It is not uncommon for cities in the developing world to experience an influx of rural-urban migration because of economic development, and thus heightened opportunities in urban areas. While at times this occurs on a scale so large that new buildings and infrastructure must be constructed to accommodate the newly enlarged population. In the case of Rwanda an entirely new microcosm of a city had to be built to mollify the citizens adversely impacted by the this issue.Read More
Traveling through Ethiopia's capital city one may notice bustling sidewalks filled with young professionals, construction sites looming with delicately built scaffolding, and street signs written in a language that is not Amharic as one might expect, but Mandarin Chinese.
While it is not unusual for African countries to have a heavy influence of non-native cultures and languages due to colonialism, China has never been one of these. When one thinks of Africa and the historic problems which currently beset it, many of these problems are inextricably connected to 19th century European colonialism during which Britain, France, Portugal, Germany, and Belgium to name a few, used military aggression to implement imperial agendas. Image: Light Railway System Built by the Chinese, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Photo by Etsutaro TanakaRead More
CHINA - There is a big problem - one which has only gotten bigger in recent years. For the first time, researchers have confirmed that China is facing an ever-growing problem with obesity, an epidemic that has typically only plagued Western nations such as the United States. According to reports, China which previously ranked second among countries with rising rates of obesity, finds itself in the unenviable position of surpassing the US in terms of percentage of obese citizens. “A new Gallup survey published on Friday shows that the obesity rate among adults surged in 2015 to a new high of 28 percent, or a 2.5 percentage point increase since 2008. That means the ranks of dangerously overweight Americans increased by 6.1 million adults over that seven-year period.” (Source: The Fiscal Times)
In many countries, especially those with emerging economies, obesity is associated with economic prosperity. For instance, in Mauritania, a practice called ‘gavage,’ the force feeding of girls to make them fat, is still practiced despite the obvious health risks. This practice is a consequence of societal norms of beauty which arose from the association of weight with affluence. In this North African country where famine and starvation historically resulted in women being vastly underweight, being overweight signified the converse. Thus, obesity became alluring despite the grave health risks associated with it. However, in the affluent nation such as the U.S., obesity is the result of a complex confluence of factors, including stress, lack of exercise, smoking cigarettes, eating processed or genetically modified foods, or other known ‘fat’ culprits such as high fructose corn syrup.
Those less in tune would find the trend of obesity on the rise in China incomprehensible. From a Western perspective, a country with nearly 1.4 billion citizens is certainly unable to adequately support, much less provide enough food to feed these many people. Thus, it is a conundrum how the plague of obesity has beset a nation in which many of the country's oldest residents vividly recall a time in which the opposite was true. It was during the brutal era of the great famines of China. This tragic part of China’s history is rarely discussed, nor do many young and modern citizens recall the horrendous circumstances in which 45 million people died. Following the Communist Party’s take over in 1949, a deadly combination of natural disasters and ill-conceived government policies resulted in farms being forcibly taken or farmers being ordered to produce food well beyond the capacity of their lands. These farmers were not allowed to consume the food they produced, and if they protested against this mistreatment they were maimed, tortured, or killed.
Shockingly, within less than 70 years, China has managed to go from one extreme to another. It has transformed itself from a nation torn apart by a cultural and political revolution, to one which churns out an astronomical number of exports to the tune of “US$2.282 trillion in 2015.” The top 10 products which the U.S. and other nations purchase from China include, “Electronic equipment, Machines, engines, pumps, Furniture, lighting, signs, Knit or crochet clothing, Clothing, Medical, technical equipment, Plastics, Vehicles, Iron or steel products, and Footwear.” (Source: World’s Top Exports) The affluence which China has experienced as a result of becoming one of the world’s leading manufacturer is reflected in improved economic stability and social ascendancy which many of its citizens now realize.
With more discretionary income and leisure time, Chinese citizens are now experiencing a trend which was once unimaginable. Unprecedented increases in the rate of obesity among its citizenry, particularly with the country's youth, and predominantly in its male population. Boys seem to be at highest risk for this endemic predisposition towards obesity. Recent findings have shown that as of 2014, a staggering 17% of boys and 9% of girls under the age of 19 were reported as being obese, up from just 1% of each when the studies were first conducted in 1985. In addition to the issue of obesity, there has also been an increase in corollary non-communicative illnesses.
