humanitarian aid to serbiaOver the last two decades, Serbia has rarely been mentioned in the news without controversy. Civil wars and independence movements have marred the reputation of this Balkan nation, giving rise to the need for humanitarian aid to Serbia for many of those years. Now, Serbia looks to leave that past behind and move peacefully and progressively into the future. In 2013 the European Council agreed to negotiations that would allow Serbia into the European Union; the talks began in 2014 and continue to this day.

Due to poor leadership and an increase in nationalism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Federation of Yugoslavia began to disintegrate. Member states began to declare independence, and by 1992, conflicts began to break out all over Yugoslavia. For the next 15 years, the Balkans would be associated with political and cultural strife, creating a need for international assistance and eventually leading to the success of humanitarian aid to Serbia.

In 1992, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) began work in Serbia. The modern goal of the IRC is to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by conflict. The IRC assisted the people of Serbia though conflict until 2004 and has been a major indication of the success of humanitarian aid to Serbia.

In response to the migrant crisis that affected the Balkan region in March 2016, the Serbian government, European Commission, the IRC and other international and Serbian-based charities initiated a response to provide those stranded with humanitarian aid. The European Commission allocated €25 million in funding for the Serbian government to assist refugees and fund other humanitarian aid projects. Much of the money allocated for refugees has been spent on government-run reception centers. The goal of these centers is to track and assist the over 4,000 refugees in Serbia.

Refugee Aid to Serbia (RAS) is a charity located in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. This local charity works in conjunction with international charities such as NGO North Start and the International Women’s Club, to provide food, education, clothing and legal aid to those stranded throughout the country.

While the number of refugees in Serbia may seem small in comparison to other European nations, the impact on the local economy of Serbia has been significant. This is due to its smaller national economy and population.

– Nick DeMarco

Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in Serbia In Serbia, gender inequality is prevalent in the workforce. Disproportionate responsibilities for household tasks, the lack of flexible work arrangements, the continued practice of traditional gender roles and low demand for female employees lend to inequalities among business and governmental roles.

According to research by the World Bank, the employment rate of women is 26 percent lower than it is for men, resulting in higher unemployment and inactivity rates for women. When addressing self-employment and company owners, men constitute 72 percent of those who are self-employed and 71 percent of business owners. Men also make up 80 percent of ministerial positions in government, leaving a disproportionally small percentage of women in positions of authority. The largest discrepancies in employment are evident when discussing uneducated women and girls.

Women in Serbia are disadvantaged due to an educational system that does not promote a balance between work, school and domestic duties. Many lose opportunities to pursue education or attain work experience because of the expected duties of women, such as unpaid household work. Women who are in need of work, due to their economic situation or cost of living, are often forced into lower paying jobs.

Employment rates rose 4.7 percent for women between 2012 and 2014, but many of these jobs proved to be temporary positions, leaving many uneducated women and girls living in rural locations at a disadvantage. However, various entities are looking at education and work-related gender equality reforms to enhance women’s empowerment in Serbia.

Multiple NGOs and gender advocates are working to influence the government for women’s empowerment in Serbia. The areas of concern relating to gender inequality include the electoral quota, violence against women, women’s entrepreneurship and gender-responsive budgeting. Several laws have been passed to address these issues, some being the Gender Equality Law of 2009, National Strategy for the Improvement of the Status of Women and Promotions of Gender Equality and the Action Plan for 2010-2015. These laws center on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also promotes its goal of equal participation in economic activities and decision making. UNDP’s initiative focuses on building lives free of violence against women, in order to enhance women’s empowerment in Serbia. UNDP’s focus on violence against women addresses the fact that 54 percent of women are exposed to some sort of violence. This program supports state institutions and actors that aid in gender equality and benefitting women and girls against discrimination and violence.

U.N. Women and U.N. Global Impact also worked with twelve companies to sign the Women’s Empowerment Principles. These twelve companies committed to transforming current business methods to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment as core business objectives. The principles addressed flexible working arrangements, such as maternal leave, promotion of enterprise development, marketing empowering women and advocacy on behalf of women. These principles, laws and organizations are actively working to improve the lives of women in Serbia.

