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Migrant Camps in Greece
Over the past five years, Greece has struggled to accommodate the thousands of migrants arriving on its borders. Since the beginning of the migration crisis in 2015, over one million migrants have arrived in Greece in order to seek asylum in the European Union (EU). While many have traveled onward to stay in other European countries, large numbers have remained in migrant camps in Greece. The nation has struggled under this pressure.

Greece’s location makes it a prime port of entry for incoming migrants. However, the country has recently been accused of refusing to accommodate refugees due to overcrowded migrant camps. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this situation, as Greece has struggled to maintain a high standard of sanitation and healthcare within migrant camps. The EU and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are working to improve the situation and support Greece.

Who Are the Newest Migrants?

The refugees currently arriving to migrant camps in Greece originate from countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Palestine and Syria. Fleeing war-torn countries, oppressive regimes and extreme poverty, they travel through Turkey and Northern Africa, risking their lives to seek asylum in Europe. Greece has become a hotspot for arrivals since the start of the migration crisis. The nation acts as a European port of entry due to its geographic location near Africa and Turkey.

Turkey also worsened the situation by announcing in March 2020 that Europe is open for asylum seekers and urging migrants to travel to Greece. These declarations came in response to the EU not providing funding for Turkey’s own refugee arrivals. In response to Turkey’s statements, Greece declared that it would not accept illegal immigrants and vowed that it would protect Europe’s external borders. However, Turkey does not qualify as a safe third country and therefore, according to EU law, Greece should not return migrants to Turkey. This situation has increased pressure on Greece to accept and support increasing numbers of migrants. No new deal between Turkey and the EU has been reached yet.

Greece’s Actions

In August 2020, Greece was accused of refusing over 1,000 asylum seekers that arrived from Turkey by sea, turning them away in rafts. Pushbacks at land borders and police brutality have also been reported in the last year. These actions go against the EU’s laws regarding respect for human rights. It also goes against the obligation to not return asylum seekers to dangerous environments. The Greek government denies these allegations, suggesting that Turkey is responsible for conducting a misinformation campaign to diminish Greece’s credibility.

However, credible footage and interviewed victims have recently added to the mounting evidence that Greece is not upholding the standard of human rights required by the EU. To ensure the protection of human rights and those of asylum seekers, the UNHCR is currently investigating reports of Greece’s abandonment of migrants. The organization is also supporting migrants’ rights within migrant camps in Greece.

Migrant Camps and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions of the thousands of migrants currently located in migrant camps in Greece, on both the mainland and the islands. Greece’s measures have generally been beneficial in controlling the spread of the virus; however, the migrant camps lack specialized sanitation and healthcare and have become increasingly overcrowded since arrivals spiked in early 2020. These circumstances contribute to an environment that is particularly susceptible to the spread of COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, the Greek government has tightened restrictions on the movement of migrants in camps. Major outbreaks within the camps have been prevented, but some camps, like those in Moria and Lesbos, have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and imposed strict lockdown measures to avoid spreading the virus. The camps are also routinely providing thorough health checks. Furthermore, in an effort to address the overcrowding of migrant camps, officials have been relocating migrants to hotels or apartments, which sometimes reduces the availability of public services.

In Search of Solutions

Greece’s migrant crisis has continued since 2015 and has recently been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, tensions with Turkey and an increase in asylum seekers. Despite the country’s best efforts to control the situation, migrant camps in Greece are under extreme pressure.

In September 2020, UNHCR officials visited Greece to assess the situation and create a plan to help Greece cope, focusing especially on accommodation and the COVID-19 response within migrant camps. The UNHCR is now working with Greek authorities to implement accommodation transitions and cash-based assistance programs. It is also calling upon the EU and its member states to increase their support for Greece through financial assistance and the relocation of asylum-seekers.

Through these measures, Greece’s new and current migrants are receiving support until the EU can provide increased assistance. Solving the migrant crisis in the long-term, however, will require coordinated efforts between the EU, surrounding nations and humanitarian organizations.

