2016 the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880

Scientists confirmed this week that 2016 was the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880, marking the third consecutive year of record warmth across the globe.

The average global surface temperature (over both land and ocean) in 2016 was 58.69 degrees F — 1.69 degrees above the 20th-century average and 0.07 degrees above last year’s record. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you take that and you average it all the way around the planet, that’s a big number,” said Deke Arndt, the head of global climate monitoring at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

According to NOAA, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times since the start of the 21st century (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016).

The buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been steadily raising global temperatures for more than half a century now. “A single warm year is something of a curiosity,” Arndt told reporters Wednesday. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.”

[e360 Digest]

One Sydney suburb absorbs half of Australia’s 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees

At least half of Australia’s special intake of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees will be settled in one part of western Sydney within 12 months, prompting community leaders to plead for more federal government support to deal with the unusually high intake.

Fairfield City Council, which previously welcomed 3000 humanitarian arrivals from the two war-torn countries in 2016, has been told by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to expect the same again. Overall, the council area took in triple their usual annual humanitarian intake last year.

Across the one-off 12,000 cohort and the regular humanitarian program, Fairfield took in 75 per cent of all western Sydney’s refugee intake, with Liverpool City Council second at 14 per cent.

Between July 2015 and January 2017, 15,897 people displaced by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have arrived in Australia.

This intake will increase to 16,250 next financial year and 17,750 the year after that.

[Sydney Morning Herald]

UN humanitarian aid to Aleppo residents

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has contributed with access to water supply for over 700,000 people in Aleppo, while Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is providing assistance to refugees in Jibreen district, according to the report on the situation in Aleppo released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry expressed surprise over the overall lack of assistance to the population of Aleppo on behalf of international organizations, given the time span  since the city was freed from the militants.

“A month has passed after the liberation of Aleppo. However, there has been no real assistance from international organizations to the civilian population there,” spokesman of the military department, Major General Igor Konashenkov said.

“It gives the impression that many international organizations, which earlier as if were ‘breaking through’ with humanitarian assistance to seized Aleppo, now that the city is recaptured have all of a sudden lost any interest to it along with the desire to offer assistance,” the defense ministry’s spokesman said.

According to the OCHA report, currently the United Nations and its partners have access to practically all parts of the East of Aleppo, with the exception of Sheikh Said, where minesweepers continue to work.

 [Al-Masdar News]

Projected Food Assistance Needs

Here is a link for a summary of projected emergency food assistance needs in various countries. The projected size of each country’s acutely food insecure population  is compared to last year and the recent five-year average and categorized as Higher ( p), Similar ( u), or Lower ( q).

Countries where external emergency food assistance needs are anticipated are identified.

Projected lean season months highlighted in red indicate either an early start or an extension to the typical lean season.

Additional information is provided for countries with large food insecure populations, an expectation of high severity, or where other key issues warrant additional discussion.


Huge numbers of internally displaced people across Africa

There are more than 40.8 million people around the world on the run within their own countries, according to recent figures by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, (IDMC).

Nearly one third of these displaced people are on the African continent. At the end of 2015, 12.4 million people in 21 African countries were living in ongoing displacement as a result of conflict and violence.

A little acknowledged issue, the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) across Africa is more than twice as many as the continent’s total refugee population of 5.4 million, which only accounts for those who have crossed national borders.

In the eyes of the law the internally displaced are different from refugees. Not having crossed any borders, IDPs remain under the jurisdiction of their state, while refugees fall under international humanitarian refugee laws.

“We are always flabbergasted at just how little people actually acknowledge this issue,” says Alexandra Bilak, Director at IDMC. “There are twice as many conflict IDPs as there are refugees in the world. The figures are quite staggering, the problem is far bigger.”

Nigeria tops the list of African countries with the most new displacements in 2015 when 737,000 uprooted. More recent figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) show that the situation is still dire, with 1.8 million people estimated to have been on the move at the end of 2016. Conflict and violence caused by the Boko Haram insurgency make up more than 90 percent of displacements, according to IOM.


Ebola vaccine likely to stop the next outbreak

When Ebola struck West Africa a few years ago, the world was defenseless. There was no cure. No vaccine. And the result was catastrophic: More than 11,000 people died. Nearly 30,000 were infected.

Now it looks like such a large outbreak is unlikely to ever happen again. Ever. The world now has a potent weapon against Ebola: a vaccine that brings outbreaks to a screeching halt, scientists report in The Lancet.

“We were able to estimate the efficacy of the vaccine as being 100 percent in a trial,” says Ira Longini, a biostatistician at the University of Florida, who helped test the vaccine.

