Information and stories on middle east

Poverty in Iraq
About 22% of Iraqis live in poverty. Poverty in Iraq is a dynamic issue, the facets of which have changed with the country’s progress and efforts at modernization. Urbanization and the discovery of vast oil reserves have adversely impacted Iraqis with corruption and conflict driving poverty rates up. The following are four exceedingly relevant facts about poverty in Iraq and what the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a nongovernmental organization that emerged in 1933 to respond to international humanitarian crises, has done to help since entering Iraq in 2003.

4 Facts About Poverty in Iraq

  1. Urbanization and Food Shortages: Recent conflict and economic change have caused Iraqis to concentrate in urban areas. Iraq is 70.7% urbanized and is nearly unrecognizable in comparison to its agricultural past. Poor agricultural policies have catalyzed this shift toward urbanization and overcrowding in cities. This, combined with military and economic crises, has resulted in as many as one in six households experiencing some form of food insecurity. Iraq has a universal food ration program called the Public Distribution System (PDS), which is its most extensive social assistance program, but it has not been enough. Many Iraqis who have either lost access to the PDS or find that it does not cover enough, have turned to humanitarian agencies like the IRC for aid. Since 2003, the IRC has helped hundreds of thousands of people: in 2018 alone, it assisted 95,000 Iraqis, providing financial, familial, educational and professional support.
  2. Corruption and Oil: According to Transparency International, Iraq is the 13th most corrupt country. The Iraqi government often subsidizes inefficient state industries, which has led many Iraqis to view government and business leaders as corrupt. With the rise in oil prices over the past decades, Iraq’s government had sufficient funds to complete significant reconstruction and aid projects. However, poverty in Iraq has not improved. The oil sector provides an estimated 85 to 95% of government revenue. High-level corruption in Iraq impedes the development of private, non-oil business sectors, spurring overdependence on oil. Protests were rampant in 2019 with Iraqis indignant that their economy was flush with oil money but their government was too corrupt to provide basic services. Average Iraqi citizens never see oil profits due to the corrupt nature of the Iraqi government, which empowers politicians through informal agreements and patronage. Leaders hand out government jobs to build their support networks and stifle dissent, making the public sector inefficient and draining oil profits such that there is little left over for investment in social programs. While federal social programs are lacking and corruption is still serious, NGOs like the IRC have stepped in to pick up the slack and somewhat lighten the suffering of many Iraqis.
  3. Poverty and Unemployment: Roughly 95% of young Iraqis believe they need strong connections to those in power in order to obtain employment. Overall, unemployment is at 11% with one-third of Iraqi youths unemployed and 22% of the population living in poverty. The aforementioned protests in 2019 involved young Iraqis frustrated at being unable to find work, and projections determine that unemployment and poverty will worsen even further in 2020. The United Nations expects the poverty rate to double to around 40%, with monthly oil revenues falling from $6 to 1.4 billion between February and April 2020 due to the recent collapse in global oil prices. To combat these figures, the International Rescue Committee has provided over 40,000 people with emergency supplies, business training and funding to help Iraqis rebuild their lives.
  4. War and Internal Displacement: Conflict with ISIS led to the displacement of over 6 million Iraqis from 2014 to 2017, and about 1.5 million Iraqis remain in camps despite the recent territorial defeat of the terrorist organization. The rise and conquest of ISIS was a primary driver behind the increase of the poverty rate to the current level of 22%, with forced displacement and brutal violence leading to the destruction of Iraqi homes, assets and livelihoods. The above factors have struck internally displaced persons (IDPs) the hardest — few IDPs have employment and most have to support an average of six other members in their household. On top of all this is the fact that many IDPs have lost access to what little the PDS food program does supply, illustrating the true humanitarian challenge of poverty in Iraq. While the displacement and refugee issue is still serious today, the International Rescue Committee has aided over 20,900 women and girls to recover from the violence, providing hope for a battered people.

Despite expansive oil profits flooding into the Iraqi system, this money does not reach ordinary Iraqis who struggle to provide for their families. The failure of urbanization, stark unemployment and violent conflict with ISIS have exacerbated the lack of action from corrupt business and political leaders to address the systemic issue of poverty.

Experts expect global poverty to worsen during the current COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Iraq. Combined with the recent crash in oil prices, this will likely lead to serious unrest in a country that has struggled for decades to bring about some semblance of effective governance. Despite the ongoing issues that these four facts about poverty in Iraq show, hope continues to live on thanks to organizations like the IRC that are able to provide aid.

