A Surprising Upside to COVID-19
Although the COVID-19 pandemic yielded many medical devastations, many young doctors fast-tracked into residencies to answer the demand for caregivers and essential workers, showing the surprising upside to COVID-19. This succeeded in easing the burden on the medical community. While COVID-19 cases are significant, young doctors are providing aid in places such as the United Kingdom, Czech Republic and Italy.

The UK

Across the United Kingdom, the March 2020 events immediately implored the Medical Schools Council (MSC) to expedite qualifications for final year medical students solely based on their clinical examinations. This fast-tracked those in their last year of medical school by unburdening them from having to work with patients in a hospital setting – something that became nearly impossible during the first stages of the pandemic due to a lack of information about the spread of the disease. A BMC Medical Education study found that almost 40% of students had their Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) canceled, allowing some students to graduate early and join the workforce.

Over the past 12 months, the United Kingdom endured over 4 million cases and over 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. The Mirror reported on January 20, 2021, that over 50,000 NHS staff members have been sick with COVID-19 and around 800 have died from the virus. The government is trying to respond quickly, not only allowing medical students to wave clinical examinations in some cases but also reconsider whether or not to fast-track the registrations of refugee doctors with foreign degrees. Anna Jones of RefuAid said to the Guardian, “We have 230 doctors who are fully qualified in their own countries. Most have many years of experience as doctors.”

The latter program offers a pathway out of poverty for refugees and immigrants in their new countries. The former has given young people the opportunity to help the global cause in a profound way. Meanwhile, the medical field gave more people of diverse backgrounds more opportunities, which is another surprising upside to COVID-19.

The Czech Republic

In Eastern Europe, medical schools had similar ideas. Many university students took it upon themselves to volunteer at overworked hospitals to help fatigued systems on the verge of collapse.  Students received important medical responsibilities in clinics and administrative roles. Aleksi Šedo, dean of the First Faculty of Medicine at Charles University in Prague, stated, “It’s an honor for our faculty that its students have spontaneously created an initiative to help our health care and, more broadly, the entire society.”

Perhaps another surprising upside to the COVID-19 pandemic is the opportunity for young people to stand out and receive recognition. Although, the Czech Republic obtained praise for how it responded to the pandemic, the second wave in October 2020 hit it hard, resulting in over 15,000 new cases per day. Additionally, just under 3,000 people died in the country from March to September. Moreover, more recent months have yielded a sharp increase, with the death toll now tracking upwards of 20,000.

Only 3.4% of the Czech population is at risk of poverty but there is a strong link between education and poverty in the country. This corroborates the trend of fast-tracking doctors (or in this case, the doctors taking control of fast-tracking themselves through volunteering) as a method of rising out of poverty. The Czech Republic is welcoming young doctors with first-hand pandemic experience into its qualified and registered ranks.

Italy

One of the surprising upsides of COVID-19 comes from Italy and its ‘Cure Italy’ campaign, which emerged during the first days of the pandemic. The whole world was horrified by Italy’s plight as Italy accounted for 10,000 of the first 30,000 reported COVID-19 deaths. The country expedited the process by “cutting the hospital exam and increasing the number of doctors being recruited.” This gave many young doctors their first professional job experience and saved them the standard practice of many Italian medical school graduates: work abroad.

For Italians like Chiara Bonini, Samin Sedghi Zadeh and Stefania Pini, the pandemic gave them a much appreciated if not worrisome opportunity to help in the northern regions when their neighbors needed it. Bonini was in the process of studying for her final exams when the government began to change the process and invited many up north. She jumped at the chance. Zadeh left a job as a general practitioner to help in the face of a crisis. He hopes this will be a call to action regarding the bolstering of health networks. Meanwhile, Pini transferred back to Italy in order to ease the burden after working in Switzerland’s hospitals. She thinks this might be an opportunity to return to work in her home country. One surprising upside to COVID-19 for Italian doctors has been young medical professionals the opportunity to return to Italy.

One Year Milestone

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has reached its one-year milestone, one can process its effects on health and poverty a little more clearly. The study of medicine has long been one way for those in poverty to change their socioeconomic status and a surprising upside to COVID-19 has been its effects on young and foreign doctors in the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Italy. From inviting those in their final year of school to be fully qualified without traditional clinical tests, passing doctors with qualifications from other countries into the health system and bringing doctors back home to fight the disease ravaging their communities, the novel coronavirus has provided glimmers of hope for those in the medical community: it has presented opportunities for essential workers.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr

INTERSOS Response to COVID-19INTERSOS is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that responds to humanitarian emergencies in Italy and 20 other countries around the world. The organization works on the frontlines of disaster zones, providing basic needs such as medical care, clean water, shelter and food.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been especially active in Italy by providing relief to those in need. The INTERSOS response to COVID-19 in Italy focuses on Rome and the surrounding region, particularly on homeless people and other vulnerable groups.

