Information and stories on middle east

Education in MENA
MENA, which refers to Middle Eastern and North African countries, has long struggled with promoting the value of education. Many children begin their lives with an intellectual disadvantage. This creates difficulties compounded by a drop in oil prices and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, many depend on education reforms, particularly in developing technology, to increase employment rates and stabilize the economy.

Low Education Rates in MENA

While the average adult literacy rate is 86% globally, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) identified that only 75% of the population in Arabic regions can read and write. This is a 30% increase from the 1970s. However, when considering elderly individuals above the age of 65, UNESCO found that the global average literacy rate is 78%, but a mere 38% in Arabic regions.

There is a rising concern about the literacy rates of young children and their education in MENA. The onset of COVID-19 closed schools as a safety precaution. An estimated 100 million students between the age of five and 17 stopped attending school. Additionally, around 14.3 million children do not attend school due to conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen after the destruction of 8,850 of their institutions.

Girls’ Education in MENA

Around 67% of the Levant’s younger population think that they are not being taught enough. However, it is much worse for adolescent girls. Blatant gender discrimination controls the lives of many women, leading them to have an illiteracy rate of 42%, compared to 22% for their male counterparts.

Rates of women and girls acquiring education in MENA increased over the past half-century. The largest jump in registration was 7 million between 1950 and 1975. Nonetheless, a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that women in Egypt, Jordan and Libya must still obtain permission from the dominant male figures in their life to work independently. With the help of the United States’ Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), programs to fund literacy campaigns, conferences and business training sessions have also expanded the support women and girls receive in relation to their education.

Education in MENA During COVID-19

To date, the pandemic closures affected more than 100 million tertiary school students and around 830,000 school staff. These students lack access to WIFI, computers, online courses and direct contact with teachers. There are increasing probabilities that less than half of students will meet the bare minimum requirements for math and language skills.

Luckily, some tertiary schools have reformed the education system. Through the Virtual University of Tunis (VUT) in Tunisia, nearly 110,000 students have started taking classes with the 18,000 professors that are aiding the initiative. In Morocco, 12 hours of daily lectures were also agreed to be broadcasted on sports channels that regularly play on television.

UNICEF updated its 2015 MENA Life Skills and Citizenship Education (LSCE) Initiative to match these unprecedented times. The organization strives to change the teaching methods presented through in-person and remote learning. Its methodology focuses on learning and teaching, promoting multiple pathways and enabling the environment. UNICEF wants to connect education to the labor market by becoming more skills-oriented. This initiative will also address the issue that the youth unemployment rate in MENA is 25%, the highest in the world.

These approaches and more can develop the future of children in MENA. Fostering a curiosity-filled environment will stimulate a productive generation and revolutionize the working sectors in the region. Transitioning to online courses and being more inclusive of gender and financial backgrounds will increase employment rates. With governments allocating 15% to 20% of total public funds on education, MENA can prosper.

– Sylvia Vivian Boguniecki
Photo: Flickr

Two young women in the Middle East2020 has taught the world a series of valuable lessons. Still, one that strikes most potent is the importance of women’s presence in critical fields, such as conflict resolution. For years this issue has received a poor reputation for ineffectiveness and persistent recidivism, specifically due to continued violence. However, the recent inclusion of women has changed this and transformed the field as we know it. Since 2016, women’s inclusion in conflict resolution has shown a 64% prevention rate for failed peace negotiations and a 35% increase in likeability for long-term peace.

While women are beginning to shine on the world stage, there are still conflict-ridden regions where they are kept away from the negotiating table. One of these regions is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Conflict in MENA

In addition to the US’ recent departure under the Trump Administration, the MENA has been riddled with conflict. There are longstanding ideological tensions between Saudi-Arabia and Iran. A bloody civil war in Yemen and the recent Assad-Putin take over of Syria. Libya is becoming a failed state and more terrorist organizations are rising to power.

This is an integral time for women to be included in conflict resolution, as said previous conflicts will require new models of engagement and unique perspectives. If women are to achieve an equal socioeconomic standing to men in the MENA, now is the time for action.

Overview of Progress

Since the early 2000s, women have begun playing an active role in conflict resolution. A prominent example is the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. In both the first and second Liberian Civil Wars, the movement’s women hosted communal activities, such as prayer gatherings, to unite the warring Christian and Muslim populations. Eventually, they gained so much momentum that they advanced their organization to more direct advocacy and activism. This was during a time of rampant sexual violence and the murders of child soldiers. In 2005, the women helped ensure one of the nation’s first free and fair elections, which resulted in the first female African president.

