WASH in Serbia
Water pollution in Serbia is primarily caused by the inadequate discharge of wastewater. Unequal practices of waste removal disproportionately impact rural and Roma communities, as these groups tend to rely on wells and local waterways that are often exposed to industrial contamination. In fact, 22% of the Roma population does not have access to improved water sources, making them especially susceptible to waterborne diseases. Although there is still much work needed to ensure that everyone in Serbia has access to adequate Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), the situation is far from stagnant. Here are nine facts about how WASH in Serbia is improving.

9 Facts About WASH in Serbia

  1. The OM Christian church started a non-governmental organization in 2014 to assist vulnerable populations in Serbia and other Mediterranean countries. As part of its religious beliefs, the church has enacted a variety of humanitarian work, including establishing adequate sanitation facilities.
  2. The Serbian government has implemented a national program dedicated to the improvement of WASH. Furthermore, the Republic of Serbia now recognizes WASH as a fundamental human right. Through their national program, the government implemented a variety of initiatives promoting hygiene in schools and health facilities. The government has also implemented long-term initiatives dedicated to the sustainability of water supplies.
  3. The United Nations Developmental Agency (UNDP) implemented the Protocol on Water and Health in 2013, which is currently active in 170 countries, including Serbia. Through this program, the organization aims to establish a variety of sustainable development goals in Serbia by 2030. Specifically, goal 6 of the program aims to provide clean water and improved sanitation facilities for all Serbians.
  4. In 2019, the European Investment Bank (EIB) gave a 35 million Euro loan to the Serbian city of Belgrade to fund improved sanitation and a wastewater treatment plant. The EIB has been supporting Serbia by loaning money for WASH development projects since 2000. This latest donation is expected to improve the living conditions of more than 170,000 people in the region.
  5. The KFW Development Bank is working to assist Serbia in funding a variety of infrastructural projects. Through their Financial Corporation, the bank is providing improved WASH facilities for 20 Serbian towns, which sustain a collective population of more than 1.3 million people. In early 2020, Belgrade constructed a water treatment plant through the KFW Development Bank’s funding.
  6. The European Union’s Water Framework Directive is working to improve water quality and ensure the proportionate distribution of water from the Tisza River, a major tributary of the Danube and one of the primary water sources for Serbia and four other European countries. The organization aims to carry out this project through a three-step initiative. These steps include traditional water resources planning, structured participation and collaborative computer modeling.
  7. USAID has been present in Serbia since 2001. In 2014, the organization donated $20 million to create a new reservoir in Preševo, which helped provide water to residents of this region.
  8. Serbia has been a member of the Open Government Partnership since 2012. The country has committed itself to be more transparent about its environmental information and budget allocations, which will promote accountability for the government to improve its water and sanitation facilities.
  9. Ecumenical Humanitarian, a Christian organization, has been assisting the Roma people, Serbia’s most vulnerable population, since 2007. The NGO has been working to build sustainable housing and sanitation units for this marginalized group.

Although there is still much progress to be made, the initiatives and improvements implemented over the past years demonstrate that there is hope for improved WASH in Serbia. Moving forward, these organizations must continue to make water and sanitation in the nation a priority.

– Kira Lucas
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in AzerbaijanHunger in Azerbaijan has been widespread for the last three decades. The country is located to the south of Russia, to the west of the Caspian Sea and to the east of Armenia. Saida Verdiyeva, a mother of two, lives in Toganali, a village in northwest Azerbaijan. Verdiyeva fears that social-distancing measures, which her government established in response to COVID-19, will make it impossible for her to feed herself and her two children.

In October 1991, two months before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan declared its independence from the soviet block. The subsequent years of economic turmoil in her country led to widespread poverty and hunger in Azerbaijan.

Degeneration of Azerbaijan’s Economy Between 1991-1994

By 1995, Azerbaijan had endured a critical socio-economic crisis. According to the IMF, Azerbaijan’s Gross Domestic Product, industrial production, agricultural production, real average monthly wages, household consumption- virtually every meaningful factor of the country’s economy- plummeted between 1991 and 1994. It wasn’t until the end of 1994 that the government took some control over the economic crisis. In 1995, state-led programs were successful in addressing issues of economic degeneration and adverse living standards.