Angelica Smyrnios
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in LatviaLatvia is a small country in the Baltic region with a population of fewer than 2 million people. The republic was under Soviet control from 1940 until it gained its independence in 1991. Latvia has made noticeable progress increasing its life expectancy rate at birth over the last few decades from 70.2 years in 2000 to 74.8 years in 2015. However, the country is currently undergoing major demographic shifts. While its birth rate is decreasing, its death rate is high, ranked fourth in the world. In addition to various public health threats, the healthcare system in Latvia is grappling with significant challenges that affect its efficiency and quality. Here are five things to know about Healthcare in Latvia

5 Things to Know About Healthcare in Latvia

  1. Several indicators show that the public health profile in Latvia is relatively weak in relation to comparable countries. For instance, the country’s life expectancy in 2015 was the third-lowest among EU countries. In the same year, Latvia had the highest notification rate of Hepatitis C in the EU. In 2014, adult obesity levels were at 21%, placing Latvia third among EU countries.
  2. Latvia spends less than similar countries on healthcare. In 2015, the country spent only 5.8% of its GDP, equal to €1,071 per capita. This falls considerably below the EU average of 9.9%. These statistics showcase the lingering challenges of the country’s underfunded healthcare system. Physician and hospital bed density rates also provide clarity in this respect. In 2017, Latvia had 3.19 physicians and 5.6 beds per 1,000 people.
  3. Obesity, smoking and heavy drinking are major poor health trends in Latvia. In 2015, the average Latvian adult consumed 10.8 liters of alcohol. Furthermore, 20% of adults in the country heavily consume alcohol regularly, with men being the greater consumers than women. In addition, one in four adults in the country smoked daily in 2014. This is a higher percentage than the EU average of 21%.
  4. Healthcare in Lativa has undergone many reforms since the country gained independence in 1991. In 2011, the country created a National Health Service (NHS)-type system. The NHS controls the implementation of healthcare policies, while the Ministry of Health develops policies and oversees the system. Though all citizens receive coverage through the system, patients still have to pay for user charges and other significant out-of-pocket costs. In 2014, Latvia ranked second among EU nations in its household out-of-pocket expenses to health expenditures ratio, which was 39%.
  5. A Latvian individual’s likelihood of exposure to poor health outcomes depends on his social and economic status. For instance, according to the European Health Interview Survey, more than 3% of Latvians have asthma. People from lower-education and lower-income backgrounds are the most susceptible group. Inequalities also emerge with regard to perceptions of health among Latvians. Approximately one-third of Latvians from low-income backgrounds claim to be in good health, in contrast to two-thirds from high-income backgrounds. Similarly, access to healthcare varies depending on location. Those living in rural areas may face greater difficulty accessing health services owing to shortages of medical professionals in these areas.

Based on these facts, it is clear that healthcare in Latvia needs critical adjustments in order to improve the country’s health profile. Not only is Latvia’s spending on this sector very low compared to other EU nations, but problems like obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption signal an urgent need for improvement. Ensuring equal access is also an important goal for the country to strive toward.

Oumaima Jaayfer
Photo: Pxfuel

foreign aidAs the COVID-19 pandemic spread over the world, so did foreign aid in many forms. Countries were sending masks, money, equipment and even healthcare professionals. Despite suffering from the effects of the pandemic themselves, China, Taiwan and South Korea all contributed to providing 16 countries around the world, including in Europe and Asia.  Even the U.S. became among those who were aid recipients when a shipment of masks and equipment from Russia arrived in April 2020. Perhaps most notably, Italy received foreign assistance from the U.S., China, Cuba and Russia among other countries.

Concerns About Aid Effectiveness

A common misconception regarding aid is that developed countries rarely benefit from foreign aid. Studies have shown that most Americans think the U.S. spends too much on foreign aid. Moreover, many aid opponents argue that aid is ineffective, costly and creates dependence.

Even Africans, who receive 20% of U.S. aid, have raised concerns about aid effectiveness. In 2002, Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade, said “I’ve never seen a country develop itself through aid or credit. Countries that have developed—in Europe, America, Japan, Asian countries like Taiwan, Korea and Singapore—have all believed in free markets. There is no mystery there. Africa took the wrong road after independence.”

Foreign Aid to Developed Countries

The pandemic has shown that strong relations and aid are necessary for countries to overcome economic and healthcare challenges. Foreign aid has a complicated history, but many developed countries were recipients of aid in the past and still benefit from it in many ways.

Italy received around $240 billion in aid from the E.U. during the pandemic. If a similar aid package was given to Sub-Saharan Africa, it could provide primary healthcare to every African. If used to relieve food insecurity, $240 billion could end world hunger by 2030. That is not to say that foreign aid to developing countries should come at the expense of the recovery of developed countries. But contextualizing the funding helps demonstrate what foreign aid could do if distributed equally.

During the destruction of Notre Dame in Paris, France received $950 million in total from donations globally. The White House also pledged to help rebuild France, a year after announcing a reduction to the foreign aid budget. When it comes to aid, the question is not whether to provide it or not—it is about who to provide it to.

