poland-welcomes-ukrainian-refugeesPoland has been a top host country for Ukrainian refugees since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022. Poland has in fact welcomed more than 3.5 million of the 6.5 million Ukrainians who have fled the violence in their country. While half of those who crossed the border into Poland intend to seek temporary residence in other European countries, the other half is remaining in Poland until the war is over.

Who are the Refugees?

The majority of the 6.5 million Ukrainians who have fled the country are women and children. This is because, under Ukraine’s martial law, men between the ages of 18 and 60 are prohibited from leaving the country. Fathers, husbands and sons have had to stay behind, resulting in many families being separated.

Not all refugees fleeing from Ukraine are Ukrainian. Students from African countries, Afghan refugees and Belarusian asylum seekers make up a sizeable portion of those who cross into Poland in the flight from violence, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC). When the EU announced temporary protection for Ukrainian refugees, the IRC also urged that the same auspices be extended to non-Ukrainian residents and asylum seekers.

What Do the Refugees Need?

Refugees arriving in Poland are fleeing areas heavily inflicted by fighting with some having spent weeks living in bomb shelters and basements. Scared for their own lives as well as the lives of any loved ones left behind, refugees enter Poland in a state of acute distress and anxiety. On top of their concern for family members still in Ukraine, refugees must also deal with the stress of mapping out their future course of action with far fewer economic resources and social ties than they had in their home country.

Refugees’ main needs are health and medical services. At the beginning of the crisis, those making the journey across the border endured freezing temperatures and went days without enough food and water. “People are arriving across the border exhausted, hungry and cold,” said IRC Ukraine emergency response team lead Heather Macey to Rescue.

The government of Poland has installed numerous reception centers throughout the country in response. There, refugees can receive any medical attention they may need and recuperate for a few nights before finding shelter elsewhere in the country. The IRC has played a critical role in providing these centers with blankets and sleeping bags as well as necessary medical equipment.

Poland’s Open Door Policy

Poland has been quick to establish systems of legal stay, access to employment, education, health care and other social welfare for newly arriving refugees. Polish authorities have registered more than 1.1 million people with the Government of Poland and granted them with a state ID number that gives them access to these services, U.N. reports.

While the Polish government has accomplished much on its own, other international organizations like the IRC and the UNHCR have played a critical role in supporting government-led efforts, specifically in providing cash assistance and delivering emergency supplies. “[More than] 100,000 refugees have already received financial support from UNHCR to cover their basic needs, such as paying rent or buying food and medicine,” said Olga Sarrado, spokeswoman for UNHCR.

With the help of its partners, Poland has shown an impressive crisis response. It is important to remember however that the Russian-Ukraine war is ongoing, and the country is to expect even larger flows of refugees further into the year meaning that more support will be needed going forward.

Lauren Kim
Photo: Flickr

Poland's Foreign Aid
In a matter of decades, Poland has gone from being a recipient of foreign aid to a strong presence within the international donor community. Poland is not the only country to do this. China, India, Japan, Korea and Thailand have all undergone a similar recipient-to-donor transition. Just how did Poland and other former aid recipients transform into emerging or full-fledged aid donors? This article will provide a short history of Poland’s foreign aid in the hopes of shedding some light on the answer.

 The 1950s-1970s: A Soviet Donor Under Comecon

One of Poland’s earliest exercises in providing international aid was through the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, popularly known as Comecon. Founded in 1949, Comecon’s purpose was to strengthen economic cooperation and development among Eastern European countries. Alongside Poland, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania made up Comecon’s membership.

As far as general principles were concerned, Comecon’s preamble emphasized the idea of mutual economic assistance in favor of maintaining the stronghold of communism and socialism in the Eastern bloc. It was through Comecon that Poland first assumed its role as a donor and Poland’s foreign aid began.

The 1980s: Economic Crises and the Fall of the USSR

During the 1980s, an unprecedented economic and political crisis struck Poland. The causes of the country’s crisis had deep roots in its system of a planned economy and policy of forced industrialization.

By the end of 1981, Poland had accumulated a foreign debt of $27 billion. Polish standards of living continued to fall rapidly as the country’s economic struggles worsened until 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The few years after the fall of the USSR between 1990 and 1994 was when Poland could be said to have fully made the switch from Soviet donor to the beneficiary of the West. During this time, the G-24 and international financial institutions sent $36 billion in aid to Poland. The United States separately committed another $719 million in grant assistance.

