Celebs Speak Up for Refugees
The migrant crisis appears to escalate more and more each day: more stories of migrants crossing borders, fleeing war-torn, violent fragments of communities on foot and by boat. As governments, particularly in the E.U., struggle to determine how to handle the situation, many celebrities are advocating for governments to treat the refugees with due compassion and kindness.

JK Rowling is promoting a petition in the U.K. that advocates for the acceptance of asylum seekers. She tweets, “If you can’t imagine yourself in one of those boats, you have something missing. They are dying for a life worth living. #refugeeswelcome.”

She also is criticizing the press for not giving the issue enough attention and coverage. Rowling is a known philanthropist and also spent some time as a researcher with Amnesty International. Samantha Morton, who is starring in Harry Potter spinoff “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” also advocated for the U.K. to reconsider its position on refugees.

Author John Green declared a commitment to matching up to 20,000 pounds toward fellow author John Ness’s donation page for organization Save the Children. Green is famous for Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska; he also carries a strong Twitter and YouTube presence.

Actresses Olivia Wilde and Sophia Bush criticized GOP nominee Donald Trump’s attitude toward immigrants while praising Iceland’s recent commitment to taking in refugees.

The Icelandic government is reviewing a recent Facebook appeal from citizens to increase the number of refugees permitted asylum in 2015 and 2016. Sophia Bush tweeted, “Wow. While we try to throw people out and build a wall, others are opening their homes to refugees. True humanity.” This was later re-tweeted by Olivia Wilde.

For those who are not celebrities, social media is serving as an equally powerful means for advocacy. The outcry following the publication of the drowned Syrian boy shows the power of social media to fight for human rights and support refugees.

Furthermore, advocacy organization Sum of Us created a catch-all page compiling relevant links for donation pages, fundraising opportunities and event listings. Through petitions, advocacy and pledges for support, hopefully refugees can receive the care and support needed to gain stability after such a long time in crises.

Priscilla McCelvey

Sources: Global Post, JK Rowling, Sum Of Us, TIME
Photo: Google Images

Commodities Speculation, Food Pricing and Security - TBP
During the beginnings of the Great Recession in 2008 and the years that followed, food prices went haywire. Indexes of food prices skyrocketed and took years to reach levels that even resembled normalcy. According to the United Nations, the crisis caused more problems with food security for the poor and drove even more people into poverty as food prices became a higher burden to bear. At least 130 million people were pushed into poverty in 2008 as a result of the food crisis and high pricing.

The idea of speculating what the future might hold in order to make some money is not new. In fact, the method has been used in virtually every market, with the exception of planned economies. Speculation by buyers and sellers in the market is actually helpful for reducing price volatility in markets for things such as food, as buyers and sellers can bet against price increases or decreases as a form of insurance against volatility.

However, problems can arise when non-commercial speculators enter the scene. These entities are generally financial institutions or investors. Excessive non-commercial speculation is bad for the health of the market because what is essentially calculated gambling on assets can actually end up increasing price volatility in the market, an issue that then causes people to become uncertain about the future.

Large amounts of uncertainty are not good for market coordination. In April and March of 2008, soybean and corn price volatility was upwards of 30% for each commodity (60% for wheat in March of the same year). These absurd outcomes have been largely attributed to the role of non-commercial speculators in the market. Other speculative tools such as commodity index funds, which use algorithms based on various different financial indicators to decide how to “bet,” facilitate even more speculative problems.

These speculative problems have caused the massive disruption of food supply chains and pricing. In 2014 the European Commission began to implement new regulations on securities markets (where commodities speculation takes place via “futures” and “options”). The new regulations were made to help avoid both the catastrophes of the 2008 financial crisis and the cascading problems that came with them, such as the food pricing speculation that drove millions into greater deprivation and the lack of reliable access to food at costs decided by market forces. These reforms were a step forward, and one of the first times serious measures had been introduced.