Foreign Aid to Developing Countries

Contrary to popular belief, the developing world does not receive nearly enough aid. The average Sub-Saharan African country receives less than $1 billion in aid annually. Following the Ebola outbreak in 2013 – a crisis that is most notably remembered for U.S. involvement – the WHO received around $460 million to help affected West African countries. The World Bank estimated that the outbreak cost $2.2 billion for these countries.

As African and Latin American countries see their first huge waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now crucial that the U.S. and other countries continue to increase their foreign aid budget to help these nations recover. In addition to the pandemic, most developing countries are dealing with food insecurity as well as continuing political and civil unrest. Although aid alone will not resolve all these issues, it can alleviate the impact of the crisis. By being aid recipients themselves, Western and European countries can understand the importance of foreign assistance and take the necessary steps to help those in need.

– Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr

North MacedoniaThe historical town of Skopje, North Macedonia (pictured above) may soon see an economic boom. The recently named North Macedonia commits to achieving the economic goals set in place to join the European Union. Furthermore, a recent parliamentary majority win by the Social Democratic Union Party promises to open trade throughout the country and improve the lives of North Macedonia’s diverse population.

Historical Disputes & Political Corruption

Skopje shares a long-standing history with the bordering country of Bulgaria and celebrates the same national heroes as well. Bulgaria, a current EU member, seeks to compromise on these issues before North Macedonia is allowed to enter the EU, claiming, “… [Bulgaria] has been piling pressure on Skopje for concessions with regard to what the two sides now call ‘shared history.”’

Since the Social Democratic Party’s majority win, the leftist party known as Levica promises to fight against the recognition of Kosovo and new trade agreements with Greece. Levica is asserting pressure on the majority party with claims of political corruption and embezzlement from former leader Nikola Gruevski. However, new laws adopted as preconditions to enter the EU include a crackdown on corrupt politicians and practices — ensuring that public prosecution and ethical legislation will remain protected in government spaces. Albanians represent the second largest ethnic group in North Macedonia but lack proper representation in government. Although the Democratic Union for Integration is largely Albanian, this ethnic population holds little power in parliament but great influence in public spaces as a majority vote.

North Macedonia Joins NATO

The goal of the Social Democratic Union Party, broadly speaking, is to improve the lives of citizens in North Macedonia. The party aims to achieve this through new agreements and membership with NATO. With their induction in late March 2020, the flag of North Macedonia now sways high in Mons, Belgium and Norfolk, Virginia — two Allied Command Headquarters. Jens Stolenberg, Secretary-General stated, “North Macedonia is now part of the NATO family, a family of thirty nations and almost one billion people. A family based on the certainty that, no matter what challenges we face, we are all stronger and safer together.”

The Peace Corps in North Macedonia

International relations in North Macedonia continue to improve through a partnership with the Peace Corps. Since 2015, the population living on less than $5.50 per day has reduced by 8%. As a result of foreign investment through educational programs, improved housing infrastructure and healthcare — only 4% of North Macedonia’s population live on less than $1.90 per day.

Grant writing, funding from the E.U. and other independent organizations act as a liaison when government funding is not provided to rural towns. Through the Peace Corps, Northern Macedonians have the opportunity to learn English and engage in community-building activities. Some of these activities include business administration skills and special events, geared towards learning. The Peace Corps is not only interested in providing relief but also space for communities to incentivize growth and opportunity — with the ultimate goal being increasing education and employment rates.

The Macedonia Country Fund is another example of a Peace Corps initiative that supports sustainable projects for Northern Macedonia. “These projects focus on youth, education, community development, and people with disabilities.” Through partnership initiatives and foreign support, North Macedonia seems to be headed on an upward trajectory.

Natalie Williams
Photo: Flickr

BrexitJanuary 31, 2020, was a historic day for the European Union, for it marks the day the United Kingdom left the Union based on a public vote (referendum) held in June 2016. Seventeen point four million citizens opted for Brexit in 2016 and, after several negotiations and talks, the U.K. is now the first former member of the European Union. An important and large-scale decision such as this has the ability to distort economic stability greatly.

Trade

The EU is the world’s largest single market that allows free trade among all its members. It is also responsible for negotiating trade policies on behalf of its members, establishing a single, strong voice throughout various negotiations. Since Britain is no longer a member, it must create its own suitable trade policies with the countries it wishes to trade within the Union. Britain also needs to negotiate for its own demands. It was projected that the U.K. stood to lose $32 billion after Brexit, with no trade agreement in place between the U.K. and the EU. Losses incurred are more likely to increase as the EU accounts for nearly 46% of the U.K.’s exports. Researchers project that Ireland’s exports to Britain may drop by at least 10%. This creates a serious trade imbalance and hence contributes to the national deficit of the nation.

