Inflammation and stories on russia

Worst Wars in History
War is a terrible phenomenon and one can uncover multiple layers of evil when evaluating just how bad a war is. One way to compare wars in history is to look at the loss of life during each war. Using that calculation, the worst wars in history become horrifically obvious.

Seven of the Worst Wars in History:

1. The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) – Between 3.5 and 6 million people were killed in the wars Napoleon Bonaparte waged in the early 19th century. The Napoleonic Wars were some of the worst wars in history partly because of the widespread use of mass conscription, which was applied at an unprecedented scale during this war.

2. The Russian Civil War (1917-1922) – Some five to nine million people died in the Russian Civil War, which took place in the years that followed the collapse of the Russian Empire and the death of the last Russian Czar.

3. World War I (1914-1918) – An estimated 20 million people were killed in the first World War, then also known as the Great War. Erupting in Europe after the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, World War I is one of the worst wars in history partially because it was among the first wars to have been fought using modern warfare tactics. Up until then, no one had ever seen a war of such scale, and the resulting trauma rippled through several generations.

4. An Lushan Rebellion (755-763 AD) – The An Lushan Rebellion happened in the Chinese Tang Dynasty when a Tang general established a rival dynasty in the North. Despite some disagreements about the reliability of the census system during the time, experts estimate between 13 and 36 million casualties.

5. Qing Dynasty Conquest of the Ming (1618-1683) – The Qing Dynasty is known for being the last of the old Chinese dynasties before the beginning of the Republic, but an estimated 25 million people died in the Conquest of the Ming before the Qing Dynasty began.

6. Taiping Rebellion (1850) – During the Taiping Rebellion, a convert to Christianity named Hong Xiquan led a rebellion against the Manchu Qing Dynasty, during which anywhere between 20 to 100 million people (mostly civilians) were killed.

7. World War II (1938-1945) – With a death toll between 40 and 85 million, the Second World War was the deadliest and worst war in history. Experts estimate with such a high death toll, about three percent of the world’s population in 1940 died.

While the wars listed above are some of the worst wars in history, one must be careful not to forget that deadly wars are being fought today all around the globe as well. These may be the worst wars in history, but who’s to say that the worst war of all isn’t one being fought right now?

Mary Grace Costa

Photo: Flickr

Top Diseases in Russia
Geographically the largest nation in the world, Russia is known as a formidable global power. However, in terms of medical care, only 7% of GDP is spent on health, lagging significantly behind the world average of 10%. With that, the impact of this policy is seen in the prevalence of several disease outbreaks throughout the country.

Here are the top diseases in Russia:

  1. Heart Disease. Amounting to approximately 737,000 fatalities in 2012, Ischemic Heart Disease or Coronary Artery Disease is the leading cause of death in Russia. Historical reports show diagnoses increased by 30% in the 1990s, reportedly brought about by a combination of economic factors and worsening nutritional habits. These rates have been sustained since and remain the ninth highest in the world.
  2. Tuberculosis. According to the State Department, Tuberculosis is endemic in Russia, and there is a rising incidence of multi-drug-resistant strains of TB. The disease is an airborne bacterial infection that can be transmitted by breathing contaminated air droplets from coughing and sneezing or by ingesting unpasteurized milk from infected cows. While more than 90 percent of infected people do not experience symptoms, the bacteria can remain inactive in the system for many years. Cases in Russia have frequently been reported around forms of public transportation.
  3. Encephalitis. Encephalitis refers to a viral infection that causes swelling of the brain. The most common instances reported in Russia are tick-borne encephalitis and Japanese encephalitis transmitted by mosquitoes. The disease is found throughout Siberia and another major outbreak has been occurring in eastern areas of the country near Vladivostok. Symptoms can be neurological or flu-like, and the risk has been shifting northward due to climate change.
  4. HIV/AIDS. Russia is unique within the European region as the only area still reporting rising infection rates of HIV. According to the World Health Organization, more than one million people live with HIV in Russia and it represents the third leading cause of death in the country. Cases are transmitted primarily by sexual contact and increasing drug use. Further, another contributing obstacle is the government’s refusal to acknowledge scientific research regarding treatments such as Opioid Substitution Therapy. These are dismissed as being too “narcoliberal” while other health programs simply receive no funding or are punishable with jail time.
  5. Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Including syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and hepatitis, many of the top diseases in Russia are also sexually transmitted. These diseases are passed on via bacteria, viruses or parasites through sexual contact, and can manifest with a variety of symptoms. Increasing rates in Russia are due to poor health education and a prominent sex tourism industry.
  6. Rabies. Due to the vast wilderness, rabies is another common disease in regions with many mammals where people could be easily scratched or bitten. Untreated, rabies is the most lethal on the list due to how quickly it attacks the nervous system. Of note, some remote areas with known outbreaks do offer daily vaccines, but health reports indicate these are unsafe and often result in serious side effects.
  7. Regional Diseases. Given the immense size of Russia, there are also many diseases that are only prevalent in specific areas of the country. Soil-transmitted helminths, or parasitic worms that live in the gastrointestinal system and lungs, are frequently reported near the Caucasus region. A West Nile outbreak also recently took place in more than eight southwestern states. Spread from cattle to humans via bacteria, anthrax is known around the Yamal peninsula. Finally, transmissions of Lyme disease from infected ticks are common in the Ural Mountains.

