Information and stories on middle east

Action in Lebanon
When people think of poverty in the Middle East, they may not always picture Lebanon. The country Lebanon is a small yet very ethnically diverse nation in the Middle East. Sunni and Shia Muslims, Maronite Christians and other groups populate it. Ethnic divisions and sectarian power struggles led to a civil war that lasted 15 years. While the war was ultimately ended and a new republic formed, divisions remain. Now, positive action in Lebanon is essential for the nation, region and the global community’s well-being.

Lebanon in the 21st Century

Political divisions deepened when on Feb. 14, 2005, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri, died in a car bombing assassination. Two movements formed in the wake of this tragedy. One was the March 8th Alliance, led by current President Michel Aoun and supported by Hezbollah. The other was the March 14th Alliance led by Rafic’s son Saad Hariri. Each side receives backing from different, foreign nations. Moreover, the current political struggle reflects a greater proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

A new government formed in 2016 and power has since been shared between the factions of Hariri and Aoun. While this has led to a more peaceful nation, it has also caused political paralysis — choking the economy. The government has also been plagued with corruption. In this same vein, protests in 2019 led to the resignation of Saad Hariri as prime minister and the formation of an anti-corruption panel.

Despite this, the country continues to suffer from a government stagnated by political divisions and corruption. Despite Lebanon’s status as one of the Middle East’s wealthier countries, its people do not benefit from that wealth. Almost 50% of the country’s population now lives below the poverty line. Furthermore, with the spread of COVID-19, the country’s economic crisis will only worsen.

Why People Should Act

A recent explosion in Beirut (Lebanon’s capital) is just the latest crisis in a country beset with political and economic strife. Many countries in Europe have already pledged aid to the people of Lebanon. It is imperative that the U.S. also take action in Lebanon. Not only does the U.S. have an obligation to help people in need, but also keeping Lebanon from further destabilizing will be essential in ensuring a more peaceful Middle East. If Lebanon’s government collapses, then the country could have a repeat of the civil war with different militant groups emerging and vying for control. Poverty would increase, many Syrian and Palestinian refugees in the country would become displaced. Tragically, more deaths would result from sectarian violence.

However, if the U.S. takes action in Lebanon, the U.S. itself benefits as well. By helping Syrian refugees in the country, Americans would be able to prevent the influx of refugees in the U.S. Lebanon is also a strong importer of U.S. goods. Rescuing its economy from collapse would advance U.S. trade policy and generate more prosperity for both nations.

Who is Helping?

There are currently many groups helping by taking action in Lebanon, right now. One such group is the nongovernmental organization, Humanity and Inclusion. It has been working to better the lives of people all over the world with disabilities as well as economic vulnerabilities. When it began in 1982, its goal was victim assistance, but it has also become responsible for preventing injuries through weapon and landmine clearance, risk education activities and much more. Since 1992, it has been working in Lebanon, engaging in helpful practices such as post-surgical physical therapy and psychological first aid. Its work is very impactful, lasting throughout the decades. In 1997, it received the Nobel Peace Prize for its work to ban landmines. In 2019, it reached more than 2 million people in 63 different countries.

Other great ways to get involved include staying informed and educating others about Lebanon. It is never too late to make a difference.

Isaac Boorstin
Photo: USAID

Women's Empowerment in the Middle EastWomen’s empowerment is a priority for many activists and advocacy groups around the world. In the Middle East, many women are not active participants in politics or in the workforce and experience domestic abuse and sexual assault. However, many non-governmental organizations have stepped up in recent years to promote women’s empowerment in the Middle East. Numerous NGOs support women’s economic, social and political growth in this part of the world. The following five charities are all taking meaningful steps toward women’s empowerment in the Middle East. Their tactics span economic empowerment, political activism and more.

