Germany’s Recent FloodsFloods across Germany left hundreds dead and thousands displaced. The event not only caused mourning across the European continent but also created questions regarding Germany’s disaster response strategies. However, natural disasters like flooding do not occur often in the nation, so professionals believe that citizens will recover from Germany’s recent floods.

Flooding in Germany

During one week in July 2021, severe flooding occurred across Europe due to dangerous thunderstorms and rain. News sites and governments across the world stated that this natural disaster hit Germany the hardest. The country experienced nearly six inches of rain over 24 hours. Many call it the hundred-year flood. Of the 205 lives lost due to the flooding in Europe, 173 deaths occurred in Germany. Many of those people were located in the worst-hit Rhineland-Palatinate region.

While those missing are still being sought after, recovery teams state that they have little hope of finding any more survivors. However, professionals say that the death toll could have been worse. “The floods are very localized,” Dr. Andreas Sobisch, a John Carroll University political science professor from Germany, stated. “However, Germany does not often have these natural disasters. The floods are still a bit of a shock.”

The Response From German Officials

Germany’s recent floods put a halt to the country’s national electoral campaign for many candidates. Before the disaster, weather experts cautioned German authorities about the incoming rain and potential floods. However, the leaders chose to leave prevention and relief in the hands of local officials. Unfortunately, for many communities, there were no preventative actions. This led to heavy political discussions among the German populous. There are now discussions about what their current representatives will do for flooding in the future. According to AP News, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stated that many were using the disaster as a time for “cheap election rhetoric.”

Politicians like Angela Merkel are now looking to improve Germany’s disaster relief. She is promoting disaster-triggered phone alerts and improving the nation’s infrastructure altogether. Yet, political competitors are seeking to prevent catastrophes like this from ever occurring again. CNBC stated that those running in the upcoming election are using the floods to promote their campaigns against climate change. Multiple meteorologists claim that the floods were a result of global warming and that there needs to be an active battle against climate change.

How Citizens Are Impacted

Currently, thousands of people have been left without homes due to Germany’s recent floods and the number is only expected to climb. Rescue teams are still searching for the hundreds missing across the country while many citizens are left in shock.

However, on July 21, the German government passed a $472 million relief package for victims of the flood. The funds will be distributed soon. Local officials will oversee divvying out the money. The package is also meant to kickstart the rebuilding of some of Germany’s lost structures, including schools and hospitals.

Although many across the world expect Germany’s reconstruction to be costly, experts believe that recovery can be accomplished in a timely manner. On the note of recovery, Dr. Sobisch states that “Germany’s economy is the same if not better than the U.S.” and that “Germany will not be set back by these floods.”

How to Help Germany

Many organizations are currently working to aid the flood victims inside Germany. A few organizations are offering help, including the German Red Cross and the German Life Saving Association. The district of Rhineland-Palatinate also set up a direct donation program through bank transfers. Other districts followed suit with their donation information available via a search of the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance’s online directory.

Laken Kincaid
Photo: Unsplash

McDonalds Combats Global PovertyFounded in 1955, McDonald’s is one of the largest fast-food companies in the world. Renowned for its burgers and fries, McDonald’s currently offers a variety of food options in 118 different countries. As a result, the company operates more than 38,000 restaurants, employs millions of people and garners billions of dollars in revenue every year. Considering the fast-food giant’s worldwide presence, it is in a unique position to help impoverished communities around the world. Recognizing this, McDonald’s combats global poverty in several ways.

5 Ways McDonald’s Combats Global Poverty

  1. McDonald’s is one of the top employers in the world. According to Forbes, McDonald’s currently employs more than 1.9 million people worldwide. The only employers that outrank McDonald’s are the U.S. Department of Defense (3.2 million employees), China’s People’s Liberation Army (2.3 million employees) and Walmart (2.1 million employees). McDonald’s gives people around the world an opportunity to earn a living, work toward advancement opportunities and escape poverty.
  2. McDonald’s prioritizes employee education and advancement. In 2018, Mcdonald’s expanded its Archways to Opportunity program, an education initiative available to “restaurant employees in 25 countries.” The program allows employees “the opportunity to graduate from college, earn a high school diploma, learn English as a second language, complete an apprenticeship and gain access to advising services.” In Australia alone, more than 48,000 certifications have been awarded as of April 30, 2021.
  3. McDonald’s joined the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. Along with several other companies, McDonald’s supports the European Alliance for Apprenticeship’s mission to “improve access to vocational training” throughout Europe. Apprenticeships are important because they allow young people to acquire practical job experience and on-the-job skills to increase their chances of employment. Overall, in Europe, McDonald’s and other companies committed “to offer 45,000 apprenticeships by 2025.” These apprenticeships will take place in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the U.K.
  4. McDonald’s supports Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC). RMHC is a nonprofit organization that “creates, finds and supports programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children and their families.” RMHC runs 260 Chapters in 62 nations around the world. These programs assist families with ill children by providing free accommodation near the medical center so that families can afford to be present while their child receives medical care. Additionally, the nonprofit organization Meals From The Heart works closely with McDonald’s and RMHC to provide families with freshly cooked meals during their stay. Overall, RMHC aims to offer a housing option to families experiencing financial hardship due to child medical bills.
  5. McDonald’s donated food during the COVID-19 pandemic. McDonald’s partnered with organizations, including Food Donation Connection and the Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), to donate food surpluses to families in need around the world. For example, McDonald’s donated eggs, bread and milk to struggling families in Ireland, England, Germany and Italy. Additionally, McDonald’s donated 250,000 pounds worth of food to Canadian food banks and NGOs. The company also gave thousands of liters of milk to migrant workers in Singapore.

