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Data Privacy in AfricaIn the developed regions of the world, data privacy has been a topic of public discourse for some time. From the European Union’s adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to smaller laws that have passed in many U.S. states, the developed world has recognized that data privacy laws are important to modern digital society. Now, as the burgeoning tech industries in many developing countries push them into fast-paced versions of the West’s digital revolution, many developing countries are also beginning to put similar laws into effect. In particular, data privacy in Africa has become a major concern as the region steps into the digital age.

Data Privacy in Africa

In June of 2019, leaders from across Africa gathered in Ghana for the groundbreaking Africa International Data Protection and Privacy Conference. At this conference, African leaders such as Ghanaian Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Right to Privacy Joe Cannataci, and Chairperson of the Information Regulator of South Africa Pansy Tlakula spoke about ways to advance data privacy in Africa. Topics ranged from convincing African nations to fall in step with international laws about data privacy to integrating data privacy laws with religious groups in Africa.

This conference came at a crucial time in the development of data privacy in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa alone is expected to add more than 250 million internet users by 2025, and the Sub-Saharan mobile industry is expected to add $185 billion to GDP by 2023. Despite this growth in internet use, the continent is currently behind on data privacy laws. Only 17 out of 54 countries in Africa have passed data privacy laws, and 15 African countries have yet to ratify the African Union’s Convention on Cybersecurity and Data Protection. The leaders assembled at the conference hoped to change this. “Data protection in Africa is a prerequisite” to joining the Fourth Industrial Revolution, said Hon. Vincent Sowah Odotei, Ghana’s deputy minister of communications, in his final remarks of the conference.

Improved data privacy in Africa has several benefits. According to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association, improving data privacy, “allows countries to trust each other and enforcement bodies to cooperate. In turn, this can boost the economy by allowing data to flow within the region and it is more attractive for external investors who prefer not to be confined to keeping data in one place.”

How a Lack of Data Privacy Harms Poor Communities

Beyond large-scale economic benefits, improved access to data privacy will have specific benefits for low-income Africans. A 2017 study from Washington University in St. Louis found that poor people are more vulnerabilities when it comes to data privacy, facing vulnerabilities such as a greater likelihood of having their personal data used against them and more devastating consequences from identity theft. Poorer people are also much less likely to have basic digital literacy skills, thus increasing their vulnerability to digital threats, with 64 percent of poor Americans reporting that they do not have a good understanding of how the privacy policies of websites they visit apply to them.

Michele Gilman, one of the authors of the study, said in an interview with The Borgen Project that data privacy is tantamount to improving the lives of those in poverty. Gilman said, “Technology can be a tremendous resource for people living in poverty to access services and opportunities as a ladder out of poverty—but without controls or regulation, it can also further entrench poverty.”

Gilman pointed out that identity theft can wreak particular havoc for people living in poverty. When people living in poverty are victims of identity theft, according to Gilman, their lack of a social safety net coupled with the sudden loss of most of their financial assets can lead to dire consequences. Because poor people tend to lack the resources to undo the consequences of identity theft, the American Bar Association reports that they are more likely to be wrongfully arrested and hounded by collection agencies for crimes they didn’t commit and loans they didn’t take out. This is all in addition to the usual consequences of identity theft, which can take months to resolve. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in the U.S., 43 percent of households that were victims of identity theft made less than $75,000 per year. In South Africa almost half the consumer population either has been, or knows someone who has been, the victim of identity theft.

Gilman also illuminated the broader threat that a lack of data privacy can pose for those in poverty. Big data coupled with societal discrimination can lead to low-income people systematically being denied access to resources and they are more often targeted by government surveillance. For instance, 40 percent of colleges and universities use applicants’ social media profiles to make decisions through a process known as social analytics, where algorithms go over applicants’ social media behavior as well as who they are friends with in order to determine their qualifications to enter.

Up to 27 percent of poor social media users don’t use any settings at all to make social media profiles private, and because poorer students tend to rely more on financial aid, there is a concern that social media analysis will allow universities to selectively avoid recruiting low-income students. In a similar vein, police departments have begun to use a process known as threat scoring, where they analyze crime statistics to determine how likely a given individual is to commit a crime using data from social media and other sources, essentially creating guilt by association.

Effectiveness of Data Privacy Laws

In places where data privacy laws have already taken effect, the results have been significant. Since the passing of the GDPR, record numbers of data breaches that otherwise would have gone unreported, have been reported to the relevant authorities, with 36,000 breaches reported in 2018 compared to between 18,000 and 20,000 in 2017. Countries around the world, from Brazil to Hong Kong, have passed GDPR-like bills, and many other countries are looking to follow suit. The implementation of these laws has not been without hiccups—many businesses in the EU have struggled with the implementation of new regulations, and the EU has been slow to actually enact fines for companies that break GDPR rules—but in the end, these laws will help to dismantle the structures that keep people in poverty.

