From Hospitals to Donkeys: Austerity Cuts Hit Greece Hard
Throughout 2011, reports about the economic crisis in Greece have been woven in and out of headlines. Since the end of 2009, the country has been hovering on the brink of defaulting on its €340 billion (about $444 billion) debt more than once. In May of 2010, it received a bailout of €110 billion, or $152.6 billion, from the “troika” of the European Commission, the International Monetary Find and the European Central Bank. But in order to receive the bailout, Greece has had to agree to pass round after round of austerity measures including tax hikes and cuts to salaries and jobs.
Greece’s Public Health System in Crisis
In November, after a protracted fight with the opposition New Democracy party, then-Prime Minister George Papandreou barely won a confidence vote from Parliament, the Vouli, and then stepped down from his post. A package of yet more austerity measures was narrowly approved and it is hoped that Greece’s new Prime Minister, Lucas Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank and an economist, will be able to lead the country out of the crisis.
Greece’s economy shrank by an estimate 5.5 percent in 2011 and the country has been in its third year of recession. With unemployment at 18.3 percent and unemployment for those in their 20s at 40 percent (and nearing 50 percent), reports of Greeks leaving the country have been frequent. Those who remain have reason to be concerned about their quality of life. A study in the British medical journal The Lancet warned about the effects of the austerity measures on the extensive Greek public health system. As the New York Times says, government spending on health has been reduced by 13 percent in the past two years, from $19.5 billion to $17 billion. A hiring freeze has led to a shortage of nurses and long waits, even for procedures such as breast cancer surgery and heart bypass operations. Access to drugs has become a real concern, with some drug companies unwilling to accept lower rates from government plans. More and more people are turning to free clinics.
Overseas Help For Abandoned Donkeys
British Prime Minister David Cameron has refused to offer bailout assistance for Greece but some in the UK have sought to help animals in need and, in particular, donkeys whose Greek owners, hit hard by the economic crisis, have abandoned. According to the Wall Street Journal, seven donkeys have made the five-day journey to an 11,000-acre estate, Angmering Park, owned by Anne Herries, the daughter of a late Duke of Norfolk. There, they have plenty of grass to feed on as well as fresh hay and ginger snaps; they sleep in a heated stable that offers a view of the English Channel.
It’s a quite luxurious life for animals who, in Greece, had hauled food, firewood and tourists up hills for sightseeing. Animals rights groups say that the donkeys are being abandoned in rising numbers. The Wall Street Journal quotes Barbara Doulyeraki who runs Agia Marina Donkey Rescue in Crete and says that she is contacted two or tree times a week by villagers unable to care for donkeys. Some older ones are simply “left on roadsides to starve or are sold to roving meat vendors”:
“It’s quite a tragic situation,” said Ms. Doulyeraki. “These donkeys have worked for 25 or 30 years, really hard.”
The Donkey Sanctuary, based in England’s southwest region of Devon, funds a Greek rescue facility that costs €45,000 a year, or about $60,000.
Another U.K.-based charity, Greek Animal Rescue, raises about €150,000 per year, with a portion earmarked for a donkey sanctuary on the island of Kos.
One donkey, Aliki, renamed Alice by her new British caretakers, went to work this past holiday season carrying Mary in a Nativity play.
The Wall Street Journal says that “a spokeswoman at Greece’s agricultural ministry said the government had no information on the matter.”
Photo of a donkey in Crete by mueritz
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