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poverty in Iraq
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the poverty rate in Iraq reached 31.7% in 2020. Oil and gas production dominate many countries within the Middle East and gas production and Iraq is no different. The World Bank claims that Iraq is “one of the most oil-dependent nations” in the world, with oil revenues accounting for “99% of its exports, 85% of the government’s budget and 42% of Iraq’s GDP.” Unlike other oil-rich countries, Iraq has failed to turn the abundance of natural resources into profit and benefit the average Iraqi’s life. Corruption and conflict have decimated Iraq, displacing 1.2 million Iraqis and leaving 2.4 million people in need of food and livelihood assistance, according to WFP. Here is everything to know about poverty in Iraq.

Iraqi Civil War

Iraq has long been a divided country. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) believes increased “levels of violence, sectarian and ethnic divisions, population pressure, religious extremism and intervention from outside states” as key contributors that empowered ISIS and helped lead Iraq to civil war.

“In 2014, the Islamic State advanced into Iraq from Syria” and took control of most of northern Iraq. The terrorist organization proceeded to use horrific acts of violence whilst it controlled major Iraqi cities such as Mosul. The U.S. “formed an international coalition that now includes nearly 80 countries to counter the Islamic State,” Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) states.

Whilst ISIS was eradicated from Iraq in 2017, the damage had already been done. Iraq is yet to fully recover from the conflict. CFR reports that “more than 2 million people remain internally displaced and 9 million remain in need of humanitarian assistance” following the conflict.

Many major cities face huge reconstruction due to the complete devastation caused by the war. The total reconstruction could cost at least $88 billion. This is a price that the Iraqi government simply cannot afford. Thus, much of Iraqi infrastructure is still not functional and many Iraqis are still yet to return to their original homes.

Oil and Corruption

According to Transparency International, Iraq ranks 157th in the Corruption Perceptions Index, having a score of 23/100 in 2022. The National Interest stated that Iraqi officials stole money that the country could have used to fight ISIS and rebuild the nation.

Estimates vary on how much money has gone missing in Iraq, but some suggest that the country has lost as much as $300 billion since 2003. This money could have helped rebuild Iraq after the conflict with ISIS, whilst also helping to tackle the ever-growing poverty crisis in Iraq.

With the majority of revenues generated coming from oil exports, the corruption in Iraq has significantly impeded the development of non-oil business sectors. Resulting in continual dependency on high oil prices.

Average Iraqis never seem to see the benefits of oil profits due to the ongoing corruption. The Iraqi government has seemingly failed to provide adequate basic services for the Iraqi population. Protests in 2019 appeared to engulf major cities such as Baghdad due to the failure of the government to provide jobs and life improvements to young people despite an increase in oil production.

According to AP News, overall unemployment in Iraq is 11% whilst “one-third of Iraqi youth are without jobs.” This is all while the World Bank expected Iraq’s GDP to grow by 4.6% due to increased oil exports.

Poverty and Unemployment

The World Bank stated that in 2021 Iraq’s unemployment rate was “more than 10 percentage points higher than its pre-COVID-19 level of 12.7 percentage points.” It also states that unemployment amongst the “displaced, returnees, women jobseekers, pre-pandemic self-employed and informal workers remains elevated.”

With the government’s decision to devalue the dinar against the dollar by 20%, as Iraq produces very little, the public has little choice but to buy imported goods which are now more expensive.

NPR believes that due to the government’s over-dependency on oil, it is imperative for Iraq to diversify its economy and increase its private sector. The result would be that many livelihoods would no longer be dependent on the state. Currently, when oil prices drop, unemployment and poverty increase.

Looking Ahead

Despite large oil profits generating substantial wealth, the money never appears for ordinary Iraqis who struggle to make ends meet. The failure to rebuild Iraq, large unemployment and violent conflict against ISIS have held Iraq back from becoming a more prosperous nation. A lack of action from the Iraqi government alongside systemic corruption has not helped the ever-increasing poverty epidemic in the country.