Data privacy laws protect low-income people from negative consequences such as identity theft and algorithmic discrimination. The creation of laws to increase data privacy in Africa, therefore, will increase protection for Africans who are being kept in poverty by lenient data privacy regulations. As the region’s tech develops, its laws are also developing to ensure that increased access to technology also means increased possibility to alleviate poverty.

– Kelton Holsen
Photo: Flickr

Countries Recovering from WarCivil war often erupts in countries that suffer from perpetual poverty. At the same time, war only serves to intensify poor living conditions in regions that are already vulnerable. In countries ravaged by war, people are displaced, infrastructure is destroyed and often entire industries are disrupted, destroying the resources that a country needs to keep its people alive. This devastation often persists even after a war is over. However, several formerly war-torn countries are making significant strides when it comes to post-war reconstruction and sustainable development. Here are three examples of countries recovering from war today.

3 Examples of Countries Recovering from War Today

  1. Yadizi Farmers are Recultivating Former ISIS Territory
    When the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIS) swept through the Sinjar region of northern Iraq in 2014, they displaced millions of farmers who relied on that land to make their living. ISIS persecuted the local Yadizi people for their religious beliefs and tried to destroy their farms in order to prevent them from ever being able to live in Sinjar again. In 2015, the allied Kurdish forces retook Sinjar, but the devastation of the land and the constant threat of land mines has since caused many Yadizi farmers to fear returning to their homeland.However, the Iraqi government has begun funding post-war recovery efforts in order to allow the Yadizi people to take back their land. A Yadizi woman named Nadia Murad, winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, has started a project called Nadia’s Initiative. A group called the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has also begun to clear landmines from the land of the displaced farmers. Although progress has been slow, partly due to limited governmental support in recent years and heavy regulations on the transportation of fertilizer, the region is slowly but surely recovering.
  2. The Central African Republic is Working on Protecting its Forests
    After years of political instability and a series of coups, as of 2016, the Central African Republic has a democratically-elected president for the first time in its history. Although the election of President Touadera signaled a step in the right direction toward peacebuilding, there are many areas that still need to be addressed.One particular problem for the Central African Republic is the widespread practice of illegal logging. The country’s forests are one of its biggest resources and wood is its top export, but corrupt public officials have allowed a massive trade in illegal lumber to arise, threatening the sustainability of the forests and undermining recovery efforts. Forest managers attempt to stop the problem but are often threatened by public officials who profit from the illegal lumber trade. However, many in the Central African Republic are working on changing the status quo. In 2016, the country renewed an accord with the European Union that incentivizes the country to reform forestry laws and crack down on illegal logging in exchange for favorable trade agreements. This renewal of the country’s greatest natural resource will help post-war recovery by strengthening its income from trade, building relationships overseas and giving resources for the reconstruction of damaged buildings.
  3. South Sudan is Using Mobile Money to Reignite the Economy
    The country of South Sudan is in the middle of recovering from a civil war that lasted five years and killed about 400,000 people. Part of the devastation wreaked by this war was the collapse of the South Sudanese economy, as cell towers were destroyed, trust in financial institutions was eroded and corruption began to overtake the country’s banks. According to AP News, “Around 80 percent of money in South Sudan is not kept in banks” primarly because most residents are rural and live too far from the major cities where the banks are located. Of course, there are other barriers as well, including the fact that only 16 percent of the population has a government ID (which means more expensive withdrawals and no money transfers) and concerns about the stability of the country’s banking system.As a part of the country’s post-war recovery, the South Sudanese government is working with mobile carriers to create a system called mobile money, in which people can bank from their phones instead of relying on the country’s physical banks and ATMs. This system allows people to easily participate in the Sudanese economy and since studies have shown that having access to services such as banks helps economic growth, the mobile money boom will be invaluable to South Sudan’s post-war recovery. The government is also working on setting up biometric identification for all citizens to use in banking, and on restoring damaged mobile infrastructure in order to make services like mobile money available anywhere.

Kelton Holsen
Photo: Flickr

Georgia's integration into the E.U.Since the end of the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, poverty reduction and higher employment have accompanied an expanding Georgian economy. However, fears of renewed conflict with Russia, Georgia’s northern-neighbor, jeopardize the progress the nation has made in curtailing poverty and handling the refugee crisis. Georgia’s integration into the E.U. will not only reap economic benefits and accelerate a decline in poverty levels, but also provide Georgia security from Russian aggression.