A Significant Impact

Overall, McDonald’s combats global poverty by financing and supporting education, housing and food aid programs around the world. Despite economic and financial challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s support for communities abroad never weaned. McDonald’s continues to have a significant impact around the world by combating global poverty and helping those in need.

– Chloe Young
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in GermanyFrom 2006 to 2016, elderly poverty in Germany (people older than 55 years old) increased from 4.5 to 5.6 million people. According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the percentage of people who face poverty while receiving retirement money could increase from 16.8% to 21.6% by 2039. In other words, one in five German pensioners could face impoverished conditions by 2039. Germany intends to combat elderly poverty with a basic pension plan.

Elderly Poverty in Germany

People who receive “less than 60%” of their average working salary from their retirement funds are currently considered at risk of facing poverty. This equals a monthly retirement income of less than €905 or $997. The percentage of people depending on other financial government assistance may also rise from 9% to 12% by 2039. These people would have monthly retirement incomes of no more than €777.

3 Main Pension Systems

A German pensioner can choose from three main pension systems. The German pension apparatus consists of a “pay-as-you-go system,” which is combined with other supplemental plans. The supplemental pension plans intend to provide funds in addition to the state pension that pensioners already receive.

  1. State Pension. This pension plans awards about 70% of net income to people older than 65 who have been working in Germany for at least five years. Enrollment in the state pension plan is mandatory for everyone working in Germany.
  2. Company Pension. The company pension plan is a plan workers can monetarily contribute to via the employer. The plan intends to augment the state pension plan and has become the most popular retirement plan in Germany.
  3. Private Retirement Scheme. This plan is established through insurance organizations and banks. The German government promotes these plans through tax incentives and bonus benefits.

Despite the three main pension plans that Germany has implemented, those working for a lifetime in Germany still struggle to make ends meet after retiring. This is especially relevant for those employed in low-earning careers.

The Basic Pension Plan

Since the amount of state pension given to a pensioner depends on their net income, those who participated in low-earning jobs are at increased risk of facing poverty. To address this, Germany recently decided to implement a new basic pension plan, which ensures that those who have been working in Germany for a significant amount of time will receive a basic amount of pension.

In January 2021, the German federal government enacted the basic pension plan to combat elderly poverty in Germany. This plan guarantees that individuals who have contributed to the German state pension system for a minimum of 35 years receive a basic pension in addition to their original state pension. The additional basic pension ensures that the pensioner has enough money to pay for fundamental necessities. No application is necessary as the government utilizes an automatic system for these basic pension benefits.

According to German legislator Malu Dreyer, more than 1.4 million people will benefit from the basic pension plan. Furthermore, a significant portion of women will benefit from the plan as four out of five beneficiaries will be women. The plan also rewards those who took time off work for familial caretaking as long as their total employment time meets the minimum requirements.

Looking to the Future

In hopes of decreasing elderly poverty rates, Germany implemented the basic pension plan, which aims to provide its low-earning citizens with enough funds to secure their basic needs after retiring. The state pension only provides the pensioner with 70% of their net income, which can be problematic for citizens who spent their lives working in low-paying positions.

The German government estimates that the plan will benefit more than 1.4 million people, providing hope that more than a million elderly citizens will not live the remaining years of their lives in poverty. Overall, the German government presents a clear path ahead for combating elderly poverty in Germany.

Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

gender wage gap in germanyData from May 2019 indicates that German women receive an average of 21% less wages than German men. Germany holds one of the largest gender pay gaps in the European Union, a gap that has since widened due to COVID-19.  As a consequence of the gender wage gap in Germany, German women endure poverty at a higher rate than German men. However, recent policies, lawmaking proposals and continued strong stimulus provide hope and solutions for a future of gender equality within Germany’s workforce.