Food Poverty

British citizens consume a significant amount of imported food. Brexit could lead to a rise in food poverty, as about 30% of food is imported from the EU and 11% is from countries whose trade policies were negotiated by the EU. Since there is no trade policy in place, food insecurity is bound to rise. Food prices will likely rise 6% by June 2020, according to researchers. Overall, an increase in food poverty may be on the horizon.

Immigration

The U.K. had announced that post-Brexit only highly skilled immigrants will be able to secure jobs and the additional requirements have already created an impact on the economy. Immigrants mostly work low-skilled jobs and the implementation of this policy has already lead to shortages. At least one in 11 posts are vacant. Also, immigrants occupy nearly one-sixth (140,000) of the 840,000 care worker jobs. The new regulations will soon prompt vacancies and greatly affect people with disabilities and the elderly.

The Potential Solutions

Trade talks between the U.K. and the EU are taking place effectively. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed a “Canada-style free trade agreement” which the EU is prepared to accept, given the fact that the agreement would demand no tariffs or quotas from them. This shows that negotiations are productive and that the U.K. is trying to cause very little disturbance to the economy. Aware of its reliance on imports from the EU, the U.K. has opted for a mutually beneficial free trade agreement. As the cost of imports and exports are reduced, the trade imbalances are corrected. This in turn will influence food poverty as the general price levels will decrease and imported food will become affordable.

Additionally, there are multiple organizations and government schemes that help combat food poverty in the U.K. For example, The Trussell Trust and other independent foodbanks have distributed nearly 3 million food packages between 2018 and 2019. The organization Healthy Start allows the purchase of basic food necessities for pregnant women and mothers with infants.

What Are the Benefits of Brexit for the UK?

The U.K. is free to trade with other nations such as Japan, the U.S. and India without EU restrictions. This will stimulate growth in all nations involved in possible free trade and help tackle domestic issues, such as unemployment and hunger. Effective trading can lead to increased employment opportunities and better living standards.

The U.K. has given almost half a trillion pounds to the EU to be a member of the bloc. The amount the U.K. will save is significant enough to be directed at rising food insecurity, short-term deficit and unemployment. The U.K. is also able to craft specific policies to suit its needs instead of being subject to the ones crafted by the EU. The ability to do this helps the U.K. and other nations involved, as all policies will be tailored to be mutually beneficial and appropriate.

Overall, Brexit is a challenge. It is difficult to adjust to and likely poses serious threats to economic stability in the near future. However, this is only a short-term issue. Once the transition period is over, a structured agreement between the E.U. and the U.K. will help their economies regain stability.

 Mridula Divakar
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Cyprus
Cyprus is an island country in the Mediterranean Sea, just south of Turkey, with a population of 1.2 million. The Republic of Cyprus, the country’s only internationally recognized government and part of the European Union, controls 60% of the southern region of the island. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus controls 36% of land in the north region of the island. The division between the North and South republics of Cyprus has created a power struggle of high tension, leaving the island politically unstable. Despite this instability, Cyprus has seen an improvement in decreasing poverty rates, as well as an expanding economy. Here are seven facts about poverty in Cyprus.

7 Facts About Poverty in Cyprus

  1. Cyprus’s economy is growing and expanding. Its tourism sector saw a significant boost in 2018 when over four million travelers visited the island, a 7.8% increase from 2017. This increase in tourism correlates to its increase in GDP per capita, rising from 25,957.85 to 28,341.05 in 2018. Experts expect Cyprus’s GDP per capita to increase even more in 2020, with models estimating a 1.03% increase.
  2. When Cyprus gained independence in 1960, it began transitioning to a service economy. Cyprus’s economy started focusing more on its tourism and service sectors instead of agriculture. This allowed the GDP to rise. As of 2020, Cyprus’s GDP is $34.5 billion, a 3.9% growth since 2019.
  3. Cyprus’s unemployment rate has decreased. With the expansion of Cyprus’s economy came more jobs in the tourism and service sectors. As a result, unemployment rates have decreased.  Since 2015, the country has cut its unemployment rate almost in half, from 14.91% in 2015 to 7.92% in 2019.
  4. Education in Cyprus is growing. Today, Cyprus has five private universities and three public ones. Both are rapidly expanding and connecting with other institutions across the globe. These schools continuously put millions of dollars back into the local economy, thus, providing thousands of jobs for the community.
  5. Life-expectancy is increasing in Cyprus. As of 2020, the island’s life expectancy is 81.05 years, a 0.19% increase from 2019. Future projections from U.N. data predict a continuous upward trend.
  6. Cyprus does not have a standard minimum wage law for all workers. However, some occupations do have certain wage requirements set by the cabinet. These requirements are reviewed and revised annually in an effort to be fair to citizens. Since there is no countrywide minimum wage, however, this leaves room for many disparities in poverty and wealth.
  7. The Economic Interdependence Project is a partnership between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Cyprus Chambers of Commerce. Created in 2009, the project’s goal is to intervene and encourage partnerships between businesses of both parties. The project hopes to reveal the benefits of the two communities working together to improve Cyprus’s economic stability and growth. They have been able to open the first island-wide business directory with over 200 businesses. Additionally, the project also gave Market Research Grants to some businesses. 

