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

Poverty in Andorra
Andorra is a mountainous region located between France and Spain, officially a principality with two co-princes and its own constitution. Known for having lavish skiing attractions, Andorra had a 2014 GDP of $3.28 billion. With a population of just 85,000, this gives Andorra the ninth-highest GDP per capita in the world, at about $53,000. No data exists on poverty in Andorra, but it is generally assumed to be nonexistent.

Andorrans enjoy a high standard of living and have the highest life expectancy in the world, at 83.5 years. Most exports consist of technology equipment such as integrated circuits and orthopedic appliances, along with another stream of revenue, briquette sales. GDP has risen steadily since 2013, partially due to austerity measures.

Dominated by an urban population, only five percent of the region’s land is arable. That is why most food has to be imported from other countries. Prior to tourism, agriculture was the leading stream of revenue as tobacco was sold.

Major sources of income now include tourism and retail sales on products like perfume because of the country’s duty-free status. These are the primary sources of wealth and account for three-quarters of GDP.

The government of Andorra did a good job stabilizing its economy after the steady decline in tourism that occurred after 2010. Relaxation of the residency and investment laws contributed to the country’s attractiveness to foreign visitors, however now its relatively small housing market is among the many around the world affected by speculation.

With lavish hotels and a change in laws, stabilization of tourism was able to occur. Even with a negative trade balance, poverty in Andorra is minimal and the country is projected to continue to rise in GDP into 2017. Taking the appropriate steps helped the Andorran economy recover.

Nick Katsos

Photo: Flickr

This week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled to Brussels, Belgium, in order to continue discussions of free trade with Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, leaders from the European Union. The discourse has been ongoing since 2013, but it has faced a number of roadblocks.

Abe has promised to proceed with a deal as soon as possible in hopes of strengthening Japan-EU relations, specifically in terms of political and economic cooperation.

Japan-EU relations have generally sustained good-natured bilateralism. Tokyo maintains strong business connections and investment ties in many EU member nations such as Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands. Additionally, Japan remains the EU’s sixth-largest trading partner, accounting for more than $133.7 billion in trade during the 2016 fiscal year alone.

Diplomatic Relationships Needed Now More Than Ever

The sense of urgency surrounding the dialogue of free trade has been catalyzed by Japan’s growing geopolitical instability. With the developing turmoil between North and South Korea and China’s regional dominance, Abe’s administration has prioritized stronger political relationships, specifically security ties, with its allies.

For this reason, one major point of contention in Japan-EU relations in the past has been with respect to the weight and significance of security dynamics within the relationship at large. Japan has maintained concern that Europe is inflexible when it comes to investing in a substantial militaristic and diplomatic presence in Asia.

This stipulation is of particular importance to the Abe administration as it would establish the EU’s commitment to a strategic and cooperative response to international violations — specifically, freedom of navigation as China continues to increase its control over the East and South China Seas.

Japan’s fear is that the European Union has not yet decided how it will balance its trade relations with China, while still being able to condemn the nation for its invasive activities in Southeast Asia.

Nonetheless, both leaders in Japan and the European Union agree that a free trade agreement is the most conducive approach to strengthened political and economic ties.

Overall, a free trade agreement promises to strengthen Japan-EU relations by increasing market access and lowering tariffs for both regions and improving Japan’s political influence in Europe.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr

Montserrat is a Caribbean island that is a part of the Lesser Antilles chain and a British Overseas Territory. Poverty in Montserrat reached its peak after numerous volcanic eruptions, resulting in significant damage to the south of the island and to social and economic structures. Drastic improvements have been made through grants, loans and support from the community, as the citizens of Montserrat rebuild areas of weakness and work to return to life before natural disasters struck. Here are five facts about poverty in Montserrat.

  1.  In 2009, children under 15 were reported as holding the highest poverty rate, accounting for more than a third of the disadvantaged population.
  2.  According to the Country Poverty Assessment Report in 2011, 36 percent of the population was classified as impoverished, and 25 percent of heads of households experienced inadequate housing.
  3.  In 2013, the EU distributed a $55.2 million aid package to Montserrat in order to boost the country’s economic recovery, with a specific focus on public finance management, public sector reform and economic management.
  4.  According to the CIA World Factbook in 2016, none of the population rested below the poverty line — a notable change in comparison to the country’s state in 1995, after the severe volcanic activity.
  5. As of 2017, poverty in Montserrat has decreased and the island has made commendable developmental progress as a whole, sitting above the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) average and ranked as an upper-middle-income country.