The Gender Wage Gap in Germany

Despite the presence of Germany’s long-standing female chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the country’s overall reputation of upholding socially progressive policies, Germany holds the third-largest pay gap in the European Union as of 2017, ranking just behind Estonia and the Czech Republic. As of March 15, 2019, for every two lawmakers in Germany’s parliament, there exists only one female.

These pay gap inequalities force German women into poverty at a rate disproportional to men in Germany, much like the rest of the world. According to the European Union’s statistics office, 7.1 million German women faced poverty in 2017 compared to 6.1 million men. Furthermore, German women face a 16.6% risk of falling into poverty compared to a 15.2% risk for men, according to a 2021 report.

The correlation of a gender pay gap and poverty exists on an international scale as well. On September 14, 2020, the U.N. reported a global gender pay gap of 16%, meaning that female employees earn 84% of the amount their male equivalents earn globally. The global gender wage gap is especially divisive for women of color, immigrant women and mothers.

COVID-19 and Pay Inequality

According to a U.N. estimate on September 2, 2020, the U.N. expects the poverty rate for women to increase by  9.1% due to COVID-19. Germany is no exception to this global prediction. According to a Reuters report from May 14, 2020, 27% of women in Germany have had to reduce their working hours for child care purposes. In contrast, this percentage is more than the reported 16% of men (in households with at least one child younger than 14) who had to cut their working hours.

In addition, Reuters reports that this disparity is more likely in households with low or medium incomes rather than higher incomes. According to a BBC poll, German women reported facing higher financial impacts of COVID-19 than men. Roughly 32% of German women reported experiencing financial impacts of the novel coronavirus compared with 24% of men.

Closing the Gap

As the gender wage gap increases with the effects of COVID-19 both across the world and throughout Germany, hope comes in the form of advocacy, legislation and awareness. On March 4, 2021, the European Union proposed a law to compel companies to close gender pay gaps. The law also allows candidates access to salary information during interviews.

The law goes as far as imposing possible sanctions on companies that fail to comply. Under this proposed law, women employees can challenge employers when not equally compensated. The challenges then go through independent monitors with the goal to seek proper payment or treatment of all female employees.

Germany’s Successes

Additionally, Germany’s consistent social stimulus throughout 2020 and into 2021 provided great economic protections for the country as a whole. Germany excels in stimulus protections and aid when compared to the majority of the world. According to The New York Times, when the primary jobholder in a family of two parents and two children loses a job in the United States, the family retains 28% of their previous income. Contrastingly, the same family would maintain 75% of their income in Germany. The New York Times describes this as a “reflection of the country’s far more generous social safety net,” listing this outcome as one of the many benefits of strong, continued economic stimulus.

Overall, while Germany continues to combat the gender pay gap as an increasing number of women and girls enter poverty due to COVID-19, recent policies surrounding transparency, accountability and fiscal stimulus in the workforce provide much hope for the future.

Lillian Ellis
Photo: Flickr

SDG 14 in Germany
Germany is aiming to fulfill Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Life Below Water while also strengthening its maritime economy. The country passed an agenda that aims to bolster the industry and simultaneously provide clean energy throughout national and international waters by 2025. While aquaculture remains a small component of Germany’s maritime sector, the country is hoping to incorporate clean, sustainable energy tactics and preserve quality maritime food production. Here are some updates on SDG 14 in Germany.

About the Sustainable Development Goals

The month of June 2021 served as the focal point for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 13: Climate Action; 14: Life Below Water; and 15: Life on Land. Germany is one of many countries dedicating its resources and research to fulfilling the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda. Adopted by all U.N. Member States in 2015, it includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for each state to reach by 2030.

Germany’s focus is on SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being; SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production; and SDGs 13, 14 and 15. SDG 14 calls upon countries to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, countries’ efforts to complete SDG 14 did not diminish. According to the U.N., the ocean can be an ally against COVID-19, as marine life – such as bacteria – are useful in detecting the presence of the virus through rapid tests. Organisms in the ocean are also an asset to pharmaceutical companies when developing vaccines and immunizations.

Updates on SDG 14 in Germany in 2021

Surprisingly, only 10% of the German population had knowledge of the SDGs in 2018, according to the European Environmental Agency. The country needed public support from the population to complete the environmental SDGs, including SDG 14. The German federal government created a campaign to draw attention to the goals and outline the importance of sustainable energy in Germany, particularly in the maritime sector.

The government also created the German Sustainable Development Strategy in 2016 to match the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda, which tracks the country’s progress in completing SDG 13, 14 and 15, specifically. The Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development launched plans for marine conservation and sustainable fisheries with an allocation of over €180 million and also created MAREN, a federal research and development program. The “N” stands for Nachhaltigkeit (sustainability).

