Revolution of DignityIn November 2013, student protests in Ukraine turned into a full-fledged revolution against government corruption that has since been dubbed the Revolution of Dignity. Now, with a new government in place, the country is attempting to align itself with its European neighbors and become a stable democracy. With multiple roadblocks in the way, such as the annexation of Crimea by Russia, Ukraine will need to rely on its allies in order to achieve its goals.  

How the Revolution of Dignity Began

Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity started out as a series of student protests to pressure the prime minister to sign an association agreement with the European Union. However, as the protests raged on, they became a catalyst for the rest of the country to express its discontent with larger issues with the government like the regime’s power grabs and rampant corruption.  

Despite these issues, protests only became a revolution when violence broke out between the government and protesters on Nov. 29, 2013. After this point, the goal became to overthrow the government and establish a more democratic state, one free of corruption and acting in the people’s best interests. In 2014, the people in overthrowing the government, reinstating the previous constitution and holding new elections in May.

While the revolution was successful, it was not without consequence. The destabilization in the country helped lead to the annexation of the southeastern Crimea region by the Russian Federation. On top of that, while the previous regime was friendly to the Russian government, the new one looked for a more independent governance supported by the E.U. and other western allies. With tough challenges ahead, Ukraine needed to look to allies for help.

What Allies Are Doing to Help

Since the protests initially started to pressure the Ukrainian president to sign an agreement with the E.U., it comes as no surprise that the E.U. is a key ally in helping Ukraine handle its political turmoil. One of the first things the newly elected government did was pass the Ukraine-European Union Associated Agreement and join the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. These moves strengthen the nation’s economic, political and cultural ties with Europe through mutually beneficial relationships.  

While the U.S. is not as geographically close to Ukraine as the E.U., it has a vested interest in keeping the region stable and independent. Currently, over $204 million is planned in foreign aid for Ukraine. Among this, 33 percent is for peace and security, 32 percent goes toward human rights, democracy and governance, 29 percent is for economic development, and six percent goes toward health. With this aid, the U.S. hopes to keep Ukraine free of Russian influence and welcome them into the western world.

Through USAID, foreign aid is being used to help out local communities of Ukrainians.  In 2017, the organization helped 50 communities effectively manage resources and become sustainable without the central government. This not only fights corruption but also helps improve the everyday lives of Ukrainians who face instability in the face of recent changes.   

Continuing Progress in Ukraine

The aftermath of the Revolution of Dignity and the struggle with Russia has left many Ukrainians in a state of upheaval. With an uncertain future and violence a real possibility, it is key that allies help the country through this traumatic point in its history. The humanitarian impact of political uncertainty is often understated in the media, but it is real. While there are larger political reasons for Ukraine’s allies to help it, the aid these allies give to the Ukrainian people has an impact on the ground that can help save many lives.

– Jonathon Ayers
Photo: Flickr

SOS Méditerranée Saving the Distressed at Sea
Thousands of migration attempts across the Mediterranean take place every year. By mid-November of 2017, over 150,000 people reached Europe by sea. During this time, almost 3,000 were found dead or declared missing. NGOs accounted for 40 percent of all lives saved in the Mediterranean during the first half of 2017.

SOS Méditerranée is a European maritime and humanitarian organization responsible for the rescue of lives in the Mediterranean. The organization was created in response to the deaths in the Mediterranean and the failure of the European Union to prevent them. Its mission focuses on three key points: to save lives, to protect and assist and to testify. It was founded by private citizens in May of 2015 and works as a European association with teams in Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland. Together the countries work as a European network,  jointly financing and operating the rescue ship Aquarius.

Since February of 2016, Aquarius has operated in international waters between Italy and Libya. Since then, the rescue ship has welcomed more than 27,000 refugees aboard. Once aboard, Aquarius provides emergency medical treatment through its partnership with Doctors Without Borders. This supports the organization’s second key mission, to protect and assist. It provides both medical and psychological care to those on board and then works to connect them to supporting institutions in Europe.

