Human Trafficking in Iceland
Despite being ranked the third happiest country in the world, human trafficking in Iceland has been a prevalent issue for the past decade. The U.S. Department of State categorizes the severity of human trafficking in a country based on the actions the country takes to combat the issue. Tier 1 is the best, tier 2 shows a major problem within the country with some improvements made by the government and tier 3 cites the country as completely inefficient in stopping trafficking. Iceland is ranked as a tier 2 country.

Recent Government Progress

The Government of Iceland is making significant progress in fighting human trafficking by identifying victims and cases and creating a centralized information base. Despite these measures, the government did not meet the minimum standards for being a tier 1 country due to prosecutions in which traffickers obtained charges under non-trafficking statutes and therefore did not face their full punishment. 

In 2020, police investigated 22 cases of human trafficking in Iceland, a stark contrast to the five investigations in 2019. In the same year, Iceland adopted a plan of action focused on preventing human trafficking by providing services for victims and increasing funding for police departments. The plan is gaining more funding each year, some of which goes to educational campaigns informing the public about trafficking scenarios and how to stay out of them.

Targets of Trafficking

According to the 2021 report on human trafficking in Iceland, many cases involve the use of female tourists for prostitution. This pattern continues as women living in Iceland for temporary work are at risk of becoming trafficking victims for the purpose of labor. Traffickers will pay women in their home countries to work in Iceland for 183 days to avoid taxes. In addition to prostitution, the labor can involve various hands-on jobs that are worth a salary far more than what the traffickers pay.

Many trafficking cases in Iceland happen in “champagne clubs” in the country’s capital, Reykjavik. In 2010, in an effort to fight human trafficking, the Icelandic government banned strip clubs unless police strictly supervised them. Despite this change, prostitution is still rampant throughout the clubs. The women not only work in prostitution within these facilities but they also work at busy hotels filled with tourists so that they can lead foreigners to the club to become trafficking victims themselves. In 2021, the government identified eight sex trafficking cases that it determined to be from “champagne clubs.”

Women’s Safe Shelter

Created in 1982, the Women’s Safe Shelter, located in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, provides a home to women escaping violence within their lives. Women’s Shelter Alliance, an NGO, runs this home which receives about 73.400.000 ISK ($667,270) from the government and donors.

Recently, a second Women’s Safe Shelter underwent establishment in Akureyri, a city in Northern Iceland. In these homes, consultants and psychologists support the women, and the women receive encouragement to stay as long as they need. The shelter supports women escaping from sex and labor trafficking, as well as other forms of violence such as domestic abuse and rape. To ensure their well-being, women can bring their children to the home with them and receive housing and meals.

Future Action

Even though the country has received admiration for its high levels of social progress and happiness, human trafficking in Iceland is still a major issue that leaves many people, especially women, lost and vulnerable. Though progress is evident through the work of NGOs such as the Women’s Shelter Alliance and the national plan of action, Iceland can do more to support its people by creating stricter laws, adequate sentencing and more victim services.

Yashavi Upasani
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Iceland
Despite the beautiful, wintery landscape, Icelandic winters are not all sunshine. In fact, the sun only shines for up to five hours during the deepest winter months. Often, Icelanders wake up for work in the dark and return home in the dark. Similarly, rainy days almost continuously fill the summer months, particularly in the south of Iceland. Daylight and darkness often play a role in mental health in Iceland.

Depression in Iceland

The lack of sunlight during the winter months can contribute to depression, along with other mental disorders, in some Icelanders. According to a 2017 article by Iceland Magazine, around one in 10 Icelanders experience feelings of depression at some point in their lives; in fact, in 2015, Iceland had the fourth-highest depression rate in Europe and the second-highest rate for severe depression symptoms.

Third Happiest Nation in the World

Despite these statistics, according to a 2017 article by Globally Minded, a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked Iceland only 35 in global suicide rankings. Globally Minded, a website for global mental health, attributes Iceland’s relatively low suicide rates to the structure of Icelandic society. In Iceland, communities are close-knit, and thus, “most Icelanders have an obituary written in the main newspaper.” Accordingly, the publicity associated with their cause of death and the stigma of suicide deters most Icelanders from committing suicide.

Contrary to its depression rate rankings in 2015, based on data from 2019 to 2021, Iceland ranked as the third happiest nation in the world in 2022, according to the World Happiness Report. This meteoric rise in the ranks might be due to Iceland’s unique “shotgun method” for the treatment of mental disorders.

