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Russia’s AIDS EpidemicAmid a global pandemic, Russia is fighting a medical war on two fronts; as Russia deals with the spread of COVID-19, Russia’s AIDS epidemic is worsening. As the HIV  infection rate continues to decline in the rest of Europe, the transmission rate of HIV in Russia has been increasing by 10 to 15% yearly. This increase in transmission is comparable to the yearly increase in transmission of HIV in the United States in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The AIDS Epidemic in Russia

Among other factors, the erosion of effective sexual health education and a rise in the use of opioids has led to a stark increase in the transmission of HIV/AIDS in Russia. The epidemic of AIDS in Russia has received little attention from the Russian Government and the international community, partly because of the nation’s social orthodoxy and the stigma surrounding drug use and HIV/AIDS.

The Silent Spread of HIV

A significant number of Russians infected with HIV are those who inject drugs. Roughly 2.3% (1.8 million) of Russian adults inject drugs, making Russia the nation in Eastern Europe with the highest population of those who inject drugs. Due to the stigma associated with drug use as well as the threat of harsh criminal punishment, few drug users who have been affected by HIV seek treatment. A study from the Society for the Study of Addiction found that in St. Petersburg only one in 10 Russians who inject drugs and are living with HIV currently access treatment.

A large part of the stigma surrounding AIDS in Russia comes from the return of traditionalism to the Russian government following the election of Vladamir Putin in 2012 and the strong connection between the traditionalist Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Government. The Orthodox Church, in particular, has blocked efforts to instate sex education programs in schools and campaigns to give easier access to safe sex tools like condoms. While methadone is used worldwide to treat opioid addiction to lower the use of drug injection and therefore HIV transmission, the Russian Government has banned methadone. Any person caught supplying methadone faces up to 20 years in prison.

HIV During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Studies conducted during 2020 have shown that Russians living with HIV and AIDS have faced difficulties in accessing treatment. According to UNAIDS, 4% of Russians living with HIV reported missing medical treatment due to the pandemic and roughly 30% of respondents reported that their treatment was somehow impacted by the pandemic.

The same study found that HIV-positive Russians had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis at a rate four times higher than HIV-negative Russians. However, HIV-positive Russians were less likely to seek medical attention for COVID-19 despite the high health risks, such as a weaker immune system that can accompany HIV. More Russians are contracting HIV yearly but the stigma of living with HIV is preventing HIV-positive Russians from seeking medical treatment.

Destigmatizing HIV/AIDs in Russia

With little national attention paid to the epidemic of AIDS in Russia, the movement for change has come from individuals looking to give visibility to and destigmatize HIV/AIDS. In 2015, after television news anchor, Pavel Lobkov, announced on-air that he had been living with AIDS since 2003, Russian doctors including Lobkov’s own doctor, saw a surge in people seeking HIV tests and treatment. In a nation where AIDS is highly stigmatized, a national celebrity showing that one can live a normal life with AIDS brought comfort to many Russians living with HIV/AIDS.

More Russians living with HIV/AIDS have made efforts to shed light on Russia’s HIV epidemic and destigmatize HIV to the public as well as in the medical community. Patients in Control, a nongovernmental organization run by two HIV-positive Russians, Tatiana Vinogradova and Andrey Skvortsov, set up posters around St. Petersburg that read “People with HIV are just like you and me,” and encourage HIV-positive Russians to seek antiretroviral treatment. HIV-positive Russians like Skvortsov and Vinogradova are trying to bring national attention to a health crisis that is seldom discussed, hoping to create a national conversation and put pressure on Russian officials to take action on the worsening epidemic.

A Call for Urgent Action

HIV-positive Russians and AIDS activists like Skvortsov have argued that until the Russian Government puts forth an “urgent, full forced response” to Russia’s AIDS epidemic, the rate of transmission will continue to climb. Many Russians on the ground are making public campaigns to destigmatize and normalize living with HIV, hoping to persuade the government to take action.

In 2018 alone, AIDS took the lives of 37,000 people across Russia. As of May 2020, more than 340,000 Russians have died of AIDS. While the social atmosphere of Russia, influenced by Putin’s government and the Orthodox Church, has created a shroud of secrecy and shame surrounding the AIDS epidemic, many HIV-positive Russians hope that the intensity of the epidemic will force the Russian Government to make a concerted effort to address Russia’s AIDS epidemic.

Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

lunik IXAn uncomfortable reality is that there are many children in the world who do not have essentials such as food, water, electricity and a safe, sheltered home. This is the reality for the people living in Lunik IX in Slovakia.

Roma People in Lunik IX

There a several reasons why Lunik IX is an area that is neglected and overlooked by Slovakia. One is due to the large population of Roma people, a minority group unfairly discriminated against and long labeled as a reason for many problems in the country. The slum mostly consists of Roma people who lack the very things they need to rise out of poverty. The Roma population’s 97% unemployment rate is the biggest reason for poverty in the area. Many try to get jobs but are denied them purely based on their ethnicity.

This, as a result, heavily impacts children in Lunik IX. Their parents cannot provide for them, forcing them to live in a rundown area where there is little to no electricity and basic needs go unfulfilled. There is also little opportunity for them to break the cycle of poverty. All these issues have made the area a seemingly hopeless place for many of the children who live there.

Recreational Developments in Lunik IX

In the past few years, significant progress has been made in Lunik IX to improve living conditions for people. For one, there have been a lot of projects built purely for the purpose of giving children safe spaces to play in instead of playing in garbage and rubble. A gym, ping pong tables, a playground and a park have all been built, giving the residents safe recreational spaces. While these seem like small solutions to big problems, these spaces allow kids to be kids. The children of Lunik IX do not live typical childhoods and these projects allow them to engage in children’s play activities.

Other Key Developments in Lunik IX

Three important new developments in the area are the implementation of regular garbage disposal, the establishment of clean drinking water facilities and new construction projects. Lunik IX has been long plagued with poorly disposed of trash and a regular garbage disposal system eliminates this problem entirely. This alone can improve the health of people tenfold, as many of the diseases they face arise from unsanitary living conditions.

Clean drinking water is a necessity and it is something that Lunik IX lacks. There are plans for the reconstruction of water pipes with a prepaid system, which will ensure nobody accumulates debt from water payments.

Newer construction efforts are on track to solve the decay of many buildings and the lack of employment opportunities. Many of the newer buildings can be worked by residents, allowing them to have jobs they have previously been denied based on ethnicity.

Despite Lunik IX’s reputation as on of Europe’s worst slums, efforts are being made to change this and improve living conditions for the people.

– Remy Desai-Patel
Photo: Flickr

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

The Link Between Air Pollution and Poverty

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

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

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

The Struggle for Clean Air in Poland

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

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

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

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

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

Goals of the European Environment Agency’s Report

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

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

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

Combating Air Pollution’s Disproportionate Effect on the Poor

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

– Laney Pope
Photo: Flickr 

Healthcare in MonacoWith nearly 40,000 people, Monaco is one of five European micro-states and is located on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Monaco has one of the best global healthcare schemes. The World Health Organization established that an individual born in 2003 can expect to have, on average, the longest lifespan in Europe. The country also has the third-highest proportion of doctors for its population in Europe.

Healthcare Education in Monaco

Leaders in Monaco believe that prevention and screening are essential to maintaining health and it is customary for young people to access comprehensive health education. This education aims to promote high-quality lifestyles and prevent early-risk behavior, such as tobacco use, drug addictions and sexually transmitted diseases.

Caisses Sociales de Monaco (CSM)

The Caisses Sociales de Monaco (CSM) is the official agency responsible for supervising Monaco’s public health service. Public healthcare automatically covers all citizens and long-term residents who contribute to the agency. French and Italian citizens may also access public health facilities in Monaco upon evidence of regular contributions to their home country’s state healthcare scheme. Foreign visitors can receive health treatment at all public hospitals and clinics. However, without state insurance contributions, travelers and expatriates will be forced to pay for all healthcare expenses accrued from treatment.

Public Healthcare Coverage

Public healthcare insurance operates through reimbursements, so an individual who plans on using coverage provided by the CSM will be required to make up-front payments and then claim costs back. After joining the public healthcare system, an individual receives a card that provides access to medical and dental care. The card contains administrative information necessary to refund medical care.