Another way in which women have fought for change in the MENA is through women-led nonprofits. Take, for instance, the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assitance (CEWLA). Under current dictator Abdel Al-Sissi, Egypt has faced a series of religious violence, economic corruption, and denial of fundamental human rights. Nevertheless, since 2013, CEWLA has worked with local grassroots organizations in Egypt to promote female rights. It has fought several legal battles to improve ongoing “legal, social, economic and cultural rights.”

In addition to inter-regional violence, mass immigration and displacement in MENA has resulted in severe economic losses. In response to such conflict, female entrepreneurs in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine banded together to form Ruwwad. Ruwwad is a community engagement organization that focuses on providing women with education, income generation methods, and social justice.

Nonetheless, even when it comes to complex matters such as Intra-State Conflict, women have shown up to unite deeply divided communities, often struggling with severe poverty. The Wajir Association for Women’s Peace embodies the said fight for justice. The Association is a group of local women in Wajir, Kenya. They lead conflict resolution initiatives between the clans’ Elders and the at-risk youth. Wajir’s women’s power has even reached the desks of local parliamentary offices. Nationwide reforms have begun to take aim at resolving much of the turmoil occurring in this region as a result of these efforts.

A Plan for the Future

While women’s leadership in the MENA is far from perfect, there have been massive improvements over the years. This provides an ample opportunity to transform the region. Analysts have found that Women need political and economic backing from international organizations in order to help promote their localized mediation initiatives and garner stronger support for future peacebuilding. Bills such as the Girls Lead Act, currently being negotiated in Congress, is a step in the right direction and will help develop future female leaders in at-risk developing countries. The MENA region has seen conflict and ethnic violence for decades, but when we empower women, we empower change.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Israeli-UAE Peace AgreementIn recent decades, viewers have been bombarded by news of violence and dysfunction in the Middle East; however, on August 13, 2020, a different sort of headline broke. Instead of another bombing or raid, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reached a peace agreement brokered by the United States. Although fighting over this area is nothing new, the Israel-UAE peace agreement may be a positive step in the right direction. In light of this momentous occasion, here are the top four things to know about the deal.

5 Facts About the Israel-UAE Peace Agreement

  1. What is the Israel-UAE Peace Agreement? In August 2020, the leader of Israel, the UAE and the United States met to discuss and break ground on initiatives to achieve stability in the Middle East region for the sake of each nation’s citizens and those of neighboring countries. The grit of this deal lies in its ability to prevent Israel’s annexation of the West Bank region, which the nation announced its intention to do earlier in the summer of 2020.
  2. What is the West Bank and why is it home to so much conflict. Tension in the region dates back to the early 20th century after Britain took control of the region. During this time, both Jewish and Palestinian groups were claiming the region as their home. After world war II, many Jewish people began flooding the region to escape from persecution in Europe. This influx would only increase the amount of violence between the two groups as well as British control. The British government continually attempted to draw a plan to please all sides of the conflict but were ultimately unable to do so. This led to the British authorities pulling out of the area in 1948, which then allowed Jewish leaders to declare the state of Israel. Following the creation of the new state, wars broke out. Jerusalem was divided between the area known as the West Bank, which was held by Palestinian forces, and Israeli forces to the East. No peace agreements were drawn up until recently, so the conflict has remained steady regardless of shifting forces.
  3. What implications could this have on the larger area? According to NPR, the only two nations in the Middle East with a diplomatic relationship with Israel are Jordan and Egypt. Given the lack of diplomatic connections holding the region together, violence has been a lasting component of the region. Though this agreement is between the UAE and Israel, Saudi Arabia is directly implicated in the deal as well. Altogether, this deal will draw at least three nations into a deal with one another that will hopefully de-escalate tensions and incentivize cooperation from other nations as well.
  4. What have organizations been doing? The Latet organization has been working in Israel to help mitigate the effects of poverty. According to a study the National Insurance Institute conducted in 2018, about 21.1% of the Israeli population lived below the poverty line. Moreover, almost 30% of those people are children. However, those in impoverished conditions reported to previously have been in the middle class. This indicates that previous socio-economic status has little to do with current placement. The amount of violence occurring between the two sides of this fight is destabilizing the region from a security standpoint. In the midst of this chaos, the Latet organization works to distribute food and other supplies in order to counteract the effects of poverty on individuals. It partners with different groups in order to distribute approximately $25-30 million worth of food to individuals throughout Israel.

The Middle East has been home to a lot of conflicts. However, the new Israel-UAE Peace Agreement gives many a reason to hope for a more peaceful future. The deal itself is only the first step in the right direction, which should help to promote a more peaceful world.