The Shotgun Method

As of 2020, out of 26 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, Statista reported that Iceland has the highest consumption rate of antidepressants. Similar to psychiatrists in the U.S. and contrary to those in many other Nordic countries, psychiatrists in Iceland readily prescribe antidepressants to their patients for milder forms of depression or anxiety disorder rather than just severe cases.

In an article that Mad in America published, Icelander Svava Arnardóttir shared her experience with psychiatrists prescribing her psychiatric medications. Over a five-year period, Arnardóttir took up to 16 different psychiatric medications at a time, a practice she described as the “shotgun method.” Arnardóttir claimed that it is common for Icelandic psychiatrists to prescribe their patients a large number of medications at once in the “hope that one of them hits the target.”

Aside from this unique approach, the Icelandic government currently does not fund or subsidize non-medicated forms of psychological therapies. Globally Minded also believes that the population trusts that antidepressants are effective. Thus, many Icelanders choose the most cost-effective method of treatment: antidepressants.

Unfortunately for Arnardóttir, the “shotgun method” was a miss, leaving her to seek alternative help with her own resources. Arnardóttir’s experience is a microcosm of mental health treatment in Iceland; despite the vast use of antidepressants, Iceland has seen “no positive impact on public health.” On the contrary, the rates of psychiatric out-and-in-patient treatment for depression increased.

A Positive Look into the Future

As of 2021, Iceland is allocating close to 12% of its health budget to addressing mental health in Iceland. This is roughly 2% more than the global average for mental health budgets.

Additionally, NGOs are allowing Icelanders to receive mental health treatment that focuses on therapy rather than psychiatric drugs at no personal cost. One such NGO is Hugarafl, which finally provided the mental health help that Arnardóttir needed. Volunteers who have experienced mental health struggles themselves and have vast experience in the mental health care system founded Hugarafl in 2003.

Together the volunteers work toward the common goal to improve the Icelandic mental health care system while dissolving prejudices surrounding mental health challenges and protecting the rights of those suffering. The organization has managed to provide several services, ranging from basic counseling to trauma rehabilitation, for anyone older than the age of 18 without the need for residency, insurance or financial cost. Hugarafl has managed to provide Icelanders with a free and therapy-based alternative to the “shotgun method.”

NGOs, backed by the optimistic budget of the Icelandic government, are allowing a sunnier outlook for the mental health of Icelanders than their weather forecast suggests.

– Lena Maassen
Photo: Unsplash

Women's Rights in Iceland
Women’s rights in Iceland have evolved and the country has earned a reputation as the most advanced nation in terms of gender equality. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 ranked Iceland as the “best country for gender equality” for the 12th consecutive year. The Nordic country in 2020 had a population of 366,425 with women accounting for 49.7%. Women’s solidarity by means of political organizing and advocacy have been important catalysts for change and are instrumental in promoting gender equality in Iceland.

Gender Equality in Iceland

In the year 1850, “Iceland was the first country in the world to grant equal inheritance rights to both men and women.” Prior to that proclamation, women had rights to just one-third of the inheritance. In 1917, Iceland gave women and men equal rights over their children. Iceland enacted the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights Irrespective of Gender in 2000 “to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender and to maintain gender equality and equal opportunities for the genders in all spheres of society.”

Iceland passed a law in 2010 requiring company boards to have a minimum of 40% of women or men. The law came into effect on September 1, 2013. In 2021, women occupied about 42% of managerial roles and 40% of parliamentary positions in Iceland.

Political Participation

In 1881, Iceland extended women’s rights in Iceland by allowing them to vote in local elections for the very first time. Then, in 1907, the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association began as the first formal women’s organization to focus on political gender equality and “equal access to education” and the workplace. In 1908, Iceland elected four females to serve on the city council in Reykjavik.

Following this achievement, on June 15, 1915, women older than 40 gained the right to vote in national elections. Before this, men could vote from 25 years of age and women only at 40 years old. In 1920, Iceland removed “the age barrier to voting eligibility for women” completely. Then, in 1922, Iceland elected Ingibjorg Bjarnason as the first female member of the Icelandic Parliament.

In 1975, Icelandic women, tired of the lack of equal representation both in politics and labor force participation, birthed the “Woman’s Day Off” strike to protest and ignite social change. About 25,000 women participated in the strike to protest gender discrimination. The women’s movement pushed the boundaries of leadership in Icelandic politics and paved the way for the world’s first elected female leader. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir became the first female President of Iceland in 1980, serving for 16 years. In 2009, these gender equality gains advanced further with the election of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir as Iceland’s first female prime minister. Now, “Iceland’s electoral system is based on proportional representation.”

