Category Archives: poverty

Almost half of Myanmar risks falling into poverty by 2022: UNDP

Women and children are likely to feel the brunt of a steep increase in poverty caused by COVID-19 and February's military coup, according to the United Nations Development Programme [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]
Women and children are likely to feel the brunt of a steep increase in poverty caused by COVID-19 and February’s military coup, according to the United Nations Development Programme [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the instability following a military coup in February, could plunge almost half of Myanmar’s population into poverty, reversing economic gains made over the last 16 years, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“The ongoing political crisis will, doubtless, further compound the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, reducing incomes,” the UNDP said in a report (PDF) published on Friday.

In the organisation’s worst-case scenario, 48.2 percent of Myanmar’s population, the equivalent of about 26 million people, could be living in poverty by 2022, compared with 24.8 percent in 2017, the UNDP said.

The agency defines Myanmar’s national poverty line as those living below 1,590 kyats ($1) a day in 2017 terms.

The political crisis is likely to affect small businesses acutely, resulting in lost wages and a drop in access to food, basic services and social protection, according to the UNDP.

Women bearing the brunt

As a result, it is women and children who are expected to bear the heaviest brunt of the two crises.

“The effects of COVID-19, amplified by the effects of the overthrow of the civilian government, are likely to lead to a disproportionate increase in urban poverty.

“This is related to the fact that urban areas, where most of the income-generating activities of the near poor are, have been ground zero for the pandemic and the focus of the most severe crackdowns,” the report’s authors wrote.

Even before recent events, one-third of Myanmar’s people were living “on low levels of consumption that put them at risk of falling into poverty”, the agency said.

More than 83 percent of households have reported a drop in income since the start of 2020, according to the UNDP.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis on February 1 when the military arrested elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the ruling National League for Democracy and took power for themselves. The coup triggered a civil disobedience movement and mass protests around the country to which security forces have responded with increasing violence.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an advocacy group that has been tracking arrests and deaths, says 759 people have been killed since Aung San Suu Kyi’s government was removed. Its records show 3,461 in detention.

Food concerns

Myanmar has reported 142,800 cases of COVID-19 with 3,209 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins University. New daily cases have fallen sharply since the start of the year.

The UN’s food agency said last month that rising food and fuel prices in Myanmar since the coup risk undermining the ability of poor families to feed themselves.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said food prices were rising, with palm oil 20 percent higher in some places around the main city of Yangon since the beginning of February and rice prices up 4 percent in the Yangon and Mandalay areas since the end of February.

Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, controls large parts of the country’s economy, with interests in Myanmar’s mobile phone system, tourism, food and beverage sector and its lucrative precious stone mining industry. Foreign investors, including global clothing brands which have used Myanmar as a source of cheap labour, have also been reassessing their involvement in the country, likely putting further pressure on the economy and its workers.

https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/4/30/almost-half-of-myanmar-risks-falling-into-poverty-by-2022-undp

India’s ‘Solar Man’ lights path out of poverty with clean power

Santipada Gon Chaudhuri in his office at the NB Institute of Rural Technology, Kolkata, India, in 2019. HANDOUT/Courtesy of NBIRT

KOLKATA, India, – Since he was a child, Santipada Gon Chaudhuri had sought ways to help India’s rural poor, so when the electrical engineer was invited to visit a co-worker’s home in the Himalayan village of Herma in the early 1980s, he saw his chance.

“I was appalled to see how local communities were living in darkness after sunset,” remembered Chaudhuri, 71, who then worked for the government in the northeastern state of Tripura.

“Some used kerosene lamps, but even kerosene was not always easy to get. Since I had both the skill and position to try and provide power to them, it made me act,” he said.

The villages of Tripura are located on tough, hilly terrain, where Chaudhuri realised it would be hard to put up power lines.

“But they had solar energy in abundance,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

In 1983, he used government funding to install solar panels for 70 homes, as well as running a community television and water pump – the first time anyone in the hamlet had seen electric light.

That small project sparked a career dedicated to bringing energy to people in impoverished, remote communities, a mission that earned Chaudhuri the moniker of India’s “Solar Man”.

