Information and stories on middle east

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

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