– Bronti DeRoche

Photo: Flickr

5 Active Development Projects in SerbiaSerbia is located in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula in Eastern Europe. The United Nations Development Programme measures a country’s overall development through the Human Development Index, which considers all aspects of a nation on its way to development. The Human Development Index ranks Serbia as the 66th most developed country in the world, a ranking which is certainly nothing to scoff at. However, there is still much to be done before Serbia can be considered a fully developed nation. Here are five active development projects in Serbia which are bringing the country closer to becoming fully developed.

  1. Floods Emergency Recovery Project
    The aim of this project is to make the nation less vulnerable to damaging floods, and to improve the response strategies of people living in areas which are at a high risk of flooding. This project will aid farmers in taking precautionary measures in case of a flood so that such an event would not cause a devastating effect on the food supply and economy.
  2. Corridor X Highway Project
    Corridor X refers to the road network which leads from Austria to Greece, connecting the nations of the Balkan Peninsula. This is a critical route for trade, commerce and travel, and there has been a great deal of construction on the highway to try and connect the road networks leading through Serbia. Development projects in Serbia like this one will move the nation closer to becoming fully developed, and will bring increased economic prosperity.
  3. Enhancing Infrastructure Efficiency and Sustainability Project
    This project has a similar goal to the Corridor X Highway Project in that it aims to bring increased connectivity between the different regions of Serbia. By improving infrastructure like roads, water systems and hospitals, this project will help to grow Serbia’s economy and increase ease of travel for Serbian citizens.
  4. Real Estate Management Project
    The Real Estate Management Project addresses an issue which is currently holding Serbia back on the path to development. This project will essentially make the real estate system in Serbia more reliable, accountable and transparent. It will create a dependable system of determining property value, thus ensuring that people pay the right amount of tax on their property. Serbia is adopting an internationally accepted standard of property valuation to achieve this goal.
  5. Deposit Insurance Strengthening Project
    The Deposit Insurance Agency is essentially Russia and Eastern Europe’s version of the American Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and will serve as a financial safety net or backbone behind the banking industry in Serbia. Strengthening the Deposit Insurance Agency will make banking in Serbia more reliable, and will spark economic growth in the nation.

These projects only begin to scratch the surface of all the work that has been done, and has yet to be done, in bringing Serbia into the developed world. While there is an immense list of things that need to be addressed and improved before Serbia can be considered fully developed, development projects in Serbia such as these are leading the way into the future.

Tyler Troped 

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in SerbiaSerbia is a small nation in Eastern Europe with a population of just over seven million, this is not including the population of the disputed Kosovo region. Since Serbia is a landlocked nation with no coastline, water pollution from industrial waste sites has a significantly negative impact on the country’s primary river, the Danube, and its primary tributary, the Sava, both of which serve as the largest and most important sources of drinking water for the nation.

Despite being a relatively well-developed European nation, what is the water quality in Serbia like?

According to the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), Serbia actually depends on sources outside of its own national territory for water resources. This is particularly worrisome as most small communities in Serbia, with less than 2000 people, frequently lack wastewater management infrastructure and, because a number of existing facilities within Serbia are non-operational.
Additionally, assigning someone to monitor and secure good water quality in Serbia has become an issue in recent years.

The department of the United Nations responsible for assessing a country’s sanitation and drinking water situation (GLAAS) has stated that while the surveillance systems and institutions required to inspect water quality have been implemented in both urban and rural areas, specific plans to sustain and improve these systems and issues surrounding water system ownership are the main impediments to improving sanitation and water quality in Serbia.

So what can be done to protect water quality in Serbia, particularly in rural areas?

The Serbian government has already taken steps in recent years to ensure that the country’s inhabitants are not put at risk of illness through water consumption. In 2013, Serbia ratified the “Protocol on Water and Health to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes” and will preside over it until 2019. This international legal agreement not only ensures sustainable water development and the eradication of water-borne diseases in Europe but is also supported by Serbia’s State Secretary at Health Ministry, Meho Mahmutović, who says that “we need to work together to achieve better environmental conditions in order to protect the health.”.