Connor Bradbury
Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle EastFemale genital mutilation, or FGM, is a practice that is most common in cultures with strict patriarchial structures. Many people believe that the ritual is only performed in Africa, but in actuality, thousands of girls undergo female genital mutilation in the Middle East every year. Though many claim the procedure is done for religious reasons, researchers have found that it predates Christianity and Islam. In fact, female Egyptian mummies have been found with FGM. This is a deep-rooted and harmful practice that still continues today. The United Nations formally recognizes FGM as a form of torture that oppresses women.

Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle East

  1. Where does FGM occur? FGM was previously believed to only occur in Africa, however, recent advocacy efforts revealed that the practice extends to many other countries, especially in the Middle East. In the Middle East, FGM is mostly concentrated in Southern Jordan, Iraq and Northern Saudi Arabia. There have also been cases of FGM in Qatar, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. The practice most often occurs in small ethnic enclaves where the ritual is considered tradition. It is important to recognize that FGM occurs in many places outside of Africa in order to stop the practice completely.
  2. Who is most impacted by FGM? In Egypt, about 87% of girls are affected by FGM. According to a UNICEF study from 2013, many of them are traumatized by the experience before the age of 14. In many other Middle Eastern and African countries, the majority of girls are cut before the age of 15. Current rates are certainly improving, but it is likely that one in three girls in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti will experience FGM by 2030. In the United Arab Emirates, 34% of the women surveyed said they had experienced FGM. Twenty percent of women surveyed in Saudi Arabia are subject to the practice.
  3. What are the impacts of FGM? This practice has severe short-term and long-term negative impacts on women who undergo the procedure. Young girls are held and tied down while a local village cutter, usually not a licensed medical professional, performs the procedure with little or no anesthetic. In short, FGM can cause death, infections, hemorrhage and severe pain. In Egypt, there was a public outcry after a doctor performed FGM on a 12-year-old girl who then bled to death. The doctor was arrested, but the practice is extremely traumatizing and can cause severe psychological damage in the long run. It can lead to chronic infections and trouble with childbirth. Girls who undergo FGM are also more likely to drop out of school and become child brides.
  4. Steps are being made to reduce FGM. As information becomes more readily available, more and more people are speaking out against the procedure. It is finally being recognized as a violation of human rights. Though FGM is most common in Egypt, the country has made the most progress in the past 30 years, according to UNICEF. FGM is completely banned in Egypt and doctors can go to jail if they perform it. It has also been banned in Sudan. In Yemen, FGM can no longer be performed in medical facilities, but it has not been banned at home.
  5. FGM rates are decreasing. As can be inferred, many women are now against the practice of FGM. However, some more traditional cultures still advocate for the circumcision of women. In Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and Djibouti, 70% of all women were affected by FGM 30 years ago. Today, half of all girls in those five countries undergo FGM. Although FGM is still allowed in Iraq, it is illegal in Iraqi Kurdistan. Many people against the practice explain that law is not enough and there needs to be stricter enforcement to ensure the end of female circumcision.
  6. A call to action: According to UNICEF, there has been a massive movement to end FGM in the last 25 years. There are many organizations, like the Orchid Project, that campaign against the traditional cutting in the Middle East and Asia. In 2013, UNICEF formally recognized that FGM is a problem that extends to areas outside of Africa. In addition, the United Nations celebrates International End FGM day every February 6, which is a huge step forward in spreading awareness. The U.N. also made it a goal to stop FGM in all countries by 2030.
FGM is a way to oppress women and makes girls feel like their body is a sin. It is a horrible practice that leaves long-lasting wounds in our global society. Not only is it a form of torture, but it strips women from basic human rights. Thankfully, more people are becoming familiar with female genital mutilation in the Middle East and elsewhere. Allies around the world are working hard to bring an end to the practice.

Karin Filipova
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Morocco
Social and political unrest often take the blame for rising poverty rates in the Arab world. However, unrest alone cannot explain why poverty in Morocco has continued to fall after the Arab Spring protests. It also cannot express why Egypt has seen a relative rise in poverty. However, it is possible to relate the reasons behind the countries’ two trajectories by examining the recent policies of each. Here are five reasons for Morocco’s falling poverty rate. Also included are a few reasons why the poverty rate is climbing in Egypt. This article will highlight the differences between poverty in Morocco and Egypt.

