Information and stories on middle east

This is where the financial technology sectors (Fintech for short) come in. The financial technology sector is comprised of tech startups that exist in the financial services industry. These startups are disrupting the private sector ecosystem in The Middle East. In just the past five years, fintech startups have raised over $100 million.

Fintech and The Middle East

Fintech startups aim to provide a large range of financial solutions using technology. Therefore, financial technology does not aim to replace banking systems; rather, financial technology startups aim to improve the customer experience surrounding banking and other financial services.

Often times, fintech startups address a diverse range of customer needs, whether it be educating them on the process of setting up a bank account or making investing easier to handle. While fintech startups provide differing services, one thing remains the same: fintech is using technology to make financial services more accessible to the general public.

In The Middle East, fintech startups are a new driving force to increase accessibility to the general public. With over fifty startups, fintech companies aim to foster greater financial inclusion. For example, one of the main obstacles for small business owners in The Middle East is gaining financial inclusion.

Startups, such as Ambareen Musa’s Souqalmal.com, address this need by connecting investors with small business owners. This refined database and algorithm allow small business owners to raise capital for a cheaper price while also allowing investors to gain better returns on their deals. Another fintech startup that has raised 20 million dollars in funding is PayTabs, which is an online payment processing solution that allows small businesses to add payment services to their sites.

Funding for Fintech

Funding for fintech startups is done through a combination of crowdsourcing (84 percent), allowing people with startup ideas to get funding from anywhere around the world, and government and industry support. Through crowdsourcing, startup founders can receive money faster than they would be able to from investors; as a result, their businesses can grow faster and have an impact on the public faster.

There is a 380 billion dollar market that is comprised of the world’s financially underserved consumers and businesses. Not only are there economic gains to be made through the rise of fintech but there are also large social gains. Furthermore, governments in The Middle East are contributing to the thriving fintech ecosystem by supporting regulations and initiatives such as accelerator programs.

For instance, The Bahrain Economic Development Board launched Fintech Hive in 2017, a fintech startup accelerator that funds and provides instrumental resources for fintech startups. Banks in The Middle East, particularly the UAE, have also started to adopt some of the digital solutions put forth by fintech startups.

With the public sectors of the government working together with the private sectors in the fintech industry, there is a powerful combination of forces working together to foster greater financial inclusion to those in The Middle East.

– Shefali Kumar

Photo: Flickr

Income Inequality in the Middle East
Since 1980, the high growth rates in Asia, particularly in China and India, have led to a significant increase in income for the bottom 50 percent of the global population. While this signifies growth and a reduction of poverty levels, it does not signify a decrease in global inequality or in the income inequality in the Middle East.

Income Inequality in the Middle East

There are two types of income inequality: between-country income inequality and within-country inequality. Although the high growth rates of India and China have led to a decrease in between-country average inequality, within-country inequality has only increased. Simply stated, a look into individual countries will show that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.

The World Inequality Lab, composed of over 100 researchers and economists, recently published the “World Inequality Report 2018.” The report underscores that collecting macro and microeconomic data on inequality is difficult, especially since many countries do not release or even produce income and inequality data and statistics.

Despite these limitations, the researcher and scientists found a new methodology to source the necessary data. One of the key findings of the report was that income inequality in the Middle East is the highest, while the lowest in Europe. In the Middle East, the top 10 percent take 61 percent of national income.

Causes of the Fiscal Inequalities

Income inequality in the Middle East is a result of multiple factors. On one hand, the disparate urban-rural income gap plays a large role in skewed income distribution, especially in countries like Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia. Because rural communities are further away from commercial ports and main markets, they have less access to imported commodities, such as rice and wheat.

This limited access to basic needs increases malnutrition and poverty rates in these countries, thereby furthering the economic divide. This economic inequality has played a role in the Arab Spring uprisings and demonstrations, polarizing these countries not just economically, but also politically.

The World Inequality Report predicts that if countries continue to operate “business as usual,” then global, within-country inequality will only increase. However, the report suggests that if countries follow the trajectory of Europe over the past decades, then global income inequality can be reduced.