Georgia’s Relationship to the EU

Despite being a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, Georgia is not a member-state of the European Union. Since Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2003, politicians of diverse ideologies have prioritized E.U. membership as an ultimate goal. In fact, a 2009 survey of over 2,400 Georgians found that 50 percent of the population believed that Georgia would join the E.U. within 10 years. While Georgia has yet to join the E.U. in 2019, the Georgian government continues to introduce various reforms to align the country with the tenets of E.U. institutional structures. E.U. membership would help Georgia tackle poverty and inequality.

Free Trade with Europe Increasing National Welfare

Poverty in Georgia remains at 16.3 percent and unemployment at 12.7 percent. Currently, Georgia is allowed to trade in certain industries with the E.U. as a part of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). Once the E.U. admits Georgia and Georgia is able to trade freely with E.U. member-states in all industries, poverty and unemployment will likely decline.

Free trade makes a country more productive by selecting a country’s most productive industries for exporting. Import competition will replace less productive industries, but Georgians will specialize in their more productive exporting sectors and reap the benefits of specialization. Enhanced specialization from trade will raise Georgia’s gross domestic product and increase consumer welfare because Georgians will be able to purchase foreign-produced goods at cheaper prices while specializing in exporting sectors, such as copper ores and wine. Coupled with appropriate distributional policies, free trade will have a positive impact on reducing poverty and unemployment.

EU Membership Shielding Georgia from Russian Aggression

During the 2008 war, 130,000 Georgians became displaced; Action Against Hunger reports that the number of refugees has increased over time. If Russia were to invade again, there would be serious economic consequences. Furthermore, the refugee crisis would deteriorate substantially. Georgia’s integration into the E.U. provides a security agreement under the auspices of the European Defence Union; if Russia interferes with one E.U. member-country, it faces the backlash of Europe. George could reverse its progress in reducing poverty over the past decade. E.U. membership will serve as a security buffer from Russian aggression and a defender of the nation’s recent economic progress.

Because of the protection and economic boost E.U. membership would bring, many political scientists and economists agree with the 67 percent of Georgians who advocate for Georgia’s integration into the E.U.

– Grayson Cox
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Lichtenstein

Liechtenstein is a little-known principality located between Austria and Switzerland. Despite its small size (roughly 38, 000 inhabitants) it has a growing economy, which allows for residents to have a high standard of living. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Liechtenstein.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Liechtenstein

  1. Liechtenstein provides its workers with some of the highest wages in Europe – Because of the growing economy, citizens of Liechtenstein benefit from one of the highest wage levels across Europe. On average, citizens make about $92,000 annually. When compared to the average gross salary of Germany’s citizens, Liechtenstein’s citizens have a higher income by about $15,000.
  2. Living costs are high – While the country has high wage levels, it also has high living expenses. The average citizen spends about half their monthly income on their fixed costs, which usually include housing, utilities, transportation and health insurance. Despite the high living costs, Liechtenstein has a zero percent poverty rate with poverty being defined as those living at or below $5.50/day.
  3. The country offers universal health care – Health insurance is required and guaranteed to all people living or working in Liechtenstein. Individuals’ insurance is financed by their insurance holder and their employer as well as by state subsidies. Although there is no current data with regards to the increase in healthcare costs over time in Liechtenstein, in 2016, the government spent $188 million on social welfare programs such as healthcare.
  4. The government provides its residents with a high-quality education – Liechtenstein relies on its excellent education system to provide the economy with highly qualified workers. After completing the mandatory schooling period of 11 years (from primary school to high school), individuals are left with a range of options to pursue further education. These options include vocational training, higher education (college or university), and apprenticeships.
  5. A high percentage of Liechtenstein labor force commutes into work – The Feldkirch-Buchs railway connects Switzerland to Austria, passing through Liechtenstein on the way. This railway allows workers to commute into Liechtenstein. Since a majority of the country’s workers, (55 percent) are from neighboring countries, this system is crucial in maintaining Liechtenstein’s labor force. The reason behind the high number of commuters is because Liechtenstein’s economy has grown so quickly over the past years that its domestic labor force has not been able to keep up.
  6. Liechtenstein has a strong economy – Liechtenstein has one of the highest measures of GDP per capita in the world ($168,146.02) and a low inflation rate of 0.5 percent. Although not officially recognized by the European Union, it does receive some of the monetary and economic benefits of the organization because of its deal with Switzerland, which stipulates that they import a large percentage of their energy requirements from the Swiss and use the Swiss Franc as their national currency.
  7. Residents have religious freedom – Although an overwhelming majority of the population is Roman Catholic (the official state religion), there remain many individuals in the country who practice other religions or other forms of Christianity. The state is currently in the process of separating itself from the church, however, this is largely considered a symbolic move, as the current union does not appear to affect adherents of other religions. The government is pursuing this initiative by creating a provisional constitutional amendment to establish new regulations between the state and the religious communities. Additionally, there has been mention of providing more equitable funding for all the different religious organizations, rather than solely giving the Catholic church more funding.
  8. The country provides immigrants with good living conditions – Immigrants make up about 65 percent of the total population in Liechtenstein.  Many of these immigrants come from nearby countries such as Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Although the requirements for the naturalization process are quite lengthy, (an individual has to live in Liechtenstein for 30 years before beginning the process) immigrants receive all the same benefits that natural-born citizens receive.
  9. Liechtenstein has low unemployment – Liechtenstein has an unemployment rate of 1.9 percent. Most of its labor force is employed in the services and goods sectors, with only 0.6 percent being employed in the agriculture sector. About 40 percent of the workforce is employed in the industrial sector, which, combined with the manufacturing sector, make up about 40 percent of the country’s gross value added. Its economy is focused primarily on high-quality exports, services and goods such as machine and plant construction, as well as precision tools and dental instruments, among other items.
  10. Liechtenstein has had issues with spreadable diseases in the past – Some of the most common diseases include influenza, hepatitis B and tick-borne encephalitis. The country has since introduced several initiatives to address these issues, signing treaties with Switzerland and Austria in order to provide its citizens with better healthcare options.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in Liechtenstein demonstrate the quality of life with which residents of Liechtenstein experience on a daily basis. While the country certainly has some very positive trends going for it (namely, unemployment, wages, GDP, and its education system) it also has some things to improve upon, such as reducing living costs, which make it hard for many individuals to live in the country. Nevertheless, Liechtenstein appears to be in a good state presently, as it provides many services and freedoms that make it a desirable place to live.