Although these concepts may seem quite far removed from the impoverished around the globe, financial markets can, and do, have reverberating effects around the global economy. In conjunction with the financial crisis, food speculation took a toll on those most in need and led to increased hardship across the board. However, as the European Commission demonstrated, measures can be taken to reduce the risks of excessive non-commercial speculation in markets. Responsibly done, commercial speculation can be a tool for increased market efficiency and stability. Without regulations in place, securities and commodities markets can become more sinister.

The Guardian cites figures estimating that large financial institutions including JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and others made billions of dollars off non-commercial speculation in food commodities between the years of 2010 and 2012.

– Martin Yim

Sources: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, United Nations, Reuters, The Guardian
Photo: The Ecologist

On June 3-4, 2015, the European Development Days forum took place in Brussels. The focus of this forum was global development and cooperation. Across the courtyard of the European Parliament, at the scene of the forum, was the European Year for Development slogan that read “Our world. Our dignity. Our future.”

During the opening address, President of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel encouraged political leaders and citizens alike to play their part in the development of nations. He made the astute observation that “development co-operation is not a luxury” and urged listeners to act fast.

Indeed, there is no time like the present. The European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker said that the 2015 European Development Days were occurring at a critical time for the future of the world. He argued that for the international community, it is a “now or never” moment when action must be taken.

At the forum, over 500 speakers, experts, practitioners and activists debated over which areas of development deserve the most attention in the upcoming year. Participants from over 140 countries representing 1,200 organizations worked together to create unified goals in the global development arena.

International cooperation and collaboration is necessary now more than ever before. Looking ahead at the International Conference on Financing for Development in July, the U.N. conference on the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals in September and the Climate Change Conference in December, actors need to begin focusing on issue-alignment.

MEP Linda McAvan makes a crucial distinction. She reminds us all that development is more than just wealthy countries giving donations to those in need. We must achieve a worldwide commitment to collaboratively work to eradicate poverty, tackling the issue at its deepest roots.

As the world’s leading donor of development aid, the European Union (EU) must set the international standard. It is important to remember, however, that it is a two-way street. MEP Charles Goernes points out that developing nations must “take ownership” of their own development, with support from donor countries.

Goernes hopes that the chaos of the Mediterranean migrant crisis has created a sense of urgency for Europe to play a more active role in global development. The problem has become almost impossible to ignore. An ever-increasing number of lives have been lost because of international development disparity.

Goal 8 of the proposed Post-2015 Agenda accordingly targets the protection and safety of migrants. In order to best tackle the problem, the EU will need to closely examine the causes of the migrant crisis. At the core of this international crisis lies the overwhelming need for developmental aid in many non-European countries.

By more efficiently addressing the issue of developmental disparity across borders, the global fight against poverty will be greatly advanced. The year 2015 could very well be pivotal for global development and wealth disparity. Cooperation, focus and commitment from the world’s most capable could bring groundbreaking improvements for the world’s most deprived. For now, the beginnings of development in poorer nations signify a step in the right direction toward poverty eradication.

– Sarah Bernard

Sources: The Irish Times, The Jakarta Post

EU/UNICEF Seawater Desalination Efforts in GazaThe Gaza Strip has a population of 1.7 million, which is expected to grow to 2.1 million by 2020. The demand for clean water access will also undoubtedly increase. In lieu of rivers or streams, the region has thus far had to survive by drawing water from its lone coastal aquifer. However, water is being extracted at a rate of 47 billion gallons per year and has far surpassed its annual rate replenishment of around 16 billion gallons.

This has caused the aquifer to fill with salinated water from the Mediterranean. Estimates show that approximately 90 percent of the water drawn is unsafe to consume. In addition to the seawater influx, the aquifer is contaminated by untreated sewage. Roughly 90,000 cubic meters of sewage flow from Gaza to the coastal waters.

