March 2014 / Robin Bartlett Rissi
Swiss engagement in Kosovo began in the late 1990’s with humanitarian assistance during the Kosovo War. Since the end of the war, most assistance has been focused on transition processes, i.e. focus on developing socially inclusive markets, decentralized and democratic political systems and European integration. While there are projects focusing on vocational education, drinking water infrastructure and improving living conditions of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities (1), there is relatively little focus on addressing issues of poverty. Indeed, deep rooted poverty is not an issue that sits comfortably with the image of a country that is seeking to become a member of the European Union. This interview provides one snapshot of how some Kosovans struggle with real issues of deprivation.
In 2008, the Republic of Kosovo declared itself an independent country, nearly 10 years after the end of the Kosovo War in 1999. On the one hand, Kosovo has seen some successes in the last 15 years with the increasing authority of the rule of law, a 5% growth rate and agreements with the EU on topics such as regional cooperation and free trade. However, poverty remains a serious issue. 34.5% of the population live below the poverty line (less than 1.55 EUROs per day) and 12% live in extreme poverty (less than 1 EURO per day). GDP per capita is estimated to be $4,200 (1), placing Kosovo between Philippines and Honduras on international ratings (2). Unemployment is officially 45%, which makes life particularly disillusioning in a country where the average age is 27 (3). A substantial contribution to Kosovo’s economy comes from remittances from migrants living in Switzerland, German and Scandinavia (3).
Economic statistics, however, can only tell part of the story about the reality of poverty. Weak public services in particular in health, education, water, telecommunications and transport make life for many difficult (1). Rural areas, in particular, suffer from lack of water infrastructure, which not only leads to low levels of sanitation but also makes irrigation difficult in the same regions that are dominated by subsistence agriculture. Extreme poverty is disproportionately high among children, the elderly and female-headed households. Discrimination against Roma remains a widespread issue and women’s property rights are limited (5).
In addition to describing the difficulties of a particular family living in poverty in Kosovo, the brief interview recorded with Teuta Kastrati highlights two issues, notably: the often very narrow criteria set by development agencies for granting support, and the effectiveness of local community action, where this can be mobilized.
More information on the SDC and HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation cooperation with Kosovo
1) SDC/SECO (2013). Country Strategy Kosovo: 2013-2016. See here. 2) The World Bank (2012). GDP per capita, PPP (current international $). Accessed on 5 February, 2014. See here. 3) The CIA World Factbook: Kosovo. Accessed on February 5, 2014. See here. 4) USAID (2010). USAID Country Profile Property Rights And Resource Governance Kosovo. See here. 5) UNDP (2014). Everyone’s Involvement Needed: Women’s Property Rights and their Access to Resources. See here.