- Juvenile Diabetes: According to a 6 April 2016, World Health Organization news release, “Unhealthy lifestyles are also putting China’s children at risk of developing diabetes: more than 4 in 5 adolescents 11-17 years do not get enough physical activity, and rates of overweight and obesity in children are increasing rapidly: from less than 3% in 1985 to around 1 in 10 in girls and 1 in 5 boys in 2010.”
- Adult Diabetes: The estimated prevalence of diabetes among a representative sample of Chinese adults was 11.6% and the prevalence of prediabetes was 50.1%. Projections based on sample weighting suggest this may represent up to 113.9 million Chinese adults with diabetes and 493.4 million with prediabetes. These findings indicate the importance of diabetes as a public health problem in China. (Source: ResearchGate, Prevalence and Control of Diabetes in Chinese Adults)
- Hypertension: In 2010, the prevalence of hypertension increased to 33.6% (35.3% in men and 32.0% in women) or 335.8 million Chinese adults based on the China Noncommunicable Disease Surveillance 2010, which was conducted in a nationally representative sample of 98 658 Chinese adults aged at least 18. (Source: Journal of Hypertension in China)
- Heart Disease and Stroke: The European Society of Cardiology presented to the 27th Great Wall International Congress of Cardiology Asia Pacific Heart Congress the fact that “40%, the mortality rate due to cardiovascular disease (CVD) in China is amongst the highest in the world¹ and has been rightly described as an epidemic. Its population faces a catalogue of CVD risk factor statistics that expose high levels of obesity, diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure, and a smoking habit within males that is proving stubborn to address. (Source: European Society of Cardiology)
These many obesity-related factors are causing growing concern among Chinese government officials, who worry that it will put increased burden on China's healthcare system which currently lacks the elasticity to handle non-communicable diseases such as obesity which is largely preventable. In China, as in the U.S., the drastic changes in weight gain among its citizenry is also linked to a growing popularity for high-sodium and fatty foods (such as fast food), which are both inexpensive and readily available. Additionally, China struggles with the cultural acceptance of cigarette smoking, which is another deadly factor that contributes to a host of long-term illnesses. In the U.S. smoking has been advertised as deleterious to one’s health, and many people, especially those who are health conscious, find the practice anathema.
However, smoking isn’t viewed with the same negative connotations outside of the U.S. In Europe, Africa, and the Middle East smoking is a integral component of social interactions, and the same can be said of China. Smoking among the younger generation is on the increase, and this coupled with decreased levels of physical activity are contributing factors to the rise of obesity. Their decisions to relocate to major cities to pursue high paying job and educational opportunities are the very things which now disadvantaged them. They have replaced low wages and physical labor, with jobs where they work long hours in cramped office spaces, under stressful conditions, which they relieve by smoking or drinking alcohol, neither of which are little more than palliatives.
Officials in both countries are now racing against the clock to aggressively combat a crisis that is both socially and economically complex. One which will take the combined efforts of the citizens, scientists, food producers, and the health care system to develop a long-term strategy for tackling this problem. Steps have been taken by both nations to raise public awareness of the problem through advertisement, anti-smoking campaigns, instructing doctors to provide BMI information to patients in addition to their weight, as well as promoting programs designed to help people develop better eating and exercise habits. Additionally, the creation of educational programs throughout China, such as those sponsored by the Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (Source: JUCCCE), have achieved some success in teaching kids the importance of eating healthy.
Here in the U.S. similar programs have been implemented with the goal of encouraging Americans to make positive healthy lifestyle changes, however, it is as difficult for the government of the U.S. as it is for China to convince people to adjust social norms. For example, as Americans have become more obese, manufacturers make clothes in larger sizes to accommodate increased girths. Many of these clothes are made in China which produces them in accordance with consumer demand. Though this correlation is simplistic, one thing is for certain - China and the U.S. would greatly benefit from moving beyond a relationship governed solely by economic expediency to one which protects the health of the two most important resources of their economic ecosystem - laborers and consumers.