The demand for water has caused many unregulated vendors to begin selling water to make a profit, but roughly 80 percent of the water sold by street vendors is also contaminated. The desperation of Gazans, however, has become increasingly apparent. As many as 4 out of 5 will resort to purchasing potentially unsafe water by these private sellers.

In addition to a possibly serious health risk, this also places an economic strain on many Gazans. “Some families are paying as much as a third of their household income on water,” states June Kunugi, a UNICEF representative for Palestine.

In response to Gaza’s water crisis, UNICEF has worked to complete 18 small desalination taps where residents can draw water free of charge. Also provided, are 3 brackish (mixed fresh & saltwater) plants that are capable of desalinating 50 cubic meters per hour and 10 plants capable of treating 50 cubic meters per day. In total, these plants are estimated to provide water for 95,000 residents.

In 2013, the European Union (EU) announced a collaboration with UNICEF to build a major seawater desalination plant. The project was made possible by a €10 million grant provided by the European Union. The plant is projected to provide 6,000 square meters of water to residents of the two cities.

In an announcement of the project, European Union Representative John Gatt-Rutter stated “The launch of construction work on this seawater desalination plant, offers the prospect of access to clean water for many thousands of families in Khan Younis and Rafah. It forms part of the EU’s wider commitment to improving the lives of Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank, particularly in the area of water, sanitation and solid waste management.”

The 18 km pipeline that divides water between the cities of Rafah and Khan Younis was recently completed, marking the first step towards a monumental solution. Once the plant is completed in late 2015, it is expected to be capable of providing clean water to more than 75,000 Gazans.

– The Borgen Project

Sources: Al Jazeera America, UNICEF, Water Technology
Photo: Flickr

The European Union has proposed a new law to address Europe’s growing migration crisis after months of criticism and accusations of inaction. For several years, migrants have been making the dangerous journey from Africa, Asia and the Middle East across the Mediterranean into Europe. Thousands drown along the way.

The situation has become particularly bad this year as conflicts in Africa and the Middle East have sent more migrants seeking asylum. A record 1,800 people have died trying to make the crossing since the beginning of the year. Italy, Malta and Greece, the primary landing points, are struggling to cope with the influx of refugees.

The European Commission has proposed a new quota system to house the refugees across Europe. It requires EU members to accept a certain number of refugees based on their population, GDP, unemployment rate and current number of asylum applications. The Commission is also exploring ways to crack down on traffickers and assist migrants in making the crossing safely.

Under EU law, asylum seekers are legally entitled to remain in Europe. Economic migrants are not, but this rule has been loosely enforced and many are allowed to stay anyway. The European Commission is also working to improve cooperation with countries of origin to improve deportation procedures for those who do not qualify for asylum to avoid taking in too many people.

The new proposals have proven controversial, particularly the quota system. Critics say the EU is attempting to force countries already struggling with a large influx of immigrants to take in even more. There are fears the law could lead to an anti-immigrant backlash and boost public support for parties on the far-right.

Several EU governments have publicly voiced opposition to the law. The United Kingdom has been the most vocal opponent of the plan, but since it has an opt out clause as part of its agreement with the EU, the quota system will most likely not apply to it. Several eastern and central European countries have also voiced their opposition, including Estonia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

The U.K. Tory government also opposes the measures aimed at tackling human trafficking and helping immigrants across the Mediterranean, saying it will just encourage more to make the journey.

But many other European governments are in favor, including Germany, Italy, Greece and Austria. France has sent mixed messages, with some high ranking officials expressing support and others expressing opposition, but most expect it to vote in favor of the law. Since most of the large EU members back it, the law is expected to pass. It remains to be seen how it will be implemented and whether it will adequately address the problem.

– Matt Lesso

Sources: BBC, France24, New York Times, BBC
Photo: Flickr

fresh start
For the past six years Croatia has been struggling to pull itself out of a severe economic downturn, one of the worst in the EU. The country’s unemployment rate stands at close to 20 percent, the average salary is just $852 a month and the country’s credit rating is below investment grade. Economic growth for 2015 is expected to be less than one percent.