Organizations Promoting Women’s Empowerment in the Middle East

  1.  The Center of Arab Women for Training and Research. Founded in 1993, this organization supports women’s empowerment in the Middle East through education and operates in multiple countries. The Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) is dedicated to training Middle Eastern women in useful skills to enable them to find meaningful employment. In December 2019, CAWTAR launched the InnovAgroWoMed program to help women find jobs in agriculture and food production. It plans to run the program until 2022 in Italy, Spain, Tunisia and Palestine. CAWTAR also launched a program to empower Syrian refugees living in Lebanon by teaching them computer skills and accounting so that they can support themselves financially. Finally, CAWTAR conducts research on Arab women’s participation in the workforce. In doing so, it aims to break the stigma about women’s roles in the economy and the public sphere.
  2. Arab Women Organization in Jordan. For fifty years, this Jordan-based group has been dedicated to gender equality and ending violence against women. Founded in 1970, the Arab Women Organization in Jordan (AWO) works to advance women’s rights. It advocates for government policies that support women, encourages women to run for office, and engages in general activism. Additionally, AWO leads workshops to teach women leadership skills and provides free counseling and services to survivors of domestic or sexual violence. As of 2019, AWO owns and operates two women’s centers that provide aid to local women as well as to Syrian refugees. Counseling at these centers helps women identify signs of abuse and provides them with the training they need to become independent and self-sufficient. To commemorate AWO’s fiftieth anniversary this year, the organization’s leaders publicly reiterated their dedication to women’s empowerment in the Middle East and their goal to continue providing leadership programs to women in Jordan.
  3. Daughters for Life Foundation. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish created the Daughters for Life Foundation in 2009 after the tragic deaths of his three young daughters. Her mission is to promote peace and political stability through women’s empowerment in the Middle East. The foundation grants scholarships to Arab women in various countries throughout the Middle East so that these women can access higher education and pursue their dreams. Scholarships for graduate and undergraduate programs in the United States and Canada are available in a variety of subject areas. DFL also hosts an annual gala in Toronto to honor its scholars’ success and connect them with local leaders in business and media.
  4. Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. Since 2003, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) has protected women’s rights and fought violence against women. The group also advocates for the victims of so-called “honor crimes,” widowed women and women in prison. OWFI operates six women’s shelters across Iraq to protect survivors of rape and abuse. All shelter locations are secret so that the survivors will not have to fear retaliation from their abusers. As of 2020, more than 500 women have passed through OWFI shelters. OWFI has braved pushback from the Iraqi government, even facing a lawsuit accusing the NGO of supporting revolution. Despite the government’s attempts to shut them down, OWFI leaders are adamant that they will continue to fight for women’s rights in Iraq.
  5. Women for Women International. Founded in 1993, this global organization provides support to women in eight countries in the Middle East, Africa and Europe, including Afghanistan and Iraq. Women for Women International not only offers a variety of economic and social programs for women, but it also offers men’s groups to teach men how to be better feminist allies. Since 2002, the charity has run a year-long women’s program that teaches local women skills, such as husbandry and beekeeping, to help them achieve financial independence. In the past eighteen years, more than 100,000 Afghani women have completed the program, which also teaches healthy decision-making, financial skills, and self-protection. Women for Women International has also been active in Iraq since 2003. There, it serves not only Iraqi women but also Syrian refugees living in the country and indigenous Yezidi women. The organization has opened “opportunity centers” where women can go to find economic resources, connect with their community and find political opportunities. Importantly, Women for Women International sponsors frequently keep in contact with the women who have gone through their various programs over the years.

With years of experience and extensive programming, these five organizations will continue to advocate for women’s empowerment in the Middle East. They all educate women to become confident, independent individuals with the necessary skills to support themselves. Hopefully, they will continue to touch women’s lives in meaningful ways for years to come.

Jackie McMahon
Photo: Flickr

IMF in JordanJordan, bordered by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Israel, is an Arab country in the Middle East. The country is on the East Bank of the Jordan River yet relatively landlocked. It has accordingly received a massive influx of Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Jordan provided two different forms of economic relief to people in light of the ratio of debt to its gross domestic product (GDP) and the current pandemic. Read more about the IMF in Jordan below.

The Effects of the Pandemic on Jordan

Jordan’s economy will experience contraction in 2020 due to the effects of COVID-19. The pandemic-induced lockdown significantly impacted 250,000 daily-wage workers and businesses facing a liquidity crisis. It also delayed foreign investment, trade and tourism. The latter industry generates $5 billion annually for Jordan.

Only 11.3% of respondents in a UNDP survey claimed that their income was unaffected by the pandemic, which has significantly impacted young adults. In the survey, 38.3% of respondents experienced challenges getting clean drinking water, and 69.3% struggled with accessing basic healthcare.

Countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Jordan, will experience a 4.7% drop in its constant-price GDP, adjusted for the effects of inflation, in 2020. Additionally, the average size of economic relief programs in the Middle East was smaller than in other regions in the world. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) oil-importing countries’ ratio of debt to income will reach 95% in 2020. Thankfully, the IMF provided $17 billion in aid to the area since the beginning of 2020. It also helped catalyze $5 billion from creditors.

The IMF in Jordan

Jordan’s four-year Extended Fund Facility (EFF) is a partnership between the Jordanian government and IMF staff, which focuses its $1.3 billion on growth, jobs and social safety nets. The loan program, approved on March 25, 2020, will create more jobs for women and young people. EFF funds finance the general budget, including health, education and social support, while also providing support to Jordan’s Syrian refugees.