Gender Wage Gap

In 2018, Iceland enacted the equal pay for equal work law. The Equal Status and Equal Rights irrespective of Gender Act mandates equal pay and equal terms of employment for the same jobs or jobs of equal value. “Equal pay means that pay shall be determined in the same manner for all persons regardless of gender.” The law stipulates that determination of pay for work “shall not involve gender discrimination” and that there is no restriction on workers in disclosing their payment terms should they so choose. The equal pay law requires companies to prove the payment of employees at equal rates for equal work or pay a $385 fine per day.

Parental Leave

Iceland has a flexible and generous parental leave system. The Icelandic Act on Maternity/Paternity and Parental Leave aims to ensure a child’s access to both parents and enable parents to integrate work and family life. Iceland granted Icelandic women rights to three months of parental leave in 1980. Iceland extended similar rights to men, eight years later.

In January 2021, Iceland extended the parental leave system to 12 months from 10 months. Parents can divide the leave period equally between themselves. Each parent has an entitlement to six months each and 80% of their income if they work full-time. The parental leave legislation makes provisions for a temporary leave of up to 16 weeks up until the child turns 8 years old but without pay.

Looking Ahead

Women’s rights in Iceland have progressed through collective action and solidarity by human rights defenders challenging and protesting the monopoly of power in the hands of men and the power of men over women. Icelandic women continue to lead the change to gender equality, building an equitable and fair society. The equal pay law has strengthened efforts in narrowing the wage gap. It is important that Iceland maintains this approach in its effort to continue to lead as the most gender-neutral society. Going into the future, countries should implement comprehensive reforms to erase all forms of discrimination against men and women in the quest for gender equality.

Sylvia Eimieho
Photo: Flickr

Gender Wage Gap in IcelandIceland is a small island nation, home to about 366,000 people, situated in the North Atlantic Ocean between Greenland and Norway. Owing partly to its small size, Iceland has become a world leader in various social indicators, such as gender equality and poverty reduction. For the 12th year in a row, Iceland was crowned the most gender-equal country in the world by the World Economic Forum in its 2021 Global Gender Gap Report. Despite this top ranking, it is still necessary to fully close the gender wage gap in Iceland, and in turn, alleviate remaining poverty within the nation.

Poverty in Iceland

The gender wage gap, no matter how small, can have a significant impact on one’s vulnerability to poverty. The gap between the earnings of men and women means that pay cuts, unemployment and economic downturns more dramatically impact women, which can and have historically led to increases in poverty in Iceland.

The poverty rate in Iceland is much lower in comparison to its Nordic neighbors, with about 9% of Icelanders earning an income that falls below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold in 2018. In other Nordic countries, this figure sits “between 12% and 16.4%” while the average in the European Union stands at 21.9% in 2020.

Another indicator of poverty, the unemployment rate, is also very low in Iceland, standing at 3.9% in 2019. Further, there is little disparity between the unemployment rate for men and for women. However, there remains a difference in the employment rate, with 88% of working-age men having a paid job in comparison to 83% of women. This difference links to roles of childcare and housekeeping, which traditionally fall on women. However, Iceland has robust subsidized childcare policies, which lessen the burden of traditional gender roles and allow women to participate in the labor force more freely.

The Gender Wage Gap in Iceland

The Global Gender Gap Report finds that Iceland has closed 89.2% of its gender wage gap as of 2021, taking the lead as the most gender-equal country in the world. There is a strong culture around social safety nets and welfare in Iceland, ensuring that gender and income inequalities are minimal. According to the OECD Better Life Index, wage bargaining in Iceland helps promote income inequality and decrease poverty rates. In addition to this, the government has implemented several policies in recent years with the intention of addressing the gender wage gap in Iceland.

Gender Equality Policies in Iceland

First, and most well-known, is the Equal Pay Certification, the first policy of its kind in the world. This policy, which went into effect in 2018, requires all companies with 25 or more employees to provide annual proof of equal pay for men and women. The policy previously only required companies to disclose information on wages, but the government expanded it to further increase job satisfaction and transparency in the pay system. This one-of-a-kind policy is making strides to close what is remaining of the gender wage gap in Iceland.

