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Resilience During COVID-19 in IranJust south of the Iranian capital Tehran lies the metropolitan city of Qom. In late February, citizens in Qom became ill with COVID-19. Within weeks of the global spread, Iran became one of the first global hotspots outside East Asia, alongside Italy. The socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic created a dual crisis that threatened to exacerbate COVID-19’s impact on Iran. In 2018, the Trump Administration announced its intent to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal, following the successful negotiation of the agreement by the prior Obama White House. The unilateral U.S. withdrawal led to the reimposition of sanctions on Iran, crushing the economy and sending unemployment skyrocketing. In 2018 and 2019, the Iranian economy experienced annual contractions of more than 6%.

Against this backdrop, ordinary citizens took to the streets demanding sweeping change to the government in the biggest protests since the founding of modern Iran. The government responded with force. Hundreds of protestors were killed and the entire nation underwent a total internet blackout that lasted days.

With the country already wobbling from economic and political pressure, the pandemic hit at the worst possible time. As a result, many expected COVID-19’s impact on Iran to be outsized. Instead, the nation showed a shocking level of resilience that befuddled experts.

Economic Rebound

At first, COVID-19’s impact on Iran appeared to be nothing more than an accelerant to the generally negative undercurrents impacting the economy. A widely cited report by the Iranian Parliament Research Center foresaw a dramatic increase in poverty in 2020. By the end of the year, 57 million Iranians were expected to be below the poverty line. Moreover, as major economies across the world experienced sharp contractions, IMF analysts saw a similar fate in store for Iran. According to predictions, the Iranian economy would shed 5% of its size in 2020.

However, the opposite occurred. The Iranian economy actually expanded for the first time in years. Despite the crippling blow of U.S. sanctions and a global economic calamity, Iran posted a GDP growth of 1.5%. In many ways, this turnaround resembled a unique occurrence in China. In 2020, China also registered positive GDP growth, the only large economy to do so. But China had controlled COVID-19, whereas Iran was still struggling with its outbreak. The ability of the capital Tehran to manage its economy relatively well amid greater uncertainty was impressive.

But all was not well in Iran. Deaths from COVID-19 spiked across the country and satellite images confirmed the construction of massive buriel pits. By mid-July, almost 90,000 deaths were recorded in Iran. However, this is believed to be an underestimation. Data from the University of Washington confirms more than 200,000 excess deaths for the same period.

Vaccines Requested and Delivered

To get out of its current situation, Iran needs vaccines. In this arena too, recovery promises to be much faster than initially predicted. The refinement of COVID-19 vaccines, which was expected to take years, was released in months. The current challenge is the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. As of mid-July, only 5% of the Iranian population have received one dose of the COVID-19 jab and just 3% are fully vaccinated. But philanthropy is coming to the rescue. In the United States, a group of philanthropists is planning to send 150,000 Pfizer doses to Iran. Abroad, countries like Russia and China have promised to donate vaccines as well.

The road to normalcy will be difficult for Iran. But a strong global recovery has the potential to bring Iran to success.

– Zachary Lee
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Cuba
The COVID-19 pandemic backpedaled Cuba’s progress in eradicating poverty and food insecurity, similar to many other countries. As the largest island within the Caribbean, tourism plays a large role in the economy. Although travel restrictions are no longer in place, the country’s reliance on food imports and poor infrastructure have worsened the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cuba.

Cuba Before COVID-19

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), Cuba is one of the most successful countries to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Government-implemented social programs provide maternal healthcare, monthly feeding baskets and free lunch for children in more than 10,000 schools. However, 70 to 80% of Cuba’s food requirements come from food imports, and this reliance lessens the national budget.

A consistently strained national budget, coupled with an economy in the midst of crisis, ultimately exacerbated the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cuba. Well before COVID-19 hit the island, the Trump administration initiated sanctions banning U.S. travel and commerce with Cuban businesses. This strained the economy even further.

The Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) reports that poverty in Cuba is long-caused by the inaccessibility that Cubans have to basic needs. For example, the real-median state wages continuously fall and pensions do not align with food requirements. Also, the price of basic utilities continues to increase. The social assistance services are helpful, but they are not always accessible or upheld with the utmost quality.

Cuba’s Handling of COVID-19

Cuba’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most effective within the Caribbean. Free universal healthcare and large numbers of medical personnel are among the reasons that the island’s pandemic-related mortality rates are much lower than some of their neighboring countries. Cuba had approximately 151 cumulative deaths in January 2021, while Jamaica had approximately 312. At the same time, though, the government’s control of the media makes some skeptical as to whether or not the number of cases is accurate.