Despite Cyprus’s political tensions between the southern and northern regions, the country has expanded its economy, increased tourism and implemented programs that encourage business relationships. These factors have allowed for an overall decrease in poverty in Cyprus. Hopefully, this progress will continue in the coming years.

– George Hashemi 
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Eliminate Poverty in Germany
Germany’s economy is booming. Since reunification, the unemployment rate has steadily decreased and Germany has turned itself into one of the richest countries in Europe. Nonetheless, poverty in Germany remains a potent issue. In 2017, more than 15% of people in Germany were impoverished. Here is some information about the country’s poverty rates as well as its plan to eliminate poverty in Germany.

The Rise of Poverty in Germany

According to the European Union’s (E.U.) standards, the number of individuals living in poverty in Germany is continuously increasing. In 1995, 12% of Germans were making wages that qualified them as at risk of or living in poverty. By 2014, that number had risen to approximately 16%. As of 2017, approximately 19% of people in Germany were at risk of living in poverty. Over 15% were already living below the poverty line. The Institute of German Economic and Social Research defined the poverty line as a 60% median net income.

The above percentages only represent households in Germany and do not include those living in refugee camps who may be experiencing poverty. As of 2018, Germany had more than 1 million refugees living within its borders.

Despite the country’s economic success in manufacturing and trade with the E.U., Germany’s poverty rate continues to reach record highs year after year. While the economic boom helps the country in certain ways, the benefits oftentimes do not reach the impoverished. People living in poverty often lack the resources necessary to escape impoverishment. Though new jobs are available, the wages are generally meager, while the profit tends to go to those who are already wealthy. Many attribute the rising poverty rate in Germany to the exploitation of the poor.

Unequal Poverty Across Germany

Impoverishment does not affect all regions of Germany equally. Southern Germany, the least impoverished area of the country, still has a poverty rate of about 12%. The region with the highest poverty rate, the North, has a poverty rate of a staggering 18%. Additionally, the North also experiences the highest poverty growth rate.

This inequality is largely attributed to the Ruhr region, a highly industrial area in Northern Germany. The Ruhr is the most densely populated region in the country, with production focusing largely on coal, steel and chemical manufacturing. During World War I and World War II, the Allied bombing destroyed nearly 75% of the region. Since then, Northern Germany has experienced long term impoverishment that continues to contribute to the growing poverty rate.

Solutions

Despite the growing rate of poverty, the country is aware of the issue and is actively working to eliminate poverty in Germany. The country is continuously creating more jobs and working towards a stronger economy. Additionally, Germany also raised its minimum wage in 2015 to 8.50 euros an hour. Experts believe that this increase in the minimum wage helped approximately 4 million people grow their wealth. The country has also strengthened support for vocational training in an attempt to increase the amount of employed low-skilled workers. Germany is aware of the economic inequality facing many of its citizens and is working hard to create more policies that help the poor escape poverty’s clutches.

Poverty in Germany is a pertinent issue. Despite the country’s wealth and economic growth, the rate of poverty continues to rise, consistently reaching new highs every year. Although the issue of impoverishment may seem overwhelming, the German government continues to persist and develop programs designed to eliminate poverty in Germany.