Iceland also requires a near equal gender balance on the boards of all publicly traded companies and requires a certain percentage of employees to be of each gender. All companies with 25 or more employees must also disclose the gender composition of their employees — an initiative aimed at pressuring companies to improve gender equality in the workplace. While this policy does not directly address the gender wage gap, it is a step in ensuring overall gender equality that is likely to promote equal pay.

Looking Ahead

All in all, the Icelandic government has shown success in continuously narrowing the gender wage gap through the implementation of these policies. This success allows the nation to stand as a world leader in gender equality. Despite this, there is still room for progress, especially as Iceland’s demographics change and the country struggles with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics Iceland reports that immigrants represented 15.2% of the population in Iceland in 2020 — a figure that is consistently growing. Immigrants are at greater risk of poverty in Iceland because they are “less likely to be employed” compared to “their native-born counterparts.” Furthermore, the gender wage gap disproportionately impacts immigrant women, therefore, as the immigrant population in Iceland increases, strong gender equality policies remain important.

Another threat to narrowing the gender wage gap in Iceland is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has stalled progress in gender equality and poverty eradication worldwide. In Iceland, like in all countries where women face a double burden of working while caring for children and the household, lockdowns and social distancing force more women to stay home from work. These pandemic effects may threaten to reverse progress in gender wage gap policies. However, there is hope that the constant and unyielding work of the Icelandic government will ensure progress for years to come.

– Emma Tkacz
Photo: Flickr

Iceland’s Tourism Industry
Iceland’s tourism industry is one of the country’s most dependable money-makers and job providers. Like many countries, Iceland’s tourism industry underwent severe economic losses and lacked new jobs and job security because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Bank of Iceland, Islandsbanki, released a report publishing its expectations for a significant resurgence in tourism for Iceland in 2022.

Tourism’s Importance to Jobs and Economic Growth in Iceland

Tourism provides 39% of Iceland’s annual export revenue and contributes about 10% to the country’s GDP. Iceland’s tourism industry accounts for 15% of the workforce. In 2017, 47% of Iceland’s newest jobs were in some way related to the tourism industry.

Iceland experienced a devastating financial crisis in 2008. Job availability dropped nationwide, the poverty rate increased and the GDP dropped dramatically in the following years. It took some forecasting, but the Icelandic government developed plans calling for the tourism industry to be the savior of the Icelandic economy.

To this end, the government established a brand new Tourist Control Centre, which coordinates the government’s work in tourism nationwide. It creates new typical tourist surveys and improved cooperation under the government’s four tourism ministries. The government also implemented efforts to track the most popular tourist destinations and receive input from tourists on how to improve their experiences at those destinations.

Iceland’s tourism is so popular that the government has had to devise limits on how long individuals can rent on Airbnb and on whom must receive limitations. Rental cars are similarly limited, with nearly 80% of tourists reported renting a car at least once during their visit to Iceland. The airfare to Iceland is one of the cheapest deals year-round.

The tourism industry has been primarily responsible for the economic boom that has occurred since 2012. The plans that the Icelandic government developed went into effect in Fiscal Year 2012 and involved the government’s expanding funding opportunities in the tourism industry.

Since the expansion of the tourism industry, the increase in job availability and economic growth, Iceland has made great strides in keeping the poverty rate low and the population of those at-risk of poverty lower than what was possible pre-2012.

Impact of COVID-19 on Iceland’s Tourism Industry

Iceland has the lowest poverty rate in the world, but the COVID-19 pandemic put this at risk. The international average for a country’s poverty rate is 11%, but Iceland has the world beat. The country’s poverty rate is at 4.9% and has been dropping since the expansion of the tourism industry.

Furthermore, there were an estimated 36 Icelandic citizens for every 1,000 who were at risk of falling into poverty in 2008, at the beginning of the economic crisis. Since then, the number rose briefly above 40 individuals then rose and fell for several years, but distinctly dropped in 2014. This coincided with the beginning of the full establishment and implementation of Iceland’s expanded tourism industry.

The pandemic’s impact on tourism left the country with another drop in jobs and an economic dip. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Iceland experienced a 10-month long halt in tourism. Iceland’s GDP dropped from $24 billion to $19 billion in one year largely because of the loss of tourism between 2019 and 2020, according to Data Commons.

Expected Resurgence in Iceland’s Tourism

As soon as it became feasibly safe, Iceland reopened its borders to tourists with clear instructions. First, it allowed tourists to travel to the country as long as they isolated themselves for 14 days prior to their trip and were able to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival in Iceland. Since then, Iceland has allowed its visitors to arrive without those other restrictions as long as the tourists are fully vaccinated and boosted against the virus.