Cuba has the largest ratio of doctors to citizens in the world, with 84 doctors for every 10,000 citizens. Through the Continuous Assessment and Risk Evaluation (CARE) System, doctors can regularly track, assess and isolate outbreaks of the disease by visiting patients directly. Beginning in 1984, community-based medicine connects doctors and nurses to roughly 150 families. The CARE system furthers the impact of this model by ensuring that doctors carry out preemptive medical measures continuously.

The Persistence of Poverty

The issue of poverty in Cuba comes by way of poor infrastructure, food instability and a persisting housing crisis. As mentioned previously, food imports make up a large portion of the island’s food consumption. Reuters reports that before the pandemic, Cuba began seeing a decline in the number of food imports. This was due to Venezuela putting a cap on the aid it was providing. The Trump administration’s tightening of the United States trade embargo also impacted the number of food imports. In turn, the pandemic worsened the already existent food shortage.

In addition to the shortage of food, much of the basic infrastructure strains the country’s ability to quickly respond to conflict, leaving many unassisted during crisis. The island is also susceptible to tropical storms, which worsens the housing crisis. Many Cuban homes are unable to withstand extreme weather conditions. Many Cubans are also unable to afford damage repair. Cuba also suffers from a deficit of houses, with leads to the issue of overcrowding in shelters.

Only 1% of Cuban households have access to the internet. In turn, many people are unable to purchase their essential items online and must endure in-person contact. Even with social distancing and isolation mandates in order, those living in poverty are generally unable to abide by these standards due to the nature of their work or fiscal inability. The culmination of these factors worsens the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cuba.

Positive Insights

The emergence of effective vaccines and the efficacy of the CARE system serves as an inspiration for other countries in the fight against the pandemic. The Cuban-developed Abdala vaccine is said to be 92.28% effective in the last stages of its clinical trials. The Soberena-2 vaccine, another Cuban-developed vaccine, has an effectiveness of 62% with two of its three doses. Cuba’s extensive medical research, along with its use of community-based healthcare, model how preventative healthcare can become readily accessible to communities in the midst of a crisis.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cuba remains an issue to be resolved, but the island is on the pathway to returning to life pre-pandemic. More than 1 million children returned to school in September 2020, and fully vaccinated tourists can now visit the island.

With the island’s newfound knowledge and insights on how to adequately handle the plights of a pandemic, hope exists that Cuba will soon continue the progress it once made in eradicating poverty and food insecurity.

– Cory Utsey
Photo: Flickr

American Peacekeeping
The role of United Nations peacekeeping forces – impartial troops that the U.N. deployed to ensure the promotion of human rights and democratic ideals – has been in question for years, especially due to concerns over their efficacy in situations where decisive military action is necessary. It is partly due to these concerns, as well as general opposition to international organizations from the Trump Administration, that American contributions to peacekeeping efforts have waned over the last five years. However, recent evidence shows that American peacekeeping not only plays an important role in the stability of many fragile democracies but that it often serves American interests more efficiently than U.S. military action could.

Controversy Over American Peacekeeping

U.N. peacekeeping efforts have long been the subject of controversy over their efficacy in conflict zones. Peacekeepers bind themselves to neutrality and may intervene only when the country in question invites them and use force exclusively in self-defense.

Traditional peacekeeping operations had the intention of maintaining demilitarized zones between warring parties in order to prevent either party from taking advantage of the other through abuse of cease-fires. An example of this includes the U.N. peacekeeping operation based in Jerusalem to prevent violence between Palestine and Israel. Peacekeeping’s detractors often point to this example as proof of the endless and ineffective nature of peacekeeping, given the failure of the Jerusalem mission to produce a peaceful regional agreement despite being implemented over 70 years ago. A better-known example of inefficacy in peacekeeping is the Rwandan genocide, where U.N. blue helmets – rendered powerless due to orders forbidding them to intervene – became witnesses to the slaughter of over 800,000 people.

Given the failure of the Rwandan peacekeeping mission and the fact that the kind of territorial conflicts the peacekeeping program intended to prevent are becoming less common, many believe that peacekeeping has no future in an era that ideological conflict and extremism define. This perspective, however, ignores blue-helmet successes and peacekeeping’s cost-efficiency in comparison to military interventions.

