FAO Awards Iran for Fighting Hunger-TBP
In December 2014, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognized Iran with an honorary diploma for its progress in eradicating hunger. Iran satisfied the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG 1) by halving the number of people who suffer from malnutrition and satisfied the World Food Summit (WFS) goal of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015.

72 countries out of 129 were able to achieve MDG 1, showing that eliminating hunger is an achievable goal. Iran was one of 29 countries who ambitiously achieved the WFS goal. Due to the country’s success, the number of underweight children in Iran dropped from 13.8 percent in 1997 to 4.1 percent in 2014.

At the awarding gala for Iran, FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva said, “You have overcome major challenges in difficult global economic conditions and policy environments. You have demonstrated the will and mobilized the means.”

In June 2015, Iran and FAO announced they will be collaborating to help developing countries increase the productivity of the use of production resources by training agricultural producers from the Middle East. The empowerment of these producers will also extend to the Economic Cooperation Organization member states.

The work done to eradicate hunger in Iran serves as an example to other developing countries on how they may lower levels of malnutrition by reforming public education, health and family planning systems. Iran ranks second in the world in primary education enrollment, with 99.85 percent of its children enrolled in school.

“The notable achievement realized by the Islamic Republic of Iran within the framework of MDG 1 manifests the effectiveness of the policies and measures pursued by the country over the past two decades,” said Serge Nakouzi, Iran’s FAO representative.

Overall, there are 216 million fewer people who live in extreme hunger in 2015 than there were in 1992. The prevalence of undernourishment declined to 12.9 percent from 23.3 percent. Such success stories in Iran show the world how much policy reforms can make a difference in combating extreme poverty and hunger.

While the reduction of hunger in Iran is a great achievement, the country still faces challenges regarding the overall reduction of poverty. Iran has seen an increase in its youth population, an increase in migration and a prevalence of low-income households with no protection from economic fluctuations. It is important to move beyond the 2015 MDGs in order to alleviate extreme poverty and continue eradicating hunger.

Success in Iran can be attributed to economic growth, increases in income, higher employment, social security expansion and higher standards of health and education. Active governance and commitment to food security keep crisis environments away in order to combat malnourishment and create effective food policies.

Donald Gering

Sources: FAO, Knoema, Press TV, Press TV, Social Progress Imperative, UNDP

How Their 1979 Revolution Brought Iran Into Poverty-TBP
Revolutions spin nations into a whirlwind of anxiousness, confusion and, often economic changes. The changes that ensued after the 1979 Iranian Revolution sent the nation into economic troubles for a multitude of reasons.

After the revolution, the new government federalized businesses, which has ended up further hurting the economy. With the new sanctions and laws regarding the businesses, families have experienced a more difficult time to provide for themselves.

To add to the shift in government and adjusting to the new laws, a baby boom occurred in Iran following the 1979 revolution. Following the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini asked women of the new Iran to have a substantial amount of babies that could one day protect their nation and faith.

After his call for children, the population came close to doubling from 34 million citizens to 62 million, according to The United States Institute of Peace: The Iran Primer.

With such a drastic jump in population, the Islamic Republic soon came to realize that they could not “feed, clothe, house, educate and eventually employ the growing numbers.” Without the ability, space or resources necessary, many families fell into poverty at a significant rate.

As more families sought refuge and aid in any form available, the option of terrorism became more tempting. Not because they desired terroristic actions, but often terrorist groups will travel through impoverished areas promising to pay considerable amounts to those who join their groups.

When in desperate need of money to care for one’s family, the willingness to join radical alternatives becomes a considerable option. With the insecurity of families and nations placed upon them, the feeling of hopelessness only grows.

However, after the dramatic increase in population, a progressive family planning program was enacted in an attempt to slow the population growth and allow the government to provide for those already born.

The program was advanced, especially for the time. Billboards went up across the nation encouraging smaller family sizes, volunteers were sent door-to-door to advocate for why fewer children were the better option, family planning classes were required before marriage and health centers began distributing free birth control and condoms all in an effort to slow the birth rate and end the baby boom.

With the new program in place, birth rates soon began to decline at what was a comforting rate. In 1988, women were averaging 5.5 births. By 2006, the average had decreased to 1.9 births per woman, and was continuing to drop.

Though the birth rate had declined like intended, with the continually dropping rate, a new concern arose. There was now an exceedingly large generation of baby boomers being followed by a generation that would not even replace their parents.

The abrupt decline in births has, and still is, causing problems regarding their ability to support the immense aging population.