Despite being a rural level issue, the solution to the issue of water quality in Serbia will ultimately depend on government activity. By clearly defining political jurisdiction over the surveillance of drinking water sources and upholding the Protocol ratified by the Serbian government in 2013, communities outside of the country’s larger cities can live free from the risk of water-borne illnesses.

Brad Tait

Photo: Pixabay

Serbia Poverty RateThe Republic of Serbia is a European country that declared its independence from the union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. Due to Serbia’s separation from the union and its rapid growth between 2001 to 2008, the country faces a substantial poverty rate.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), nine percent of Serbians are living in poverty as of 2016. Additionally, a concerning 25 percent of Serbians are on the verge of poverty. However, the Serbia poverty rate has improved since 2014, in which one in four people were living below the poverty line. Currently, the most vulnerable groups in Serbia are the Roma and youths.

The Roma are widely recognized as the European Union’s largest minority group, totaling ten million people. In many countries, including Serbia, the Roma were particularly vulnerable to poverty largely due to discrimination. Overall, 19.7 percent of Serbians are unemployed, and more than 50 percent of the unemployed are Romani.

Thus, a significant percentage of the Serbia poverty rate is made up by the Roma, who make up two percent of the Serbian population. Poverty among the Roma continues to persist as Serbia’s method for inclusion relies wholly on education, despite current statistics. As of 2015, only 8 percent of Romanis completed high school, due to discrimination and family financial difficulties. To adequately address the economic disparity of the Roma, more efforts will need to be put towards inclusion.

Youth in Serbia are more likely to be on the verge of poverty or living in poverty due to unemployment. The UNDP reported that “1 in 8 children under the age of 14 live in poverty”. As of 2016, 44.2 percent of youths were reported as unemployed. This is caused by a gap between the supply and demand of skilled labor brought about by Serbia’s flawed educational system.

Education in Serbia is currently not centered around their economic needs, so youths do not have the required skills for available positions. Poor education has led to a substantial long-term youth unemployment rate of more than 50 percent. Educational reforms will need to be made to address youth unemployment and poverty.

Governmental reform programs are underway to address the Serbia poverty rate and to prevent more people from falling into poverty. The rapid growth of Serbia led to significant internal and external imbalances that will need to be addressed through fiscal consolidation.

Structural reforms will also be needed to address the current problems with the Serbian educational system as well as other services.  With effort from the Serbia government and outside assistance, there is hope that the Serbia poverty rate will significantly decrease by 2030.

Haley Hurtt

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in SerbiaOver the last two years, Serbia – along with other countries in the Western Balkans – has struggled to contain a severe refugee crisis. Fortunately, there are several ways in which to answer the question of how to help the people of Serbia.

The number of refugees in Serbia has decreased since the crisis started a couple of years ago. Refugees in Serbia come primarily from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. As of late June 2017, the number of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Serbia was 5,948. In total, 93 percent of these people received shelter. This number has decreased significantly since the higher count of 7,600 refugees in mid April; at this point only 85 percent of refugees received proper accommodations.

The EU has designated humanitarian funding to Serbia as of January 2017. About €20.1 million has been spent on emergency assistance and shelters in Serbia, along with even more funding used to manage the flow of migrants.

Despite international aid and a steady decrease in the number of refugees in the country, Serbia still struggles with overcrowding and a lack of adequate accommodations for refugees. Individuals seeking asylum who cannot obtain shelter are, for the most part, found sleeping outside in the streets of Belgrade – hardly an ideal or safe outcome.

The organization Refugee Aid Serbia (RAS) works to benefit and improve the lives of refugees in Serbia during this critical time in the country. With their headquarters based in Belgrade, the organization’s areas of focus are humanitarian aid, education and community outreach. Those who are willing to donate to the cause can do so on the organization’s website. RAS also provides volunteering options and encourages fundraising events.