Combined with shortages of medical supplies and inadequate standards, this list highlights a number of public health challenges for the country. While not exhaustive, many of the top diseases in Russia are treatable or preventable. Therefore, many solutions could be as easy as allocating proper funding and taking reasonable precautions in risk-prone areas.

Zack Machuga

Photo: Flickr

 DonbassThe war in the Donbass region of the Ukraine has been ongoing since 2014 when groups known as the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) broke from the Ukraine. Here are 10 facts about the little-known war in Donbass:

  1. When the DPR and the LPR broke from the Ukraine in 2014 they created a federation called Novorossiya, yet the region is still more commonly known as the Donbass.
  2. In the Donbass region which is largely populated by Russian speakers, a strong “anti-maidan” movement grew in the region after the 2014 coup in Kiev. This movement’s goal was to prevent far-right groups from entering the region.
  3. Russia annexed the Crimea Peninsula of Ukraine in March of 2014 following the ousting of a pro-Russia president in Kiev. Despite Russia’s denial that it is supporting the separatists, Kiev claims that many Russian soldiers have traveled to the region.
  4. It is highly unlikely that soldiers from Russia and its allies would have traveled to the Ukraine against the will of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
  5. Fighting remains intense in the region, and civilian casualties still frequently occur.
  6. Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych borrowed $3 billion from Russia to resist protesters in the early days of the conflict. When he was subsequently ousted, the Ukraine failed to pay back the bond, which led to Russia suing for repayment in British courts.
  7. The U.N. human rights office reported that between February 2015 and June 2016, 261 civilians were killed on both sides of the conflict. They stress, however, that these figures are a conservative estimate, and the DPR’s number of reported casualties is much higher.
  8. There have been several truces called, including in September and December 2016, yet they have all failed to secure lasting peace.
  9. There have been two Minsk agreements, the second of which was signed by Vladimir Putin, Francis Holland, Angela Merkel and Ukranian president Petro Poroshenko. Neither agreement has succeeded in ending the war in Donbass.
  10. There was hope that the Minsk II agreement would lead to free elections in the regions and a separate status for the Donbass region.

The conflict may be occurring in a reduced capacity, but the reality remains that there is a war in eastern Ukraine. Ongoing attention is required to create a lasting peace for the communities in this region.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Russia
Russia continues to build deteriorating relations with the West. On top of that, the economic turmoil following sanctions imposed on Moscow after it meddled in Ukraine’s business has had a serious impact on hunger in Russia and the country’s likelihood of going hungry in general.

Food is just one of the everyday necessities being used by Russia’s government in the international struggle for peace in the Crimea region of Russia and Ukraine. Russia has banned imports of most food from countries party to the European Union’s (EU) economic sanctions against Russia.