With this vast difference of situations and problems, the Iranian government and population is continuing to feel a struggle in the prolonged wake of the 1979 revolution.

Between the excessive number of babies and then the sudden drop in births, the population fluctuation is one of Iran’s numerous economic issues that they as a nation and separate communities are having to deal with.

– Katherine Wyant

Sources: Iran Primer, International Affairs Review, Iran Primer
Photo: Iran News Update

poverty in tehran
Socioeconomic conditions in Iran, and Tehran in particular, are declining at a rapid rate. The country is home to high unemployment rates, dire poverty, rising inflation, and an unsustainably low minimum wage. Tehran teems with street vendors—many of whom are children—who engage in their dangerous work out of sheer desperation. Meanwhile, the nation’s superrich continue to grow wealthier. The result is an ever-widening gap between Tehran’s rich and poor.

Nearly 40 years after the Iranian revolution, the nation’s leaders have yet to ensure equal distribution of wealth and opportunity to its citizens. Iran is currently home to seven million people living in absolute poverty, struggling to find enough food to eat each day.

Meanwhile, there are also five million people living in Iran who are tremendously wealthy, with Labor Minister Ali Rabiee deeming their financial statuses comparable to those of the wealthiest Americans. Nearly all of Iran’s national government officials are multimillionaires—a fact that the nation’s working class has protested over the years—and the country gains a considerable amount of wealth from its lucrative oil exports.

More detailed figures describing poverty data in Iran remain hard to come by, as news sources have criticized the government for withholding such information. This tendency to shy away from revealing relevant statistics is in no way a new trend; when former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in office, the government similarly refused to comply with the United Nations’ requests for official data reflecting poverty levels in Iran. This remained the case despite the passage of Iran’s Fourth Development Plan, which required the Welfare Ministry to make such information accessible.

Despite the ongoing secrecy, current Iranian President Haxdsssan Rouhani has been vocal about making poverty a top focus since assuming office, declaring in an October speech that there was “no evil worse than unemployment and poverty.”

Since taking over the presidency in 2013, President Rouhani has implemented several measures intended to address the nation’s growing poverty problems. Some of these measures have proven successful in helping to curb rising inflation levels and bringing a timely end to two full years of negative growth. However, it remains to be seen whether the president will be able to address the issue as fully as it demands; critics point out that the largest parts of Iran’s economy are heavily controlled by the government or semi-private bodies that remain intricately linked with the nation’s power players.

Officials believe that unemployment will only grow in the years to come, as approximately four million new college graduates leave their universities and struggle to find employment, joining the four million people in Iran who are currently in need of jobs. In the last fiscal year, nearly one quarter of all households in the nation were entirely unemployed.

In Tehran, many of the poorest city-dwellers turn to establishing informal businesses on the streets as a means of survival. It is common to see such vendors setting up makeshift “shops” on sidewalks or simply carrying their goods for sale throughout the city, peddling items like balloons, hair ties and socks to passersby. These street peddlers face instability and even danger in the face of constantly changing city ordinances and brutal security officials who try to extort them for protection money. Some peddlers, when confronted by rogue officials, are forced to regularly pay them in order to avoid harassment. If they refuse, the officers simply take all of the sellers’ earnings.

The situational poverty in Tehran goes beyond an economic problem to a human rights issue.

– Shenel Ozisik

Sources: The Borgen Project, PBS, Al-Monitor, FIDH, The Guardian, The Baltimore Sun
Photo: Payvand

Lingering Malnutrition in Iran - The Borgen Project
A 1965 study found that 31 percent of children under the age of five who were admitted to hospitals in Tehran during 1965 were suffering from malnutrition, leading to nearly 100 deaths. Moreover, as much as 53 percent of women and girls suffered from anemia around the same time.

Today, though, Iran has the lowest rate of childhood malnutrition in the region that includes the Middle East and North Africa. Roughly four percent of Iranian children are malnourished, a dramatic decrease from the percentages in the 1960s. Adequate vitamin A consumption is the norm, and 99 percent of households consume iodized salt, which provides the iodine necessary for proper brain development in children.

Thus, Iran was remarkably successful in dealing with the malnutrition problem. However, there is still much room for improvement. Iran still demonstrates what one might term “provincial malnutrition.”

For example, the province of Hormuzgan has a rate of underweight children triple that of the country’s average rate. In Sistan-Baluchestan, 21 percent of children will not grow to their full height potential because of malnutrition.

It is a common phenomenon: malnutrition reduction in urban areas and the lack of reduction (or the opposite) in rural areas.