In early March of 2018, the Aquarius welcomed aboard 72 survivors from a merchant ship after two tragic operations in the Central Mediterranean. The Aquarius was the only search and rescue vessel present in the area. It was mobilized to search for a boat in distress in international waters east from Tripoli by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome. Its rescue operations involved a complex search of 120 nautical miles over the course of 24 hours. Those rescued were from 12 different countries, mainly in West Africa, but also from Sudan and South Sudan. Once aboard, the survivors were able to receive the medical treatment they desperately needed.

SOS Méditerranée wants to give those rescued a voice, to testify, and show the actual faces of migration in the hope of bringing awareness about refugees in the Mediterranean and remembering those who were unsuccessful in their journeys. Evidence from the Mediterranean Migration Research Programme (MMRP) has examined the dynamics of migration to Europe from 2015 and 2016, as well its difficulties. Its key findings challenge assumptions about the dynamics of migration, including that migration is primarily driven by the need to access jobs and welfare support.

Instead, the MMRP found that the vast majority of people migrate across the Mediterranean by boat because of the belief that their lives are in danger or in hopes of a better future. During its study in 2015 and 2016, nearly 1.4 million people crossed the Mediterranean to Europe. However, due to the absence of legal routes to reach the E.U., migrants resort to dangerous crossings with smugglers. There is an urgent need to greatly expand safe and legal routes for the protection of these migrants.

Thanks to organizations like SOS Méditerranée, there have been thousands of lives saved in the Mediterranean. However, joint efforts must be made in order to prevent any further lives from being lost.

– Ashley Quigley

Photo: Flickr

The Launch of the European Fund for Sustainable DevelopmentThis past September, the European Union launched the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), a tool to support investment in the countries bordering Europe as well as Africa at large. The goal of the EFSD is to create stability through economic development, which may reduce the flow of displaced people across borders.

In many ways, the rationale behind the EFSD is similar to the one underlying the push for humanitarian safe zones by American politicians across the spectrum, from senators Tim Kaine and John McCain to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The goal of both is to shore up economic and aid resources for those who need them most, while stemming the tides of refugees that have sparked political tumult in both Europe and America.

But, while safe zones seem most suited to war-torn countries like Syria, the EFSD can potentially have a much wider reach in terms of where and how it can help.

The EFSD aims to use “public funding as a guarantee to attract public and private investment to create real jobs,” in the words of European Commission President Jean-Paul Juncker. Devex reports that this involves underwriting loans and guarantees by trusted financial institutions to any entity, public or private, that invests in development in Africa or the countries bordering Europe.

Lawmaker Claude Turmes of Luxembourg called the EFSD the “best EU initiate ever.” Its €4.1 billion in spending until 2020 is expected to generate €44 billion in investments. According to the joint website of the European Council and the Council of the European Union, that number could be doubled if member states match EU donations.

That money can have a big impact. The ONE Campaign reports that foreign direct investment in Africa is by far the lowest of any region. Just three cents of every dollar of global foreign direct investment went to the continent in 2016, and most of those funds went to resource-rich countries.

Accordingly, some worry that an EFSD focused more on reducing refugee traffic than investing in development will continue to funnel money to resource-rich countries bordering Europe, like Morocco and Tunisia, while neglecting more remote nations like Mali and Chad, which present riskier investments. ONE recommends that fragile states be made a priority when the EFSD Strategic and Operational Boards meet to set investment windows.

Sustainable development in Africa and other nations bordering Europe is only possible if funding is allocated strategically yet fairly. Energy investment stands to electrify the region, as investors feel secure enough to put their money into projects like wind farms and solar panels. Hopefully, the increased wealth will both build more stable societies and reduce the need for refugee migration.

Chuck Hasenauer

Photo: Flickr

Water Supply in CubaAlthough Cuba is known for its water-filled landscapes, like the many rivers and turquoise springs that bubble up from time to time, the country faces issues with the water quality and supply. The water supply in Cuba has been affected due to a recent drought, resulting in a struggle to provide clean, fresh water to its citizens.