The epidemic of obesity which plagues both nations has far reaching repercussions both economically and societally. The levels of economic prosperity, the ease of modern living, plentiful goods and services, and access to functional and unburdened health systems, are all things which are threatened should each nation fail to stop this scourge. It is imperative that we remember in meeting this daunting challenge that real change is only accomplished through implementing strategies which promise long-term success.
Waging a successful ‘battle of the bulge’ will be a slow and arduous undertaking, one which could best be viewed in terms of dieting. One can lose a lot of weight quickly and just as easily gain it back and then some, or one can implement a regime that takes longer and requires more discipline, but ultimately leads to a gradual return to optimal health. Thus, it is important for us to remain cognizant of the pitfalls of focusing all of our effort on a single aspect of this epidemic to the exclusion of all others, because to do so would be akin to winning the battle, but losing the war.
ASIA - The phenomena of child marriage, the taking or marrying off a girl at an age that is well below what modern society deems socially acceptable, sounds like a practice that belongs in a history book rather than in the twenty-first century. However, though hard to believe, the practice not only exists in these modern times, but also that it is thriving. In fact, emerging evidence indicates that the marrying off these child brides is becoming more widespread in many parts of the world. Whether due to socioeconomic pressures or to cultural preferences, the world is witnessing a steady resurgence of the practice of child marriages in places such as Africa, the Middle East, and now more prevalent in Asia.
One country in particular which has experienced an increase in the number of child marriages is poverty-stricken Bangladesh. This country has been identified in a report by the International Center for Research of Women (ICRW) as number 3 on a list of the top 20 countries with the highest incidents of child brides. This is because nearly 68.7% of all Bangladeshi girls under the age of 18 are married off to older men. The drastic rise in the practice has become so prevalent in recent years that researchers describe it as a full-blown “epidemic”. According to current estimates, nearly one third of girls in the country are married off before they reach the age of 15. This figure is staggering, and girls who are married off at such a young age often face high rates of domestic abuse, increased risks in childbirth, and the prospect of life-long poverty. Unfortunately, in many rural areas of countries with emerging economies young women are often considered a burden. It is these societal standards which is sanctioned and even encouraged that families use to justify pressing their young daughters into marriage to older men.
Concomitant factors such as poverty, lack of education, and the destabilization of the economy from natural disasters like typhoons, which are known for causing widespread destruction in Southeast Asian countries, also play a role in propagating acceptance of this practice. Parents often resort to marrying off their daughters in order to save money to pay for the education of their sons who are seen as better able to support the family once they reach the age of maturity. Bangladesh is not the only country to face the ever increasing problem of child marriage. Afghanistan is another country in the region known to the world as a region of innumerable human rights abuses.
Many of these abuses are due to complex forces, such as the oppressive patriarchal culture, the violent influence of the Taliban, and the subjugation of women who are often publicly executed. Given these influences the marriage of young girls to older men seems a foregone conclusion. Here, and most notably in the country's north-eastern province of Badakhshan, women experience the most extreme lack of independence. In this nation plagued by chronic food shortages, brought about by decades-long conflicts in the region, girls are being sold and traded off at an alarming rate. The money that the families get for the sale of their daughters enable them to purchase food, livestock, or other necessities.
The situation is particularly bleak in Badakhshan which according to a report by the United Nations (U.N.). Young girls experience some of the highest rats of abuses and death at the hands of their husbands who are often decades their senior. These men repeated and violently rape their young brides, who once they become pregnant do not allow them to access prenatal care with the intention of isolating these girls. According to the ICRW young girls are most afflicted by the following.
- Premature Pregnancy: Child brides almost always bear children before they are physically - or emotionally - ready.
- Maternal Mortality: Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or pregnancy than older women. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide.
- Infant Mortality: Mortality rates for babies born to mothers under age 20 are almost 75% higher than for children born to older mothers. The children that survive are more likely to be premature, have a low birth weight, and are more at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS.