The agency Help Refugees currently runs 80 projects across eight different countries in Europe and the Middle East. They have focused on improving the Serbia refugee crisis since late 2015, doing things such as organizing volunteers and helping to improve living conditions by providing food and medical aid. Most notably, the organization has made major improvements to a warehouse housing site in Belgrade where 1,000 refugees lived at the time; it was evicted in 2017.

Still wondering how to help people in Serbia? Both of these organizations provide information about volunteering opportunities, as well as how to donate to the cause. With more people educated on this crisis and more people willing to do something to help, progress will continue to be made to improve the lives of refugees in Serbia.

Melanie Snyder

Photo: Flickr

Diseases in SerbiaThe landlocked Republic of Serbia has made significant progress in implementing legislation to make the country safer, from a health standpoint, for its residents. With favorable agricultural conditions and stable governance, the nation has pushed its way past most harmful diseases and is now considered a second-world country. Nevertheless, there are still common diseases in Serbia that prevail, such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and waterborne diseases.

Serbia’s 56 percent mortality rate in 2007 is attributed to cardiovascular disease, making it the number one cause of death. High cholesterol, smoking, lack of exercise and obesity are some of the main factors contributing to the prevalence of the illness. With focused lifestyle changes, the better part of this percentage can be decreased to create a healthier nation. Transitioning into eating organic foods and increasing physical activity are two changes that could help tremendously.

A close second when ranking the common diseases in Serbia is chronic respiratory disease. With a 61.7 percent tobacco exposure rate, this does not come as a surprise. On average, 33.6 percent of the Serbian adult population smokes, thus adding to the likelihood of developing a respiratory-related illness. Nevertheless, this rate has dropped by 6.9 percent over a period of six years, highlighting a significant positive shift.

Waterborne diseases also contribute to a noticeable percentage of diseases in Serbia. The Serbian government has joined forces with the United Nations, and has been implementing other programs to help eradicate this disease. They set water quality targets in 2013 and focuses on small water resources.

Some of the sustainable development goals they have implemented are: SDG 3.3 to combat waterborne disease, SDG 3.9 to decrease the number of deaths and illnesses due to contamination and SDG 6.1 to provide universal access to clean water.

With risk of contamination in rural areas, these programs have mainly centered around those regions. Holistically, Serbia has made tremendous advancements when it comes to the health and safety of its residents. This sturdy base will help ensure that these improvements are maintained.

Tanvi Wattal

Photo: Google

The hunger and deprivation that plagued refugee camps during the Kosovo War inspired Clint Borgen to found The Borgen Project, and one of the countries that saw the largest influx of suffering refugees during that time was Serbia. Though conditions today are far better than they were in 1999, hunger in Serbia is still a problem. Here are 10 facts about the past and present conditions.

  1. In 1999, the U.N. World Food Program distributed 145,000 tons of food to Serbia, feeding approximately 890,000 undernourished people. At that time, the WFP compared conditions in Serbia, where 10 percent of the population faced a humanitarian crisis, to those in North Korea.
  2. In 2008, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) was 7.8 in Serbia and has since dropped to 7.1 in 2016. The GHI uses undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality in their formula for determining hunger levels.
  3. The proportion of people experiencing hunger in Serbia, meaning they have insufficient caloric intake, was 6.9 percent in 2016, an improvement from 7.4 percent in 2008.
  4. The prevalence of wasting in children younger than five, which means their weight is low relative to their height, was 3.9 percent, down from four percent in 2008. Wasting is a measure of acute malnutrition.
  5. The prevalence of stunting in children younger than five, which means their height is low for their age, was six percent, down from 7.4 percent in 2008. Stunting is representative of chronic malnutrition.
  6. The mortality rate for children under the age of five is .7 percent, a small improvement from .8 percent in 2008.
  7. Of 113 index countries, the Global Food Security Index ranks Serbia 47th in affordability, 65th in availability and 52nd in quality and safety. Their overall rank for food security is 59.4, making them 52nd overall of the 113 countries.
  8. The Global Food Security Index also reports that hunger in Serbia leaves the average intensity of food deprivation at eight kilocalories per person per day. Each day, Serbia’s population lacks a total of 336,00,000 kilocalories.
  9. Because the nation has been a member of the U.N. since 2000, hunger in Serbia is a major factor in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda is comprised of 17 goals, the second of which is “zero hunger.”
  10. Because it is far cheaper, it was reported that Serbians ate three times more bread than the average EU citizen in 2014 (89 kilograms/year), and close to a third of the amount of meat, at 35 kilograms per year, compared to 90 in Germany, 91 in Italy and 102 in France.