Over the past three years, Cuba has been facing one of the worst droughts of the century. This drought is affecting nearly 50 percent of the land in Cuba, and it is caused by a climate pattern known as “El Niño”. The El Niño phenomenon is when trade winds off the Pacific Ocean bring warm weather that quickly heats surface water. This effect has occurred in previous years but has increased drastically over the past three years.

Water reservoirs and dams have been affected, with some dams even falling below 50 percent capacity. Out of the 168 municipalities in Cuba, 141 have been directly affected by the effects of this drought. Havana, Cuba’s capital city, relied on tanker trucks from neighboring areas to help provide water to 120,000 people that were in desperate need in mid-2016.

Not many people consider how this drought is affecting day to day life for Cubans. Many families must purchase filtered water since the water supply in Cuba has decreased due to the drought, and this filtered water is not cheap. The average cost for 5 liters of filtered water is 15 Cuban pesos, which is equivalent to $15. This can be a financial burden on a family who has to ration this water for drinking among all its members, as well as to clean vegetables and fruits to eat.

The high price of water also means that many families can’t provide enough water for their pets or livestock, so animals are dying and getting sick all throughout the country.

The soil itself has become damaged as well, with some reports saying that nearly 75 percent of the soil is drier than desired. This has greatly affected the agricultural production, with many farms producing less than 50 percent of what they usually grow. This now means that not only is there a limit on water, but on food as well.

Cuba and the European Union have been working on a solution to not only solve the current drought problem but also to stop future droughts from becoming this large of an issue. The World Food Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Mivimiento por la Paz have all partnered with the European Union and Cuba to develop these solutions.

Currently, the European Union is providing €600,000 in funding for two projects being developed in Cuba. The first project’s goal is to strengthen the preparedness plans in Cuba as well as the response and early warning systems.

The second project will focus more on a technical solution, by increasing the hydrological networks to increase the water supply in Cuba, as well as increasing its meteorological capacity so they can anticipate these patterns sooner.

Scott Kesselring

Photo: Flickr

US Is Extending Iran Sanctions ReliefOn September 28, 2017, White House officials announced that the U.S. is extending sanctions relief for Iran implemented by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The nuclear deal was coordinated by the international community and ended crippling economic sanctions against Iran by the United States, European Union and United Nations, in exchange for Iran reducing its nuclear capabilities for 10 years and limiting uranium enrichment for 15 years. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has been upholding its end of the deal.

The relief from key economic sanctions under the JCPOA plays an important role in Iran’s future economic sustainability. The sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program limited the nation’s ability to engage in trade and its access to oil revenue and international financial institutions. This contributed to a recession in 2012 and 2013 that saw Iran’s GDP growth decline by 6.6 percent in 2012. Inflation rose to over 30 percent, resulting in dramatic price hikes in food and basic necessities, and more than a fifth of the country was left unemployed.

Though the Iran deal is still in its infancy, it has already had significant impacts on Iran’s economy. World Bank estimates place Iran GDP growth at 6.4 percent and is projected to grow by over 4 percent from 2017-2019. Projections by the World Bank show significant boosts in oil production and other industries and potential growth in women’s employment.

The Iran deal also has the potential to fuel Iran’s development goals. Sanctions were lifted a month before Iran’s parliamentary elections and were touted as a significant victory of Iran’s moderate leadership. The elections resulted in large gains for development-minded moderates and economic reformers and significant losses for Iranian conservatives.

However, the sanctions relief for Iran remain controversial stateside. Though President Trump has chosen to continue maintaining the Iran deal, he has called the Iran deal “one of the worst deals” in history, and signaled that the U.S. is extending Iran sanctions relief temporarily and may withdraw or renegotiate the deal come October.

Furthermore, President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson believe that Iran is not complying with “the spirit” of the deal due to its ballistic missile tests, cyber activities and continued backing of terrorist groups, though no clause in the JCPOA forbids Iran from engaging in these actions. Nonetheless, the White House announced new sanctions outside of the Iran deal on several Iranian individuals and entities connected to malicious Iranian cyber activities.