Attainable Solutions

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia advocates for the following proven tools to combat income inequality in the Middle East:

  • Tax progressivity
  • Increased equal access to education
  • Increased fiscal transparency
  • Investment in reducing public debt

The World Inequality Lab has already made attempts to increase fiscal transparency, using national income, wealth accounts, household income and wealth surveys, tax income and inheritance data to estimate figure on inequality and wealth in the Middle East.

International Support

Additionally, UNICEF is working to strengthen the education systems in the Middle East by working closely with both federal and local governments. The Life Skills and Citizenship Education Initiative under UNICEF aims to integrate core life skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, into the current education systems.

And finally, having a sense of awareness about global income inequality can also play a role in combating income inequality. Simply knowing that within-country income inequality is increasing despite the reduction in global inequality is important in addressing the issue.

Shefali Kumar
Photo: Flickr

women’s rights in the Middle East
When discussing women’s rights and equalities in the world, many people will point towards the Middle East as a place behind in the fight.
However, while the fight for equality is nowhere near finished in the region, there have been multitudes of improvements via acts and laws that better protect women.

Unfortunately, much of the world seems to forget about these developments and sees the region as still behind, even with hundreds of people currently fight to increase their rights. As misconception runs rampant, it’s more important than ever to highlight the progress made for women’s rights in the Middle East, and to see that such hard work accomplished by many passionate and brave women.

Tunisia

One law passed just last year in 2017 was the “Law on Eliminating Violence Against Women” in Tunisia. The law abolished the clause that allowed rapists to escape punishments if they married their victims. With Tunisia having one of the highest domestic violence rates in the world — 47 percent of women experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetimes — this was a huge win for the country.

Along with this, Tunisia passed a law later in the year to allow Muslim women to marry men belonging to any faith. Before, Muslim women in the country were not allowed to marry non-Muslim men unless the men converted their faith. These are just some of the progress made for women’s rights in the Middle East.

Jordan

In line with Tunisia, Jordan also called to repel their “Marry the Victim” laws, which also allow rapists to escape punishment if they marry their victims. While the law still needs to go through parliament, the talk of repelling it in court last year lead to thunderous cheers from the spectator’s gallery — an action that illustrates how bringing the issue to attention was a large and important step in the right direction.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has also made progress in women’s rights in the Middle East. In 2017, the country announced that women would be allowed to have physical education in state schools; in addition, the ban on women not being able to drive will be lifted summer of 2018.

While these laws are huge steps in gender equality, there still lies deeply rooted stigma against women.

Saudi Arabia promised to abolish laws regarding its male guardianship system, where state agencies are prohibited from requiring male guardian permission from women (if not required). However, many employers still still ask for these permission slips before hiring women, even when such actions are unnecessary. Along with this, women still need male guardian permission when applying for higher education, marriage and traveling abroad.

Progress With Room to Grow

From equal marriage laws, to protecting sexual assault and domestic abuse victims and overall freedom for women, these laws can play a huge part in ensuring more equality for women in the Middle East.

While work is not finished and women are still persecuted, arrested, harassed and murdered, the women of the Middle East are fighting together to create change. Just like the countless women walking together hand-in-hand across the world, all of these changes will come together to create a stronger and safer world for women.

– Marissa Wandzel
Photo: Flickr

Saudi Arabia vs Egypt: The Race for Solar Power in the Middle East
For the past 50 years, oil has been a defining characteristic of the Middle East. Energy production continues to be a mainstay for the economy in the region, but in the future, it will come from a different source; since 2013, governments and private industries have invested over $1 trillion in solar power in the Middle East.

Rationale for Solar Power in the Middle East

The reasons behind the boom in solar power in the Middle East stems from a few causes. Consulting firm Ernst & Young recently declared Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the UAE as having the greatest potential for renewable energy investment. With the cost of oil shrinking, the IMF has stated that the region, specifically the Gulf nations, needs to diversify its economies and end dependence on fossil fuels.