Reasons for Declining Poverty in Morocco

  1. Morocco announced the National Human Development Initiative Support Project (INDH) in 2005. The project had $1  billion budget and a five-year timeline to improve the living conditions of citizens, reduce poverty in Morocco  and assist the most vulnerable families. Unfortunately, much of the funds did not reach the most vulnerable. However, the share of its rural population in poverty that the project targeted was 32 percent while 28 percent of the targeted urban population was in poverty.
  2. Population growth has slowed.Fertility dropped from 5.5 to 2.3 children per adult woman during the past three decades, which settled the population growth rate to 1.7 percent. The result of reduced pressure on public services and better living standards overall occurred due to a changing population structure. Better access to education could be one cause.
  3. The Moroccan government invested in basic infrastructure programs.This included an expansion of the drinking water supply, the electricity network and the road system. In addition, social programs existed for decades that provided free education, access to health care and basic food commodities.
  4. Policymakers shifted from universal public spending to targeted public spending. Prior to this 1996 program designed jointly with the World Bank, policymakers allocated only 1 percent of Morocco’s GDP toward programs that target those living in poverty in Morocco. The Social Priority Program marked a shift from universal public spending to targeted public spending. The program focused on 14 of the poorest provinces with projects in basic education, job creation and social assistance.
  5. NGOs in local development helped people move out of poverty in Morocco. This benefitted the poor in areas such as  water and electricity management and literacy programs. Since a 2002 amendment that allowed NGOs to receive foreign funding, the number of NGOs increased to 40,000 over a period of two decades. Government officials have tolerated NGOs with the understanding that they stay out of local political issues. 

Egypt and the Rise of Poverty

In looking at some of the causes of the falling rate of poverty in Morocco, it is possible to compare it to other nearby countries, as well as examine what policies have not been working in said countries. Egypt is a country that has seen the opposite trend in its overall poverty rate, now climbing to 32.5 percent in 2018, up from 16.7 percent in 2000. However, it is not fair to say that the social and political situations of the countries are equivalent. Egypt faced the removal of two presidents within two years. Still, there are many parallels between the two countries that make a comparison relevant between poverty in Morocco and Egypt. 

Egypt has had a growth rate of 2.15 percent over the past three decades. To give some understanding of what this difference means, Morocco’s population would have been 36 million in 2010 if its growth rates were that of Egypt’s over the same period of timeIn 2010, Morocco’s population was only around 32 million. Providing better access to education may reduce the growth rate, as Egypt’s education system is underfunded and in need of reform.

Policies Impacting Poverty Rates in Egypt

  1. Economic Policies: In terms of economic policies, Egypt has taken a much different approach that has harmed the country’s poor in favor of macroeconomic improvement. It has slashed subsidies for essentials and fuel, a move that helped the government cut its enormous deficit but that has  hit the poor particularly hard. This is somewhat in contrast with the policies of Morocco as the government hiked prices on the essentials of drinking water and electricity. 
  2. NGOs: NGOs have not been able to operate freely due to a 2017 bill hampering their ability to provide social and developmental work. The detainment of many NGO workers has occurred because of their engagement in behavior that some see as morally upsetting.
  3. Infrastructure: Egypt has also invested in infrastructure projects like Morocco but primarily in the private sector. The result has had an insulating effect on the rich. The construction of gated communities and shopping malls continues while public schools and hospitals fall into disrepair. Areas often bulldoze slums and poor housing areas  in favor of upscale complexes that add to a growing housing crisis. 
  4. Floating the Currency: Perhaps the most damaging policy was the decision to float the currency in November 2016 in another effort to strengthen the economy. Prices went up and imports became particularly unaffordable for anyone outside of the upper class. The move occurred in order to secure a $12 billion IMF loan over a threeyear period.

The comparison between poverty in Morocco and Egypt has highlighted useful information about the best policies to eradicate poverty. Poverty in Morocco has decreased dramatically in the past three decades due to a few policies. The policy measures that Egypt has taken unsurprisingly show that slashing subsidies that benefit the poor have had a negative impact on poverty rates. Investing in infrastructure that benefits the poor, subsidizing basic needs and a lenient stance toward foreign NGOs are just a few policies that Arab governments and otherscould enact in order to achieve the results that Morocco has seen.

Caleb Steven Carr
Photo: Pixabay

Economic Crisis in Lebanon
Lebanon is a small country in the Middle East that Syria and Israel borders. Once known as a prosperous leading regional center for finance and trade, the nation’s civil war crippled the economy. This traumatic event in Lebanese history eventually led to an economic crisis in Lebanon.

