Jonathan Riddick – BORGEN http://www.borgenmagazine.com Humanity, Politics & You Wed, 15 Aug 2018 08:30:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 How to Talk About Foreign Aid, With Both Democrats and Republicans http://www.borgenmagazine.com/how-to-talk-about-foreign-aid/ Fri, 03 Nov 2017 08:30:26 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=117778 WASHINGTON, D.C. — Discussing foreign aid and global poverty can frequently be a divisive conversation. According to research, many Americans have false assumptions about the International Affairs Budget, believing the federal government spends 20 percent on foreign aid rather than the actual figure of less than 1 percent. However, Congressional support for foreign aid remains [...]

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Discussing foreign aid and global poverty can frequently be a divisive conversation. According to research, many Americans have false assumptions about the International Affairs Budget, believing the federal government spends 20 percent on foreign aid rather than the actual figure of less than 1 percent.

However, Congressional support for foreign aid remains high. Recent proposed budget cuts from the executive branch have faced stern opposition from Democrats and Republicans. Despite differing perspectives on foreign aid, both sides of the aisle recognize its importance. How to talk about foreign aid can, therefore, differ depending on an individual’s political ideology.

Republicans often prioritize the national security benefits that foreign aid brings. In the GOP manifesto in 2017, foreign aid is outlined as a crucial weapon in the U.S. arsenal, an “alternative means of keeping the peace, far less costly both in human lives and dollars than military engagement.”

Public statements from leading GOP members of Congress reflect this prioritization of national security. The proposed 2017 cuts were met with a chorus of opposition from Senate Republicans, in particular from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who condemned the bill as doomed. “If you take soft power off the table, you’re never going to win the war”, Graham said.

While Democrats also share the national security concerns of Republicans, the Democratic platform offers more of a focus on specific poverty alleviation benefits of the foreign aid budget. In the party platform, issues surrounding child mortality, food security and disease prevention are highlighted as major benefits of U.S developmental assistance.

Public statements from Democratic officials also reflect this motivation to support the International Affairs Budget. On World Refugee Day in 2017, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi highlighted the conditions that cause refugee crises to develop and how foreign aid can alleviate such situations.

Across both major parties, a focus on benefits to the domestic economy is evident. In the Democratic party platform, the importance of investment in emerging economies is emphasized, and in the GOP manifesto it is stressed how open markets are a boon for private American investment.

These variations between the two parties give some suggestions as to how to talk about foreign aid when speaking to either Democrats or Republicans. Generally, a focus on national security appears to be more of a priority for Republicans, while Democrats favor the specific humanitarian programs that foreign aid establishes abroad. Economic benefits at home appear to be a shared motivation for representatives of both parties.

Jonathan Riddick
Photo: Flickr

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Why Is Guinea Poor? http://www.borgenmagazine.com/why-is-guinea-poor/ Tue, 31 Oct 2017 14:30:40 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=117264 SEATTLE — Guinea is one of the poorest nations in the world. It ranks at 183 out of 188 countries and territories in the Human Development Index, 55 percent of its population lives below the poverty line and chronic malnutrition is endured by almost 30 percent of the population. Why is Guinea poor, and why [...]

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SEATTLE — Guinea is one of the poorest nations in the world. It ranks at 183 out of 188 countries and territories in the Human Development Index, 55 percent of its population lives below the poverty line and chronic malnutrition is endured by almost 30 percent of the population. Why is Guinea poor, and why is its poverty so extreme?

Even in the context of sub-Saharan Africa, Guineans suffer greatly from poverty, disease and malnutrition. When many other African nations were beginning to grow, Guinea actually went backward: between 1996 and 2004, the poverty rate increased by 9 percent. This is despite the nation’s massive natural resources; Guinea has some of the largest gold and diamond reserves in the world.

The blame for the current situation is manifold. Firstly, Guinea’s economy is poorly developed and greatly lags behind developed nations in what the government is able to provide its people. The vast majority of the population relies on a heavily unstable subsistence agriculture economy – meaning that a poor harvest or a flood can devastate an entire community for years. This is compounded by the absence of a social safety net, leaving poverty-stricken and vulnerable rural settlements isolated from any potential assistance. NGOs are largely relied upon by the government.

In a strange twist of fate, Guinea’s relatively peaceful history, in relation to its neighbors, has in many ways worsened its poverty problem. The nation’s neighbors — Guinea-Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Mali and Liberia — have all in their modern histories experienced devastating civil conflicts. This has led hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee to the relative safety of Guinea.

