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 with 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 government 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 could 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 the 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 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

support package for PeruCommissioner 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 support package for Peru with financial investment to be concluded for Peru in 2017.

Emilio Rivera

Sources: European Commission, GOB, Nations Encyclopedia
Photo: Flickr

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

poverty_eradication
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
Photo: EUROPA

seawater_desalination
The 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 sea water influx, the aquifer is contaminated by untreated sewage. Roughly 90,000 cubic meters of sewage flows 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 metres per hour and 10 plants capable of treating 50 cubic metres 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 metres 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 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.

– Frasier Petersen

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

EU_Proposes_Quotas_for_Dealing_with_Migrants
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

seychelles
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