– Laura Rogers
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Life Expectancy in Romania
Among European Union members, Romania ranks as one of the lowest in terms of life expectancy. Life expectancy can be a complicated issue. It is impacted by many other factors, such as poverty, housing and health care. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Romania will reveal which issues have shaped the current problems in Romania, as well as what can be done to solve them.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Romania

  1. Life expectancy for young people in Romania is the lowest in the European Union. In countries such as Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland and the U.K., the life expectancy of a young person today is around 85 years. According to the CIA, Romania has a life expectancy of just 75.6 years, giving Romania one of the lowest overall life expectancies in the European Union.
  2. Life expectancy in Romania has had its ups and downs since 1990. Prior to the 1990s, very little research was done on life expectancy in Romania. In the period from 1990-1996, Romania actually experienced a decline in life expectancy of 1.71 years for men and 0.54 years for women. Romania’s life expectancy recovered when this trend reversed in the period from 1996-1998, with an increase in life expectancy of 1.12 years for men and 0.89 years for women. Life expectancy in Romania has been gradually trending upwards since.
  3. Romania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. As of 2018, Romania is among the 10 poorest countries in Europe. The EU has an average GDP per capita of more than $38,000. Meanwhile, Romania’s per capita GDP is only $9,520. Poverty, for obvious reasons, is often inversely correlated with life expectancy.
  4. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Romania. By 2004, the leading cause of death in Romania was cardiovascular diseases which were responsible for 62 percent of all deaths. Romania’s past increases in life expectancy are due partially to a reduction in the rates of heart disease in the late 1990s. This reduction is likely due to a change in diet and reduced obesity rates.
  5. Living conditions in Romania have been steadily improving since the fall of communism. In the past 20 years, the average household income in Romania has increased by more than $2,500, and the unemployment rate has been cut in half. The number of Romanian citizens reported to be living in bad health is now lower than the average for Europe. By 2017, Romanian households had improved access to modern tools and appliances which play a role in increasing living standards. By 2017, 33.7 percent of households owned a personal car, and more than half own computers. Almost every household had a cooking stove, and 56 percent owned a modern refrigerator.
  6. Rural areas have substandard living conditions. In Romania, life expectancy varies significantly between different regions. As is often the case, there is a rural-urban divide. Life expectancies are higher in cities than in the countryside. Urban areas often have access to higher quality medical care, whereas rural regions often have sub-par medicine. Rural areas also have a lower standard of workplace safety. A survey published in 2009 reveals that 64 percent of all workplace accidents take place in rural zones of the country.
  7. Urban regions have higher life expectancies. Bucharest has the highest life expectancy in Romania. The average life expectancy in Romania’s capital is 77.8 years, 2.4 years above the national average. The counties with the next three highest life expectancies are Valcea (77.5 years), Cluj (76.7 years) and Brasov (76.6 years). Each of these counties represents populations that live in urban metropolitan areas.
  8. The Romanian health care system is ranked the worst in Europe. For two consecutive years, Romania’s health care system has been rated the lowest in the European Union in the European Health Consumer Index (EHCI) at 34th. Countries are ranked by quality of care, accessibility and wait times. The study also concluded that Romania’s system was discriminatory towards minority groups such as the Roma, who experience poorer health outcomes on average.
  9. Life expectancy is much worse for minority groups. One of Romania’s largest minority groups is the Romani, or Roma, who represent 3.08 percent of Romania’s population. The Romani people face deep-seated oppression and discrimination which contributes to them being disproportionately impoverished. Among Romani women, maternal mortality rates are 15 times greater than among the rest of the population. An estimated 30 percent of the Romani live in slum-like conditions. The overall life expectancy for the Roma is estimated to be anywhere from five years to 20 years shorter than that of the general population. If life expectancies in Romania are to be improved, then discrimination must cease. The government must make a serious effort to lift disadvantaged minority groups out of dilapidated living conditions.
  10. NGOs have and will continue to play a crucial role in improving life expectancy in Romania. Nonprofits have been very important in improving the lives of Romanians. Groups like CARE and Hearts Across Romania have focused on aiding children, many of whom are abandoned due to poverty. Love Light Romania seeks to combat poverty by promoting access to educational opportunities. Habitat for Humanity has sought to build housing in Romania, to supplement the nation’s insufficient public housing program.

