Water Quality in Bosnia and HerzegovinaAlthough there is an abundance of water resources, the water quality in Bosnia and Herzegovina is lacking. Access to drinkable water is far below the standards set by the European Union (EU), which rests on four pillars:

  1. Ensure that drinking water quality is controlled through standards based on the latest scientific evidence.
  2. Secure an efficient and effective monitoring, assessment and enforcement of drinking water quality.
  3. Provide the consumers with adequate, timely and appropriate information.
  4. Contribute to the broader EU water and health policy.

Currently, only about 65 percent of the country’s population has a connection to municipal or public water utilities – the average of European Union countries is 90 percent. Only large urban centers have a satisfactory supply of water, both in terms of quality and quantity. Unfortunately, the poorest and most vulnerable of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s population live in rural areas.

However, help has recently come through the implementation of 18 infrastructure projects within the “Securing Access to Water through Institutional Development and Infrastructure in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Implemented through a partnership with the nation’s own citizens, one of the goals of the program is to educate the country’s water supply companies on how to best provide for their communities.

With financing from the government of Spain and support from the Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund, the program has been able to help 55,000 people gain sustainable access to clean water. Today, disused water pipes have been replaced, returnee settlements have secured connections to sustainable water supplies, more water springs are protected and filter plants have been installed.

This has constituted an overall increase of two percent of citizens with access to clean water. Although it may not seem like much, it is a fundamental step in the right direction. Damages inflicted during the country’s recent war dealt a blow to the country’s infrastructure, as maintenance was neglected and pollution increased. Therefore, it is precisely with programs like this that water quality in Bosnia and Herzegovina will hope to see improvement.

Shannon Golden

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in AlbaniaAlbania, located on the Mediterranean Sea across from southern Italy, is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Why is Albania poor, though? It is important to discuss not only the causes of poverty in Albania, but also the standards for poverty in Albania.

After World War II, Albania became a communist state under Stalin’s regime, but was not part of the Soviet Union. In 1989, communist rule in Europe collapsed and in 1990, independent political parties in Albania formed. By 1992, the Democratic Party won elections, officially ending communist rule in Albania after 47 years.

Why is Albania poor? The country’s transition from a communist regime to a free market in a democratic republic has disrupted economic growth and has caused high levels of poverty. Most of the poverty in Albania is considered deep, whereby incomes are below minimally acceptable standards, people struggle to meet basic needs such as food, clothing and heating. Albanians face poor public services and inaccessible social services. Many citizens who do not face poverty in terms of income still are threatened by it.

The standards for poverty in rural and urban areas, however, are different based on circumstances. According to estimates from the World Bank as of 2013, 25-30 percent of Albanians in rural areas live in poverty, while about 15 percent of Albanians living in urban areas live in poverty. These statistics are relative to the conditions of the rest of Albania’s rural and urban populations.

The majority of rural families live in the mountains and the uplands. The main determinants of rural poverty are farm size, livestock holding and off-farm income. About 25 percent of the rural population lives on a farm that is too small to provide a sufficient level of subsistence.

Urban poverty has different characteristics than rural poverty. Urban poverty in Albania is concerned with the education level and the employment status of the head of the household, the number of children in a household and the number of dependent generations in a household (if there are grandparents or grandchildren). As more Albanians migrate out of rural areas into urban areas, poverty starts to become concentrated in more rural, mountainous areas.

Albania has made recent strides in poverty reduction. The country’s main production resources — agriculture and construction — have been privatized. The reduction of state involvement is especially important in agriculture, which is now mostly privately owned. Additionally, the liberalization of prices, trade and foreign exchange has helped the economy grow. The World Bank classified Albania as an upper middle-income country as of 2010. The percent of Albanians below the poverty line has decreased dramatically, from 25.4 percent of citizens in 2002 to 14.3 percent in 2012.

In 2009, Albania applied to join the European Union and was confirmed as a candidate in 2014. Albania is not expected to join the EU until 2020, however, as the EU has urged Albania to tackle corruption and organized crime, especially relating to trafficking of humans and drugs.