Homelessness During the Pandemic

There are around 8,000 homeless people in Rome and about 3,000 of them do not have a means of shelter. According to the coordinator for homeless outreach at the Catholic charity, Sant’Egidio, shelters have reduced occupancy due to COVID-19 restrictions. This has been particularly challenging during the winter months when temperatures can drop below zero degrees. From November 2020 to January 2021, 12 people died from the cold on Rome’s streets.

Normally, the subway stations in Rome close at night, but, 40,000 people signed a petition created by the community group, Nonna Roma, to leave the metro open. This would give people a safe place to sleep at night. Charities and organizations such as Nonna Roma and Sant’Egidio are working to provide food and shelter to the increasing number of people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. These organizations fear that the number of vulnerable people will rise as the expiration dates of protective tenant policies, such as a ban on evictions, looms.

The INTERSOS Response

In March 2020, INTERSOS recognized the lack of healthcare and basic necessities for the homeless in Rome. The organization quickly oriented its work to provide COVID-19 specific resources. This includes education about the virus, information about COVID-19 precautions and general healthcare assistance. It continued to do so since the second wave of infections in October 2020. The INTERSOS response to COVID-19 addresses accessibility, with mobile healthcare teams visiting vulnerable populations directly at informal housing settlements throughout Rome. These mobile teams provide as much assistance as possible, on-site. If the teams do not have the resources themselves, the teams direct people to relevant social or healthcare programs in the city.

INTERSOS Mobile Team

A UNICEF report from April 2020 explains a typical day for the INTERSOS mobile healthcare team. The day UNICEF reports on, the team visits an informal settlement of 500 residents on the outskirts of Rome. The living conditions are cramped as the structure was not intended for the purpose of housing families. These conditions put people at high risk of contracting COVID-19. The INTERSOS team conducts health screenings for COVID-19 symptoms, gives lessons on hygiene and speaks with individuals and families about specific concerns.

In a typical week, INTERSOS visits three settlements in Rome and checks in on people living in Rome’s train stations. INTERSOS is vital in providing healthcare and basic necessities to those who need it most. With the assistance and dedication of INTERSOS, Italy’s most vulnerable are getting the care and resources they need to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.

Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

Mental health in ItalyItaly is the fourth most populous nation in Europe, with a population of 60.36 million people as of 2019. As it stands, Italy remains one of the most COVID-19 affected countries, and the resulting lockdown has had a noticeable impact on the mental health of the Italian population. However, there is more to the story of mental health in Italy than the effects of the pandemic.

Italy’s Past Relationship with Mental Health

Italy passed Law Number 180 in 1978. Law Number 180 blocked all new admissions to Italian mental hospitals. This subsequently led to all mental hospitals in Italy closing by the year 2000. This change came about so that mental patients would receive similar treatment to other patients with physical ailments. Psychiatric wards that still exist in the country are located inside general hospitals with roughly 10 available beds in these wards per 100,000 people, and only 46 beds per 100,000 people in community residential facilities. These numbers can also vary significantly between geographical areas.

The State of Mental Health in Italy

In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, Italy had been doing relatively well in terms of mental health. For example, in 2016, Italy had one of the lowest suicide rates among G7 countries, at 6.3 suicides per 100,000 people. This is less than half the rate of the United States in 2016, which was 13.3 suicides per 100,000 people. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that in 2017, 5.1% of the Italian population suffered from some form of depressive disorder and 5% of the population suffered from an anxiety disorder.

The Effects of COVID-19

The full effects of COVID-19 on mental health in Italy are unknown. However, psychological studies conducted while lockdown measures were in place provide some clarity on the subject. One online survey issued approximately four weeks into lockdown measures in Italy showed notably increased rates of post-traumatic stress syndrome, symptoms of depression, insomnia, symptoms of anxiety and perceived stress.

The Future of Mental Health in Italy

According to experts, there are going to be psychosocial and economic ramifications resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, due to the trauma associated with being a frontline worker, there is a projected decline in the mental health of frontline doctors and nurses. This decline will also affect members of the Italian population that have undergone any psychological distress because of the pandemic.