The EU’s economic sanctions against Russia are meant to pressure the Russian government to end its violent campaign against Ukrainian nationalists. The sanctions mainly ban activity that profits banks and some blacklisted individuals.

More Russians have been slipping into poverty and hunger since the Western sanctions have been put into place. Along with that, low oil prices that have battered the country’s energy-dependent economy and significantly diminished purchasing power have taken a toll.

However, 2016 poverty indicators are still much lower than those from the start of President Vladimir Putin’s first term in 2000. During that time, 29 percent of the Russian population found itself below the poverty threshold.

Despite the decrease in poverty indicators, a food shortage has begun in Russia, according to The Moscow Times. Hunger in Russia is a very real possibility. This is due mainly to more than a year of extended sanctions against imported food.

Some food producers have increased productions notably over the last 17 months. This includes the meat and dairy producers as well as beef and potato producers. Unfortunately, it has not been enough to make up for the loss of food imports banned due to these government sanctions.

The silver lining in this whole situation is that Russia is known for its self-reliance when it comes to food struggles. Recently, a study done by Natural Homes revealed that 51 percent of Russia’s food is grown by communities in both rural areas and by peasant farmers.

A great example of Russian resilience is a small business owner, Alexander Krupetskov. Alexander started an artisan cheese shop just a month before the embargo was established last year. His business has flourished since that and he has also opened a second shop.

Although times are tough in Russia, these glimmers of hope and forward movement are great signs for the country’s future. It would seem that even in the toughest of circumstances, Russia’s people know how to pull themselves from the depths and create something beautiful and everlasting.

Keaton McCalla

Photo: Flickr


4 Facts about Higher Education in Russia You need to Know
Russia seems to constantly struggle with one political or economic issue after another. It is important not to forget education in the chaos. Here are a few salient facts about higher education in Russia and how it affects the growing number of people living in poverty.

  1. Entrance exams: As in many countries, students in Russia must take a unified state exam to enter university. This system has pros and cons. The exams are extremely competitive and force teachers in secondary school to “teach to the test” to ensure students can pass exams. However, doing so leads to problems later on when students must spend time in university relearning material they should have learned in high school.
  2. Changing demographics: Until the mid-1990s, universities were comprised mainly of well-to-do urban young adults. After reforms were made, enrollment expanded, and in the early 2000s, universities became more popular among the masses. Lately, however, Russia’s gap between the rich and poor has been growing. Nearly 20 million Russians currently live in poverty, and the poverty rate has increased by 20% since last year. Consequently, history is beginning to repeat itself, with a more socioeconomically homogeneous student body developing in universities.
  3. Right to free education: According to the Russian Federation Constitution, all Russian citizens have a right to free education. Russia’s 2013 Law of Education ensures that state governments enforce this right. The right to free education is granted on a competitive basis based on grades from the Unified State Exam.
  4. Government spending is low: Only about 4 percent of Russia’s GDP goes toward education, according to the latest U.N. Human Development Report. Compared to other countries with consistently high-ranking education systems, Russia’s spending on education is low. Finland, for example, spends 6.8 percent of its GDP on education.

Increased government spending on education, as well as more well-rounded secondary education, could greatly benefit higher education in Russia and the nation as a whole.

Sabrina Yates

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Russia
During the final preparation stages for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, journalists covered the peculiar conditions of their and the athletes’ living quarters for the duration of the sporting event, including water quality in Russia.

A Chicago Tribune reporter posted a picture on social media of the warning near the sink of her hotel bathroom that read, “Do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous.” Another reporter tweeted, “peach juice…oh wait, that’s water,” and many other reporters joined in on the spectacle.

However, what seemed entertaining for the press was and continues to be a harsh reality for Russians. Over 10 million people lack access to quality drinking water in Russia and 60 percent of the country’s population drinks water from contaminated wells.

Russian regulatory bodies report that between 35 percent and 60 percent of the country’s drinking water reserves do not meet sanitary standards. Forty percent of surface water and 17 percent of underground spring water are not safe enough to drink. Russian rivers and lakes contain pollution from agricultural and industrial waste in amounts that exceed all minimum standards.