Economic Crisis in Lebanon

In 1975, civil war, Syrian occupation and clashes between Israel and Hezbollah destabilized Lebanon. Although Lebanon remains steady in economic freedom, it has encountered rough patches regarding politics. The economic crisis in Lebanon eerily compares to the current Syrian crisis. Both Lebanon and Syria have endured hardships of civil war and faced a surge in refugee intake.

Nearly 1.5 million Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon as a result of the nation’s own civil war. The refugee intake has negatively impacted Lebanon’s finances, service industry and environment. The crisis has also driven 200,000 people into poverty and left nearly 300,000 unemployed. The environmental effects have slowed down the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to nearly nothing, worsening the economic crisis in Lebanon. In 2018, the Lebanese growth rate was just 0.2 percent. As of 2020, Lebanon carries a $90 billion debt, which is about 170 percent of the nation’s GDP.

The second leading age group in Lebanon is the youth group. This makes it difficult for those in impoverished families to maintain a steady income or complete their education due to the demand in the workforce. The demand has also forced women who would normally take on household responsibilities to work low wage jobs for additional income. Due to the enormous refugee intake, Lebanese workers face much higher competition for jobs. The 1975 Civil War severely damaged the nation’s economy. Because of the war, Lebanon’s national output reduced by half and the nation lost recognition as a Middle Eastern banking hub.

The Fight Against the Crisis

In the fight for better living conditions for those living in poverty, Lebanon’s government launched the National Poverty Targeting Program (NPTP) in October 2011, implemented by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. The goal is to establish a national targeting system for the government. The system aims to improve the living conditions of the people, particularly those struggling in extreme poverty. The total cost of the NPTP was $9.34 million.

Habitat for Humanity has also been working to improve and provide housing for those in poverty in Lebanon since 2001. Habitat for Humanity builds, rebuilds, renovates and rehabilitates houses through partnership models to reach families in need of housing services across Lebanon.

The World Bank called for the formation of a new cabinet and said that it expected Lebanon to hit a recession by 2019. The World Bank comprises of many foreign donors who have pledged billions of dollars towards the aid that Lebanon desperately needs.

Lebanon has one of the world’s highest debts at 170 percent of GDP. Political conflict in the nation, as well as regional disputes, have impacted economic growth. With aid in place, it is hopeful that the economy can reboot despite the high poverty and unemployment rates that plague the nation. For now, thanks to the organizations that offer aid to the nation, the Lebanese people are maintaining a good and steady quality of life.

Sarah Mobarak
Photo: Flickr

education in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia understands the importance of teaching its people. Its government is increasing efforts to provide primary, secondary and tertiary education to all of its citizens. The Kingdom is improving literacy, expanding forms of education, educating women and more. Here are 10 facts about education in Saudi Arabia.