Certain population groups, such as the large Afghan refugee population in Iran, are struggling with food insecurity and higher levels of malnutrition as well. Wasting among Afghan refugee children was found to be 12.7 percent, higher than the urban average. The diet diversity of refugee families is poor, too; around 15 percent of households go without fruits and vegetables for spans longer than a month.

Another population group, the elderly, was also found to have higher levels of malnutrition than the national average.

The reduction of malnutrition in Iran has not been universal, then. And even in urban areas, where people are more food secure, another problem related to malnutrition has appeared—namely, obesity. The obesity rate among children in the cities doubled during the past decade, and obesity is compatible and even correlated with malnutrition.

Fortunately, one expert, Dr. Zahra Abdollahi, the Health Ministry’s deputy for improving nutrition, is working to make the reduction of malnutrition in certain provinces a priority.

Ensuring such a reduction would improve children’s school performance and overall quality of life, according to Abdollahi. It would also improve the health of mothers and newborns, an area for needed improvement across the globe.

One major obstacle these efforts will face is Iran’s increasing population. Iran’s population of over 80 million strains the government’s ability to feed everyone in part because of its heavy reliance on grain imports. Reducing malnutrition requires increasing food security, a requirement that unsustainable population growth makes difficult to achieve.

– Ryan Yanke

Sources: World Bank, UNICEF, Iranian Journal of Epidemiology, IRNA, World Food Programme, Breitbart, Green Party of Iran
Photo: CSCG

reproductive rights
Iranian officials are taking steps to restrict access to birth control options in Iran, in hopes of increasing fertility rates and population growth.

Last week, Iranian lawmakers ratified a bill which would ban birth control surgeries and criminalize any act to reduce fertility. According to the bill, every individual who performs a vasectomy or tubectomy or engages in sterilization could face up to five years of imprisonment. This new bill indicates a dramatic shift from progressive population policies previously implemented in Iran.

In the late 1980s, Iran launched a national family planning project, as the country was faced with one of the fastest population growth rates in the world. The baby boom was a result of Iranian authorities’ demand for more soldiers in the 1979 Revolution.

By introducing birth control policies, Iran succeeded in reducing the uncontrolled population growth from its peak of 3.2 percent in the 1980s to a current low of 1.22 percent. The policies have also allowed Iranian women to make significant strides, as women now comprise 60 percent of college students, and socioeconomic trends show that most women choose to develop careers rather than starting families.

However, Iranian officials have recently begun to worry about the low birthrates and the projection of the country’s population in the coming decades. In 2012, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a 14-point decree that promoted population growth to 150 million or more. He established a goal of increasing the population by 76 million, claiming in his decree that attaining this goal would “strengthen national identity.”

In response, Mahmoud Almadinejad’s conservative government eliminated the population and birth control budgets of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education. The government even legally agreed to pay Iranian families for every new child produced. This is quite a significant turnaround from the “Fewer Kids, Better Life” motto widely promoted in the 1980s.

Furthermore, a new set of policies were established by the Expediency Council to advance Khamenei’s goal. These policy reforms include encouraging youth to marry at a younger age, financially supporting young couples, providing mothers with special resources, ensuring the health and proper nutrition of the people and reducing population pressures.

The objective of these conventions is not only to increase population, but also to balance the country’s challenging demographic profile, which foresees an older population, in the future.

The new population regulations will particularly target Iranian women, threatening the legal rights they have obtained in the past few decades. Female Iranian activists regard the new policy reforms as a method to curtail women’s economic, political and financial roles, and restrain them to their houses.

For women in the rural working class, the elimination of reproductive services, including free contraception and health care, will leave them with more children to support and no education or share of job markets. According to the Statistical Centre of Iran, women only make up 12.4 percent of Iran’s work force and, with these new policies, this figure will only drop.

These recently employed policies, in addition to the pending bill that involves punishments and restrictions, denotes a complete reversal of women’s reproductive rights in Iran.

– Abby Bauer

Sources: Global Post, Al Monitor, Huffington Post
Photo: National Geographic

Hear “Over Under Sideways Down” and you may think of the experimental, blues-rock single released by the English Yardbirds in the 1960s. On the off chance that experimental 1960s English music is unfamiliar, the song is sung by someone lost to the high life. “Over, under, sideways, down, backwards, forwards, square and ‘round…when will it end?” asks the chorus.

Though for completely different reasons, the feelings of confusion and displacement professed in the song are echoed in a recently released comic of the same name. Commissioned by Amnesty International in honor of Refugee week, it tells the story of Iranian Ebrahim Esmail.