The public healthcare system provides coverage for inpatient and outpatient hospitalization, prescribed medications, treatment by specialists, pregnancy and childbirth and rehabilitation. Some prescription drugs are also reimbursed through the CSM and emergency care is available to everyone at Princess Grace Hospital, one of three public hospitals. The hospital will be reconstructed to strengthen the complementary nature of all the hospitals in Monoco.

Out-of-Pocket Healthcare Costs

Out-of-pocket healthcare costs in Monaco are high and if the CSM fails to provide sufficient coverage, an individual may supplement with private insurance. Private health insurance is a tool for individuals who want to cover medical services and fees not paid for by the public healthcare system. Doctors fund privately-paid equipment and staff through private contributions. According to an article from Hello Monaco, most Monaco citizens take out extra private insurance to cover ancillary services and unpaid rates.

A Commendable Healthcare System in Monaco

Every resident in Monaco is eligible for public health insurance but private health insurance remains an option for those interested in more coverage. Healthcare in Monaco earned outstanding reviews from the OECD and officials continue to seek improvements by reconstructing medical buildings and providing health education for young people.

– Rachel Durling
Photo: Flickr

Extreme Poverty in MoldovaFrom 1999 to 2015, Moldova went from a 36% extreme poverty rate to zero, effectively ending extreme poverty in Moldova. By analyzing Moldova’s poverty reduction strategies, organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank can form a blueprint to fight extreme poverty globally.

IMF Focus on Poverty Reduction

In 2000, the IMF instituted a three-pronged approach for ending extreme poverty in Moldova, which involved major reforms in governance and the public sector. Economic development, healthcare changes, educational developments and social safety nets were the primary focus to kickstart growth in the country.

  • The IMF’s focus on economic development revolved around public spending and lack of private business. Aside from ensuring fiscal responsibility from the government, government retirement plans and debt were swallowing the countries budgetary resources. The IMF advised Moldova to revise its tax system to be more equitable while strengthening its private sector by easing regulations and tax burdens on small and medium businesses.
  • Education was a foundational part of the reform process. The IMF ensured Moldova improved its education system through guidance from the World Bank. The primary focus was on improving education standards and increase the availability of secondary education to needy students.
  • The health sector developed more substantial healthcare access to reduce long-term expenses and to involve the private sector.
  • Developing better social safety nets was a key pillar for the IMF in Moldova. Most importantly, the goal of the program is to keep children out of poverty. This included food security and funding to access human development services. Also on the agenda was reforming the nation’s pension system to protect aging populations.

Impact of Changes in Moldova

These changes were to be implemented by no later than 2003 and most changes are ongoing. How well did the changes work? In 2000, Moldova’s GDP per capita was at $1,439 and by 2019 the GDP per capita rose to $3,715, doubling the nation’s economic growth. The secondary education enrollment rate was 48% in 1999 and grew to an 86% enrollment rate by 2019. Though absolute poverty remains high, these strategies were instrumental in ending extreme poverty in Moldova. Even by 2006, the extreme poverty rate was down to 4.5%.

The World Bank’s Evaluation

The World Bank processed an analysis from 2007 to 2014 using data to determine how ending extreme poverty in Moldova was effective. Compared to most of Europe, Moldova is still impoverished, but extreme poverty no longer plagued the country by 2014. There were four primary factors that the World Bank determined to be the cause of this success. Economic expansion, advanced opportunities for workers, better retirement fiscal responsibility for aging populations and international work being funneled back into Moldova’s economy, were the most effective tools for alleviating extreme poverty.