Steps have already been taken to help those suffering from COVID-19-related stress. In March 2020, the Italian government launched a national mental health service intended to combat the rise of mental distress in Italy. The program works with institutions and regional associations to provide free emergency help from psychoanalysts and psychologists. The new mental health service can also provide necessary mental resources to low-income families and individuals living independently as they are more at risk of developing mental health disorders.

Additionally, SOS Children’s Villages, an organization that has also taken action on the issue of mental health in Italy during COVID-19, has partnered with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the City University of New York and the WHO to train individuals on how to provide low-intensity psychological interventions to individuals in need of psychological aid.

The “Living with the Times” toolkit made by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support also helps to provide adults with the tools necessary to support one’s mental health, as well as the welfare of those around them.

Italy has a unique relationship with mental health treatment, and COVID-19 presents an unusual challenge for the nation. Efforts by the institutions that have partnered with the Italian government, as well as local NGOs and nonprofits, aim to reduce the damage caused by COVID-19 by making mental health care widespread and accessible.

– Brendan Jacobs
Photo: Unsplash

Healthcare in Italy
Many know Italy to have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, with the sixth-highest life expectancy, and a low rate of preventable and treatable deaths. Everyone benefits from high-quality care and the Italian government takes measures to ensure the most vulnerable populations receive care. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Italy hard which overwhelmed the hospitals and will have lasting damage on the low-income population. Here is some information about how healthcare in Italy works for vulnerable populations.

Everyone Has Access

Healthcare in Italy is universal, meaning that while private insurance options are available, everyone qualifies for public healthcare coverage regardless of income. This covers hospital visits, preventative treatment, medications, pediatrics and all necessary medical procedures for free or a small copay. One drawback is long waiting times to receive services. Italy has greater disparities in healthcare quality between regions and income classes than the rest of the European Union, but even so, less than 6% of low-income residents have any trouble accessing services.

Mental Healthcare sets an Example for the World

  In 1978, Italy passed legislation expanding mental health services. The city of Trieste replaced its 1,200-bed mental health hospital with a network of person-centered care facilities, including:

  • Four Community Mental Health Centers housing four to eight residents each.
  • One General Hospital Psychiatric Unit with six beds for short-term emergency stays.
  • The Habilitation and Residential Service, a network of voluntary communal housing with 45 beds that works with NGOs and provides various levels of supervision and services to residents based on their needs.

Instead of just treating a mental illness, the mental healthcare system in Trieste works to integrate patients into the community so they can lead fulfilling lifestyles. Instead of police, trained psychiatrists respond to mental health emergencies. In 2017, a group of Los Angeles County officials traveled to Trieste to find that it had eliminated the need for involuntary psychiatric care, there was no mentally ill homeless population and jails were not overcrowded with those needing mental health treatment. By investing in person-centered care, Trieste was able to reduce social injustices and bring vulnerable groups back into the community.

Refugees Qualify for Healthcare

Immediately upon arrival, asylum seekers receive access to public healthcare in Italy. Some difficulties can occur in receiving care, such as language barriers or legal processes delaying healthcare qualification by several months.

Many asylum seekers are torture survivors or deal with other trauma and can be eligible for specific mental health treatments. Redattore Sociale is a Doctors Without Borders project in Rome that has dedicated itself to ensuring torture survivors from all around the world receive the comprehensive psychiatric care they need.

Pandemic Crisis

Italy had an early spike in COVID-19 cases which overwhelmed the healthcare system. Italy has the fifth-highest coronavirus deaths per capita worldwide.

The situation is especially bleak in nursing homes, where the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that half of all Italy’s COVID-19 deaths have taken place. The country’s failure to properly test, distribute personal protective equipment, isolate residents and staff experiencing symptoms and openly report infection statistics have caused high death tallies and led to lawsuits against many nursing homes by relatives and other concerned parties.

The pandemic has also hit the economy hard, with low-income families suffering the most. Lack of support from the government has forced those who lost their source of income to turn to organizations such as the European Food Bank Federation, founded in 1967, which distributes 4.2 million meals every single day through a network of charities.

Although the economy may not fully recover, COVID-19 cases have been dropping steadily since late November 2020, and with doctors starting to administer vaccinations, there is hope for the future.

Though people usually consider healthcare in Italy to be high-quality in how it provides care for vulnerable groups, it was unprepared to deal with the pandemic, devastating the aging population and low-income families. Accountability for nursing homes and aid to impoverished citizens must be part of the plan going forward, as well as more efficient central planning to deal with future emergencies.