Today, more than 100 homes and businesses in Herma are lit by an updated solar energy system, allowing villagers to be more productive while reducing their use of expensive, polluting fuels like kerosene.

“Life in the village would come to a complete standstill after sunset. But with light in our homes now, our children are studying until night,” said villager Sumoti Riyang, 33.

“Shops and business establishments remain open in the evening. We can work more. All this is generating more income for us,” she said.

In his Kolkata office, adorned with awards he has won since his first project nearly 40 years ago, Chaudhuri said he gets “great satisfaction” from seeing how solar power has changed lives in Herma, connecting residents to the modern world.

CAREER OF FIRSTS

Herma was the first tribal village in the country to gain access to solar power, and by 1989 Chaudhuri had led the installation of solar technology in nearly 40 villages across India’s northeastern states.

Four years later, he developed India’s first centralised solar power station with a distribution network on Sagar Island in the Sundarbans, home to one of the world’s largest mangrove forests, supplying 100 households through power lines.

The project was considered a breakthrough at a time when solar technology “was largely confined to laboratories and prototypes”, said Samrat Sengupta of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a nonprofit think-tank.

By 2000, more than 400,000 people in villages around the Sundarbans national park were using solar power, through a mix of mini-grids and domestic solar-power systems.

At the time, the area had the highest per-capita consumption of solar power in the world, Chaudhuri noted.

The project earned him an Ashden Award, known as the “Green Oscars”, and the Euro Solar Award from Germany.

In 2006, it also inspired India’s then-President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to invite Chaudhuri to design a captive solar unit for the presidential palace.

“Chaudhuri’s work is a classic example of empowerment of indigenous communities through solar power,” said Arun Tripathi, director general of the National Institute of Solar Energy, an autonomous body under the renewable energy ministry.

In 2009, Chaudhuri installed the country’s first grid-connected solar plant in West Bengal’s Jamuria village, a 2-megawatt (MW) project serving 5,000 families.

This was lauded as an “environmental breakthrough” because, until then, solar power had been limited to remote areas without access to electricity, said CSE’s Sengupta.

Jamuria was the first location to use solar to replace coal power in the grid, bringing clean energy into the mainstream, he said, noting it cut the amount of coal burned locally by 2,000 kg (4,400 pounds) per hour and decreased carbon emissions.

FLOATING SOLAR

Sengupta and others said Chaudhuri’s work helped pave the way for India’s National Solar Mission, launched in 2010.

The initiative, on which Chaudhuri consulted, had an initial target of producing 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar power by 2022.

Having already nearly doubled that ahead of time, India has set a new goal of 100GW.

But as its solar power expansion has gained pace, a growing population and increasing urbanisation have made finding enough land for big projects more difficult.

In response, Chaudhuri came up with India’s first floating solar power station.

In 2014, after joining the nonprofit NB Institute for Rural Technology, which he now heads, he led construction of an experimental 10-kilowatt government-funded floating solar panel on a lake in Kolkata’s New Town.

“Designing the floating structure of the panel and anchoring it in the water body were major challenges,” he said.

That project grew into a national programme that now generates more than 1,700MW of solar power from floating panels in various coastal states around the country.

Despite its progress, India’s solar push has some limitations including high capital costs, scarcity of land and the need for sunny weather, said Partha S. Bhattacharyya, former chairman of Coal India Limited, the world’s largest coal producer which is also investing in solar energy projects.

“Thermal (coal) power is reliable and consistent, due to greater grid stability,” he added.

Chaudhuri and his team are currently experimenting with solar-powered pumps that push water up to a higher storage reservoir that can then generate hydro-electricity using micro turbines, supplying villages when needed.

“The very concept of solar power has changed from simply providing lights to controlling carbon emissions,” Chaudhuri said. “It is time that we seriously think about how to leave behind a more livable world for future generations.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210416022435-cbymh/

Vatican Secretary of State calls for synergy in fight against poverty and climate change

Cardinal Pietro Parolin's video message to Climate Adaptation Summit Jan. 25, 2021. YouTube Screenshot.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s video message to Climate Adaptation Summit Jan. 25, 2021. YouTube Screenshot.