From these 10 facts about life expectancy in Romania, it can be determined that the situation is a mixed bag for Romania. On one hand, life expectancy has shown significant improvement since the fall of communism. On the other, it is clear that Romania still has quite a few social issues that must be corrected if it is to rise to the level of the rest of Europe. Issues such as insufficient health care and discrimination against Roma people still persist, however through government initiatives and continual efforts by nonprofits, these issues can be solved.

– Karl Haider
Photo: Unsplash

top 10 facts about living conditions in Hungary

Hungary is a country of 9.8 million people located in central Europe. It makes up a portion of the EU’s southern border and is a major immigration hub. Hungary is one of the EU’s poorer countries, with a GDP in the lower third of all member states, though it is still better off than many of its central European and Balkan neighbors. Below are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Hungary.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Hungary

  1. Impressive work-life balance
    Unemployment is high in Hungary, with only 68 percent of people age 15 to 64 employed. Of those employed, 75 percent are men and 61 percent are women. However, the number of employees working very long hours is less than 4 percent–much lower than the United States, where 11 percent of employees work long hours.
  2. Standards of living are nearly the lowest in the EU
    In terms of GDP, Hungary is ranked 23rd out of the EU’s 28 member states, at 68 percent of the EU’s average. In first place for the region is Austria, which produces at roughly twice Hungary’s capacity. Another metric used to determine the welfare of the consumer, Actual Individual Consumption (AIC), places Hungary second-to-last.
  3. Habitat for Humanity is raising awareness on housing inequality
    In 2015, the Hungarian government ended housing support to nearly half a million impoverished residents. Prior to that, several hundred thousand Hungarians were already experiencing housing poverty. A Habitat for Humanity report from 2014 noted that more than half a million Hungarians lived with leaky roofs and/or moldy walls. Just under half of the population (44.6 percent) live in overcrowded flats, and 52 percent of Hungarians not living in major cities have access to a sanitary sewer.
  4. Hungary has universal health care, but the rate and efficacy of coverage are low
    Although Hungary has had universal health care coverage since the 1940s, it still ranks in the bottom third in the EU in terms of quality of coverage. This is partly due to low salaries—medical professionals cannot expect to make as much money in Hungary as they would in other EU member states. The main issue is a focus on curative care in hospitals, rather than preventative care in other medical facilities.
  5. Hungary has received significant foreign investment
    As of 2018, Hungary has an annual inflow of $4.3 billion per capita of foreign direct investment (FDI), a full recovery from the stagnation of the 2009-10 financial crisis. While this is partly since Hungary has an ideal geographical position for foreign investment, foreign investors have also shifted focus from the relatively poor textile and food processing industries to more lucrative industries such as wholesale, retail trade and automotive repair.
  6. Primary and secondary education enrollment rates are high
    For primary school students, enrollment has varied slightly over the past two decades, but has remained above 95 percent overall. At its highest, the enrollment rate was 97.2 percent in 2009, and at its lowest in 2012, at 95.7 percent. For adolescents in school, the statistics are similarly good: though there has been a slight rise since 2014 of the number of adolescents out of school, the overall number has hovered at less than 5 percent.
  7. Tertiary education needs investment
    Only 13 percent of 25-64 year-olds have a bachelor’s degree, with 9 percent of that population holding a master’s degree or equivalent. These statistics are low, but the individuals who possess these degrees are reaping the benefits. Studies have shown that postsecondary education credentials can potentially double one’s earnings in Hungary: a bachelor’s degree is worth a wage premium of 72 percent, while a master’s or above can earn 140 percent more than the country’s respective average salaries.
  8. Investments in higher education are underway
    An initiative led by the NGO HEInnovate to invest in higher education has been taking place over the last decade, spurred by a decline in institutional funding from the state. The focus of this initiative has been to utilize Hungary’s educational system to boost economic and socio-cultural development at the local and national levels. This has led to a marked increase in venture capital and start-up creation among academics and has caused strong domestic economic growth.
  9. Many institutions have been consolidated by the federal government
    Since his election in 2010, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has taken steps to consolidate hundreds of pro-government media outlets into a propaganda conglomerate. These actions have been received well by some but not as well by others — Orban enjoys far more support from individuals living in rural areas of Hungary than he does from individuals living in Hungary’s urban centers.
  10. Hungary’s location has made it a major migration hub for refugees in the past
    Since a section of Hungary’s border forms the external border of the European Union, the country has received many migrants in the past. However, in recent years Hungary has adopted a harder stance on immigration, which has drastically reduced the number of asylum seekers from the Middle East.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in Hungary demonstrate how the country remains at a crossroads in the European Union—geographically, economically and socially. While the country performs well in some areas, such as education and cost of living, it still faces more economic hardship than most other EU member states, and its status as a migration hub has led to entrenched xenophobia in the country’s political landscape.