Elise Brehob
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in ItalyAround the world, people commonly associate Italy with their favorite foods: pasta, bread and warm, baked goods. They imagine music playing on the streets and visiting the beautiful and historic sites of Rome, Naples and Florence. In their mental scenes of Italy, everything is happy and life is good. However, just like every other country, hunger in Italy results in struggles to feed all of its citizens, and more than 1.5 million people each day go without enough to eat.

The United Nations defines food security as every person having physical, social and economic access to enough safe and nutritious food to meet and sustain dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. The term “hunger” is used to describe periods in which people experience severe food insecurity where they go days without eating. This is because of the lack of money, access or other resources. Here are four facts about hunger in Italy.

Four Facts About Hunger in Italy

  1. For the past six years, hunger in Italy has maintained a steady rate of 2.5% of the population. This is a low percentage. However, Italy’s total population is 60.36 million. With this considered, 1.509 million are subject to food insecurity each day.
  2. Additionally, the average Disposable Personal Income in Italy dropped by almost six thousand euros per year. This happened after seeing a consistent rise in salaries over the past three years. Disposable personal income is the wage workers keep after taxes are taken out. As a result, workers stretch their paychecks out much more than usual and limit food expenses. In a table listed with 35 economically developed countries, Italy ranked seventh in the leading percentages of relative child poverty with a rate of 15.9%. Relative poverty is calculated by dividing a family’s disposable income by the number of people living in the residence. If the result is less than 50% of the national median income, they live in relative poverty.
  3. Furthermore, in March of 2019, the Italian government began a new welfare program for its underprivileged population. Italian citizens who qualify must be earning less than 9,360 euros per year. The national average is approximately 22,000 euros. Also, they cannot own any expensive luxury items such as boats or second homes. The welfare program has a pre-paid debit card to use for groceries, bills, medicines and other necessities. Able-bodied residents must enter a job-finding program or a training program.
  4. Also, the United Nations has a set of seventeen goals it hopes to achieve by the end of 2030. One of these goals is Zero Hunger to work toward food security for every global citizen. After decades of consistent rises in food security, things took a turn for the worse in 2015, and food security levels began to decrease again. Today, 690 million people suffer from hunger; 135 million suffer from acute hunger. The COVID-19 pandemic put so many out of work and tore apart economies. It is actively putting an estimated 130 million more people at risk of dying of acute hunger this year. The world population is rising and natural resources are depleting. As a result, we need revolutions in global agricultural systems more than ever before.

– Rebecca Blanke
Photo: Pikist

homelessness in italyItaly has a population of just over 60 million people and boasts a per-capita GDP of roughly $34,000. This makes it one of the world’s most developed countries. Further, Italy’s location in the Mediterranean and its rich, diverse cultural history make it a land of opportunity. Some of its most profitable industries include tourism, agriculture, fashion, wine, olive oil and automobiles. However, despite having such a strong economy, homelessness in Italy remains an issue. Here are seven facts about homelessness in Italy.

7 Facts about Homelessness in Italy

  1. Official statistics may undercount the number of people facing homelessness in Italy. Roughly 3.2% of the country, or 2 million people, make under $5.50 per day. Of those people, more than 50,000 are homeless. However, because these figures come from major cities, there are likely more people facing homelessness in Italy. The country counts people as homeless if they are living in a public or outdoor space, an emergency shelter or a specific accommodation for the homeless. This does not include people in jail, receiving medical care or living with family. As such, official numbers often do not reflect Roma, Travellers and Sinti people who live in subpar housing.
  2. Middle-aged people and migrants are most at risk for homelessness in Italy. Half of all homeless people are between the ages of 35 and 54. Further, Migrants make up 58% of people facing homelessness in Italy. In Milan, 90% of people living in slums are foreign-born. Similarly, in Naples and Bologna, 77% and 73% of homeless people are migrants, respectively. Between 2011 and 2014, the average duration of homelessness migrants faced went up from 1.6 to 2.2 years. This is still less than native Italians, whose duration of homelessness was 3.5 years on average.
  3. As a result of the global recession in 2008, the rate of homelessness tripled. In Italy, the loss of a stable job contributes significantly to homelessness. Additionally, the rate of economic recovery has been slow. By 2016, an estimated 3,000 more people became homeless in Italy compared to 2011. Even in 2011, one in every four families in Italy was unable to make mortgage payments. This implies an increased rate of evictions and families made newly homeless. At the same time, the unemployment rate nearly doubled from 6.7% in 2008 to 12.7% in 2014. As of 2020, estimates place it at 9.1%.
  4. Italy fares worse on homelessness than many of its E.U. neighbors. For example, Italy spends the equivalence of $12 per person on housing. The United Kingdom, in contrast, spends more than 40 times the amount Italy does. In Italy, the financial crisis led to funding cuts for housing. Additionally, only 4% of Italy’s housing stock is public, which is one-fifth of the E.U. average.
  5. Homelessness in Italy is geographical. Specifically, about 56% of all reported homeless people live in the northern part of the country. Of all northern cities and cities across Italy, Milan has the highest amount of homeless people. Estimates suggested 12,000 homeless people in Milan in 2014. Central Italy contains roughly 24% of Italy’s homeless population, while Southern Italy contains 20%. Rome and Palermo report the highest number of homeless people in their respective regions.
  6. In 2018, the Salvini Decree ended humanitarian protection for migrants not eligible for refugee status. Most people who arrived to Italy receive humanitarian protection, and 100,000 hold work permits. With protections removed, the migrants faced evictions. These occurred in parts of southern Italy.
  7. Homeless people face unique struggles as a result of COVID-19. When Italy went into a full lockdown to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, police started fining homeless people for violating lockdown, simply because they could not follow lockdown rules. Additionally, building shelters amenable to social distancing proved challenging. Many homeless people also lack information about the virus and proper personal protective equipment. Finally, obtaining food became a struggle for many people facing homelessness in Italy.