Azerbaijan’s Economy and Global Hunger Index

In 1995, after four years of economic crisis, Azerbaijan had a Global Hunger Index score of 28.30. Consistent with the relatively steady economic improvement between 1995 and 2000, Azerbaijan’s GHI score reached a value of 14.60 in 1996. It remained close to this benchmark in 1997. However, between 1997 and 2000, Azerbaijan’s GHI score increased from 14.89 to 27.50.

For about two years, the numbers show a direct relationship between Azerbaijan’s GHI score and its economy. However, the macroeconomic solutions implemented by the government at the time were deficient in addressing the specific needs of certain regions and populations. In all likelihood, Verdiyeva was among those Azerbaijani whose local problems were not fixed.

Hunger and Poverty in Toganali

Hunger in Azerbaijan, as elsewhere, is linked to poverty, and poverty is often a result of unemployment. Before COVID-19, Verdiyeva worked as a dishwasher for large events. Due to social-distancing measures, there have not been many large events in or around Toganali. As a result, Verdiyeva has struggled to find work.

Many countries around the world are scrambling to prevent hunger crises caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. However, nations that had already implemented relevant social policies and established the necessary bureaucratic infrastructure to handle hunger crises will now have a more nuanced ability to cope.

The Agenda for Sustainable Development in Azerbaijan

In 2015, all United Nations Member States agreed to pursue domestic policies in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The priorities of the SDGs are to end global poverty and ensure environmental protection. In addition, the SDGs aim to create conditions whereby all people can enjoy peace and prosperity. These objectives are to be fulfilled by 2030.

Among 166 other countries, Azerbaijan ranked 54th in its commitment to the SDGs. Much of Azerbaijan’s success in this regard is owed to the diligence in creating bureaucratic mechanisms to track vulnerable populations and organize data on age, gender and location of such groups.

The SDGs’ principle of “leaving no one behind” involves a preliminary method of accumulating a body of information about vulnerable demographic groups. The implication is that being seen is a prerequisite for being helped.

Verdiyeva and her two children are among those Azerbaijani who will benefit from their country’s commitment to the SDGs and its principle of “leaving no one behind.” In 2013, only 24% of preschool-aged children were enrolled in preschool education in Azerbaijan. By 2017, 75% of preschool-aged children were enrolled in a school where they have access to daily meals.

Likewise, the hourly earnings of female employees and unemployment rates improved from 2010 to 2017. Comprehensive domestic policies, like the SDGs, are institutional methods of ending hunger in Azerbaijan. COVID-19 is an obstacle to reaching this end goal. However, the Azerbaijani government made valiant efforts, especially from 2015 to 2020, to ensure healthier living conditions for its vulnerable populations through the next decade.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

hunger in GeorgiaNestled in the Caucasus Mountains of Eastern Europe, the people of Georgia receive a sufficient quantity of food. However, the population suffers from stunted growth and undernourishment because of the quality of their diet. This leads to a condition called hidden hunger, in Georgia.

Background

Hidden hunger in Georgia results from a lack of essential vitamins and minerals in its accessible food. The people there often do not consume enough protein, iron and vitamin A. This can cause tangible issues. For example, half a million Georgians are malnourished and infant mortality is twice the EU average. Additionally, a significant number of children under five years old are anemic.

Most of the foods that Georgians eat are quite high in starch and have little nutritional value. The two most popular dishes in rural Georgia are fried potatoes and lobio, which is made of boiled beans. Overreliance on these types of foods have made cardiovascular disease the most common chronic disease in the country. Currently, it accounts for 69% of Georgia’s mortality.

The main cause of the dietary insufficiencies in Georgia is a lack of access to meat and meat-based products. Unfortunately, these products are rather expensive at local markets. With the average household income being just $6 per day (⅓ of the population earns only $2.5 per day), the consumption of meat is rather impractical for most people.

Furthermore, the gross domestic product of Georgia was just $16.21 billion in 2018, with a per capita GDP of $4,723. For comparison, the 2018 GDP per capita for the European Union was $35,616.