Although the future does not look too bright for the Iraqi people, the government has announced a reform plan. Finance minister Ali Allawi unveiled a plan to encourage investment by improving Iraq’s infrastructure, bumping up tax revenues and stimulating agriculture, NRP reports.

If the government has the will and determination to see through the reform plan instead of relying on oil money, there is a chance that the government can improve the livelihoods of many Iraqis. This could significantly reduce poverty in Iraq and many of the displaced people could return home.

– Josef Whitehead
Photo: Flickr

Electrification and Energy Expansion
Laos, which many know as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, sharing borders with Thailand, China, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. While Laos is one of the most impoverished countries in the region, its economy has significantly increased in the last 20 years, so much so that, in 2011, the World Bank upgraded the Lao PDR to lower-middle-income status. However, in terms of energy, not all citizens have access to electricity. The country has had difficulty expanding the energy sector due to factors such as “inaccessible terrain,” unexploded ordinances spread throughout the country, especially throughout rural areas, with some of those areas being more difficult to reach and some provinces having low economic growth compared to others. While expansion in the energy sector proves difficult, the Lao PDR has made a commitment to electrification and energy expansion in Laos to allow all its citizens to have access to electricity, especially as various organizations offer suggestions and plans for Laos to reach its energy goals.

The Current Situation

While the use of hydropower has helped Laos electrify the nation, increasing electrification rates from 15% in 1995 to 90% in 2019, around 5% of citizens still do not have access due to remote terrain locations that makes grid expansion difficult. Around 80.3% of rural areas and 97.4% of urban areas have access to electricity as of 2018. In response, the Lao PDR has an overall goal of enabling electricity access for a minimum of 98% of the overall population by 2030.

Observations and Recommendations by Organizations

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “in 2019, 80% of all [Laos’] electricity generation came from hydropower.” The CSIS recommends that the nation diversify its energy mix “beyond hydropower,” suggesting that Laos expands into non-hydro renewable energy due to its geographic advantage “for solar photovoltaic, wind and biomass energy” and especially as prices in the sector have diminished over the years.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recognizes that Laos has the potential to develop solar power, especially when many parts of the country are exposed to direct sunlight during the dry season. This would potentially “increase the share of non-hydro renewable energies to 30% of total consumption by 2025.” More than 18,657 households have access to small solar power systems as of 2017 and the Lao PDR has started several larger projects to expand access to solar power systems.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in partnership with USAID suggests that electrification and energy expansion in Laos through alternative renewable energies can help the country reach its import demands, which would allow Laos to rely less on other countries for electricity. By expanding in renewable energy sources, Laos can “increase electricity exports to regional neighbors to become the ‘battery’ of Southeast Asia” while also meeting domestic demands.

Plans for Electrification and Energy Expansion in Laos

In Laos, around 50 dams underwent construction as of 2020, a process that will allow more access to electricity for citizens. However, while hydropower from dams will provide more access to electricity, this strategy proves controversial, especially with environmental concerns and communities relying on rivers such as the Mekong to live.

In the search for alternative solutions, Laos is in negotiation with the Thai company Impact Energy Asia to build a 600-megawatt wind farm and have it complete by 2023. By developing the energy sector to become “affordable, inclusive and sustainable” while focusing on socio-economic development, the country can move toward achieving its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

USAID programs such as the LUNA II Project, implemented from March 2014 through September 2018, help to “promote more sustainable economic policies and a more balanced energy sector” in Laos. The project largely focuses on establishing “trade liberalization” for Lao and “trade capacity building” in both public and private sectors, which will allow improvement of trade and investment. This should allow Laos to expand into alternative, sustainable and renewable energy sources.

Looking Forward

While Laos has made improvements in access to electricity and other resources for the citizenry, this work has not yet reached completion. Fortunately, through suggestions from various organizations and their data collection, Laos is able to offer plans to reach more Laotians. The country stepping up to reach its goals for electrification and energy expansion in Laos will allow the nation to achieve its 2030 energy goals.

