Education in Tunisia
Commissioner Johannes Hahn of the European Union recently announced a 213.5-million-euro aid package for Tunisia aimed to support the newly established democracy and tackle some key socio-economic projects within the country.

Tunisia was the first country to have a regime change after the Arab Spring. Their democracy was established in 2011 and promptly after they drafted a constitution aimed at providing a more reliable and just form of government for years to come.

Their new constitution and government have been successful thus far but they have run into some economic woes. Ongoing instability in neighboring Libya and terrorist attacks in their own country have equated to a decline in their tourism industry which is vital to their economy.

The EU has been alongside the new Tunisian government since the establishment of the new democracy. From 2011 to 2016, the EU has provided 2 billion euros to assist with the government’s transition and plug any budgetary deficits that arose.

Much progress has been made but there is much more to do according to a recent EU Commission report. “Decisive action is needed to sustain the democratic transition as social discontent, especially among young people, continues to grow.”

The new aid package will support social infrastructure projects focused on education, healthcare, access to clean water and sanitation. Education in Tunisia stands to improve with this increased focus. The funds will be distributed to urban and rural schools that are most deprived of resources.

There will also be vocational job training that will be included in the school curriculum that is paired with local labor market needs. They will be trying a different method of schooling in which education in Tunisia becomes a vehicle for more effective job placement.

Since 2011, Tunisians have been participating in an EU program called Erasmas+ in which teachers and students have an opportunity to receive schooling and vocational training with participating organizations within the EU. The 2016 aid package will expand the eligible number of teachers and students in this program by 1500, adding further strength to education in Tunisia.

By providing stability for the government and increasing funding in education, the EU hopes to reduce the volatility in the Tunisian economy. Currently, 60 percent of Tunisian trade is with the EU and 70 percent of foreign investment is from EU countries. The EU commissioner believes that by adding stability to the Tunisian economy all parties involved will be positively affected.

According to the EU Commissioner, the long-term goal for Tunisia and the EU is to improve its national security. To date, Tunisia has sent more foreign fighters to ISIS than any other country in Europe or the Middle East. Also, with Libya on its southeast border, there are concerns that instability might spread to within their country. With this aid package, the EU hopes to make Tunisia less susceptible to national security risks that are common in the region.

Brian Faust

Photo: Flickr

EU-UNICEF Social Media Campaign: Education in Emergencies
In the face of today’s wars, natural disasters and other emergencies, nearly two million children in 20 countries have overcome adversity to continue their education. The EU and UNICEF launched a joint social media campaign called #EmergencyLessons to highlight the importance of maintaining education in emergencies.

The #EmergencyLessons campaign draws on inspirational stories from countries like Iraq, Ukraine, Nepal and Guinea to celebrate the resilience and strength of children who have braved severe hardships to pursue their education. Since its launch in May 2015, the campaign has reached 70 million people on Twitter alone.

To achieve its goal, #EmergencyLessons encourages students to upload photos, videos or testimonies of how a continued education has helped them through an emergency situation. In addition to reaching children affected by emergencies, the campaign hopes to inspire young Europeans to raise their voice on behalf of the young people whose education has been interrupted by emergencies.

“Here in Europe we tend to take school for granted, and forget what a vital part it is to children, especially when everything around them is collapsing,” says EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Styliandes.

According to UNICEF, a stable education is as important as food or medicine. Sustained access to education in emergencies enables young people to survive, thrive and contribute to the recovery of their society.

The stability of a school routine provides support from friends and teachers as well as protection from abuse, exploitation and recruitment by the armed forces. The #EmergencyLessons campaign seeks to highlight the support from friends and teachers that enable students to cope with hardship.

Of the 462 million school-aged children affected by emergencies, 75 million are in desperate need of educational support. However, less than two percent of the global humanitarian budget is allocated to education. The European Union is committed to financially backing its social media drive by increasing the EU humanitarian budget to education in emergencies to six percent in 2017.

A large amount of EU aid is going to benefit the Middle East region and those affected by the Syrian conflict in particular. The EU Regional Trust provided 90 million euros to support refugee and host country children who are struggling to access educational facilities or quality curriculum. By the end of 2017, 248,000 children in the region will receive some form of educational support from EU funds.

The #EmergencyLessons campaign is a powerful tool in raising awareness and inspiring efforts to protect children in emergencies. “Our message today is not that children need education even in emergencies, it’s that children need education especially in emergencies,” said Queen Rania of Jordan in 2013. Protecting education in emergencies ensures children are not lost in the effects of war or disaster and are empowered to contribute to their society and achieve prosperity.