Although the IMF in Jordan created the EFF funds before the pandemic, it changed the program to support spending on emergency outlays and medical equipment. The IMF in Jordan also helped secure congressional grants to ease annual debt, as public debt increased in the past decade to an amount equivalent to 97% of its GDP.

In addition, the IMF in Jordan approved $400 million in emergency assistance under the Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020. Due to the fall of domestic consumption during the outbreak, these funds answer companies’ and consumers’ borrowing needs. The government will spend the RFI funds through the national treasury account, where specific budget lines track and report crisis-related expenditures.

The emergency economic assistance allows for higher healthcare budgets, containment and support to vulnerable households and businesses. Moreover, it will ease external financing constraints and avoid loss in official reserves. The $1.5 billion balance of payment gaps, however, will emerge with increased public debt and a widened fiscal deficit.

Moving Forward

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, Jordan’s tech start-ups, global supply chains and exporting masks have helped its economy. Tech literacy, in particular, has been especially vital for Jordanian youth to find remote jobs. Moreover, the EFF program can ensure support for the people in Jordan by easing access to basic needs. The program will also help reduce the impacts of poverty by increasing social protection coverage on poor families.

Monetary and fiscal authorities in Jordan have reduced interest rates and delayed bank loan installments and tax payments due to the outbreak, injecting over $700 million in liquidity. Additionally, the country implemented a cash-flow relief program for companies. It also activated the National Aid Fund cash transfer program for daily wage workers.

Jordan has prioritized human safety for its citizens and refugees in the fight against COVID-19. So far, it has only had low to moderate numbers of per capita COVID-19 cases. Thanks to the help of the IMF in Jordan, the country seems to be on track to recover from pandemic.

Isabella Thorpe
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in QatarThough Qatar may be known for its gleaming skyline and booming business hub, there is notable income inequality that leads to downstream consequences, such as an explosion of homelessness within the nation. While perhaps the country evokes images of riches and wealth, the reality is not so for all those living and working within the country. Here are six facts about homelessness in Qatar that warrant everyone’s attention.

6 Facts About Homelessness in Qatar

  1. As a result of the economic boom during the last 40 years in this small nation in the Middle East, Qatar has gone on a massive building spree. To maintain this rapid pace of building, the country has relied primarily on migrant immigrants to help construct the city. These migrant workers have been subjected to repulsive conditions. Worse yet, the Qatari government could historically do more when it comes to basic human needs for these vulnerable, migrant workers.
  2. Many migrant workers, unable to afford accommodation, sleep at the construction sites in which they work. The companies that sponsor these migrant workers for construction projects in the city do not provide sufficient wages. Furthermore, these same employers do not provide any type of housing to support thousands of workers. Therefore, many migrant workers end up sleeping outside.
  3. An Amnesty International report on the construction of the future FIFA World Cup site in Qatar looked into the mistreatment of these migrant workers. Most notably, the report focused on migrant workers’ unfair treatment concerning housing securement. The report identified multiple individuals who were priced out of their affordable rental housing, due to their company delaying salary payments.
  4. Those who are homeless in Qatar face consequences from all angles of society. The government often views these workers as expendable — thrown into subjugated parts of society and subject to threats from criminals and police alike. These actors take advantage of the migrant workers already poor situation. Without proper living conditions, living on the streets can be quite difficult, especially if one lacks the required documentation and visas.
  5. The government of Qatar has been investing in improving labor conditions for workers. In addition, the government is addressing homelessness in Qatar, more broadly. Encampments like “Labour City,” funded by the State of Qatar’s private engineering office, is an area designed to house over 100,000 migrant workers. The new residences are significant improvements from previous accommodations. Some features of these new residences including access to the internet, green spaces and larger living areas — a far cry from a life on the streets.
  6. Private firms have also been investing in migrant laborers’ living conditions. Barwa Al Baraha, a subsidiary of a private property management business in Qatar, has built residences that can house up to 53,000 people in significantly improved living conditions.

Protecting Vulnerable Populations

While the nation of Qatar has experienced economic success in recent decades, there is no guarantee that the fruits of this success will be distributed equitably. In contrast, some marginalized and vulnerable populations (e.g., migrant workers) within Qatari society are at a higher risk of exploitation, simply due to their life circumstances. Through a concerted effort from both public and private initiatives, labor and living conditions for migrant workers are improving in Qatar and these efforts must continue.