The 100% value reflects the fact that they just haven’t tested the vaccine on enough people yet. So it is likely to decrease as the vaccine is used over time. In the end, the efficacy is likely to sit somewhere between about 70 percent and 100 percent, Longini says. By comparison, the flu vaccine last year was about 50 percent effective.

And the Ebola vaccine works lightning fast, within four or five days, he says. So it could even be given after a person is exposed to Ebola but hasn’t yet developed the disease.


Thousands of refugees trapped in freezing temperatures in Europe

Freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall are making life even harder for thousands of refugees living in limbo across Europe. The cold snap gripping Europe has left dozens of people dead, including refugees in Bulgaria, according to Agence France-Presse. Snow blanketed the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, home to more than 4,000 people.

More than 7,500 people are currently stranded in Serbia, living in overcrowded camps and informal settlements. Serbia has agreed with the European Union to host up to 6,000 people, of whom only 3,140 live in facilities adapted to winter. In Belgrade, about 2,000 young people, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria, are currently sleeping in abandoned buildings in the city center, while temperatures plummet far below freezing.

The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said, calling again on the authorities to improve conditions for people suffering in below-freezing temperatures.

“Today, people are severely lacking appropriate assistance and this is putting their lives in danger,” said Stefano Argenziano, MSF operations coordinator on migration. “We are witnessing the most cruel and inhumane consequences of European policies, which are being used to deter and victimize those who are only seeking safety and protection in Europe.”

Over the last year, European authorities have sought to stop people from seeking protection in Europe as they flee active war zones, including through an agreement between the European Union and Turkey and the official closure of the Balkan route for migrants and refugees.


Humanitarian aid no longer needs-based?

Year on year, we’ve witnessed an increase in the frequency and ferocity of natural, man-made and complex crises and disasters. The trend is set to continue in 2017, with an estimated 100 million people likely to be in need of aid. The United Nations has just released its largest ever funding appeal, seeking over $22 billion across 33 countries.

Half of the 65.3 million forcibly displaced people in the world — the highest number since World War II — are children; children in conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely to be out of school as those in other countries; in emergency situations, instances of sexual violence increase, yet the reported figures are just the tip of the iceberg — practitioners estimate that for each rape reported in connection with a conflict, 10 to 20 cases go undocumented.

In the face of competing crises and dwindling resources, the EU is making deliberate choices about which crises and conflicts it directs its funds toward. Humanitarian aid is supposed to be based on the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. But, increasingly, it is being repurposed to meet political objectives, based more on the self-interest of EU member states than on these humanitarian principles. Halting migration to Europe is apparently the number one aim.

It begs the question: how have countries been prioritized and funds allocated? The underlying and fundamental principle that humanitarian aid is needs-based is, it seems, no more.

[Read full Devex article]

The road less traveled

Many young women in rural Africa face difficult futures: of early marriage, young motherhood, limited education, and meager livings.

But not Modester. At 18, Modester is one of the top students in all of Zambia, headed for university and whatever big dream she may have in mind.

That’s an extraordinary accomplishment for a girl from a small, rural community. And it all started with the gift of a goat. Read more

Syrian immigrants in US represent an American success story

An analysis of Syrian immigrants in the United States published this month offers a pretty compelling snapshot of what, indeed, is going on: A lot of hard work, integration and success.

The study, put out jointly by the Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank in Washington, and the Fiscal Policy Institute, examined 2014 census data to paint a picture of roughly 90,000 Syrian immigrants in the country. It found that, “when given a chance, Syrian immigrants are fitting into and excelling in the United States, both socially and economically, on a wide variety of metrics.”

Here are some of the major findings:
– Syrian immigrants are a highly entrepreneurial group: Eleven percent of the Syrian immigrants are business owners in comparison [with] 4 percent of immigrants and 3 percent of U.S.-born people.
– Syrian immigrant businesses are thriving: The median earnings of Syrian business owners are $72,000 a year. This means they are supporting and growing the local economy and providing employment.
– They are well-educated: Syrian men, in particular, are more likely to have a college degree or an advanced degree such as a master’s, doctorate, or professional degree.
– Syrian immigrants speak English at high levels compared to all immigrants.

[And related to any new Syrian refugee immigrants] “the 90,000 Syrian immigrants who were in the United States before the recent arrival of refugees have been thriving and are therefore well-positioned to help their compatriots when they arrive,” the report says.

[Washington Post]

Humanitarian evacuation of eastern Aleppo appears to be completed

Hundreds of rebel fighters and civilians, including small children swaddled in thick blankets, were bused out of war-ravaged Aleppo in heavy snow on Wednesday as the evacuation of former rebel strongholds entered its final phase. Scenes of buses slowly driving out of Aleppo in a shroud of white offered an evocative finale to what has been one of the most brutal chapters in Syria’s civil war.

