Institute Insights: December 2018

Contents:

Young boys standing in front of damaged buildings in Saada, Yemen, where bombing has left many neighborhoods in the city are strewn with wreckage and debris following ground fighting between armed groups. Photo: WFP / Jonathan Dumont

From the Director

Yemen, as we reported in our October issue, is now the world’s deepest humanitarian crisis. Moreover, it is the most severe crisis at a time when the global context continues to worsen. Hunger rose in 2017 for the third year in a row. Approximately 68.5 million people have been displaced from their homes and livelihoods—the largest number since World War II. For more on the global context, please see “Needs of Global Refugees Hit an All-Time High” later in this issue of Institute Insights.

In Yemen, the main cause of near-famine conditions is also a cause that is within human control: war. The conflict has already killed thousands of civilians directly, and it continues to cause increasing numbers of deaths from malnutrition and disease. People who are displaced from their homes, or who live in areas subject to aerial bombing, or both, are unable to produce food. Blockades of the country’s main ports and other restrictions on efforts to send food to areas in need have caused the prices of the food that is available to soar far beyond the means of ordinary families. Medical professionals and aid workers are unable to reach a large part of the population that is in immediate need.

Half of Yemen’s 29 million people are now subsisting solely on global food aid. Several million children younger than 5 are considered at high risk of life-threatening malnutrition. Those who survive will live with devastating impacts on their health and development for the rest of their lives.

Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute have been active in focusing attention on countries threatened by famine in 2017 and 2018, including Yemen. We are now circulating an online petition calling on the U.S. government to help end the needless suffering in Yemen by ceasing its support for warring parties, specifically the Saudi-led coalition linked to many of the aerial bombardments; by using all available tools to promote peace and economic recovery; and by working to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people in need without further delay.

U.N. experts have reported that the evidence “strongly suggests” that the governments of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have committed human rights abuses “that may amount to war crimes.” Kamel Jendoubi, chair of the U.N. Group of Experts, added, “There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties. I call on them to prioritize human dignity in this forgotten conflict.”

Also in this issue of Institute Insights, we consider the implications of hunger in some less visible U.S. communities for “leaving no one behind” on the way to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.

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Residents of Imvepi refugee settlement in Arua district, northern Uganda. The UN refugee agency estimates that as of August 2017, there are more than one million South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. UN Photo / Mark Garten

Needs of Global Refugees Hit an All-Time High

By Jordan Teague

Throughout 2018, the world’s worst crisis of displaced people and refugees since World War II continued unabated. The most recent data shows a total of 68.5 million people, of whom 40 million are displaced within their own countries and 28.5 million are refugees in other countries. The primary causes are conflict and climate change, as explained in Bread for the World Institute’s 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities.

The Trump administration’s recent rhetoric and actions on refugees and immigrants make it easy to get the impression that the United States has an unfair burden of arrivals or even that the newcomers threaten national security. In 2018, the Trump administration lowered to 30,000 the annual limit on refugees entering the United States. That is the lowest level in the history of the refugee program—at a time when the need is greatest. Officials have also declared that some common reasons for people to flee their homes, including organized gang violence, are not grounds for refugee status/asylum in our country.

In reality, low- and middle-income countries host 85 percent of all refugees, mainly those who come from neighboring countries. Turkey hosts about 3.5 million Syrians who have fled their country’s civil war, while Colombia and Uganda are currently home to more than 1 million refugees each.

Many host countries have few resources available for their own people, let alone significant extra capacity to care for hundreds of thousands of often destitute foreigners. Some higher-income countries, including European Union members, have provided support to these host countries as well as accepted refugees themselves. Yet in many cases, host countries are primarily responsible for meeting the basic needs of the refugees who arrive.

No country’s refugee response is perfect. In some cases, host countries share some responsibility for the crisis. But there are some important take-aways from national government responses to refugees.

Colombia

More than 1 million people have fled Venezuela and arrived in Colombia in the 18 months since a severe economic and political crisis took hold in Venezuela. Food and medicine are prohibitively expensive. A 2017 study found that the average Venezuelan has lost 24 pounds, while nearly 90 percent of the population lives in poverty.

In 2018, Colombia’s government conducted a census of all Venezuelans in the country, documented and undocumented. This helped them better understand the size and makeup of the population as well as its needs. Colombia plans to offer the 442,000 undocumented Venezuelans a temporary permit to stay that allows them to work and access basic services such as health care and education. This will help enable people whose lives have been devastated to secure safety and stability for themselves and their children. As Institute analysis has pointed out, even brief periods of hunger can cause irreversible damage in young children. Colombian policies can help prevent a “lost generation” in neighboring Venezuela.

Uganda

Uganda has a long history of hosting refugees—since independence in 1962 or before. This year, Uganda hosts more than 1.2 million refugees. This is more than any other country in Africa, and behind only Turkey and Pakistan in the world. Most refugees in Uganda are from neighboring South Sudan, whose civil war has caused famine and near-famine conditions for many residents. Others come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Somalia. Uganda accepts refugees and asylum-seekers regardless of nationality.