Currently, Germany’s overall score for all the SDGs is 82.5, compared to the regional average of 77.2. However, the country is below 75% for achieving SDG 12, 13 and 14. The country is facing significant challenges to achieve SDG 14 but is moderately improving as time goes on.

The United Nations reported that in 2020, the mean protected area coverage for marine life sat at 44% globally. As of February 2021, Germany reported a protection rate of 69.4% regarding the country’s areas important to marine life biodiversity. A member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Germany holds an international spillover index of 60.4, almost 10 points behind the 70.1 average for OECD members.

How Germany is Improving in Regard to SDG 14

Among the six indicators for SDG 14, Germany is improving in two areas. The amount of fish that fishermen caught from overexploited or collapsed stocks – 46.6% as of 2014 – remains a significant challenge for the country, despite Germany’s progress towards achieving SDG 14. Fishing by trawling or dredging (21.3 as of 2016) is a slight challenge, but also is improving at an SDG-approved rate.

Germany’s most significant challenge is achieving a clean waters score in the Ocean Health Index. The index measures to what degree chemicals, human pathogens and trash contaminated marine waters. The country’s score is 51.0, with 0 being the worst and 100 being the best.

According to a 2020 report from the Ocean Health Index, the decrease in Germany’s score comes from three areas: Clean Water, Food Provisions and Fisheries (a subgroup of Food Provisions). While Germany is not one of the top 10 countries for fish provisions and aquaculture, these three areas directly correspond to the success of Germany’s maritime industry.

The Situation in Bremen

Bremen is one of Germany’s forefront maritime cities, with a long history of shipbuilding companies and suppliers. It is the second-largest port in Germany and is important to the job industry. In 2019, Bremen was home to 1,300 companies and at least 40,000 employees. Bremen’s ports make up 30% of the region’s economy.

In the same year, Bremen had the highest poverty risk rates in Germany, sitting at 22.7%, compared to Bayern, which had a poverty risk rate of 11.7%, and Berlin, with a rate of 18.2%. In 2020, Bremen’s percentage increased to 24.9%. According to Deutsche Welle, in 2017, one in every four adults and one in every three children in Bremen were poor. Bremen has experienced significant unemployment. In fact, it had a 5.1% unemployment rate in 2019. Improving the maritime industry with SDG 14 efforts could lower the poverty risk in maritime cities such as Bremen, by providing jobs and boosting the economy as a whole.

How the Maritime Industry is Important to the German Economy

Strengthening Germany’s maritime economy is vital to the country’s success. Estimates from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy have placed an annual turnover at €50 billion and 400,000 jobs. The Ministry is researching effective methods to improve the maritime sector while also adhering to efforts towards sustainable energy, mitigating environmental challenges, creating jobs and protecting the global environment.

In 2017, Germany’s Federal Cabinet approved the Maritime Agenda 2025, dedicated to turning the country into a maritime hub. The agenda placed emphasis on sustainability. The federal government will set aside funding for clean energy fuel sources and ship propulsion systems. The agenda also calls upon the international system to develop environmental standards similar to that of the SDGs. Area of action four of the agenda focuses on shaping maritime transport sustainability. In 2013, the federal government presented options for alternative fuels and new, energy-saving technologies that can support those fuels.

Wind Energy

One of the options includes wind power. As of June 7, 2021, Germany plans to expand offshore wind power in the Baltic and North Seas, particularly along with Dogger Bank, which sits in the middle of the North Sea. Building offshore wind turbines is a significant step in Germany’s progress toward reaching SDG 14 and its Maritime Agenda 2025. Using sea winds as a renewable energy source was the last of the new alternative technologies that emerged as part of the environmental plan for sustainable energy in Germany.

Various environmental groups raised concerns about how the introduction of turbines on the Dogger Bank will affect marine life and fisheries in the area. Germany created co-use options that will both provide sustainable energy for Germany and allow fish to pass through fish traps, baskets and nets. By 2030, one area in both the Baltic and North Seas undergo designation as a priority area for wind energy.

German wind farms in the North Sea have already safely produced more electricity than in years prior. It is clear that progress in creating sustainable energy in Germany is moving in a positive direction, bringing the country closer to achieving its goal of reaching SDG 14 in Germany.

– Rachel Schilke
Photo: Flickr

Social inequality in GermanyResearch shows that levels of social inequality in Germany could increase COVID-19 transmission rates among people experiencing poor living and working conditions. Evidence does not conclusively determine that poverty directly causes Germany’s COVID-19 cases. However, it is apparent to scientists and medical professionals that a large number of COVID-19 patients come from low socioeconomic standing. In 2015, 2.8 million German children were at risk of poverty. The influx of migrants flowing into Germany has also increased rates of poverty in Germany.