– Paige Musgrave 
Photo: Flickr

Sanitation in Bulgaria
Situated on the west coast of the Black Sea, Bulgaria has continually struggled to secure basic services for its people. An improvement came when Bulgaria entered the European Union in 2007. Amid this positive step, however, it became clear that Bulgaria’s wastewater treatment and sanitation system was below E.U. standards. The latest situational analysis on equal access to water sanitation in Bulgaria shows that there are 10 significant areas for improvement. Bulgaria must address these issues in order to ensure pure water and high-quality sanitation to the entire country. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Bulgaria.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Bulgaria

  1. The water and sanitation network in Bulgaria is decades old. Iskar is the largest reservoir in Bulgaria. Located near the country’s capital, Sofia, it collects about 675 million cubic meters of water. Built in 1954, it is one of the oldest reservoirs. Bulgaria built most of its water network between the 50s and the late 80s. In 1990, however, the political regime changed from communism to democracy and the new government abandoned all infrastructure projects. As a result, one-third of Bulgarians suddenly lacked a reliable water supply and sewage network.
  2. Bulgaria does not recycle its wastewater. Even though two-thirds of the Bulgarian population has access to a wastewater network, only 57 percent possess access to a wastewater treatment plant. This means that large amounts of household water do not receive treatment and households reuse it. In other words, Bulgaria does not engage in the recycling of wastewater. This is not the case in other European countries such as Germany, Belgium and Spain, where recycled water goes towards agriculture, groundwater recharge and ecological enhancement.
  3. Bulgaria’s water supply pipes contain asbestos-cement. The World Bank reports that Bulgaria’s existing water network is extremely outdated. On average, water supply pipes in Bulgaria are 36 years old and most comprise of asbestos-cement. The majority of developed countries have discontinued the use of asbestos in building materials, due to its cancer-causing properties. Several developing countries, however, continue to use asbestos-containing materials. Moreover, Bulgaria’s non-revenue water rate—water that is produced and then lost or unaccounted for before it reaches the desired target— is close to 60 percent, resulting in an even more unstable water supply network.
  4. People suffer from water rationing. As a result of outdated water networks, lack of strategic wastewater collection and expenditure in treatment systems, a significant number of people suffer from seasonal water rationing and lack of sanitation. The people in the North-East regions of Bulgaria suffer the most. They experience frequent water rationing throughout the year and high prices of water supply and sanitation. Additionally, 37 percent of the population does not have access to wastewater treatment. Furthermore, 24 percent of the population lives in areas with no wastewater collection systems at all. These staggering statistics require significant funding to ensure that water quality and sanitation services comply with the requirements of the E.U. directives.
  5. Most Bulgarians in rural areas do not have access to sanitation. According to the National Statistical Institute, 25 percent of Bulgarians, the majority of whom live in rural areas, do not have access to sanitation. These areas spread to 81 percent of the country’s territory and 39 percent (as of 2014) of the population, meaning that most of these regions also lack adequate sewage disposal. The Special Accession Program for Agricultural and Rural Development (SAPARD), the Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession (ISPA) and the Operational program for rural development funded centralized sewerage systems in a number of rural areas. While considered a positive step, the funding ultimately only benefited villages with municipal centers.
  6. Roma communities suffer the most from the lack of proper sanitation. Bulgaria’s compliance with the E.U. standards proved a difficult task in 2007 and, unfortunately, this challenge still continues today. The overall lack of balance between living conditions in rural and urban areas, as well as a lack of public policies regarding living conditions, enhance the challenge. For example, Bulgaria does not possess a national policy for addressing illegal neighborhoods (ghettos). These mostly Roma-populated neighborhoods do not possess access to centralized sewerage systems, water treatment plants 0r wastewater tanks. The National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria on Roma Inclusion (2012-2020), a document that Bulgaria implemented from 2012 to 2020, seeks to improve the quality of life of vulnerable groups and promote their full inclusion in society. While the document grants Roma families access to public social housing, the measure falls short of solving the problem in its entirety. It ultimately leaves more than 400,000 people in Roma ghettos.
  7. Masterplans for water and sanitation services are corrupt. A situational analysis on equal access to water and sanitation in Bulgaria states that: “Financial mechanisms have been subject to significant trade in influence and corruption, so the investments have achieved very low efficiency.” Experts from the Earth Forever Foundation made a comparative analysis of the validity of the data used in the masterplans for sustainable water and sanitation services in three villages in Central Bulgaria. The analysis revealed that the regional plans provide inadequate wastewater removal. Furthermore, the regional plans utilize treatment measures that not only fail to comply with legislation but also stubbornly remain unaffordable for the general population.
  8. Bulgaria and the World Bank are collaborating to solve water supply and sanitation problems. To tackle these problem areas, the government voted on a new ambitious plan regarding the water supply and sanitation issues. In 2016, the Bulgarian government and the World Bank worked together on the Country Partnership Framework for Bulgaria. The document focuses on the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of essential public service delivery, including improved water supply and sanitation.
  9. Approximately 99 percent of Bulgarians have access to a clean water supply. Thanks to the collaborative efforts, Bulgaria now shows significant improvements. According to the latest report from the Ministry of Regional Development, centralized water supply now spans 99 percent of Bulgaria. At present, a centralized water supply covers 5,000 towns and villages. Currently, only two areas do not receive full coverage from the central water supply. In response to those two areas, the government has created a strategy to cover the needs of the outstanding 1 percent. A new law, part of the next strategic plan (2024-2033), seeks to further improve the country’s sanitation network.
  10. Bulgarian schools teach clean water supply and sanitation. To educate the new generations, Regulation No. 13 of 21.09.2016 on Civil, Health, Environmental and Intercultural Education included new topics in Bulgarian public school curriculum. Subjects added include healthy lifestyles, water usage and conservation, waste/water waste management and composting. Designed to help students recognize the importance of nature conservation, these subjects focus on water pollution reduction, clean water preservation and recycling.