– Jerrett Phinney
Photo: Flickr

Global Opioid Crisis
Political pundits and policymakers have acknowledged the severity of the U.S. opioid crisis. However, there is also a drug that is quietly wreaking havoc on developing nations. Many have touted tramadol as a safer alternative to other opioids. However, it has instead fostered addiction in the poorest nations and bankrolled terrorists. Authorities fear that the drug’s growing popularity may even destabilize entire regions, causing the global opioid crisis.

Is Tramadol Safe?

At first glance, it is not clear how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisisIn 2021, the National Institute of Health (NIH) released a study declaring that tramadol has “a low potential for abuse” and has a significantly lower rate of nonmedical use than comparator opioids.

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence has reviewed the drug several times. It recommended against regulation in its most recent report. The main reasons are its concerns that regulation may hinder access to the drug in developing nations.

However, a closer look at the drug and its effect on the developing world demonstrates clearly how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisisTramadol is an opioid that medical professionals use to treat moderate to severe pain. It may cause nausea, dizziness, constipation, headaches, respiratory depression and even death.

Tramadol and the Global Opioid Crisis

Despite its presentation as a safe alternative to opioids such as Vicodin, there are plentiful examples of how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisis:

  1. The illicit market for tramadol is booming. Grünenthal, a German company, originally manufactured the drug for medicinal purposes. However, inadequate access to medicine in the developing world allowed the illicit market to blossom. Lower prices and immediate access to illicit painkillers relieved the shortcomings of poor health care structures, as UNODC reported. Most of these drugs are coming from India. Pill factories have been meeting the demand for tramadol pills by shipping them across the planet in illegal amounts. The demand for these drugs and the absence of regulation keep such illicit trade profitable. U.S. law enforcement has estimated that its seizures of tramadol tablets leaving India in the 2017-2018 period exceeded 1 billion.
  2. Tramadol addiction is rampant in West Africa. According to the UNODC report, “opioids and their nonmedical use have reached an alarming state in West Africa.” The report collected data from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger and Togo. Tramadol seized in West Africa in 2017 accounted for 77% of the tramadol seized globally. It also acknowledged that non-medical use of tramadol is ubiquitous in Niger, where it is the narcotic people are most familiar with. The number of narcotics seized in Nigeria nearly doubled from 53 to 92 tons between 2016 to 2017. The report showed that overall, tramadol is the most popular opioid as it accounts for 91% of all pharmaceutical opioids seized in West Africa in 2017.
  3. The UNODC report on tramadol in West Africa highlighted one of the most sinister aspects of how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisis. The report stated that “it cannot be denied…that there may be a link between tramadol trafficking and terrorist groups.” The report cited examples of Al Qaeda prompting its followers to trade tramadol to finance its terrorist operations as well as Boko Haram fighters depending on the drug before attacks. The statistics support these claims. According to CSIS, law enforcement intercepted $75 million worth of tramadol heading to the Islamic State group from India in 2017. Authorities also confiscated another 600,000 tablets bound for Boko Haram and found 3 million in a truck in Niger. In May 2017, authorities seized 37 million pills in Italy. Isis had bought them and intended to sell them for profit.

Tramadol Trouble Shooting

Despite the growing problem, many have paid attention. For instance, UNODC met in July 2019 to discuss its West Africa report. Representatives from West Africa, India, the European Union (EU), Interpol and WHO were a few of the guests that attended the meeting to discuss how tramadol is fueling the global opioid crisis.

Not only are organizations, nations and individuals paying attention, but they are also actively strategizing to mitigate the crisis. The meeting highlighted the need for international cooperation and increased law enforcement. Lastly, there was great emphasis on the need for uniform regulation of the pharmaceuticals, in hopes that cooperation would crush the illicit market while meeting demand.

– Richard Vieira
Photo: Unsplash