Poverty and COVID-19

According to the CIA World Factbook, 14.8% of the German population lives below the poverty line as of June 2021. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the North Rhine-Westphalia area has the highest number of COVID-19 cases. The area is home to Gelsenkirchen, the most impoverished German city based on a 2019 report by the Hans Böckler Foundation.

Risks of Overcrowding

Overcrowded living areas are more susceptible to airborne illnesses, medical sociologist Nico Dragono said in an interview with The Borgen Project. In 2019, 8% of Germans lived in overcrowded dwellings, meaning there were fewer rooms compared to inhabitants. This percentage has increased in recent years, according to Statistisches Bundesamt (German Federal Office of Statistics).

In November 2020, statistics showed that 12.7% of the population residing in cities lived in overcrowded dwellings. Comparatively, 5.5% reside in small cities or suburbs and 4% reside in rural areas. Dragono says that social inequality in Germany plays a significant role in the spread of disease across the country’s large cities. This especially impacts those living in close proximity to others. “Infections clustered in the areas of the city where the poor live because there simply was no space,” Dragono says. He says further that with many people living in one household, traveling to school, work and other places holds an increased risk of bringing infections into the home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated on February 26, 2021, that COVID-19 is transferable through respiratory droplets from people within close proximity of each other. This puts those in poverty at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Those living in areas such as refugee camps and impoverished neighborhoods are especially vulnerable. Therefore, social inequality in Germany may contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

Migrants Potentially at Higher Risk

Dragono says that, unlike the United States, Germany does not document patients’ ethnicities. In other words, Germany cannot collect the demographics of who contracts COVID-19. He said it appears the association between COVID-19 and social inequality in Germany is universal for migrants and non-migrants. However, many hospitals across Germany reported that close to 90% of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit have an immigrant background, according to Deutsche Welle.

“Migrants are more often poor because they do many of the bad jobs,” Dragono says. There are indications that COVID-19 is more prevalent in the areas inhabited by migrants. “Migrant workers, as they grow older, many have diseases, because in general, they are doing hard work… so their hospitalization rates could be a bit higher.” Dragono says Germans’ social status and income determine how much access they have to quality resources. It is easier for upper-class citizens to purchase masks and use personal travel and they do not have to rely on public transportation or low-quality protective gear.

On June 5, 2021, the German health ministry came under fire regarding a report that dictated its plan to dispose of unusable face masks by giving them to impoverished populations. However, the health ministry released a statement that all of its masks are high quality and receive thorough testing. Any defective masks are put into storage.

Assistance From Caritas Germany

As the virus continues to spread, many organizations are extending assistance to disadvantaged citizens in Germany. Some services translate COVID-19 information into migrants’ languages or modify other services to fit COVID-19 guidelines. Caritas Germany, one of the largest German welfare organizations, typically operates childcare services, homeless shelters and counseling for migrants.

To comply with COVID-19, Caritas began offering online services such as therapy and counseling. The organization also travels to low-income areas and focuses on providing personal protective equipment to those working with the elderly. Many Caritas volunteers use technology to maintain distance while also maintaining communication with patients. Since the beginning of the pandemic, hundreds of volunteers have trained in online counseling.

However, Dragono says that while the country has systems in place to avoid broadening the poverty gap, the serious implications of COVID-19 on social inequality in Germany are yet to emerge. Fortunately, organizations are committed to mitigating some of the impacts of COVID-19 on disadvantaged people in Germany.

– Rachel Schilke
Photo: Unsplash

Tajikistan’s Response to COVID-19In February 2020, many countries arranged a summit to discuss how they would assist countries with weaker health care systems due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19 was one of the topics at the summit.

Tajikistan, a small country in Central Asia, is regarded by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the most impoverished countries. Primarily private out-of-pocket deals run the country’s health care system. According to the WHO, this process undermines the system’s ability to grow in equity, efficiency and quality.

Combating COVID-19

Tajikistan was one of the first countries to receive COVID-19 support. In April 2020,  the World Bank provided emergency relief to Tajikistan, along with aid from various other countries. The World Bank said that it is a continuous goal to strengthen Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19 by improving its health care system.

On June 7, 2020, Tajikistan received emergency medical teams (EMTs) and mobile laboratories from Poland, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. After this support, the country began to see an increase in COVID-19 contact tracing, testing and optimization of patient care. The EMTs gave Tajikistani health care workers advice on how to handle severe COVID-19 cases.

Tajikistan enacted a national COVID-19 laboratory upscale plan, and with help from international aid, the Tajikistan government established a Public Emergency Operations Center. On July 22, 2020, Russian lab experts arrived in the Central Asian country to help strengthen its data management system. Now, Tajikistan is seeing an increase in testing and staff capacity.