Carson Hughes

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in LiberiaOn March 14, 2017, on behalf of the European Union, the launch of a three-year “Land Rights for Liberia” project has brought new hope for the final passing of the Lands Rights Act. This would secure ownership of land to the community, as well as increase human rights in Liberia.

The Land Rights Act (LRA) is currently under review and debate in the National Legislature. However, the European Union, through the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) and Welthungerhilfe (WHH), is pressing for the adoption of the Act before it goes on recess by August 30.

According to the World Bank, 1.6 million hectares of Liberian land (the equivalent of 2 million football fields) has been sold or leased to commercial investors. These investors are interested in the land mostly for palm oil plantations, mines and timber concessions.

Consequently, this leaves more than two-thirds of Liberia’s land under customary tenure, with little or no consultation with those directly affected. Hundreds of thousands of people in Liberia have died through civil wars and violence caused by land disputes.


Human Rights in Liberia & Land Rights


Although the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has supported the act, the government has continued to grant concession of the land to various investors. Ali Kaba, of the Sustainable Development Institute, stated, “Land grabs in Liberia have effectively turned citizens into refugees in their own country…We cannot continue on in a state where people’s homes and farms can be sold out from under them without their knowledge or consent, and where those who resist face violence.”

Despite the disputes of the past, the launch of the “Land Rights for Liberia” project promotes newfound momentum in order to get the act passed and secure further human rights in Liberia, especially for those living in rural communities.

The act would legally recognize those rights of the community to Liberia’s “customary land,” and the people would be able to reclaim the land they have lived and worked on for generations.

The passing of the Land Rights Act would also improve human rights in Liberia. It would reduce discrimination against women and other vulnerable groups who were unable to own land.

As Amina Bello, the Project Manager of CAFOD said, “The passage of Liberia’s land rights Act will increase women’s decision making power and improve family livelihoods…such women empowerment will further contribute to the eradication of poverty.”

With the passage of the Land Rights Act, farmers will be able to focus on sustainable food as well as nutrition security. As a result, food production will increase and can better support the growing Liberian population.

The”Land Rights for Liberia” project has placed added pressure on the passage of the Land Rights Act, which is necessary in order to secure various improvements for human rights in Liberia. It will rightfully return the land to the people.

Kendra Richardson

Photo: Flickr

Elpida home for refugees
While the 2015 refugee crisis somewhat faded from the international media’s view, the flow of refugees and the vulnerability of their human rights remains a meaningful concern among the international community.

From the start of the year to July 2017, more than 100,000 asylum seekers arrived in Europe by sea and upward of 2,000 additional individuals did not survive the attempted crossing. Since the beginning of the crisis, asylum seekers who managed to reach Europe arrived to inadequate and sometimes even dangerous conditions.

At first, in 2015, this seemed to be a symptom of inadequate legislation. However, the fact that these inhumane conditions have persisted points to insufficient humanitarian funding and the deliberate neglect of refugees.

Emina Cerimovic, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, stated that “the mental impact of years of conflict, exacerbated by harsh conditions” and “the uncertainty of inhumane policies, may not be as visible as physical wounds, but is no less life-threatening.” This warning came at a crucial time, as Hungary continues to house asylum seekers in shipping containers despite protests from the United Nations, European Union and the greater international community. As time has gone on, conditions in refugee camps remained stagnant and residents became increasingly less independent. They are forced to rely on the entity running their center for more of their basic needs.

NPR reporter Soraya Nelson, who visited a camp on the Hungary-Serbia border, describes it as a detention camp with only one accessible exit, which enters Serbia, a country that also struggles to uphold just migration policies. According to Nelson, all other gates are heavily guarded. The idea is that “people will get so fed up, they might just decide to leave.”

The containers that make up the camp, while more sturdy than the tents provided in many E.U. refugee centers, are undeniably cramped and allow for little ventilation. Their structure provides no clear separation of families and also house unaccompanied minors, one of the most controversial groups within the asylum-seeking population.