Esmail is Kurdish Iranian, one in a group of people marginalized and often very poor. In addition to the trials he faced as an ethnic Kurd, he has long been a victim of political persecution. At 6 years old, he was shot in leg, an event from which he still bears a scar. His father, a reformer and activist, was murdered. At 9, he was passing out political flyers for his stepfather. At 15 it was revealed that he was in danger, and he was forced to leave his mother and his home.

The smugglers who led Esmail and others to the United Kingdom took complete advantage of the vulnerability of their charges. They were brutal and inhumane in their treatment of the men and women with whom they had been entrusted. They abandoned Esmail as soon as he reached the U.K. Left with no money and no connections, he found police authorities, then spent four years in examination after interview after court case. He was finally given “leave to remain” in the country.

This was, briefly, the story given to comic creator Karrie Fransman. Having written for The Guardian, The Times and Random House, she was hardly short on experience. But the task was daunting. “I listened to everything Ebrahim was telling me and thought, how on Earth am I going to draw this?” she said in a recent interview.

To some, comics are for children. But it is immediately apparent that Fransman’s work is not. Muted in tone and understated in narrative, it simply and sympathetically presents Esmail’s story, without overpowering it.

Fransman expresses her honor in speaking with Esmail and committing some of his life to the page. Esmail seems satisfied with the result. “The experiences I’ve had are not always easy for me to talk about, but I wanted people to be able to understand what it means to be forced from your home and made to start all over again,” he says. The comic does just that.

Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Broken Frontier, The Red Cross, Refugee Week
Photo: The Guardian

Masih Alinejad
Masih Alinejad is a prominent Iranian journalist and activist who is currently in the news regarding some unfortunate circumstances. Last week, the Iranian TV personality Vahid Yaminpour reported a fake story that Alinejad was raped while on drugs in London, where she is living in exile, and subsequently called her a whore on his Facebook page.

This type of slander is despicable and some of the worst that Alinejad has had to endure. As an outspoken activist against the Iranian government, she understands that “they want to keep journalists silent.” However, she goes on to further explain that even though she’s been attacked many times in the past, “this was the most fabricated, most disgusting news about me.”

In the face of such adversity it is important to give support to Alinejad. She believes the reason for the fake report is in retaliation to a Facebook page she created last month which has garnered almost 500,000 likes. The page is called My Stealthy Freedom, and its main purpose is for Iranian women to post pictures of themselves in public without wearing the hijab.

Iran has a 35-year old law that forces women to wear the hijab. Many women protest this law because it denies them their freedom. Hundreds of women from Iran have written to Alinejad so their pictures can be posted on her Facebook page.

One woman sent a picture of her throwing her hijab while in the street with an accompanying text saying, “what I want is freedom of choice, not a meter of cloth! I’ll remove this piece of cloth! Look! I am still a human!”

Alinejad’s personal favorite photo is of women wearing the hijab but holding a sign that says, “I support and wear hijab but I am against compulsory hijab.” Although the page is mostly in Arabic, some of the pictures are truly moving and beautiful.

Alinejad sees the hijab as a form of control by hardliners in her country. They use it to remove any possible power or participation in society for women. Since Iranian media is controlled by the government, they have an easy time of shaping the citizens’ perceptions. Those in power want to keep women wearing the hijab.

Alinejad believes the fake report about her is an attempt to discredit her and her My Stealthy Freedom campaign. Her campaign challenges those in power and the status quo in Iran. Specifically, it challenges the hijab and promotes women’s rights to more freedom. As evident by her favorite photo on her page, its not that she is against the hijab itself, but what it represents: male domination over women.

Eleni Marino

Sources: Facebook, Time, ABC
Photo: WordPress

As the rest of the world begins to tackle the growing population problem and the threat humans have to the environment, Iran pushes forward with a goal in mind to increase the country’s population.

Hovering around 77 million citizens, Iran is no small country. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently announced on his website that he wishes to “strengthen national identity” with this proposed Iranian population increase.

He also blamed Western culture for the rise in contraception usage and stated that the country should avoid these “undesirable aspects.”

The inherent expectation to come of this campaign is the reduction in access to contraceptive health, damaging the future of women’s rights as well as public health in Iran. Contraception was only introduced to Iran in the 1980s, and its likely disappearance will surely not be taken lightly. Not only will the population increase with no access to contraceptives, but so will the rates of sexually transmitted diseases. Contraceptives have long held more function than simply birth control.

Groups such as the AIDS Research Center at Tehran University have recognized the dangerous path this campaign is heading toward. Without complete access to contraception, educators will not be able to teach community members ways to practice safe sex and prevent the spread of AIDS.