In addition, political pressure also plays a crucial cause in the spike in solar power. UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed sees the push as a means to stave off tension with environmental activists and “green” governments looking for sources of energy outside the fossil fuel realm.

World’s Largest Solar Farm, For Now

However, oil-dependent countries in the region aren’t the only ones investing; Egypt, a nation plagued with inflation since the Arab Spring, has also looked at new ways to jumpstart its economy.

As a result, Egypt announced in February the construction of the Benban Solar Park, a public/private venture to open in 2019 with an output of up 2.0 GW. For comparison, the most extensive solar plant in operation emits a mere 550 megawatts. Benban Solar Park is the crown jewel of the 29 solar power projects in Egypt ($1.8 billion cost so far) and would act as the largest producer of solar power in the Middle East.

Gamesmanship in the Middle East

Egypt held this title for solar power in the Middle East for around two months before Saudi Arabia announced its joint venture with the Japanese SoftBank to create the world’s largest solar power plant. With an expected output of over 200 GW, the expected completion date of their project is 2030.

While both projects are a long time from realization, it comes as a major signifier of the Saudi political and economic plan for the future.

The kingdom currently holds a budget deficit of 9.3 percent and an unemployment rate around of 13 percent. And, even though the KSA significantly lags behind other nations in regard to social tolerance, reforms are being made, even in the face of a lagging economy and social upheaval that could prove costly to stability in the kingdom.

Ayham Kamel, head of Middle East and North Africa research at the Eurasia Group, stated that solar energy is “a vision; it’s aspirational more than anything. They’re trying to implement key parts of it. It’s fundamentally changing the Kingdom’s political and social structure in a movement that’s much more viable – fiscally and regionally.”

The SoftBank solar farm is one of many infrastructure projects Saudi Arabia has planned. One of the most ambitious being a $500 billion entertainment city on the Red Sea that will be built with the hopes of drawing more tourism to the nation.

Rest of the Region

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are far from the only nations with plans for more solar power in the Middle East — Dubai hopes to power 75 percent of the city using solar energy by 2050, and Morocco is in the middle of the production of a 2,000 MW solar farm to lessen its reliance on expensive imports.

Whether it’s political, environmental or economic, countries all across the region are looking towards solar energy to address problems within their borders. Some of the projects will trade at record low prices and the largest plant projects adding 100,000 jobs.

Plans for solar power in the Middle East are ambitious if nothing else. Now, it’s time to see these plans come to fruition.   

– David Jaques

Photo: Flickr

news anchors in the middle east
Increasing support for women who experience suppression from gender inequality in many aspects of society has been a focus of many aid organizations and support groups across the globe. According to USAID, “More than half a billion women have joined the world’s work force over the past 30 years, and they make up 40 percent of the agriculture labor force.”

Although some of these groups and organizations focus on specific issues, gender equality aid has been instrumental in reducing the gender equality gap that suppress so many women.

News and Aid Organizations

Various programs (not limited to those helping news anchors in the Middle East) have been extremely important in supporting young women as well as promoting education. In 2016, approximately $253 million in gender equality aid was used to assist Afghanistan with leveling the gender equality gap that limited capable women.

In addition to aid organizations, news organizations that support women help reduce the gender equality gap as well as confront the numerous challenges faced by female reporters.

Challenges for Women in the Workplace

Debroah Amos, a reporter for ABC 2000, discussed some of the difficulties she faced as a reporter and news anchor in the Middle East:

“I faced a lot of challenges in my work: lack of training on how to deal with violence during field coverage, we work without personal protective equipment. Also, the Egyptian journalism syndicate didn’t give us legal protection. Also for me as a female, it was hard to deal with some Salafis during their demonstrations, as they believe it’s not permitted to talk with women,” she said.

News organizations promoting successful female newscasters and aid organizations supporting women via global funding projects is a powerful and influential combination. As a result of such efforts, women and news anchors in the Middle East are beginning to see changes in their work opportunities. As women advocate for themselves and use these resources to their advantage, true and revolutionary change continues to materialize.