The evacuation of the Syrian city of Aleppo has now come to a close, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and multiple other officials and a rebel group said.

A group of buses scheduled to evacuate the last civilians and rebels from eastern Aleppo had been delayed, Syrian state-run media said, blaming infighting among rebel factions.

More than 4,000 fighters left rebel-held areas of Aleppo, the Red Cross said Thursday, in the last stages” of an evacuation clearing the way for Syria’s army to retake the city.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted Tuesday that 37,500 people had been evacuated from the war-torn city so far, adding that “all evacuations are intended to be finished [shortly].”

The Assad government has retaken Aleppo from rebel groups who have controlled parts of the city since 2012. The government has made significant territorial gains after its forces, backed by airstrikes, entered rebel-held areas in late November.

[CNN, AFP, Yahoo]

Children caught in the crossfire of the battle for Mosul

The desperate plight of a generation of children is in the balance as the bloody battle for the city of Mosul threatens to become a humanitarian catastrophe, Amnesty International said following a field investigation.

On a visit to the region this month, the organization met children of all ages who had suffered terrible injuries after being caught in the line of fire between the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) and government forces who are backed by a US-led coalition.

“Children caught in the crossfire of the brutal battle for Mosul have seen things that no one, of any age, should ever see. I met children who have not only sustained horrific wounds but have also seen their relatives and neighbors decapitated in mortar strikes, torn to shreds by car bombs or mine explosions, or crushed under the rubble of their homes,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, who returned from a 17-day mission to northern Iraq.

With few or no functioning or accessible hospitals left in the conflict-affected areas of east Mosul, the epi-centre of the fighting, the best hope for the wounded to receive medical care is in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Even though only some of those injured in the Mosul battle have been evacuated to Erbil, hospitals there have been overwhelmed by the large number of casualties.

“The scars left by these unimaginably traumatic experiences are psychological as well as physical, but these life-altering wounds are being neglected by the Iraqi government and its allies, who have so far failed to ensure adequate medical facilities are in place,” said Donatella Rovera. “If there are resources for the war there must also be resources to deal with the consequences of war.”

[Amnesty International]

UN sets up team to prepare Syrian war crimes cases

The United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday voted to establish a special team to “collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence” as well as prepare cases on war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the conflict in Syria.

Liechtenstein U.N. Ambassador Christian Wenaweser told the General Assembly ahead of the vote: “We have postponed any meaningful action on accountability too often and for too long.” He said inaction has sent “the signal that committing war crimes and crimes against humanity is a strategy that is condoned and has no consequences.”

The special team will “prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings in accordance with international law standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes.”

The team will work in coordination with the U.N. Syria Commission of Inquiry. The Commission of Inquiry, which says it has a confidential list of suspects on all sides who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, has repeatedly called for the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

The Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, along with Syrian allies Russia and Iran, spoke out against the resolution.


Can Mobile Banking lift people out of poverty?

If you live in Kenya there’s a jingle you hear on television and radio a lot, an ad for a type of banking service called M-PESA that’s run entirely through your mobile phone.

You set up an account with the phone company. You can send and receive funds by text. Or, if you need to make a cash deposit or withdrawal, you do it through a vast network of agents — small-time vendors in kiosks and shops, for example, that the company has set up.

M-PESA was launched nine years ago. Today almost every single household in Kenya uses it. Most Kenyans didn’t have access to traditional banks before. Which already makes mobile banking a game-changer.

Now scientists say there could be an extra benefit for poor customers: Mobile banking might lift people out of poverty. That’s the subject of a study out this week in the journal Science about M-PESA.

It turns out mobile banking made a big dent in poverty. The impact was particularly strong for households led by women. Compared to households in areas without M-PESA agents, those women-led families with access to a large number of agents set aside 22 percent more in savings between 2008 and 2014. And they bought 18.5 percent more basic goods.

What’s more, among the poorest families — those who’d been living on less than a $1.25 a day — nearly 1 in 10 got enough of a boost to lift them out of extreme poverty.

That’s a better track record than a lot of aid programs.


Oxfam calls for independent monitoring of Syria evacuations

Oxfam and 53 other international and Syrian organizations which constitute the Syria INGO Regional Forum (SIRF) continue to be appalled by obstructions to humanitarian assistance, lack of protections for civilians fleeing armed conflict and apparent violations of international humanitarian law in Aleppo, in Foah, in Kafrayya and in many other parts of Syria.

Oxfam International states: “Negotiations to evacuate civilians are being subjected to political negotiations by all parties to the conflict. This politicization of aid is putting civilians at risk.”

“We welcome and support France’s proposed Resolution at the UN Security Council to ensure independent monitoring of evacuations and full humanitarian access. It is the very least the international community can do.”