Zak Schneider
Photo: Wikimedia

Yemeni child soldiers
Yemen is a young country struggling through many internal problems. A civil war began in 2015 between the Yemeni government, with backing from Saudi Arabia, and the Houthi rebels. Now, it has become a conflict involving international leaders and is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the last 100 years. This is partly due to the mass exploitation of Yemeni child soldiers. It is very difficult to discover the exact number of recruited children due to the fluid roles of children, associated with family shame and fear. However, numbers ranged from about 3,000 to 50,000 children as of 2019.

Growing Up

Many Yemeni child soldiers have faced unfathomable hardships even before fighting. They have been constantly fleeing their homes to avoid airstrikes and war zones. Because of this, 3.4 million children are out of school and many are trying to earn the little money they can like Salah, who is about 11, and whose family cannot afford meals every day. Starvation and disease-ridden camps have been the way of life for thousands of families since the war began five years ago.

Conversely, schools recruit children in regions with access to education through “indoctrination” from lectures. The Houthi movement’s founder gives these lectures and transcribes them into booklets known as “Malazem.” During this, children as young as 10 view graphic images of the war and others who have died for the cause. This encourages them to do the same. A mother told the Group of Experts, a partition of the U.N. Human Rights Council, that she fears for her son’s future. She also said that such practices are prevalent across the region.

Recruitment also occurs in surrounding countries like Sudan, a country also struggling from domestic conflicts. Approached at 14, Hager Shomo Ahmed had received an offer of $10,000 in exchange for his service in the war. Like many children, this was dire for his family, as they became penniless after others stole their cattle.

Persuaded and desperate for food, purpose and money, thousands of children like these entered the war.

During the War

From both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels, many Yemeni child soldiers went to the front lines. More than 1,000 have been coerced to fight.

Some dragged bodies from the field (sometimes even their own family), others would do kitchen services and others trained to use rifles. Naji, Younis and Saleh, Yemeni child soldiers who were around 11 and 13 at the time, recounted stories like these. A Saudi rehabilitation center that has helped about 400 boys has created a safe space for these stories.

A psychiatrist at a Marib rehabilitation center, Mayoub al-Makhlafi, says children have suffered as fighters and servants. Staffers recount children’s descriptions of experiencing beatings and sexual abuse from their own commanders.

Many, promised with money and non-combatant roles, find themselves in traffickers’ hands and training camps. Some are sent to patrol checkpoints 12 hours a day. Others are the first to be dispatched as human bodyguards. The young foot soldiers have no other option since they are lured with knowledge of a steady income sent home or depicted as martyrs.

The war has killed over 2,000 Yemeni child soldiers, as UNICEF reported in 2018. However, due to poor access to Yemen and limited data collection, these numbers are could be much higher.

Surviving After

Younis and his mother, Samira, shared the nightmares he used to have about the Houthis taking him again and how his mother would comfort him back to sleep.

In Dhamar, Yemen, a teacher places a photograph on desks of 14 former students during the Week of the Martyr, a celebration that the Houthi government enforces to continue its propaganda about the honor of fighting. The children, mostly fifth and sixth graders, mourn their friends. Those who do not die find themselves in displacement camps, like 14-year-old Morsal. Like many of his comrades, Morsal suffers from panic attacks, aggressive behavior and hearing loss from airstrikes and explosions.

Fifteen-year-old Mohammad’s father, Ali Hameed, details a time before the war and how his son had started working after graduating high school. He sadly continued to when his son left to join the Saudi coalition and then went missing. Some of the boys from Mohammad’s unit were able to flee and return home and the Houthis captured others. Mohammad was not part of either group.

Others like Hager, who had lost 180 men in his unit, were able to return home. By earning some money for his service, he was able to buy his family 10 cattle to restore their livelihood.

Relief Efforts

Coping with such traumatic events is extremely difficult for adults. However, the horrors are greater for children. Fortunately, The Wethaq Foundation for Civil Orientation developed eight rehabilitation centers across Yemen. As of 2019, it has helped 2,000 Yemeni child soldiers in psychological support and children’s rights education.

Internationally, the Child Protection and Children Friendly Spaces programs, initiatives of UNICEF, have given over 600,000 children psychosocial support through individual counseling, reading, cooperative games and family reunification, as of 2018 in Yemen.

Victim assistance is another crucial sector for children who have lost limbs. Such assistance is possible through Prosthesis and Rehabilitation centers in Yemen for children with disabilities as a result of the war. These centers receive support from the International Committee of the Red Cross. In just 2019, they have been able to provide over 1.1 million Yemenis emergency care in 18 hospitals that the IRC supports, and given food, essential home supplies, cash grants and access to clean water to 5.7 million Yemenis.