Although the country’s GDP is growing overall, economic downturns, such as the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, the 2015 stagnation and the 2020 pandemic, reduce the value of the Georgian Lari. These kinds of shifts can create vulnerable conditions for Georgia’s population and reduce food security.

Solutions

Fortunately, governmental and nonprofit organizations across the world are taking steps to improve the dietary standards and hunger in Georgia. Action Against Hunger has had a Food Security Program in the country since 1994, established shortly after the dissolution of the USSR and the collapse of collective farming in the region. It was able to help 5,937 people in 2018.

BRIDGE is a Georgia-based NGO that publishes comprehensive studies detailing the dietary habits of Georgians. It also publishes policy recommendations, which range from developing monitoring systems for the Georgian diet to embedding nutrition into the Ministry of Education’s agenda.

The Georgian Agricultural and Rural Development Alliance (GAARD), of which BRIDGE is a member, was able to register a “Food Security Bill” in Parliament in 2017. This bill aims to reduce Georgia’s reliance on imported food and improve the country’s nutrition self-sustainably.

The Impact of COVID-19

Although the country has only 879 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 14 deaths as of June 16 2020, the global pandemic may put national food security at risk if another wave of the virus hits the region.

There are some subsistence farmers in the country, but many people buy their food from street markets or bazaars. Places like these are potential hotspots where the virus can spread. However, it is essential that these markets remain open because if they were shut down by a government mandate, many people would struggle to achieve their daily food quantity as well as combat hidden hunger in Georgia.


Hidden hunger presents itself in Georgia due to a lack of essential minerals and vitamins in its available food. Cardiovascular disease accounts for 69% of Georgia’s mortality. COVID-19 has the potential to increase the impact of hidden hunger if markets are shut down. While Georgia is facing a struggle with hidden hunger, organizations like Action Against Hunger, BRIDGE and GAARD are working to improve the quality of food in the country in order to make a positive impact.

– Christopher Bresnahan 

Photo: Flickr

Tennis in Poverty-Stricken Countries
Around the world, people have always considered tennis to be an aristocratic sport. Although tennis is one of the most popular sports worldwide, many people in poor nations simply do not have the infrastructure to play. However, tennis in poverty-stricken countries is growing in popularity. From post-Soviet European societies to rapidly developing African nations, tennis is spreading to a diverse community of people all over the world, and it is helping catalyze the development of under-resourced areas.

Rising Stars: Tennis in Eastern Europe

One prominent example is the effect that tennis has had in Eastern Europe and the Balkan region. The brutal internal conflict spanning nearly 20 years at the end of the 20th century centered around border disputes and ethnic boundaries between Serbians, Bosnians and Croatians. As war ravaged the former Yugoslavia, tennis became an outlet for many youths to escape the conflict and make a name for themselves. One such youth was a boy named Novak Djokovic, who went on to receive wide regard as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

Djokovic, who experienced his transformative years in Belgrade, Serbia during the late 1990s, described growing up with tremendous adversity. Like other tennis players, he sometimes had to play in abandoned swimming pools because the courts experienced bombing. Partially accrediting his later success to this difficult childhood, Djokovic recalled one period from 1999: “We were waking up every single night at 2 or 3 a.m. for two and a half months because of the bombings.” He went on to articulate that “these experiences made me a champion, it made us tougher, made us more hungry for success.”

The “us” he refers to is his cadre of fellow Eastern European tennis players from war-torn or poverty-stricken countries in the 1990s. The Serbs took the tennis world by storm in the 2000s, dominating both men’s and women’s tours. Janko Tipsarević, Filip Krajinović, Nenad Zimonjic, Jelena Janković and Ana Ivanović are just a few examples. The popularity of tennis radiated from the war-torn Balkan nations northward to poor post-Soviet states like Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltics, and even to Russia. All of these countries now have players in the top 100 world rankings.

Progress On and Off the Courts

Though one cannot overlook the impact of the sport on world rankings, tennis has also helped develop and unify struggling nations. Extracurricular programs and character development among children are just a few positive side-effects of tennis. Indeed, following the conflict at the end of the 20th century, Balkan nations have seen relative progression and development. This formula of development through tennis also appears in other regions of the world.