Though Albania has historically ranked as the poorest country in Europe, poverty in Albania is slowly starting to decrease. Albania’s transition from a post-Cold War economy into a viable EU candidate proves that this country has the potential to transition out of extreme poverty, and may no longer need to provide an answer to the question, “Why is Albania poor?”

Christiana Lano

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in FinlandFinland is a country in Europe with a population of 5.5 million. The nation borders Sweden, Norway and Russia. Despite the nation’s small population, Finland is extremely impressive on the global scale. The nation is known for high quality education, equality and a national social welfare system. The poverty rate in Finland is also among the best in the world.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines poverty rate as “the ratio of the number of people (in a given age group) whose income falls below the poverty line; taken as half the median household income of the total population.” As of 2014, Finland’s total poverty rate of .068 is the fourth best in the world, trailing Denmark, the Czech Republic and Iceland. For people under the age of 17 in poverty, Finland does even better, ranking second in the world.

The poverty rate in Finland is not among the world’s best by accident. The nation’s economy is open and transparent. It has well-maintained laws and a very low tolerance for corruption.

The nation’s many successes does not mean that everything is perfect. The economy struggled in recent years, forcing the government to take measures to bring back economic growth and reduce public debt.


Maintaining a Low Poverty Rate in Finland


Fortunately, things are already starting to turn around. In 2015, the economy grew for the first time since 2011, and that growth continued in 2016. In January of this year, Finland began a new program designed to help the nation’s people and economy. The trial, which will last for two years, will pay 2,000 randomly-selected citizens unemployment benefits of 560 euros every month.

The experiment aims to limit bureaucracy, reduce poverty and increase employment. At the moment, we cannot know for sure how effective this program will be. Critics argue that the program may encourage laziness, since people will be receiving a paycheck without working. However, there is hope that it can accomplish its goals.

Looking forward, Finland must work hard to strengthen its economy, which will include lowering labor costs and increasing demand for its exports. The population of Finland is aging and the nation is experiencing a decrease in productivity in traditional industries. All of this threatens the nation’s economy.

Nevertheless, the poverty rate in Finland is something to be admired. The country has and will continue to face many challenges, economic and otherwise, but its unique actions may be what it needs to stay ahead of the curve.

Adam Braunstein

Photo: Flickr

Cause of Poverty in GermanyOn March 14, 2003, then-German chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced Agenda 2010, a series of reforms executed by the German government. More than 10 years later Agenda 2010 is seen as one of the leading causes of poverty in Germany.

Agenda 2010 was created to accelerate economic growth, create jobs and ultimately reduce unemployment. Current data on Germany may seem to support the claim that Agenda 2010 has worked well and that perhaps isn’t one of the causes of poverty in Germany. The bureau of labor statistics sites a continual drop in unemployment, reaching a low of 3.9 percent in April 2017, and World Bank figures show a gross domestic product of $3.467 trillion for Germany in 2016.

The way Agenda 2010 achieved those results was by creating a new, flexible, exclusively part-time employment structure. The motivation was that an employed citizen was better than an unemployed one. To create this new type of temporary work, Agenda 2010 deregulated to encourage employers to hire part-time workers.

Agenda 2010 focused on getting the unemployed back to work. It also created what is known in Germany as the mini-job, a part-time employment that pays 450 euros a month tax-free. As the data shows, employers hired, and the unemployment rate dropped, but this system has caused poverty in Germany to reach its highest since reunification.

German news site DW reported a German study that classified 12.5 million Germans as poor. The poor are classified in Germany by earning less than 60 percent of the median household income, which for a single household is around 900 euros a month. Although Germans are employed, those employed in mini-jobs earn 450 euros, half of the median household income of a single household.

The Federal Agency of Statistics for Labor in Germany cites 7.5 million Germans working mini-jobs and two million Germans working two jobs. The causes of poverty in Germany can be directly linked to Agenda 2010, which created more employment opportunity while also creating a new working poor. During an interview with Euronews, Dierk Hirschel, chief economist of Verdi, spoke on the issue, “The problem we face in Germany is that one in five workers are paid less than ten euros an hour, they are the “working poor.”