Organizations Fighting Homelessness in Italy

Several organizations are helping to fight homelessness in Italy. Baobab Experience wrote an open letter to the minister of health, Roberto Speranza. It urged for health checks for migrants, many of whom were afraid to go to hospitals due to their immigration status. The organization also pleaded with the minister to find housing options for homeless people so they would not spread the virus to anybody else.

Emergency, another NGO, established temporary housing units for homeless people, including those requiring isolation. It hired educators, social workers and health providers to assist in the operations and show them how to use PPE properly. Similarly, between 2012 and 2013, Doctors Without Borders began providing free healthcare to homeless people in Milan. The organization reported that about 70% of those seeking care were migrants, mainly from Africa and Eastern Europe.

Additionally, the Community of St. Egidio has worked with Pope Francis to help poor people and refugees. The organization offers 100 beds, hot meals, counseling, hand sanitizers and masks to homeless individuals. Another Catholic organization, Caritas Italy, has also provided food and sanitation to people facing homelessness in Italy. Regular citizens have jumped in to help as well: in Naples, residents lowered food baskets from their balconies to feed people who were on the streets.

Moving Forward

These organizations bring hope to the fight against homelessness in Italy. As the facts above illustrate, homelessness remains a serious problem in Italy, one that primarily affects marginalized groups. However, the work of NGOs and other organizations can help reduce this problem and bring Italy more in line with its E.U. neighbors in reducing homelessness.

Bryan Boggiano
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Crisis
The migrant crisis in Italy is prevalent; Italy receives more asylum seekers per year than any other European country. Since 2017, over 192,000 individuals have sought refuge in Italy by crossing the Mediterranean in informal vessels and ships organized and manned by non-governmental organizations. Many migrants who make the perilous journey from the coast of North Africa to Italy land at the small island of Lampedusa, the southernmost area of Italian territory, located just 70 miles from the coast of Tunisia.

At the peak of the crisis, hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghanis and Libyans crossed into Europe to seek asylum. However, Italy’s strategic location near the coasts of Tunisia and Libya led to a continuous increase in attempted landings. These two locations are common debarkation points for Middle Eastern and North African migrants. According to Reuters, from August 2019 to July 2020, over 21,000 individuals successfully reached Italy’s southern shores. These figures represent an increase of 148% from the previous year.

Additionally, E.U. regulations regarding the resettlement of asylum seekers place high financial and administrative burdens on Italy. The 1990 Dublin Regulation is a law for E.U. member states which forces migrants coming to the European Union to make their application for asylum in the first country where they arrived. This legislation disproportionately affected the Italian government in comparison with its northern European neighbors.

Migrants and the 2018 Elections

The E.U.’s perceived ambivalence towards Italy’s economic burden and the peak of the European migrant crisis in 2017 created tension. These factors created a perfect storm for the victory of right-wing political leader Matteo Salvini and his Lega party. Salvini’s message on the campaign trail, that of blocking migrant arrivals in Italy and a renegotiation of ties to the European government in Brussels, struck a tone with many dissatisfied Italian voters in the north of the country where anti-immigrant sentiments remain common.