Conditions have been steadily improving to help eliminate hunger in Serbia. Where the country faced a humanitarian crisis at the beginning of the century, it is now working with the U.N. to meet a goal of zero hunger by 2030. The statistics concerning Global Hunger and Global Food Security clearly illustrate the successes of aid programs and domestic growth in the country, while the presence of malnutrition and child mortality reiterates that until there is no hunger, there is always more to be done.

Brooke Clayton

Photo: Flickr

In May 2014, Serbia experienced the heaviest rain it had seen in a century, according to UNICEF data. This caused flooding that affected 1.6 million people and significantly damaged 1,800 buildings, while also significantly affecting the water quality in Serbia. It took UNICEF 10 days to assess the damages caused by the flooding and in the wake of the emergency it provided 5,000 blankets and hygiene kits and worked with the Serbian government to determine how to rebuild the country after the floods.

The mass flooding has affected the drinking water so greatly that it will take years for Serbia to recover from the damage. According to Water and Wastewater International (WWI), only 37 percent of the total Serbian population has access to a sewage system.

In cities, 75 percent of people have access to sewer systems, which is 25 percent less than the average for European cities. In rural areas of Serbia, the data is even less promising. WWI estimates that there are 5,000 public water systems in rural areas that are not controlled for water quality and that there are many wells and other systems that are probably not documented at all. There are 300,000 private wells and only about 10 percent of them have sanitary protection, according to WWI.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency in Serbia have set new standards for water quality and have implemented monitoring techniques. The agency samples the ground and surface water and then analyses it chemically, preparing data which will be added to a database on water quality that is updated periodically.

According to WWI, this action from the Serbian government will lead to great changes in the water quality in the country. WWI says that this change is already underway because although there are only 19 water treatment plants in Serbia, 11 more are going to be constructed. The U.N. has also become involved in preserving water quality in Serbia. It is working to create new regulations for the planning and execution of wastewater management by building on the Law on Water from 1991. The original law includes a plan for maintaining water quality but was never put into action.

Helen Barker

Photo: Flickr

Ikea_SerbiaA new e-permit system in Serbia, created with the help of USAID, has shortened the process for obtaining a construction permit from 240 to 28 days. It cut out the 50-plus interactions between the investor and the government. One can register for an e-permit through the Business Register’s Agency website, the Minister of Construction website, or other government websites.

The new e-permit system will help develop Serbia’s important infrastructure as well, particularly transportation. Serbia has been called the “gateway to Europe” as it is the crossroads between Western Europe and the Middle East. The Serbian parliament is looking for private investment in this sector, and the e-permits system has made this process more efficient. In addition, the new e-permit system is allowing the Clinical Center of Serbia to build new healthcare facilities. New jobs in the construction sector lead to new jobs in other sectors. The new e-permit system has not only helped construction in Serbia, it has increased the nation’s GDP by 3.5 percent in the first quarter of 2016.

One company already taking advantage of the new system is IKEA, and its investment is expected to bring 700 million euros and 300 new jobs to the nation. IKEA took advantage of the new permit process to build a new store in Belgrade. This new store is expected to open in July 2017. IKEA will be the first international business to invest in Serbia after the introduction of the country’s new construction e-permit system. The store in Belgrade is only the first store IKEA is building in Serbia, and the company is planning to invest 300 million euros in five stores across the nation.

IKEA will hopefully pave the way for more investment in Serbia, whether through creating new businesses or encouraging domestic construction in Serbia.

Jennifer Taggart

Photo: Flickr