Broadly focused groups like War Child, working in North and South Yemen, have offered assistance to more than 30,000 children and families. War Child provides psychosocial support through coping mechanisms for trauma, recreational activities and legal support to enable school enrollment. Through school restoration and cash assistance to families, it is able to provide better futures for children.

Supporting these groups and others, vital for long-term recovery, is essential to nurturing the Yemeni child soldiers who have fallen victim to this waging war and the millions of civilians in the entire region suffering from starvation, displacement and great loss.

– Mizla Shrestha
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Qatar
Qatar is a small country located on the Qatar Peninsula in the Middle East, neighboring Saudi Arabia on its southern land border and surrounded by the Persian Gulf on all other sides. Qatar is a desert nation with a small population of 2.4 million as of July 2020. Since gaining its independence from Britain in 1971, Qatar has been a constitutional monarchy. It has a strong economy and a high per capita income, driven largely by its natural gas and oil reserves which rank third-largest in the world. Still, Qatar’s geography as an isolated desert deems the nation vulnerable to food shortages and leaves its large population of migrant workers especially susceptible to starvation. Here are four facts about hunger in Qatar.

4 Facts about Hunger in Qatar

  1. Qatar is almost entirely dependent on imported food. In 2017, Qatar imported around 90% of its food largely due to its lack of stable agriculture. This dependence combined with Qatar’s location on a peninsula leaves the country vulnerable to blockades and supply-chain interruptions.
  2. Qatar’s neighbors are currently blockading it. In 2017, five Middle Eastern countries severed ties with Qatar over allegations that the Qatari government supported terrorist groups. This conflict resulted in hostile action from the country’s neighbor, Saudi Arabia: the Saudi Arabian government closed Qatar’s only land border, as well as banned most flights to and from Qatar from its airspace. Because Qatar typically receives 40% of its food via its shared border with Saudi Arabia and many poorer Qatari people rely on Saudi Arabian grocers for cheaper prices, Qatar immediately experienced a spike in food prices. Qatar has successfully avoided widespread hunger by opening new import relationships with Turkey and Iran, and by aggressively pursuing new means of local food production.
  3. Qatar has the best food security in the Middle East and Northern Africa. In 2019, Qatar ranked 13th out of 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index—an international database that considers quality, affordability and availability of food. This relatively high ranking is largely thanks to the Qatari government’s constant efforts to improve food security by enabling its people to produce their own food. For example, Qatar has imported 4,000 cows from Europe since 2017, and the Qatar-based Sahara Forest Project is creating innovative ways to convert portions of Qatar’s extensive deserts into arable farmland. These projects are part of wider efforts that have allowed Qatar to reduce its dependence on foreign food to 70% as of 2020.
  4. Qatar’s large migrant worker population is vulnerable to hunger. The COVID-19 outbreak has left many of Qatar’s largely Southeast Asian and African migrant workers, who make up approximately 80% of Qatar’s population of 2.5 million, jobless and hungry. The Qatari government has established a system for unpaid and underfed migrant workers to file complaints, as well as instituted a $20 billion stimulus package to help companies continue paying their workers. Still, many advocates believe the government needs to act more aggressively to ensure companies are providing adequate care to their employees.

Overall, hunger in Qatar is relatively low due to the country’s general prosperity and the government’s diligent efforts to improve food security. While the nation’s precarious geographic position means the threat of food shortages is always looming, this obstacle has led to exciting innovations in desert agriculture that could become instrumental in combating hunger worldwide. At the same time, hunger in Qatar’s migrant worker population threatens to become a serious problem amid the instability and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Dylan Weir
Photo: Wikimedia

PFAS Contamination
Per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) are a class of human-made chemicals that manufacturers have used in consumer products since 1950. There are more than 4,500 PFAS, which go into making fluoropolymer coatings and other heat-resistant products. PFAS can be in products such as clothing, furniture, food packaging, cooking materials, electrical insulation and firefighting foam. PFAS contamination has become a significant concern for environmentalists around the world, as many of these chemicals are not biodegradable. As a result, PFAS has contaminated soils and water sources across the globe.

How Do PFAS Impact Health?

The effect of PFAS on humans is uncertain; however, studies on animals indicate that PFAS can have serious health effects. Studies have repeatedly shown that exposure to PFAS can stunt growth and development, alter reproductive and thyroid function and damage the immune system and the liver. PFAS can also reduce vaccine effectiveness and increase the risk of kidney and testicular cancer.