As minister of the interior, Salvini fulfilled his electoral promise, continuing his hardline position regarding the migrant crisis in Italy. During his tenure, the Lega leader utilized Italy’s military vessels to prevent ships carrying migrants from docking in the country’s ports and cut off funding for social programs that provide vital assistance and resources for newly arrived asylum seekers.

Looking Forward

The Lega-led government collapsed in 2019. The liberal government that succeeded it altered the dynamics of the Italian government’s role in the migrant crisis. Salvini heavily criticized the E.U. government for its laissez-faire approach to Italy’s economic and organizational woes during the migrant crisis. In contrast, the current Italian government is much more open to collaboration with Brussels. An agreement reached at the end of 2019 between Italy, Germany and France allowed for the relocation of migrants rescued at sea throughout the E.U., thus moving away from the controversial Dublin Regulation.

Even under the new liberal government in Rome, deportations of recently arrived migrants have continued into the present. However, the current national policy regarding asylum seekers differs from the issue’s handling under Salvini; instead of directly blocking migrant vessels and NGOs from docking in Italian ports, the government is directly lobbying with Tunisia to incentivize the North African country to control illegal migration from its borders by threatening cuts to development aid.

The economic and social catastrophe of the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the new Tunisian policy and continued deportations. The country faced an administrative breakdown during the spring and found a need to centralize government resources towards the virus. These factors led to the closure of numerous refugee facilities in southern Italy. Furthermore, the new liberal government had, for the first time, deployed military ships to stop migrants from Tunisia in order to maintain Italy’s national quarantine.

Although the country has policies in place to ensure all incoming asylum seekers are quarantined before entry, the fear of new cases being brought into the country as well as additional stress on an already damaged economy may lead to increased support for Salvini’s policies in the future.

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

One important organization lobbying for the rights of migrants seeking refuge in Italy and the E.U. is the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC primarily assists in the safe movement of asylum seekers. It organizes funding for secure ships and professional sailors to transport migrants across the Mediterranean. Furthermore, the IRC was instrumental in the development of Refugee.Info. This online site serves as an informational tool on how to apply for asylum. It also details statistics regarding the issue of migrants in Italy. Lastly, the IRC provides mental and physical health services for newly arrived migrants in the collection facilities in southern Italy. Though COVID-19 has posed many challenges to the migrant crisis in Italy, there are organizations making a difference.

Jason Beck
Photo: Wikimedia

Poverty eradication in ItalyMany programs are working toward innovations in poverty eradication in Italy. These programs include an income program instated by the government, a fuel poverty program partnership between two companies and charities that provide assistance to the needy. Here are four facts about innovations in poverty eradication in Italy:

4 Facts About Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Italy

  1. Italy’s welfare program: In 2019, Italy introduced a €7 billion income welfare program to help reduce poverty. As of 2018, 5.1 million people in Italy lived in poverty. This program targets those people, as well as Italian citizens, EU citizens and legal residents living in Italy for 10 years or more. Households whose annual income is equal to or below €9,360 are eligible. Those eligible receive €780 a month, which can help pay for essentials such as grocery, rent and utilities. In the program, individuals who are able-bodied are also required to sign up for job placement and training programs. Employers who hire individuals taking part in the program receive financial incentives.
  2. Reducing fuel poverty: Fuel poverty is present in Italy, but so are programs to help tackle it. Fuel poverty is defined by the European Energy Poverty Observatory as “the inability to keep the home adequately warm at an affordable cost.” This affects more than 3.9 million Italians per year. A U.K.-based company called PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) partnered with an international organization, Ashoka, to reduce low-income families living in fuel poverty in Italy. The project relies on social innovators and entrepreneurs to find novel methods of tackling fuel poverty and reducing it in Italy.
  3. Food stamps: Italian programs for food assistance are giving out free meals and food stamps. Particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, many Italians are facing unemployment, and about one million are in need of food assistance. Programs such as the Ronda della Solidarieta charity, which offers free dinners twice a week in Rome to those in need, and the Nona Roma association, which drops off boxes filled with food necessities to low-income Roman families, are helping reduce the amount of people who go hungry. In 2020, the prime minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, delegated €400 million for food stamps.
  4. Charities: Charities for the homeless and low-income are attempting to provide resources such as food and health items to those in need. The COVID-19 crisis can be especially difficult for homeless Italians, as closed restaurants and bars provide less access for them to wash their hands. Similarly, it can be difficult to obtain food while social distancing, and homeless people are sometimes stopped by the police for not abiding by quarantine laws. The Community for St. Egidio is a charity that keeps their soup kitchen open, and they distribute 2,500 meals per week. They are also seeking donations for face masks, hand sanitizers and food. 