Vatican City, – The Vatican Secretary of State has called for a new model of development built on “the synergistic bond” between the fight against climate change and the struggle against poverty.

In a video message to the Climate Adaptation Summit taking place online Jan. 25-26, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that climate change is “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

“This is a moral and humanitarian imperative, especially since the greatest negative consequences of climate change often affect the most vulnerable: the poor and future generations,” the cardinal said.

“While the poor are the least responsible for global warming, they are the most likely to be affected, since they have the least adaptive capacity and often live in geographical areas which are particularly at risk.”

The Climate Adaptation Summit is a virtual international summit organized by the Netherlands aimed at outlining practical solutions for confronting climate change.

The summit’s list of speakers include French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry.

“On behalf of Pope Francis, I … wish to assure you of his closeness, support and encouragement in these days of intense effort for a fruitful outcome to this Climate Adaptation Summit,” Cardinal Parolin said in his video message.

The Vatican Secretary of State called for “stronger international cooperation committed to a low-carbon sustainable development” and an investment in “strengthening technologies and resilience and transferring them under fair conditions, particularly to the most vulnerable countries.”

“Complementarity mitigation and adaptation activities require coming up with a global and shared long-term strategy based on precise commitments, capable of defining and promoting a new model of development and built on the synergistic bond between the fight against climate change and  the struggle against poverty,” the cardinal said.

Parolin urged that there is “no alternative but to make every effort to implement a responsible, unprecedented collective response, intended to work together to build our common home.”

“May we make the response to climate change an opportunity for improving overall living conditions, health, transport, energy and security, and for creating new job opportunities,” he said.

“This task is difficult and complex, but we know that we have the freedom, intelligence and capacity to lead and direct technology and to put it at the service of another type of progress: one that is more human, social and integral.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-secretary-of-state-calls-for-synergy-in-fight-against-poverty-and-climate-change-55262

Pandemic exposes ‘hidden poverty’ in unequal cities

A Venezuelan migrant woman carries her baby outside a tent at a makeshift camp, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bogota, Colombia June 8, 2020. Picture taken June 8, 2020. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

BOGOTA, – From Bogota to Athens, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed pockets of once invisible urban poverty, prompting some mayors to target the cities’ poorest for new health and welfare measures, a top health official said on Thursday.

About half of the world’s population live in urban areas and city mayors are on the frontline of the COVID-19 response, often deciding when to introduce and lift lockdowns and taking responsibility for the running of hospitals.

Some mayors have become “urban health champions” introducing measures to help the poorest, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a webinar.

“Nowhere has the impact of this virus been more evident than in urban areas,” Tedros told a virtual conference hosted by the Partnership for Healthy Cities, a global network of 70 cities.

“Bold action by city leaders has and will continue to impact the global pandemic response,” Tedros said.

Claudia Lopez, Bogota’s first women mayor, said the coronavirus had exacerbated already rising poverty rates since 2019 in Bogota and across Colombia, Lopez said.

Poverty rates in the capital of 7 million people have risen to 26% this year up from 15% in 2019, and unemployment has roughly doubled to 19% in a city where about half work in the informal economy, Lopez said.

But the pandemic has allowed city hall to identify and target “hidden poverty” in a “very unequal city”, Lopez said.

For the first time, the mayor’s office is directly funding monthly cash transfers to about 7,000 homes, a measure that will continue for the remaining three-years of her term, she said.

In addition, since late March, 80 km of new bike lanes have been added to Bogota’s existing 550-km (340-mile) network of bicycle lanes, easing congestion on buses and allowing essential workers to travel safely, Lopez said.

‘UNDER THE RADAR’

In Athens, mayor Kostas Bakoyannis said city hall has focused on providing healthcare and food for the most in need.

“For us the priority lies with those who actually are the most unfortunate … those who are invisible,” Bakoyannis said.

During the lockdown, Athens city hall set up a new shelter for the homeless housing up to 400 people, a shelter for drug addicts, and has delivered food and medicine door-to-door to tens of thousands of residents, he said.