In areas such as the ‘forest region’, an influx of thousands of refugees has created enormous levels of food insecurity, as the population has swollen. It is now estimated that as many as 40 percent of residents of the region are not getting access to basic nutrition.

Asking why is Guinea poor also necessitates discussion of the catastrophic Ebola outbreak in West Africa between 2014 and 2015. More than 3,000 Guineans died of the virus during its peak and while it has now been eradicated, the effects are still felt every day. Ebola has destroyed the tourism industry, caused a collapse in faith in the Guinean hospital system, lowered international investment and led to a standstill in vital agricultural exports.

Plans are under way to correct the damage wrought by Ebola. The World Bank has embarked on a recovery operation made up of several key pillars of investment. Water and sanitation access is in the process of being improved, while in cooperation with the Guinean government new investments are aiming to diversify the countries economy in order to increase stability. The rehabilitation of the healthcare system, if successful, will also allow Guinean communities to become healthier.

Why is Guinea poor? In short, poor management of economic resources combined with an unlucky geopolitical setting and the catastrophe of the modern Ebola outbreak. If recovery operations such as those under way on the part of the World Bank are successful, perhaps Guinea can begin to alleviate the poverty of its people, as has occurred in other developing nations in the region.

Jonathan Riddick
Photo: Flickr

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Causes of Poverty in Lebanon: The Urban, the Rural and Refugees http://www.borgenmagazine.com/causes-of-poverty-in-lebanon-urban/ Thu, 19 Oct 2017 08:30:47 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=117132 BEIRUT — Despite comprising only a small strip of land on the Mediterranean sea, Lebanon’s population is diverse. Featuring a stark urban-rural divide, as well as massive urban ghettos of Syrian refugees in major cities, Lebanon’s poor is a diverse collection of communities — hence why the causes of poverty in Lebanon can differ substantially. [...]

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BEIRUT — Despite comprising only a small strip of land on the Mediterranean sea, Lebanon’s population is diverse. Featuring a stark urban-rural divide, as well as massive urban ghettos of Syrian refugees in major cities, Lebanon’s poor is a diverse collection of communities — hence why the causes of poverty in Lebanon can differ substantially.

Lebanon’s population is 87 percent urban, concentrated mainly in coastal cities; in particular, within the capital of Beirut. While the national GDP per capita of $18,500 makes it a middle-income nation, Lebanon’s poverty rate is high at 28.6 percent. Unemployment is also a major problem, standing at 20 percent.

These statistics explain the root causes of poverty in Lebanon. They are strongly related to the political unrest that has rocked the tiny nation since the 80s — a major civil war throughout the decade and the 2006 war with Israel left Lebanon with a million internally displaced people and more than 100,000 destroyed homes. Its previously buoyant economy (Lebanon was once referred to as the Switzerland of the Middle-East) was left in tatters and has never fully recovered.

Refugees & Lebanese Economy 

However a more contemporary development has also rocked Lebanon’s economy: the massive influx of Syrian refugees from across the border. These refugees are, unsurprisingly, mired in poverty themselves. Their precarious status makes them vulnerable to exploitative employers and landlords and many refugees work well below minimum wage.

These same refugees have also frequently worsened the economic situation for the Lebanese poor. Limited housing stock in densely populated cities is now even more competitive than before. The price of shelter and food has skyrocketed: Oxfam estimates that an extra 170,000 Lebanese fell under the poverty line between 2011 and 2014.

Various Contributors to Poverty 

Beyond the coastal cities, the 13 percent of Lebanese in rural areas deal with a different set of causes of poverty. Social protection and government support are far more limited in these remote and often mountainous regions – meaning that natural shocks (such as floods) or manmade ones (such as war) can have an even more devastating impact.

Seasons also have a major effect on incomes — work is far less available in the winter months, due to an almost total reliance on the agricultural sector. This conspires to make poverty in rural Lebanon often more extreme and wide-ranging than in, say, Beirut.

Potential Solutions 

Solutions to the causes of poverty in Lebanon are manyfold and differ depending on the specific needs of each community. In Beirut, Habit for Humanity is piloting a ‘microloan’ program, which could help poverty-stricken households rebuild their destroyed homes sometimes years after the conflict.

Offering even more potential is Lebanon’s own informal social networks, which can often be very generous. Often led by Sheikhs during Ramadan, local communities engage in a form of redistribution to help lift up those neighbors who are suffering. The distribution of food vouchers during winter months, for example, can help prevent the worst cases of poverty and malnutrition, particularly in hard-hit rural areas.

If these kinds of programs are implemented and expanded, Lebanon’s wide-ranging poverty problem can begin to be tackled more effectively.

Jonathan Riddick
Photo: Flickr

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Three Key Members of Congress Who Support Foreign Aid http://www.borgenmagazine.com/three-key-members-of-congress-who-support-foreign-aid/ Wed, 11 Oct 2017 08:30:02 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=116299 WASHINGTON D.C. — There are key members of Congress who support foreign aid in both major parties and in both the House and the Senate. Despite often being perceived as a partisan issue, widespread support for at least maintaining the foreign aid budget remains in place. There are several notable members of Congress, however, who go [...]

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WASHINGTON D.C. — There are key members of Congress who support foreign aid in both major parties and in both the House and the Senate. Despite often being perceived as a partisan issue, widespread support for at least maintaining the foreign aid budget remains in place.

There are several notable members of Congress, however, who go above and beyond in their support of the foreign aid budget.

Senator John McCain (R) of Arizona

McCain’s illustrious senate career is notable for his consistent and unwavering support for maintaining the foreign aid budget. In response to proposed cuts to aid programs in 2017, McCain leveraged his position as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee to voice opposition to the cuts and highlighted their importance for national security.

McCain has also been willing to criticize leading figures within his own party as part of his support. In 2012, in response to the increasing instability in North Africa, McCain described the suggestion of foreign aid cuts as ‘idiocy’ at a time when withholding aid to Egypt and Libya was a major point of discussion in Congress.

Representative Eliot Engel (D) of New York’s 16th District

Engel serves as the ranking minority member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which gives him a platform to advocate for and defend foreign aid — an opportunity he has taken full advantage of. Engel was notably outspoken this year at the proposed cuts to foreign aid, and he released a statement condemning the move as a betrayal of American values and U.S. leadership in lifting developing nations out of poverty.

Engel is a regular speaker on the floor of the house in support of the foreign aid budget. He has made several speeches highlighting public misconceptions over the extent of U.S. foreign aid and his tireless advocacy for soft power diplomacy has allowed global poverty alleviation to take center stage when it comes to discussions of foreign affairs in the House.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina

As chair of the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, Graham has used his position to become one of the most significant members of Congress who support foreign aid. “This budget destroys soft power,” Graham commented upon reviewing the proposed cuts to the foreign aid budget this year. His insistence that the cuts are “dead on arrival” gives strong support to continued U.S. leadership in tackling poverty abroad.

In the early stages of his 2016 presidential bid, Graham differentiated himself from other candidates with his strong advocacy for foreign aid. At his launch event in 2015, Graham emphasized the significance of foreign aid for national security and described it as the most powerful weapon in the U.S. Arsenal.

These members of Congress who support foreign aid need encouragement and plaudits for the stance they have taken. Their bipartisan support for a frequently unpopular expenditure demonstrates how important the foreign aid budget is to both poverty alleviation abroad and U.S. domestic interests.

Jonathan Riddick
Photo: Flickr

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Argentina’s Poverty Rate Reflects Its Volatile Economy and Politics http://www.borgenmagazine.com/argentinas-poverty-rate/ Mon, 11 Sep 2017 14:30:46 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=114342 BUENOS AIRES — With two major economic calamities in the 21st century alone, few countries in the world have experienced as much economic turbulence as Argentina. This has inevitably affected Argentina’s poverty rate, which appears to be worsening. In 2016 an estimated 1.5 million Argentines fell below the poverty line. The most accurate adjective to [...]

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BUENOS AIRES — With two major economic calamities in the 21st century alone, few countries in the world have experienced as much economic turbulence as Argentina. This has inevitably affected Argentina’s poverty rate, which appears to be worsening. In 2016 an estimated 1.5 million Argentines fell below the poverty line.

The most accurate adjective to describe Argentina’s poverty rate would be volatile. In the past ten years, there have been four distinct years of economic shrinkage, which have been accompanied by spikes in poverty and unemployment.

The current government acknowledges that a third of the population currently lives below the poverty line. Mauricio Macri, the current growth-centric President, made poverty a centerpiece of his electoral platform. “Knowing that one in three Argentines find themselves below the poverty line is something that has to hurt us,” he commented upon the release of new data revealing the extent of Argentina’s poverty.

The economy does indeed appear to show signs of improvement – Argentina’s economy left recession in the second half of 2016, with agricultural export tax reductions and currency controls propelling the new economic agenda.

However, poverty reduction has been sidelined. These same reforms have spurred on inflation and swelled the ranks of the country’s poor. The 32 percent poverty rate has remained static and Macri’s falling approval ratings reflect the country’s impatience.

The previous administration led by Christina Kirchner also failed to fully address Argentina’s poverty rate. Under her leadership the government largely gave up keeping track of the size of the problem and data was ignored. Big-budget populist projects, such as enforcing domestic production of electronics, also backfired.

Argentines suffered from this protectionist agenda. In slums such as Villa 1-11-14, which swelled in size under Kirchner, the population is so neglected the community does not even have an official name or status under law.

The extent of Argentina’s poverty rate is particularly painful for a nation that by all accounts should be wealthy. At the turn of the 20th century, Buenos Aires was a beacon for poor immigrants travelling to the new world. Argentina was among the ten richest societies on earth and the cultural and architectural symbols of its capital still reflect the nation’s glorious past.

Macri possesses an immense pride in the illustrious history of the country he now leads. He came into office with a “zero poverty promise” — a commitment he has so far failed to fulfill. However, there are reforms on the horizon with the potential to bring down the current poverty rate.

The government has agreed to introduce a “social emergency loan,” capable of generating a million jobs and raising the salaries of Argentines in informal sectors that are often crushed by the country’s economic instability.

If Argentina’s poverty rate can be improved in tandem with a growing economy — something that has eluded the two most recent governments — then perhaps the nation can begin to rebuild the wealthy society it once cultivated.

Jonathan Riddick
Photo: Flickr

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The Fight to Reduce Iran’s Poverty Rate: Growth, but No Cigar http://www.borgenmagazine.com/irans-poverty-rate/ Tue, 15 Aug 2017 08:30:09 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=112670 TEHRAN — Iran is a nation frequently in the headlines, often for its geopolitical conflicts with the United States and Saudi Arabia and involvement in regional wars. As a result, Iran’s poverty rate receives scant media attention. Due to the inaccessibility of much of the Islamic Republic’s demographic data, the last estimation of Iran’s poverty [...]

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TEHRAN — Iran is a nation frequently in the headlines, often for its geopolitical conflicts with the United States and Saudi Arabia and involvement in regional wars. As a result, Iran’s poverty rate receives scant media attention.

Due to the inaccessibility of much of the Islamic Republic’s demographic data, the last estimation of Iran’s poverty rate is from 2007. It was then 18.7 percent. In 2016, Iran experienced a significant increase in its GDP following relief from sanctions. Growth in oil exports has also propelled the economy forward and, excluding a dip in 2014, the World Bank reports the poverty rate has declined since 2007.

These statistics can be misleading. In terms of income, Iran is deeply divided. Despite overall growth in GDP per capita, average household expenditure fell by 1.5 percent among the poorest Iranian households. Income growth was almost exclusively seen in wealthy, urban households.

The urban-rural divide is stark. Much of Iran’s growth in the past decade from economic modernization efforts has barely affected the rural population. The boom-and-bust cycles in Tehran and other cities, where fluctuating oil prices and loosening sanctions can bring windfalls, are largely urban phenomena. Iran’s poverty rate estimations suggest the number of rural Iranian’s in poverty more than doubled between 2012 and 2014.

The government of the Islamic Republic is often interventionist in dealing with poverty. When energy prices have spiked, cash transfers have been used to reduce the impact on poor Iranians. Upon taking office, President Hassan Rouhani commented that there is “no evil greater and worse than unemployment and poverty.”
Rouhani has been reluctant to commit the state fully to reducing Iran’s poverty rate.

The cash subsidy program introduced by Rouhani’s predecessor, Ahmadinejad, has largely been dismantled. Considering how important Iran’s fixed government investment has been to its previous periods of economic success, this is an ominous sign for the nation’s poor.

This may have contributed to an increase in unemployment. Iran’s growing young and urban population has struggled to find work despite more than half a million jobs being created in the past year. The youth unemployment rate has risen to 29 percent.

Rouhani will likely continue to enjoy strong support among the young, as his relatively liberal approach to social issues and relations with the West attracts Iranians alienated by the theocratic tendencies of the opposition party.

The president’s rhetoric appears to suggest a desire to reduce Iran’s poverty rate despite the limited steps he has taken in practice. Restoring the subsidies that give poor Iranians financial safeguards against fluctuating energy prices could help balance its increasingly divided income classes.

A renewed focus on the poorest in Iranian society accompanied Rouhani’s 2017 reelection. Campaign commitments included tripling cash handouts to those in poverty and a wider financial support network for the urban working class. If his actions match his rhetoric, he could be on the road to reducing Iran’s poverty rate after a period of both rising inequality and growing unemployment.

Jonathan Riddick
Photo: Flickr

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