World Populations Day – How Have We Progressed Since Last Year?

World Populations Day is fast approaching, to be held on July 11. This day was created in 1989 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The day is meant to bring awareness to issues around population, birth control and family planning, human rights, development, women’s rights, and sexual health. Each year has its own theme, designed to bring awareness to a certain issue. Previous years have had themes of education of the female population, investing in youth, population, environment and development, and last year’s theme of vulnerable populations in emergencies.

The world is currently facing it’s biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War with many populations being displaced due to war, famine, and drought. Let’s examine a few of these conflicts and how they have changed from last year to this year.

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The conflict in Syria has created an enormous amount of refugees. The total number of registered Syrian Refugees is nearly 5 million, which is a sizable number considering that the population of Syria in 2010 was almost 23 million. There’s much debate in Europe as to how many (if any) refugees should be accepted. While Europe has received a number of refugees, places like Turkey and Lebanon have received millions. In Turkey, the most recent number from the UN show that there are nearly 3 million registered Syrian refugees.

How is this country handling this increased amount of vulnerable people? Well, good capitalist businesses are taking full advantage of this new source of labour, especially the textile industry. Syrians cannot work without a work permit that can be quite costly, especially for people who are fleeing from war. Syrian labour is exploited in Turkey as many Syrian’s do not have the right to work without a permit, being caught working without a permit can cause legal trouble for those who cannot afford one. Not having a permit to work leads to Syrian refugees being more easily exploited by employers, as there will be fear of reporting abuse if the refugee doesn’t have legal right to work. Children are in an especially vulnerable position because most are out of school and their families have little finances, meaning they’re easy pray for corrupt employers. Syrian people are being paid considerably less than Turkish workers, employers may actively seek workers without working permits so they can pay them less and have legal leverage over them. Many Syrian children are forced to work in sweatshops for little pay, facing abuse and long hours.

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Famine In Ethiopia

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Ethiopia is facing, yet again, a crisis of famine, though it is not nearly as widely publicized as it was in the 1980s. According to the UN over 10 million people in Ethiopia are food insecure. Drought is a major cause of the famine, El Nino has made it even worse. Other causes include previous years drought, poor policies, using farms for cash crops, low pay to farmers, industrialization of farming practices, land redistribution, and exporting food. This crisis is rapidly worsening.

Last year’s crop failure has lead to a shortage of seeds, and most households rely on agriculture as their source of income. The planting season is now, it runs from June to August, and farmers do not have the seeds they need to plant. More than half of the population at risk for starvation are children, the most vulnerable of populations and the next generation. Millions could starve to death in the near future as the country struggles to produce food for it’s people and the people are in an even worse financial position. People are leaving the country due to the drought, making the world wide refugee crisis even more exhausted. Children in these areas face many challenges. Being hungry, malnourished and displaced puts them at even greater risk for abuse, forced labour and child marriage. Being displaced in an unknown area furthers the risk for abuse. Funding is falling short of what is needed to avert a famine crisis. With so many struggles going on in the world right now, Ethiopia is competing for funding against other nations in crisis.

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Drought In India

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India has just seen record high temperatures, ones that we here in North America couldn’t even fathom. Some areas saw temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius, for more than one day. The drought is widespread and affecting about 1/4 of the population of India. The most at risk from the effects of drought are the poor, elderly, children, and farmers. Farmers in India are already facing an epidemic of suicide. Even in the US, farmers are the most likely of all professions to commit suicide. The numbers are staggering, this year over 400 farmers have committed suicide. Reasons behind this include debt and the failure to produce crops (leading to more debt). Better water practices are needed. India is a huge grower of BT cotton. Cotton needs vast amounts of water to be able to grow. Only the boll is desired for seeds and fibers. Better use of this land is needed to help boost water supplies in drought hit areas.

Less thirsty crops with better yields and more usable parts are needed to be able to sustain life in this country. The drought has wreaked havoc on every aspect of life. Roads have been soft and melted, events cancelled, drinking water has been scarce in areas, rivers have run dry, effecting transportation and energy production, and over 1000 people have died due to the heat. An idea floated around to help next year, if there’s a drought, is to use geoengineering to induce rain in drought stricken regions. Is this really needed, or should we be focusing on sustainable farming practices and better water management?

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How Can We Move Forward?

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One thing that is certainly lacking today is compassion. First and foremost, we must have compassion for all people (and animals) on Earth. Many refugees leave with nothing from situations we can’t even imagine. In Western nations we have pretty comfortable lives for the most part. Can we really lash out at others who are leaving death and destruction when if we were in their shoes we would hope for the same? We are lucky to live in areas largely unaffected by war and famine.

Prevention is key! Much of the time Western nations only react after the fact. How many years has climate change and its affects been talked about, but only now, when we are seeing these affects are we actually talking about doing something. Help end conflict before it starts by education, infrastructure investment, sustainable practices and advancing human rights. When we see something is happening, SAY SOMETHING!

›If you choose to look the other way when a situation is occurring, you become part of the problem. Whether its racism in passing, xenophobia, or human rights abuses in other countries, say something, speak out, talk to your community, shop from ethical retailers, consider buying local if possible as this can help to stop funds to exploiters and polluters. Use your dollar to speak for you. Talk to your local politicians about corporations that are taking advantage of vulnerable and exploited populations and our own government policies that are encouraging and enabling exploitation of vulnerable populations. Show up prepared, with research and ready to talk their ears off (they love that). Organize with people in your area to see what the community can do to assist vulnerable populations. Is there a population in your community that you can help? What are the issues? What can your community do locally to assist people facing extreme challenges? We may not be able to fix everything immediately, but what are the small steps we can take? Sponsor a refugee family, raise awareness, volunteer to help people feel more at home in our community once they are here. And again, CHALLENGE XENOPHOBIC BELIEFS! Understanding and compassion are the first step to making change. Next we plan and organize.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like too much has changed since last years World Population Day in respect to vulnerable populations. Situations are largely the same or worse. Root causes are often left out of the conversation on how to assist those in need. We need more than band-aid solutions, to be replaced by empirical, practice and well thought out solutions that take in to account the needs and wants of the populations we are trying to help. Child poverty is still a major issue, slave labour is bigger than ever before, and the poor are still exploited every single day. This year, we must take steps forward, not backwards or stagnate in hopes the problems will resolve themselves. When we leave issues to resolve themselves, we see larger problems like war, and displacement.


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