10 Facts About Education in Saudi Arabia

  1. The Kingdom, Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, requires citizens to have an education. Children between 6 and 14 years old must attend school. About 200,000 children total did not attend school in 2009, however. That number decreased to about 67,000 by 2013.
  2. The Kingdom does not require college-level education, but Saudi Arabian society values it. The King Faisal Foundation, a Saudi Arabian nonprofit organization founded in 1976, supports higher education, creates universities throughout the kingdom, gives grants and helps to build better lives filled with learning. People donate to the organization to fund new schools for Saudi Arabian citizens.
  3. The Qur’an, the religious text of Saudi Arabia, is a core foundation of Saudi Arabia’s faith, society, government, law and education. The Qur’an teaches many educational values, including to “observe the earth and heavens” by learning the natural sciences like biology and Tirmidhi, learning about angels and praying for the wellbeing of people who search for knowledge. People often value the word of the Qu’ran in school textbooks, but there is a controversy over whether schools should teach it. The majority of over 700 nonprofit charitable organizations are taking donations to keep the Qur’an a subject of study.
  4. Women could not attend school before the 1950s. The government realized that uneducated women could not find husbands and start families. Many men attained relationships with international women instead, due to their higher education levels. Therefore, the government decided to allow women in Saudi Arabia the right to pursue an education and created a separate girls’ education system.
  5. Today in Saudi Arabia, women have the chance to stay in school longer. Societal standards give women more time to attend school and to study. People do not expect women to attain a career after college, but rather expect them to care for their families instead.
  6. Saudi Arabia has online schooling. Colleges such as the Deanship and Faculty of Distance Learning at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah allow flexibility in students’ schedules, allowing them to learn from their local library or home. Citizens push to have more online learning in Saudi Arabia today, hoping that everwhere in Saudi Arabia will soon accredit online learning. Writers such as Hend Suliman Al-Khalifa, an author in the e-Learn Magazine report, promote online universities like the Arab Open University.
  7. The Ministry of Higher Education has not officially recognized online education as a valid source. As a result, finding a job may be harder for students with an online degree. 
  8. Saudi Arabian students often enroll in the University of Phoenix, a private, online university in the United States. The Ministry of Education accepts a degree from this U.S. school as an official document, despite it being a private school.  The University of Phoenix offers many degrees and classes ranging from engineering, entrepreneurism and behavioral sciences to cultural studies and the performing arts.
  9. Due to Saudi Arabia’s effort to educate its population, the literacy rate for people 15 years or older has risen. The literacy rate appears to have continued rising past 2015, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. Saudi Arabia’s literacy rate has risen by almost 20 percent in Saudi Arabia from 1995 to 2015. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics also reports that learning and participation in school have increased from 1995 to 2015.
  10. The Saudi Arabian school system has four categories: pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary. Children 3 to 5 years old are in the pre-primary stage. The primary stage includes children 6 to 11 years old. Secondary education includes teens from ages 12 to 17, while tertiary education teaches those from 18 to 22 years old. Children from ages 6 to 14 must go to school, but Saudi Arabian society values additional school.

Saudi Arabia improved the literacy of its adult population, but still has goals to widen its educational efforts. Citizens are working towards appealing the government to accept online-based learning officially, and the Ministry of Education continues to monitor the education system.

– Sofia Ponomareva
Photo: Pixabay

Water Crisis in the Middle East
Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan are among the bottom 10 countries when talking about access to clean water. Water is a primary necessity for human life. Without food the body can survive for up to three weeks, however, without clean water, the body will perish within three to four days, but not before going into shock and fading in and out of delirium. The water crisis in the Middle East is a serious problem now that ongoing conflicts in the region have only worsened.

Afghanistan

Of the three countries listed above, the water crisis in the Middle East affects Afghanistan the least. Despite that, Afghanistan is in the middle of the worst drought it has seen in the past 10 years. In addition, it cannot effectively distribute resources since 40 years of armed conflict following Soviet intervention in Afghanistan has ruined the country’s infrastructure. As a result, about 260,000 Afghani civilians living in extremely dry areas have had to leave their homes, making them refugees.

The drought has drained natural water sources such as the Kabul River Basin, the primary source of water for the nation’s capital. The established system for distributing water is no longer applicable, so civilians must draw water from unofficial wells. In Afghanistan, a country with over 35 million people, 87 percent of accessible water is polluted. Fortunately, India is providing assistance with the Afghan-India Friendship Dam on the Hari River. With further plans to build another dam on the Kabul River, Afghanistan will have water for irrigation and will not have to live with the threat of flash floods.

Syria

In 2006, a massive drought began that would displace tens of thousands of Syrian farmers. By 2011, there were over a million angry, unemployed former farmers in the country ready to fight in a violent civil war that would go on for years. If one said that the water crisis in the Middle East was the proverbial lit match in the powder keg, it would be inaccurate. One cannot, however, deny that it did fan the flames.

Now that tensions are dying down, Syrian civilians have little infrastructure to help provide them with water. Militant groups that occupy water plants and reservoirs hold monopolies on the water for entire regions. Oftentimes, these groups distribute water selectively to blackmail their enemies. Prior to the civil war that started in 2011, water allocation was already inequitable. President Bashar al-Assad allocated more water to fellow members of his particular sect of Islam. Now that Syria is rebuilding its infrastructure, there exists an opportunity to distribute water equally across the country in order to help prevent humanitarian disasters like this in the future.

Egypt

Even in the time of the pharaohs, Egypt has owed its life to the Nile. The Nile is the primary source of water for a country with rice as its number one agricultural export. Rice requires a great deal of water for cultivation and harvest. One kilo of rice needs about 3,000 liters of water. The water in the Nile now contains dead fish due to heavy metals from industrial pollution. Using heavily polluted water diminishes crop yields leading to a further strain on resources.