  • Despite a setback during the financial crisis in 2009, Moldova has seen steady GDP growth up until the COVID-19 pandemic. Of significant note is that Moldova showed continued growth rather than ups and downs experienced in most impoverished nations. Moldova’s commitment to attaining the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals and effectively using guidance from the World Bank and IMF are reasons for this growth. Responsible governance and low corruption were instrumental in ending extreme poverty in Moldova.
  • Moldova’s workforce lowered from 2007 to 2014, primarily due to migration; however, wage growth was significant in jobs outside of the agricultural sector. Growth in food processing, manufacturing and ICT industry jobs increased wages exponentially, while the agricultural sector still struggled. These higher-skill jobs are attributable to the country’s focus on improving secondary education access, as outlined by the IMF, providing upward mobility.
  • Responsible pension disbursement was a chief agent for ending extreme poverty in Moldova. The significant increase in distributions to aging rural citizens living in extreme poverty was an essential investment by Moldova’s government.
  • The World Bank also found that after the economic crisis, remittances from Moldovan migrant workers sent back disposable income. Most of these migrants were from low-income rural areas of Moldova. From 2007 to 2014, rural households’ disposable income from migrant transfers rose from 16% to 23%. In Moldova, remittances played a considerable role in poverty reduction.

Using Moldova as a Blueprint Worldwide

Evaluating the success in ending extreme poverty in Moldova helps pave the way to implement similar strategies globally. So, what is the blueprint for ending extreme poverty?

  • The most crucial aspect is government accountability and a strong commitment to attain Millennium Development Goals. Strong oversight to prevent corruption and ensure fiscal responsibility to follow through with plans laid out by organizations like the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF.
  • A commitment to make secondary education more accessible, especially in rural areas, advances what a nation’s workforce is capable of and helps create job and wage growth.
  • Protecting vulnerable populations by distributing funds where they are most needed reduces extreme poverty.
  • The success of remittances in Moldova is a necessary imperative. An analysis across countries worldwide shows the significant poverty reduction effects of remittances

Ending Extreme Poverty by 2030

The U.N. aims to end extreme poverty by 2030, and when looking at Moldova’s success, it is not an outrageously unrealistic goal. With fiscal oversight, dedication to protecting the impoverished and the world’s willingness to engage, extreme poverty can be eradicated.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: pxfuel

Europe 2020 strategy on povertyEach decade the European Union (EU) establishes an agenda to achieve goals for growth and social well-being. For the previous decade, the EU strategy focused on “smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” led by advancements in five main areas: employment, R&D and innovation, climate change and energy, education, poverty and exclusion. These five factors were essential in strengthening the EU economy. It also prepared the EU’s economic structure for the challenges of the next decade.

The Europe 2020 strategy set the target of lifting “at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty.” To achieve this, the EU’s agenda included actions in stimulating education programs and employment opportunities. These actions aim to help Europeans at risk of poverty develop new skillsets. They also help Europeans find jobs that position them better in society.

For the last 10 years, poverty reduction has been a key policy component of the EU. In 2008, Europe had 116.1 million people at risk of poverty. As a result, EU members sought to reduce the number of poor Europeans to less than 96.1 million by 2020. Yet, as of 2017, the number of people at risk of poverty had only decreased to 113 million. So, what were the challenges that kept the EU from achieving its goal?

Employment in Rural Areas

The main tools the Europe 2020 strategy relied on greater access to education. Eurostat research shows that employment is crucial for ensuring adequate living standards. Furthermore, it provides the necessary base for people to live a better life. Although the EU labor market has consistently shown positive dynamics, the rates didn’t meet the Europe 2020 strategy target employment rate of 75 percent, especially in the rural areas. Jobless young people in rural Europe make up more than 30 percent of people at risk of poverty. As a result, the lack of new job openings and career paths in rural areas hindered individuals from escaping poverty and social exclusion.

Local Governance and Application of EU Strategic Policies

According to reports from 2014, the EU’s anti-poverty strategy was interpreted differently in every country. There is no common definition of poverty across all 27 member states. Therefore, the number of people at risk and their demographics vary. Moreover, EU policies were not implemented in all countries equally. Regional administrations and rural mayors are responsible for implementing EU anti-poverty policies. This localized approach resulted in a lack of coordination that was needed to correctly and efficiently realize the EU’s tools and strategies.

Education: The Winning Strategy Against Poverty

Despite these challenges, the EU showed that poverty can be addressed through education. Seen as key drivers for prosperity and welfare, education and training lie at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy. Since higher educational attainment improves employability, which in turn reduces poverty, the EU interlinked educational targets with all other Europe 2020 goals. The Europe 2020 strategy did in fact achieve its goal of reducing the rates of people leaving education early to less than 10 percent in several EU countries. It also increased the number of workers having completed tertiary education to at least 40 percent. Both of these goals provide reasonable evidence of downsizing the risk of poverty by providing access to education.