Exposure to this potentially dangerous group of chemicals is widespread. People are most likely exposed to PFAS by consuming contaminated water or food or by breathing in PFAS-contaminated air particles. Those who work in the production of PFAS or PFAS-containing products are most at risk of PFAS exposure. In these jobs, workers can inhale PFAS or absorb the chemicals through their skin.

How Do PFAS Harm Developing Countries?

In the developed world, PFAS contamination has received significant scientific and political attention. However, in less wealthy countries, people have done very little to address the issue or even gather data on PFAS. In 2019, a study occurred in 12 Middle Eastern and Asian countries to understand better how PFAS impact the developing world. Unsurprisingly, the study found that PFAS water pollution in these countries is abundant. In Malaysia, for example, the greatest source of drinking water, which supplies water to 6 million people, tested significantly over the PFAS regulatory limits in the United States. Moreover, in Indonesia, PFAS levels in the Jakarta Bay were 10 times as high as the highest-level record in San Francisco Bay.

Widespread PFAS water contamination has led to the contamination of food products in these countries. Studies have shown that PFAS has contaminated seafood and some terrestrial animals in Bangladesh, India, Japan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Other consumer products, such as textiles, also contain alarming amounts of PFAS. For example, a Greenpeace investigation found that waterproof coats made in Bangladesh contain 557 µg/m² ionic PFAS. The E.U. limits PFAS to 1 µg/m² in textiles.

In developing countries, the abundance of PFAS has resulted in high PFAS levels in both children and adults. In Jordan, the average level of PFAS in breastmilk is seven times higher than standard drinking water advisory levels in the United States. Similar levels exist in India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam. Experiencing exposure to high levels of PFAS from birth, it is no surprise that people in these countries also experience high levels of PFAS in their blood.

Solutions for PFAS Contamination

While the impacts of PFAS on human health are not certain, studies on animals suggest that people should implement measures to reduce PFAS contamination on a global level. To protect people in developing countries, PFAS must receive more scientific and political attention in these regions. Members of the international community, such as the United States and E.U. countries, should assist developing nations to gather data on PFAS in their countries. The data could help developing regions implement regulations regarding PFAS production and use. With cooperation from the international community, it is possible that global PFAS contamination could experience better management in the future.

– Mary Kate Langan
Photo: Flickr

Man in Yemen, one of many countries affected by poverty in MENA
The Middle East and North African region, commonly referred to as MENA, is traditionally considered to include the geographical area from Morocco in northwest Africa to Iran in southwest Asia. Rich in history, culture and natural resources, this region consists of approximately 20 nations. As a result of vast reserves of oil, natural gas and petroleum, MENA has quickly grown in geopolitical importance. However, the region is also afflicted by persistent conflict and poverty. Here are seven recent trends in the rates of poverty in MENA.