The increase in Iceland’s tourism is not unprecedented. In 2018, the increase in tourism was 5.4% and in 2017, it was 24.1%. Icelandair, the main airline for travel to Iceland, has its own plan for balancing safety and getting as many tourists to Iceland as feasible in the works.

Iceland’s central bank, Islandsbaski is expecting a minimum of 1 million tourists to Iceland, but as many as 1.3 million may come. In November 2021, there were a meager 75,000 tourists for the entire month. However, this is more than 20 times the final tally for tourists for that month in the preceding year.

Even though tourism paused for the better part of a year, the tourism industry is ready and raring to go. Despite the pains of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Icelandic tourism industry will reopen in 2022 as much as possible and the economic boost to come from it is invaluable.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in IcelandAs the world continues to modernize, there are still several regions with no access to energy and no chance for development. Finding solutions for the inadequate and unequal distribution of energy is more urgent than ever. Amid a global pandemic, 25% of hospitals in “Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia and Niger” have no electricity. Electricity is essential in fighting this crisis (or any other). Taking a closer look at the struggles of energy poverty, renewable energy in Iceland provides an example of a nation that overcame these issues.

The Importance of Energy

The United Nations recognizes the importance of energy for development with SDG 7: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Reliable energy systems benefit all sectors, including businesses, medicine, education and agriculture. Inadequate electricity creates obstacles in situations that citizens of developed countries take for granted. For example, without electricity, clinics cannot store vaccines and students cannot do homework at night. SDG 7 states that affordable and clean energy is necessary to raise any developing nation out of poverty.

Energy Poverty and Off-Grid Energy Systems

The World Economic Forum defines energy poverty as conditions that “lack of adequate, affordable, reliable, quality, safe and environmentally sound energy services to support development.” Currently, 13% of the world’s population (one billion people) lack access to electricity. The vast majority live in Africa and South Asia while 57% of the sub-Saharan African population (600 million people) live without electricity. Any form of sustainable development requires access to energy. Nations suffering from energy poverty cannot afford the energy that could propel them out of poverty. This locks them in the cycle of poverty.

Geography stands as one of SDG 7’s biggest obstacles. The countries in the most need typically cannot access grid electricity. In developing countries, expanding the electricity grid is neither financially nor logistically realistic. These rural areas need off-grid or stand-alone solutions to their energy problems. Renewable energy can provide off-grid energy and “give developing countries the opportunity to erase the electricity gap without passing through a phase of fossil fuels, that would be hard to sustain in terms of cost, natural resources and global environment.”

The Success Story of Iceland

At the beginning of the 20th century, Iceland was ranked as a developing country. In 1970, the largest share of Iceland’s energy consumption was derived from imported fossil fuels and the United Nations Development Program labeled the nation as a developing country. As of 2018, Iceland was the fifth most prosperous nation in Europe, acquires nearly 100% of consumed electricity from renewable energy.

Iceland has always been very spread out, making an interconnected energy grid too costly. This combined with fluctuating and unsustainable oil prices drove the Icelandic government to seek alternative energy systems. Through government funding and incentive programs, geothermal and hydropower energy systems took over the Icelandic economy.

The link between energy and poverty reduction is evident and undeniable. Renewable energy in Iceland transformed an impoverished, developing nation, dependent on imported coal and local peat into a prosperous, green energy leader. Many people believe the green energy movement is exclusive to wealthy nations, businesses and individuals. This is understandable considering the price of electric cars and solar panels. However, Iceland proves this idea wrong. Iceland completely transformed into a green economy as a small, developing nation.

One might argue that Iceland is a unique and unrepeatable example because of its proximity to renewable resources; however, this is far from the truth. Iceland overcame the two biggest obstacles that every energy-poor nation faces: poor funding and excessive off-grid populations. Iceland’s success does not provide a one-size-fits-all solution for every nation facing an energy crisis; however, developing countries around the world should gain hope and inspiration from renewable energy in Iceland.