The poor water quality in Russia is due to the “thousands of companies [that] have dumped dangerous chemicals into rivers and lakes, and these pollutants are inevitably absorbed into the human body through water and food,” according to Greenpeace. Waterborne illness as a result of such pollution behaviors contributes to the deaths of more than 3 million people every year — more deaths than those a war causes.

Greenpeace also reports that “companies are not adopting clean technologies, and the government is ineffectual when it comes to preventing criminals from poisoning the water.” However, many Russian companies have started to improve water quality, offering an increasing number of water purifying technologies.

Traditional water purification methods include ozonation, chlorination, UV treatment, ultrafiltration and electrolysis. The use of chlorine and ozone is dangerous because they are poisonous substances and the use of ultraviolet light is inefficient because it purifies water only near the source. Thus, the safest and most effective is electrolysis.

A team of former equipment suppliers to Russia’s largest energy company, Gazprom, and the Novosibirsk Institute of Mining have created and implemented a new water purification system called the Aquifer. The system uses electrolysis to kill bacteria and stirs the water intensively to give it more oxygen. Because the system has no moving parts, the Aquifer will improve the water quality in Russia while reducing energy consumption.

Experts predict that the demand for water supply will exceed the global supply by more than 50 percent by 2025 if there is no improvement in access to quality drinking water. Sustainable solutions like the Aquifer give hope to reversing the trend.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Russia
The Russian economy has taken more than its fair share of hits in recent years, with poverty in Russia affecting nearly 20 million Russian citizens.

The stagnation of Russia’s economy has its roots in the low oil prices in recent years, as well as sanctions imposed by the West. Russia produces the most crude oil in the world, and energy is by far Russia’s largest market. However, oil prices have dropped heavily since 2014, from around $100 per barrel to $50.

The effect on the Russian economy has been severe: the economy shrank 3.7 percent in 2015. The economic tightening has increased the inflation rate to 12.9 percent, reducing the purchasing power of Russian companies. This makes it significantly more difficult for other markets to fill the gap the declining oil industry has left.

The inflation rate also adds to the burdens of the working class, with rubles buying less nowadays than just a few years ago.

According to one Russian woman, “When you get home and unpack your shopping bag, you realize you have barely bought anything.”

Poverty in Russia is not located in large cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The majority of Russia’s poor live in small, single-industry towns with declining populations.

The Kremlin itself, not exempt from the economic downturn, is currently operating at a severe budget deficit. This deficit makes it difficult for the Russian government to offer anything but lip service to the populace in regards to the decline.

Nonetheless, President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings remain at an incredibly high 83 percent. Many Russians are faithful to Putin; when he took office in 2000, poverty was at a dangerously low 29 percent.

Furthermore, despite Russia’s current economic troubles, the country has seen significant economic improvement in the past 15 years.

Prior to 2014, Russia’s poverty rate had been dropping several percentage points every year since 2004. In addition, its GDP growth rate was on par with India until 2009.

Perhaps most encouraging is that despite the recession, Russia’s unemployment rate remains at a mere 6 percent. The low unemployment rate suggests that if oil prices stabilize, poverty in Russia will see a rapid decline.

John English

Photo: Flickr

After three years of negotiations, officials from the world’s five major emerging national economies, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), have officially unveiled their new collective multilateral development bank.

Considered a potential rival to the global influence of U.S.-led institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Shanghai-based New Development Bank (NDB) is the second multilateral bank poised to begin operations in the near future, along with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which announced its launch earlier this year. Both banks will aim to provide increased funding for large-scale infrastructure development projects in poor and developing regions.

The leadership of the $100 billion NDB will come in the form of a rotating five-year presidency, with the inaugural term going to K.V. Kamath, an Indian banker who had previously worked at multilateral development institutions like the Asian Development Bank.

Experts anticipate that the emergence of the NDB and AIIB will mark a new era of development that will greatly complement Western-led development efforts. An increase in the level and diversity of multilateral investment will help to combat extreme poverty in more effective and creative ways.