Despite this failure, the Elpida Home for Refugees, located near the industrial Center of Thessaloniki, Greece, provides a model for the future. Elpida, which means “hope” in Greek, managed to bridge the gap between inhumane refugee policies and the humane treatment of refugees. The center was founded by American philanthropist Ahmed Khan in partnership with the Radcliffe Foundation and the Greek Ministry of the Interior as an experiment in refugee assistance.

The Ministry donated an abandoned textile factory to the cause when presented with the concept for Elpida: to provide refugees the independence and services they need to continue their lives. The 6,000 square-meter space was converted into 140 residential units, each for six people or less, with shared bathrooms and a communal kitchen, allowing residents to enjoy private space, prepare meals and participate in the community.

The Elpida Home for Refugees is based on the idea that refugees need assistance from the bottom-up instead of from the top-down as is provided elsewhere. Top-down assistance means asylum seekers receive a small designated space in an overcrowded, often outdoor facility, with limited access to proper nutrition, hygiene and medical care. In these scenarios, typical of most refugee camps, residents are entirely reliant on the government or NGO who operates the camp.

Alternatively, the bottom-up care provided by the Elpida Home for Refugees allows its residents to utilize the tools made available by the organization, such as access to medical care, education, and their own personal rooms, to reclaim their lives and become independent.

The cooperation between the Greek government and the Radcliffe foundation can easily be replicated by other countries and organizations and then even more asylum seekers may find Elpida’s “hope” when they are most vulnerable.

Alena Zafonte

Water Quality in Estonia
While the water quality in Estonia is good when it comes to tap and bottled water, the quality of the country’s groundwater faces threats from pollutants.

Here are some key facts about the water quality in Estonia:

According to a 2014 study, researchers found that the average Estonian consumed 45 liters of bottled water each year.

Astrid Saava, an emeritus professor at the University of Tartu Department of Public Health, said that in Estonia, bottled water and tap water are fairly similar in respect to their quality.

“There is no significant difference between bottled drinking water and tap water in Estonia,” Saava said. “Both originate from underground water pumped through artesian wells. It’s just that the bottled water costs 500 to 1,000 times more.”

For this reason, Savaa added, it is often more cost-effective to forgo purchasing bottled water.

A slight taste difference between tap and bottled water might be observed in Tallinn, where tap water is sourced from Lake Ülemiste. Some have noted that water originating from the source may taste “inferior” to that of underground water in the region, according to the article.

Despite tap and bottled water being similar in quality in Estonia, for those living in the region it is recommended that they purchase bottled water if they think their countryside source may be polluted.

According to a study conducted by Tallinn University of Technology and the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics, surface waters are often subject to pollution. The study focused on drained peat areas, or swathes of organic wetlands, where there are significant stores of nitrogen.

In Estonia, eutrophication, or the presence of abnormally high concentrations of nutrients from watersheds, is one of the “most important problems for surface waters” in the region, according to the study.

Researchers found that past evaluations underestimated the impact of soil amelioration (supplements added to improve soil quality) on the intensive pollution of surface water. Previous evaluations attributed pollution and eutrophication to fertilizers and livestock in the area. According to the study, there is little evidence to back this theory.

In Estonia, the management of freshwater sources and their protection falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of the Environment, which coordinates the Decision-Making Environmental protection.

The country’s water department specifically overseas the condition and sustainable exploitation of the groundwater and other bodies of water in the region. Estonia’s water policy follows that of the European Union.

Estonia in particular enforces several legal provisions that support sustainable development, according to a release from the United Nations. Such policies focus on aspects such as the quality of the water in the river basins.

The water quality in Estonia near inland water bodies and coastal sea improved over the past ten years, according to the National Environmental Monitoring Programme.

Despite these improvements, rivers, like several that flow into the Gulf of Finland, are in need of improvement with respect to water quality.