Egypt faces more than just a drop in the quality of water. As a result of the Blue Nile dam that Ethiopia built, Egypt is also concerned about the quantity of water. By building a hydroelectric dam on the Nile upstream from Egypt, Ethiopia is developing a power grid to reach 86 million Ethiopians living without electricity. Consequently, this will divert about a quarter of the Nile’s water away from Egypt. The Nile supplies 85 percent of Egypt’s fresh water. Egypt has the most to lose in the event of armed conflict breaking out because of its water scarcity, so it is now pushing for diplomatic and scientific solutions to the problem. Negotiating with Ethiopia to share in the dam’s benefits and investments in desalination technology is helping to alleviate the water crisis.

The water crisis in the Middle East is serious and requires much work to alleviate the problem. Through the building of better infrastructure, however, Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan should be able to improve.

– Nicholas Smith
Photo: Flickr

How the Breakdown of the Nuclear Deal has Affected Poverty in IranAs the relationship between Iran and the U.S. deteriorates, Iran’s quality of living is plummeting, the cost of living is soaring and Iranian citizens are feeling the pressure.

Since the dissolution of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, in May 2018, extreme hardship has hit the West Asian country. Economic sanctions that were thwarted by the nuclear agreement have been reimposed and are damaging Iran’s oil and precious metal sectors, handicapping the country’s export potential.

The primary component of the economic decline is the dent that sanctions are making in the oil sector–which, according to the World Bank, accounts for two-thirds of Iran’s economic growth.

Post-Breakdown Economic Turmoil

Iran’s oil production has already fallen steadily every month since the breakdown of the nuclear deal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and the resulting impact on the economy is devastating. On April 2019 the World Bank reported that Iran’s economic growth slowed to 1.8 percent in the first quarter of 2018/2019–down by 4.6 percent from the previous year. Compounded with years of corruption and mishandling of public funds, the breakdown of the nuclear deal has positioned the Iranian economy in a state of stagflation (negative GDP growth) estimated to continue until April 2020.

Compounding the decline in GDP, the national currency has depreciated by around 60 percent on the U.S. dollar. An IMF senior official revealed that the inflation rate could reach 40 percent by the end of 2019. This economic turmoil has reduced accessibility to living essentials, increased societal instability and swelled poverty rates.

Increased Poverty

The World Bank reports that the upper-middle class poverty rate, which is classified as at or under $5.50 PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), is at an estimated 11.6 percent for 2018/2019 and forecasted to grow to 12.6 percent in 2019/2020.

It is essential to note that $5.50 PPP is not daily income–that figure is usually much lower. According to the Global Basic Income Foundation, PPP is defined as the amount a person can afford to spend on any given day, taking into account both earnings and savings. To put this into perspective, 11.6 percent of people in Iran could not afford to buy something today that costs $5.51.

Higher Prices

With the reimposed sanctions resulting from the breakdown of the nuclear deal, accessibility to living essentials is rapidly shrinking. Even humanitarian organizations struggle to acquire adequate supplies to carry out their work due to soaring prices.

A recent report from the Statistical Centre of Iran reveals eye-opening inflation statistics. Between 2018 and 2019, the price of food and drink increased by 43.5 percent,  clothing and footwear by 33.9 percent, housing and utilities by 18.2 percent and health and medical services by 18.8 percent. The overall Consumer Price Index is up by 30.6 percent.

The amalgam of decreasing wages and currency devaluation is restricting Iranian citizens’ ability to acquire necessities. The World Bank expects Iran’s poverty rate to rise to 12.8 percent by 2021.

Humanitarian Response

With poverty levels rising in Iran, humanitarian agencies are stepping up to meet the need. Moms Against Poverty is a nonprofit organization that is working to alleviate poverty in Iran through hunger relief, education and orphan care. Since the breakdown of the nuclear deal, Iran has had a 6.3 magnitude earthquake and major flooding. Moms Against Poverty provided natural disaster victims with food, water and blankets, distributed safe heaters and helped rebuild and furnish health clinics and pre-schools in the flooded areas. The organization also funded 2,000 food baskets for the Persian New Year across three Iranian provinces.

The breakdown of the nuclear deal has been economically painful for Iran. Tensions have only risen since the reimposition of sanctions and, as of now, show no signs of alleviating. There have already been multiple conflicts between the U.S. and Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran’s main shipping route, since the breakdown.

Organizations like Moms Against Poverty provide some poverty relief and help the quality of life for many citizens. However, relief on a nationwide scale could be achieved if U.S.-Iran relations are restored or if Iran can boost its economic growth and halts the devaluation of the national currency. For now, the citizens of Iran are feeling the pressure.