- Health Problems: Premature childbirth can lead to a variety of health problems for mothers, including fistula, a debilitating condition that causes chronic incontinence. Girls with fistula are often abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by society. There are approximately 2 million girls living with fistula, and 100,000 new cases every year.
- HIV/AIDS: Married girls may be more likely to contract sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS, than unmarried girls. Young girls are more physically susceptible to STD's, have less access to reproductive education and health services and are often powerless to demand the use of contraception. (Source: ICRW)
Girls under the age of 15 are most at risk to this tragic outcome because of their physical immaturity. These young girls also face the specter of contracting HIV from infected husbands. Experts are in agreement that the best way to counter this growing trend is by working to alleviate the country's desperately crippled economy.
While the prevalence of the practice is closely associated with poverty and destruction, this is not true in every country. China, for example, has experienced steady economic growth in the past several decades. Despite its overall financial stability, the country is also experiencing a rise in the number of child marriages. The increase in this practice is largely driven by political factors such as the long-standing one-child policy. This policy, first enacted in the late 1970's to alleviate China's issue with unchecked population growth, has in fact resulted in a problematic and wide scale gender imbalance. Thus, the country now has approximately 33 million more men than women in the country. Despite this, the cultural bias toward boys remains, particularly in the rural areas where parents routinely force their daughters to marry young so that they aren't a financial burden to the family.
Additionally, China’s gender gap has led to a dramatic rise in the rates of human trafficking. Young girls are being sold or kidnapped then smuggled out of the country to neighboring Vietnam. Those who aren't 'lucky' enough to be sold for purposes of marriage, face the horrifying specter of sex slavery. These girls, as young as 13-years-old, are sometimes sold by their parents who have been solicited by the smugglers to sell their daughters who are subsequently drugged as a means of controlling them while they are removed from their homes. The girls are then marketed to potential buyers and sold for the deplorable price of $3,000 or less.
Sadly, with the continued growth of China, and the growing need for increased human capital to produce low costs products which the West is increasing dependent upon. This has resulted in the rise of another type of enslavement of girls and women in the manufacturing sectors found in cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Often chained to their work stations for up to 16 hours a day, they are not even allowed bathroom breaks in order to maximize high production at low costs.
The documentary 'Santa's Workshop' provides a chilling look into the abuse of the laborers in many Chinese factories. The majority of these workers are children and women. Thus, it is unfortunate and disheartening to realize that for a female to make it to adulthood having escape sexual enslavement or child marriage, is not a guarantee of avoiding future exploitation. There are many organizations dedicated to advocating for the rights of child brides, women, and forced labor, but this abuse, irrespective of the fact that it is occurring in locations quite foreign to us, should in no way inure us to the suffering these girls and women face. Nor to our obligation to remain engaged in trying to make a difference, even if this difference is as simple as sharing these statistics and stories with friends, family, and associates. In so doing we may become more conscious and conscientious, two things which help to complete us as human beings.
MIDDLE EAST - The relationship the Middle East maintains with other global nations is complicated. Whether political relations or social ties, trying to understand the depth of Arab’s love-hate relationship with other countries sometimes seems like an impenetrable task.
Without taking into consideration foreign nations, the countries that make up the Middle East are themselves strategically aligned despite differences in terms of social issues, beliefs, regulations, and political dominance. The conflicts and alliances within the boundaries of Arab nations impacts the global landscape in innumerable ways and has great significance.
The Middle East maintains a very definite and elaborate relationship with the rest of the world. Some of these relationships are cordial, others born of necessity and political expediency such as Gulf security, while others are mutually beneficial and actively nurtured. It is very interesting to study and understand the relationship between Arab nations and rest of the world.
Here is a snapshot of the relationships shared with different countries:
With The USA
This relationship depicts an underlying distrust of the fundamentalist values that govern most Arab nations, juxtaposed with an insatiable dependence upon Arab’s vast oil reserves. This high energy consumption is a primary reason that the United States walks a delicate balance in maintaining cordial relationships with Middle East countries despite periodic conflicting priorities. For instance, after 9/11 there were numerous allegations by the U.S. government that some of terrorists originated from Saudi Arabia. This caused a potential rift in relations, but unlike Iran, the dependence on the oil and Saudi Arabia as a formidable ally in the region, the U.S. negotiated terms under which it could continue to receive the much needed petroleum.