In addition, USAID donated $7.17 million to the Tajikistan government. Tajikistan used the funding to support migrants that traveled into the country. The country is also buying new, life-saving equipment and medical supplies. In April 2020, the USAID and other American organizations sent 58,620 kilograms of food to more than 100 health and social welfare institutions. These donations totaled approximately $171,000.

Further, the World Bank allocated $11.3 million to a grant for the Tajikistan Emergency COVID-19 Project. The project works to improve healthcare for Tajikistan’s citizens, sending funds to impoverished households and informing the public on COVID-19 safety measures.

Hope for Tajikistan

The Intensive Care Unit in Varzob, Tajikistan, was one of 10 hospitals chosen for refurbishment with funding from the World Bank. The hospital received upgraded medical equipment and supplies to strengthen Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19The Tajikistan hospital can now serve all district citizens instead of only private out-of-pocket citizens.

Several hospitals throughout Tajikistan received batches of medical equipment. Donations included 68 ICU ventilators, 68 ICU beds with patient monitors and 400,000 pieces of personal protective equipment.

According to the World Bank, 41% of Tajikistani households reported that they had to reduce food consumption, while 20% of families could not afford health care. With international funds, the Tajikistan government sent out one-time cash payments of 500 somonis to approximately 65,000 low-income families with children less than three years old.

In February 2021, Tajikistan received a grant for COVID-19 vaccines and to increase the oxygen supply in 15 of the country’s hospitals. Most of the funding went to Tajikistani patients suffering from COVID-19 to receive top-of-the-line care. Subsequently, the remaining grant money provided one-time cash assistance to an additional 70,000 poor households.

Future of Tajikistan

On June 16, 2021, the Asian Development Bank approved a grant of $25 million to strengthening Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19. This grant helped the country procure COVID-19 vaccines and improve its vaccination system. On the same date, Tajikistan created a goal to vaccinate about 62% of its population. This grant is one of many that allowed the country to strengthen its supply of medical equipment and care for the maximum number of high-risk COVID-19 patients.

As of July 9, 2021, Tajikistan has vaccinated 1.2% of the population, administering 223,648 doses. With help from international aid, the country is giving out approximately 9,273 doses each day. It will take more than 200 days to vaccinate 10% of the population, but Tajikistan is steadily recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Rachel Schilke
Photo: Flickr

Germany's Supply Chain Law
On March 3, 2021, the German cabinet proposed a supply chain law (Lieferkettengesetz) obliging companies active in Germany to ensure that their entire supply chain meets human rights standards. Under the National Action Plan (Nationaler Aktionsplan), Germany has promoted human rights among companies since 2016, but a study in 2020 found that only 22% of responding firms had undertaken the recommended measures. Under this plan, modeled on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the German government agreed to consider imposing a mandatory due diligence law if fewer than half of German firms satisfied the human rights monitoring criteria.

Although the cabinet had planned to present a draft of the law in March 2020, Peter Altmeier, the Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, held up the proceedings. On February 2021, the two ministers driving the law announced that they reached a consensus with Altmeier. Hubertus Heil, Minister for Development Co-Operation, and Gerd Müller, Minister for Labor and Social Affairs, both pushed for more impactful human rights protection, while Altmeier was adamant about safeguarding German economic competitiveness.

What Germany’s Supply Chain Law Imposes

Germany’s supply chain law requires firms active in Germany to perform various due diligence procedures in order to monitor, prevent and ameliorate potential human rights abuses in their supply chains. In its current form, the law would come into effect in 2023 and in its first year only apply to the 600 largest companies, all with more than 3,000 employees. After the first year, it would apply to a further 2,900 companies, all with more than 1,000 employees. By 2026, the government or a contracted body will carry out an evaluation of the law’s effectiveness and, if necessary, provide ideas for improvement.

For suppliers with whom they have a contractual relationship, companies have to set up a risk management system, conduct regular risk analyses and take action against known human rights breaches. They also have to establish a procedure through which to hear complaints. For example, people working in unsafe conditions can theoretically voice their situation through this channel. That being said, many of these people are often not aware of their right to do so, nor are many of them able to navigate the German legal system. To overcome this problem, Germany’s supply chain law grants civil society organizations the power to file lawsuits on behalf of these mistreated workers.

Remaining Problems of the Draft

For suppliers they do not have direct contact with, companies only have to perform risk analyses if they are aware of a potential human rights breach. If, for example, Amnesty International publishes information about human rights abuses in Congolese mines that supply electric car batteries for Volkswagen, then the law requires Volkswagen to conduct a risk analysis.