Ella LeRoy
Photo: Flickr

Iceland’s Foreign AidIceland, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, has a population of fewer than 400,000 people. The small Nordic island is home to some of the most sought after natural landmarks and tourist attractions such as the northern lights. Although small, the country has provided big backing to countries triple its size through its foreign aid programs. In 2008, Iceland experienced what economists considered to be the most severe economic downturn in its history. After years of hard work, Iceland was able to rebuild its economy and rebounded successfully. Aside from the financial crisis in 2008, the country has been able to maintain relatively low poverty rates with rates remaining at 0.10% from 2013 to 2015. Iceland has paid its good fortune forward by offering assistance to countries experiencing economic fragility. The Icelandic government is committed to fighting poverty by providing support to nations in need. The main objective of Iceland’s foreign aid pursuits is to reduce poverty and hunger while advocating for human rights, gender equality and sustainable development. Three countries, in particular, have been supported by Iceland’s foreign aid.

Syria

Syria has a long history of political turbulence with numerous uprisings dating back to the 20th century. One event, in particular, was especially tumultuous. In 2015, Syria had experienced a major political uproar in one of the largest and oldest cities in the country, Aleppo. “The Battle of Aleppo” began in 2011 in the city of Deraa. Citizens who opposed the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad decided to rebel. This led to a civil war between the Syrian government and protesters who the Syrian government referred to as rebels. The civil war that lasted six years had a detrimental impact on the citizens. There were massive food and gas shortages. Multiple buildings were victim to mass bombings, including schools and hospitals. Civilians were caught in the crossfire and suffered greatly as a result. Iceland stepped in to offer assistance and allocated $600,000 to support civilians impacted by the war in 2015. The country continued in its efforts by supporting Syria with $4 million worth of humanitarian aid in 2016.

Malawi

Malawi holds one of the highest rates of poverty in the world, at 51.5.% in 2016. Malnutrition and infant mortality impact Malawi’s 18.6 million population. The country has experienced notable economic growth in the past three years, with a 4.4% increase in economy in 2019. Unfortunately, these economic gains have been stalled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early November 2020, the Icelandic government donated $195,000 to the World Food Programme to assist with the COVID-19 response in Malawi.

Uganda

Uganda and Iceland established their relationship in the year 2000. The Icelandic government is committed to enhancing the livelihood of Ugandan fishing communities located in the Kalanga and Buikwe districts. Uganda is one of the largest recipients of Icelandic foreign aid with an annual distribution of $6 million. Iceland’s contributions have seen monumental success with safe water coverage now standing at 77%, up from 58% in 2015. The primary school completion rate in Buikwe is up from 40% in 2011 to a staggering 75.5%.

Iceland: A Foreign Aid Leader

While Iceland may be small in comparison to its peers, Iceland has been tremendously influential in its foreign relations. The three countries above are just a few of the nations that Iceland has assisted. Humanitarian efforts continue to provide support to countries in need through Iceland’s foreign aid.

– Imani Smikle
Photo: Flickr

Iceland's Foreign Aid
Iceland is well-known for its foreign aid commitment and effectiveness, despite its comparatively small budget. Iceland’s foreign aid agency, the International Development Cooperation Agency (ICEIDA), focuses on the promotion of human rights, gender equality, peace and security, poverty, social justice, hunger and equal living conditions. Iceland partners with other countries and multilateral institutions to support the least-developed nations in the world, making it an exemplar of international development cooperation.

Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs provides funding for various causes. In 2019, it granted ISK 187,5 million ($1,400,000) toward 16 development projects across 11 nations, as well as ISK 213,7 million ($1,600,000) to support crises in five nations. The Ministry granted these funds to a handful of Iceland’s NGO and CSO partners, including the following organizations. Here are six of Iceland’s foreign aid partners.