Over the last 13 years, Bulgaria has exhibited slow, yet promising progress towards achieving the U.N. goals for universal access to water and sanitation. The country continues to strive to comply with the E.U. standards for clean water supplies and wastewater treatment. The new challenge for Bulgaria is to establish baseline measures for the fairness of access to water and sanitation through the Equitable Access Score-Card, a process of self-assessment. This self-assessment focuses on “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all” and “access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations” by 2030.

Olga Uzunova
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Sanitation in Albania
Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Today, 40 percent of its households lack basic education, heat and sanitation, and only 50 percent in both rural and urban areas have access to safe drinking water. Albania is located in southeastern Europe with neighboring countries Montenegro, Kosovo and Greece. The population estimates just over 3 million people. Albania became free from communist rule and later established a multiparty democracy holding its first multiparty election in 1991. Albania joined NATO in 2009 and became a candidate to join the European Union in 2014. In 2017, Albania received a European Commission recommendation to open EU accession negotiations. The unemployment rate has steadily decreased from 13.6 percent in 2017 to 11.4 in 2019. To learn more about its sanitation issues, here are 10 facts about sanitation in Albania.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Albania

  1. Basic sanitation services are increasing. People living in the rural section of Albania are using basic sanitation services, which is nearly a 15 percent increase from its lowest value of 82.19 percent in 2000. That means these people are using basic services that other households do not share.
  2. Sanitation conditions have grabbed the EU’s Attention. Since achieving the candidacy of the EU in 2014, Albania has made a commitment to bring its water and sanitation sector up to EU standards. The Albanian government has implemented numerous reforms, already reducing municipalities and local authorities from 300 to 61. The government is also progressively decentralizing public services, which means more decision-making responsibilities have gone to local governments and public authorities.
  3. National service providers are improving commercial and technical expertise. Albania’s water sector institutions are in cooperation with the National Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy. This partnership gives the project an outreach that extends to all cities to help communication flow between water users and the public with the institution using an online customer portal for service providers.
  4. Albania has resources for fresh water. Albania is a small country with over 150 rivers, including streams and lakes. Ninety-five percent discharge into the Adriatic Sea and only 5 percent of rivers go into the Ionian Sea. There are two periods of water flow during a calendar year. The shorter dry period runs from June through September. The wet period spans from October through May.
  5. The European Union supports clean water supply in Albania. In 2018, the EU contributed a 24 million euro grant to Albania. In the last 10 years, the grant support to its water supply exceeded 110 million euros. A large percentage of the grant goes to wastewater collections and treatment in Albania coastal regions.
  6. Albanian schools are promoting personal hygiene. A health fair occurred as part of the Vechan School Water Project and it included local nurses, students, the Red Cross and the local State Health Department. The project resulted in renovating and reconstructing bathrooms and plumbing to improve the conditions of the school due to damages from clogged toilets and sinks without running water or sinks running dirty water. The health fair gave lessons in personal hygiene to young students. It also tested students for diabetes and gave blood pressure checks. Following the fair, local experts, students and school staff took on the assistance in reconstructing the school.
  7. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) students provide data to remedy water issues in Albania. Each year, 24 WPI students go to Albania to work in four-person groups on six projects to address topics that include the water issues and how to solve them. These projects include documenting environmental conditions along major rivers, developing a water education program for Albanian high schools and promoting community-based tourism in villages that have previously inaccessible caves.
  8. The Albanian Water Regulatory Authority and Consumer Protection Commission developed a partnership to alleviate water and sanitation issues. The Water Regulatory Authority and Consumer Protection Commission have created a model contract between providers of water and sewerage services and their customers. The intent of the contract is to protect consumers’ interests with provisions for consumer protection and Albania’s water and environmental resources. This addresses issues concerning the access and quality of water and sanitation. This also educates both parties on ways to improve the quality of water and sanitation services.
  9. The Western Balkan Investment Framework (WBIF) supports water supply and sanitation services among other needs for Albania. The WBIF has supported 30 projects that value up to 2 billion euros which provide better schools, energy sources, modern sanitation services and supply water for its sectors eligible for rebuilding and renovation. The achieved results include wastewater systems for over 260,000 people with expectations to exceed another 100,000, in addition to improved waste services to 180,000.
  10. Water Charity contributes to rebuilding sanitation efforts in Albania. Water Charity has started a program to work on 100 water projects in Albania, including 10 school bathroom projects. The program falls under the Let Girls Learn Initiative. It is a collaborative effort from former First Lady Michelle Obama and the Peace Corps, which expands access to education for girls around the world.