“We have tried to relate to those who are under the radar,” Bakoyannis said.

“The pandemic actually brings into fore the structural injustices that exist within our cities, the poverty pockets .. and that is where we are obliged to put the most attention.”

COVID-19 test centres have been established in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods and mobile test units target areas with the highest rates of coronavirus cases, he said.

In Uganda’s capital of Kampala, deputy lord mayor Doreen Nyanjura said the hardest decision was putting three million people under lockdown in a city where most people rely on daily cash-in-hand earnings to buy food and pay rent.

“Our residents had to choose either dying because of hunger or COVID-19 – and of course as leaders we couldn’t let our people go hungry,” Nyanjura said.

City hall distributed food parcels to those residents most in need. “That at least helped them to survive,” she said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20201029171648-bvzol/

Peru update: Covid-19 intensifies already extreme poverty

It certainly feels like a second plateau, without a down slope, three times as high as the first. The total number of cases of coronavirus tallied on 19 August in Peru was 558,420, with 53.8% in Lima and Callao, and 26,834 deaths. Gradually, with an increase in the Jungle and the mountains, the number of cases and deaths are almost equal between the capital and the rest of the country. For population size, we have the second highest death rate in the world! 25,500 children and adolescents have been affected, with 106 deaths and some children under five. The medical opinion here is that a child can spread the virus with much more impact, up to 100% more, so beware with the opening of schools!

We are now in a situation where we have to ride out the storm. Unfortunately, it looks as though it is going to last well into next year! The medical facilities available are overrun and the medical staff are exhausted. Covid-19 has increased to above 9,000 new cases daily. The number of deaths now averages 200 daily.

Those under 14 can go out for half an hour a day, accompanied by an adult, but those over 65 continue in lockdown. The curfew in Peru is from 10pm to 4am. Sundays have again been declared lockdown days and 6 departments (Arequipa, Ica, Junin, Madre de Dios, Huanaco and San Martin) are in full-time lockdown along with 34 provinces in other departments of the country. Family and other social gatherings have been banned and sporting events, which were to start, have been banned as are all religious ceremonies.

The cities in the Andes were not so badly hit until the inter-provincial bus services opened up in mid-July, and since then there has been a dramatic increase in cases. For example, in Cajamarca around 90,000 people returned there from Lima and Chiclayo. In the last two weeks the number of cases have doubled there and this is being repeated in many regions of the country, especially Loreto, Arequipa, Cusco, Puno and Ancash.

I accompany Manuel Duato Special Needs School, a Columban project. The teachers are in virtual contact with the parents and through them with nearly 400 children. We have helped 44 families on two occasions, as they have little to no income and are desperate. The teachers are exhausted and worried. Last week two fathers of our Manuel Duato’s Friends over-18 Club, died of covid-19, leaving their adult children without the support and love they need. Five students have had covid-19, with one still in danger. 26 parents have had covid-19, two fathers have died, two more are in intensive care, four have had relapses and the other 18 have recovered. 13 teachers have had covid-19, of whom two have had relapses and the remaining 11 have recovered.

The Warmi Huasi project accompanies children at risk in both San Benito, in the district of Carabayllo, and in the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara, high up in the Andes mountains in the department of Ayacucho. The Province of Paucar de Sara Sara is getting its first cases of covid-19, about 10 in all.

In Ayacucho, our Warmi Huasi team is in touch constantly with the parents, teachers and municipal officials about the welfare of the children. We have just spent two weeks with a virtual training program for all teachers of the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara on bio-security for themselves and in turn for them to communicate the same message to all their students, mostly by whatsapp. We have given out all the books from the reading clubs so that the children have the books to read at home. We also have radio with the children, telling stories and getting them to send in their stories.

In San Benito, the mothers of the four homework clubs have started communal kitchens and a key local community leader started another communal kitchen. The number of families helped in the five communal kitchens has increased to 190, with an average of five per family, so you have 950 people receiving a meal each day. In the communal kitchen run out of the chapel in San Benito, they have a number of social cases: 10 elderly people and a single mother with her five children. There are a number of cases of covid-19 in San Benito – four of the parents of the children in the homework and reading clubs have recovered.