7 Facts About Poverty in MENA

  1. MENA is the only region that has seen significant increases in extreme poverty. Between 2011 and 2015, extreme poverty in MENA has nearly doubled, rising from 2.1% of the population to 5%. As of 2018, an estimated 18.6 million people in the region are living on less than $1.90 per day. Additionally, studies have shown that the region’s population is particularly vulnerable to poverty. MENA’s poverty rates further increase when multidimensional poverty is included, which is an index of several poverty indicators including, among others, lack of education, poor health, standard of living and levels of violence. In 2017, the Arab Multidimensional Poverty Report estimated the total number of multidimensional poor at approximately 116.1 million – nearly 40% of the region’s population. Factored into the previous figures of poverty in the region, recent studies suggest that about 20% of the region is extremely poor, with an additional two-thirds of the region poor or vulnerable to extreme poverty.
  2. Class mobility is incredibly limited. Once a family falls into poverty, they are increasingly likely to remain poor for several generations. Largely due to insufficient job growth, much of the MENA population relies heavily on informal labor, such as unofficial taxi services or in-home services like cleaning or childcare. These forms of labor tend to be erratic, with low pay and minimal protections, yielding a larger population vulnerable to poverty with very few resources to pull themselves out of it.
  3. Recent studies suggest that MENA is the most unequal region in the world. Throughout the region, the top 10% of the population holds 61% of the wealth, compared to 47% in the United States and 36% in Western Europe. Many political and economic commentators in the region further suggest that this inequality has become deeply ingrained in the value system of the society as a whole, rather than just being the current condition.
  4. The increases in poverty are linked to conflict. The aforementioned increase in poverty between 2011 and 2015 was concentrated very heavily in Syria and Yemen, two nations that are experiencing intense conflict. The rate of extreme poverty in Syria has increased from nearly zero to about 20% over the course of its civil war. Similarly, extreme poverty in Yemen has doubled over the past decade, in line with its continued conflict. Despite the increasing number of people in poverty, these findings do indicate that major improvements in poverty in the region may not be too far off, considering the root cause is well known.
  5. Conflict has done severe damage to the region’s employment sectors. Even outside of the main crisis states, such as Syria, Libya and Yemen, the job market across the region has suffered greatly — either directly due to conflict or indirectly through sanctions, disrupted trade or population displacement. Throughout the early 20th century, the region relied heavily on its tourism, industrial, service and agriculture sectors. However, many aspects of these industries have been seriously impeded by persistent conflict. The International Monetary Fund estimated that the region needs to create between 60 and 100 million jobs by 2030, 27 million in the next five years, in order to significantly reduce unemployment and poverty.
  6. While it has undoubtedly created additional economic problems, the COVID-19 crisis has also inspired steps towards progress. Governments throughout the region took very cohesive and divisive steps from the beginning of the pandemic, restricting movement across borders and even within cities. Despite varied levels of outbreak preparedness, the MENA region has been notably effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19, with many countries beginning to ease travel restrictions and turn their attention toward phasing out of quarantine. The pandemic has had a major economic impact, particularly with the sudden collapse of oil prices. However, many in the region have been rather optimistic, considering this to be an opportunity for nations to begin addressing the systemic issues in the region, such as private sector development and social protections. Governments have been surprisingly receptive, with several states already mobilizing to protect both the public and private sectors.
  7. Governments have been largely ineffectual in dealing with economic problems, but the tides are turning. Largely due to persistent conflict, MENA regimes are typically focused on minimizing violence and war, allowing poverty to grow rapidly without policy changes. This has made the population especially vulnerable to recruitment by radical religious, ethnic or sectarian groups, such as Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. However, more recently we have seen an influx of civilians beginning to demand more from their governments — a call that political leaders are beginning to answer. Since the onset of Lebanon’s current economic crisis and subsequent protests, the Lebanese government has approved sweeping economic reform being referred to as a “financial coup.”  The World Bank has also projected modest continued growth in the economy of the MENA region overall.

The past 50 years have been incredibly tumultuous for the MENA region, characterized by an abundance of violence and poverty. As recent data has confirmed, the region’s poverty is not subsiding anytime soon and the succession of Western-backed conflicts is not helping. Despite these difficulties, the region is very quickly evolving into a state of uniform solidarity. With more regimes beginning to reject foreign intervention and more civilians addressing their governments directly, particularly in the cases of Egypt and Lebanon, structural change could come to the region soon. However, this area of the world continues to be a prime example of just how dangerous extreme poverty can be when mixed with conflict, both for the host state and the international system.

Angie Bittar
Photo: Flickr

The Fight Against Locusts
Asia, the Middle East and Africa are in a battle with an entity that threatens the food security of 10% of the population. This problem has come and gone before and goes by the name of the desert locust. These locusts fly in swarms of 10s of billions, in coverage ranging from a square third of a mile to 100 square miles. For reference, a swarm the size of one-third of a square mile could eat the equivalent of 35,000 people.

The leading cause of the sudden outburst of locusts is the months of heavy rain that Africa and Southwest Asia had towards the end of 2019. Locusts thrive in wet conditions when breeding and the rain sparked a massive emergence of the bugs.

The locusts could become the cause of food insecurity for millions of people. The reason for this is the sheer number of insects and also how quickly they can travel. They swarm from one food supply to the next, while moving from one country to the next within days. When they decide to land in a town or city that seems to have an abundance of crops, they will eat anywhere from 50 to 80% of all the plants. This has resulted in many countries and international institutions increasing cooperation, as the locusts do not discriminate against which country they deplete of resources. Below are five of the ways that collaboration has developed in the fight against locusts, which highlights the importance of working together during national emergencies.