Africa suffers from many circumstances similar to the Balkans such as poverty, despair and ethnic conflict. Tennis in poor countries in Africa can offer incremental progress toward building strong young people for the future and mending broken societies. Many organizations share this vision. Tennis in Africa, a nonprofit organization, is trying to kickstart tennis infrastructure in Ghana and other nations to help build not only technical tennis skills but also life skills to bring families out of extreme poverty. In July 2018, locals received a tennis clinic in Ghana well. Organizations like Tennis in Africa provide year-round training for impoverished youth on the continent, helping cultivate the seeds of growth and development in an underprivileged area of the world.

Working in conjunction with other support efforts, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) development fund has its sights set on the African continent too. Being the central governing body of tennis, the ITF raised its budget by 12% to a total of $11.3 million in 2019. The ITF works to give underprivileged athletes financial support in traveling and making a living through tennis, while also covering other areas of development like coaching, facilities and administration to underprivileged communities. In addition to these organizations, some of the most successful tennis players in the world, like Rafael Nadal, are using tennis as a means of an education — both physical and emotional — all over the world. In one such project that the Rafa Nadal Foundation conducted, underprivileged youth in India received access to tennis and education through Nadal Educational Tennis School (NETS). NETS aims to alleviate extreme poverty in Anantapur, India by enrolling over 200 disadvantaged children each year. NETS is just one example of how tennis can be a positive societal force to spur progress, especially for future generations.

Hope for Tennis Players Worldwide

Though tennis has traditionally been a sport of privilege and wealth, the modern game is seeing many new faces from disadvantaged parts of the world. Especially for young people, tennis in poverty-stricken countries offers a unique opportunity for character development, as well as building healthy physical habits. Beginning with Eastern Europe, tennis has had an overwhelmingly positive social influence, helping nations recover from economic, social and political upheaval. There is no reason why the sport should not receive extension into underdeveloped nations across the world, providing a vehicle to help lift people out of extreme poverty.

Zak Schneider
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in Belarus
With a population of nearly 10 million, Belarus is one of the largest countries in Eastern Europe, and its problems with COVID-19 are just as great. Since its first cases were reported, the country has struggled with treating the virus and limiting its spread. Outbreaks of COVID-19 in Belarus have already revealed flaws in the country’s health infrastructure that could cause problems even after the pandemic ends.

What You Should Know About COVID-19 in Belarus

  1. The true scale of the outbreak remains unknown. Although Belarus began testing for COVID-19 in January, the country reported its first case on February 28. As of May 18, there were 30,572 confirmed cases and 171 deaths resulting from the pandemic. The majority of confirmed cases have occurred in the country’s urban areas on account of their high population density, with the Belarusian capital of Minsk reporting over 4,000 cases on April 24. The Ministry of Health has not provided a cumulative total of recovered patients, making it difficult to know the total number of infections.
  2. Belarus’ government has not enacted strict social distancing policies. While many countries adopted shelter-in-place policies in March and April, Belarus’s government has yet to implement a country-wide shutdown of non-essential businesses. So far, individual cities have decided how to protect their citizens, with some canceling social gatherings and extending school vacations. Unfortunately, this approach has led to an inconsistent response that has failed to slow the spread of the virus.
  3. Medical supplies are limited. Despite having 11 hospital beds per 1,000 people – one of the highest ratios in the world – the lack of quarantine protocols quickly overwhelmed Belarus’ healthcare system. Patients treated for COVID-19-related pneumonia observed that nurses and other healthcare officials were uninformed and inadequately equipped to handle the growing number of cases. Due to supply shortages and limited social distancing, epidemiologists predict that between 15,000 and 32,000 people could die of COVID-19.
  4. The pandemic could force the country into a recession. One reason Belarus lacks a comprehensive social distancing policy is that the country may not be able to afford it. Even before the crisis, Belarus’ economy had started to slow down, with GDP growth dropping from 3% to 1.2% between 2018 and 2019. Economists predict that reduced trade with Western Europe and Russia due to the pandemic could push the country into a recession. While the economic impact of COVID-19 is still unclear, it could cause Belarus’ economy to contract by up to 4%. This may require Belarus to cut spending on programs for vulnerable populations such as low-income households.
  5. The international community is stepping up. Due to the shortage of personal protective equipment and medical supplies in Belarus, other countries have begun shipping supplies over. On April 17, 32 tons of medical equipment such as thermometers, goggles, and gloves arrived in Belarus from China. At the same time, the European Union announced a 3 billion euro relief fund for 10 Eastern European countries, including Belarus. Belarus may require more aid in the future, but these contributions will help ease the country’s financial strain.