Five News Organizations Supporting Female News Anchors in the Middle East

  1. ZANTV: The first female news station in Afghanistan gives women interested in news a chance to exercise their reporting skills and work in a field they are interested in.
  2. Al JAZEERA: This organization focuses on news in the Middle East, U.S. and Canada. The organization welcomes female reporters to cover topics on the ground.
  3. AL MONITOR: “The Pulse of the Middle East”– This news organization covers topics in Egypt, The Gulf, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, North Africa, Palestine, Syria and Turkey.
  4. TIME: The organization covers political topics across the world. One woman, identified by Al Monitor as one of “16 Women Journalists to Watch in the Middle East,” reports for TIME as well as several other publications about numerous topics in the Middle East.
  5. NPR: Debroah Amos reported on several topics in the Middle East and won a group award in 2004 for coverage in Iraq.

There are several organizations and programs across the world working to reduce the gender inequality gap. A few of these include USAID, Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, The “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Strategy” in Australia, The Global Fund for Women and the National Organization for Women. In addition to these organizations, the International Women’s Media Fund (IWMF) also recognizes influential women in media.

With such powerful advocates in their corner, the push for increased gender equity and the presence of female news anchors in the Middle East is a feasible, opportunistic and exemplary reality.

– Gabriella Evans

Photo: Flickr

model organizations
College and high school are formative years in the lives of many people. The subjects students choose to study and organizations they chose to participate in can change their outlook on the world for years to come. Many in college will choose to join clubs attached to their majors, such as psychology majors in psych clubs or biology majors in bio clubs. However, the world of international politics often crosses the borders of all subjects.

International laws and treaties base objectives on studies carried out by various experts. So, oftentimes, students with an interest in their own corner of the world find themselves drawn into the world of international relations. With little time to cover two majors, or their high school not offering classes on the subject, students are introduced to the benefits of model organizations.

What Are Model Organizations?

For those unfamiliar with this term, model organizations are clubs dedicated to the study of international organizations. The two most popular are Model United Nations (MUN) and the Model Arab League (MAL). Both the MUN and MAL are usually clubs on college campuses and high schools that have branches around the world.

The goal of these organizations is to educate participants about the workings of large-scale international organizations. This endeavor is accomplished largely through online resources, but the best tool is the participation in simulations at conferences around the United States and the world. Students participate in weekend-long formal conferences, where they have the opportunity to take on the role of a representative of an assigned nation.

The participant must study his or her assigned country and represent its views accurately during the conference, an activity that serves as one the the greatest benefits of the model organizations.

New Perspectives

Students are often times unfamiliar with world governments; stances compared to those of their home country. For example, a student in the United States who is studying chemistry in college can be assigned as a representative of Tunisia for a Model Arab League conference — a nation most likely unfamiliar to both the student and the U.S.

In another scenario, a student may be interested in science, and so he or she may elect to participate in the Council of Arab Environmental Affairs Ministry.

One topic on the simulated ministry’s agenda is the “Evaluat[ion] and mitigat[ion of] the negative environmental impacts of water-related infrastructure and resource use, e.g., the construction of dams and canals, the overuse of aquifers, as well as the desalination industry.”

After studying Tunisia’s stance on the use of water, the student may find that that he or she supports a resolution mitigating the overuse of aquifers, but does not have strong feelings about dams. The student will then discuss this topic with other nation representatives, and may quickly learn the representatives of Iraq, Syria and Kuwait, for instance, have strong feelings about the construction and use of dams.

Even without participating in the simulation, students can benefit from the model organization because they most likely would have never learned about the depths of complexity behind water rights between two nations, and so now have an expanded knowledge and perspective on the world.

As a student of the sciences, he or she could now more effectively understand how to find a solution that benefits both the environment and the nations which share the water.

Model U.N.

Based in the United States, the National Model United Nations (MUN) organization is the largest host of conferences around the world. This year the National Models Organization will be hosting five major conferences, two of which will take place in the United States — one in Washington D.C. and another in New  York City.