McKenna Lux

Photo: Flickr

Anti-Refugee Sentiment
On October 2, Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary, held a nationwide referendum to address growing anti-refugee sentiment. Orban asked the question, “Do you want the European Union, even without the approval of the Hungarian parliament, to be able to prescribe the mandatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary?”

Resoundingly, 98 percent of voters backed the government’s opposition to the EU refugee acceptance quotas, even though Hungary would only have to accept 1,300 of the 160,000 refugees taken into consideration by the distribution plan. Although voter turnout was only around 43 percent, the rejection of refugees and belief in their inherent dangers is no anomaly.

Anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiment is spreading across Europe, especially in the wake of major terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris, Nice and the everyday acts of violence consistently occurring throughout Europe. Opposition to refugees also heavily fueled the Brexit vote.

Within the Visegrád Group, an alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, refusal to accept refugees is at its peak. The Czech Republic and Hungary have only accepted 520 and 146 refugees respectively in the last year, a drop in the ocean of millions needing asylum.

In 2015, Hungary also built a heavily guarded, razor wired fence along its southern border to control the flood of migrants into Hungary. Many have criticized the country for treating refugees “worse than wild animals;” some have even called for Hungary to be temporarily or permanently expelled from the EU for its behavior.

Even in more accepting countries like France and Germany, growing fear and misunderstanding have lead to more anti-refugee and anti-Muslim policies. More than 20 French mayors have refused to lift their bans on the “burkini,” a full body swimsuit worn mainly by Muslim women, even though the national court system has deemed the ban unconstitutional.

Even in Germany, the biggest proponent of refugee acceptance, anti-refugee sentiment has spread. After several regional elections went to the far-right, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, plans to take a step back from her heavily controversial open-door refugee policy.

Although the current situation for many refugees may seem bleak, the future may well be brighter. Even after several devastating attacks in France, French president Francois Hollande is still holding firmly to his open refugee acceptance policy. In Syria and Iraq, as well, the end seems to be near. After capturing Fallujah, allied forces have now moved on -to Raqqa, the ISIS capital, and Mosul. The U.S. and EU can now begin to rebuild infrastructure and resettle the remaining refugees.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Serbia
In recent years, poverty in Serbia affected astounding rates of unemployment despite reasonably high levels of development. The country faces unique geographic and economic difficulties that make poverty reduction especially difficult.

 

Top 6 Facts about Poverty in Serbia:

 

  1. One in four people in Serbia lives below the poverty line, making it the poorest country in Europe. However, poverty statistics alone do little to illustrate Serbia’s complex problems that make destitution so prevalent. Many external and internal factors, some of which are uncontrollable, heavily contribute to poverty in Serbia.
  2. In 2014, Serbia’s population and economy took a massive hit. In May of that year, flooding caused serious damage within Serbia — many towns were destroyed and thousands of people displaced. The Serbian government estimated the total damage at 1.5 billion euros. The GDP growth rate decreased 4.4 percent to an alarming negative 1.8 percent. While those numbers have since begun to increase, there’s no getting around that such a devastating event will take years to recover from.
  3. The areas hit hardest by the natural disaster — small southern towns and rural regions — had the highest incidence of poverty before the flood. These areas are dependent on smallholder farming and often have less access to education than major cities. In 2014, the southeastern region of Serbia had poverty rates close to four times higher than those in Belgrade, the nation’s capitol city.
  4. Unemployment remains a huge problem in Serbia, with a reported 1 in 5 people unemployed and half of the country’s youths jobless. The United Nation’s report suggests that much of the potential workforce is unequipped to participate in the economy due to a lack of education.
  5. Despite persistently high rates of corruption in the entire Balkan Peninsula, Freedom House has rated Serbia a highly democratic and free nation, which gives hope for the future. As a result of the improvements made by the government to encourage democracy and freedom, Serbia has begun negotiations to join the European Union. Membership to the E.U. is a major developmental goal for the Serbian coalition government.
  6. Even though Serbia recently faced a massive economic setback, The World Bank has a positive outlook for the nation’s economy. Likewise, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) sees the current government as demonstrating a strong commitment to economic transformation to eliminate poverty in Serbia.

These six facts about poverty in Serbia are not exhaustive, nor are they a tell-all of the conditions within the Balkan country. Even with relatively little aid from international groups and extremely costly natural disasters, Serbia has shown some real progress in recent political and economic development. Joining the E.U. may give the Serbian government the resources it needs to adequately address issues of poverty and unemployment.