The 1990s-2000s: Poland’s Recovery and Accession to the EU and OECD

Poland used its foreign assistance to restabilize and restructure its economy. Over the decades, it has even become one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. Poland’s process of accession to the European Union, which officially occurred in 2004, marked the beginning of its transition from that of a recipient to a donor.

Polish NGOs began to enter other parts of Eastern Europe to help their Western counterparts communicate with the local communities, according to a University of Cambridge Summary Paper. Polish NGOs then shifted from doing this to starting their own initiatives and establishing the national ODA (Official Development Assistance) structures.

Decades Later, Poland Gives Back

Poland has since become an active participant in global development cooperation.“Polish Aid” is one of Poland’s most prominent development and humanitarian assistance programs today. Directed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Polish Aid’s mission is to contribute to building a more sustainable world for present and future generations by providing humanitarian aid, development aid and global education.

 The program underwent implementation in forms specified in Article 4 of the Development Cooperation Act of September 16, 2011. In 2019, the grant equivalent of Poland’s ODA was nearly PLN 3 billion.

Over the years, Poland has prioritized post-Soviet countries in their aid allocation. Ukraine, Belarus, Turkey, Tanzania, India, Mongolia, China, Kenya, Iraq, Georgia, Moldova and Lebanon were key recipients of Polish bilateral assistance in 2019.

Poland’s bilateral assistance has gone primarily to helping former Communist countries transition to democracy, improve the economy and support civil society.

In effect, Poland’s aid allocation has raised levels of economic, social and political freedom in states that previously struggled to offer these liberties. Ukraine is one such state that has developed rapidly under the auspices of Poland, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Since gaining its independence in 1991, Ukraine now boasts a strong civil society, well-organized political parties and a diverse and pluralistic polity with multiple centers of power.

Poland is just one of a plethora of countries that have evolved from beneficiary to donor in a few short decades. The history of Poland’s foreign aid should serve as an important reminder of the reasons for how effective and worthwhile providing aid to a struggling country is. It might be that the initial leg-up is all a country needs to get a position where they too can help others.

– Lauren Hyomin Kim
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Poland
2004 Act on Social Assistance defines a homeless person as someone who “is not living in a dwelling” and “is not registered for permanent residence or is registered for a permanent residence in a dwelling in which they have no possibility of living.” The nation and organizations are taking several steps to address homelessness in Poland.

The Root Causes of Homelessness in Poland

In Europe overall, some researchers have found that “drug misuse, especially when co-related with mental illness, is a major factor in causing homelessness.” However, this does not mean that all homeless people have drug problems or mental illnesses. From January 2005 through June 2006 in Poland, experts conducted a study on the links between substance addiction and mental health diagnosis in homeless people. The study concludes that out of 200 homeless people, 57.4% suffer from substance addiction or a mental illness. Though not direct causes of homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness serve as contributing factors to homelessness, especially if there is little to no assistance to help them overcome or manage their conditions.

In Poland specifically, homelessness is largely linked to a lack of affordable homes on the market, placing adequate shelter out of reach for many. According to Habitat for Humanity, “Poland lacks about 1.5 million affordable homes.” In addition, about 70% of Polish families cannot afford the costs of a mortgage and Poland’s “rent market accounts [for] only 6% of the total housing stock.” Due to these circumstances, many struggle without adequate shelter.

Nonprofit work with a focus on homelessness helps to transform lives, ensuring that 40% of Polish citizens (around 15 million people) no longer have to live in inadequate and cramped housing.

Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity is a global nonprofit organization that began working in Poland in 1992. The organization’s vision is “a world where everyone has a decent place to live.” Habitat for Humanity’s work centers around providing assistance to impoverished people who lack shelter or live in substandard housing.

Habitat for Humanity has established the very “first nonprofit rental agency in Poland,” which aims to improve “access to affordable housing” for impoverished Polish people. The organization also raises awareness of homelessness in Poland and advocates for amendments to legislation and policies to increase access to affordable housing in Poland.

On the ground, Habitat for Humanity assists impoverished people in constructing and renovating housing. The organization works with the individuals in need as well as partners, donors and volunteers to achieve these goals. Habitat for Humanity also supports “homeless shelters, centers for victims of violence, nursing homes for disabled people, orphanages or youth facilities” through reconstruction or renovation work that ensures Poland’s most vulnerable groups reside in adequate conditions.

Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program provides opportunities to global volunteers to construct housing along with families in need. The program runs in several countries with severe houses crises, such as Poland. During the months of March through September, the Global Village program hosts construction projects in the Polish cities of Warsaw and Gliwice.

Since its establishment in Poland, the organization has constructed 120 housing units, among many other efforts to address homelessness in Poland on a broader scale.

The Future of Homelessness in Poland

Recognizing the struggles of the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Polish government allotted more than PLN 17 million ($4.2 million) in 2020 to assist the homeless. Through the Streetwork Academy project, more than 4,200 homeless people received support during COVID-19 through funding worth PLN 5.45 million ($1.3 million). From June to September 2020, the project distributed more than 20,000 protective face masks to the homeless.

With ongoing commitments to address homelessness in Poland, there is hope for one of the nation’s most disadvantaged groups to live a better quality of life.

– Kyle Swingle
Photo: Pixabay

Polish Border Crisis
In recent months, thousands of men, women and children have attempted crossing the freezing wooded border between Poland and Belarus leading to the Polish border crisis. The migrants are hailing from the Middle East and North Africa. One Syrian family paid upwards of $16,000 to travel to Belarus with the promise of entry into the EU. Once they arrived at the EU border in western Belarus, however, Polish authorities were unwilling to allow undocumented migrants into their borders. They are leaving people in limbo between the two countries and in danger of succumbing to the elements.

A New Refugee Crisis for Europe?

Poland and the EU have pointed fingers at Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president, for manufacturing this crisis by luring migrants and flooding the EU borders. The Polish border crisis reached significant levels and threatened the EU with another influx of migrants like the continent saw in 2015.

The crisis has calmed down in the last weeks, as the first snowfall arrived in the area. Flights from the Middle East to Belarus remained on the ground and the repatriation of migrants took place. However, about 7,000 migrants remain on the Belarusian side of the border in makeshift tent camps.

Blocking the Border

Belarus has refused aid from Polish humanitarian organizations for the migrants. In September 2021, the Polish government established a state of emergency that prohibited media, medics and NGOs from entering the border zone. Anna Dąbrowska told The Borgen Project in an interview that this is a strategy for the government to “block free media from informing the public” about the situation.

The Missing Migrants Project, an initiative that records disappearances and deaths of refugees, has recorded 16 missing or dead migrants at the Belarus-EU border so far. However, these numbers may be higher on the Belarusian side due to a lack of information from the Belarusian authorities.

The Border Group: A Grassroots Initiative

Poland’s refusal to allow media into the border zone has forced journalists and activists to work quietly. They often work during the night to bring light to this humanitarian crisis. Grupa Granica (The Border Group) is a grassroots network of 14 Polish NGOs monitoring the situation and assisting migrants on the ground by providing supplies and legal aid. One of the most important tasks it faces is finding refugees and getting to them before Polish authorities do.

Dąbrowska said that with time there have been “more and more brutal actions by the border guards and the army.” Activists set up a hotline number that refugees can call when lost or in need of help. Once volunteers reach the migrants, they provide them with food, water, sleeping bags, shoes and other supplies collected as donations from good samaritans. As winter approaches, Dąbrowska said that aid workers and volunteers “rarely meet people in good physical and mental condition,” and that they often have not eaten or drank anything in days.

Homo Faber, an organization within The Border Group to which Anna Dąbrowska belongs, provides legal help to the refugees so they can claim asylum and continue their journeys. Homo Faber works in detention centers in Poland, providing further assistance there. For example, it partners with psychologists across Poland that give free services to refugees who have experienced trauma or abuse on their journeys.

Many refugees have made it into Poland and even Germany, but some have not been so lucky. Often, Polish border guards push migrants back over the border into Belarus instead of taking them to processing centers.

While the Polish border crisis has alleviated, Dąbrowska told The Borgen Project that there is still work to do. “Regardless of the length of the crisis we will carry out aid activities,” she said. However, she is worried about keeping the crisis at the forefront of public discourse as the plight of refugees becomes a “common occurrence” and one that is “less interesting” to citizens detached from the situation.

The Ways People Can Help

While the Polish border crisis is taking place out of the view of many, there are many ways people can help out. People can stay up to date with the work of The Border Group and learn more about migration and refugees. “It will be important to support us in the long term as organizations and individual activists,” said Dąbrowska, who hopes that the initiative continues to flourish.

Another way individuals can help is by talking to friends and family about the crisis. It is especially important to reach people who might approach this topic with indifference.

Individuals can also support leaders at home. The refugee emergency in Poland and Belarus has the potential to disrupt U.S. politics as well and our leaders must stay involved. One can communicate their concerns to their members of Congress.

While much work still needs to occur, the organizations in The Border Group Network have had a significant impact. They are bringing public awareness to the migrant crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border and physically helping those in need.

– Emma Tkacz
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in PolandThe Republic of Poland, located within central Europe, is one of the many European countries that human trafficking has affected. Human trafficking is a complex global issue that is extremely difficult to eliminate as it is often invisible and difficult for authorities to track. In Poland, children and women are common targets for traffickers. Victims often come from low-income areas and have little legal protection, making it easier for traffickers to transport victims to and from Poland. In order to eliminate human trafficking in Poland, the country must address underlying issues, such as poverty.

Underlying Problems

Women and children are the most common victims of human trafficking globally. Approximately 70% of trafficking victims are women and 50% of trafficking victims are children. Additionally, estimates have stated that traffickers traffick 84% of victims globally for the purpose of sexually exploiting them. Sexual exploitation is also the most common form of human trafficking in Poland. Trafficking victims may have limited education, may not be aware of signs of trafficking and may be in positions where they are desperate to help their families monetarily. As a result, they may be vulnerable to traffickers.

Poverty has a significant connection to trafficking. As of 2020, approximately 5% of Polish citizens were living in a state of extreme poverty. Individuals and families who live in extreme poverty are the most susceptible to becoming victims of human trafficking in Poland. They are often desperate for additional sources of income and traffickers often take advantage of this desperation. Traffickers frequently make false promises in order to lure in these vulnerable groups, such as saying they have a place of work for them that pays a substantial amount of money.

COVID-19’s Influence on Human Trafficking

Economic disparities due to the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly impacted Poland. The Polish unemployment rate average was approximately 6% from 2020 to 2021, reflecting a large increase from Poland’s average unemployment rate of 3.2% prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. Due to the fact that human trafficking is invisible and underreported, the exact numbers of global victims are difficult to determine. However, estimates have indicated that there are 109,216 trafficking victims globally. The COVID-19 pandemic may have influenced underreporting due to a lack of access to resources to inform the reports.

Additionally, the economic desperation of the COVID-19 pandemic has indirectly influenced an increase in the dangers of human trafficking. Traffickers are more likely to put their victims in more dangerous and violent situations so they can make a profit. Additionally, the fact that lockdowns have confined families to the home has made it difficult for people to notice and report potential cases of abuse and trafficking. As a result, victims are more vulnerable than before as lockdowns have made it easier for traffickers to veil their already hidden crimes.

Poland’s Efforts to Reduce Human Trafficking

The Polish government has actively taken measures to reduce human trafficking in Poland in recent years. This has involved passing laws that criminalize human trafficking as well as implementing various strategies that act against trafficking. Examples of such strategies include applying more effort to identify victims and traffickers and providing more in-depth training to authorities so that they can learn the signs of trafficking. Additionally, the Polish government has implemented national anti-trafficking projects countrywide. These projects aim to educate vulnerable individuals, especially Polish children, on the signs of human trafficking and what to do if they enter a threatening situation.

Non-governmental organizations within Poland have worked toward establishing consulting and intervention centers to help trafficking victims. La Strada Foundation against Trafficking and Slavery and Association Po MOC are two prominent organizations that have carried out the work of Poland’s National Consulting and Intervention Centre for Victims of Trafficking. These organizations have successfully established two shelters for female trafficking victims and intervention assistance for physical, mental and legal matters. Combined, these organizations have helped 630 Polish citizens and 746 foreigners from 2011 to 2017.

The Polish government has actively worked toward ending human trafficking in Poland through the establishment of organizations that help victims, laws that criminalize human trafficking and the implementation of anti-trafficking projects. Through these efforts of shedding awareness on the prevalence of human trafficking, individuals can become more aware of the warning signs and dangers of human trafficking in Poland and across the world.

Francesca Giuliano
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in PolandGlobally, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted those already struggling with poverty. Here is some information about the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Poland and the country’s response.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Poland

The COVID-19 pandemic increased income inequalities by reducing the employability of those with lower levels of education. For example, the populations who were already at a greater risk of poverty due to their positions in the labor market became more impoverished. In 2020, the poverty rate amounted to 5.2%, which is 1% higher than in 2019.

Prior to the virus reaching Poland, citizens expressed greater fear of the virus’ impact on the economy than its health effects. Given that less than 30% of Poles have any savings and a quarter of workers are in flexible forms of employment and do not receive coverage from unemployment insurance, the government’s reaction to COVID-19’s effects on the economy is crucial. In 2020, Poland’s economic activity showed a  decline of several percentage points for the first time in several decades.

In a survey that More in Common conducted, nearly half of the respondents stated that COVID-19 worsened their financial situation, with the 40 to 45 age range expressing the most concern. COVID-19 affected the hotel, catering and recreational industries the hardest as it prevented the industries from operating. Additionally, 70% of entrepreneurs reported that the pandemic reduced their income, which will inevitably affect their businesses and employees. In January 2021, Poland reported 6.5% unemployment, which is more than 3% higher than in 2019.

Poland’s Response

Poland acted fast and prepared the country before the first case of COVID-19 arrived, minimizing the pandemic’s effect. Poland closed borders and enforced strict quarantine measures before many other countries in Europe and the government put strategies in place to minimize economic impact despite having an unprepared health system.

On April 1, 2020, the Polish government introduced the Anti-Crisis Shield to provide employers and employees with solutions to cushion the impacts on employment. The Anti-Crisis Shield included more flexible employment, subsidized salaries of employees, gave loans to micro-entrepreneurs and gave sickness benefits to those required to quarantine. The government updated the Anti-Crisis Shield five times during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to cater to the industries and workers that suffered most, such as the cultural sector, the wood processing sector and the catering and transport industries.

Minimum Wages and Vulnerable Populations

Protecting income from work through implementing a minimum wage is an important factor in reducing poverty and minimizing the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Poland. In 2020, Poland increased the minimum wage by 11%. This change was crucial in order to prevent major changes in household income. Additionally, as COVID-19 led to more workers losing their jobs and wages, the government introduced temporary benefits to compensate for the loss. Still, the crisis had a greater effect on weaker regions of Poland and disadvantaged workers.

Even before COVID-19, people in rural areas of Poland were 11% more at risk of poverty than those in cities. The risk of poverty for women in Poland is higher than men, and due to COVID-19, the rate of women who had to stop working was almost twice the rate of men. Furthermore, the majority of healthcare workers at the frontline of the pandemic are women. This raises the question of whether or not the Polish government is doing enough to aid women during this crisis.

Learning and Growing Following Crisis

While COVID-19 brought many negative effects, it has also presented an opportunity to learn and use the pandemic as a catalyst for change. Globally, the pandemic highlighted the importance of quality governance and today’s technology offers the potential to optimize government functioning, resource allocation, efficiency and transparency. Projections determine that Poland will rebound from the pandemic with an expected economic growth of 3.3% in 2021.

In May 2021, Poland revealed the Polish Deal, an economic package to aid in recovering from the pandemic. The package focuses on improving economic and social systems with an aim to make systems more crisis-proof. The Polish Deal aims to bridge income gaps by supporting people with the lowest incomes and placing more of the tax burden on large companies and higher-income groups.

COVID-19 exposed weaknesses in Poland’s healthcare system, and by 2023, Poland plans to spend 6% of GDP on improved healthcare. Additionally, the Polish Deal plans to provide support for parents and homebuyers, reduce the tax burden on lower-income Poles and create more than 500,000 new jobs. Many of the jobs will come from infrastructural investments including plans to build a network of expressways, railroad lines, sports infrastructure and an airport.

The Road Ahead

Overall, the Polish Deal aims to build the foundation for developments that will help future generations earn more and work in better conditions. Poland is on the cusp of vast civilizational changes and the Polish Deal plans to assist in bringing about these improvements. Poland is still waiting to see the effects of its new policies, but in the meanwhile, the future looks promising.

– Jacqueline Zembek
Photo: Flickr

Tajikistan’s Response to COVID-19In February 2020, many countries arranged a summit to discuss how they would assist countries with weaker health care systems due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19 was one of the topics at the summit.

Tajikistan, a small country in Central Asia, is regarded by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the most impoverished countries. Primarily private out-of-pocket deals run the country’s health care system. According to the WHO, this process undermines the system’s ability to grow in equity, efficiency and quality.

Combating COVID-19

Tajikistan was one of the first countries to receive COVID-19 support. In April 2020,  the World Bank provided emergency relief to Tajikistan, along with aid from various other countries. The World Bank said that it is a continuous goal to strengthen Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19 by improving its health care system.

On June 7, 2020, Tajikistan received emergency medical teams (EMTs) and mobile laboratories from Poland, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. After this support, the country began to see an increase in COVID-19 contact tracing, testing and optimization of patient care. The EMTs gave Tajikistani health care workers advice on how to handle severe COVID-19 cases.

Tajikistan enacted a national COVID-19 laboratory upscale plan, and with help from international aid, the Tajikistan government established a Public Emergency Operations Center. On July 22, 2020, Russian lab experts arrived in the Central Asian country to help strengthen its data management system. Now, Tajikistan is seeing an increase in testing and staff capacity.

In addition, USAID donated $7.17 million to the Tajikistan government. Tajikistan used the funding to support migrants that traveled into the country. The country is also buying new, life-saving equipment and medical supplies. In April 2020, the USAID and other American organizations sent 58,620 kilograms of food to more than 100 health and social welfare institutions. These donations totaled approximately $171,000.

Further, the World Bank allocated $11.3 million to a grant for the Tajikistan Emergency COVID-19 Project. The project works to improve healthcare for Tajikistan’s citizens, sending funds to impoverished households and informing the public on COVID-19 safety measures.

Hope for Tajikistan

The Intensive Care Unit in Varzob, Tajikistan, was one of 10 hospitals chosen for refurbishment with funding from the World Bank. The hospital received upgraded medical equipment and supplies to strengthen Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19The Tajikistan hospital can now serve all district citizens instead of only private out-of-pocket citizens.

Several hospitals throughout Tajikistan received batches of medical equipment. Donations included 68 ICU ventilators, 68 ICU beds with patient monitors and 400,000 pieces of personal protective equipment.

According to the World Bank, 41% of Tajikistani households reported that they had to reduce food consumption, while 20% of families could not afford health care. With international funds, the Tajikistan government sent out one-time cash payments of 500 somonis to approximately 65,000 low-income families with children less than three years old.

In February 2021, Tajikistan received a grant for COVID-19 vaccines and to increase the oxygen supply in 15 of the country’s hospitals. Most of the funding went to Tajikistani patients suffering from COVID-19 to receive top-of-the-line care. Subsequently, the remaining grant money provided one-time cash assistance to an additional 70,000 poor households.

Future of Tajikistan

On June 16, 2021, the Asian Development Bank approved a grant of $25 million to strengthening Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19. This grant helped the country procure COVID-19 vaccines and improve its vaccination system. On the same date, Tajikistan created a goal to vaccinate about 62% of its population. This grant is one of many that allowed the country to strengthen its supply of medical equipment and care for the maximum number of high-risk COVID-19 patients.

As of July 9, 2021, Tajikistan has vaccinated 1.2% of the population, administering 223,648 doses. With help from international aid, the country is giving out approximately 9,273 doses each day. It will take more than 200 days to vaccinate 10% of the population, but Tajikistan is steadily recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Rachel Schilke
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Poland
Poland has been a NATO member since 1999. It was not until five years later in 2004 that Poland became a member of the European Union (E.U.) after signing the Accession Treaty. In addition, Poland has been a member of the Schengen area since 2007. Poland’s cooperation and membership in these intergovernmental organizations continue to benefit its economic condition. E.U. membership, in particular, stimulated Poland’s economy towards sustainable development and helped in the fall of poverty in Poland.

Economic Situation of Poland (After and Before Accession to the European Union)

After Poland’s accession, E.U. regional policy programs guided the country through many beneficial investments over the years. Through these investments, Poland was able to develop and maintain its infrastructure, economy, tourism, education, healthcare and governance. In order to eliminate disparities between its regions, the E.U. fund seeks to build a stronger economy, stable territorial lines and cohesion in the union. During the 2014-2020 programming period, Poland managed to enforce hundreds of projects.

According to data from 2003 until 2018, the economy of Poland is continuously improving. In 2003, a year before E.U. membership, the total value of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Poland was $477.94 billion. After five years of being a member of the E.U., Poland’s economic growth for 2009 was $760.35 billion. In this case, membership in the E.U. benefited the economy of the region. According to the European Commission’s 2012 Aging Report projects during 2010-2060, Poland will be the second-fastest-growing economy in the E.U., following Bulgaria.

The strong economic performance over the years led to the rapid rising of GDP per capita in Poland. Its GDP per capita has risen from $5,693 in 2003 to $15,565 in 2019. In 2004, the annual growth rate of GDP per capita was 17.35% in comparison to 2003. It is also important to mention that, in 2009, the annual growth rate of GDP per capita declined by -17.67% compared to the previous year. The economy of Poland was under tension in 2009 and another sizeable fall in numbers occurred in 2015. In 2014, GDP per capita was $14,348 and in 2015, it decreased to $12,572. However, from 2017 to 2019, the numbers increased. In fact, in 2019, the GDP per capita in Poland reached the highest point ever in the country’s history at $15,565.

Unemployment in Poland

Various indicators estimate a trend of decreasing poverty in Poland. The unemployment rate demonstrates this well. After Poland regained its independence, unemployment was one of the most pressing social and economic issues. E.U. membership contributed to the decline in the unemployment rate. Foreign investments and the funds from the E.U. financing programs decreased the percentage of unemployment and created new jobs. At the same time, the opening of the European labor market created job opportunities outside of Poland for the unemployed, subsequently aiding the fall of poverty in Poland.

From the beginning of 2003 to 2009, the unemployment rate decreased significantly in Poland. The unemployment rate decreased from 19.07% in 2004 to 3.47% in 2019. According to some economists, if Poland never joined as an E.U. member, they would be at the same level as Ukraine, which had a slightly higher GDP than Poland in 1990.


Poland underwent a successful transition from a communist-state background to a stable and competitive European country. One of the main reasons for their success is that Poland joined. In 2007-2013 and 2014-2020, Poland was the largest beneficiary of the E.U. funds. Investments helped Poland improve its transport infrastructure, health, education, environment efficiency, network infrastructure, social cohesion, research and development.

– Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Poland
Over 1.3 million Polish households struggle to pay for electricity, hot water and heating. Energy poverty, broadly defined as the inability to secure basic energy needs, forces people to choose between risking adverse health effects from poor living conditions and reducing their consumption of basic goods, such as food and drink. Spurred by the E.U.’s ambitious plan to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 (from 1990 levels), Poland’s green transition will alleviate energy poverty within its borders. At first, the transition away from fossil fuels may increase energy costs and leave Poland’s 80,000 coal workers unemployed. Over time, however, renewable energy will lead to cheaper and cleaner energy and create more jobs than it makes obsolete. Investment in and support of renewable energy in Poland brings not only commercial benefits but also healthier and more affordable living conditions.

Energy Poverty in Poland

Energy poverty has been decreasing in Poland over the last decade and a half, but the COVID-19 pandemic risks temporarily reversing this trend. From 2007 to 2017, the percentage of people who were unable to adequately heat their living space decreased from 22.7% to 6%. From 2014 to 2017, the percentage of people falling behind on utility bill payments dropped from 14.4% to 8.5%. These figures are promising.

However, increases in Polish incomes, rather than updated energy infrastructures alone, also drove these trends. The “Family 500 plus” program, for example, has helped many Poles meet energy costs. The Law and Justice party established it in 2016 to provide 500PLN per child in monthly childcare benefits for all multi-child households and poorer single-child households. Energy sourcing patterns prevent a less rosy outlook: from 2013 to 2016, the share of electricity produced through renewable energy in Poland actually decreased, and coal still generates over 75% of Polish electricity.

Against this backdrop, COVID-19 and the government’s lockdown response have and will continue to strain people’s energy budgets: increasing the time people spend in a home in need of heating and decreasing people’s incomes by stalling the economy.

Policies and Programs in Poland

Poland has enacted a number of policies and programs in response to its over-reliance on coal. Through the Clean Air program, launched in 2018, Poland plans to invest $30 billion in clean heating. Many Poles still heat their homes through coal-fired furnaces, which emit harmful gasses into the air. Polish households use up 12 million tonnes of coal annually, around two-thirds of the E.U.’s total consumption. Every year, as many as 48,000 deaths in Poland result from poor air quality. By the end of 2020, the program had only removed about 70,000 of Poland’s three million coal-fired heating systems, but its investment efforts will continue until at least 2029.

There have also been social initiatives that have addressed the burden of polluting heating systems. The “FINE Power Engineering – Civic energy” initiative, for example, sets up social energy cooperatives that enable rural regions to become more energy independent. Launched by the Schneider Electric Foundation and Ashoka, an organization promoting social entrepreneurship, this program provides services such as helping communities set up solar panels for local energy production.

Renewable Energy in Poland

Although Poland still contains 36 of the 50 most polluted cities in Europe, recent foreign investment in renewable energy in Poland suggests a bright future for its green transition. The U.S., France and South Korea are in talks with Poland about investing in nuclear energy, one of the cleanest forms of power. A Danish company, Orsted, is jointly developing two offshore wind farms with PGE, Poland’s biggest power group. Internal politics have sometimes and may continue to complicate Poland’s shift away from coal. However, in the long term, Poland’s changing energy landscape, facilitated by domestic and foreign policies and investment, will lift many Poles out of energy poverty and raise their economic and health-related standards of living.

– Alexander Vanezis
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

How Air Pollution Affects Poverty in EuropeAir pollution is disproportionately affecting the health and well-being of people living in poverty, according to a recent report by the European Environment Agency. The report titled “Healthy environment, healthy lives: how the environment influences health and well-being in Europe,” calls for improving air quality in Europe by decreasing emissions and adding green spaces. Many consider air pollution to be an environmental issue or a global health concern that affects us all equally. However, the report makes the case that impoverished communities face a higher burden of air pollution and other environmental stressors.

The Link Between Air Pollution and Poverty

The Borgen Project held an interview with Catherine Ganzleben, head of the air pollution and environmental health groups at the European Environment Agency (EEA). She said, “Pollution hits poorer communities harder than affluent communities because of lack of access to medical care and exposure to the byproducts of climate change.”

As the climate crisis continues to worsen so does air pollution and extreme weather, disproportionately affecting those living in poverty. “In large parts of Europe, [vulnerable communities] are more likely to live next to busy roads or industrial areas,” Ganzleben said. “[They] face higher levels of exposure to air pollution.”

Even when both affluent and impoverished people experience the same exposure, air pollution affects the health of the impoverished more. Ganzlebe continued, “People living in lower-income regions [were found] to be more susceptible to the health effects of [pollutants] than wealthier people living in polluted areas.” Additionally, families with lower socio-economic status face more significant negative effects of pollution. Several factors could contribute to the disproportionate effects of air pollution. These include access to healthcare, underlying conditions and poor housing situations.

The Struggle for Clean Air in Poland

Traffic and industrial pollution are two of the main factors contributing to air pollution in Europe. But, in some countries, like Poland, the largest contributor to air pollution is burning coal to heat single-family households.

Poland is infamous for having one of the worst levels of air pollution in the European Union, according to K. Max Zhang in his interview with The Borgen Project. Zhang is a professor of energy and the environment at Cornell University. Poland still generates electricity and heat using coal, one of the most polluting forms of energy.

Poland’s reliance on coal can mainly be attributed to its abundance of old, single-family houses built in the 1970s. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Magdalena Kozlowska claimed that these homes remain unrenovated. She is the project coordinator of Polish Smog Alert. She also added that the most impoverished populations in Poland are less able to update their energy sources.

Polish Smog Alert is an organization that is committed to cleaning Poland’s air and meeting the European air quality standards through advocacy and mobilization. It also works to inform the public and help people make their houses more energy-efficient, Kozłowska said. The organization formed in 2013 when they started working to ban the burning of solid fuels in Krakow.

This ban on burning solid fuels came to fruition in 2019, when Polish Smog Alert worked with local and national governments to enact “changes in the national law [and the] city had to cooperate and offer money to exchange the boilers and help people experiencing poverty to pay the difference in bills,” Kozlowska continued. “And still, the city is doing that.”

Goals of the European Environment Agency’s Report

The attention to air quality around the world has been increasing in recent years. However, the EEA wants to see more policy changes and tangible action from the European government, Ganzleben said. These policies should also not have the sole aim of protecting the environment. In addition to environmental efforts, these policies should protect communities that are feeling the brunt of climate change’s effects. “Policies to deliver high environmental quality should be aimed at preventing and reducing the unequal distribution of environmental health risks, ensuring fair access to environmental resources and enabling sustainable choices,” said Ganzleben.

The report also explains the benefits of green spaces, even within polluted city environments. Green spaces, like parks and lakes, can benefit people’s well-being. “Mental and physical [health] are linked,” said Michael Brauer, professor of environmental health at the University of British Columbia, in an interview with The Borgen Project.

Reports like this one from the EEA, Brauer said, are a result of a growing urgency related to air pollution. In recent years, there has been much more attention globally to the issue, “[As a] response to increasing awareness of air pollution and the problem,” Brauer continued. “There is really no evidence of a safe level of air pollution.”

Combating Air Pollution’s Disproportionate Effect on the Poor

There need to be policy changes that address the socio-economic effects of climate change. This will alleviate the burden of air pollution on those living in poverty. “At the local level, integrating environmental health concerns into welfare policies, health policies and urban planning and housing policies can help to reduce the vulnerability and exposure of the population,” the report read. “Air pollution not only hurts the environment, but it also exacerbates poverty, and worsens the living conditions for the poor.” While humanitarian organizations like the Polish Smog Alert are working to alleviate pollution in Europe, there is still much to be done to eradicate air pollution and help those disproportionately experiencing the consequences of climate change.

– Laney Pope
Photo: Flickr