The other three will be hosted in China, Germany and Ecuador. Students will be able to participate in the simulation of the United Nations General Assembly, Security Council, World Health Organization, UNESCO, FAO and others. Topics are planned to range from preventing terrorism and extremism in the Horn of Africa via the Security Council simulation, to improving response and coordination in addressing mental health in the WHO simulation.

Students benefit from the model organizations by learning to cooperate with people from other countries as they try to pass joint resolutions to fix major local and international issues.

Model Arab League

Although the Arab League is often considered ineffective and mostly a formality, the model organization is actually much more. As a college participant myself, my MAL club was invited to both the Turkish Embassy and the Palestinianian Mission in the United States, where we were given a formal but friendly lecture on the stances of Turkey and Palestine on a variety of important topics.

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations is the largest host of conferences in the United States; its discussions are located in major cities across the country. In this case, a major benefit of the model organizations is educating participants about the various cultures and political ideologies of the Arab World, which oftentimes are clumped into one. Now, more than ever, it is important to treat the Arab World as separate nations rather than just the “Middle East.”

Global Citizens

At the end of the conferences, students come away more educated and mindful of international dynamics and complexities. One person may now know why it is not so easy to stop pollution in the developing world. Another might understand the complexities of switching solely to renewable energy.

The world benefits from the model organizations due to where these bright students will go after becoming a globally-minded citizen. Even if these students do not go directly into international politics, they will help shape their world in a better direction.

– Nick DeMarco

Photo: Flickr

Afghan Journalists
In some of the world’s most vulnerable regions, journalists face prominent hurdles as they fight for their freedom of expression, an integral right preserved by the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Reporters Sans Frontières has been taking action in protecting the liberties of journalists, specifically female ones, and their freedom of speech so as to combat the threat of violence against journalists in Afghanistan.

In March 2017, the organization opened the “Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists,” while in November, it held a training and advocacy visit to support safety within the field. Facing intimidation from the Taliban, as well as social pressures, women reporters encounter many obstacles in their pursuit of the truth, making such efforts essential.

Reporters Sans Frontières

In 1985, Reporters Sans Frontières, or RSF, was founded by four journalists in Montpellier, France with the intention of defending freedom of information and investigating violations across the globe. RSF has written to authorities and challenged governments that have put these rights in jeopardy, as well as supported journalists who have been imprisoned or exiled.

The non-governmental organization aims to construct pluralistic political systems and champion the right to seek factual material without hindrance; interestingly, the group also promotes the presence of watchdogs that have the ability to question corrupt authority.

RSF and the Media

Among other activities, RSF provides press releases about media freedoms in a variety of languages, generates awareness campaigns, and offers assistance and legal aid to endangered journalists. A report from Radio Free Europe stated that 2017 was one of the most violent years for journalists in Afghanistan.

According to the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, 20 journalists and media workers were killed, with 169 threats made to reporters.

Mistreatment of Female Journalists

RSF attributes much of Afghani conflict to civil war, with many intimidations and deaths coming from the Taliban. As a result of such in-fighting, the country has seen the rise of many “black holes” in information.

For female journalists, the situation is particularly perilous, as many have been confronted with the threat of attack or silencing. In many cases, and often as a result of such treatment, social pressures discourage women from becoming journalists, as their families may impress upon them the dangers of the profession.

Women experience harassment in the workplace as well as patriarchal standards, and the number of female journalists in Afghanistan has decreased since 2015.

Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists

In March 2017 on the eve of International Women’s Day, RSF opened the Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists — Afghanistan’s first center for the protection of female journalists’ rights. Based in Kabul and headed by Afghan journalist Farida Nekzad, the center provides a forum for women, combats discrimination, calls for equal rights and wages, advocates for better work conditions and prevents abuses.

The Center has offered support to reporters working in war zones, as well as organized seminars on physical and digital safety. The center will lobby the government to call for workplace safety and talk with families about their perceptions of female journalists.

Uniting Journalists

In recent months, Reporters Sans Frontières has been making stronger efforts to protect the rights of female journalists in Afghanistan. From November 22, 2017, the organization held a training and advocacy visit that focused on women journalists.