– Rob Sprankle
Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is an Eastern European country with a population of approximately 7 million people. In 2016, the country’s poverty rate stood at 23.4 percent, which means that around 1.6 million Bulgarians lived below the national poverty line. In addition, Bulgaria has the lowest GDP per capita in the European Union and the highest levels of income inequality among E.U. countries. Increasing credit access in Bulgaria could be one way to recharge the economy and help reduce poverty.

Background

Poverty in the country has been steadily rising. Since 2000, the poverty rate has increased by 9.4 percent. Contradictorily, the unemployment rate has never been lower and wages have never been higher than they are now. To explain this contradiction, it is important to know that Bulgaria has experienced a rapid population decline. Between 1988 and 2018, the population of Bulgaria declined by nearly 2 million people. By 2050, economists predict that the Bulgarian population will fall to 5.5 million if the country does nothing to reverse the trend. This has precarious implications for the nation’s economy, and increasing access to credit is a viable solution to stymie population loss.

Particularly concerning is the fact that young and educated Bulgarians constitute the bulk of those leaving the country. In most cases, they leave to find employment elsewhere in the E.U. Some dubbed this phenomenon a “brain drain,” and studies confirm that it hinders economic growth and development. Experts at the Institute for Market Economics in Bulgaria argue that political stability and economic growth are the surest ways to dissuade young people from leaving the country; in other words, the overall outlook for the country must be bright.

Credit Access in Bulgaria

One possible way to address Bulgaria’s population problem is to increase access to credit. With increased credit access, impoverished Bulgarians can secure the funding they need to start a business, purchase a home or own a car. Expanding credit for small businesses could be due to economic growth. Furthermore, a 2006 study found that increased credit access in Bulgaria had a strong correlation with total factor productivity. Credit access has also led to growth in both the manufacturing and service sectors. A Georgia State University study found that access has led to a 0.34 percent annual increase in value for both sectors. These sectors account for 83 percent of Bulgaria’s GDP.

By further developing access to credit, Bulgaria has a brighter economic outlook. Despite its population decline, the GDP has increased by $52 billion since 2000. In order to reverse the brain drain and address national poverty, financial institutions and the Bulgarian government should continue to invest in credit access. Credit access will allow young entrepreneurs to remain in the country, helping the economy grow and encouraging Bulgarians. Economic growth, according to the Institute for Market Economics, remains Bulgaria’s best chance at recovering its lost population.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Flickr

drought in AfricaThe Horn of Africa, a region where nearly 80 percent of the population relies on farming for survival, has been hit with a prolonged and harmful drought. Periods of dry weather are not uncommon in the area. However, such a significant timespan without any rainfall spells disaster for those who require healthy crops to make a living. The Horn of Africa drought is even more dangerous considering climate change and the United States’ reduced foreign aid budget.