There is still a long way to go in eradicating poverty in Italy, and COVID-19 may worsen the plight of low-income families in Italy. However, it is still important to note these programs as they help families in need and create innovations in poverty eradication in Italy.

– Ayesha Asad
Photo: Unsplash

trevi fountain fights povertyIn 2017, the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) reported the highest levels of poverty in Italy in the past 12 years with 8.4% of the population living in “absolute poverty.” Absolute poverty is the state in which individuals are not able to purchase necessary goods and services resulting in detrimental social exclusion. Although slightly lower than the national poverty rate, Italy’s capital Rome reported that 6.4% of its population lived in “absolute poverty” in 2017. Additionally, there were 7,709 people were homeless in Rome in 2014. The Italian government is working on ways to improve the significant issues of poverty and homelessness in the country’s capital. However, one man and one fountain have made a huge impact on improving impoverished conditions in Rome over the past decade. Today, the Trevi Fountain fights poverty through the coins thrown into it.

The Trevi Fountain

The Eternal City is home to countless ancient and renowned monuments including the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and, of course, the Trevi Fountain. Apart from being one of the most famous baroque fountains in the world, the Trevi Fountain is also known for its coin tradition. Visitors throw three coins over their shoulders into the fountain’s vast pool of water. The first coin promises that the owner of the coin will one day return to Rome. The second coin promises that love shall soon be discovered. The third coin promises that the owner of the coin will marry the love they found. Due to this tradition, approximately €3,000 a day are thrown into the Trevi Fountain totaling €1.5 million annually.

In 2002, the Trevi Fountain became famous for a reason other than its ancient history and romantic traditions. Its new fame arose because of a man named Roberto Cercelletta. Cercelletta was homeless and used the Trevi Fountain’s coin tradition to alleviate his poverty. Every night, Roberto would wade into the fountain’s pool and collect the coins, all while evading detection from the police. Roberto could collect almost €1,000 in about 15 minutes of scavenging. He got away with his escapade for 34 years before his arrest by the police in 2002.

Roberto Cercelletta’s Impact on Poverty in Rome

The story of Roberto inspired the Italian government to donate the Trevi Fountain’s coin collection to helping Rome’s homeless and disenfranchised population. Today, the coins from the Trevi Fountain are removed three times a week by a company known as Azienda Comunale Energia e Ambiente (ACEA). ACEA typically collects €8,000 from the fountain per visit. The ACEA then gives the coins to the police to weigh and deposit. After depositing the coins, the Italian government donates the money (which is usually $1.7 million per year) to a local charity called Caritas Roma that is dedicated to providing support to the poor and homeless in Rome.

5 Facts About Caritas Roma

  1. Caritas Internationalis – Caritas Roma is a local branch of the much larger Caritas Internationalis organization. Caritas Internationalis was founded in 1897 and it consists of 165 Catholic service groups that work to promote justice and end poverty. Caritas Internationalis emphasizes the Catholic Church’s social mission of acting on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable populations. The organization operates in over 200 countries and serves millions of impoverished individuals.
  2. Caritas Roma – Caritas Roma emphasizes the power of service and volunteering. The main purpose of the nonprofit is to encourage Christians around the world to view charity as the focus of their life. Therefore, Caritas Roma coordinates volunteers and services in the social-welfare sector to provide resources and support for the impoverished populations in Rome.
  3. Other organizations – Caritas Roma works with 45 other organizations to improve living conditions in Rome. Caritas Roma has partnered with services such as health facilities, family centers, housing communities and reception centers to provide holistic support for poor and homeless individuals. These facilities also provide opportunities for Christians to volunteer and stand in solidarity with the city’s poor.
  4. Methodology – Caritas Roma carefully researches the needs of the poor and homeless in Rome. Caritas Roma observes the demographics and locations of the poor and homeless populations in Rome and generates an annual report. These reports are used to describe the social exclusion affecting these populations in order to determine the best methods for providing help.
  5. Counseling services – Caritas Roma coordinates with Carita Counseling Centers throughout Italy. Carita Counseling Centers cover over 80% of Italy’s territory, providing widespread help in all of Italy’s many regions. These counseling centers have provided support for 205,090 people, including over 26,000 homeless people.

Although Roberto Cercelletta was a thief of some notoriety, he inspired monumental change in policies that never truly recognized the plight of homelessness. Now, the Trevi Fountain fights poverty through every coin thrown into it. This story reflects how a simple diversion of funds from a long-standing tradition can make a lasting and positive impact on poverty.