– Zach Brown
Photo: Flickr

Guest workers
The exploitation of guest workers in Saudi Arabia has been a common occurrence for many years. Eleven million guest workers have come to the Middle Eastern nation in order to find an opportunity to support their families back home. What some meet with is abuse and hardship from their employers for a variety of reasons. These workers are not citizens and they have a limited number of rights to protect them.

Discovery of Oil and the Demand for Workers

When people discovered oil in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, it was still a very young country having only established in 1932. The country was one of the most underdeveloped and poorest in the world and did not have the means to extract this oil.

To profit from its discovery, the Saudi government brought in guest workers from the West after World War II and they were mostly professionals in the oil industry. After its success,  it eventually required workers from neighboring Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Yemen and Palestine as well, especially as the gas crisis in 1973 raised the demand for oil.

As the economy of Saudi Arabia grew, there came a need for more workers in other industries of the country besides oil. As a result, guest workers from other Asian nations such as Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka went to Saudi Arabia for work.

Guest Worker Abuses

Human Rights Watch, an international organization, describes the conditions of the guest workers in Saudi Arabia as being similar to slavery. These workers are beaten, exploited, overworked, underpaid and sometimes not even paid at all. The abuse of these workers is deep-seated in race, gender and religious discriminations.

Over 900,000 Filipinos are working in Saudi Arabia and many of them work in the service industries including hotels. There was an instance where 15 Filipino hotel guest workers had to work more than their scheduled 40 hours a week. When they did not receive overtime pay their employers owed them, they complained to the hotel manager who told them to be quiet or they would have them deported.

Guest workers do not have the convenience of collective bargains or unions to protect them from this type of abuse. Saudi employers can dismiss their guest workers at any time regardless of what employment contracts. An employer dismissed a 26-year-old Bangladesh guest worker named Bachu after only seven months because they did not need him anymore. The unexpected termination forced the now jobless worker to attempt to obtain a job illegally, which resulted in his arrest and deportation back to Bangladesh.

There are very few laws that protect guest workers from abuses in regard to the law. There are instances of workers receiving false accusations of crimes, harsh penalties, unfair trials and random arrests. One such incident occurred in 2005 with the arrest and execution of a Sri Lankan maid named Rizana Nafeek. The 24-year-old housemaid suffered the accusation of murdering the baby that she was in charge of taking care of, but she claimed it died from choking. She did not have a translator during her interrogation and the authorities beat her into signing a confession. She was only one of the 100,000 Sri Lankan maids that are guest workers in Saudi Arabia. Over 100 guest workers are sitting on death row in the country.

Changes for the Workers

Recently, the Saudi Arabian government has taken steps towards protecting its guest workers through a series of legislations. In 2015, the government voted on these laws and will impose hefty fines on businesses that it finds guilty of abuses such as not paying employees on time, violating health and safety and employing children under 15.

The U.N. has adopted resolutions that would protect guest workers in not only Saudi Arabia but around the world. The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families emerged to protect the human rights of the 164 million guest workers throughout the world.

Saudi Arabia is a young and growing nation. The use of guest workers has helped its economy expand and thrive as a nation. The treatment of these workers has brought much negative attention to the country, though. It is taking steps, however, to ensure that the abuse and exploitation of these workers come to an end.

– Sam Bostwick
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Making of a Child SoldierAlthough using children as soldiers is horrifying and illegal, recruiters are employing children every day. In fact, as the war in the Middle East spreads, these recruiters are enlisting children more frequently than before. The extremist groups in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to name a few, are breaking international war laws on a daily basis in using child soldiers. It is a constant battle for these children as they often have to choose between becoming a soldier and living or becoming another victim of the war.

The Making of a Child Soldier

In recent years, the number of children recruited to fight in the Middle East has doubled, which means more children are becoming being put in danger. Not only is there an emotional and physical battle for these children but also for the soldiers that are fighting against the extremist groups. With the war continuing in Iran, nearly 200 child soldiers have been killed in the last couple of years. In October 2018, there were still 19,000 children who were laying their lives on the line in South Sudan. Many of these children are in poverty and do not know where to turn next.