John English

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction GoalsThe European Union, or EU, is the world’s largest development aid donor with over half of all developmental aid coming from the organization’s funding. Thanks in part to the EU’s efforts to achieve global poverty reduction goals, the number of people living in poverty has fallen by 600 million since the year 1990.

However, poverty analysts feel that significant progress can still be made towards reducing the death rate of mothers during childbirth and expanding access to clean drinking water. Because of this, the EU has pledged to help support 79 impoverished nations by raising an additional €1 billion in aid.

One of the projects supported by this funding provides over 5,000 households in rural Timor-Leste access to safe drinking water. Much of the project has already been completed, and local communities in the area are thriving like never before.

Before the program was launched, only 57 percent of the population in this rural community had access to safe drinking water. Now over 26 community water systems have been implemented in the area with 5,950 people being granted clean water access. The EU program has also expanded toilet access from 35 to 65 percent in the Aileu District.

Ludivina, a 9-year-old girl from the Aileu District in rural Timor-Leste told the European Commission that because of the program, she was able to enjoy life as a child should.

“After I collected the water, I would go to school and feel tired in the classroom. But when I first heard that I didn’t have to collect water because of the water system with the pump, I was so happy! Now I have time to play with my friends, go to school and sing!” Ludivina said.

This program is just one many the EU hopes to continue with the additional funding. In the past three years, the EU has spent €56.2 billion on developmental aid.

Simon Maxwell, the chair of the European Think Tanks Group, speaks highly of the EU to The Guardian. However, he says that the EU still has room for reform on all aspects of its development and humanitarian policies.

Much of these reform ideas can and will be found in universities, research centers, think tanks, NGOs and the private sector. Therefore, engagement in the EU can not benefit only the organization, but the countries that participate in it as well.

“The more we invest in the EU, the more successful we are likely to be in our efforts to achieve the global goals. We have to believe in the power of collective action and in the possibilities the EU can offer,” says Maxwell.

There is still much work to be done according to EU supporters. But with participation and support, the EU can be an example to other countries of a framework for successfully achieving with human rights, peace building and poverty reduction goals.

Katie Grovatt

Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in Romania
Bordering the Black Sea and just between Bulgaria and Ukraine sits Romania. Although the nation had one of the highest growth rates in the European Union (EU) last year of 3.7 percent, poverty in Romania still remains an issue.

More than 1 million children live in poverty, and over 350,000 live in severe poverty. Poverty in Romania has also contributed to the highest mortality rate in children in the EU.

Currently, UNICEF is working in Romania to ensure children receive the best possible start to life. The organization’s program is designed to combat poverty in Romania by ensuring babies and new mothers receive proper care.

UNICEF is also dedicated to ensuring parents receive proper education in parenting from basics like breastfeeding to providing access to the best quality of education.

However, poverty in Romania is not isolated to the youngest members of society. According to Adrian Oras, Coordinator for the Europe-wide campaign group, Opening Doors, “poverty has worsened due to a high rate of unemployment, a wide gap between rural and urban areas in terms of investment, education and employment opportunities, and a general descending economic trend after the 2008 financial crisis” — all of which have only worsened, since the nation joined the EU in 2007.

Fighting poverty and social inclusion are priorities under the 2020 targets set forth by the EU. In light of these goals, Romania passed an anti-poverty package of 47 measures to combat poverty by focusing on increasing the employment rate, reducing early school leaving rates and scaling-up national health programs.

One of the most important anti-poverty legislative measures, the Romanian Venitul Minim de Incluziune, is currently tabled for debate in the Romanian Parliament, which would serve as a consolidation of three existing means-tested programs. Once this law is approved, it will aim to consolidate the three existing social assistance programs: Heating Benefit, Family Benefit and Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI).

According to a recent series of poverty resolution maps developed by the World Bank, much of the northeast portion of Romania is at risk for poverty, while the southern tier is very much a sporadic mix of “at risk” areas. These variations make it difficult to create a “one size fits all” approach to eradicating poverty in Romania and necessitates local strategies.

Veronica Ung-Kono

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Greece
For the past few years, Greece has required heavy subsidies from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in conjunction with the European Union (EU) to avoid collapse. However, despite these heavy subsidies, the Greek economy continues to contract, and poverty in Greece is maintaining concerning rates.

The New York Times has compared this crisis to the infamous Great Depression in the United States during the 1930s. When these two timelines of GDP decline are placed in conjunction the economic descents of the two countries follow the same trajectory.

The single difference between these two scenarios is that after four years the U.S. economy began to progress upward again. Inversely, the Greek economy has maintained constant economic contraction, averaging a negative growth of 25 percent GDP for the last four years.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the IMF and neighboring nations of the EU have poured over €260 billion into the flailing economy and have pledged an additional 86 billion euro to mitigate the extreme poverty that is spreading throughout the country. But even with these efforts, the Greek economy continues to shrink.