In an effort to combat the crisis, the government has instituted a new program, known as “Fresh Start,” cancelling the debts of the country’s poor. The program is available to all Croatians who live below the poverty line of $138 a month and do not owe more than $5,100 in debt. In total it is estimated that 60,000 Croats can expect debt relief, and 20,000 have already applied.

The government hopes and argues that by cancelling the debt of its poorest citizens it will alleviate poverty and boost the country’s economy. Without the burden of debt repayments draining peoples’ finances, supporters of the program argue that it will enable the poor to spend more on basic necessities and that this increase in spending will help to pull the country out of the recession.

But the program is not without critics. Some argue that it will make little difference in the long run and that beneficiaries will simply end up back in debt with very high premiums, assuming they can secure new loans at all. Other critics argue that the program is a short term solution that fails to tackle long term problems contributing to the recession and fails to create jobs or provide other means to lift people out of poverty.

Then there are other critics who argue that the program does not go far enough as it fails to help those who owe more than $5,100 or earn more than $138 a month. Many applicants have been turned away for owing too much money. Many others who earn too much to qualify still live in poverty and struggle with financial hardships caused by the burden of repaying debt to creditors.

Many critics also see this as an effort by the government to win votes in the upcoming elections set for later this year. But whatever the motivations behind Fresh Start, the real question is whether it will work. The government was successful at convincing the country’s top private and public sector creditors to agree to the program, which is expected to wipe out one to seven percent of Croatians’ debts. This in turn is expected to free close to 20 percent of Croatian debtors.

There is an ongoing debate about both the effectiveness and morality of debt relief. There are numerous organizations lobbying for debt relief to the poor both at home and abroad and numerous other groups opposed to it. But in Croatia, the idea is now being put to the test.

– Matt Lesso

Sources: Mic Network, The Financial Times, Washington Post, New York Times, RTE Dublin
Photo: Panteres

Two separate grant agreements between Seychelles and the European Union were signed on December 10. The two agreements will provide as much as $6.4 million in order to help foster sustainable development and fight the effects of climate change in the archipelago nation.

The two agreements come on the heels of warnings from both the UN and the World Bank Group about the potential of climate change to exacerbate poverty in coastal communities. Seychelles’ economy—dependent chiefly upon tourism and tuna hauls—is particularly vulnerable to effects of climate change.

Recently, Seychelles has become something of a regional leader in the fight for sustainable development. Seychelles has already reached the majority of the UN Millennium Development Goals, and is now advocating the adoption of “blue economy” principles, which emphasize the protection of maritime resources and the economic potential of the Indian Ocean’s fishing, shipping, energy and tourism sectors.

Seychelles Foreign Affairs Minister John-Paul Adam believes that the development of the blue economy could allow the Indian Ocean to become a hub of sustainable ocean management and resiliency in the face of a changing climate. Adam, speaking at the 38th annual ministerial meeting of the G77 plus China, said, “The blue economy provides a blank canvas to many developing countries to charter a completely new sustainable development pathway that is to their best interest.”

In a press statement at the same meeting, Adam called for cooperation amongst southern hemisphere nations in science and technology in order to bolster blue economy sectors. Seychelles is also doing its part in building regional cooperation, strengthening bilateral ties with Fiji in the fisheries sector.

Seychelles’ efforts to sustain development and mitigate the compounding effect of climate change on poverty exemplify the kind of regional leadership that will be necessary in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Similarly, the EU grants will need to be replicated by wealthy nations in order to provide developing nations with the financial resources necessary to not only continue developing, but to do so in a sustainable and climate-conscious way.

– Parker Carroll

Sources: Chatham House, Seychelles News Agency 1, Seychelles News Agency 2, Ventures Africa
Photo: Seychelles News Agency