We are in the middle of winter and with the help of friends, we have managed to distribute second-hand clothes to families in need in San Benito and a bed to one family who were sleeping on the floor. Often, I am told, that the children there are the ones reminding their mothers to put on their masks before going out, so our training through WhatsApp is working!

I am in touch with groups of Venezuelan families, and one of these – a family of six – is in desperate straits. They lost their accommodation and have been sleeping on the floor, a third storey flat roof, with just a plastic covering and some old blankets to keep them dry and warm. With friends, we are trying to find them somewhere to stay. I have been able to offer them three months’ rent, hopefully to tide them over this difficult moment.

The people try to be resilient; they keep going and many share what they have with others when the need arises. Many Peruvians started their lives in poverty and gradually improved their lot, but now many of the 70% whose work is in the informal sector, are destined to return to poverty.

https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/40335

Punished for being poor? Mexico child labor case makes poverty a crime, critics say

A Central American migrant child is silhouetted at the Pan de Vida migrant shelter at Anapra neighborhood, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico September 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

MEXICO CITY, – The arrest of three Mexican women accused of trafficking more than 20 children from within their extended family has been criticized by rights activists, who say they are being punished for being poor.

Prosecutors found the malnourished children during a raid last month on a house in Chiapas, the country’s poorest state, and said they were being forced by their relatives to hawk souvenirs and other trinkets in the streets.

But campaigners and family members reject the trafficking charges, saying the three indigenous women – who are mothers to some of the children – simply took the youngsters to work with them occasionally, as many low-income parents do in Mexico.

“Lots of families… go out selling with their daughters and sons because there isn’t anywhere to leave them,” said Jennifer Haza, director of Chiapas children’s rights nonprofit Melel Xojobal.

“For us, there isn’t evidence of human trafficking,” she said, adding that instead of pursuing prosecutions in such cases, the state government should be looking at ways to give vulnerable children a better start in life.

Mother-of-five Enereida Gomez, sister of one of the detained women, said they sometimes had no choice but to take the children with them onto the streets while they sold handicrafts.

“We’re not criminals,” Gomez said, sobbing at a recent news conference on the case, which has received international media attention.

Another local nonprofit Colectiva Cereza has filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) to ask for its intervention in the case, citing what it called inconsistencies in the investigation.

But Chiapas State Attorney General Jorge Llaven has defended the prosecutions, saying children can be trafficked by their parents and that being poor cannot be an excuse for crime.

“Exploitation, of course, is a crime that is closely linked with poverty, but we can’t use poverty to justify a crime or else we would become ungovernable,” he told reporters earlier this month.

“We also aren’t criminalizing poverty, I want to make that clear,” he said.

The prosecutor’s office did not respond to a request for further comment about the case, which received renewed scrutiny following the death in custody of Adolfo Gomez, an indigenous Tzotzil man and the grandfather of most of the children.

His wife was also detained.

TRAFFICKING LAW REFORM?

Labor trafficking expert Monica Salazar said it was important to consider the conditions that the three detained mothers were living in themselves, and what benefit they got from the situation.

Mexican law uses a very broad definition of trafficking, which has led to calls for it to be changed, including from the current government.

Salazar, who supports reforming the law, said it should be updated to reflect the reality of poor families.

“It’s not the same to talk about a ‘benefit’ that no one dies of hunger in a family versus organized crime taking advantage,” said Salazar, the founder of nonprofit Dignificando El Trabajo (DITRAC).

More than three quarters of people live in poverty in Chiapas, a southern state bordering Guatemala.

Thousands of children, including some of those found in the raid, do not have birth certificates or go to school, Haza said.

Twenty of the children who were found are now in a government shelter and Melel Xojobal is trying to reunite them with grandparents and other relatives. The other three are babies, so are with their mothers in prison, Haza said.

Prosecutors raided the house in Chiapas after Adolfo Gomez, the grandfather, was detained in a separate case linked to the disappearance of a two-year-old boy.

The missing boy was eventually found safe and well but Gomez died in prison within two weeks of his arrest. Relatives say prison authorities told them he had died by suicide, but they claim his body showed signs of torture.

