A resident of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk carries a box of humanitarian supplies distributed by UNRWA, in Damascus, Syria. Feb. 24, 2014 (AP Photo by UNRWA).

In mid-July, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to allow humanitarian aid delivery to Syrians in rebel-held areas without Syrian government consent, through four border crossings from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. In an email interview, Dr. Hannah Vaughan-Lee, a humanitarian practitioner and academic, discussed the challenges ahead for the cross-border aid operation. WPR: Besides ongoing fighting, what obstacles do convoys face bringing aid to rebel-held areas in Syria? Hannah Vaughan-Lee: Crossing the border into Syria is only the first in a series of steps for delivering assistance to conflict-affected populations in rebel-held areas. One immediate and ongoing challenge will be […]

An often neglected but fundamentally important victim of conflict is the physical manifestations of a community, a people, a nation—their heritage. The cultural heritage of France and Belgium was utterly devastated during World War I, epitomized by the burning of the medieval library at Leuven and destruction of the cathedral of Rheims. A century later conflicts in states such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria continue to be characterized by the destruction of cultural heritage. So how far have we come in protecting cultural heritage from the devastating effects of war? Over the past century, surprisingly far, and at the same […]

For the better part of their existence, the global anti-war and the environmentalist movements have typically existed side by side, each pursuing noble but separate aims. Today, however, a new trend has become apparent: the mutually reinforcing interaction between human violence and planetary change. No longer can peace and the environment be seen as separate issues. Consequently, no longer can the two movements merely work side by side; they must work as one. From Violent Conflict to Environmental Stress Data collection on war-related environmental effects is dangerous, complex and costly, meaning that our understanding of the environmental impact of war […]

For human health, war is hell. One could pick any past or present conflict to illustrate how war damages health. Armed conflicts kill, injure and traumatize people; wreck health infrastructure and services; and expose populations to diseases. People flee war’s dangers, often only to live a desperate, destitute existence. This parade of health horribles appears once again in the ongoing Syrian conflict, widely recognized as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The Syrian case demonstrates many common responses to health crises spawned by war: identifying civilian death and suffering; providing humanitarian assistance; emphasizing respect for human rights and civilian […]

A woman walks at the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Rozsypne, eastern Ukraine, July 18, 2014 (AP photo by Dmitry Lovetsky).

Last week, I observed that the most striking feature of the Ukrainian crisis was “just how limited it remains to date.” This proved to be a grotesquely untimely remark. My basic point remains valid: Although Russia seemed ready to mount a full-scale incursion into eastern Ukraine as early as April, it avoided such an open challenge to the West. The U.S. and Europe reciprocated by limiting sanctions against Moscow in the second quarter of this year. But these signs of restraint have given way to chaos. Since roughly one week ago, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have responded increasingly aggressively […]

Seychelles, March, 2005 (photo by Wikimedia user Simisa, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).

The Tropics will have to deal with increasing numbers of so-called climate refugees as states disappear or become unlivable due to climate change, according to a recent collaborative report prepared by 12 research institutions across the region. Comprising tropical, arid and semi-arid areas, the Tropics will be faced with more droughts, rising sea levels and flooding, which could cause large migrations and destabilize fragile states in the region if the environmental stress leads to food shortages and other crises. The warning signs are already there, yet the international community has failed to respond with urgency. The Tropics are traditionally defined […]

A coal-fired power plant in Shuozhou, Shanxi, China. (Photo by Wikimedia user Kleineolive, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Agreement).

Australia’s new senate is working to repeal the country’s unpopular carbon tax. In an email interview, Shi-Ling Hsu, the Larson Professor of Law at the Florida State University College of Law and author of “The Case for a Carbon Tax: Getting Past our Hang-ups to Effective Climate Policy,” discussed the role of carbon taxes in national climate change policies. WPR: What successful steps have governments taken around the world to limit carbon emissions, either through a carbon tax or other regulations? Shi-Ling Hsu: Governments have taken a wide variety of steps to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but most have been […]

Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, at the seventh meeting of the Syria Humanitarian Forum, Geneva, Switzerland, Feb. 19, 2013 (U.N. photo by Jean-Marc Ferré).

The Syrian war, currently overshadowed by its offshoot in Iraq, remains a ruinous blight on international diplomacy. Nearly half a year after the furiously hyped but fundamentally hopeless peace talks between the government and moderate rebels in Geneva, no end to the fighting is in sight. President Barack Obama has requested $500 million from Congress to train and equip rebel forces, suggesting that he is resigned to an extended proxy war with Russia and Iran, which continue to assist Damascus. Yet while the Geneva talks petered out in February, remnants of international cooperation over Syria have survived. Moscow and Washington […]

Multilateral development banks (MDBs) have long played an important role in international development finance. Subregional development banks (SRDBs) have had a more limited function, until the emergence of a few dynamic institutions in recent years. This paper explores the origins of MDBs and SRDBs; considers key issues and trends in their purpose, governance and financing; and explores challenges and opportunities that MDBs and SRDBs face in a changing global development environment. Origins of Multilateral and Subregional Development Banks The current international monetary and development architecture has a long history, going back to the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and […]

Informal finance is ancient. What is it, and does it still have a place in today’s economies? Throughout the first half of the 19th century and into the 1970s, informal finance was studied by anthropologists under the heading of indigenous or traditional organizations. In the 1970s, technical assistance agencies rediscovered these organizations in the context of self-help based on savings, a concept that had been central to the credit cooperative movement founded in the 19th century by the German mayor Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen. In the 1980s, self-help groups (SHGs) came to be known as informal financial institutions, and their reputation […]

The financial industry is commonly described as one of the most influential in politics. The numbers certainly support this impression. In terms of lobbying expenditures in the United States, the banking sector outspent even the health care sector. Few industries have comparable resources available and have been able to establish such a strong institutional presence. In many countries, top bankers and high-ranking public officials meet frequently; revolving doors between the two worlds are common; and the technical complexity of financial regulation makes consultation with the industry at all levels of decision-making a necessity. Accordingly, commentators in the media and academia […]