Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs
Asia Pacific: Sophie Evans
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has left thousands of foreign travellers from both countries stranded on the South Asian Island. However, these unexpected refugees have found solace in Sri Lanka, as reports have stated Ukrainians have been overwhelmingly supported by locals, despite their own worsening financial crisis. Ukrainian tourist, Viktoria Makarenko, who has been unable to leave the resort town of Unawatuna and is rapidly running low on cash, stated that locals offered free accommodation, food and even incense sticks to allow them to visit the temples and pray for loved ones. “The owner of this hotel let us stay here as long as we need. We have food, water, we don’t have a headache (over) what to eat tomorrow,” Makarenko said, “we stay safe here and they take care of us.” Many tourist-oriented businesses have offered help for stranded Ukrainians. This generosity is believed to have stemmed from still-fresh memories of the island’s own experience with conflict – as it harks back to memories of the decades long civil war that ended in 2009. Many Russian tourists are also stuck in the country and cut off from funds due to sanctions on international payment networks – however no offers for them have been advertised.
Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed that global prices of palm oil should be determined by the two biggest producers, and they should not compete. The decision came after a meeting between Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob of Malaysia and Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo on Friday. The price of palm oil will now be decided jointly by Malaysia and Indonesia – the two countries that account for roughly 85% of the world’s palm oil production. The two leaders also signed an agreement to improve protection for migrant workers – a move which came following concerns over the treatment of some Indonesian workers in Malaysia. The agreement will cover wages and allow workers to file complaints through a new application. The measures follow several deadly incidents at sea in recent months, where more than 18 people died attempting to illegally cross into Malaysia on overloaded boats. Between 100,000-200,000 Indonesians travel illegally to Malaysia each year for work, many recruited by trafficking gangs.
The UN has called for donations to stave off a crisis in Afghanistan, as he launched the UN’s biggest ever single-country funding drive. $4.4bn will be needed to avoid a food crisis, and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has stated that some Afghans have resorted to “selling their children or their body parts” to get money for food, and nearly all Afghans do not have enough to eat. This number is ambitious considering much of the world’s attention is on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and some wealthy nations have frozen nearly $9bn in Afghan assets overseas so the Taliban cannot access them. So far, donor countries have pledged $2.4bn. Many donor countries have sought to help beleaguered Afghans while largely shunning the Taliban – but the UN agency suggested that political and economic engagement from abroad should return one day, too. The UN’s relief chief, Martin Griffiths has stated, “It’s very important for the international community to engage with the Taliban over time on issues beyond the humanitarian […] humanitarian assistance is no replacement for other forms of engagement.”
India: Rudra Sen
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her Russian counterpart Lavrov both visited India on the same day in their pursuit to achieve their diverging and varied foreign policy goals. The foreign secretary visited Delhi to persuade the Indian government to take a stronger stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She met with India’s Minister of External Affairs Jaishankar and discussed the need for democracies to stick together and cooperate against aggressors. Furthermore she called for sanctions against Russia likewise to the ones imposed by the West like on banking and access to ports. That being said, India has not condemned the invasion of Ukraine and refused to vote on such resolutions in the United Nations Security Council, practicing its historic path of strategic neutrality in foreign policy. On the other hand, Lavrov seeks to enhance trade links with India that can ultimately help ease the burden of sanctions imposed on Russia. India is the world’s third-largest consumer of oil of which over 80% is imported. This makes India a prime customer to buy crude oil from Russia as experts predict it might get a significant discount alongwith China.
The South Asian island-nation of Sri Lanka is facing severe shortages of essential commodities like food and medicine, steep price rises and power cuts. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has declared a state of emergency after several protestors attempted to storm his residence. Meanwhile, Indian traders have loaded over 40,000 tonnes of rice to be sent to Sri Lanka immediately as food aid. Previously, India had agreed to provide Sri Lanka with financial assistance by giving the Rajapaksa government a $1 billion credit line to ease shortages of essential items.
Latin America: Leo Le Borgne
Floods and landslides struck Brazil’s southeastern state Rio de Janeiro over the weekend. These events followed an intense period of record-beating torrential rains. Many small towns such as those of Paraty and Ponta Negra were severely impacted. At least 14 people have been reported dead, with many more missing. Many children make part of the increasing death toll, as the flash floods and landslides occurred with very little warning. Mayor of Paraty, Luciano Vidal, announced that there were at least 70 families without homes as a result of the environmental damage. The landslides are reminiscent of the February landslides that hit the city of Petropolis in the same state, where hundreds were reported either dead or missing. Scientists have pointed out that these extreme weather events will only occur more often due to climate change.
Business: Aoife Doyle
A team of Amazon workers led by former employee Chris Smalls have forced the tech giant to recognise a trade union in the US for the first time in history. Workers at the New York warehouse voted 55% in favour of joining the Amazon Labour Union, a defeat for a company that has fiercely fought against unionisation. Chris Smalls had been fired from Amazon during the pandemic over his complaints against safety conditions at the firms’ warehouses and distribution centres. Amazon is also facing a separate union drive in Alabama, however, it appears they have fended off activists in which challenged ballots could yet overturn that result. The two elections mark a dawning of a new era for activists, who have long decried labour practices at Amazon. Despite pouring resources into fighting the unionising efforts and regardless of the outcomes, workers have shown what is possible, and Amazon will need to prepare to face what is yet to come.
The yields on short-term American bonds rose significantly this week, a further indicator that markets are anticipating large interest rate rises from the Federal Reserve. The yield on the two-year American Treasury notes momentarily rose above those on its ten-year note for the first time since 2019. This caused worries as government bonds with longer terms usually offer higher yields. Furthermore, such an inversion of the yield curve is often taken as a sign that a recession is on the cards. Pressure on bonds yields was not just seen in the US but also impacted markets abroad such as the Japanese market. Japan’s central bank offered to buy an unlimited amount of government bonds, a strategy to protect its 0.25% cap on Japan’s ten-year bond yield.
Science & Technolgoy: Abi Byrne
From the start of this month, millions of people in the UK will feel the impact of an unprecedented £700-a-year rise in energy costs. The 54% rise in the energy price cap means a household using a typical amount of gas and electricity will now pay £1,971 per year. Solar energy has long been a solution towards combating energy prices, interest in home solar only continues to grow as energy prices have risen by over 50%. However, traditional solar panels have primarily only been accessible to the wealthy.
One new product from a British solar company, Solivus’s solar sculpture, aims to tackle this problem. The product uses a new flexible thin solar film claimed to be more effective when partially shaded or in low light than traditional silicon panels. The barrel-shaped Solivus Arc can be set up to directly charge an electric car or help power a home. Critically, Solivus will guarantee the £3,500 Arc for 20 years and plans to let buyers pay in installments. The cost would be the “equivalent of 21p per kWh – and that will be locked-in for the next 20 years… then, after that, it’s free, obviously”. chief executive Jo Parker-Swift said. Advances such as these mean that solar film is both offering solutions to tackle the climate crisis, but also may help people save money in the face of ever increasing energy price caps.
Theory: Cassi Ainsworth-Grace
Scotland has set out a new plan, known as the Blue Economy Vision. This vision involves the sustainable use of our ocean resources in order to improve marine health, as well as support employment in the sector in the long-term. There are six key outcomes outlined in the plan – healthy marine ecosystems, resilience to climate change, competitive marine sectors, Scotland as a global leader in Blue Foods, equal access to ocean resources, and social awareness of marine health. This is part of a refocusing on the ‘shared stewardship’ of natural capital like the oceans.