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

Healthcare 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 healthcare. Healthcare programs that Iceland put in place prior to the crash offered much-needed support to Icelandic citizens with healthcare 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, poverty rates have been well managed 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 healthcare 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

Poverty Eradication in Iceland
With a population of 341,741 people and poverty rates rising, Iceland has continued its trend of incorporating old and innovative solutions to eradicate poverty. Valdimar Svavarsson, the manager of the Christian nonprofit organization Samhjalp in Iceland, told The Borgen Project that “Iceland is overall considered to be among the best places to live in the world in terms of quality of life.” However, the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened that quality of life significantly. Several innovations in poverty eradication in Iceland, such as welfare centers, government programs and other new ideas have emerged as the pandemic has increased the unemployment rate in Iceland.

Lowering Unemployment and the Department of Welfare

Iceland has been working towards reducing its unemployment and poverty rate by initiating welfare centers. Six welfare service centers are in Reykjavik, and they help Icelandic citizens access services related to Icelandic schools, financial support, counseling and more.

The Department of Welfare for Reykjavik, Iceland coordinates a variety of projects and events to help with poverty-related issues in Iceland with the core values of welfare, respect and activity in mind for people who request help. It mainly focuses on projects involving financial assistance, child protection and social housing programs, which all help with Icelandic low-income households. In particular, the financial assistance department of the Department of Welfare works to help unemployed citizens and families in Iceland through a simple application process. The application process requires that citizens search for employment. However, citizens can appeal the results of their applications if they receive a denial.

Homelessness and Limited Housing

The capital city of Iceland, Reykjavik, last reported that 360 people were homeless at the end of 2017. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Vilborg Oddsdottir, the Head of the Domestic Department of the Icelandic Church Aid Group, said that “there is a low-income housing company in Iceland right now” to help deal with the high housing prices in Iceland.

Solutions to Reducing Child Poverty in Iceland

Another innovation in poverty eradication is how Iceland has been working toward eliminating child poverty in the country. In fact, it ranks at the top for children’s rights. As of the latest report in 2015, the child poverty rate in Iceland was on the lower end of approximately 5% based on their families’ income levels prior to the pandemic.

The Icelandic Church Aid Group formed in 1970 and is better known as the Church Relief Society. The Church Relief Society partnered with Iceland’s Evangelical Lutheran Church for an innovative poverty solution that gives educational supplies to lower-income families across Iceland through an application process starting in late August 2020. The new initiative entitled “No Child Left Out” wants to make sure students are not experiencing social isolation based on their family’s financial situation. Vilborg Oddsdottir advised The Borgen Project thateducation is the best way out of poverty, and we have to maintain respect for all kinds of education” available to students in Iceland. In 2020, the Icelandic Church Aid Group helped approximately 30,000 children in Iceland according to Oddsdottir.

How Iceland enacted Innovative Testing Procedures and Government Aid during COVID-19

Only 5.4% of Iceland’s citizens were living below the poverty line in 2015. One of the major causes of poverty in Iceland is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused unemployment rates to skyrocket even as the country implemented innovations in COVID-19 protection early on. In the past few months, Iceland was able to test any citizen requesting a test and automatically isolate infected citizens from the public as most businesses remained open. Due to these innovative precautions, Iceland was able to reopen to tourists as early as June 15, 2020, and even implemented the requirement of testing each tourist.

After most of the Icelandic public received COVID-19 tests, the citizens were able to view their results using an innovative contact tracing application to prevent an outbreak. Even with precautions, Vilborg Oddsdottir has seen that “COVID has affected us a lot because now we have nearly 9% unemployment in Iceland. Even in our bank crisis, we have not seen unemployment like we have now.” The Icelandic government’s innovative support system is addressing the increased unemployment rate. The unemployment benefits stated that people would receive some of their salary based on the amount of part-time work they had with their company until September 30, 2020.

Food Aid

The Iceland Family Aid program has been working towards helping low-income families across Iceland since its founding in 2003. The organization is accepting food donations every month at its only two locations in Reykjavik and Reykjanesbaer. The way for the food undergoes distribution across Iceland is through an online registration process that delivers the food to low-income residents once a month, providing aid to various families and people living in poverty and aiding in poverty eradication in Iceland.

With the reduction in tourism and increasing unemployment rates due to COVID-19, Valdimar Svavarsson has found that “at the moment, the government is doing many things to support the growing group that is now facing unemployment.” The current innovative solutions and input of the Icelandic government should help the country bounce back from high unemployment rates while helping low-income citizens.

– Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr

Geothermal Energy in AfricaAfrica leads the world in annual population growth, but unfortunately produces the least amount of electricity of any continent. To mitigate this issue while being mindful of the continent’s vulnerability to climate change, African leaders are working to exploit natural energy sources. Recent efforts have begun to focus on establishing plants for geothermal energy in Africa. This involves harnessing energy from the Earth’s heat by digging underground. The east coast of Africa, home of the East African Rift System (EARS), presents a viable location for achieving this endeavor due to its geographical properties: this 6,500-kilometer stretch of progressive breakage in the Earth has constantly shifting plate tectonics that generate a large, renewable source of energy. Nations worldwide are coming together to help develop strong geothermal energy systems in Africa, with Iceland leading the way.

The Need for Electricity Access in Africa

Electricity access plays a significant role in lowering poverty in Africa. A study conducted by The World Bank found that affordable electrification can raise average household income by increasing farming and manufacturing production during off-seasons, as well as helping businesses create efficient services for production and expansion. Expanding electrification encourages economic investment, increases GDP per capita and creates jobs. For instance, when South Africa enacted an electric grid roll-out to poorer communities, the country experienced a 40%-53% boost in business activities due to heightened electricity access. Overall, generating electricity in impoverished areas will enhance economic capabilities and increase sustainability.

Potential for Geothermal Energy in Africa

The EARS is located in northern Syria and runs south to Mozambique. Countries along this rift include Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Eritrea and Uganda. These countries would benefit immensely from the rift’s geothermal energy since, depending on the country, only 35%-75% of the population had reliable electricity in 2018. In fact, initiatives like the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility project were designed to address this exact disparity using geothermal energy. The project’s goal is to gain access to untapped geothermal energy for these countries along the rift. The United Nations Environment Programme pledged $4.75 million for this official start-up in 2015. The project has had success so far in networking with other countries and attracting investors for financial support.

Geothermal energy in Africa is necessary to supplement the general lack of electricity. It is also essential to shift away from the other, less sustainable power sources currently in use. Coal is one of the most environmentally detrimental types of fuel, for example. Despite this fact, South Africa relies on coal-burning as its primary energy source; only 8.8% of the country’s electric needs are fulfilled by renewable energy. Coal-burning and other non-renewable techniques endanger Africa’s people and climate by polluting the air with various heavy metals.

Iceland Empowering Africa

Iceland, however, is a pioneer in geothermal energy: the country’s electricity obtains its power almost entirely by renewable resources. The country is currently advocating the creation of geothermal energy in Africa through several projects.

  1. Geothermal Training Programme (GTP): In collaboration with the United Nations, this six-month annual postgraduate training program teaches individuals from developing countries about geothermal construction and exploration. Between 1976 and 2016, about 39% of graduates originated from African countries. This demonstrates the impact of the GTP in fostering geothermal potential through the next generation of innovators.
  2. African Women Energy Entrepreneurs Framework: With a focus on addressing the barriers that hinder women as entrepreneurs in business, this project was launched in 2017 to support innovative environmental solutions in Africa and promote gender equality within the energy sector. Women are trained in sustainable energy technologies and management in order to create renewable energy policies and partnerships.
  3. Africa Geothermal Centre of Excellence (AGCE): Currently in the preliminary stages with help from Iceland and other partner countries, the AGCE aims to expand geothermal research and training. Its goal is to produce geothermal scientists, engineers and technicians to ensure geothermal expansion in Africa for years to come. Governments of multiple African countries are committed to creating this center in order to achieve their climate change and sustainability goals.

Iceland is also a member of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The country is commended for its work in Africa. The UNEP Energy Programme Manager Meseret Teklemariam Zemedkun stated, “Iceland has been a steadfast and important partner to UNEP in bringing geothermal expertise to East Africa.” Beyond fostering geothermal energy in Africa, Iceland’s financial contributions help support the UNEP’s other projects and overall mission. Iceland continues to be a world leader in demonstrating the significance of renewable energy. The country accomplishes this goal by addressing Africa’s present and building for its future.

– Radley Tan
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Iceland
Homelessness in Iceland has been on the rise, as the country continues to experience aftershocks of the 2008 economic crisis. Iceland has a population of 364,134 (about half the size of Seattle). Between 2009 and 2017, the city of Reykjavík experienced a 168% increase in the number of homeless citizens. Iceland’s current national homeless rate remains unknown, but the last data set released in 2011 showed that 761 people experienced homelessness in Iceland.