The Success of Peacekeeping

Blue helmet successes in East Timor and Sierra Leone point towards a new kind of peacekeeping that includes the mandate of military force where necessary in combination with the promotion of locally-led sustainable development initiatives. In East Timor, a country that integration with Indonesia and a desire for independence once tore apart, pro-integration militias began a bloody campaign which resulted in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of many more. After successfully registering hundreds of thousands of citizens to vote in a poll that demonstrated overwhelming support for independence, the U.N. provided peacekeepers with a mandate to restore stability to the region and assist in creating a local government. The multinational forces were successful in their use of force to quell violence in East Timor, and worked with local leaders to implement a new government that the Timorese designed rather than having Western nations force one upon them.

One can also see the efficacy of peacekeeping in the example of Sierra Leone, where a bloody civil war raged over the last decade of the 20th century. In the wake of a conflict that human atrocities characterized, U.N. peacekeeping operations (though initially modest) eventually brought nearly 18,000 troops into the region with the intention of restoring peace and disarming the country’s warring parties. In 2000, the U.N. negotiated a cease-fire under the Abuja Agreement, at which point peacekeeping operations shifted to prioritize the facilitation of fair elections and the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure. Peacekeepers remained in the region until 2005 to ensure stability, and later surveys found that over 80% of Sierra Leoneans approved of the U.N.’s response to the conflict.

American Support for Peacekeeping

Under the Trump Administration, American contributions to the program have decreased from 29% of the American peacekeeping budget to under 25% over the last five years. Despite being the only organization for effective “burden-sharing” in the international effort for security, the Trump budget cuts stemmed from the belief that American contribution to the U.N. was unfairly large. The U.S. is currently the largest contributor to peacekeeping operations. Each country’s participation, however, depends on its size, wealth and veto power.

Despite claims that peacekeeping does not benefit American interests, recent studies show that it can be more efficient than American military intervention. A study by the Government Accountability Office found that, though U.N. peacekeeping operations cost roughly $2.4 billion (USD) over three years in the Central African Republic, a hypothetical American military operation with similar objectives would cost more than twice as much. When one factors this cost-analysis into the benefits to the U.S. from the global security gained by peacekeeping operations, it becomes clear that continued contribution to peacekeeping is in the best interest of American security.

Kieran Hadley
Photo: United Nations

U.S. and ChinaCOVID-19 has brought nearly all facets of normal life and governance to a screeching halt. On all fronts, from the economy to the military, the coronavirus has changed the way this planet runs. One area that has been heavily affected by the pandemic but does not get as much attention is international relations.

Diplomatic relations between countries is one of the toughest areas of government. It has become even more difficult to fully engage in with the onset of COVID-19. With more states turning to domestic engagement, the status quo of international relations has been shaken. In no foreign relationship is this more clear than that between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China.

U.S.-China Diplomatic Relations

Current diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China were established under President Richard Nixon in 1972. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has experienced highs and lows. In 2020, it is nearly at an all-time low. The hostile status of this relationship now mainly stems from the ascension of President Xi Jinping of China to power in 2013, and the election of the U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016.

Under these two leaders, U.S.-Chinese relations have greatly diminished over the last four years. A rise in nationalism and “America First” policies under President Trump’s administration has alienated the Chinese amidst constant public attacks on the ‘authoritarianism’ of Jinping’s government. For example, China’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy over the last two years has been the subject of extensive international condemnation, particularly from President Trump and the United States. In addition, the two countries have been engaged in a high-profile trade war since the beginning of 2018.

More recently, a dramatic escalation in the deteriorating relationship between the two countries was taken in July 2020, when the U.S. ordered the closing of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, on the basis of technological-espionage on China’s part. In retaliation, China ordered the American consulate in the city of Chengdu to close as well. Another significant strain on the diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China is COVID-19.

The Outbreak of the Coronavirus

Since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, more than 4,600 people have died in China, over a period of nearly nine months. In the same amount of time, almost 180,000 people have died in the U.S. The U.S. government has consistently blamed the Chinese for failing to contain the virus. China has firmly denied these accusations. COVID-19 has seriously damaged the economic and healthcare systems of both the U.S. and China. Both systems have lost nearly all economic gains they’ve made since the 2008-2010 recession. While state economies around the globe also suffer, the decline of the economies of these two specific countries has far-reaching implications. Not only is the global economy in danger, but military alliances and foreign aid are as well.

Global Economy

Nearly every nation on earth has some kind of economic partnership with either the U.S., China or both. For example, the United Arab Emirates has been an ally of the U.S. since 1974, but in recent years has engaged in a pivotal economic partnership with China. Continued threats of tariffs and pulling out of trade agreements threaten the balance of these partnerships. These threats could force smaller nations to choose sides between the U.S. and China, should this confrontation escalate.