Chiapas prosecutors said last week they had arrested two public servants for breaches of their duty of care of Gomez.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200825093239-fnkmv/

Coronavirus seen threatening global goals to end poverty, inequality

People queue to receive food aid following a 14-day lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Abuja, Nigeria April 3, 2020.REUTERS/Afollabi Sotunde

NEW YORK, – Ambitious global goals set out by the United Nations to end poverty and inequality are under threat from the coronavirus pandemic, even as they are most needed, experts have warned.

A 2030 deadline to meet the U.N.’s development goals is at risk as economies suffer in the fight against the virus, public financing dries up and international cooperation wanes, said experts interviewed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

From ending hunger, gender inequality and violence against women to expanded access to education and health care, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were approved unanimously by U.N. member nations in 2015, with a 15-year deadline.

“They’re a really incredible symbol of international unity and agreement on what is important for underlying social and environmental and economic health,” said Sara Enright, director of collaborations at BSR, a global nonprofit that focuses on sustainable business strategies.

“Coming into a crisis … I think it’s more important now than ever to have a North Star,” she said.

Earlier critical assessments predicted that conflict or climate change would slow progress, but the pandemic marks the biggest obstacle yet, the experts said.

Reported cases of the coronavirus have crossed 2.3 million globally, according to a Reuters tally.

Businesses have closed, myriad jobs have been lost and global economies have taken an unprecedented blow.

The fallout could increase global poverty by as much as half a billion people, or 8% of the world population, according to research released last week by the United Nations University.

“This really could put us into a very negative spiral,” said Michael Green, chief executive of the Social Progress Imperative, a U.S.-based nonprofit.

“If we then get a breakdown in international cooperation, that’s even worse.”

Experts said nations responding to the coronavirus by tightening borders, bickering over limited resources and blaming one another may not bode well for the international cooperation needed for implementing the global goals.

“My greatest fear is the breakdown in international relations,” said Enright.

“What I fear is as we become more insular, as we become more national in our approaches to the crisis, as we close our borders …. My concern is that that underlying partnership might be in danger.”

The pandemic has exposed failings that the goals were intended to address, said Natasha Mudhar, co-founder of The World We Want, an SDG advocacy organization.

“Countries globally have been exposed to the fragility of their health care systems, the economy and society,” she said.

“Had we worked towards strengthening these, precisely as called for by the SDGs, we would have potentially been better placed to handle the current pandemic crisis.”

Alexander Trepelkov, a top SDG official at the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the goals “will be more essential than ever during and after this crisis.”

“The SDGs are a commitment to leave no one behind, and this includes ensuring everyone is able to take measures to reduce their exposure to the disease and have the means to cope and recover,” he said in an email.

Countries that have incorporated the global goals’ inclusive and sustainable values will likely fare best in the pandemic, while those with poor public health systems, vast inequality and weak social nets will struggle, Green added.

“The optimistic scenario is perhaps this is going to be the kick in the pants we need to take some of this stuff seriously,” he said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200420151405-u26ba

COVID-19 exposes ‘distorted picture’ of global poverty gains, U.N. envoy says

FILE PHOTO: Philip Alston, at the time the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, attends a news conference in Beijing, China, August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

NEW YORK, – The coronavirus pandemic has exposed complacency and “misplaced triumphalism” by international aid organizations that have taken credit for progress on eradicating extreme poverty, a top United Nations rights official said.

Global entities have failed to end severe hardship around the world, and COVID-19 will plunge even more people into dire economic straits, said Philip Alston, the outgoing U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

“Even before COVID-19, we squandered a decade in the fight against poverty, with misplaced triumphalism blocking the very reforms that could have prevented the worst impacts of the pandemic,” he said in a statement accompanying his final report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“The international community’s abysmal record on tackling poverty, inequality and disregard for human life far precede this pandemic,” he added.

COVID-19 has exposed how vulnerable poor people are, unable to practice safety measures like staying home and forced to risk getting sick because they need to keep working, said the report, which was to be presented to the Council on Tuesday.