Today, upper secondary education is the minimum desired educational attainment level for EU citizens. A lack of secondary education presents a severe obstacle to economic growth and employment in an era of rapid technological progress, intense global competition and specialized labor markets. Europeans at risk of poverty profit the most when given access to secondary education because it provides a path to staying active in society and learning marketable skills. The longer young people from rural areas pursue academic goals, the higher the chances of employment.

Moving Forward

As the Europe 2020 strategy showed, universal access to education has the potential to impact poverty across the European Union. Gaining new skillsets is one of the best ways to provide Europeans at risk of poverty and social exclusion with more opportunities for development and prospects for a better life.

– Olga Uzunova 
Photo: Flickr

Cryptocurrency in Bulgaria

In the years following the fall of the Eastern Bloc, Bulgaria still struggles in comparison with the rest of Europe. As of 2016, the government of Bulgaria reported that an estimated 23.4 percent of its population lived below the poverty line, while as of 2017 the unemployed constituted around 6.2 percent of the population. Bulgaria also happens to have the lowest annual salary, minimum wage and average pension amount in Europe, while also suffering high rates of outmigration, governmental corruption and overall mortality. Though these problems may appear overwhelming, the use of cryptocurrency in Bulgaria provides a means by which steps may be taken to mitigate these issues.

Fundamentals of Cryptocurrency

As a medium of exchange, cryptocurrency by its very nature expedites humanitarian aid to distressed regions. This is because it sidesteps the need for a financial institution as an intermediary between grantor and recipient, thus providing a means of direct payment for potentially large amounts. The realities of governmental and organizational corruption and incompetence that hinder international aid may be entirely evaded, resulting in more effective and efficient aid conveyance even to the most turbulent locations.

Furthermore, an estimated 40 percent of adults, mostly residing in the developing world, face impediments to the formation of a financial identity that may appear nearly insurmountable. However, cryptocurrency provides an alternative means by which people without easy access to financial institutions or who lack sufficient capital to open a bank account may establish a financial identity and improve their chances of escaping poverty. Moreover, despite the market volatility of cryptocurrency in Bulgaria and throughout the world, it provides a fairly stable alternative compared to entrusting one’s assets in banks and other financial institutions. Savings stored as cryptocurrency are less likely to be subject to the vicissitudes of inflation, corrupt governments and asset appropriation.

How an NGO Uses Cryptocurrency in Bulgaria

The BitHope Foundation, an NGO established by Vladislav Dramaliev, provides a global crowdfunding platform for humanitarian initiatives. As the first charitable platform of its kind established on the basis of cryptocurrency in Bulgaria, it seeks to facilitate NGOs and individuals alike in their fundraising efforts. This organization hopes to incentivize businesses that accept cryptocurrency to invest in these causes, which will further bolster the public impression and acceptance of cryptocurrency as a legitimate medium of exchange.

Many crowdfunding campaigns hosted through the BitHope Foundation’s website are considered to be humanitarian successes in Bulgaria. For instance, the “Support Burgas Municipality After the Floods” campaign raised €1,749 in cryptocurrency or approximately $1,925, in response to floods that damaged parts of Burgas municipality, a region of Bulgaria on the Black Sea coast. These charitable contributions went toward the purchase of household needs including refrigerators and microwave ovens for those affected by the floods.

Specific Campaigns by BitHope

  • “Every Child Deserves A Holiday” aimed to raise charitable funds for families living below the poverty line, raising €588 or approximately $647, in cryptocurrency.
  • The “Support Positive and Character Education” campaign, which raised the equivalent of €786 (approximately $865), sought funding for programs designed to inspire children and parents to persist with schooling regardless of what predicaments may arise.
  • The “Sports Charity League” campaign enabled the funding of sports competitions for children and adolescents, after raising a cryptocurrency total of €1,522 or $1,674.
  • The 2017 funding campaign “Preeclampsia? I want to know” raised €1,132 ($1,373) for the acquisition of biomedical tests for use in screening pregnant women without charge for the potentially serious medical condition preeclampsia.
  • Also in 2017, a campaign called “Hope for Mental Health” accrued €358 ($434) in funds to assist mentally disabled children and adults in obtaining health care.