5 Cases of International Cooperation in the Fight Against Locusts

  1. The World Bank has put together a $500 million program called The Emergency Locust Response Program to immediately assist farmers in the Middle East and Africa. This will help the citizens of affected countries with cash transfers, and will also go towards investing in agricultural industries. The first four countries that will receive the aid are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. They will collectively receive $160 million of the $500 million total.
  2. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has paired with the United Nations to strengthen technology that tracks locust swarms. The administration typically helps track weather and other changes in the environment, but now will use its resources to help monitor the locusts. It is trying to re-purpose technology to track smoke in order to follow the migration of locusts. This will help prepare countries and cities better, as they will have a more accurate prediction of when the swarms will reach them. These institutions are also developing different types of bio-pesticides, which will have less of an impact on humans and crops.
  3.  India has offered a detailed plan to Pakistan and Iran to team up against the swarms effectively. Pakistan has yet to accept the deal, but if accepted, the countries would “coordinate locust control operations along the border and that India can facilitate the supply of malathion, a pesticide, to Pakistan.” The plan originated in hopes of trying to save some of the estimated $3 billion of lost crops within the affected regions.
  4. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has contributed $19 million to the FAO to fight the locusts in East Africa. The money will go to Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, which are three of the worst-hit countries. The aid will help these countries afford airplanes to perform aerial spraying and training for infestation fighters on the ground.
  5. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed another $10 million to the FAO. This money will go towards the same countries as the USAID contribution went to. The countries have gratefully accepted the money, yet still need more support. However, contributions from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are closing the gap between necessary resources and obtained resources.

The cooperation between organizations and countries in the fight against locusts proves to be the silver lining of the infestation. International institutions are effectively planning, tracking and coordinating efforts to minimize the problem for farmers and food-insecure people around the world.

– Aiden Farr
Photo: Pixabay

healthcare system in Jordan
Jordan is an Arab country located in the East Bank of the Jordan River. It has a population of 10 million people. Although one of the smaller countries in the Middle East, many know Jordan for its advanced healthcare system. The international community, along with the World Health Organization, are consistently taking notes from the Jordanian healthcare system in the hopes of applying some of its stronger elements, such as widespread insurance coverage and increased investment, to countries with weaker systems.

Facts About Healthcare in Jordan

The healthcare system in Jordan includes public and private sectors. The public sector provides a majority of Jordan’s 12,081 hospital beds. The private sector contributes to the country primarily through the provision of home healthcare. There is a total of 106 hospitals, public and private, in Jordan. Due to recent shifts in the political climate in the Middle East, Jordan has accepted a high rate of refugees. More refugees, coupled with an increase in the domestic population, has greatly increased the demand for hospitals. To keep up with the growing population and improve the healthcare system in Jordan, lawmakers implemented a national e-health system. This e-health system intends to connect all public and university hospitals, maintain organization and establish easily accessible health records for all.

Primary clinics supply rapid access medical care along with vaccinations, maternity and childcare and quick treatment for chronic conditions. Until recently, healthcare in Jordan lacked a formalized home healthcare system. Without this system, patients needing long-term care must remain in acute care facilities for weeks, even months, at a time. Since the implementation of Jordan’s home healthcare initiative in 2017, the industry has trained 300 health professionals and gained the participation of 28 healthcare facilities, both public and private. The country is currently expanding home healthcare policy while other countries in the Middle East lack a structured home healthcare system, putting Jordan at one of the most modern healthcare systems in the region.

Infant Mortality in Jordan

The infant mortality rate, one of the lowest rates in the region, stands at 13.9% and has steadily declined over the last 10 years. Furthermore, the maternal mortality rate is 62 per 100,000. This rate is much lower than the average of 420 per 100,000 live births in the Eastern Mediterranean region. The consistent betterment of the health conditions of children and infants is in part due to the universal child immunization that the country achieved in 1998. Since then, Jordan has made it a significant priority to improve the conditions of healthcare that it provides to women and children. Unfortunately, this priority does not stand true in most countries surrounding Jordan.

National Health Policy and Organization

Given Jordan’s sectoral organization of the healthcare system, the country has one of the most modern systems in the region. Its high expenditure in healthcare goes toward developing newer methods of treatment and expanding healthcare accessibility sets Jordan apart from other countries. In 2003, the healthcare expenditure comprised about 10.4% of Jordan’s GDP. Each sector has its own independent financial and managerial systems that reflect the regulation and delivery of services. This distribution of regulation allows for the country to target and improve specific elements of its healthcare system.

In the last decade, Jordan has reformed and improved its health information systems and human resources teams. Additionally, Jordan’s government introduced a National Health Insurance system to provide large-scale accessibility to health insurance to a large part of the country’s population. Overall, the net population of insured individuals in the last four years was around 55%. However, in other countries surrounding Jordan like Egypt, healthcare insurance coverage relies heavily on an individual’s financial status and income. As a result, only those who are very well-off receive effective coverage.

Given the recent changes in prioritization of the healthcare system in Jordan, the country has improved its standard of care greatly in the last 10 years. Compared with other Middle Eastern nations, Jordan stands out with its advanced healthcare system. Currently, though, the healthcare assistance that Jordan provides to Syrian refugees begins to decline due to financial burdens on its budget. Therefore, continued support from the U.N. is necessary to sustain refugee healthcare accessibility.

– Taleen Avitsian 
Photo: Flickr