It organized seminars in Mazar-i- Sharif, Herat and Charikar, and even held a special seminar in Kabul for women reporters in conflict zones. At the meetings, journalists spoke about their experiences being threatened by armed non-state groups and the necessity of self-censorship.

Through the visit, RSF was able to unite journalists and create a discussion on the safety of reporters, with 65 journalists from 60 Afghan media outlets attending.

A Culture of Tolerance

Journalists in Afghanistan are met with a treacherous socio-political climate, facing the threat of violence and risking the loss of the right to expression. With its endeavors in the country, Reporters Sans Frontières has sought to protect the integrity of these reporters, support their safety and promote a culture of tolerance and freedom of information.

Efforts such as the foundation of the Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists and RSF’s seminars can enable greater independence of the media going forward.

– Shira Laucharoen

Photo: Flickr

Lessons from Anonymous: Using Social Media to Help End PovertyIn 2010, the Internet activist group known as Anonymous lent its technological expertise to Arabs who were protesting injustices in the countries they lived in. This aid let to an event known as the Arab Spring, in which the governments of several Arab nations were overthrown by their people. The ways that Anonymous utilized technology to help protesters are important lessons for activists trying to enact global change on both how not to use technology to enact global change and how to properly use social media to help people who live in poverty or under a repressive regime find their voice.

How should technology not be used by the modern activist?

Even though Arab people were aided by the help from Anonymous, Anonymous employed several methods which modern protesters should not use, because they rely on destroying the computational infrastructure used by a country and would risk generating bad publicity if they were used. One such example, known as black faxing, is a method in which Anonymous faxed black pieces of paper to various government agencies to cause the fax machines used by those agencies to run out of ink.

Anonymous also committed distributed denial of service attacks, in which members of Anonymous overloaded key web servers in a given country to prevent government officials from accessing network resources on the Internet. Anonymous carried out these disruptive activities so that members of the government would not be able to communicate, which made it much easier for the protesters to overthrow the government.

These methods should not be used by modern activists because they are more likely to be viewed as an act of cyberterrorism and not as a legitimate form of protest. Such methods would cause people to focus on the methods used by the protesters rather than the societal issues that the people using these methods were protesting.

What positive lessons can the modern activist or protester learn from Anonymous?

In addition to the use of technology for disruption, Anonymous also used technology to help the Arab protesters mobilize within their country and communicate with the outside world. The main tools used by Anonymous to connect the protesters with each other and with the outside world were social media platforms. Anonymous also helped protesters use proxy servers so that they could communicate with the outside world without the risk of being detected by their government. Anonymous used social media to help ensure that the voices of the protesters were heard by the world.

Anonymous used social media to help support the Arab Spring

Anonymous helped protesters in Egypt by reposting information that people in Egypt gave to them on Twitter, and by helping people in Egypt bypass firewalls set up by the Egyptian government. Anonymous also helped protesters in the Arab world by setting up IRC servers where protesters could virtually meet to organize and to plan their protests. Anonymous teamed up with Telecomix, another “hacktivist” group, to help people in Arab countries who were protesting their government connect to the Internet even after the government blocked Internet access.

People protesting against poverty, child soldiers, human trafficking or any other issue could learn from Anonymous and use social media to help people who are affected by such issues communicate with others or to help activists fighting against such injustices safely communicate with each other.

– Michael Israel

Photo: Flickr

living conditions in afghanistan
In general, Afghanistan often resides in people’s minds as a war-torn country in an arid environment with a long history of social strife and religious oppression. While those points have merit, many people in the west can have an oversimplified view of the living conditions in Afghanistan.

Everyday Existence

In Afghanistan, not all people live in perpetual fear of attacks, though these incidences do occur. Every day major cities bustle with thousands of shop owners opening their doors and cart-pushers taking to the streets. Few can afford leisure activities, but they do exist. In the capital of Kabul, there are zoos, amusement parks, cricket, football, and buzkashi matches (a traditional sport in which men on horses fight over a goat).