The Drought

The Horn of Africa is well acquainted with droughts. The region has faced several in recent years. However, the current dry spell is severely affecting the ability of families to obtain food, making it one of the harshest droughts the region has seen.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that the ongoing Horn of Africa drought has triggered widespread food insecurity, especially among families raising livestock. Expecting the drought to cause increased hunger, the FAO issued a pre-famine alert for Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. The governments of Kenya and Somalia have already declared a national disaster.

The FAO also reports that families are malnourished due to scarce food and a lack of proper nutrients. Since the onset of the drought in 2017, the number of people grappling with food insecurity has increased dramatically. For example, 2.7 million people in Kenya, 2.9 million people in Somalia and 5.6 million people in Ethiopia are suffering from food insecurit.

Climate Change: Another Hurdle

Climate change is a major factor influencing the impact of the African Horn drought. According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2018, the number of disasters related to climate change have doubled since 1990. These events include flooding, droughts and fires caused by extreme dry heat.

The people who live in the region have remarked on the disastrous consequences of climate change. Birhan, an Ethiopian mother of four, commented, “We have not seen an improvement in the climate situation… The drought is becoming recurrent. But if there is rain, it is excessive and destroys the crops.” Birhan and 1.5 million other people are able to receive emergency rations during the drought thanks to the USAID food program. However, the aid is not enough to quell the rising need for food, livestock and water.

Cutting Back Foreign Aid

In March, the White House proposed the 2020 fiscal budget. This budget aims to cut U.S. foreign food and financial assistance by 24 percent. This funding reduction will exacerbate the adverse impacts of the Horn of Africa drought. Without assistance from developed nations such as the U.S., access to food and clean water will become more difficult for those inhabiting the affected regions.

Matt Davis is the East Africa regional director for Catholic Relief Services, an organization overseeing a U.S.-funded food program in the area. Davis commented on the federal budget’s impact on struggling populations: “We’re very concerned by the deteriorating conditions in the region where we are seeing families–whose lives rely on the land–unable to cope,” he said. “We are concerned the administration’s budget could abandon millions of families around the world just when they need help the most.”

Relief Efforts

Climate hazards and reduced U.S. assistance have worsened the impact of the Horn of Africa drought. Several organizations are working to help families with food and financial aid to combat these issues. In 2017, the European Union decided to further aid the people of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia during the recurring drought by offering nearly €260 million in financial assistance.

The Horn of Africa drought is cyclical in nature. The countries most affected by the drought are seeking localized solutions to surviving climate-related issues. Kenya appears to be moving forward in this area, with the government investing in community water sources independent of rain-fueled agriculture.

Ethiopia has also made strides in building a defense against the drought by implementing The Productive Safety Net Programme. This program helps food-insecure communities build stockpiles of food to prepare for drought and ultimately become food self-sufficient.

Coordination between the affected countries and more developed nations is necessary to build resistance to drought and other disastrous climate-related issues. Global financial and food assistance programs, a U.S. budget that does not drastically reduce foreign aid and localized efforts to build resistance against drought are effective approaches. These strategies will help the Horn of Africa move closer to a truly thriving expanse of subsistence farming.

– Holli Flanagan
Photo: Flickr

Drought in Afghanistan
Afghanistan, a landlocked Asian country, is experiencing the worst drought in the past five decades. The United Nations has estimated that 2 million people have been affected by the drought and that 1.4 million people are in need of urgent food assistance. Several years of low rainfall and snowfall have led to the seriousness of the drought in Afghanistan.

The Drought in Afghanistan

The drought has affected 20 provinces in the country. Almost 1.5 million people rely on agriculture products for food in these affected regions. It has majorly affected the planting of wheat and livestock pastures. The Famine Early Warning System Network has placed many regions in Afghanistan in a crisis state and some regions are even considered to be in emergency phases. Due to the drought in Afghanistan, the number of households in the crisis to emergency phases are expected to rise even more.

The Effect on Refugee Crisis

The recent drought in Afghanistan has added more pressure to the refugee and displaced person population in the region. Water levels are so low that, in some areas, dry wells are driving even more people to leave the country.

Continuous conflict and unemployment have been a typical factor of migration in Afghanistan, but now the drought adds to the problem. During the recent refugee crisis, Afghans were the second largest group of refugees. Countries like Iran and Pakistan are no longer welcoming Afghanistan refugees and are even encouraging refugees to return home. Those who are unable to leave the country move into urban cities in order to find work to provide for their family.