Why is Homelessness in Iceland Increasing?

Between high rates of job loss and a lack of affordable housing, most sources credit the 2008 financial crisis as the root cause of Iceland’s increasing rate of homelessness. With too many expensive houses and too few affordable living options, many Icelanders became unable to support themselves or their families and had to move out of their homes and into shelters. Several other factors also figure into homelessness in Iceland. These include:

  1. Gender: More women seem to be experiencing homelessness in Iceland than before. One particular shelter in Reykjavík saw an increase of 35 to 41 women in a month, and 27 of those women had never used the shelter service before. This indicates a need for more shelters, with staff attuned to the needs of women who experienced trauma from domestic abuse and sexual violence. Women also tend to stay at shelters longer than men — sometimes for months or years.
  2. Drug and alcohol addiction: Some Icelanders argue that a more long-term goal is to address the underlying problem of drug and alcohol addiction, which can often lead to homelessness. This would help break the vicious cycle of dependency and lack of reliable shelter.
  3. Age: A large number of Icelanders who homelessness affects are elderly. The 2017 report showed that only 47% of Iceland’s homeless are between ages 21 and 40. This aging demographic often requires more care and medical attention, in which case the general shelter may not be sufficient.
  4. Mental health: Although Iceland ranked third in the World Happiness Report, some argue that the mental healthcare system in the country is not sufficient. Poor mental health is yet another risk factor for homelessness.

More Homes, Fewer Homeless

In 2018, Icelanders received hopeful news when their government made homelessness a top priority. The city council of Reykjavík passed legislation calling for the building of 25 homes for the homeless population. These homes, with a minimum rent of 40,000 ISK or $363, emerged as a more financially accessible option than the typical Reykjavík home, while also being longer-term solutions in comparison to shelters. To many, this was a heartening call to action in the fight against homelessness in Iceland, as well as a moving example of a community coming together to protect their fellow citizens.

Today, reports say that while people are still utilizing shelters for short-term housing, few are sleeping on the streets in Iceland. Sleeping outside can be lethal in frigid temperatures, and access to affordable housing is key to providing safety and security for Icelanders in need.

Aradia Webb
Photo: Pixabay

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Iceland
Iceland, one of the healthiest European countries, lies between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Icelanders tend to outlive people from other richer, warmer and more educated countries. Below are 10 facts about life expectancy in Iceland that determine what factors may help Icelanders live longer lives.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Iceland

  1. On average, males and females in Iceland have a life expectancy at birth of 81 and 84 years respectively. Life expectancy increased from a combined national average of 78.8 years in 1994 to a combined national average of 82.4 years in 2016.
  2. Iceland has one of the lowest mortality rates in Europe. The average mortality rate is 6.5 per 1,000 inhabitants and the infant mortality rate is 2.7 per 1,000 live births, both below the European average of 10.2 and four. Not only do children under the age of five have better survival rates, but they also have a better chance of growing into healthier adults.
  3. Compared to the OECD average of 3.4 and three per 1,000 population, Iceland has a higher number of doctors and nurses with 3.8 doctors and 15.5 nurses per 1,000. A higher proportion of medical practitioners is a reflection of Iceland’s well-performing health care system.
  4. The health expenditure in Iceland picked up in 2012 after a dip following the 2008 financial crisis. The expenditure of $4,376 per capita is higher than the OECD average of $3,854 and accounts for 8.7 percent of its GDP. It has universal health care, 85 percent Icelanders pay through taxes. Private insurance is almost absent. This shows that health care is affordable and accessible in Iceland.
  5. The diet of the Icelandic people contains more fish and less meat. Fish is more beneficial for heart health due to the presence of omega-3 fatty acids. Healthier diet choices could be one factor that helps Icelandic people live longer.
  6. Research shows that the environment is a major determinant of health, and therefore, longevity. Iceland boasts clean air and water. Its dependence on geothermal resources for energy instead of fossil fuels ensures an unpolluted environment. Further, natural hot springs occur all across the country. The cleaner and colder environment protects people from many communicable and infectious diseases which may help them live longer and healthier lives.
  7. Iceland is the eighth-most urban country in the world. Ninety-four percent of its population lives in urban areas and cities with access to basic amenities like electricity, clean drinking water and sanitation. Life expectancy for a country increases with an increase in urbanization.
  8. Good genetics may have played a role in higher life expectancy of Icelanders. Studies showed that those above 90 years of age share more similar genes compared to control groups. One possible explanation could be the harsh environmental conditions that Icelanders faced historically, which filtered their genes so that they would pass on the ones that helped them survive.
  9. Despite the harsh weather conditions, Icelanders have higher physical activity when compared to other European nations. Almost 60 percent of the Icelandic people perform some form of exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. Icelandic people like to participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming and skiing.
  10. Iceland has the lowest proportion of substance abusers among all European countries. It reduced its percentage of drug users from 42 percent in 1998 to five percent in 2016. By imposing curfews and keeping teens busy in sports and activities, Iceland was able to divert them from drugs towards healthy habits. This is an important factor when considering the life expectancy of a nation. People do not tend to die from drug-overdose and they also live healthier and economically stable lives.