“I’m optimistic that we are going to get a very different era when it comes to development cooperation. We’re at the beginning of the end of aid-led, Western-funded, post-colonial development,” said Civicus secretary-general Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah in an interview with Devex. “It’s not just about the rich giving charity to the poor through aid. It is about new forms of cooperation.”

In an open statement to the NDB, 44 civil society groups and social movements declared their hopes that the bank will deliver inclusive and participative development, prioritize poverty-focused goals and emphasize human rights and the environment. The signees claimed that these aims are critical if multilateral development institutions are to realize effective results in the coming years.

“Investment cannot bring development if it does not meet people’s needs. The NDB should support inclusive, accessible, participative development that is driven by communities, addresses poverty and inequality, removes barriers to access and opportunity, and respects human rights,” reads the statement. “If the BRICS can help create an institution that lives up to the above principles, they will have done the cause of international cooperation a great service, true to the name ‘New Development Bank’.”

Development experts note that many of the anti-poverty policies currently touted by leading institutions – austerity, privatization and liberalization, to name a few – have not yielded the results that poor and developing countries have hoped for. The emergence of alternative development institutions like the NDB and AIIB could challenge those long-prescribed economic policies.

According to the chief executive of ActionAid International Adriano Campolina, increased competition among multilateral development institutions will only increase the scale and effectiveness of anti-poverty projects in the regions that desperately need them. However, he noted that these institutions must strive to make poverty-reduction policies a focus on infrastructure development.

“Both industrialized and developing economies have been seeing a rapid increase in inequality,” he wrote in an article for Devex. “Development must also, therefore, prioritize policies like fair and equitable land tenure, creation of decent jobs, strong social protection and free access to quality education that have been proven to reduce inequality.”

Campolina and other experts note that in order for the New Development Bank to successfully differentiate itself from existing institutions, it must prioritize the aims of people in poor and developing countries, not those of itself and of its own donors. If it succeeds, it may well contribute to the absolute elimination of extreme poverty and help to develop the infrastructure required for poor countries hoping to make substantial steps in economic development.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: Devex 1, All Africa, Devex 2
Photo: Merco Press

poverty_in_russiaEarlier this month, the International Business Times reported “critical” levels of poverty in Russia.

This can come as a surprise to a lot of people, mainly due to the fact that Russia is a part of the Group of 8, an elite group that compromises the eight most advanced economies in the world. Russia has an annual GDP of $2.3 trillion and unemployment hovers around 5.6 percent. These statistics do not paint a picture of poverty.

Given these circumstances, the use of the term “critical” to describe the poverty in Russia is baffling. The impetus to how Russia got here is woven into their annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea, and the subsequent reaction by the European Union and the United States.

On March 14 of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country would be annexing Crimea, citing the historical ties the peninsula has with Russia. Although Russia claims the Crimean citizens conducted a referendum to secede from Ukraine, NATO says it was illegal and “doesn’t count.” Samantha Powers, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, equated the annexation to “theft.”

In response, the European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Russia’s finance, arms and energy sectors.

The sanctions, enacted last September, prevent Russia’s state banks from financing long-term loans in the European Union. Exporting military equipment and oil technology to Russia is also banned.

In addition, the Russian elite, many of whom control the businesses that have been impacted the hardest by the sanctions, have been subject to asset freezes and travel restrictions.

A year later, the sanctions have rippled through the Russian and European Union economies. Russian citizens living in poverty number around 22.9 million, roughly 3 million more than last year; this comprises 15 percent of the country. Although unemployment has remained stable, the inflation rate has soared and the value of the ruble, Russia’s currency, has plummeted along with wages.

In addition, the stark drop in oil prices, one of Russia’s main exports, has exacerbated the effects of the sanctions.

The Russian economy is expected to shrink three percent in 2015.

The leaders of NATO and the UN believe that this sends Russia a strong message that its annexation of Crimea, and support of pro-separatist forces in Ukraine, is unacceptable. However, the sanctions have affected more than Russia.

According to research by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research, the European Union economy will be adversely influenced by the sanctions. The report found that 2.5 million jobs will be cut, which would drain nearly 30 million euros from the economy.

Europe depends on Russia for 30 percent of its oil and gas supply. This has been problematic because the sanctions specifically targeted Russian oil and gas companies.