BitHope in the Present

These successes emerged in spite of numerous impediments standing in the way of using cryptocurrency in Bulgaria. Besides a global decline in the total market cap of cryptocurrency from $604 billion to $131 billion in 2018, the Bulgarian government persists throughout 2019 in its refusal to allow cryptocurrency-based organizations to open a bank account for the storage of cryptocurrency. Although this complicates the withdrawal of funds, the cryptocurrency conversion process, accounting, tax payments and payments to internet service providers, such difficulties have made the BitHope Foundation more resilient in its fight to address humanitarian issues in Bulgaria.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

African Immigration to Spain
While Eastern and Central Europe have been dealing with the brunt of the refugee crisis—thanks to conflicts in Syria and the rest of the Middle East—Western Europe is far from unaffected. However, a large number of immigrants in Spain originate from West Africa, and they come to Spain for a variety of different reasons; both as refugees, and in search of economic opportunity unavailable to them in their home countries. This article takes a look at the causes of African immigration to Spain, as well as the living conditions immigrants experience in their new host country.

Five Questions and Answers

1. Why are People from Western and Central Africa Leaving their Home Countries?

The short answer is a variety of reasons. While the overall volume of immigrants to Europe has dropped to pre-2015 levels, African immigration to Spain is still spurred by more than just garden-variety economic migration—though that certainly still plays a large role. The reasons for migration vary greatly by gender, with most men emigrating for economic reasons while most women are leaving due to threats of violence.

2. Why Spain?

Spain has a labor shortage and is more welcoming to migrants than other European countries. While geography is a major factor in emigration from Spain to Africa (the Strait of Gibraltar is slightly over seven nautical miles from the African mainland to Spain), Spain has—until very recently—been a notable exception to the anti-immigrant sentiment overtaking much of Europe. The current Spanish government is center-left, with over 80 percent of adult poll respondents saying that they would be in favor of taking in irregular refugees. New agricultural sectors in the south of Spain—mainly greenhouse farming—have also created an unskilled economy that few Spaniards find attractive, but looks promising to refugees.

3. How do Immigrants get There?

Refugees arrive in Spain either by the Spanish enclaves in Morocco or the dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean. The most immediate destination for African immigration to Spain is the enclave city of Ceuta, which is politically Spanish and geographically Moroccan but is governed more or less autonomously, like Catalonia or the Basque Country. Some also arrive via ship, in the infamously choppy Mediterranean. The first decision of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s administration was to admit the Aquarius, a ship of more than 600 migrants, into Spain after Italy turned it away.

4. What Kind of Life is Waiting for Immigrants Once they Arrive?

“Nobody talks about what it’s really like.” Many of the African migrants in Spain live in the southern regions, doing seasonal agricultural work. This is especially true for the men who emigrated to Spain for economic reasons, trying to send money back home to their loved ones. Despite the supposed greater economic opportunity that comes from a Eurozone nation, many of the African migrants in Spain live in ramshackle chabolas, makeshift shacks comprised of wood and plastic leftover from agricultural scrap. In these settlements, more migrants have mobile phones than access to a toilet or kitchen.

5. Is Spain’s Generosity Towards Migrants Coming to an End?

The short answer is yes. The majority of African immigration to Spain comes through Morocco and the Strait of Gibraltar, but the path of many migrants does not end there. Recently, Spain has come under fire from other European leaders for being the exception to an otherwise-ubiquitous tight border policy, which has put pressure on the Spanish government to somehow stem the tide. In response, Spain has outsourced its border security to Morocco, the country that processes most migrants to Spain. This has alarmed left-leaning political groups and human rights NGOs, who claim that Morocco’s human rights record is inadequate.

While Spain has upheld the Sanchez government’s initial promise of being more accepting of migrants, large-scale African immigration to Spain and pressure from other European leaders has prompted a tightening of the flow of migrants through Morocco and the Mediterranean. While the conditions African migrants find in Spain are far from luxurious, the work is good enough for them to continue to migrate. What Spain ultimately decides to do in regard to the influx of immigrants from Africa could either continue to serve as a lone exception to the rest of Europe or join the continent in its increasing anxiety over immigration.