Icelanders show that lifestyle can have a major effect on how long people live. Both the Icelandic people and their government made efforts to improve their health statistics by reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and drugs and increasing physical activity. These top 10 facts about life expectancy in Iceland are full of lessons that people of other nations can learn and apply as successful health interventions.

– Navjot Buttar
Photo: Flickr

 

Quality of Life in IcelandSituated about 400 miles west of Greenland in the northern Atlantic, Iceland is a mid-sized island with a population of around 340,000. Given its high latitude, Iceland’s climate is unexpectedly temperate. Its dramatic landscapes draw millions of tourists each year from around the world. Iceland is governed by parliamentary democracy and has a strong tradition of center-left politics.

Top Ten Facts About Quality of Life in Iceland:

Gender Equality

Iceland has consistently held the number one spot in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap index over the past several years. An article published by The Guardian in 2016 traces this back to a time where Icelandic men would leave their villages for long hunting trips, leaving the women to take charge of the key political and economic decisions in their absence.

Strong Economy

Although hit badly in the 2009 global recession, Iceland has since bounced back, and now ranks among the wealthiest countries in the world. According to data from Focus Economics, Iceland ranked fourth highest in the world for GDP per Capita in 2017.

High Life Expectancy

With a life expectancy of 83.1 years at birth, Iceland ranks seventh in the world for this metric. Iceland also has very low infant mortality rates at just 2.1 deaths out of every 1000 births.

High “Subjective Happiness” Levels

According to the World Happiness Report, ranking each country according to “subjective happiness” indicators, Iceland comes in at number four, behind Finland, Norway and Denmark. The authors of the report argue that the happiness scores—generated from survey results—closely follow six quality of life indicators. These factors are GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, generosity, freedom and absence of corruption.

Low Exposure to Sunlight

Despite its high World Happiness score, Iceland has the 40th highest suicide rate of any nation on earth with 14 suicides for every 100,000 of the population. Iceland’s Nordic neighbors Sweden, Finland and Norway all have high suicide rates despite impressive scores in other quality of life indicators. These numbers led some to draw a link between suicide and low exposure to sunlight during the winter months.

Low Poverty Risk

According to data collected in 2016, less than 9 percent of Iceland’s total population is at risk from poverty, which is about half the combined rate for the 28 countries that make up the European Union.

Political Corruption Rates

Although Iceland suffers from low political corruption compared to global averages, corruption levels in Iceland are the highest of all Nordic states, and recent reports suggest they are growing worse. During her election campaign in late 2017, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir spoke about rebuilding trust after two years of political instability preceding her administration.

Education Quality

Although education in Iceland is funded entirely by the state, from preschool to university, one international education survey calls its quality into question. According to test results collected from 45 countries by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Icelandic children scored below the group averages in math, science and reading.

Homelessness

Despite having one of the world’s most generous welfare systems, Iceland is reportedly struggling with a growing homelessness problem. According to one study, the number of homeless people living in Reykjavik—Iceland’s capital—nearly doubled between 2012 and 2017 from 179 to 349, or about three out of every thousand.

Healthcare

Iceland has a nationalized healthcare system that is largely tax-funded. A recent study ranked the Icelandic healthcare system second in the world, based on a review of comprehensive criteria.

The combination of market forces with a generous welfare system crafted a model that secures a high quality of life in Iceland for the majority of its citizens. But a closer look into Iceland’s education, corruption and homelessness problems shows that even the most affluent and equitable societies carry their share of problems. Historically, Iceland has found success by addressing society’s problems collectively— continuing this approach will serve it well in the future.

– Jamie Wiggan
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