– Ashley Bond
Photo: PublicDomainPictures

 

Reducing Energy Poverty in Italy Through Solar PV Market
Powertis, a Spanish company that focuses on the development and investment of large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) projects, has announced an expansion plan to enter Italy’s solar PV market. This shift will bring Powertis closer to its goal of reaching one gigawatt (GW) of ready-to-invest assets by 2023. In addition, it will support the National Plan for Energy and Climate (NECP), which has set a target of +30 GW of PV capacity by 2030. Powertis’ growth into the solar PV market will also serve as an opportunity to decrease energy poverty in Italy by reducing the price of electricity.

What is Energy Poverty?

Energy poverty refers to people who are least likely to have access to energy services. This increases their likelihood of remaining poor. Energy poverty affects health by increasing the risk of cardiovascular or respiratory disease and the number of excess deaths in the winter, especially in colder areas. In 2017, estimates determined that 1.1 billion people do not have access to electricity and nearly 3 billion people cook meals with polluting fuels, such as charcoal, wood, kerosene and dung.

The Aim for Efficient and Affordable Energy

In 2011, the former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative to drive faster action towards achieving SDG7. SDG7 is the seventh goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is battling energy poverty by advocating for improved access to reliable, affordable, sustainable and modern energy for all. SE4ALL aims to double the global rate of improved energy efficiency and the global share of renewable energy by 2030. By working with government leaders, the private sector and civil society, SE4ALL hopes to ensure universal access to modern energy.

Energy Poverty and “Vulnerability”

The primary concern that Italy’s population faces when it comes to energy poverty is the uneven distribution of energy expenditure. The lowest 10% of Italian income-earners spend 4% of their budget on energy compared with the 1% that affluent households spend. This leads to a concept known as “vulnerability,” where the lowest 10% of Italian households have compressed purchasing power and reduced ability to purchase domestic or international goods and services.

Furthermore, as of 2017, Eurostat reported that 15.2% of Italy’s population cannot afford to adequately heat their homes. The inability of households to purchase an adequate amount of energy goods can have negative direct costs including increased stress on the healthcare system. It also has indirect costs such as a decrease in economic productivity and output in the community.

How Italy is Addressing the Issue

Italy’s government has created the National Energy Climate Plan (NECP) to address its energy poverty. The NECP aims to cover 30% of final consumption by renewable sources, reduce final energy consumption by 39.7% and aim for a 33% reduction in greenhouse gases. Italy introduced the NECP in December 2018 as a commitment and strategy to increase environmental protection and energy security while reducing polluting emissions, as the European Union put forward. So far, Italy has obtained “Medium” ratings in all of the categories after the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) evaluated it for 2020. This suggests that there has been a lack of implementing effective measures by the public sector.

Powertis’ Role in Reducing Energy Poverty

The CCPI evaluation also includes a “Low” rating for the “Renewable Energy – current trend” component, demonstrating the need to involve the private sector in producing more renewable energy for Italian markets. The inclusion of PV solar panels would improve Italy’s rating. According to Roberto Capuozzo, the Country Manager of Powertis in Italy, Powertis is one of many private firms working to address this need. It is operating as a leading company in the transition to a zero-emission economy. Powertis’ plans to develop PV projects in Basilicata, Puglia, Sicily, Sardinia and Lazio and increase its pipeline beyond over two gigawatts between Italy and Brazil.

Powertis is reducing the price of electricity by working with local community partners to structure the project’s financing and offer a lower price, in comparison to the cost of electricity for coal. Italy’s main issue is the inconsistent distribution of energy expenditure budgets for the bottom 10% of Italian income-earners in comparison with the top 1%. If prices for energy decrease, energy poverty should decrease. Powertis’ expansion to local communities in Basilicata, Puglia, Sicily, Sardinia and Lazio will offer these individuals more purchasing power and decrease their level of vulnerability. This will also benefit the economy by allowing them the ability to consume other goods and services. By increasing Italian households’ purchasing power, Powertis is increasing access to energy services and reducing energy poverty in Italy.

Powertis has expanded its reach into Italy’s solar PV market, thereby decreasing the price of electricity for Italian households. This has increased households’ access to energy services and subsequently increased their ability to dedicate more of their personal budget towards the consumption of other goods and services. The households’ lower level of vulnerability should also help to decrease energy poverty in Italy.

Natasha Nath
Photo: Flickr