– Rob Sprankle
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Countries Contributing to Foreign AidIn February, the U.N. declared that 109 million people were in critical circumstances. In other words, international assistance is more important than ever. Countries around the world are fighting to alleviate global poverty, but some are doing a better job than others. Read further to find out which nations make the list for the top 10 countries contributing to foreign aid.

Top 10 Countries Contributing to Foreign Aid

  1. Luxembourg – Even though it is one of the smallest countries in the world, Luxembourg is a world leader in foreign aid. In 1970, the U.N. urged wealthy nations to contribute 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) to foreign aid. Luxembourg was the second country to achieve this goal. Today, the government invests 1.07 percent of its GNI to foreign aid.
  2. Sweden – Contributing 1.04 percent of its GNI to international development, Sweden landed itself at the top of this list in 1974. In 2018, it was still considered the largest donor when taking into account the size of its economy. The Swedish government expects to spend nearly $6 billion on foreign aid by the end of 2019. Primary concerns regarding foreign aid include agriculture, education, global health and nutrition.
  3. United Kingdom – In 2017, the U.K. spent more than 14 billion pounds on international assistance. The largest recipient of this aid was Pakistan followed by Ethiopia and Nigeria. The majority of funding is donated to humanitarian projects. Approximately 64 percent of aid is sent directly via bilateral organizations. The remaining percentage is distributed indirectly via organizations like the U.N.
  4. Norway – In 2018, Norway revised its foreign aid policies. In the new outline, the government mandates that at least 1 percent of its GNI is spent on international assistance. The proposal also focuses on health and education as its chief concerns.
  5. Ireland – In July 2018, Ireland relaunched a new foreign aid policy aptly named A Better World. One of the primary goals of this policy is to ensure that 0.7 percent of the GNI is spent on international development. It is estimated that this target will be met by 2030. Furthermore, the policy emphasizes climate action, gender equality and strengthened governance. For female education alone, the country has committed to spending 250 euros within the next five years.
  6. Japan – Japan is the largest contributor to foreign aid in Asia. In 2018, the country donated $14.2 billion. Japan has publicly committed to using the official development assistance (ODA) for guidance in future development.
  7. Canada – Unlike other countries, Canada has taken a unique feminist approach. Its foreign aid policy uses feminism as its core value. By promoting the success of women around the world, Canada hopes to create a more equal balance in power. The country believes that an increase in women’s rights would lead to other areas of progression, such as a more inclusive government and representation for minorities.
  8. France – Within the past year, France has committed to enhancing its foreign aid policy. Currently, the country donates 0.43 percent of its GNI to foreign aid. However, by the year 2022, the French government aims to increase this level to 0.55 percent. The primary objective of this increase is to aid in international stability.
  9. Finland – In just the first part of 2019, Finland has already administered 68.35 million euros in foreign assistance. The government distributes its finances through a process that includes evaluating the extent of a crisis, assessing how many deaths and illnesses have occurred and recording the percentage of the population affected by the issue. Finland also prioritizes its aid to countries that have formally submitted a request to the U.N.
  10. United States of America – Last but not least on the list for the top 10 countries contributing to foreign aid is the U.S. The current American aid system was created in 1961. However, disputes surrounding U.S. investment have increased in recent years. President Trump has repeatedly fought for cuts in the budget while others advocate for the amount to be raised. In 2016, the U.S. contributed approximately $49 billion in foreign assistance.

Ultimately, there is still a lot of work to be done. With millions of people in crisis, it is important that the wealthiest nations help combat the issues that plague the poorest. If not for humanitarian reasons, foreign aid can help elite nations by increasing the global economy and infrastructure. When looking at success stories like China (which once was a U.S. aid recipient but now a financial leader), one can understand the impact of international assistance.