6 of Iceland’s Foreign Aid Partners

  1. Icelandic Red Cross (IFRC): The IFRC is part of the international Red Cross/Red Crescent movement. It engages in programs for harm reduction, emergency services, first aid, children and youth, day centers, immigrants and refugees, friendship services and asylum seekers. In 2019, the IFRC donated a total of ISK 70 million ($558,000) to aid Ebola relief efforts in Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  2. ABC Children’s Aid: ABC Children’s Aid is an Icelandic relief organization that provides educational opportunities for children in poverty. In its first 30 years, ABC established operations in seven nations in Africa and Asia. In 2020, ABC received a grant from Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs to electrify facilities in one of its Burkina Faso schools. School starts before dawn and ends after sunset, giving students no natural lighting by which to finish their homework. Once completed, this project will provide electricity for the near-800 day students and dormitory residents, many of whom come from families living in poverty, and strengthen opportunities for them to complete their education.
  3. Save the Children Iceland: Save the Children in Iceland emphasizes human rights for children, particularly in the realm of fighting “poverty, child trafficking, sex tourism” and homelessness. Save the Children has engaged in disaster relief projects in nearly 120 countries, and in 2019, assisted 144 million children worldwide. The Icelandic chapter also emphasizes the shaping of Icelandic policies, such as its 2020 commentary on a proposal for the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence.
  4. Icelandic Church Aid (ICA): ICA works to combat poverty in Iceland and abroad by providing water access, food security, housing and education to those in extreme need. In 2019-2020, ICA donated more than ISK 39 million ($285,000) to Malawi, Syria, and Jordan in the form of hurricane and war relief. At least 98% of Malawi’s target group and 2,300 individuals from Syria and Jordan received nutrition packets, sanitation and potable water. Additionally, ICA repaired wells and provided grain and agricultural tools for the next harvest year.
  5. SOS Children’s Villages Iceland: SOS meets the educational and basic needs of disadvantaged families and helps them toward self-sustainability. The Icelandic chapter, supported by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, funds projects in Ethiopia and the Philippines. Over the summer of 2020, one of SOS’s efforts was to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on 156 Ethiopian families and provide food supplements for their 43 malnourished children.
  6. U.N. Women National Committee Iceland: U.N. Women works to abolish violence, poverty and gender inequality in developing countries. The Icelandic chapter received approximately ISK 13 million ($96,000) annually from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from 2016-2019 for awareness promotion and educational resources on women’s issues in developing countries. A Lebanese woman named Ibtissam Jaber is one individual who has benefited from U.N. Women’s involvement. She received encouragement to begin selling her food products at a 10-day market in Beirut and earned $4,000 on her first work venture outside of her home. She and other women have experienced increased freedom and economic equality through participation in U.N. Women projects.

These six foreign aid partners and their respective cause areas greatly benefit from Iceland’s effective foreign aid policies. According to its government website, Iceland’s foreign aid has emerged upon the principles of “safeguarding human lives, maintaining human dignity and reducing human suffering in crisis situations.” With its model for developmental cooperation, Iceland’s foreign aid stands as an inspiration to everyone working together to make the world a better place.

– Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Iceland
Popular for its beautiful landmarks and picturesque views, Iceland is now facing an issue that highlights a much darker reality taking place on the nordic island. Iceland has been able to keep poverty at a relatively low percentage for much of its history. However, in the past decade, the country has experienced a drastic rise in poverty and child poverty in Iceland in particular. One can largely attribute this to the economic collapse that the country experienced a little over a decade ago.

The Situation

In 2008, Iceland’s banks defaulted as a result of loans that the country had taken out with many foreign banks. At the time, Icelandic banks were some of the most lucrative banks globally. The country accumulated a massive amount of debt following large loans and grand foreign investments. The intention was to further boost the economy and to take advantage of the financial prosperity taking place in the country at the time. The value of the Icelandic currency, the Krona, was at an all-time high with a 900% increase in value.

The country experienced an economic boom, and citizens received encouragement to take part in the flourishing economy. As a result, many purchased expensive homes, took on multiple mortgages and invested in foreign companies. The country was, unfortunately, unable to pay these large sums back. The result was catastrophic. Banks defaulted on foreign loans leading to a massive national financial crisis. Iceland’s credit was tarnished and almost every business in the country had gone bankrupt. Citizens ended up with large bills with little or no way to pay them. What followed was an extreme rise in poverty.

The Consequences of the Crash

Health care expenses experienced a peak, and with mortgages nearly doubling in cost, the price of living increased exponentially. Many households were unable to afford the basic and vital services required for daily living. According to a report discussing the consequences of the crisis, unemployment rates rose to 7.6%. This was 5% higher than the annual unemployment rates prior to the economic downturn. Inflation was another result of the crash. Mortgage prices increased nearly doubling.

With the national currency, the krona, experiencing a decrease in value, the price of many goods and services suffered an impact as well. Iceland saw a substantial rise in housing insecurity and homelessness. Citizens took to the streets to protest many of the issues taking place at the time, and to express their frustrations with the government’s reactions to the crisis. This resulted in a new left-leaning government that promised to offer support for its struggling citizens.

Child Poverty in Iceland and Government Aid

Child poverty saw a drastic rise during this time of economic downturn. In fact, child poverty increased from 11.2% to 31.6% between 2008 and 2012. Unemployment was on the rise, and families faced immense financial strife that greatly affected the home. Iceland’s government was able to provide its residents with support for regular access to vital resources such as food, housing and health care. Health care programs that Iceland put in place prior to the crash offered much-needed support to Icelandic citizens with health care services during the crash.