Threat of Attack

However, living conditions in Afghanistan can be harsh. According to a CIA World Factbook, an Afghan’s life expectancy is a meager 44 years. The wars in Afghanistan have been fairly constant since the seventies, and since 1979, more than a million Afghans have been killed and 3 million maimed in internal conflict.

On Thursday, January 18, a bomb went off at a protest in Kabul claiming the lives of 11 people and wounding 25 others. ISIL took credit for the attack, and in recent months, Kabul has been targeted by both Taliban forces as the groups vie for power within the country.

Electricity, Food and Water

Living conditions in Afghanistan need improvement. As it stands, only six percent of people have electricity and as a result must depend on alternative heat sources during the cold winter. Within an hour of the new year, Turkmenistan shut off electricity completely to Northern Afghanistan after authorities in Kabul rejected a demand for a 100 percent price increase.

Food and water are also challenges for many of the displaced people living in Afghanistan. In 2017, nearly half a million people fled their homes due to conflict, with 31 of 34 provinces recording forced displacement. For the displaced, food can be incredibly difficult to come by, as opportunities for employment are few and far between.

Unemployment is rampant, and even those that find work in construction, car repair, restaurants or offices have a hard time providing for themselves. In fact, most salaries are too meager to provide for large immediate families.

The city of Kabul’s population swells with an influx of people from the war-stricken, impoverished countryside. Traffic within the nation’s capital gives Los Angeles a run for its money, and security is everywhere. These physical occurrences are reminders that the threat of attack resides amidst normalcy in the current realities of those living in Afghanistan.

– Sam Bramlett

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in IranWith a population of more than 79 million people, Iran is a large country in Western Asia, bordered by Turkmenistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Armenia. Sadly, of the millions of citizens in this country, 18.7 percent live below the poverty line. There are many causes of poverty in Iran, but two major causes have caused a crisis in the country during the last several years.

Unemployment
Iran’s economy began to struggle in 2014 when a subsidy program adjusted the prices of fuel, the country’s largest export. In 2015, the economy somewhat improved in the first half of the calendar year and the oil and fuel sector prospered. Meanwhile, unemployment in other job sectors increased. By 2016, the unemployment rate reached a three-year high of 12.7 percent, though labor participation increased from around 35 percent to about 40 percent since 2014. An unemployment gender gap was noted in 2016 as well, as unemployment rates for men and women were 21.8 and 10.4 percent respectively.

In 2014, however, Iran saw the height of the unemployment crisis when the rate of unemployed women was estimated to be 46 percent and youth unemployment was twice that of general unemployment.

Additionally, the standard monthly income for families averaging five people per household is about $600, which is considered significantly below the poverty line. In 2014, Parliament’s Plan and Budget Committee announced that 15 million Iranians were living below the poverty line, or 20 percent of the population, and seven million of those people did not have access to any services that might offer them support or assistance.

Internal Corruption
In 2014, news broke that a merchant with close ties to the Iranian government facilitated many oil and gold transactions through the Turkish People’s Bank and embezzled a significant amount of money, putting the country into serious debt. Later, many other fraudulent investors were reported to be active in the oil industry, and though over $1 billion in debt was reported, the guilty were not punished. Between 2013 and 2014, 4,000 cases of embezzlement and theft were reported, most of them being cases of illegally importing luxury cars, hidden monopolies and smuggling, to name a few, but no names of the guilty parties were ever disclosed.

In 2014, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani took office with the determination to develop an effective strategy to reduce poverty for Iranians. Rouhani established a three-part policy to assist the most vulnerable populations and curb inflation, which ended two years of negative growth. Officials under the Rouhani administration provided food aid to about seven million citizens in poverty. Though many aid projects under the administration were criticized for potentially adding to the budget deficit, such policies and programs seek to give immediate help to those living in absolute poverty, and the administration continues to fight for the poor and make food security its number one priority.

These causes of poverty in Iran have led to justified tension and fear among the public and the government that conditions and employment rates will deteriorate further if changes to the subsidy program do not go into effect, and if eliminating government corruption is not made a higher priority. Those changes are key to improving Iranian lives.

Olivia Cyr

Photo: Flickr