Photo: Flickr

child poverty in spain
Since the end of Spain’s economic recession in 2014, the country is the largest grower in the EU, with a GDP almost twice that of the average European country. Despite a six-year recession that impacted both the entire population and other countries in the Eurozone, the economy seems to have recovered. However, despite Spain’s economic recovery, the rate and likelihood of children in poverty have increased exponentially. Curiosity arises as to how an issue like poverty could arise in a country as developed as Spain.

The Problem

The rise of child poverty in Spain despite the recovery of the economy seems counterintuitive. However, studies show that one in three children are likely to be impoverished or socially excluded, according to the EU’s latest figures. As the results of their studies show, Spanish children are not only encumbered by a lack of income, but also lack of socialization, meaning that child poverty in Spain is multidimensional; this means a lack of proper education, nutrition, future employment, and social time on top of the financial crisis that has remained in many middle and low-class families despite the national economic recovery. Impoverished families are unable to prevent their children from reaching the same fate because the turn of the recession has resulted in a job market that provides no opportunity for even the most qualified candidates.

This issue is most dominant in middle and low-class families, and the middle class is already dangerously small. The trademark economic concept of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is true in the Spanish socioeconomic classes and results in the stretching and thinning of the middle class. These larger socioeconomic effects are only symptoms of child poverty in Spain. The reason why the focus of the recession is on children is that they are the most at-risk demographic; when parents are impacted, it extends to their children.

The Larger Issue

Child poverty in Spain has adverse effects on the rest of society, including senior citizens, young adults, and parents. The growing number of impoverished children puts pressure on the social pension systems that account for one of the fastest aging populations in Europe. Children trapped in poverty will grow to be adults who remain reliant on social and governmental assistance. Many young adults avoided higher education due to attractive employment opportunities before the recession, leaving a large population of eager, unaccredited workers in a job market that no longer needs it. Because of the lack of opportunity in the job market, parents are reliant on unemployment benefits or the pension of their parents.

Effects of The Problem

Because child poverty in Spain is a multidimensional issue, the effects correspond to their complexity. In terms of education, Spain has experienced a drop out rate 23 percent higher than the EU average since the beginning of the recession in 2008. In general, Spain’s dropout and unemployment rates are high, specifically among those of disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

Studies show that even very brief bursts of intense poverty can impact child development for the rest of their lives. Economists and child development specialists predict that if this poverty persists, the adults of the future will have been stunted in their development due to their reliance on pensions.

What Is Being Done?

Even Sevilla, the fifth most populated city in Spain and a huge tourist destination, falls victim to increasing child poverty rates. There are many gaps in the welfare system that are unaccounted for, which are essential to the development of children. For example, because of limited monthly income but the need to continue to feed their children, families are buying enough food for everyone, but without the necessary nutrients for developing bodies. As such, children in Spain aren’t necessarily hungry, they are impoverished. So, NGOs like Save the Children fill in the gaps in children’s diets by providing nutrient-rich meals.

Save the Children works in several domains that benefit the needs of at-risk or impoverished Spanish children, including nutrition, health and education. By filling in the dietary and academic gaps in these children’s lives, their families will have some security. In 2014, Save the Children reached 14,889 children and 5,635 adults through programs that combat educational poverty, social exclusion, and workshops that prevent the issue from furthering. The hope is that as the recovery continues, economic reform will result in a balancing of socioeconomic classes and the disparity will vanish. Until then, NGOs like Save the Children will continue to try and cover up the remaining holes in the system left by the recession in the hopes that the children they serve will grow up to lead a generation where poverty is the exception, not the expectation.

Hope for The Future

Child poverty is a major issue because these children will grow up to be the leaders of their nation. The increased rate of child poverty in Spain is an alarming problem that is fueled by an economic crisis and a weak social infrastructure. Child poverty in Spain is different than in other countries. Spanish children are not poor in the traditional sense. They are fed and have access to education. The nature of poverty is more nuanced than a lack of resources. Children in Spain are fed, yet malnourished, have access to school, but often drop out. The other key issue is the lack of socialization among peers. However, with NGOs like Save the Children who provide programs to areas in need, this issue can perhaps be alleviated. With directed efforts towards these specific problems and programs that are tailored towards the specific nature of these issues, child poverty can be eradicated, securing Spain’s future prosperity.

Andrew Yang
Photo: Flickr