While the sanctions have slowed the Russian economy and isolated the country diplomatically, the residual, mostly negative, effects on some of the countries that imposed them have been counterintuitive.

NATO’s response to the Crimean annexation highlights how interconnected global markets are. Although many world leaders denounce Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine as unacceptable, their response could affect the economic security of millions who have nothing to do with the situation but are living in poverty in Russia.

Kevin Meyers

Sources: BBC, Heritage, IB Times, Huffington Post 1, Huffington Post 2, Huffington Post 3
Photo: IB Times

In the winter of 2013-14, residents of Russia’s Pskov region were left waiting in the cold at their train stations due to alleged obstructions on the tracks. Oddly, neither snow nor ice had blocked paths of the trains; rather along the tracks lay the shivering bodies of numerous Russians in need of medical attention.

A lack of accessible health service or transportation options had compelled these ill residents to prostrate themselves on the cold steel in hopes of hitching a ride to metropolitan centers with hospitals.

Even in city centers like Moscow and St. Petersburg, the situation has become dire. Hunger strikes aimed at preventing the healthcare cuts have occurred in the past two years in both of these major metropolises.

Stories like these call attention to the increasingly desperate state of Russia’s healthcare system, which has experienced significant consolidation and downgrading. In response, many Russians, as these incidents indicate, are quite literally willing to die for better healthcare.

The fierce will for state-sponsored, universal healthcare coverage has persisted since the Soviet era, while the quality of Russian healthcare has not. According to The Moscow Times, “from 2005 to 2013 the number of health facilities in rural areas fell by 75 percent, from 8,249 to 2,085. That number includes a 95 percent drop in the number of district hospitals, from 2,631 to only 124, and a 65 percent decline in the number of local health clinics, from 7,404 to 2,561.” In March of 2015 leaked government reports claimed that over 10,000 medical professionals in the capital had been laid off after the closure of 28 clinics and hospitals. The reports outlined 14,000 further firings leading up to 2017.

Between the years of 2013-14, 90,000 medical workers lost their jobs despite reports of significant shortages of personnel across the country. That same year, The Audit Chamber, a government agency, had attributed the 3.7 percent spike in hospital deaths to spending cuts. In total, 18,000 Russians needlessly lost their lives.

This is all a part of the Russian Government’s recent ‘optimization’ which aims to eliminate inefficiency by consolidating healthcare resources in larger hospitals. Consequentially, it entails the closure of smaller more local treatment centers.

Putin and his administration are determined in their efforts. They seem to have ignored funding and personnel issues and have instead lauded the healthcare system during a meeting in April 2015. Contrary to their own government reports, they claimed an alleged increase in rural medical coverage and a $4 billion expansion of healthcare funding.

For the doctors that have survived ‘optimization’, life in the workplace has become chaotic. Bloomberg News reported on a female family doctor who had to increase her workday from eight hours to 12 hours. On top of this, she admitted to working three weekend shifts per month for the past year.

One clinic has restricted the average appointment time between the doctor and patient to a mere 12 minutes. This gives the doctor just enough time to fill out paperwork.

Those unwilling to compromise effective treatment will defy these strict time limits. This comes at a cost, however, as many doctors have been forced to regularly work overtime in order to provide adequate care.

For patients, this entails excessive waiting times for treatment. With so few staff, they can expect to wait hours just to meet with a specialist. Those in need of ultrasounds often get put on a six week waiting list. Last year one could expect an ultrasound in a matter of days.

Tired of waiting, many Russians have sought better medical care by taking to the streets in protest. Several demonstrations challenging recent healthcare developments took place in Moscow during the fall and winter of last year.

With approval ratings for the country’s healthcare system under 20 percent according to a recent poll, Putin has also displayed some hesitation. During a conference in the fall of last year, he admitted that his administration had not yet considered everything. If protests continue it is perhaps possible even the notoriously headstrong Putin will alter the course of Russia’s healthcare.

Andrew Logan

Sources: Bloomberg, The Moscow Times, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, The Washington Post

Photo: Bloomberg Business