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Fighting for Women’s Rights in PolandPoland’s government is abandoning its commitment to fighting for women’s rights in Poland by pursuing to withdraw from its violence against women treaty. Zbigniew Ziobro, Poland’s justice minister, introduced a petition in July 2020 calling for Poland’s withdrawal from the landmark treaty.

Abandoning the Violence Against Women Treaty

Known as the Istanbul Convention, the treaty aimed at protecting women and girls from violence. Populist and nationalist governments target the Istanbul Convention, arguing it threatens “traditional families” for violence against women embedded within cultural traditions.

The head of the Law and Order party, otherwise known as PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, is the final judge of government policy and has publically stated that Poland must avoid Western values in order to maintain its traditional, Catholic culture.

Caroline Hickson, the Regional Director at International Planned Parenthood Europe, has mentioned women’s rights in Poland are “at stake as their support systems are taken apart through relentless attacks.” She adds that “women will be completely abandoned by the State with no safety net.”
Human rights activists and high-ranking politicians within Europe are fighting this proposition to abandon the treaty. Polish MEP Sylwia Spurek remarked last year that the new European Commission was “a year wasted both for human rights, for the rule of law and for the climate.”

Spurek has thus transferred to the Greens group in the European Parliament (the EU’s law-making branch), promoting the Greens’ progressive role within parliament. Spurek believes that all women in every European country must be guaranteed their rights regardless of conservative rules, “no matter how politicians […] talk about counteracting violence against women.”

Fighting for Women’s Rights

Poland has a history of fighting for democracy in the past decades. MEP Terry Reintke, speaking on behalf of the Greens group, notes that “now [the group] will have someone from Poland who can represent Polish citizens in the Green group.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is resisting the ultra-conservative efforts that harm women’s rights in Poland. While the PiS government subverts women’s rights in Poland, Morawiecki instead looks to avoid further hurting ties with the European Union (EU), noting Poland must be more pragmatic about its relations within the EU in order to avoid pressure and loss of funds.

Actions to Protect Women’s Rights

The political discourse that attacks women’s rights in Poland leaves women helpless and vulnerable. Currently, constructive talks are being held by experts from Europe’s leading human rights body, a group of Council of Europe, aiming to keep the treaty in place to protect women’s rights in Poland.

The group argues the Istanbul Convention does not seek “to be traditional or modern.” Instead, the group states the treaty looks to protect women’s rights in Poland.

The European Commission is also urging Poland not to leave the Istanbul Convention. The commission is concerned with Poland’s “step backward in time,” as Dutch MEP Samira Rafaela remarks. Helena Dalli, the equality commissioner of the EU, deems the convention “is the gold standard in terms of policy” in relation to women’s rights in Poland and globally. By mid-2021, Dalli petitions to make violence against women a “eurocrime,” in which the EU would instate minimum penalties for member states.

While Poland’s government has not yet made the decision to abandon the accord, the consideration still remains. Poland’s government members, the EU and humanitarian organizations must continue to fight for women’s rights in Poland. By protecting women and girls from violence, the country can take one step closer in gender equality, security and justice.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
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

The Marshall Plan to Mobilize African Development
According to the Population Reference Bureau, Africa’s population will more than double by 2050, from 1.2 billion people to 2.5 billion. Africa already suffers from food, energy and job shortages, and its current population makes up about 17 percent of the world’s population. However, with this current growth, its population would balloon to an estimated 20 percent. As a result, Europe realizes that African development is going to have a large impact on the 21st century and that action is necessary. This action includes the Marshall Plan to mobilize African development.

The Solution

Although Africa struggles with the aforementioned shortages, it withholds 15 percent of global oil reserves. In addition, 40 percent of gold reserves and 80 percent of platinum reserves are located there. The largest expanse of agricultural land in the world is also in Africa. Based on this, Germany is spearheading the Marshall Plan initiative to mobilize African development and promote private investment on the continent. This is part of the G20 (EU in conjunction with 19 other countries). Africa currently relies on donors and other countries for support, but this new initiative will help Africa become more self-sufficient.

With the predicted population explosion, Africa must create more jobs and opportunities. To do so, the G20 needs private investment to make Africa appealing to potential investors. Other changes that will support this initiative include protecting human rights, strengthening the economy and implementing good governance. Through this, the G20 also needs to address and solve problems in Africa. These problematic elements consist of trade, arms sales to crisis areas and illicit financial flows. This will require strong international cooperation and partnerships between developed and developing countries.

The Marshall Plan includes ensuring food and water security, bolstering infrastructure, embracing digitalization, increasing access to energy, health care and education in Africa. To accomplish this, the G20 also plans to give Africa a seat on the U.N. Security Council. This will provide the country with heightened authority in international organizations and negotiations.

G20 Partnership Pillars

Partnership pillars that the Marshall Plan is prioritizing are promoting private investment, developing infrastructure and improving economic growth. Analyzing pre-existing initiatives will promote private investment. Promotion will also include tailoring country-specific measures to improve the framework, involving business and financing. Africa will develop infrastructure by expanding on pre-existing initiatives and sharing any knowledge on infrastructure investment and how to manage it and natural resources. Finally, the creation of an initiative to promote employment via skills development and training (Initiative for Rural Youth Employment) will improve economic growth.

Related Initiatives

Related initiatives include AU’s Agenda 2063, the Addis Tax Initiative, the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), the Sustainability, Security and Stability in Africa Initiative and the EU’s European External Investment Plan (EIP). For the Marshall Plan to succeed, it must fit in with the other initiatives and fill in gaps to promote change in Africa. Supporting organizations of the Marshall Plan include the African Union, the EU and the NEPAD Agency.

The Future

As of 2018, the cabinet has already passed the Marshall Plan to mobilize African development; however, it has not taken any further action yet. Experts worry that the plan could become obsolete if people have unrealistic expectations of what it will cover. A common misconception is that the plan will automatically secure peace and create jobs and growth for Africa. It is working towards that, but there is no guarantee. If action follows soon and private investment grows, Africa will be well on its way to self-sustainability.

– Nyssa Jordan
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