This population policy does not address the needs of the modern Iranian citizen as represented in the reformist group. Those in poverty who struggle to support a small family will face great hardships if they have restricted control over the size of their family.

Iranian reformists are concerned with the future of the country under this new ruling due to its potential impact on women’s equality.

Many believe Iran is taking steps backward with this course of action, shying away from progressive women’s rights. Women’s rights in Iran have seen dismal support and this does little to eradicate that.

Since 1986, the population of Iran has fallen about 2 percent, which may play a part in the government’s decision to incite this new ruling for Iranian population increase. However, according to the World Population Review, Iran’s population is already on the road to rapid increase, with a majority of the population being held in the younger generations and immigrants from surrounding countries. It’s possible that with this new decree, the population will shoot up at alarming rates and threaten the stability of the country.

-Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, NY Times World Population Review, Khamenei
Photo: LA Times

Israel is but a pawn on the playing board of the massive Chinese economy. But it is a strong and able pawn.

On April 8, Israeli President Shimon Peres made the first trip to China by an Israeli President since 2013. He met with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, in order to improve economic and diplomatic ties between the countries and to bolster a mutual commitment to opposing the spread of nuclear and other non-conventional weapons throughout the Middle East. According to Peres, China has the ability to strengthen safety and stability in the region.

Just last year, in 2013, Xi met with both Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. China has made a point of urging a revival and reinvigoration of peace talks, giving Israel confidence in cooperation.

A member of the United Nations P5+1, Xi comforted Peres with a pledge from China to continue supporting international nuclear negotiations with Iran. He said China understands Israel’s security concerns with Iranian nuclear proliferation and that he wants to help prevent Iran from obtaining those weapons.

China’s stance on Iran, however, is a bit complicated. A customer of Iranian oil and thus a backer of Tehran, China has resisted imposing heavier sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Consequently, in an effort to achieve diplomacy in all corners of the ideological world, China hopes to both maintain ties with Iran and to improve relations with Israel simultaneously. Israel shares these hopes.

If China manages to retain its close ties with Iran, Israel can potentially utilize those connections and push its own initiatives through the Chinese hand. Peres, for example, claims that China can significantly help in the Middle East, particularly in light of the present tumultuous circumstances of the Arab Spring aftermath. China has brought millions of people out of poverty without relying on foreign aid and assistance and, as such, Israel believes China can bring its expertise to the region.

Though circumstances may not be the same in reverse, China is Israel’s third largest trading partner and Israel can use China’s desire for diplomatic ties in the region to its advantage. In order to solidify ties, Israel is even considering setting up a model farm in southern China. That way, China can study and make use of Israel’s agricultural technology while asserting its power in the Middle East.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: The Jerusalem Post, The Diplomat, The Times of Israel

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran inherited an interesting situation upon entering office last June 2013. Elected under the pretense of repairing and improving a broken economy, Rouhani’s shoulders have had to carry increasingly heavy burdens.

Despite denial by various Iranian leaders, a plethora of scholars and academics attest to the claim that the downtrodden economy resultant of sanctions by the Western world significantly contributed to Rouhani’s willingness to participate seriously in nuclear talks. Such willingness has led to an easing of sanctions, ultimately permitting Iran to do business more freely on an international scale. Since Rouhani’s election, inflation in Iran has dropped from 43 percent to 33 percent and the nation’s currency has begun to revive from losing almost 80 percent of its value over the past two years.

Rouhani has helped to stabilize Iranian currency, started a path toward a nuclear deal and greatly reduced inflation. Yet the slow and steady pace of economic revitalization is not fast enough for the people of Iran. Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left finances in a despicable state, far worse than suspected. In order to undo what was once done and produce long-term results, Rouhani has had to take short-term steps that have unfortunately made current life worse for many Iranians.

Sanctions as experienced under Ahmadinejad’s rule created a society accustomed to drastically higher prices of everyday goods. People learned to leave out the unnecessary goods and buy only those that were utterly indispensable. Now, however, individuals may experience an increase in gasoline prices, perhaps by as much as 30 percent.

And while the government attempts to keep prices at local markets fair for consumers, many shopkeepers and vendors complain that it is not worth it for them to sell their goods in such regulated arenas. No matter how much they sell, one vendor explained, they will end up losing money.

The Iranian New Year is here, welcomed with the sting of disappointment in the air. Rouhani is doing what he can, but patience is a virtue that financial misfortune makes difficult to uphold.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: New York Times, NPR, Times, Washington Post
Photo: Joojoo