Efforts from organizations in these 10 facts about sanitation in Albania have been exemplary for aiding Albania’s sanitation efforts overall. Thanks to multiple team efforts, Albania is optimistic about its conditions and overall health concerns. With more work ahead, this country is on its way to reaching EU potential.

Thomas Cintula
Photo: UN Multimedia

Public Health Crisis in Syria
Syria has been the target of one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching sanctions campaigns worldwide. The U.S., the EU, the U.N., the Arab League, OFAC and several other entities have all applied economic sanctions against the country. The goal is to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his brutal violence against unarmed, civilian anti-government protesters. U.S. sanctions are also in response to the Syrian government’s support for terrorist groups and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Imposing these restrictive measures has been the preferred method of Western powers for decades. However, sanctions have continuously failed to stop Assad from doing business with the U.S. and hurt the Syrian public.

Sanctions’ Impact on Syria’s Economy

Sanctions have caused serious damage to Syria’s economy. These sanctions include oil embargos, restrictions on certain investments, travel bans, freezing the assets of central banks and export restrictions on equipment and technology. The country used to be primarily an exporter, but it now relies on imports, mainly from Lebanon, Iraq and China. Before the EU sanctions, 90 percent of its oil exports went to Germany, Italy and France. Since President Trump recently imposed sanctions on its ally Iran, Syria is suffering even more difficulty obtaining goods. The value of the Syrian currency has plummeted, while prices have sky-rocketed, especially because of restrictions on oil imports.

To continue prioritizing the purchase of guns and bombs from Russia, the Syrian government has simply removed the country’s safety nets. Further, the country has cut back on subsidized fuel, food and health spending. Living was less expensive for Syrians during the peak of the civil war. Technically, legitimate businesses and individuals in Syria should be able to undertake critical transactions. However, foreign suppliers are often unwilling to send anything to Syria. These suppliers do not want to risk triggering unexpected violations of the complex sanction rules.

Sanctions and the Public Health Crisis in Syria

Similarly, there are exemptions for importing pharmaceuticals and food. But in reality, health facilities are feeling the effects of sanctions just as much as the rest of Syria’s private citizens, with life-threatening consequences. The consequences of these sanctions have led to a significant public health crisis in Syria. For example, hospitals cannot import nitrous oxide necessary for anesthetics, due to the fact that others could use it to make bombs. Also, they cannot import helium for cooling MRI scanners for the same reason. The humanitarian exemption for exporting software to Syria for medical equipment requires a complicated application process. Thus, health facilities have little access to foreign life-saving machines, drugs and supplies.

Unable to obtain repairs for European dialysis machines, about 10 percent of people dependent on dialysis have died of kidney failure. Russia, China, Lebanon or Malaysia must now provide medical supplies rather than the EU. This further slows down the process and delays the treatment of those with chronic illnesses. Cancer medication, insulin and anesthetics are among the medications Syria relies on imports for. Now, there are shortages of these medicines, as well as in specific antibiotics, serums, intravenous fluids and some vaccines. This has resulted in delayed treatment for cancer and leukemia patients. The government’s health care budget cuts since the civil war began, combined with the detrimental effects of sanctions, have made most imported medicines unaffordable. Finally, only 44 percent of hospitals are now fully functioning and many of them have closed.

The Real Impact of Sanctions

Meanwhile, President Assad’s policies of violence against his people have not changed. The Syrian government, which still carries out million-dollar deals with the U.S. and other countries that applied sanctions, seems to have found ways to circumvent the sanctions and remain largely unaffected. Assad claims that the sanctions are simply creating more refugees. As the inefficiency of sanctions to reduce human rights violations and their drastic effect on public health becomes increasingly clear, Western powers should rethink their policy of sanctions on Syria.

Sarah Newgarden
Photo: Flickr