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Reduce Poverty in Romania
Romania, like much of the former Communist Bloc, experienced extreme poverty under communism. Although communist rule ended over 30 years ago, the country still experiences the lingering effects of communism on its economy and quality of life. In 2017, approximately 4.6 million Romanians lived at or below the Romanian national poverty line, a standard assessed by the cost of living and certain social policies. Poverty in Romania concentrates in rural areas, where about 46% of the population lives, according to recent estimates. Here are the ways in which the government seeks to reduce poverty in Romania.

The National Strategy on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction

In 2015, the European Union (E.U.) and the Romanian government devised the National Strategy on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction to help reduce poverty in Romania. The strategy aimed to lift 580,000 people from poverty by 2020 and increase employment for poor and other vulnerable groups. It also provided financial support for poor or at-risk citizens. Additionally, it promoted social inclusion of marginalized communities such as the Roma people, and improved social services like health care and education. In addition to this plan, Romania also passed a 47-point plan to combat poverty in 2015.

Many have regarded this plan as overly ambitious. Unfortunately, much of the National Strategy on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction remains only on paper. This is not to say, however, that it has not made an impact on reducing poverty in Romania. Since the creation of this plan, the percentage of Romania’s population at risk of living in poverty has dropped from 40.2 percent in 2015 to 35.7 percent in 2017. Since the implementation of the National Strategy on Social Inclusion and Poverty, the Romanian government has been able to allocate more funding for active labor market policies, including financial bonuses and job training. Additionally, Romania has received funding from the European Social Fund for projects to increase the effectiveness of the Romanian National Employment Agency. Despite these improvements, Romania still ranks as the second most impoverished nation in the E.U., after Bulgaria.

Looking Forward

In addition to continuing the work on current programs, the country is looking forward to more improvements in the coming years. By 2023, the Romanian government has set a goal of improving access to education. Increasing educational opportunities in Romania is especially important. The country has the highest child poverty rate in the E.U. at nearly 50%. Children living in poverty are more likely to have to leave school, further perpetuating the cycle of poverty in Romania. By making education more accessible, children at risk of poverty have more opportunities to break the cycle.

Despite drastic improvements in the levels of poverty and social inclusion in Romania, millions of Romanians are still at risk. The Romanian government and E.U. implemented the National Strategy on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction in 2015. Unfortunately, problems obtaining funding have made it difficult to implement this plan in its entirety. However, some changes have occurred, improving the situation for a small portion of the Romanian population. The government’s future plans to reduce poverty in Romania, including improving access to education for impoverished children, aim to continue to improve the country’s poverty crisis.

– Jessica Cohen
Photo: Flickr

The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon
The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon has internally displaced half a million people. Many are seeking refuge in forests with little access to medical care and portable water. Only recently has the world acknowledged the crisis, despite three years of growing human rights abuses driving the country to the brink of civil war.

The Makings of a Disaster

French and English are the official languages of Cameroon, which consists of 10 semi-autonomous regions. However, the Northwest and Southwest English-speaking regions have felt marginalized by the central government for decades.

Anglophones make up 20 percent of the population and have long complained of few job opportunities and the predominance of Francophones. When the government assigned French-speaking teachers and judges to anglophone schools and courts, anglophone lawyers and teachers felt that it violated their rights, leading to peaceful protests in 2016.

Government security forces responded by killing four protestors and arresting around 100, including several anglophone leaders. The government even banned civil society groups seeking a peaceful solution.

Escalating the Crisis

In 2017, an anglophone separatist group declared a new independent state called Ambazonia. In a pro-Ambazonia demonstration, security forces killed 17 people. The Borgen Project interviewed Mausi Segun, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Africa, who said, “If anyone is putting the abuses on both sides on a scale, the government has the upper hand. They have the most effective military equipment.”

Security forces have killed unarmed civilians and burned down villages. Meanwhile, authorities are arresting civilians on suspicion of supporting or belonging to the separatist movement. A number of those held on suspicion are undergoing torture.

Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, a Regional Director at the National Democratic Institute told The Borgen Project that authorities are catching civilians in a web of violence and mistaken affinity. “They can be arrested for not having their identification card,” he said.