Evacuation underway from eastern Aleppo

Some 350 evacuees were able to leave the rebel-held pocket in eastern Aleppo in Syria late on December 18, despite an attack on buses set to deliver wounded and sick people from government-held villages, according to monitors and aid officials.

The reports came as the UN Security Council prepared to convene on December 19 to vote on a French-drafted proposal to send UN monitors to Aleppo to observe evacuations from besieged areas.

At least five buses carrying evacuees from eastern Aleppo arrived in rebel-controlled areas outside the city on December 18 after they were held up in government-controlled southern Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activists on the ground who were in contact with the evacuees.

It was not immediately clear if convoys would be allowed to deliver more evacuees after armed assailants on December 18 attacked and burned five buses en route to evacuate ill and injured from villages near Idlib in northwestern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights blamed the attack on Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants.

The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the past week have pushed to establish full control over the eastern part of Aleppo, which the opposition had held since 2012, with an offensive that has been harshly criticized by the UN and Western governments.

[Reuters, AFP, AP]

The International Development Association working to combat poverty

IDA18, the donor meetings for replenishing the resources of the International Development Association IDA (a part of the World Bank) were completed on 15 December in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

The aim of the IDA is the eradication of extreme poverty and the more balanced distribution of well-being. The IDA lends money on concessional terms as well as providing aid to the poorest developing countries.

Funding for IDA is provided by 47 states. This round of a record $75 Billion is the largest in the 56-year history of the IDA, as now with the new way of leveraging the IDA’s capital it is possible to attract significantly more funding.

The biggest funders continue to be the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. Finland contributes 105 million euros to the funding. The emphasis in the funding round is on investments in the poorest countries to enable growth, opportunities and social adaptability. Spearhead themes are gender equality, environmentally sustainable development, the economic growth of developing countries and employment, the strengthening of administration and institutions and especially support for fragile and conflict states.


UNICEF to test first humanitarian drone in Africa

In cooperation with the Government of Malawi, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will establish an air corridor and use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), known as drones, for humanitarian purposes, the agency announced.

“Malawi has over the past years faced serious droughts and flooding,” stated Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango. “The launch of the UAS testing corridor is particularly important to support transportation and data collection where land transport infrastructure is either not feasible or difficult during emergencies.”

The corridor will be the first one in Africa, and the first one to be used globally for humanitarian and development purposes, the agency reports. It will become fully operational by April 2017, while its distance is expected to be no longer than 40 kilometres.

The Humanitarian UAS Testing Corridor will undergo testing in three areas: imagery – generating and analyzing aerial images for development and during humanitarian crises, including for situation monitoring in floods and earthquakes, connectivity – exploring the possibility for UAS to extend Wi-Fi or cellphone signals across difficult terrain, particularly in emergency settings, and transport – delivery of small low weight supplies such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines and samples for laboratory diagnosis, including for HIV testing.

[UN News Centre]

New UN leader must factor Trump into his plans

António Guterres took the oath of office this week to become the next secretary general of the United Nations amid a rise in nationalist movements around the world and what he called a loss of confidence in institutions, including the one he will take over in January.

The next United Nations leader would already have faced tough challenges: war, climate change, widening income inequality, record levels of global displacement. But the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States has changed the incoming secretary general’s approach to virtually every major crisis.

1.Even as he needs commitment from the United States, the single largest funder of the United Nations, Mr. Guterres will be under pressure to call out American leaders if they flout the basic values of the United Nations Charter.
2.Guterres has to ensure that Mr. Trump does not severely cut United States funding for the United Nations or dismiss the institution altogether as a platform for solving global problems.
3.A third conundrum is Syria, which Mr. Guterres staked out as his top priority when he campaigned for the job. Mr. Trump has suggested he wants to join Russia in routing the Islamic State from Syria, even if that approach means keeping the country’s strongman, Bashar al-Assad, in power. If he goes along, Mr. Guterres, a canny, well-connected politician who has cast himself as a champion of human rights, will face the prospect of endorsing a leader accused of committing war crimes.

In his speech on Monday, he laid out his priorities while reassuring world powers he has their interests at heart. In a pitch to the incoming Republican administration, Mr. Guterres said he would make the United Nations more “nimble” and “efficient” and promised “management reform,” shorthand for cost cutting. There is widespread concern among United Nations diplomats that Mr. Trump, who has dismissed the value of global cooperation, at least on the campaign trail, could kneecap the organization.

Mr. Guterres, a former Socialist prime minister of Portugal and for 10 years the head of the United Nations refugee agency, spent much of his speech discussing the importance of preventing conflict; diplomats have said in recent days that he is considering making that a top priority. He warned against using human rights “as a means to a political end” and spoke about the paradox of globalization.

 [New York Times]