Military Alliances

While the U.S. enjoys a military advantage over China, China has allied itself with many of America’s adversaries, such as Russia, Iran and North Korea. These alliances have been solidified in recent years, for example, just before the coronavirus broke out in China in December 2019, China, Russia and Iran conducted nearly a week-long military exercise in the Gulf of Oman, a strategic waterway for oil tankers. An American confrontation with any one of these countries could draw China into the conflict, which could spell disaster for the world order.

International Aid

As part of China’s “charm offensive” in the early 2000s, the country began to heavily invest in the reconstruction of the economies and infrastructure in impoverished African states. In exchange, China received rights to natural resources such as oil in these countries. The U.S. also maintains a high level of foreign assistance in Africa. COVID-19 forces the U.S. and China to put more of their respective resources toward rebuilding their own economies. However, the aid they both provide to developing states worldwide diminishes at a time when those states need it most.

It is clear that even before the coronavirus spread to all corners of the globe, the turbulent relationship between the U.S. and China was advancing toward a breaking point. The pandemic has, to some extent, halted the diminishing state of relations between the two countries. However, any further provocations similar to the closing of the consulates in Houston and Chengdu could result in a catastrophe. The impacts of this relationship extend beyond the U.S. and China; they affect nations that heavily depend on the aid they receive from both powers.

Alexander Poran
Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in EgyptNearly one-third of Egyptians fall below the poverty line, with the unemployment rate trending higher than extremely impoverished countries such as Ghana, Lebanon and Zimbabwe. In 2011, lasting poverty rates and poor living conditions caused Egyptian retaliation against the government. Political instability has complicated Egypt’s foreign partnerships since that time, subsequently affecting all areas of the economy; as a result, foreign investment in the country’s resources has had notable fluctuations. The inconsistency in Egypt’s economy leaves few employment opportunities, especially among younger generations, inevitably affecting rates of poverty in Egypt.

Travel in Egypt

Typically, travelers visiting Egypt receive encouragement to exercise increased caution, per the U.S. Global Health Advisory. The country ranks two out of four on the U.S. Department of State’s safety scale; this rating indicates that the U.S. Department of State has approved travel there although tourists should recognize the possible risks. This system is not solely unique to the United States – many countries have similar regulations. However, due to the global impact of COVID-19, regular travel ratings are momentarily on hold.

Factors responsible for Egypt’s pre-pandemic, level-two status include levels of terrorism and lingering tensions with the U.S. Embassy. This score is an improvement from a travel rating of four in 2011. Egypt received this high rating during a violent national rebellion that broke out against police brutality, the poor economy and religious divides. When a country has a level-four rating, the U.S. Department of State tells Americans not to travel there.

Tourism’s Impact on Egypt’s Economy

In February 2019, research expert Amna Puri-Mirza provided a statistical analysis that demonstrated that a decline in tourism impacted the Egyptian economy. From 2010 to 2011, national profits from the tourist industry dropped 32 percent in reaction to the Egyptian rebellion. In 2015, news of a Russian airline crash that was traveling to Cairo decreased tourism from 14.7 million to 5.4 million people in 2016.

The connection between tourism and poverty in Egypt correlates with the market value of different services and goods that the country produces; profits from tourism hold a large percentage of the country’s overall income. In 2018, tourism supported 2.5 million jobs, indicating heavy reliance on the industry. When situations adversely impact tourism around the globe, this substantially impacts the economy, and in turn, poverty in Egypt.

Efforts to Reduce Poverty in Egypt

Working to ease economic stress, the Egyptian government succeeded in obtaining a loan from the International Monetary Fund in 2016. While there might be uncertainties for the future of the loan, it is certainly aiding the nation in the return of tourists. Research on Egypt’s travel and tourism show promising signs of continued recovery, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. In 2019, Egypt’s tourism level improved by 16.5 percent from the previous year, which is higher than the global average. Such an incredible growth rate is a promising sign for the rates of poverty in Egypt.

Foreign Relations with the U.S.

Despite past tensions, the partnership between the U.S. and Egypt has greatly improved. The established relationship could substantially impact the state of poverty in Egypt. The Trump Administration announced a priority of aid for Egypt; specifically, it intends to provide economic reforms and military funds to combat radical terrorism in Egypt. “Our relationship has never been stronger. And we’re working with Egypt on many different fronts,” said President Trump. Upon continuing a solid relationship with the U.S., the Egyptian government could utilize the support in developing a sustainable economy post-loan.