Yosef Flowers

Photo: Google

Cost of Living in FinlandFinland is a Scandinavian country with a population of 5.5 million people. While known for its excellence in education and civil liberties, Finland also has a high cost of living. Near the end of the twentieth century, Finland was announced the world’s most expensive country. Fortunately, the situation has improved. Prices and the cost of living in Finland have decreased since the turn of the century.

According to calculations by the Global Property Guide, a bundle of goods and services costing one dollar in the U.S. would cost $1.03 in Finland. While this is lower than the U.K. and other Scandinavian countries, it is higher than most countries in the European continent.

While housing is usually reasonably priced, certain items drive up the cost of living in Finland. The country has a state-run monopoly on alcoholic beverages, which helps keep prices at 172 percent of the European average. Other items are similarly pricey. Food tends to cost 120 percent of the European average, which is due in part to a significant value-added tax. The average cost of a Coke or Pepsi is $2.44, while the average McDonald’s combo meal is $8.18. A gallon of milk costs about $4.10.

Finns bring home slightly more money in their paychecks than workers in the U.S. The average monthly salary in Finland is about $3,854, while the average monthly salary in the United States is $3,769.

As in most countries, the cost of living varies depending on where you live. The cost of living in the capital of Finland, Helsinki, is significantly more expensive than living in the rural areas. Housing prices in Helsinki are double the prices in the rest of Finland.

While Finns benefit from higher wages and quality education, the cost of living remains higher than in the U.S. or most European countries. Finns don’t seem to mind, though, seeing as Finland was recently ranked the fifth happiest country in the world.

Brock Hall

Human Rights in FranceLiberty, equality, fraternity. France’s national motto ensures equal liberties and rights for its people without discrimination and is a cornerstone of French democracy. As an active member of the Security Council, General Assembly, Human Rights Council and Economic and Social Council, France has a history of advocating for human rights.

However, human rights in France have been jeopardized by measures of counterterrorism accompanied by a lack of judicial regulation. The French government declared a state of emergency in November of 2015 after a series of terrorist attacks. Parliament extended the declaration until July of 2017, allowing a two-year span of infringement on human rights in France in regards to freedom of movement, privacy, security, freedom of association and even expression. Without judicial intervention, multiple accounts of infringement on freedoms without causes were reported over the two years, which mainly targeted the Muslim community in France.

During this sociopolitical trauma, the government allowed over 3,200 raids and over 350 house arrests. According to Izza Legthasa, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, “France has a responsibility to ensure public safety and try to prevent further attacks, but the police have used their new emergency powers in abusive, discriminatory, and unjustified ways. This abuse has traumatized families and tarnished reputations, leaving targets feeling like second-class citizens.”

While France should take proper precaution to avoid and prevent future terrorist attacks, the measures taken to prevent such attacks must not promote the targeting of certain demographics of the French population in the name of security.

Although 2016 was not a proud year for human rights in France, 2017 does look more promising with the inauguration of France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron. His inaugural speech ensured that “France will always make sure to be on the side of…human rights.” The policies President Macron intends to implement will protect human rights and act as a model which other European countries can apply to their own governments for the sake of protecting personal rights and liberties.

Kaitlin Hocker

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Moldova
Over the past decade, Moldova had remarkable progress in the form of economic growth, the reduction of poverty and greater shared prosperity. However, poverty in Moldova is at one of the highest rates in Europe.

The World Bank reports that Moldova’s economy had rapid growth over the past decade, with an average growth rate of 5% per year. In addition, the poverty rate dropped from 60% to 27% between 2000 and 2004 and reached 11.4% in 2014. While impressive, these data points fail to demonstrate the instability caused by the very factors that spawned this progress.

Economic growth was largely driven by an increase in private consumption. However, this does not necessarily signal that Moldova’s economic situation improved, as this growth is primarily funded by remittances. In 2014 remittances accounted for 26 percent of Moldova’s GDP and were received by more than 25% of households. The decline in employment from 55% in 2000 to 40% in 2014 further demonstrates that while Moldovans may have more money and are actively participating in the economy, the past decade’s growth was not spurred by internal progress.