Although the full implications of the pandemic are still unknown, foreign aid will reduce the impact of COVID-19 in Belarus. Such aid is vitally important for the country’s ability to protect its sick and vulnerable populations.

Sarah Licht
Photo: Flickr

tuberculosis in Eastern Europe
One of the oldest diseases, tuberculosis is still prevalent in hundreds of countries and nearly every continent. Although many countries have been able to reduce their number of cases through medical intervention and policies, Eastern Europe remains affected by the disease. Despite the rising cases of tuberculosis in Eastern Europe, European and other governments are coming up with new solutions to better treat individuals with TB and potentially eradicate the disease. Here are five facts about tuberculosis in Eastern Europe.

5 Facts About Tuberculosis in Eastern Europe

  1. Most of Europe’s tuberculosis cases are in Eastern Europe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Europe has the lowest incidence of tuberculosis in the world. However, the cases that do exist concentrate in Eastern Europe. The WHO found that 18 countries in Eastern Europe bear 85% of the tuberculosis burden for the continent. Over the past decade, cases of tuberculosis have halved throughout Europe. Despite this decrease, however, the number of cases in Eastern Europe is almost eight times higher than that of Central and Western Europe.
  2. Eastern Europe has the highest rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis. Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR tuberculosis) is currently the most prevalent form of TB in Eastern Europe. MDR tuberculosis occurs when the bacteria that causes tuberculosis becomes resistant to at least isoniazid and rifampin, the two most common drugs doctors use to treat tuberculosis patients. Typically, this resistance occurs when patients do not finish their antibiotics or when tuberculosis infects a person more than once. In all of Europe, 99% of MDR tuberculosis cases occur in Eastern Europe. As a result, scientists need to develop new antibiotics or treatments for patients in that region.
  3. Tuberculosis outbreaks are more common in poorer regions. In general, researchers tend to find tuberculosis in poorer and developing countries. Similarly, the levels of TB in Eastern Europe could connect to the overall poverty rates in the region. The poverty rates in Central and Western European countries such as the Czech Republic are as low as 10%. However, in Eastern European countries, such as Romania, the poverty rates are as high as 25%. In poorer countries, access to medical treatment and preventative care decreases. Thus, in Eastern Europe, a common struggle for individuals with tuberculosis is finding health care that is effective and affordable.
  4. Problems with tuberculosis are worsening due to COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has led countries to implement social distancing and stay-at-home policies. As a result, the circumstances for individuals with tuberculosis in Eastern Europe may worsen. A recent modeling study looked at the rate of incidence of tuberculosis and the tuberculosis mortality rate during the lockdown. The study predicted that both the number of cases and the number of deaths will rise as people remain in close quarters. For example, imagine the lockdown in a high-risk country such as Ukraine lasting for 3 months with a 10 month recovery period. The rate of incidence would increase by 10.7% and the mortality rate would increase by 16%. One reason for this increase is the lack of medical care available during the pandemic. As more supplies and medical officials go towards fighting COVID-19, other diseases such as tuberculosis could go unchecked during the lockdown.
  5. Better diagnostic services are currently in progress. This year, in 2020, the European Lab Initiative (ELI) on tuberculosis, HIV and Viral Hepatitis, a regional center that has dedicated itself to the treatment of those three diseases, released its goals for 2020 and 2021. These goals, which include improved drug treatments and better tracking algorithms, hope to allow doctors in Eastern Europe to diagnose patients with tuberculosis faster. By diagnosing people earlier, the transmission of tuberculosis will slow, and those who test positive for tuberculosis will have a higher chance of recovery.

Although the rates of TB continue to drop in Western and Central Europe, wealth inequality and the COVID-19 pandemic are keeping the number of cases up in Eastern Europe. However, if progress on better diagnostic services continues, the occurrence of tuberculosis there will decrease.

– Sarah Licht 
Photo: Flickr