Four Years After the Quake, Recovery Lags in Haiti

Haiti CrisisIn recent months, the world has endured several devastating natural disasters: the earthquake in Pakistan, flooding in Cambodia, and the massive Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. These disasters remind us of another tragedy closer to home – the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

Approaching its 4th anniversary, the 7.0Mw Haitian earthquake claimed the lives of approximately 250,000 people and injured hundreds of thousands more.  It also destroyed (or severely damaged) 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings, leaving over a million people homeless. The resulting humanitarian disaster remains one of the worst of the 21st century.

So what is the status of Haiti today? The country and its foreign partners have made progress on several fronts. As of 2013, they have removed most of the 10 million cubic meters of debris and housed 158,000 affected families. They have provided grants, training, and over 470,000 temporary jobs. They have vaccinated 3,000,000 children and constructed new hospitals. Moreover, they have enhanced preparedness for future disasters. But these achievements are overshadowed by the crippling challenges Haiti continues to face.

JP HRO Haiti Relief
According to The Economist, more than 350,000 Haitians still live in tents or substandard housing in “hillside shanties and seaside slums”. Unemployment hovers at around 75%. A cholera epidemic, which has taken over 8000 lives, continues to spread. Furthermore, the underlying, long-term problems inflicting Haiti remain unaddressed. Yet, aid for the tiny Caribbean country is running out. Many non-profits have disbursed their funds and are struggling to attract new donations given “donor fatigue”. Others have succumbed to corruption, squandering funds on exorbitant salaries, travel, and consultant fees. Finally, as highlighted by the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, many aid pledges have simply gone “unfulfilled”.

Op4G’s partners, however, remain committed to serving the people of Haiti. Greater Good: Haiti focuses on delivering primary school education programs and sustainability projects in under-served communities, while A Chance for Kids works for the “relief and betterment” of Haitian children. Please help create lasting change in Haiti – support these non-profits today!


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Lingering Economic Crisis Causes Drop in International Aid

aidThe developing world has been dealt another blow. According to a 2013 OECD report, official development aid in real terms fell by 4% in 2012 (including a 12.8% drop in aid to the Least Developed Countries). This marks the largest decline since 1997. It is also the first time since 1996-1997 that aid has fallen in successive years, given the 2% drop in 2011.

To account for the decline, experts point to austerity across the developed world, largely in response to the financial and Euro Zone crises. This led to reductions in foreign aid budgets in 21 of the 32 OECD members, including all 5 top donors by volume (the US, UK, Germany, France, and Japan). Not surprisingly, the largest cuts were in countries affected most by the crises: Spain (-49.7%), Italy (-34.7%), Greece (-17.0%), and Portugal (-13.1%).

Such cuts raise questions about the “appropriate” level of development aid. In 1969, the Pearson Commission recommended a target of 0.7% of Gross National Product (GNP). The target was soon adopted by the United Nations (with exceptions like Switzerland and the US) and the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC).  As of 2012, however, the DAC average was just 0.29% of Gross National Income (roughly equivalent to GNP). The US and Canada came in at 0.19% and 0.32%, respectively.

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So is this target—or any increase in official development aid—feasible in the near future? DAC Chair Erik Solheim states that “Maintaining aid levels is not impossible even in today’s fiscal climate. The UK’s 2013-2014 budget increases its aid to 0.7% of national income, which gives hope that we can reverse the falling trend.” Luxembourg, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands also exceed the 0.7% mark.

But development aid can also come from unofficial (non-government) sources. These include private foundations and charitable organizations. If you want to transform lives in the developing world, please consider donating to UNICEF, Oxfam, or one of our Op4G partners: African Soup, Develop Africa, Education for All Children, Great Good Haiti, Plant a Seed Africa, Viveperu, and World Teach.

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Africa’s Recent Economic Gains: Who is Benefiting?

africa2Africa is rising. According to a World Bank report released this week, the continent is enjoying a natural resources boom and increasing foreign investment (particularly from China, India, and Brazil). It is also benefiting from a surge in tourism, remittances worth $33 billion/year, and strong government investment in key sectors.

These factors have translated into growth rates of 4.9% for Sub-Saharan Africa in 2013. Almost “a third of countries in the region are growing at 6% and more, and African countries are now routinely among the fastest-growing countries in the world”. Such rates are expected to rise further in coming years, to 5.3% in 2014 and 5.5% in 2015.

But not all Africans are benefiting from the continent’s mounting wealth. Staggering inequality has contributed to “unacceptably slow” poverty reduction in Africa. In fact, almost half of all Africans still live in extreme poverty (defined as an income of $1.25 or less per day).

Of further concern, “sustaining Africa’s strong growth over the longer term while significantly reducing poverty and strengthening people’s resilience to adversity may prove difficult”. The continent faces great environment risks (including droughts and floods) and the threat of conflict (as in Mali and the Central African Republic). Moreover, the continent’s dependence on a few commodities (oil, metals, and minerals) leaves it vulnerable to fluctuations in global prices.

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So what does this mean for poverty reduction in Africa? Will it be possible to achieve the World Bank and UN goal to eradicate extreme poverty within a generation? In the words of a UN working group, the goal is “ambitious but feasible”. However, as economist Jeffrey Sachs notes, it “can’t be achieved by free markets alone”. It will require continued government investment, sound public policy, and international aid.

To do your part, please support our Op4G partners: Develop Africa, African Soup, and Plant a Seed Africa.

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Who are the Greatest Victims of a Struggling Global Economy?

As the global economy continues to struggle, among the greatest victims are today’s children.

According to a recent report from the United Nations Children’s Fund, more than one in five American children fall below the poverty line (defined as less than half of the median income). In fact, the US ranks 34 out of 35 developed countries, above only Romania. To make matters worse, the average poor child in the US lives in a household than earns 36% less than the relative poverty line. Only Italy has a wider gap.

Even more disturbing are child poverty rates in the developing world. Of the world’s 2.2 billion children, the UN estimates that approximately 1 billion live in poverty. Consequently, as of 2012, nearly 20% of children under age 5 in the developing world are underweight, 30% are stunted, and 20% lack basic vaccines. Furthermore, approximately 7.6 million children under the age of 5 perish annually.

Certainly, the heaviest cost of all is borne by the children themselves. However, research reveals that societies also pay a heavy price for child poverty. Among other effects, child poverty translates into lower educational achievements, reduced skills and productivity, increased chance of unemployment and welfare dependence, and higher costs to judicial and social security systems.

To help reduce child poverty in the US or abroad, please support one of our partner non-profits: A Chance for Kids, A Kid Again, All the Children are Children, Community Services for Children, Education for all Children, Stand Up for Kids Silicon Valley, Tukwila Children’s Foundation, and the Westchester Children’s Association.

May is Haitian Heritage Month!

haitiMay is Haitian Heritage Month in the United States! It is time to celebrate all things Haitian – from music and folklore to language and cuisine. But it is also a time to reflect on the struggles of this tiny Caribbean country.

Located just 681 miles from Miami, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It has a long history of political violence and corruption, as well as significant deforestation and resource depletion. These problems were compounded when the island was struck by a 7.0 hurricane in January, 2010. As a result, it is said that 70% of Haitians live on under $2 per day and that almost half a million are still homeless.

Fortunately, several non-profits are devoted to improving the lives of the people of Haiti. Op4G is proud to partner with 2 such non-profits. Greater Good Haiti provides “basic primary education as well as environmental sustainability education through school programs, public forums, and community based projects in under-served communities”. Furthermore, A Chance for Kids provides Haitian children with educational programs, social activities, and athletic events. Please support our partners today!

Flickr photo credit: Cecilia