As authorities hold anglophones in detention without trial, lose property and loved ones, resentment and distrust in the government is growing, fueling the grievances of the separatist movement. “We’re concerned the government is throwing the military, and arms and ammunition at a problem that is beyond just a military one,” Segun said.

Armed separatists have committed unlawful abuses as well, including killing security forces, kidnapping students and burning down approximately 36 schools. The International Crisis Group reported the killing of 235 soldiers, along with 1,000 separatists and 650 civilians.

Although one can blame the Anglophone Crisis on a failure of governance, Fomunyoh said that it is no longer a governance issue, “It’s now one of political insecurity.”

International Response

Cameroon now has the sixth-largest displaced population in the world. A wider conflict could threaten the entire region, impacting bordering countries such as Chad and Nigeria, who are fighting Boko Haram alongside Cameroon.

In March 2019, after three years of growing systematic violence, the U.N. human rights chief told the Cameroon government that its violent response will only fuel more violence and the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) held its first meeting on the crisis in the following May. The E.U. called on Cameroon’s government to initiate a dialogue with armed separatists and Switzerland agreed to act as a mediator.

Fomunyoh said that countries may have been slow to respond because they expected African organizations to intervene. The African Union (A.U.) is one such organization, which has intervened in precarious situations before, including South Sudan’s recent crackdown on protestors. The A.U. called on Sudan to restore civil law and expelled the country from the Union. Although the A.U. has endorsed Switzerland’s peace talks, it has yet to take further action.

Solutions

Fomunyoh said that there are three divided propositions to the Anglophone Crisis, “The Amba boys who want separation, those who want a federation and those who believe the status quo is fine the way it is,” however, the first step should be to end this violence.

All parties need to agree to a cease-fire, separatists need to allow children to go back to school and the government should release anglophone prisoners so they can be part of finding a solution. Although the idea of federalism has almost become taboo, Human Rights Lawyer Felix Agbor Nkongho strongly believes it would appease all sides.

“People would have a separation of powers. People would have the autonomy,” said Nkongho. However, the government has made promises in the past it did not keep.

Cameroon’s previous federation dissolved in 1972 under the same government. So, promises to implement any agreement will not mean anything unless the government regains trust. Segun believes this can start by holding those guilty of human rights abuses accountable. “To sacrifice justice on the order peace would only lead to more violence and a crisis later, if not immediately.”

Preventing a future crisis also requires healing from the trauma, which is Fomunyoh’s biggest concern. If the country does not make investments in healing, it could threaten future security by creating an environment where corruption thrives.

“When you have dead bodies in the street when that becomes the norm, then other abuses like assault, rape, theft, are pale in comparison,” said Fomunyoh. The Anglophone Crisis can become much direr and have unintended long-lasting consequences.

International solidarity helped South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. The AU and UNSC helped resolve Côte d’Ivoire’s post-election crisis. There is no reason that Cameroon cannot stop its Anglophone Crisis.

Emma Uk
Photo: Flickr

 

Poland’s Rising Homeless Population
When one first looks at the statistics of Poland’s homeless population and rates, it does not appear as bad as other Eastern European countries. Unfortunately, it is quite hazardous to be homeless in Poland. With deadly cold weather during the winter and spring, along with few programs to help solve this problem, many who live or come to this country make it a point to avoid living on the streets. Here are seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population.