International Response to Drought in Afghanistan

The European Union has recently added $22.7 million in emergency aid to the region in response to the severeness of the drought in Afghanistan. The recent funding will help to provide assistance to projects on the ground. These ground projects include food assistance, water, sanitation and health care.

A portion of this help will come from the EU’s own Emergency Response Mechanism that provides assistance to vulnerable regions. The Humanitarian Country Team also plans to revise their Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) to ask for $177 million in aid to assist people affected by the drought. The revision of the HRP plans to reach 4.2 million people across the country in various aspects, especially agriculture, sanitation and nutrition. These programs aim to ensure food security in the region as the number of households in need of emergency assistance increases.

There is hope for the region to somewhat sustain itself. The coming of Fall and El Nino, routine climate pattern, are promising to planters in Afghanistan. El Nino is expected to provide more than average precipitation in the coming season. The areas planted for wheat are expected to be higher than average due to the prediction of high precipitation.

This prediction, however, is one of many and there are other outcomes for the spread of rainfall. Hopefully, rainfall will return to the region and provide farmers with the resources to plant and harvest. As long as the people in urgent need of humanitarian aid are assisted, there is hope to ensure food security for those most affected by the drought in Afghanistan.

– Olivia Halliburton
Photo: Flickr

International Education Programs in Macedonia
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or soon possibly known as Upper Macedonia, but most commonly referred to as just Macedonia, gained its independence from Yugoslavia peacefully in 1991.

Since independence, Macedonia has been trying to make a huge leap in development and join the European Union and NATO.

The biggest obstacle for the country’s EU and NATO membership has been the name dispute that arises from the ambiguity in nomenclature between the Republic of Macedonia and the adjacent Greek region of Macedonia.

However, this dispute has not stopped members of international bodies from supporting international education programs in Macedonia.

The United States and the European Union see education as an important step to both democratic and economic stability of the country.

For this reason, both bodies are sending aid in form of international education programs, while the country settles its naming dispute with Greece.

USAID

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been supporting international education programs in Macedonia since 1993. USAID works directly with the country’s Ministry of Education and Science in order to improve education.

By improving education, USAID hopes to foster the fledgling democracy and promote inter-ethnic relations.

USAID programs have been most heavily aimed at children. From 2013 to 2018, USAID supported the Readers are Leaders Project. This project was focused on children in all primary schools across the country. Its aim was to strengthen literacy and numeracy rates among the youth.

Currently, several other projects, such as Children with Visual Impairment Project, are active. This project is run jointly with the International Lions Club. It was started in 2014 and will last to 2019. It works to increase the quality and accessibility of education services, provide individual support to children with visual impairments and facilitates early eye-screenings.

Another joint program underway is the Youth Ethnic Integration Project (2017-2022). Through this program, USAID is promoting both civic responsibility in youth but also a cultural understanding between Macedonia’s ethnic groups.

The Peace Corps

Since 1996,  when the first volunteers of this organization were welcomed by the Ministry of Education and Science, the United States Peace Corps has supported international education in Macedonia.

The Peace Corps education mission in Macedonia has been two-fold since the beginning. The first goal is to introduce new teaching methodologies to the Macedonian classroom at both the primary and secondary school levels. The second is to help with the instruction of English courses.

However, volunteers do not just stick to the classrooms for instructions of English language. They also promote and start English speaking clubs and organizations.

The Peace Corps developed English Language clubs, drama clubs and summer camps. The Peace Corps works with three Ministries of the country along with other international agencies and organizations to promote international education programs in Macedonia.

The European Union

The largest monetary contributor of development and international education programs in Macedonia is the European Union.

In 2017, the government of Macedonia and the European Union adopted a program of international development within Macedonia and signed a financial agreement.

The result is that the EU released $82.3 million worth of funds for the social and economic development of the country. These funds are only a small portion of the planned aid to Macedonia that stretches back to 2014.

The funds of EU are mostly directed towards the development of education in Macedonia. They are part of the financial assistance under IPA II agreement that totals to $757 million worth of aid to Macedonia. To ensure the funds are being used properly, the EU and Macedonia have set up joint monitoring committees to oversee their usage.

At the end of September 2018, the government of Macedonia held a referendum to change the official country’s name from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to Upper Macedonia.

By changing the name of the country the Prime Minister hopes to speed up the process of joining NATO and the EU. His opponents see this as an appeasement to bullies.

Less than 50 percent of the total population voted in the referendum making it void, although the tally of those who did vote was nearly 90 percent in favor of the name change.

A trend showed the youth overwhelmingly supported the change. It shows that the work of international organizations on international education programs in Macedonia was efficient in showing the youth what needs to be done in order to help the country move forward.

Nicholas DeMarco

Photo: Flickr