The effects of the steadily contracting economy have resulted in over a quarter of the population being unemployed, over 30 percent of the population living below the national poverty line and nearly one-fifth of the adult population not being able to feed their children. Charity organizations are running at full throttle, and some have worried at times if there will be enough food to go around.

The North American economist, Daniel Altman, has observed the fiscal problems that are being faced by Greece and has proposed several unpopular but effective ways in which the economy and reduction of poverty in Greece could make a rebound. He affirms that his prescribed measures would not be easy, but they would be possible to implement.

The first action Altman recommends is to default officially. The trade from Greece has been resulting in very low ingression of profit, and the governmental debt is continuing to accumulate in the background. Though defaulting on their debt would mean years of frozen access to global markets, it would also stop the progressing debt in the long run.

Secondly, the euro should be eradicated from the Greek economy. As it stands, the government cannot use inflation to its advantage since the euro is a transnational currency. A return to the Greek drachma would almost assuredly necessitate the aforementioned default and an initial scare would be probable, but in the long term a return to domestic currency would set Greece in a position for economic progression.

In addition to these suggestions are the procedures for tax elevation and a decrease in public budget. Altman affirms that these are never popular choices, but they are necessary for recovery. Many of these actions are already being imposed as necessary conditions for the reception of bailout funds from the IMF and the EU.

Additionally, an innovative way in which Greece could reduce the public debt and put its economy back on track would be through liquidation of land assets. Greece has thousands of islands and large portions of ethnically Turkish, Albanian or Macedonian lands that could be sold.

Altman affirms that neighboring countries would pay large amounts to acquire lands that are largely inhabited by their people, thus alleviating poverty in Greece and putting a dent into the national debt.

Regardless of how this issue is approached, it seems that poverty in Greece is not going to be reduced without any sacrifices.

Preston Rust

Photo: Spiegel

Peru_ChildcareCommissioner Mimica of EU Aid began a voyage to Peru earlier this month on Oct. 9 to announce a support package for the development and health of young adults and children.

The support package for Peru is intended to accelerate the plans of the National Development and Social Inclusion Strategy, which aims to help five regions most affected by poverty in the Peruvian Amazon.

The finalized package suggests 40 million euros ($45.5 million), with a total 66 million euros ($75.1 million) being allocated to Peru between 2014 and 2017. This money will advance the already growing economy of Peru and assist the permanent reduction of poverty that has been reflected since this growth.

However, the solidarity of development has not been established, as about 54 percent still live in poverty and 19 percent live in absolute poverty (less than a dollar a day).

Social Inclusion Strategy will address this unequal growth, favoring those who have not benefited, despite the country’s economic boom. The stratagem prioritizes people into groups based off five core topics:

  1. Childhood Nutrition – focusing on fighting those who lack access to food and water
  2. Early Childhood Development – focusing on the development of infants and young children who do not live in stable conditions
  3. Development of Children and Teenagers – focusing on older children and teens who do not live with a stable family
  4. Economic Inclusion – focusing on incorporating those who have not benefitted from the economy into a better society
  5. Protection of Elders – focusing on poverty-stricken elders who are no longer able to provide for themselves

Furthermore, the developmental gap in the region is ensured to decrease by a three-part approach that focuses on three-time horizons – short, medium and long term.

Temporary relief will bring short term relief to those in extreme poverty while medium term relief promises capacity building such as providing services, and the long-term approach will aid with the creation of opportunities.

In this way, Peru will see a reduction of extreme poverty that substantiates and perpetuates the developmental growth of all priority groups.

MIDIS, the organization overseeing the National Development and Social Inclusion Strategy, defines people who are already in the process of social inclusion as PEPI; PEPI households must meet three of four focal points in order to be given PEPI status:

  1. Rural household
  2. Female-headed Household with less than primary education
  3. Head of house speaks indigenous language
  4. Located in the first quintile of national per capita income distribution

Of these dwellings, 60 percent live between walls of adobe, 84 percent have dirt floors in their homes, 60 percent use wood to cook and 57 percent go without access to sanitation services.

The total number of people living in PEPI households (4.8 million) calculates to about 16 percent of the population. It is estimated by 2030 for the developmental gap to be significantly reduced by the efforts put in place today with financial investment to be concluded for Peru in 2017.

Emilio Rivera

Sources: European Commission, GOB, Nations Encyclopedia
Photo: Friends of Chimbote

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