"The United States imported approximately 9 million barrels per day (MMbbl/d) of petroleum in 2014 from about 80 countries. Petroleum includes crude oil, natural gas plant liquids, liquefied refinery gases, refined petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel fuel, and biofuels, including ethanol and biodiesel. In 2014, about 80% of gross petroleum imports were crude oil, and about 44% of the crude oil that was processed in U.S. refineries was imported.
The top five source countries of U.S. petroleum imports in 2014 were Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq. The country rankings vary based on gross petroleum imports or net petroleum imports (gross imports minus exports)." (Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration)
The intricate relationship between the U.S. and Saudia Arabia started with ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Ibn Saud’, the founding monarch of Saudi Arabia. The event was initiated by most respected American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt in the year 1951. The outcome of these negotiations forever connected Arab’s oil with American national security.
In the current climate in the Middle East as well as the continuing instability in the entire region, the increasingly interdependent relationship between the kingdom and the U.S. is largely driven by the supply of cheap oil in in exchange for American protection. The ‘hate’ factor cannot be denied as well; as xenophia against all Arabs is rampant in the U.S. in some instances with cause, but in many it is the result of a lack of education and exposure.
The relationship between the Peoples' Republic of China and Saudi Arabia goes beyond the love for ‘oil’ or rather the greed for it. The mutually beneficial relationship is predicated by an exchange of goodsfor petrol. This success of this relationship can be seen in the ubiquity of Chinese goods being sold in throughout the Middle East. Like most countries that are voracious consumers of the low price goods manufactured in China, Saudi Arabia procures many of these items through bilateral agreements in which China gets oil in exchange. In addition, there are a number of infrastructure projects being undertaken by the two countries which include:
- Saudi Arabia has become increasingly important as an investment location for the Chinese (with the Saudi reciprocating the interest by increasing their presence in China as part of King Abdullah’s “Look East” strategy).
- Chinese firms have begun to invest in infrastructure and industry in Saudi Arabia, including in an aluminum smelter in the southern province of Jizan, at a cost of US$3 billion.
- Direct flights from China
- Beijing-Jeddah (4 flights weekly)
- Guangzhou-Jeddah (1 flight weekly)
- Guangzhou-Riyadh (3 flights weekly) (Source: China Briefing)
The Middle East clearly understands that China’s global rise is a force to be reckoned with and that a strong relationship between the two will be mutually beneficial. The price for this relationship is built upon economic and infrastructure interests versus the quid pro quo relationship that exists between the Saudi Arabia and the U.S. which trades oil in exchange for Gulf security.
With India & Other Asian Countries
India has become a major business partner with Saudia Arabia. Like other nations the relationship between the two countries is primarily a "buyer-seller" relationship with oil being the primary commodity. The recent visit of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to New Delhi boosted strategic ties and the two countries agreed to explore ways and means to transform their buyer-seller relationship. According to Saudi Arabia is India's fourth largest trading partner at $43.78 billion in fiscal 2012-13. In the April-November period of the current fiscal, the two-way trade was $32.7 billion. Imports of crude by India form a major part of this trade. Almost one-fifth of India's oil imports come from Saudi Arabia. (Source: Times of India)
Further, India provides companies stationed in Arab nations like the UAE and Qatar with an efficient and cost effective laborer force and the Gulf employment market has benefited immensely from this exchange.
In summary, each of these relationships was initially established on a foundation of oil trade, but have since diversified their partnerships to the mutual benefit of each nation. Call it the greed for oil or the Middle East’s initiative to achieve economic diversification, the ‘love-hate’ relationship that exists between it and other nations will continue to balance on a delicate fulcrum. These relationships, though fraught with dangers, will ultimately result in greater interdependence, increased stability in the region, and the development of alternate sources of revenue.
Middle East Correspondent: @vinita1204