Any steps taken to create such progress face significant obstacles due to spatial and cross-group inequalities as access to assets, services and economic opportunities varies greatly across the population. The lack of progress toward expanding economic opportunities within Moldova pushed many to leave the country. The lack of employment opportunities was particularly damaging to rural areas, where the slow-growing farming industry remains the primary sector. Limited access to markets and non-farm jobs fostered a system where residents of rural areas are persistently poorer.

Declining fertility and the increasing emigration of the young population left the state with a rapidly aging population and a shrinking workforce. This means that pensions, which were a significant generator of income growth over the past decade, are no longer a viable tool for lifting households from poverty.

Rural areas are home to most of the poorest 40% of Moldova’s population. Residents of these areas have significantly less education and typically have inadequate access to healthcare. Even when health services are physically accessible, many lack insurance and either refuse to pay for care or are driven further into poverty in Moldova by high out-of-pocket costs.

Many believe that the 2014 association agreement with the European Union, which opened up trade opportunities, will stimulate Moldova’s domestic economy in preparation for greater dependency on exports. However, this fails to account for the significance of Moldova’s small scale farming sector which, by design, does not have access to the same opportunities as industrial farms.

Recommendations for leveling these inequalities and avoiding economic stagnation include strengthening the domestic labor market, addressing corruption in the business environment and improving the government’s social assistance scheme. Perhaps most important is the advice of Alex Kremer, World Bank Country Manager for Moldova, who urges that “enhancing the livelihoods of small farmers is paramount” for Moldova to foster internal economic progress.

Given the persistent spatial inequalities in living conditions and the fact that agriculture accounts for such a large portion of employment, it is important to note that the causes of poverty in Moldova remain much the same as they were a decade ago. To eradicate them once and for all, Moldova must invest in its human capital by improving living conditions across the rural-urban divide and foster quality education and healthcare services.

Alena Zafonte

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Liechtenstein
Located in Central Europe, nestled between Switzerland and Austria, lies the Principality of Liechtenstein. With only 62 square miles of territory and fewer than 38,000 citizens, one might assume that the country would refuse refugees, but this is not the case. Liechtenstein has willingly taken part in helping those fleeing from war-torn and oppressive regions. Here is what you need to know about refugees in Liechtenstein:

  1. World Data has reported that, in 2016, refugees sent a total of 52 asylum applications to Liechtenstein. A total of 39 decisions were reached.
  2. In 2016, 28% of all decisions reached were positive.
  3. As of 2015, the principality already accepted six refugee families from Syria, a sum of 23 persons.
  4. In 2014, Liechtenstein spent roughly $25 million on International Refugee and Migration Assistance and Development Cooperation, as well as Emergency and Reconstruction Assistance. In 2015, such expenditures were expected to increase significantly.
  5. Lichtenstein declared a willingness to participate in the EU relocation programs, not out of obligation, but out of its humanitarian tradition.
  6. The crown prince of Liechtenstein stated that, although they are willing to accept refugees, the principality must also “protect its culture.”
  7. Ambassador Fritsche of Liechtenstein stated that its small municipality is probably not a target for refugees because the country is not well-known. He theorized that this might be because Liechtenstein is not a full EU member.
  8. In 2015, it was made clear that if the principality did not allow refugees in Liechtenstein, the state would be booted out of the Dublin agreement, a cornerstone of asylum laws in the EU.
  9. Liechtenstein acceded to the Geneva Convention of 1951 and the Protocol of 1967, the world’s more recognized laws on refugees.
  10. Liechtenstein’s government protects against the expulsion of refugees in cases where their “lives or freedom” might be threatened.

Although Liechtenstein is a relatively small principality, their willingness to host refugees sets a clear example for nations around the world. Today, refugees in Liechtenstein are adjusting to a new way of life in a foreign land. In the future, perhaps they will come to call the country home.

Shannon Golden
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Belarus
Belarus, formerly a part of the Soviet Union, has dealt with external and internal oppression for decades. Alexander Lukashenko has been the president for 23 years and has held a tight grip on the country. Widely regarded as Europe’s last dictatorship, the government maintains power through intimidating those who would oppose them. Lukashenko controls a police force that is still referred to as the KGB, and political freedoms are stifled. Human rights in Belarus are often oppressed by the totalitarian government.