Allison Moss
Photo: Flickr

Wayback Burgers in the Middle East
From a simple start in Delaware to the far ends of the Earth in Pakistan, Jake’s Wayback Burgers, now known simply as Wayback Burgers, has introduced many jobs for the informal population. The idea of diving into foreign markets first emerged in June 2012 when Wayback Burgers first came to the attention of the Franchizery, a franchise consulting firm in the United Arab Emirates. Soon after, Abdulrahman Alieedan, Vice Chairman of Topaz MENA LLC, agreed to support the franchise expansion. Here is some information about Wayback Burgers in the Middle East and Africa.

The International Reach of Wayback Burgers

In 2013, Jake’s Wayback Burgers propelled itself into the international marketplace by partnering with Topaz MENA LLC. As a result, it has added franchises in 28 different countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa as well as the small island country of Cyprus and the country of Iran.

Poverty in MENA/Middle East and Northern Africa

In a 2017 analysis, UNICEF reported that in 11 countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, poverty continues to impact at least 29 million children. These children and their families do not always have access to education, water, sanitation, proper housing, quality of life, health care and information. Of course, poverty is much more than finances. Poverty harms basic mental, emotional and physical development. It creates and widens achievement gaps between their peers. In essence, children in poverty are most vulnerable to stay in poverty.

 In 2018, the World Bank released the Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report; Piecing Together the Poverty Puzzle. In this report, MENA stood out since it was the only region that saw significant increases in extreme poverty, the act of a person living on less than $1.90 a day. Unfortunately, the main push for this surge was conflict-affected Syria and Yemen. In other developing MENA countries, extreme poverty remained low or declined.

The Importance of US Business in Foreign Markets

The United States possesses 38.2 million people, whereas approximately 7 billion people live in the world. Therefore, millions of markets exist outside U.S. soil but are entirely available for the U.S. to access. Approximately 95% of the world’s consumers are from outside the United States.

The MENA region ranked fourth in the world in exports in 2008. Not only does the U.S.’s involvement in foreign markets help support U.S. jobs (39 million American jobs depended on trade pre-COVID-19) but through business relationships, many other benefits can emerge including national security and global economic growth. Massive corporations like Wayback Burgers or small businesses can be the catalyst to give jobs and improve the lives of the people in MENA.

How Wayback Burgers is Helping

While MENA’s economy appears to be in a stable state, a major problem is that that percentage only includes the formal economy. A select number of countries in MENA are among the most informal economies in the world. Hundreds of citizens work behind the scenes in informal jobs where the pay is little to none. However, when businesses such as Burger King, McDonald’s and Wayback Burgers enter foreign countries, formal jobs emerge. As a result, hundreds of previous informal workers can now suddenly join the formal economy, thus slowly improving the country’s economy. Wayback Burgers in the Middle East could have a significant impact on employment and subsequently reduce poverty.

Informal jobs are most popular with youngsters between the ages of 15-24 in the Middle East and Africa. This number decreases as the children age and enter the formal workforce. 

As MENA and other foreign regions become more lenient towards the U.S., it creates more opportunities for companies to enter the fray and offer what they have. In this case, it is a chance for formal-informal workers to become part of the workforce.

WIEGO

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) is an NGO that started in 1997. Its mission is to increase the voice, visibility and validity of the poor, especially women. Building and strengthening informal worker organizations, especially internal sector networks, has remained a central objective of the program for years.

WIEGO helped facilitate the formation of the National Association of Street Vendors in India (NASVI) in 1998. It also helped found the Kenya Association of Street Vendors and Informal Traders. Moreover, it has also formed many joint programs that deal with waste pickers, domestic workers and agriculture work.

In 2019, WIEGO composed a Halftime Report (a summary of its 12 years of action). This assessment came from information from 15 people who have directly involved themselves with WIEGO, key websites, a collection of statistics and analytical documents the WIEGO and other partner organizations produced. The report stated that since WIEGO’s formation 12 years ago, it has supported dozens of programs that deal with informal workers, promoted administrative justice, helped home-based workers’ rights and promoted street vendors’ rights.

Conclusion

Wayback Burgers is one of many U.S. businesses entering foreign soil. With Wayback Burgers in the Middle East and more U.S businesses entering foreign lands, the informal economy should be able to improve. With more jobs available, adults will be able to feed their families, get their children an education and begin to shatter the chains of poverty.

Of course, U.S. businesses are not the only way to help MENA or any other economy fight against poverty. NGOs all across the world are attacking many problems. In MENA, WIEGO primarily fights for women’s rights in the informal sector, but, of course, it is working for everybody else as well. Finally, Wayback Burgers, a business that started in Delaware, has entered foreign markets.

– Aaron Samperio
Photo: Flickr

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