7 Facts About Poland’s Rising Homeless Population

  1. Homeless Statistics: Many of the homelessness statistics appear outdated and inconclusively gathered. The Polish government had announced that there were around 33,408 homeless people within the country. Many, however, believe that these statistics have grossly underexaggerated this number and that the actual number is much higher.
  2. Homelessness Duration: One of the more damaging statistics to the homeless situation is that not only is the number of homeless growing in Poland, but people are staying homeless for longer durations. In 2017, records determined that around 25 percent of the homeless population were staying homeless for over 10 years with no sign of their situation improving. More people within the country are finding themselves homeless for longer durations, in spite of emergency care and other NGO programs.
  3. People Who Are Homeless: The homeless population does not comprise of just Polish citizens. It also includes asylum seekers and refugees, with most hailing from Chechnya. Many of these Chechen refugees and asylum seekers are seeking a safe haven from persecution within their homelands, and have actually gotten along well with other homeless in Poland.
  4. Rising House Prices: A large reason for the rising homeless rates is the rising housing prices, not just in Poland, but within Europe in general. Large cities within Poland such as Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk have seen a 7.11 percent increase in prices. This is mostly due to low supply, high demand and a decline in low-cost housing among young adults. This may be good for homeowners and real estate investors, but it is to the detriment of those who cannot afford the rising housing prices. Out of the seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population, this might be one of the most impactful.
  5. Housing Program: A housing program that allows for subsidies to housing within cities could give the homeless a chance to live in a training flat that the Camillian Mission for Social Assistance runs. Unfortunately, this program does not cover medical costs which can lead to a person’s inability to work, and in turn, make them unable to pay what they need to stay in the aforementioned flats. This program has not released a success rate, but some believe that it is lowering every year.
  6. Health Care: Another crippling factor for the homeless population is other faulty social programs that cannot properly support the population. Accessing health services for the homeless is difficult mainly because of bureaucratic requirements that homeless people cannot meet more often than not because of their situations. In 2018, however, the government put a new law into place that allowed it to cancel its requirements for health care so that Polish citizens could receive free health care that the state budget paid for.
  7. NGO and Community Programs: After analyzing the situation, the E.U. has concluded that Poland’s situation is similar to the Portuguese. The E.U.’s analytics since 2018 have deduced that although Poland had put programs in place to try and deal with the issue of homelessness, around 90 percent of services that people receive come via NGOs and other community groups that receive financing from local authorities. The NGOs, however, do not help fix the problem of reintegrating the homeless into a liveable situation, as they are more equipped for emergency situations.

As these seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population shows, the Polish government is trying to help those who find themselves down on their luck, but the problem has festered due to inefficient programs. Though these programs clearly aim to help people in dire situations, they do little to solve the overall problem of keeping people off of the streets. The country will clearly appreciate help from the E.U., but the way Poland uses the money will determine people’s fates.

Collin Williams
Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in GreeceIs there poverty in Greece? Yes. Among the countries riding the rising EU economy, Greece finds itself adrift with high unemployment and rampant poverty.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, several countries including Greece, Ireland, Cyprus and Portugal have relied on the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bailouts. All are rebounding except for Greece, which is now on its third bailout and has yet to see a decrease in its 14 percent poverty rate.

Many Greeks say the bailouts are not enough. With the highest unemployment rate in the EU at 23 percent and youth unemployment at nearly 48 percent, many Greeks believe that the causes of poverty in Greece include the bailouts themselves.

The EU and IMF have been cautious issuing the Mediterranean nation new bailouts, requiring the Greek government to enact several austerity measures. These measures have ranged from increasing taxes and cutting pensions to scaling back all government spending.

Austerity and Poverty in Greece

Many believe that these austerity measures are the causes of poverty in Greece. Increased taxes and pension cuts leave citizens with less disposable income, and in Greece’s case, nearly no disposable income. Being a largely service-oriented economy, consumer spending is the most important economic driver.

As spending falls, businesses tighten the belt and hire fewer or lay off workers. The first to suffer are young and inexperienced Greeks. Due to the inability of the Greece’s youth to find employment, many families subsist on parents’ or grandparents’ pensions, which are to be cut this year as part of the new round of austerity measures.

Many young Greeks have left the nest to head to the cities, where incomes are higher, and poverty is less prevalent. Greece’s rural population has experienced a contraction as a result, and food assistance lines in the city have grown.

There is some good news on Greece’s horizon. As part of a program to incorporate Syrian refugees into mainstream Greek society, the EU is planning on giving Greece 209 million euros. The money will help refugees with rent and living expenses and the new cash infusion could help move the economy forward, only time will tell.

The Greek government has also decided to issue bonds on the market. Finding a buyer for Greece’s risky debt will prove challenging, but if done, will prove to the EU that the economy is turning a corner.

The causes of poverty in Greece are many and systemic. After the global financial crisis of 2008 and the following austerity measures, Greece has had it rough in the last decade, but many can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thomas Anania

Photo: Flickr