Activists working for human rights in Belarus are often arrested on baseless charges, and journalists endure oppressive sanctions and harassment. It is illegal to join an organization that is not formally registered with the government, and it is very difficult for groups not associated with the government to receive permission to register.

Last year, the European Union removed the sanctions meant to improve human rights in Belarus because Lukashenko released several prisoners who had been held unjustly. In October, Belarus created a plan to reduce human rights violations, but many critics say it is not specific enough to adequately improve the situation.

In March 2017, the police arrested almost 1,000 people who were peacefully protesting a law that taxes every citizen not working full-time. The suppression of this protest stands out as the worst human rights violation since the unjust election in 2010.

Belarus has also reinstated the death penalty and has executed several people without permission from the U.N. Human Rights Council. The next time the council meets, the country will endure a thorough evaluation and the U.N. will likely decide to take action to intervene on behalf of human rights in Belarus.

The EU has stated that it will not continue to support Belarus if the country continues to violate human rights. This move is meant to force Belarus to improve conditions, as its economy is largely dependent on imports from other countries.

Belarus does not meet the standards of human rights required for European countries by the U.N., but the events of the past couple years have shone a spotlight on the government’s misdemeanors. This spotlight has renewed the EU and U.N. focus on improving human rights in Belarus, and their work should improve conditions in the next decade.

Julia Mccartney

10 Facts About Belarussian Refugees
World War I was a massive turning point in the history of Belarus. Affecting the local economy, the war caused massive migration and displacement. Throughout the almost-century since then, the collapse of the Russian Empire, revolutions, various occupations and wars, Belarus has struggled to establish itself as an independent state. Belarus’s independence has been recognized globally since 1991.

Today, the country’s population is 84% Belarusian, 8.3% Russian, 3% Polish and 1.7% Ukrainian. Other ethnic groups in Belarus include Tatars, Jews and Roma. Over three million Belarusians live outside the country, most of them in Russia, Ukraine, Canada and the United States.

Here are 9 facts about Belarusian refugees:

  1. There were several waves of Belarusian refugees into the U.S. The first was before the Russian Revolution, then between 1919 and 1939 from West Belarus, then from the late 1940 to the early 1950s (after World War II), with the most recent wave of refugees coming after the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s.
  2. On March 28, 1928, 104 families moved to Birobidzhan from Belarus. The city in Siberia, near the Chinese border, became an administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast by a decision of the Communist Party.
  3. In the post-World War II period, from 1948 to the early 1950s, about 50,000 Belarusians fled to the U.S. Most of them left states all over Europe for political reasons.
  4. The largest concentrations of Belarusian Americans are in the metropolitan New York area, New Jersey, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Detroit.
  5. More than 340 Belarusian refugees resettled in Minnesota during the years 2003-2015.
  6. According to data made available to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) by asylum countries, the number of Belarusian refugees seeking asylum in 29 of the most industrialized countries in the world has increased dramatically since 2000. The number of cases of Belarusian refugees and asylum-seekers has grown from 3,291 in 2000 to 6,480 in 2010, peaking in 2006 at 11,062.
  7. Volha Charnysh, a Ph.D. candidate in Government at Harvard University and executive editor of the Belarus Digest, found that more people from Belarus seek asylum elsewhere than people from Kyrgyzstan or Russia when taking differences in population size into account.
  8. In her article “Belarus Produces More Refugees Than It Saves” published in 2014, Charnish explained that many Belarusians obtain refugees status or seek asylum for political and social reasons, as political activists are often encouraged to go into exile.
  9. The Chernobyl disaster changed Belarusian migration patterns in the 1980s. Following the accident, where a majority of the nuclear fallout landed in Belarus, many Belarusian natives resettled internationally.

Belarusian refugees are resettling in the EU, the U.S., Australia, Canada and Russia. The latest wave of refugees consists mostly of professionals – software and other engineers, scientists, students and athletes.

Yana Emets

Photo: Flickr