Other Initiatives

Egyptian President El-Sisiis and his officials are also working on economic reform needed to reduce poverty in Egypt. Like many nations, the sudden 2020 Coronavirus outbreak presents additional obstacles in accomplishing this goal. Experts expect that Egypt’s tourism industry will lose more than 40,000 workers to unemployment as a result.

Now, more families will be at risk of falling into poverty, causing a heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19. On March 20, 2020, The World Bank Group donated $7.9 million to fund Egypt’s emergency response. The nonprofit is working with Egypt to create financial, technological and health strategies to protect citizens. Ideally, the country should be able to avoid the anticipated increase in poverty in Egypt through this aid. Assisting the Egyptian economy has become an international effort. Not only is does The World Bank intend for the aid to provide the government with resources, but it also intends to disperse it among Egypt’s citizens, especially those experiencing poverty in Egypt.

Tourism is a key source of income for the country but has recently halted. Additionally, tense international relations and a poor global image have further damaged the already struggling economy. Fortunately, new global partnerships with Egypt have aided in encouraging tourism in Egypt. While the 2020 pandemic puts this travel on hold, the response of increasing aid will support the economy and prevent further poverty in Egypt. If aid continues, Egypt will receive a great opportunity to sustain its economy and people.

GraceElise Van Valkenburg
Photo: Pixabay

The United States Can Help Refugees
The world has seen an incessant cycle of violent conflict, famine and environmental catastrophes in recent years. These events have caused an increase in refugees and displaced people to a number that human history has not seen before. To date, a record 70 million people worldwide are displaced. A significant question is how the United States can help refugees.

The United States has not only the resources but an obligation to remedy this ever-growing humanitarian crisis. Through humanitarian assistance, the United States has the ability to curb global instability for national security purposes. It is important to first understand how the United States can help refugees before looking at how to improve the current system.

U.S. refugee policy has historically set the standard for the rest of the world. However, modern policy has not evolved to meet the growing crisis at hand. It is crucial to continue the search for an adequate policy to end the push factors causing the refugee crisis and improve the quality of life for displaced people. The United States can accomplish this goal in two ways: by expanding upon existing humanitarian assistance and restructuring the United States’ current humanitarian system.

How the United States Helps Refugees and Displaced People

The United States has implemented a number of programs to improve the lives of refugees around the world. One such program is the Julia Taft fund. This program supports projects aimed at assisting refugees or refugee returnees to become self-sufficient in ways that are beneficial to their host communities. The fund provides financial assistance to local NGOs, community-based and faith-based organizations that seek to ameliorate the lives of refugees by improving economic conditions in their host communities.

With the support of the Julia Taft fund, the U.S. embassy in Chad helped open a salon in collaboration with a local NGO. The salon opened in April 2019, aims to reduce sexual violence against refugee women in urban areas. The 12 women selected for the project participated in an apprenticeship at a local salon and now have the skill set necessary to run their own business. This example demonstrates that the United States can use the fund to increase the self-sufficiency of displaced people while bringing value to the economy of the local host communities.

The implementation of programs, such as the Julia Taft Fund, demonstrates how the United States can help refugees. This fund provides refugees with the tools to be self-sufficient while also benefitting local economies. In order to continue and expand programs such as this, the U.S. must increase funding and the efficiency of its humanitarian aid delivery system. The United States sets the standard for humanitarian assistance to refugees. The United States must modernize this system for the benefit of global stability and national security.

How the United States Can Better Help Refugees and Displaced People

Increasing the capabilities of the United States humanitarian aid delivery system is crucial to managing the growing number of refugee crises. It is important to ask how the United States can help refugees and what the U.S. can do better to address this issue. The U.S. needs to empower its humanitarian organizations with increased funding and a sound organizational structure in order to address the changing needs of displaced people around the world.

In order to achieve a more efficient and influential U.S. humanitarian system, it is important to maintain and gradually increase funding to the State Department and USAID. The Trump administration is proposing cuts to both of these state entities. The proposed cuts would reduce funding by nearly one-third, from $8.7 billion to $6.3 billion. This potential decrease in funding would cripple the United States’ ability to effectively address the causes and mitigate the effects of refugee crises.

A well funded and autonomous USAID would be better equipped to implement humanitarian response programming for displaced people and their host communities. The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration would simultaneously remain an independent entity focusing on policy and diplomatic responses to refugee crises. This structure would act to create a cohesive diplomatic and humanitarian response to the growing number of crises that impact people around the world.

– Peter Trousdale
Photo: Flickr