Source: New York Times
Photo: Globalization 101

USAID Awards $400 Million to Clean Energy
USAID has awarded $400 million to four innovative engineering and technology companies to assist developing countries in attaining clean energy. Specifically, the goal of the contract is to implement new technologies and business models that aim to help “critical priority countries” transition to a low carbon trajectory. According to USAID, countries that will be receiving assistance and that qualify as “critical priority countries” include Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Sudan and Yemen.

Six energy sector themes outlined by USAID that will serve as guidelines for the contract are energy poverty, energy sector governance, energy sector reform, energy security, clean energy, and climate change. Over the course of five years, these awarded companies, Dexis Consulting Group, ECODIT LLC, Tetra Tech and Engility Corporation will compete to deliver their products to these countries and meet the five years, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract. The $400 million will be shared among the four companies and could reach the IDIQ before five years are up.

Tony Smeraglinolo, Engility President and CEO, said the company will compete to support energy reform efforts within the recipient countries. “Around the globe, there is a growing demand for responsible energy development and we are proud to have the opportunity to continue supporting USAID and its important mission,” said Smeraglinolo.

– Kira Maixner
Source: GovConWire , FedBizOpps
Photo: International Institution for Education and Development

Data from the World Bank released last week reports twenty fragile countries who are starting to reach development goals.  As the Millennium Development Goals near the end, news of progress is exciting and hopeful. Progress in fragile countries ranges from efforts in reducing poverty, improving the education of girls, and cutting down on deaths during child birth.

The Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in 2015 and these 20 countries were not on track just a few years ago. The progress that has been made since 2010 is remarkable. In addition, six more fragile countries are on target to hit the goals by 2015. Countries like Afghanistan, Nepal, and Timor-Leste have seen a 50% reduction in people in extreme poverty and increased the number of girls in school.  These are strong accomplishments for any nation, but for these nations who are coming out of war and devastation, the results are even more extraordinary.

The data serves as a call for the global community to not strike countries off as hopeless or lost causes, but to seek the development of all nations.  While these twenty have seen remarkable progress, many war-torn nations are still lagging far behind the benchmarks set up by the Millennium Development Goals. These nations are also very prone to relapse as is the case of Yemen who was on target to meet the goal of reducing death during childbirth until the violence during the Arab Spring in 2011.

World Bank leaders are calling for a bridge between long-term development and humanitarian assistance to help countries in the middle of crisis.  When the international spotlight leaves a country in distress, often so does the humanitarian aid, leaving the country devastated and struggling to rebuild itself. To rebuild requires support that focuses on clear actions, steps, and transparent and accountable goals. As nations tighten their spending in the midst of the economic downturn, effective aid is even more important. The World Bank is committed to working more closely with the United Nations to see that long-term development happens in fragile countries.

Community involvement is also key in addressing and meeting needs and designing appropriate projects.  As aid organizations work together with communities, they can address the causes of conflict and also create programs and plans that emerge as long-term solutions.  In the final push to accomplish the Millennium Development goals, this type of aid is going to be increasingly important.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Reuters
Photo: World Hunger

Millennium Development Goals

Twenty nations have made huge strides in just a few years towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Millennium Development Goals are a series of international development goals set by the United Nations in 2000 that aim to eradicate poverty, hunger, and disease and improve the quality of life for the world’s poorest by the year 2015. Nations, that were described as troubled and conflict-hit, had not met any of the MDGs in 2010 have now at least met one. The World Bank cites better data collection and monitoring that have made progress more discernible.

The World Bank noted that countries Afghanistan, Nepal and Timor-Leste have decreased the number of people in extreme poverty by fifty percent or increased the number of girls enrolled in schools.

The World Bank aims to find ways to help countries that have relapsed such as Yemen which until the Arab Spring in 2011 was on course to reduce maternal mortality. It also aims to help conflict-hit countries transition from receiving humanitarian aid that ends once the cameras leave to building foundations for long-term development. To do so, the World Bank is working with the UN which has historically assisted with peace-keeping and humanitarian assistance.

World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, called the results a wake-up call to “the global community [to] not dismiss these countries as lost causes. Development can and is being achieved, even amid fragility and violence.”

The World Bank plans to focus on aid effectiveness by studying how aid money is used and if it actually impacts the poor, particularly with the reduction of aid from the U.S. and Europe.

– Essee Oruma

Source: Reuters
Photo: A Celebration of Women

Effects of Drone Strikes on Humanitarian Aid
The moral, ethical, and legal questions and uncertainties about secretive US drone strikes have increasingly become subjects of media attention. Many have criticized the Bush and Obama administrations for effectively engaging in endless, unchecked war, in many places, all the time. But one question has gone largely unasked in the debate over unmanned US strikes: what are the effects of drone strikes on humanitarian aid?

As we know, poverty and terrorism are closely linked. The daily struggles of those living in extreme poverty breed despair and desperation and leave many, especially youth, vulnerable to terrorist groups’ incendiary messages. Poverty reduction is an important part of US national security and foreign policy, and yet drone strikes may be undermining attempts to combat extreme poverty on the ground.

Organizations working in rural areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and other drone strike-targeted regions have reported increased hostility and resistance in relation to drone strikes. Suspicions are always aroused in the days and weeks following a strike. According to NGO security officials in Somalia, following a 2008 drone strike, attacks on aid workers increased from one to two a month to six to eleven.

Aid workers have been accused of complicity in drone strikes. Often, workers who have been collecting information for aid purposes are accused of passing on sensitive information that supposedly enable strikes, such as GPS coordinates. Some workers have been killed, either by hostile locals or as a direct result of strikes.

One of the biggest problems that aid organizations and NGOs face in dealing with drone strikes is the lack of human personnel involved in the attacks. There are no authorities on the ground to address the safety of aid workers or civilians in the region. It is difficult to determine responsibility for the attacks because even though drones often operate from regular military airbases, they are under the CIA’s jurisdiction.

Some groups, such as the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), have had success interfacing with the US government through the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). But others, like the Center for Civilians in Conflict, have had zero success in lobbying Congressional leaders for greater oversight of drone strikes. Civilians in Conflict released this report in 2012 on the effects of drone strikes on civilians.

The effects of drone strikes on humanitarian aid cannot be underestimated. Compounding tensions in areas already struggling with poverty and violence does nothing to alleviate the problems. Instead, it hampers the valiant efforts of those risking their own lives to make a positive difference. If the US government wants to positively contribute to poverty relief and reduction efforts, it needs to evaluate the effects of drone strikes on humanitarian aid work in targeted regions.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: IRIN