The making of a child soldier is complicated and influenced by the child’s circumstances. Since several African and Middle Eastern countries are in the middle of a war crisis, families are more likely to become displaced and slide deeper into poverty. Sudanese soldiers are offering families up to $10,000 to send their children to fight the war in Yemen although Saudi Arabia has denied their recruitment. That amount of money is huge to families that have been living on the streets. Several reports state that these Sudanese children fighters make 20 cents a day in the war.

Being poor, separated from their families and without access to education can all contribute to making a child soldier. Often, recruiters are more likely to employ children as soldiers due to the fact that they are more manageable, more obedient and easier manipulate than adults. Children who are forced to be soldiers are given jobs like spying, guarding low-security sites and detecting mines. People do not often see these children on the front line although they can be involved in attacks. In the first months of 2015, 21 children died in suicide attacks using explosive-packed vehicles.

The Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iran Government

Although these crimes are affecting the world’s most innocent and vulnerable population, several organizations are bringing hope to the children of the Middle East. Recently, the Syrian Democratic Forces have enforced a ban on using child soldiers in the war against the increasing extremist groups. The U.S. backed them on this movement. Additionally, the Treasury Department targeted ad networks of banks and businesses that have been supporting the funding of child soldiers.

Wars in the Middle East have raged for several years, and recruiters are taking advantage of the vulnerable population, but some are fighting back. Governments are undergoing initiatives and uniting together to help enforce protection for vulnerable children recruiters are most likely single out as child soldiers.

– Emme Chadwick
Photo: Flickr

Diplomacy in the Middle East
In a time clouded by violent Middle Eastern conflicts, the spotlight is focusing on how quickly the U.S. can militarize these regions. However, it is important to take note of diplomacy in the Middle East. The following is a list of the U.S.’s current diplomatic efforts in the Middle East and the ones it could potentially make in the future.

The Iraq-U.S. Alliance

Iraq is proving itself to be a key alliance for the U.S., as America seeks to put an end to the Islamic State of Iraq. The importance of preserving this alliance is more vital now than ever. To nurture this alliance, U.S. aid goes to the government of Iraq in the hopes of helping the country attain its domestic goals. This aid will hopefully allow Iraq to respond to pressing matters such as finding living quarters for the displaced and putting reforms in place to meet the needs of its people. As Iraq continues to stabilize domestically, it will help both the U.S. and Iraq militarily by giving them the ability to build up their security forces.

Natural Disasters in Iran

In 2019, a flood struck Iran which resulted in over 60 deaths and only succeeded to add on to the country’s existing troubles. The country was already in an economic crisis as a result of President Trump’s decision to impose secondary sanctions. While the Trump administration has been harsh in its stance toward Iran, there are steps the U.S. can take to aid Iran in its recovery.

Many developing countries, like Iran, constantly face under-preparedness for natural disasters which then adds to its existing financial pains. If the U.S. were to aid Iran in preparedness by providing access to better weather monitoring technologies, the country would be better equipped to handle natural disasters. To help Iran accomplish this and save lives, the U.S. government could consider creating a new general license to allow for access to this technology.

Military and Economic Aid to Israel

Israel has been a longstanding ally of the U.S. In fact, America sends Israel over $3 billion in military and economic aid each year. Through strong diplomatic relations with Israel, the U.S. prevented radicalism movements in the Middle East. Israel also provided the U.S. with valuable military intelligence. The U.S. remains committed to this alliance, and as of August 21, 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development released a statement indicating that it would be increasing efforts to create employment opportunities and stable communities in Israel. The U.S. also committed to continuing to provide “water, education, technology, science, agriculture, cyber-security and humanitarian assistance.”

Humanitarian Efforts in Syria

After President Trump’s targeted airstrike, humanitarian efforts in Syria have begun to garner interests again. The airstrike was in response to Bashar Al-Assad’s usage of chemical weapons on his people. Since the airstrike, the U.S. discussed different ways to aid Syria through helping displaced refugees, coordinating with other countries and giving more aid. People consider the crisis in Syria to be one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern times.

If America wishes to aid Syrians in this humanitarian crisis, the U.S. could make it easier for Syrian refugees to enter the country. Since the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis, the U.S. has only accepted 20,000 refugees. There are still millions of Syrians in need of resettlement. The U.S. could also provide insight and intelligence to countries that are dealing with refugees on the frontlines. Countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan need help learning how to deal with a mass influx of refugees.

While the world has shown more interest in U.S. militarization, the U.S. government demonstrated its interest in facilitating diplomacy in the Middle East, indicating that diplomacy in the region is never off the table.

– Gabriella Gonzalez
Photo: Flickr