However, as this demonstrates, companies have less monitoring responsibility for more removed suppliers. Many non-governmental organizations argue that this provides too little protection for the mining industry. Moreover, many direct suppliers of the largest German companies are already located in Germany, potentially limiting the law’s impact abroad.

How Germany’s Supply Chain Law Monitors and Enforces Compliance

The German Federal Bureau for the Economy and Export Control (Bundesamt für Wirtschaft und Ausfuhrkontrolle) will monitor whether companies are complying with Germany’s supply chain law. Companies judged to fall short of what the law demands will face fines and sanctions. Fines will not exceed 8 million euros or 2% of annual revenue for companies with annual revenue of over 400 million euros. If a company receives a fine of more than 175,000 euros, it also cannot compete for public procurement contracts for three years.

Aside from these punitive measures, the law also requires companies to hire or designate an employee who is responsible for evaluating whether the company is abiding by the law or not. The company’s leadership, whatever form it may take, must regularly meet with this employee.

Next Steps

In April 2021, Germany’s supply chain law will enter into discussion in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower chamber of parliament. Non-governmental organizations are trying to galvanize public support in order to convince or pressure parliament into making the law more comprehensive and stringent. In addition to arguing that the restriction to direct suppliers makes the law too small in scope, they have criticized that companies face neither civil nor criminal liability.

Whether they will successfully strengthen Germany’s supply chain law is too early to say. However, the government aims to approve the law before Germany’s elections in September 2021. By then, the extent and potential impact of Germany’s supply chain law on global human rights will be clearer. For now, it is a promising and hopeful, yet somewhat restrained, step in the right direction.

– Alex Vanezis
Photo: Flickr

Germany During COVIDCOVID-19 forced Germany to adapt to a new reality as it heavily impacted poverty, unemployment and inequality rates. NGO coalitions are supporting Germany during COVID-19 by providing relief sources for vulnerable individuals and children. On December 16, 2020, Germany initiated a COVID-19 lockdown that received an extension until March 7 to keep citizens safe from new COVID-19 variants. As Germany had suffered approximately 3.4 million cases and 3.1 million recoveries by May 5, 2021, the country has needed to adapt to a new reality during 2020. Government and NGO support formed the backbone for this transition.

Caritas Germany Association

Caritas Germany is a Catholic Welfare Charity Association that pioneered Catholic charity work in Germany since 1897. Recently, the association integrated safe volunteering methods while maintaining services in Caritas hospitals, elderly care facilities and other centers. It even created online services to train people as online counselors as part of a COVID-19 strategy to support Germany.

Approximately 693,082 people work with the association to support 13 million beneficiaries. To maintain contact with everyone during COVID-19, Caritas Germany utilized the Youngcaritas volunteer platform to teach people how to use digital devices through remote tutorials. Caritas Germany’s Press Spokeswoman, Mathilde Langendorf, talked with The Borgen Project. She explained that “our big aim is that no one falls through, that we continue to be able to reach out to people.”

Caritas’ counseling services received an “enormous boost from the pandemic,” making its aim even more crucial. The coalition trained thousands in counseling online during the first year of COVID-19. Langendorf described how 3,000 new people sought help every month on Caritas Germany’s online counseling platform in 2020. The platform even initiated two new counseling topics, regarding young adults and migration, in addition to the 15 already available.

In December 2020, Caritas Germany received 750,000 euros from the Generali insurance company. Langendorf told The Borgen Project that the funds will go toward approximately “21 [COVID-19] projects in 12 locations.” The projects range from training people to use digital tools to help families cope with the challenges of homeschooling.

The Association for Development Aid and Humanitarian Aid (VENRO)

The VENRO Germany coalition represents and advocates for the interests of 140 NGOs while strengthening NGO engagement in the field of development cooperation and humanitarian aid. VENRO’s 2017 to 2022 strategy focuses on protecting human rights, reducing poverty and conserving natural resources. Managing Director, Heike Spielmans, told The Borgen Project that VENRO Germany’s members include “almost all major German NGOs in this field.”

The coalition advocated for decreasing the value of government grants that NGOs have to match with their own funds from 25% to 10%. Spielman’s described how the coalition anticipates progress in a campaign “focused on a supply chain law to make companies take responsibility for their production and sourcing overseas with regard to human rights and environmental protection” before national elections in September 2021.

Government Policies Supporting Germany During COVID-19

A 2017 project authorized by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) was still in progress when COVID-19 hit. The project seeks to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 10 from the UN Agenda 2030, where no one is left behind. To continue this work, authorities implemented tax and unemployment schemes for vulnerable populations as companies reduced hours and even closed. Germany passed a bill in March 2020 prohibiting landlords from terminating leases or evicting tenants for unpaid rent. The bill also provides rent extensions until June 30, 2022.