Uganda has been lauded for its welcoming laws and policies on refugees. These include access to public services and the opportunity to integrate into local communities. Uganda has not established refugee camps; rather, refugees live in towns or designated “settlements.” All refugees are provided with parcels of land so they can grow food. They are allowed to work in the formal economy and have freedom of movement throughout Uganda. In addition to helping refugee families and children get access to nutritious food, this approach offers at least the potential for Uganda to benefit from refugees’ human capital.

Turkey

As mentioned, Turkey has the world’s largest refugee population, composed of 3.5 million refugees from Syria, whose civil war has entered its eighth year. The Turkish government has an innovative combination of non-camp and government-financed approaches to refugees. Most refugees live in urban areas. Reportedly, Turkey has spent more than $30 billion on refugee services with only minimal help from the international community.

In 2014, Turkey established Temporary Protection Status for Syrians, whether they are registered or not. Temporary Protected Status provides Syrians with access to basic services, permission to open bank accounts, and the right to work. However, only 20,000 work permits have been granted thus far. Access to financial services is important to ensuring that families can feed themselves.

Low- and middle-income countries are leading the way in responding to the world’s displacement crisis.

As a high-income country, the United States has an important role to play—both in supporting host countries with enormous refugee populations and in accepting and resettling refugees ourselves.

Jordan Teague is international policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.

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The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 2, provide not only the inspiration, but also the terminology, for Bread for the World’s continuing focus on ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.

The Challenge of Tracking People at Risk of Hunger

By Michele Learner

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 2, provide not only the inspiration, but also the terminology, for Bread for the World’s continuing focus on ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.

More broadly, the SDGs are a powerful reason for hope because they are goals that humanity holds in common, developed through a true collaborative process across sectors. This included formal working groups, intergovernmental negotiations, a consensus report from the Secretary-General, and extensive public comments and consultations with nine sectors of society recognized as critical to sustainable development (e.g., farmers, nongovernmental organizations, women). Grassroots stakeholders, including migrant families, elders, and volunteer organizations, also participated.

In 2015, 193 countries adopted the SDGs by consensus. Collaborative efforts to find ways to identify and measure progress were the next step. The Inter-agency and Expert Group on the Sustainable Development Goal Indicators coordinated stakeholder participation.

As we’ve mentioned before, one of the most important principles to emerge from the entire three-year effort of developing the SDGs is “Leave no one behind.” At first blush, this seems so obvious that we shouldn’t even need to mention it. Clearly, if some people are still hungry or malnourished, then hunger is not a thing of the past. The less obvious implication, however, is that it’s highly unlikely that “everyone” will be included unless there are specific efforts to do so.

There are many reasons that people may be left behind. Some people have little power in their societies, others confront barriers to advocating for themselves, and still others are excluded or simply overlooked by their governments, communities, and/or families. Some of the people with little ability to protect themselves from hunger belong to large groups that are hard to overlook—e.g., children. Other vulnerable groups may not be viewed as part of the community—e.g., homeless people, or people in what used to be known as “institutions.” Still others may choose not to call attention to themselves and their struggles with hunger and malnutrition.

Bread for the World has focused for several years now on people who are more vulnerable than others to hunger and food insecurity. If you’re familiar with our recent work, you may have seen materials on the particular challenges of people returning from prison, female-headed households, African Americans, Latinos, undocumented immigrants, or other groups. There are several varieties of “elephants in the room” that often go unmentioned and unaddressed. In the United States, some examples are gaps in wealth and pay based on race, legal barriers to being hired for jobs, geographic isolation, and violence against women. Ignoring or neglecting any of these means leaving people behind.

In future issues of Institute Insights, we will talk about some other groups that are at greater risk of being left behind. Here, our example will be blind people in the United States.

Sometimes we assume that “the government,” or more accurately, Social Security Disability, Medicaid, and other programs for people with disabilities, supports people who can’t see well enough to carry out daily activities. Or perhaps we think of people with limited vision as mostly elderly or retired and therefore “looked after” by Social Security. Maybe we think technology has removed most of the barriers to earning a living. But all of these are true only for some people, some of the time.

Maybe we don’t think much about blind people at all. Society’s lack of attention is reflected in a lack of full data on their hunger and poverty rates. The group includes both people who are blind in the everyday sense of being unable to see anything, and people who are legally blind, meaning that even with the best correction available, their vision is not adequate to enable them to carry out necessary activities.

The data indicate that approximately 3.8 million Americans ages 16 to 64 have “significant vision loss,” with slightly more women than men in the group. Compared to the group as a whole, African Americans have somewhat higher rates, American Indians and Native Alaskans have significantly higher rates, and Asian Americans have significantly lower rates. Data points on the incidence of blindness are considered of lower statistical reliability because the methodology may conflate legally blind people with others who may be less severely impacted.

The information we have about the vulnerability to hunger among blind people is not encouraging. In 2015 (latest data available), people with visual disabilities had a poverty rate of 29 percent. Of people with visual disabilities, ages 21 to 64, who were not “institutionalized,” only 17.3 percent received federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits that year. Of the same group, only 28 percent were employed full-time, full-year. It is not at all surprising that a combination of high unemployment rates and low participation in safety-net programs makes the blind community more vulnerable to hunger.

As with any distinct community, solutions to hunger and food insecurity must be tailored to the priorities and major barriers of the people involved. It seems likely that a combination of employment initiatives and safety-net services will help.

Michele Learner is associate editor with Bread for the World Institute.

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