“When you look at what COVID-19 has done, which has really been just to pull the Band-Aid off the poverty wounds, we see all too clearly that in fact it was very far from being eliminated,” Alston told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview ahead of the presentation.

He pointed to a 2018 World Bank document declaring “remarkable and unprecedented progress” in reducing extreme poverty.

It said 10% of the world’s population, some 736 million people, were living in extreme poverty in 2015, compared with nearly 2 billion people or 36% in 1990.

The report used the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty as living on $1.90 a day or less.

A similar assessment of a drop in extreme poverty to about 11% of the population from 35% was made in a 2017 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

‘SLEEPWALKING TOWARDS FAILURE’

But Alston, a professor at New York University School of Law, said a poverty line of $1.90 a day “provides a distorted picture.”

“That in turn made people complacent,” he said. “$1.90 a day is really miserable subsistence and by no means amounts to eradicating poverty.”

More accurate measures show only a slight decline in extreme poverty over the last 30 years, he said.

A separate report published in June by UNU-WIDER, part of the United Nations University, said economic fallout from the pandemic could swell the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day to as many as 1.12 billion.

Alston, who was appointed U.N. special rapporteur six years ago, also criticized the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved in 2015 by U.N. member states to end poverty, inequality and other global woes by 2030.

The global goals rely on economic growth and shared prosperity to solve problems, rather than seeking structural solutions such as wealth redistribution or a taxation system that does not encourage tax avoidance, he said.

“The U.N. and its member states are sleepwalking towards failure,” he said in the statement.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200707170510-1izgn/

Cash payments to cut poverty in Indonesian villages help forests too

Sumbanese villagers work on a field seeding peanuts in Hamba Praing village, Kanatang district, East Sumba Regency, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, February 23, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

KUALA LUMPUR, – A social protection scheme to help poor Indonesians living in rural areas by giving them cash also reduced deforestation by 30%, researchers said on Friday, fuelling hope that efforts to tackle poverty and protect forests can work in tandem.

The study analysed Indonesia’s national anti-poverty programme – which transfers money to poor households that follow health and education guidelines – looking at about 7,500 forest villages that received money from 2008 to 2012.

“No matter which way we looked at it, the anti-poverty programme on average leads to reduction in deforestation in the villages receiving it,” said study co-author Paul Ferraro, a professor of human behaviour and public policy at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Over the last two decades, Indonesia managed to cut its poverty rate by more than half to just under 10% of its 260 million population in 2019, according to the World Bank.

The Southeast Asian nation, which is home to the world’s third-largest tropical forests, is also the top global producer of palm oil – which generates millions of jobs but is blamed by environmentalists for forest loss and fires.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous nation, was named as one of the top three countries for rainforest loss in 2019, according to data published this month by Global Forest Watch, a monitoring service that uses satellites.

The new study on Indonesia, published in the journal Science Advances, looked at data on tree-cover loss for villages near forests, before and after the welfare programme began.

Cash-based schemes to tackle poverty are becoming increasingly popular in developing countries, with 16 tropical nations having adopted such methods, Ferraro noted.

The Indonesian programme – still being phased in across the archipelago – makes “modest” quarterly cash payments equating to about 15-20% of recipients’ household consumption, he said.

The 266,533 households analysed for the study were located in the 15 provinces that make up half of Indonesia’s forest cover and account for about 80% of its deforestation.

Researchers found that farmers in these villages typically cleared forest to plant more crops if they expected low yields, due to delays in the monsoon season or prolonged drought.

But when given cash payments, they switched to buying from markets rather than clearing forest, or were able to take out loans using the government handout as a guarantee, said Ferraro.

Before scaling up such cash schemes worldwide, Ferraro urged more research on their environmental benefits.

A separate study in Mexico, using different methods, found a small rise in deforestation as locals may have used the cash to keep more cattle, clearing forest for grazing, he noted.

“We’re not going to solve the rainforest problems with a conditional cash transfer programme,” he said.