The Icelandic government also provided support in many areas. This included welfare services for low-income households, along with a tax decrease for low-income earners and a tax increase for high-income earners. This ensured financial support for the most vulnerable during the crash. Low and mid-income-earning citizens received social benefits and debt relief. Wealth redistribution played a large role in the economic support provided for citizens during this time.

The Case of Child Poverty

The ways in which poverty can present itself differs from nation to nation. One can find many of the challenges most common amongst Icelandic children living in poverty in many nations across the globe. According to a report by Humanium.org, some of the key issues that impoverished Icelandic children face are varying health issues, emotional strife, sexual exploitation and labor exploitation.

Confronting Child Poverty

Throughout Iceland’s history, the country has managed poverty rates well in comparison to other less developed islands. Prior to the financial crisis, Iceland held a relatively low poverty rate. According to a Statistics Iceland report, a total of 9% of the population was at risk of living in poverty in comparison to 16% in other nordic islands and the estimated 23% in the United Kingdom. While poverty existed in the country, it was certainly not as high as during or after the crisis.

Iceland has done tremendous work to repair its economy. The programs that Iceland’s government implemented provided support for many low-income families while also helping to boost its then damaged economy. Unfortunately, citizens who plummeted into poverty as a result of the economic downturn have struggled to find a way out. To combat this, the Icelandic government has implemented many methods of support for citizens facing these challenges. This includes lower-cost health care services, debt relief for mortgage holders and social services for low-income earning citizens. These policies have proven to provide much promise for a reduction in poverty overall in the country. The goal is that with a decrease in general poverty, the child poverty rates will also reduce in Iceland.

Imani A. Smikle
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Iceland
Iceland is a Nordic island nation in the Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of approximately 364,134. Furthermore, the majority of the population lives in the capital city, Reykjavik. Iceland is a member of the European Union and many know it for its rocky, volcanic landscapes. As the nation is an island, Iceland must import and produce enough food to support its population. While Iceland receives the majority of its food as imports, it also has a thriving fishing industry. In addition, it has one the lowest hunger rates in the world. Here are five facts about hunger in Iceland and ways the nation is maintaining such low hunger rates.

Natural Disasters

While Iceland imports most of its food, its local fishing industry provides food for both locals and exports. Only 2.5% of the nation’s population faces hunger. Fortunately, this number has not changed since 2000. In addition, natural disasters are the main cause of food insecurity in the country. Natural disasters affect Iceland’s farmable land and interrupt the island’s ability to import and export food.

Government Action

Iceland has taken a stance on fighting world hunger. In 2013, the former President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson stated that the best way to fight world hunger is to “preserve what we already catch, raise and grow, rather than increasing production.” As a result, now Iceland is preserving its fish through geothermal heat, rather than drying it outside as it formerly did.

Food Preservation

Iceland preserves its food effectively. Furthermore, it exports the food it produces to countries struggling with higher rates of hunger. Iceland freezes fish and meat to preserve food. However, many countries lack the electricity to keep products frozen. As a result, former President Grímsson advocates for the drying of food products because this method of preservation does not require electricity. Food preservation has not only helped reduce hunger of struggling countries, but it has aided the economy. The imported food makes up a portion of the food sold and distributed in local marketplaces.

Imports and Exports

Iceland relies heavily on imported food. Thus, a danger exists that the country will face higher hunger rates if its methods of import experience obstruction. Many suggest Iceland keep stocks and stores of preserved food to counter this. However, the nation has not taken any steps or implemented any such measures. The government exports most of its preserved food instead.

Ending World Hunger

Iceland partnered with United Food Nations Program (UFNP) in 2016 and committed to ending world hunger by the year 2030. This agreement states that Iceland will provide funds for the UFNP that are not specifically designated to one specific country.

Iceland’s ability to feed its population depends on its ability to import food and supplement food with locally sourced food. As a result, Iceland does not sufficiently stock and store preserved food. The nation is vulnerable to hunger if a natural disaster were to occur. Iceland also works to end global hunger. In addition, Iceland achieves this by promoting the preservation of food rather than increasing the production of food. Also, it has partnered with UNFP to provide funds to countries struggling with hunger. Although there are many issues surrounding hunger in Iceland, the nation is taking steps in the right direction.

Elizabeth Meyer
Photo: Flickr