Despite the series of eruptions that impacted two-thirds of the tiny island, internal damage and the rate of poverty in Montserrat has improved immensely. Since the crisis, British taxpayers have invested large amounts of aid toward repair efforts for the island, which have taken the form of a new airport and housing for displaced residents in the region.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Croatia
Roughly one-fifth of the 4.2 million people in Croatia are currently living in poverty. As the country comes off of the heels of one of the worst financial crises in its history, the actions made now are vital to the reduction of poverty in Croatia for the immediate and long-term future.

As a member of the European Union (EU), Croatia is participating in the Europe 2020 strategy, which is directed at reducing the number of people living in conditions that are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Since the implementation of this strategy, the European Commission has given yearly, country-specific recommendations to Croatia, to ensure that progress to eliminating poverty in Croatia continues.

Protections for Vulnerable Groups

Croatia has taken internal steps to address these concerns as well. For example, the Strategy for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion in the Republic of Croatia 2014-2020, which recognizes population groups that are vulnerable to poverty, social exclusion and discrimination. These vulnerable groups include the elderly, single households, one-parent families, families with multiple children, children without adequate care, uneducated people, people with disabilities, war veterans, victims of war and ethnic minorities. The Ministry of Regional Development and European Union Funds, the Ministry of Social Policy and Youth and the Central Bureau of Statistics are working to acquire more evidence of how poverty is distributed geographically in Croatia.

This evidence-based information is then being utilized by the government of Croatia in the design of policies and fund allocations to promote inclusion and regional development.

While steps have been made towards poverty reduction, some, like Nino Zganec of the Croatian Anti-Poverty Network, believe that the Croatian government needs to do more. Zganec is calling for more social welfare laws and states that “social welfare should not be perceived as spending but as an investment in human capital.”

Croatia and the EU will, therefore, need to continue the progressive plans to reduce the amount of poverty in Croatia from the near 20 percent of the population under the line in 2016. It is crucial for the wellbeing of the citizens who are at risk of exclusion.

Dustin Jayroe

Photo: Flickr

Aid Boost Donations
The year 2016 proved a generous year for the European Union, as shown by its number of pledges toward ending humanitarian crises, particularly those related to the current unprecedented refugee crisis. Norway and Luxembourg were the leading European countries contributing to humanitarian aid in the past year, with the EU as a whole making a strong push in the last couple of months to boost aid for numerous crises.

As the Syrian refugee crisis continued to escalate in 2016, Europe ramped up support by addressing the problem head-on; the beginning of the year saw the EU allocate an additional €700 million in aid to combat this problem over the next three years. The commission maintains an annual budget of €1.1 billion for humanitarian aid.

In April 2016, the EU took another step by donating an additional €83 million to help the 50,000 refugees in Greece, the first time humanitarian aid was spent within the European Union itself.

Individual European countries contributing to humanitarian aid extended their assistance in addition to the EU’s donations. Switzerland announced the donation of an additional €2.7 million in April 2016 to address the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where more than 20 million people lack access to clean water. The contribution was used to provide emergency water, food, medication and hygiene products.

The end of 2016 saw an influx of additional aid from the EU. In December, the commission added €25 million in funding for the war-torn city of Mosul in northern Iraq. The contribution went to assist the more than 10 million Iraqis in need of aid as a result of the conflict between the Iraqi government and ISIS that has raged in the city since October 2016.

The EU has set the stage for a bright 2017 by announcing its increase in funding for educational aid in impoverished countries for the coming year. Raising the budget from four percent to six percent, the EU is now addressing one of the most underfunded issues facing those in emergency situations – education. More than 75 million children worldwide do not have access to education due to crises like forced displacement.

By the end of 2016, European countries had contributed a total of €21 billion to humanitarian aid, up from €20.9 billion in 2015. While the current refugee situation is expected to taper slightly, addressing issues of food, access to water, hygiene and education remain critical concerns for the European Union.

Emily Marshall

Photo: Flickr

Education in Tunisia
Commissioner Johannes Hahn of the European Union recently announced a 213.5-million-euro aid package for Tunisia aimed to support the newly established democracy and tackle some key socio-economic projects within the country.

Tunisia was the first country to have a regime change after the Arab Spring. Their democracy was established in 2011 and promptly after they drafted a constitution aimed at providing a more reliable and just form of government for years to come.

Their new constitution and government have been successful thus far but they have run into some economic woes. Ongoing instability in neighboring Libya and terrorist attacks in their own country have equated to a decline in their tourism industry which is vital to their economy.

The EU has been alongside the new Tunisian government since the establishment of the new democracy. From 2011 to 2016, the EU has provided 2 billion euros to assist with the government’s transition and plug any budgetary deficits that arose.

Much progress has been made but there is much more to do according to a recent EU Commission report. “Decisive action is needed to sustain the democratic transition as social discontent, especially among young people, continues to grow.”

The new aid package will support social infrastructure projects focused on education, healthcare, access to clean water and sanitation. Education in Tunisia stands to improve with this increased focus. The funds will be distributed to urban and rural schools that are most deprived of resources.

There will also be vocational job training that will be included in the school curriculum that is paired with local labor market needs. They will be trying a different method of schooling in which education in Tunisia becomes a vehicle for more effective job placement.

Since 2011, Tunisians have been participating in an EU program called Erasmas+ in which teachers and students have an opportunity to receive schooling and vocational training with participating organizations within the EU. The 2016 aid package will expand the eligible number of teachers and students in this program by 1500, adding further strength to education in Tunisia.

By providing stability for the government and increasing funding in education, the EU hopes to reduce the volatility in the Tunisian economy. Currently, 60 percent of Tunisian trade is with the EU and 70 percent of foreign investment is from EU countries. The EU commissioner believes that by adding stability to the Tunisian economy all parties involved will be positively affected.

According to the EU Commissioner, the long-term goal for Tunisia and the EU is to improve its national security. To date, Tunisia has sent more foreign fighters to ISIS than any other country in Europe or the Middle East. Also, with Libya on its southeast border, there are concerns that instability might spread to within their country. With this aid package, the EU hopes to make Tunisia less susceptible to national security risks that are common in the region.

Brian Faust

Photo: Flickr

EU-UNICEF Social Media Campaign: Education in Emergencies
In the face of today’s wars, natural disasters and other emergencies, nearly two million children in 20 countries have overcome adversity to continue their education. The EU and UNICEF launched a joint social media campaign called #EmergencyLessons to highlight the importance of maintaining education in emergencies.

The #EmergencyLessons campaign draws on inspirational stories from countries like Iraq, Ukraine, Nepal and Guinea to celebrate the resilience and strength of children who have braved severe hardships to pursue their education. Since its launch in May 2015, the campaign has reached 70 million people on Twitter alone.

To achieve its goal, #EmergencyLessons encourages students to upload photos, videos or testimonies of how a continued education has helped them through an emergency situation. In addition to reaching children affected by emergencies, the campaign hopes to inspire young Europeans to raise their voice on behalf of the young people whose education has been interrupted by emergencies.

“Here in Europe we tend to take school for granted, and forget what a vital part it is to children, especially when everything around them is collapsing,” says EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Styliandes.

According to UNICEF, a stable education is as important as food or medicine. Sustained access to education in emergencies enables young people to survive, thrive and contribute to the recovery of their society.

The stability of a school routine provides support from friends and teachers as well as protection from abuse, exploitation and recruitment by the armed forces. The #EmergencyLessons campaign seeks to highlight the support from friends and teachers that enable students to cope with hardship.

Of the 462 million school-aged children affected by emergencies, 75 million are in desperate need of educational support. However, less than two percent of the global humanitarian budget is allocated to education. The European Union is committed to financially backing its social media drive by increasing the EU humanitarian budget to education in emergencies to six percent in 2017.

A large amount of EU aid is going to benefit the Middle East region and those affected by the Syrian conflict in particular. The EU Regional Trust provided 90 million euros to support refugee and host country children who are struggling to access educational facilities or quality curriculum. By the end of 2017, 248,000 children in the region will receive some form of educational support from EU funds.

The #EmergencyLessons campaign is a powerful tool in raising awareness and inspiring efforts to protect children in emergencies. “Our message today is not that children need education even in emergencies, it’s that children need education especially in emergencies,” said Queen Rania of Jordan in 2013. Protecting education in emergencies ensures children are not lost in the effects of war or disaster and are empowered to contribute to their society and achieve prosperity.

McKenna Lux

Photo: Flickr

Anti-Refugee Sentiment
On October 2, Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary, held a nationwide referendum to address growing anti-refugee sentiment. Orban asked the question, “Do you want the European Union, even without the approval of the Hungarian parliament, to be able to prescribe the mandatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary?”

Resoundingly, 98 percent of voters backed the government’s opposition to the EU refugee acceptance quotas, even though Hungary would only have to accept 1,300 of the 160,000 refugees taken into consideration by the distribution plan. Although voter turnout was only around 43 percent, the rejection of refugees and belief in their inherent dangers is no anomaly.

Anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiment is spreading across Europe, especially in the wake of major terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris, Nice and the everyday acts of violence consistently occurring throughout Europe. Opposition to refugees also heavily fueled the Brexit vote.

Within the Visegrád Group, an alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, refusal to accept refugees is at its peak. The Czech Republic and Hungary have only accepted 520 and 146 refugees respectively in the last year, a drop in the ocean of millions needing asylum.

In 2015, Hungary also built a heavily guarded, razor wired fence along its southern border to control the flood of migrants into Hungary. Many have criticized the country for treating refugees “worse than wild animals;” some have even called for Hungary to be temporarily or permanently expelled from the EU for its behavior.

Even in more accepting countries like France and Germany, growing fear and misunderstanding have lead to more anti-refugee and anti-Muslim policies. More than 20 French mayors have refused to lift their bans on the “burkini,” a full body swimsuit worn mainly by Muslim women, even though the national court system has deemed the ban unconstitutional.

Even in Germany, the biggest proponent of refugee acceptance, anti-refugee sentiment has spread. After several regional elections went to the far-right, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, plans to take a step back from her heavily controversial open-door refugee policy.

Although the current situation for many refugees may seem bleak, the future may well be brighter. Even after several devastating attacks in France, French president Francois Hollande is still holding firmly to his open refugee acceptance policy. In Syria and Iraq, as well, the end seems to be near. After capturing Fallujah, allied forces have now moved on -to Raqqa, the ISIS capital, and Mosul. The U.S. and EU can now begin to rebuild infrastructure and resettle the remaining refugees.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Serbia
In recent years, poverty in Serbia affected astounding rates of unemployment despite reasonably high levels of development. The country faces unique geographic and economic difficulties that make poverty reduction especially difficult.

Top Six Facts about Poverty in Serbia:

  1. One in four people in Serbia lives below the poverty line, making it the poorest country in Europe. However, poverty statistics alone do little to illustrate Serbia’s complex problems that make destitution so prevalent. Many external and internal factors, some of which are uncontrollable, heavily contribute to poverty in Serbia.
  2. In 2014, Serbia’s population and economy took a massive hit. In May of that year, flooding caused serious damage within Serbia — many towns were destroyed and thousands of people displaced. The Serbian government estimated the total damage at 1.5 billion euros. The GDP growth rate decreased 4.4% to an alarming negative 1.8%. While those numbers have since begun to increase, there’s no getting around that such a devastating event will take years to recover from.
  3. The areas hit hardest by the natural disaster — small southern towns and rural regions — had the highest incidence of poverty before the flood. These areas are dependent on smallholder farming and often have less access to education than major cities. In 2014, the southeastern region of Serbia had poverty rates close to four times higher than those in Belgrade, the nation’s capital city.
  4. Unemployment remains a huge problem in Serbia, with a reported 1 in 5 people unemployed and half of the country’s youths jobless. The United Nation’s report suggests that much of the potential workforce is unequipped to participate in the economy due to a lack of education.
  5. Despite persistently high rates of corruption in the entire Balkan Peninsula, Freedom House has rated Serbia a highly democratic and free nation, which gives hope for the future. As a result of the improvements made by the government to encourage democracy and freedom, Serbia has begun negotiations to join the European Union. Membership to the E.U. is a major developmental goal for the Serbian coalition government.
  6. Even though Serbia recently faced a massive economic setback, The World Bank has a positive outlook for the nation’s economy. Likewise, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) sees the current government as demonstrating a strong commitment to economic transformation to eliminate poverty in Serbia.

These six facts about poverty in Serbia are not exhaustive, nor are they a tell-all of the conditions within the Balkan country. Even with relatively little aid from international groups and extremely costly natural disasters, Serbia has shown some real progress in recent political and economic development. Joining the E.U. may give the Serbian government the resources it needs to adequately address issues of poverty and unemployment.

John English

Photo: Flickr