“(But) it provides space for these two groups – the anti-poverty and pro-environment groups – to be more collaborative.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20200612171610-gro26/

Freed from jail, Cambodian surrogate mothers raise Chinese children

Surrogate photoSophea and her husband participate in a ceremony to rid her and her family of bad karma, in Oudong, Cambodia. December 7, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Matt Blomberg

by Matt Blomberg and and Yon Sineat | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Campaigners say Cambodia’s surrogacy crackdown is unlikely to end the trade as many women will continue to risk arrest for the chance to earn life-changing sums of money
OUDONG, Cambodia, Sophea was eight months pregnant when Cambodian police told her she would have to keep the baby that was never meant to be hers – and forfeit the $10,000 she was promised for acting as a surrogate for a Chinese couple.

Cambodia banned commercial surrogacy in 2016, and police in June raided two apartments where Sophea and 31 other surrogate mothers were being cared for in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

They were charged the following month with violating human trafficking laws, but authorities released them on bail last week, under the condition they raise the children themselves.

Campaigners say Cambodia’s surrogacy crackdown is unlikely to end the trade as poverty means many women will continue to risk arrest for the chance to earn life-changing sums of money.

For some of the newly-freed women, keeping their baby is a burden as they struggle to get by. For others, it is a relief.

Despite the financial loss, 24-year-old Sophea told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that she was happy the authorities intervened, and that her family had welcomed her baby boy.

“If not for the crackdown and my arrest, I would have been left in deep regret,” said Sophea, who did not give her real name for fear of backlash from the authorities and members of her community.

“I would have given away my baby,” she said just two days after being released from police custody, settling back into village life at the end of a sandy track that winds through rice fields in Oudong, a 90 minute drive north of Phnom Penh.

Members of the other families said the babies are a mixed blessing. Instead of receiving $10,000, the women went home with another mouth to feed, in a country where the average annual income is $1,490, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“It is a very difficult situation. I worry that my income will not support the whole family,” said Pich, a motorcycle-taxi driver whose wife is carrying what will be their third child.

The 40-year-old, who also requested that his real name not be used, said he never supported his wife’s decision to be a surrogate and that he was ashamed she had gone through with it.

Another surrogate, a 24-year-old woman, went behind her husband’s back to take part in the scheme.

The $10,000 would have allowed the couple and their two children to move out of the shack they share with 12 members of their extended family, said the woman on condition of anonymity.

“I agreed to give birth at the provincial hospital and look after the baby, but I don’t know how we will get the money to support and raise another child,” she said.

Ros Sopheap, director of the charity Gender and Development for Cambodia, said poverty will likely drive more women to engage in surrogacy – and that few know the practice is illegal.

“Very few people are aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s against the law,” she said.

“The reality is that these women do this because they are living in poverty. So as long as there is a demand for surrogate mothers, they will continue.”

Southeast Asia has long been a top destination for couples seeking surrogate mothers. Thailand banned the practice in 2015 after several high-profile cases, followed by Cambodia in 2016.

In 2017, an Australian nurse and two Cambodians were jailed for 18 months for operating an illegal surrogacy clinic.

In the country’s most recent surrogacy raid – just last month – 11 pregnant women and four facilitators were arrested.

Chou Bun Eng, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said the 32 women were released on humanitarian grounds last week, but that the fate of the latest 11 surrogates is unclear.

Each case will be judged independently and “law enforcement will become stricter” in the future, according to the official.

It would be difficult, she added, for authorities to track down those who organised surrogacy rings, or the Chinese couples who paid for Cambodian women to bear their children.

“Even surrogate mothers did not know nor (have) contact with the one who wanted the babies,” said Chou Bun Eng.

Sophea said she preferred not to know who the biological parents were.

“I will not tell my son what happened in the past,” she said. “I won’t tell him about his actual Chinese parents.”

She said her priority upon returning home was to invite a Buddhist monk to conduct a cleansing ceremony – in order to rid the family of any bad karma incurred during the ordeal.

Her four-year-old daughter and extended family have also welcomed the baby, she said after the ceremony, which was attended by a dozen relatives and several village elders.

“The whole family loves him,” Sophea said. “My husband (a construction worker) told me: ‘Your son is my son’.”
http://news.trust.org/item/20181210101810-y6rbm/