Leah Potter

Photo: Flickr

Philippines and the EUAs of May 2017, the Philippines decided to end development assistance from the European Union. The Philippines is willing to reject €250 million worth of aid to prevent the EU from interfering in its internal affairs.

Relations between the Philippines and the EU have soured in the past year. In 2016, EU member countries called for strict monitoring of human rights abuses committed under President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ policy. Almost 9,000 people were killed in the Philippines since Duterte took office on June 30. Many were small-time users and dealers who police say were sho tin self-defense by officers during legitimate operations.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said that Duterte approved a recommendation from the finance ministry “not to accept grants that may allow interfering with internal policies.”

EU official Gunnar Wiegand defended the EU’s practice of setting conditions in exchange for aid. “You know why? Because it’s the money of our taxpayers. They want to know where their money goes,” Wiegand said.

The longstanding relationship between the Philippines and the EU became formal in 1980 in the European Cooperation Agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In July 2012, the EU-Philippines Partnership Cooperation Agreement provided a legal framework for further cooperation in a range of areas. These included political dialogue, trade, energy, transport, human rights, education, science, technology, justice, asylum and immigration.

This agreement also doubled the planned grant assistance to the Philippines for the period of 2014 to 2020. Funds increased to €325 million, up from €130 million in the period from 2007 to 2013. The Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines states that this seven-year support strategy focuses on “the rule of law” (improved governance and increased cooperation in the justice sector) and “inclusive growth” through sustainable energy and job creation.

The EU also provided aid to Manila’s efforts to end the insurgency in Mindanao, a 50-year conflict that killed more than 120,000 people, displaced one million and prevented economic growth in the region.

The EU is also one of the most important providers of aid to the Philippines in the case of natural disasters. One example of such was after Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The EU provided €180 million in humanitarian assistance and early recovery interventions to help those affected by Haiyan.

Wiegand stated that the EU will not “beg” the Philippines to accept its aid and that there are “no lack of other countries” for the EU to fund if the Philippines rejects its offer.

Some officials contend that this is only a temporary setback for relations between the Philippines and the EU. Economic Planning Minister Ernesto Pernia is skeptical of Manila’s decision. “I will not take that as policy. It is more of a reaction to criticism. I don’t think it’s going to remain as such,” Pernia said.

Hannah Seitz

Photo: UN Multimedia

Water Quality in Germany: The Gold Standard
Water quality in Germany has been regulated by an effective water management division. The country’s water technology and purification processes are highly regarded internationally. The German government implemented water protection procedures such as water waste charges, the preservation of natural habitats and laws to penalize water pollution.

Germany has an abundance of fresh water; 2.2 percent of the country’s surface area is covered by 11 predominant rivers, 291 dams, and other natural lakes. Approximately 11.7 percent of the fresh water is assigned to drinking water protection.

In 1998 the European Union (EU) adopted the ‘Drinking Water Directive’ (DWD), which set a foundation for high-quality standards for European drinking water. The DWD guidelines include parameters that must be fulfilled to assess drinking water quality.

Currently, the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), represents 80 percent of drinking water production and 60 percent of wastewater disposal in Germany. BDEW supports sustainable energy, the protection of water supply and proper wastewater disposal.

On October 4, 2016, BDEW convened with the Federal Ministry for Environment to state its opinions on major energy developments to be implemented over the next 15 years. The meeting focused on “the future of public services in the water sector.” Key results of the collaborative effort include extending fresh water and groundwater protections to unused resources, creating an “integrated cross-sectoral environmental legislation,” as well as implementing consequences for “enforcement deficiencies in the environmental law.”

As the water quality in Germany increases, the cost of tap water rises as well. A solution to water inflation is the re-use of wastewater, also known as water recycling. By reusing processed water, the required heating and cooling energy are lowered, saving energy and money. Recycling water also reduces the cost and effort needed to filter and purify unprocessed water. When the processed water is reused, it is already free from unwanted micro-organisms and harmful elements.

Germany’s strict environmental legislation and multiple industrial measures have enhanced its water quality and advanced long-term sustainability.

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr