World's Richest Country

There are many different ways to measure the wealth of a nation, and depending on methodology, answers may vary as to what is the world’s richest country. Since the U.S. has the highest GDP of all nations, at a considerable $18.56 trillion, it is a strong contender, along with China.

However, according to the CIA, IMF and World Bank, in 2016, the world’s richest country also happens to be one of the smallest: Qatar, which is located on the northeastern side of the Arabian peninsula. Qatar has the highest gross domestic product at purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita, meaning the nation’s GDP is the largest relative to population and the strength of the currency. Under this measurement, the U.S. lags between ninth and thirteenth place.

With a land mass of less than 12,000 square kilometers and a population of 2.7 million people, Qatar boasts an average income of $129,000. Qatar’s success stems from gas and oil reserves, as is the case with other wealthy nations such as Norway. Qatar’s natural gas reserves are third largest in the world, trumped only by Russia and Iran. For this reason, 91 percent of the nation’s GDP stems from trade, primarily involving oil, and more than 50 percent of the government’s revenue can be attributed to the fuel sector. In 2016, Qatar sold $9 billion in bonds, the largest Middle East bond issue in history.

With no income tax, Qatar lures wealthy immigrants and expats and continues to grow in both population and wealth. The nation’s success has gained global attention; Qatar was selected to host the soccer world cup in 2022. In response, the government has recently initiated many large infrastructure projects, including sports stadiums and an upgraded light-rail transportation system.

Despite owning such vast wealth, Qatar is often criticized for being behind on education, refusing to acknowledge women’s rights and having affiliations with radical Islam. There exists a significant disparity in the quality of life between the rich and the poor classes, and infrastructure is limited in poorer regions. Ironically, even the world’s richest country must continue to focus on developing and improving the overall quality of life for citizens.

Kailey Dubinsky

Photo: Flickr


The water quality in Qatar is improving, and experts say that both the tap and bottled water is usually safe to drink. However, those who live in the country should be cautious with imported water.

According to the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, or QEERI, tap and bottled water in Qatar is “very safe to drink.” The organization conducted a study looking at 113 samples of tap water and 62 samples of bottled water with favorable.

Based on QEERI’s findings, the water quality in Qatar complies with guidelines set by both the World Health Organization and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

QEERI confirmed that the water did not contain dangerous levels of contaminants, such as lead and arsenic, which can affect the taste and smell of the water in addition to causing health problems.

Nora Kuiper, a leading researcher for the project, said that the quality of water in Qatar is superior, contrary to any preconceived notions that residents might have.

“The quality of Qatar’s drinking water is very high, higher than many local consumers think,” Kuiper said.

Candace Rowell, another researcher for this project, said that the most important outcome of the study was finding that tap and bottled water are comparably safe.

“The real takeaway message is that tap water in the country is just as safe as bottled water, either locally produced or imported brands,” Rowell said.

The main concern that the study addressed was that imported water was not always up to standards. According to QEERI, some samples of imported water showed higher concentrations of contaminants, such as arsenic.

According to Doha News, researchers have expressed concerns regarding the mineral content and how this affects the water quality in Qatar. The study found that while water is typically free from harmful chemicals and bacteria, it can lack vital minerals. According to this article, at least 50 percent of Qatar’s water supply requires extensive salt removal due to the country’s limited access to fresh water.

Jerome Nriagu, a professor emeritus at the School of Public Health and Research and the Center for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan said that this “synthetic” water lacks essential minerals.

“By constantly drinking water with low potassium and magnesium, you increase the risk of getting obesity and hypertension, and [certain] metabolic disorders,” Nriagu said.

Nriagu said that it would be beneficial for officials to add essential minerals to better the water quality in Qatar.

“We’re not getting enough from our foods to start with, and now drinking [this type of] water compounds the problem,” Nriagu said.

Leah Potter

Photo: Flickr


As the war in the Middle East rages on, many people are forced to leave their homes due to violence and intolerance. As a result, millions of people from the Middle East are seeking refuge. Qatar, home to 2.7 million people, is a peninsular Arab country located on the Persian Gulf. Many Syrian refugees have tried to flee to Qatar but are unable to do so. Here are 10 facts about refugees in Qatar.

10 Crucial Facts to Know About Refugees in Qatar

  1. A refugee is someone forced to leave their country to escape a disaster.
  2. Despite being an extraordinarily wealthy country, Qatar has resettled no refugees.
  3. Many Gulf countries, including United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, have also turned down Syrian refugees.
  4. There are more than 13.5 million people in Syria who are in need of humanitarian assistance. Five million Syrian refugees currently live inTurkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
  5. Qatar has earned vocal criticism for its refusal to accept refugees.
  6. Why are there no refugees in Qatar? Many experts blame visa restrictions, which make it difficult for Syrians to enter countries along the Gulf.
  7. Officials from Qatar defend the country by pointing out that their country donates millions of dollars to the United Nations to help refugees.
  8. In an exclusive interview, Qatari Foreign Minister Dr. Khalid Al-Attiyah further defended Qatar. He stated, “The state of Qatar is in no way falling short in its responsibilities when it comes to the Syrian crisis.” He reminded people that Qatar has launched many programs to help Syrian refugees, including humanitarian, economic and diplomatic initiatives.
  9. This is true, as seen in an initiative by Qatar back in 2012. In partnership with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,  Sheikha Moza, a member of Qatar’s royal family, launched a $12 million education program that will help dozens of countries fund schooling for 172,000 refugee children.
  10. Despite Qatar’s financial aid, many experts believe Qatar must do more. The U.N. has requested that all developed nations open their borders to refugees, including Qatar.

Overall, Qatar’s response to the refugee crisis is quite controversial. Qatar has donated millions of dollars to help refugees, but it has yet to accept any refugees into its own borders. The hope for the future is that there will be more opportunities for Syrian refugees in Qatar.

Morgan Leahy

Photo: Flickr

Education in QatarWhile Qatar’s location — Surrounded by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, and Iraq — makes it a hot spot of human rights violations and war, education in the country is blossoming.

Public education in Qatar was first established in 1952. Since then, the Muslim nation has created entities to preserve the heritage and uphold the integrity of the nation.

One such body is the Supreme Education Council (SEC). Dedicated to creating, “Education for a New Era,” the SEC focuses on modernizing standards and making education highly accessible, regardless of economic status. The SEC also subsidizes independent schools, which cover elementary, intermediary, and secondary educational stages.

Within the public sector, there is a specialization of education exclusively for boys, which include a religious institute, a secondary school of commerce, and a secondary school of technology.

Additionally, the SEC created several institutes concentrating on special education. Originally separated by gender, the Al Amal School for Boys and Al Amal School for Girls now provide an education for both genders.

Qatar also offers many private and public universities, including Qatar University, Weill Cornell College of Medicine in Qatar, Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

In order to achieve Qatar’s 2030 national vision in human development, education in Qatar focuses on the exploration of information and communication technology, both in the learning and teaching processes.

To create this vision, Qatar has developed the Exploring ICT Education Conference. Now in its seventh year, the keynote speakers gave presentations addressing topics such as digital literacy, Lego EV3 robotics, and security awareness.

One of the most recent initiatives to increase education standards and development in Qatar is the leading nonprofit Qatar Foundation that serves the people of Qatar by supporting and operating programs in three essential areas: education, science and research, and community expansion.

The nonprofit organization is responsible for collaborations, such as seminars to promote intercultural communication at the Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar University’s, which were held in July.

Education in Qatar is rapidly growing. With the aid and support of the government, the education sector demonstrates the potential to provide access to high-quality education for all, as well as the ability of traditions to be modernized, while maintaining their integrity.

Veronica Ung-Kono

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Qatar

The Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics disclosed on June 6, 2016 that 1.4 million people, nearly 60 percent of Qatar’s population, live in what the Qatari government officially labels as “labor camps.”

Migrants from poorer countries have moved to Qatar in recent years to develop its infrastructure for tourism projects, including preparation for the 2022 World Cup.

However, migrant workers continue to live a life of poverty in Qatar, with many human rights groups like Amnesty International condemning Qatar for providing “squalid and cramped accommodation” for its very large migrant workforce.

According to Amnesty International, migrant workers are also not paid for several months at a time, which puts significant emotional and financial pressures on workers already burdened with heavy debts.

Recently, 13 people died in a fire that broke out in a labor camp for migrants working on a waterfront tourism project in southwest Qatar. The fire highlights how Qatar has treated migrant workers by providing poor living conditions for them.

The government responded to criticism by building new housing complexes for workers, including a city south of Doha. This new city, known as “Labour City,” will include cinemas, shops and a cricket stadium for migrant workers.

Outside of the government, various organizations have also assisted migrant workers to overcome their life of poverty in Qatar. One such organization is Reach Out to Asia (ROTA), a member of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.

On June 8, ROTA launched its Ramadan Project 2016, bringing together over 100 local volunteers to pack and distribute bulk groceries to more than 200 families in need across Qatar.

ROTA volunteers packaged food parcels containing items such as flour, cooking oil, milk powder and lentils that were later distributed before the start of Ramadan. The program also provided beneficiary families with shopping vouchers to purchase other products.

ROTA volunteers, numbering 300, partook in several community service activities set to take place over the month, including the installation of computer labs for migrants working on construction projects.

Despite living a life of poverty in Qatar, migrant workers are slowly overcoming hardships through additional assistance by the government and various organizations.

Alexis Pierce

Photo: Flickr

FIFA-Qatar-Kafala-System
The recent scandal surrounding corruption at FIFA has made headlines around the world. But could it affect the controversial 2022 World Cup in Qatar?

That remained in question Friday as FIFA re-elected Sepp Blatter as its president. The election comes on the heels of a massive corruption investigation involving the top brass of soccer’s governing body. The U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 of the organization’s executives on dozens of separate charges this week. They are accused of “brazen corruption” in their dealings with sports marketing companies which generate billions for the organization.

FIFA is also accused of dishonesty in its selection process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively. The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland announced Wednesday that it would investigate “criminal mismanagement and money laundering” suspected to have taken place during the bidding process.

Though both selections raised eyebrows among soccer fans, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has proven to be the most controversial. The Gulf state has been widely accused of human rights abuses in its preparation for the event.

Migrant laborers seeking work in Qatar submit to a labor scheme, known as the kafala system, through which host companies “sponsor” foreign laborers. Upon arrival, many workers find their documentation confiscated and their rights severely limited. They sometimes work twelve hour days, seven days a week.

According to the International Labor Organization, the scheme is tantamount to slavery. An investigation by The Guardian found Nepalese workers in Qatar were dying at a rate of one every two days in 2014. Documents produced by that report list worker deaths caused by crushing and electrocution.

Without documentation papers, workers are prevented from ever leaving. Employers also withhold pay to suppress dissent.

Migrant workers play an enormous role in the economy of Qatar. Almost 90 percent of the country’s population is foreign-born and 99 percent of the private sector is foreign. Though human rights organizations and governments have complained, little has been done to address these issues.

Much of the work being conducted in this manner is in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, with contractors using the cheap labor to build facilities for the event.

If the current FIFA crisis continues, it will almost certainly jeopardize Qatar’s hosting opportunity. Sponsors have already begun to re-evaluate their relations with the organization and it is likely many will drop out.

As for the 2018 World Cup in Moscow, Blatter received a stamp of approval from another controversial president: Vladimir Putin. On Thursday, Putin said the investigation was an attempt to thwart Blatter’s re-election. The Russian leader, who was a champion of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, called the investigation “a grave violation of principles of international organization.”

– Kevin McLaughlin

Sources: Department of Justice, The Guardian, Human Rights Watch, Swiss Attorney General
Photo: Zee News

 

kafala system
Exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar has become an increasingly pressing issue since the implementation of the Kafala labor system. The Kafala system requires migrant workers to have a sponsor, usually their employee, to monitor their work and to control their visa and legal status. These sponsors, however, often prevent their laborers from moving jobs and have been known to either underpay or deny their employees pay.

Many workers from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal have been attracted by false promises from Qatari employers, but once contractually committed, they cannot leave the country without the permission of their sponsor.

Reporters from The Guardian ventured to some of these labor camps west of Doha and met 25-year-old Ujjwal Thapa from Nepal. He came to Qatar to work in order to send money back to his family, but had not been paid for months. His employer has his passport so he cannot leave, and upon his arrival, his family was required to take out a loan of 660 pounds from a private lender that has an interest rate of 48 percent per year.

Question as to whether Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been a topic of concern due to these human trafficking issues. In their report on human trafficking, the U.S. state department wrote that, “initial consent of a construction worker to accept hard work in a harsh environment does not waive his or her right to work free of abuse. When an employer or laborer recruiter deceives a worker about the terms of employment, withholds their passports, holds them in brutal conditions and exploits their labor, the workers are victims of trafficking.”

Eight to 12 stadiums would need to be built for the 2022 games, and although the Qatar organizing committee reported that no one had died yet building the stadiums, that is only due to the fact that the true building process has not yet begun. Between 2012 and 2013, 450 Indian laborers died and 184 Nepali workers have died in the past year.

General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharan Burrow, predicts that if the Kafala system does not change, 4,000 workers will lose their lives in preparation for the 2022 world cup.

The U.S. State Department is looking to end this system by May of 2015, and in their report on human trafficking, they noted that Qatar has promised to reform these unjust labor practices. Although no serious changes have been made to improve the labor system, Burrow believes that the Qatari government will change the system if refusing to change will deny them the chance to host the World Cup in 2022.

— Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: The Guardian, BusinessWeek, New York Times
Photo: DohaNews

Slavery in qatar
When many people think about the term “slavery,” they may reflect on it as a historical institution of the imperial powers of the West. They may even erroneously deem slavery as a decrepit artifact of the past. However, although many history textbooks tend to portray slavery as strictly a practice of the colonial and imperial past, this horrendous institution remains extant throughout many parts of the modern world, Qatar being one of them.

The very same countries that are thought of as exotic vacation hot-spots may also be teeming with covert slave trades. After all, since only a handful of nations are as developed and as advanced as the Western world, some of these less-developed nations rely on slave networks to buttress their nascent economies. For instance, the blistering topic of an emerging controversy unveiled by an investigation by The Guardian, slavery in Qatar has captured media attention because Qatar has purportedly used slave labor in its endeavors to prepare for World Cup 2022.

One may find it ironic that intense mistreatment can exist in a country whose population is composed primarily of migrant workers, however, it is an undeniable reality for many laborers in Qatar. Among Qatar’s two million residents, a paltry 225,000 are natural citizens with the rest of the populace primarily comprised of South Asian migrant workers. These workers hail from less-developed nations such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Qatari officials view the World Cup 2022 as a ceremony in which not only the classic sport of soccer is honored, but also in which cultural relations can be repaired. To prepare for the ceremony, Qatar is investing a reported $100 billion on infrastructure in addition to another $20 billion toward renovating roads and constructing new roads and stadiums. However, behind the glimmering windows and cascading high-rises lurks the masked scandal of slave labor.

According to the International Trade Union Confederation, approximately 4,000 South Asian workers will perish before the festivities of the World Cup 2022 even begin. Furthermore, an investigation by The Guardian unearthed shocking maltreatment of Nepalese laborers who have to endure conditions such as lack of water, food, payment and legal identification. With such horrific conditions, one may wonder how these laborers would ever agree to work for such exploitative employers. However, these unsuspecting migrant workers, eager to earn money and support their starving families, are often tricked into signing false contracts. For instance, workers are given one contract before arriving to Qatar, but upon arrival, they are given a second, demeaning contract. When news broke of the slave-like treatment of migrant workers, there was subsequent backlash.

In order to mitigate subsequent backlash, Qatar officials stated that they would replace the present kafala system with a more democratic system. The kafala system is a sponsorship system in which workers are bound to an all-powerful and oftentimes boundless employer. In a statement issued by the human rights director of the Qatari interior ministry, Colonel Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi, the Colonel professes that “We are going to abolish the kafala system and it will move to the legislative institutions… It will be replaced by a contractual relationship between employer and employee.”

Colonel Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi also proposes to modify this system by facilitating workers’ ability to obtain exit visas in order to leave their sponsor in the event of mistreatment or simply just a desire to seek other employment. A substantial portion of these reforms are based on advice from DLA Piper, a London law firm that had been mandated with the task of reviewing the implementation of revised labor laws in Qatar. For instance, DLA Piper proposed that a sponsor would be required to show substantial and viable proof supporting his or her objection to permitting a worker to terminate their labor services. Other reform proposals include implementing sanctions against inadequate employers and engendering a more closely-working relationship between the workers’ home countries and their host country.

Although the proposals by DLA may point to an easy resolution, the chances of Qatar following through on these orders is a topic of question and doubt. One major concern from Amnesty International is that although Qatar proposes modifications to the kafala system, all reforms must ultimately be verified and approved by the shura, or advisory council, that legislates many Emirate nations. According to Amnesty International, the shura is expected to strongly oppose the aforementioned proposed changes to the long-standing kafala system due to feared economic consequences.

For instance, Nicholas McGeehan, an activist from Human Rights Watch, voiced his concern by blatantly stating, “The notion that the kafala system can be abolished by no longer referring to a sponsor but an employer-employee relationship is utterly preposterous.” McGeehan’s statement captures the concern that many proponents of reform in Qatar face.

Is the government going to implement adequate change or attempt to shroud the issue with a simple name change?

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources:New York Times, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

 

Migrant Workers in Qatar
The skyline of Qatar’s capital, Doha, showcases gargantuan skyscrapers towering high into the sky. Being the site of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is pursuing extensive infrastructure projects to prepare for the massive influx of rabid soccer fans eager to cheer on their favorite team.

Much of the infrastructure projects that are underway rely on migrant workers for completion. In recent months, several stories have broken regarding the terrible working conditions these workers face. Some assert that the working conditions are so bad it amounts to forced labor.

Many of these migrant workers hail from a variety of countries but the majority tend to be Nepalese. Facing poverty at home, they venture outside their borders, via recruiting agencies, in order to provide for their families.

Abigail Hauslohner, details the process by which these migrant workers become the victims of an international forced labor scheme in a recent Washington Post article. Many workers must pay recruitment agencies hundreds or even thousands of dollars to secure a job out of the country. Once the journey is made, workers claim their IDs and passports are confiscated upon arrival, making them illegal aliens.

The Guardian reports that many workers accrue massive loans to the recruitment agencies that, due to the lack of payment for their hard work, they are unable to repay. Some of the loans are reported to have interest rates of up to 36%.

The working conditions that many encounter on a day to day basis are deadly. This past summer, it was reported that an average of one Nepalese worker died per day. Over half died from heart attacks associated with heatstroke. The Nepalese embassy stationed in Doha has reported that 44 workers died between June 4 through August 8.

Lacking payment for their work, some workers are growing hungry, reports Amnesty International. 80 workers have revealed they have not been paid for over a year. The company employing them has recently ceased a monthly food stipend of 250 riyals, amounting to just $69. Luckily, a group of Doha residents have taken notice of their situation and began donating food to help.

Facing large debt, possessing no form of identification and an inability to leave the workplace has placed these migrant workers in a dire situation. Holding illegal alien status, without any way to recover their identification, leaves them with no legal protection under Qatari law. They are trapped in a cycle of forced labor.

Some hold out hope that the eventual 2022 World Cup will force a change. The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee in charge of preparing for the games states they have taken notice of the problem. The committee insists they will introduce measures to improve labor standards.

Nasser al-Khater, spokesman for the committee, has stated they are in the midst of developing worker welfare standards that come into compliance with international best practices. Contractors will be forced to comply with these standards.

The dichotomy present in the richest per capita country in the world is stark. Qatari citizens enjoy free healthcare, education and electricity while the towering infrastructure is erected by migrant workers suffering under the injustice of forced labor.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: Washington Post, The Guardian, Amnesty International
Photo: Vintage 3D

bike
The inaugural World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) – a conglomeration of entrepreneurs, business leaders, academics and technicians in the health space – convened last week in Qatar. As its title suggests, WISH serves as an arena for international delegates to create and implement innovative, nontraditional solutions to pressing issues in global health.

One participant, Londoner Lord Darzi of Denham (chairman of the Institute of Global Innovation at Imperial College), succinctly stated after the announcement of the Summit that “WISH is about action.”

Qatar’s newfound consideration as a hub for frontline innovation- principally through the Qatar Foundation- landed the nation the opportunity to host the prestigious two-day summit event. The Foundation has been on the forefront of the nation’s “visionary national health strategy” and initiated a first-of-its-kind investigation into the healthcare systems of eight major world players, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, India and Qatar. The Global Innovation Diffusion Report, unveiled on the second day of the summit, presented a well-researched report card of how each nation fosters and incorporates innovation to maximize health outcomes for their citizens.

The report noted both victories and areas in need of improvement for the eight nations of study. Each succeeded on a general level in identifying and addressing doctors and involving patients in treatment. Unfortunately, however, every nation but Qatar fell short in matching research-based suggestions with real changes in the health care space. Expert assessments of appropriate technological or practical innovations were ignored for different reasons in each nation.

In Spain and the United Kingdom, the least innovative countries, funds for research and development are scarce. New ideas simply cannot get off the ground because there is no money to put wind in their sails to begin with. Australia, Brazil and South Africa were slightly more successful than their European counterparts, but need to improve incentives for academics and policymakers who spread innovation. The United States and India showed a consistent, but small, gap between the ideal and reality.

The thorough case study concluded that innovation is most successfully spurred in the United States when incorporated into (or alongside) insurance and the accompanying payment system. Incidentally, the report identified the rollout of Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) programs as a major success for the U.S. in terms of innovation implementation. PCMH programs encourage primary care providers to tailor payments around patient outcomes and foster cooperation between medical and social services.

Moving forward, hot areas of progress for medical innovation will likely include: the application of mobile technology to share and store medical information; policymaking that encourages clinicians to adopt new ways of working; mobilization of resources to allow coordination between researchers and clinicians; and the development of an “innovation culture” and leadership among front line health care professionals.

Delegates representing our nation will undoubtedly confer about these recent findings and carve out a designated space for innovation in discussions touching on future policies, programs and technologies.

Casey Ernstes

Sources: Gulf News, NCQA, PR News Wire, World Innovation Summit for Health: Home, World Innovation Summit for Health: Global Diffusion
Photo: Vintage 3D