On February 12, 2021, Germany’s Federal Government expanded the Bridging Aid II into the Bridging Aid III and Restart Help application portal for companies of all sizes to provide a restart grant of up to 7,500 euros until June 30, 2021. Businesses and self-employed individuals can apply for monthly assistance of up to 1.5 million euros.

Beyond the in-country support, Germany’s government also increased its 2020 humanitarian assistance in Venezuela in a virtual donor conference in May 2020. It promises to increase its contributions by 4 million euros, bringing the total to over 50 million. Germany also seeks to aid refugees. As its refugee cap decreased from 5,500 to 1,178 refugees in 2020, Germany is working to migrate the remaining refugees in 2021.

A Look Ahead

Germany’s government and NGOs stepped up to support Germany during COVID-19’s debilitating effects. Yet another example is how the German Parity Welfare Association, which represents 10,000 NGO organizations, transferred member seminars and workshops online to introduce NGO members to topics ranging from protecting child rights to digitizing work processes during COVID-19. Another NGO, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Germany, is helping German NGOs acquire laptops for beneficiary employment support, PPE and vaccinations. With so many organizations willing to help those in need, Germany can be optimistic about its future.

– Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Refugees' Integration
Integration happens in the workplace, neighborhoods, schools and public spaces. However, problems can appear when many people enter a host state in the same period of time when they have different cultural and religious backgrounds. The European migration crisis is an example of this when a high flow of asylum seekers and migrants arrived in Europe in a short span of time. Syrian refugees’ integration presents Germany with some significant challenges.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

To clearly understand migration, it is essential to study terminologies. There are significant differences between the terms “asylum seeker” and “refugee.” An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. In the E.U. context, “asylum seeker is a third-country national or stateless person who has made an application for protection under the Geneva Refugee Convention and Protocol in respect of which a final decision has not yet been taken.”

Meanwhile, refugees are “people who have successfully applied for asylum and have been granted a formal refugee status according to the Geneva Convention of 1951 (GCR) or due to authorizations to stay for humanitarian reasons due to specific national legislation.” In 2015, Europe nearly received 1.3 million asylum applications and almost one-in-five asylum seekers came from non-European countries. The leading origin countries of the asylum seekers were Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Asylum seekers from Syria numbered 378,000 (29% of all Europe’s asylum seekers).

The Flow of Refugees into Germany

The pull factors for asylum seekers are safety and security but they take economic factors into consideration as well. Better economic opportunities make the E.U. an attractive destination among asylum seekers. They risk their life to use dangerous and sometimes deadly routes to reach Europe. As a member state of the E.U., Germany was the essential destination country for asylum seekers. In 2015 and 2016, 1.2 million asylum seekers registered in Germany of which Syrian nationals were the leading group of origin of asylum seekers. In total, 424,907 Syrian refugees applied for asylum in 2015 and 2016.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy is the fundamental reason Germany is a top destination among asylum seekers. In 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during her speech at the Federal Press Conference, announced emphatically, “Wir schaffen das,” meaning “We can do it,” effectively committing to a permissive asylum policy. Several days later, she stressed that there is no legal limit to the number of asylum seekers that Germany will try to accept from Syria. After permitting a significant number of Syrian refugees to enter Germany, integration became the main goal.

The German Integration Model

In Germany, there are several numbers of different stakeholders involved in the integration process of asylum seekers and refugees. The recognized refugees can participate in the labor market. The federal authorities of the country are responsible for implementing a legal structure for the integration mechanism. They also control language courses and access to the labor market.

The municipalities have a crucial role in the integration process and must implement federal or regional legislation. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF) is responsible for evolving asylum applications and the execution of general and vocational language courses for refugees. Local education schools carry out the language courses, and in most cases, adult education centers or language courses are responsible for the courses. Furthermore, The Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ control, assists asylum seekers and refugees in developing their skills and finding jobs.

Legislation for Migrants

Since late 2014, the German government enforced several new integration policies and changes that aimed to ease the integration of refugees and asylum seekers. In 2016, the new Integration Act emerged to promote mandatory participation in language training and civic orientation. Also, the hours of orientation courses increased from 60 to 100 hours. Still, the structure of language courses remained the same. Under the Integration Act, the condition of receiving permanent residence permits depends on the outcomes of integration. Refugees can obtain permanent residence cards after five years and they should reach the A2 level in German and ensure that they can finance their means of subsistence. Moreover, since January 2016, the government monthly pays was 670 euros per asylum seeker.

The responses of the German government still show room for improvement for better integration of refugees. Nonetheless, the fact that Germany has allowed so many asylum seekers access to it may have helped prevent catastrophe. At the same time, Germany’s new integration policies are helping Syrian refugees obtain better opportunities.

– Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr