3 Things US medicine can learn from Doctors Without Borders

On any given day, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) stations up to 30,000 doctors, nurses and other volunteer personnel in more than 60 countries. In recognition of its pioneering efforts across several continents, the nonprofit was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

Meanwhile the United States is suffering a major health crisis. Tens of millions of Americans live without health insurance while the uncertain future of healthcare policy threatens the coverage and well-being of millions more. Hundreds of thousands of patients die each year from avoidable medical errors, preventable diseases and unnecessary complications from chronic illness. Our medical technology is outdated, our drug prices continue to skyrocket, and our physicians have become so frustrated that most (58 percent) would discourage their children from pursuing a career in medicine.

I am optimistic that our problems can be solved. To that end, I believe Doctors Without Borders can teach us three valuable lessons.

  1. The Power of Mission. On volunteer trips, physicians work 14 to 16 hours each day, often in scorching heat and without pay. Upon returning home, they almost never mentioned the travails. Instead, they spoke of the camaraderie, their sense of purpose, and the memories they will cherish for the rest of their lives. Compared to working in hot, dirty and under-resourced environments, you’d think the American medical office – with its air conditioning and running water – would feel like a vacation. Surveys demonstrate the opposite. One-third of doctors are dissatisfied with their work. Many describe being depressed. They lament all the time spent filling out forms, the isolation of working alone, and their frequent battles with health plans over prior-approvals and reimbursements. Unless physicians can reconnect with the fundamental purpose of their profession – helping patients – the cynicism and “burnout” afflicting doctors today will only worsen. Understanding how Doctors Without Borders has revived and nurtured this sense of purpose in its physician volunteers would be a great place for our country to start.
  2. The Essentials of Organization. Inefficiencies in U.S. medical centers have become the norm. The failings of U.S. healthcare – namely, its high costs and under-performance – aren’t the result of flawed doctors, nurses and staff. They’re the consequences of a broken delivery system, one that lacks operational efficiency and clinical effectiveness. Relief organizations like Doctors Without Borders place great importance on getting the right support in the right place at the right time. If our nation did the same, we could raise clinical quality and make health coverage more affordable for all.
  3. The Importance of Clarity. During volunteer endeavors, all doctors understand what they are doing and why. To a person, the goal is clear: Save as many human lives as possible. It’s hard to imagine a clearer “metric.” We may want to believe the U.S. healthcare system is designed to maximize the lives saved. But if that were true, we would not trail the 10 other wealthiest nations in health outcomes – not when we spend 18 percent of our GDP ($3 trillion annually) on healthcare.

Doctors Without Borders, and its tens of thousands of volunteers, has much to teach American medicine. … I hope my donations to Doctors Without Borders will serve as an investment in the health and medical education of both our country and our planet.

[Excerpts of Forbes article by Dr. Robert Pearl, a clinical professor of surgery at Stanford University]

The human agenda to remove greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere

The Drawdown project, led by Paul Hawken, details 80 ways we can take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

The project groups the 80 interventions into 7 clusters, and the cluster that can generate the highest reduction – 31 percent – is “food”! (Between 2020 and 2050, food initiatives that are already underway can reduce greenhouse gases by 321.9 gigatonnes.) Food is followed by “energy” at 23 percent.

Surprisingly, “efficiencies in refrigeration management” is the single biggest item in the top ten CO2-equivalent reducers. “Reduced food waste” comes in at number three, with a “plant-rich diet” coming in fourth. At number six and seven on the list is “educating girls” and “family planning.”

For those who feel like climate change is too big for them to have impact, this provides lots of options for action.

What is also encouraging is the optimistic tone of the New York Times Bestseller book, “Drawdown – The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming”. Paul Hawken writes: “If we change the preposition, and consider that global warming is happening for us – an atmospheric transformation that inspires us to change and re-imagine everything we make and do – we begin to live in a different world.

“We take 100 percent responsibility and stop blaming others. We see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion, and genius. This is not a liberal agenda, nor is it a conservative one. This is a human agenda.”

600,000 displaced Syrians returned home in first 7 months of 2017

Between January and July 2017, 602,759 displaced Syrians returned home according to reports from International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Migration Agency.

Findings indicate that the vast majority of the people returning (84 per cent) had been displaced within Syria. The next highest number of people (16 per cent) returned from Turkey, followed by Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Refugees returning from Turkey and Jordan reportedly returned mainly to Aleppo and Al Hasakeh Governorates.

An estimated 27 per cent of the returnees stated that they did so to protect their assets or properties and 25 per cent referred to the improved economic situation in their area of origin. Other factors people gave IOM and partners as their reasons for returning included the worsening economic situation in the place where they have been seeking refuge (14 per cent).

An estimated 67 per cent of the returnees returned to Aleppo Governorate (405,420 individuals).

According to reports, almost all (97 per cent) returned to their own house, 1.8 per cent are living with hosts, 1.4 per cent in abandoned houses, 0.14 per cent in informal settlements and 0.03 per cent in rented accommodation.

Access of returnees to food and household items is 83 per cent and 80 per cent respectively. Access to water (41 per cent) and health services (39 per cent) is dangerously low as the country’s infrastructure has been extremely damaged by the conflict.

[International Organization for Migration]

Let compassion heal us and others

As part of my ServiceSpace summer internship, I interviewed various people about their relationship to pain and suffering. The individuals I talked to were willing to reflect on pain and suffering, unfold decades of their lives and share insights with a young stranger whom they had never met before.

In a conversation with John Malloy, he said, “Sharing is our nature. When we share, we heal suffering.” John’s life is dedicated to tending to people who suffer. After working as a counselor for prisoners and troubled youth, to leading The American Indian Spiritual Marathon for nearly four decades, John said, “None of the kids had criminal minds. I was never fooled by the personality of the kid — it’s a veil to the soul. I always went for the soul.”

Towards the end of our conversation, I asked John how he faces his own sufferings while always serving others. John revealed that he had experienced a great deal of loss in his life, including the passing of his only son and the loss of sight in his left eye. However, “we have an innate capacity to heal”. After two years of grieving, he grew stronger through his losses, not weaker. “As we face our pain and suffering, we see what we are supposed to do is to care for others,” said John.

When we hurt others, we are not only responsible for ourselves or the ones we hurt, but also for the ones they are going to hurt. If instead we choose compassion, this world turns brighter. As Audrey Lin beautifully puts it, “In the end there is only kindness. At the end of the day we are all going to go, but what stays behind are those small acts; those are acts maybe paid forward by so many others. […It’s] what inspires me to keep living.”

Sharing makes us more human; becoming more human leads us towards the compassion that is inherent in our nature.

[Daily Good]

Smiles amid desperation in South Sudan

South Sudan has suffered from nearly four years of conflict. Millions are lacking the very basic necessities to survive – clean water, food, shelter, medicine.

The conflict has left many unable to work their land. There has also been an influx of people made homeless by fighting in other parts of the country. Many lost all their belongings when fleeing.

Cecilia Tabu, 12, is waiting under a tree with her mother Vajda. “Normally, our only food is leaves that we cook with salt and water,” says Vajda. “Usually, we have nothing, so today we are happy. We can finally eat something different.”

Cecilia fled her village with her mother and four siblings one year ago. Her father was killed while he was collecting food for the family. After this her mother decided that their home was not safe anymore. Simple things, like a hoe for cultivation, will help her family get back on their feet.

In this recent distribution, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), working with the South Sudan Red Cross, focused on distributing seeds and tools to help people get back into farming so they can provide for themselves.

They were also given food to tide them over until they can harvest their crops. Around 13,000 people received seeds, tools and food in Rokon.

“Before the crisis, life was good. We had no hunger. Because of the drought we lost all our crops and were left with no seeds,” Jennifer explains. She was first in line on the second day of the distribution and got support for her daughter Alice and her other children. Like many across the country, this lady had resorted to eating leaves to survive.

[ICRC]

Why refugee doctors end up driving taxis in the US

Layla Sulaiman served as a primary care OB/GYN for 17 years before she left Iraq in 2007. But in this country, her medical license is no longer valid. Sulaiman is one of many refugees — though no one knows exactly how many — who practiced medicine in their home countries, who are now working in low-skilled jobs, driving taxis and working in grocery stores.

“The brain waste is appalling,” said Dr. José Ramón Fernandez-Peña, an associate professor of health education at San Francisco State University who studied medicine in his native Mexico. He is also the founder and director of the Welcome Back Initiative, which has helped foreign-trained providers get health care jobs in the United States since 2001. “These are individuals who could be taking care of children with asthma, and instead are working at a car wash,” he said.

Sulaiman had originally hoped to be relocated to Australia, where her sister-in-law lives and where there are accelerated paths for foreign doctors. Had she gone to a country like Canada, she could have practiced with some restrictions while obtaining a full license.

But she ended up in the United States, where she must start her training from scratch. Refugees may have additional struggles, advocates say. For example, many must leave their home countries on short notice, making it difficult for longtime doctors to track down old transcripts and records.

Within the United States, there are more residency slots than medical students to fill them. This year, more than 22,000 American-educated students vied for nearly 29,000 first-year residency slots, according to the National Resident Matching Program.  The rest of these positions were filled largely by foreign graduates.

Some experts predict a doctor shortage of 40,800 to 104,900 by 2030, according to an analysis commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Fernandez-Peña said that putting foreign-trained doctors to work in America is a no-brainer. “Why not invest in this freebie?” he asked. “They’ve already been trained. We would be reaping the benefits that (another) country has spent money in training their work force.”

[CNN]

Haitian asylum seekers flocking to Quebec

Kathleen Weil, Quebec’s Minister of Immigration, confirmed that the number of asylum seekers in Quebec had tripled in the past two weeks. She said that between July 1 and 19, some 50 applicants arrived in Quebec every day, “Now it’s an average of 150…”

According to Jean-Pierre Fortin, the President of the Customs and Immigration Union, nearly 500 asylum seekers illegally crossed the border on Monday alone near the Lacolle customs post, 90% of whom were Haitians, who feared as nearly 60,000 of their compatriots in the United States stand to lose their Temporary Protection Status in the United States

In the first six months of 2017, Québec had already received more than 6,500 asylum seekers.

The entry of these waves of refugees at the border forced Canadian authorities to find a solution on the accommodation side. So far housed in university residences, reception centers (Salvation Army, YMCA, etc.) or hotels, asylum seekers are now so numerous that part of the Olympic Stadium is being transformed into a refuge for asylum seekers.

Stéphane Handfield, a lawyer specializing in immigration says “In 25 years of practice, I have never seen this. It is clearly not ideal for families, but it is better that to leave these people under the bridge.”

Denis Coderre, the Mayor of Montreal, said that Montreal would help those newcomers who were afraid of being deported from the United States and refused to return to Haiti, saying “You can count on our full cooperation.”

[HaitiLibre]

Germany’s involvement in settling South Sudanese refugees in Uganda

The civil war in South Sudan has taken its toll on neighboring country Uganda, with the number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda now reaching the million mark.

Many of these refugees make the journey across the border, not just because of the Uganda’s proximity, but also as a result of the country’s welcoming approach to hosting refugees. Based on a concept of self-help assistance, refugees receive land and materials on arrival to put up their own shelters, as well as seeds and hoes to grow their own food. This concept aims at ensuring a self-reliant life for the refugees in the long term.

“Uganda is however beginning to reach the limits of its capacity. One million people need space and support,” said Alexander Tacke-Köster, Program Coordination for Malteser International in Uganda. “We offer support by providing improved supply of clean drinking water for 30,000 refugees. Although the number of arrivals are declining, an end to the influx of refugees is not in sight.”

Roland Hansen, Head of the Africa Department at Malteser International has also pointed out Germany’s significant role in the aid intervention. “By providing aid for these refugees, we are reducing the strain on Uganda’s resources”, he said. The German Federal Foreign Office has released an additional one million euros to upscale Malteser International’s ongoing aid projects for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. And Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel will visit Uganda tomorrow, August 9, to personally gather an on-site impression of the current situation.

[ReliefWeb]

Christians protest as new report shows devastating impact of Trump’s refugee policies

The global standing of the US when it comes to the world refugee crisis has dramatically slipped in the past six months, according to a new report released by Human Rights First, a leading non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization.

As a result of changes in US policy under Donald Trump’s presidency, global refugee resettlement is now predicted to fall by 30-40 per cent in 2017 as compared to 2016. The refugees most affected by this decline are women and children, including those who have suffered sexual and gender-based violence, as well as survivors of torture.

Emily Gray, the senior vice president for US ministries of the Christian charity World Relief, said: ‘In addition to women and children, the decision of the United States to allow fewer refugees also means that the US will accept the lowest number of refugees who have been persecuted for their Christian faith in a decade.’

Scott Arbeiter, World Relief‘s president, added that ‘we must appropriately balance security and compassion. This report clearly shows that we are not achieving that balance, and that people are suffering as a result.’

‘Through our work in Jordan, we see very directly the impact of the refugee crisis there, and these actions by the administration are compounding the struggles of refugees who are trying to find safety in countries that are already struggling,’ said World Relief CEO Tim Breene.

[Christian Today]

UN reveals Saudi Arabia blocking humanitarian aid to Yemen

The humanitarian situation has been growing ever worse in northern Yemen for months, with a Saudi blockade keeping aid out of the only port still controlled by the Shi’ite Houthis. The UN has been trying to get emergency aid into the capital city of Sanaa through the airport, but that seems to be no easier.

The United Nations has attempted to operate two humanitarian routes into Sanaa, but there is no jet fuel available in the Yemeni capital for the humanitarian aid planes to then make the return trip.

Auke Lootsma, the country director of the UN Development Programme in Yemen, said, “We have difficulties obtaining permission from the coalition …. to transport this jet fuel to Sanaa to facilitate these flights,” explaining this to reporters by video-link from Sanaa.

Lootsma also reported an outbreak of meningitis in Yemen, compounding the cholera epidemic and the risk of famine in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The UN warns the situation is increasingly bleak, with no real ability to get vital aid into parts of the country that are afflicted with a huge cholera epidemic, and are now on top of that facing an outbreak on meningitis.

Yemen is a country that imports more than 90 percent of its food in peacetime. And now during war time, the Saudi blockade has had a terrifying impact on Yemen, raising growing concerns from human rights groups that they’re using access food and medicine as weapons of war.

Build on Africa’s informal economy

In many cities in sub-Saharan Africa, the informal economy is larger and more dynamic than the formal economy. In Benin, Togo and Burkina Faso, for example, the informal sector accounts for over 80% of non-agricultural employment.

Yet, in many African cities, government policies discriminate against these workers. For example, street vendors and waste collectors are often banned from using public spaces. They may even suffer harassment from government officials.

Yet they play a central role in increasing the resilience of the city. Waste pickers recycle large amount of material, reducing pollution and maintain city cleanliness. This helps prevent diseases, particularly those spread by bacteria, insects and vermin that might otherwise feed or breed on garbage. Street vendors play a critical role in providing and producing food, particularly to poor people living in urban areas.

The informal economy is not perfect. Informality creates risks for consumers and workers. A lack of state oversight makes it difficult to enforce regulation, such as water treatment standards. Waste pickers in particular face severe health risks due to their work. Informal housing is often in hazard prone parts of the city.

But there can be little doubt that informal service provision or informal livelihoods are better than none at all.

Successful strategies to reduce risk therefore need to be developed in collaboration with informal workers in sectors such as food, water, housing and solid waste management. Similarly, partnerships with communities living in informal settlements can ensure that the voices of vulnerable urban residents are heard, and their needs are addressed.

[PreventionWeb]

Droughts are inevitable but famines avoidable

In March, UN humanitarian affairs chief Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council, “We stand at a critical point in history. … We are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.” Four months later, the outlook is no less grim.

Some crises, like in South Sudan and Yemen, are almost entirely human-caused, the result of wars in which all sides destroy crops or steal livestock in punitive raids, forcibly confiscate food aid for soldiers’ use, and make it too dangerous for humanitarian workers to go to many areas.

But Ethiopia, Somalia, and Madagascar face a different problem: They are at the sharp end of climate change, which is disrupting rainfall and other weather patterns. It’s a succession of extreme weather events that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.

In Madagascar, the droughts that used to come in cycles are now semipermanent. Desperate to buy food, locals first sold their goats. Then they sold their prized humpback cattle. Finally, they sold their kitchen pots. There was nothing to cook, anyway, besides leaves and bitter cactus fruit.

“Water is life, but what about food and something to cook it with?” asks Farah Robleh, whose veins stand out on his forehead above his gaunt, gray-stubbled cheeks. He once herded 200 goats and sheep and 20 camels in his Somalian village. He has just 20 goats left. “I don’t think anyone can live here anymore,” he sighs. “We have no options.”

Droughts are inevitable, and likely to strike more often and more harshly because of global warming. But famines are avoidable. It’s a question of doing the right thing. And, critically, of doing the right thing at the right time.

That’s why the UN and aid groups are increasingly unleashing a new weapon in their quest to prevent famine–warning the world early and often. And international agencies “were here, ready to go,” says Elke Wisch, UNICEF director in Madagascar, “and we switched gears into emergency mode in a timely fashion.”       read more

Community resilience amidst worst African famine crisis since the 1980s

Battered by global warming and civil wars, wide swaths of the African continent again face an unprecedented crisis: In Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and across the Red Sea in Yemen, 20 million people face starvation, “barely surviving in the space between malnutrition and death,” in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Yet the threat many of these people face today may be less grave than it would have been for their parents and grandparents. Over the past two decades, African nations have learned valuable lessons about how to predict, if not prevent, droughts, and how to ward off famine by strengthening the defenses of the most vulnerable.

From Madagascar to Ethiopia to Somalia and beyond, governments, international aid agencies, and the villagers they help are building up “community resilience.” That’s the new buzzword in humanitarian circles: It is seen as key to ensuring that farmers and herders have something to hold onto when drought strikes, rather than cycling endlessly in and out of disaster.

Resilience is a big concept that works in little ways. It could be UNICEF installing community faucets around villages in Madagascar to provide clean water pumped from a nearby well, ensuring that already malnourished children do not get sicker by drinking polluted water. It could be a public works venture in Ethiopia that pays villagers cash or gives them food to build roads or dig wells. Or it could be an experimental farm in Somaliland encouraging goatherds to diversify into growing food crops.

These initiatives won’t prevent drought, nor will they eliminate famine overnight. But by helping people withstand sudden shocks and contributing to longer-term development goals, they are saving lives.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Top French court orders government to offer humanitarian aid

France’s highest administrative court ordered the government to provide humanitarian aid to the hundreds of migrants who have continued arriving in the northern port city of Calais even after authorities destroyed the infamous “Jungle” camp.

In blistering language, the court decried the squalid conditions facing migrants in Calais, long a dramatic focal point in French politics and in Europe’s ongoing migration crisis. It also rejected appeals by state and local authorities, both of which had resisted an earlier order to improve the situation.

“The living conditions of migrants reveal a failure of public authority, which is liable to expose the persons concerned to inhuman or degrading treatment and thus constitutes a serious and manifestly unlawful interference with a fundamental freedom,” read the opinion of the court, known as the Conseil d’Etat.

The ruling came less than a week after the publication of a sharply critical report from Human Rights Watch, based on conversations with approximately 60 migrants, about half of whom were minors. Those interviewed complained of police violence and regular disruptions of humanitarian assistance, especially food and access to amenities as basic as toilets and showers.

Perhaps the most shocking allegation in the Human Rights Watch report — widely discussed in French media — was that riot police regularly use pepper spray on child migrants, even when they pose no conceivable threat.

Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said in response to the court’s ruling Monday that France would open two facilities in the Calais region to house and better inform incoming migrants about the asylum process.

[Washington Post]

Industrialization could help Africa’s cities

Cities in sub-Saharan Africa are growing fast. Yet urban economies across the region are markedly different from those of other cities around the world: they are more expensive to live in and less industrial.

One estimate suggests that food and drink cost 35% more in real terms in sub-Saharan African cities than in other countries, while housing is 55% more expensive. The average urban household in sub-Saharan Africa spends 39% to 59% of its budget on food alone.

The high price of basic goods and services means that people living in African cities have little money to spend on reducing risk, such as upgrading their homes, preventative health care or buying insurance.

Urbanization has historically been closely linked to industrialization. In sub-Saharan Africa, urbanization is taking place without industrialization. This means that jobs and livelihoods too often remain low-skilled and poorly paid. Without the opportunity to develop skills and organize collectively, workers exert little influence over working conditions.

There are ways around these problems. Manufacturing jobs offer income security and skill development. Local employers in the public and private sector benefit from new knowledge and skills, while workers can accumulate capital. This offers a path out of poverty. 

 [PreventionWeb]

PowerMyLearning educational tool

Elisabeth Stock has always been driven to work toward a more just world. It was what led her to volunteer as a teacher for the Peace Corps in West Africa in her early 20s, and it’s what ultimately motivated her to found PowerMyLearning, an educational technology nonprofit, in 1999.

“I wanted to join the Peace Corps because I felt like there was this deep unfairness in society,” she says. “Is it just and fair that where you are born predicts whether you can reach your human potential?”

The key to providing equal opportunity for everyone, says Stock, is through education. To that end, PowerMyLearning uses technology to improve the relationships that are crucial to the learning process — namely, the impact that teachers and parents have on a student’s promise to excel. “What we’re really about is empowering all of them — the kids and the adults — to learn together,” she says. That empowerment is translating to real, measurable results.

Technology is a crucial part of this process, but the company approaches it in a decidedly different way than most ed-tech outfits do. We realize that what you really need to do with technology is focus on the learning relationships.”

PowerMyLearning uses a combination of services and tools to reach everyone involved in a child’s education. The organization’s online platform, called PowerMyLearning Connect, curates the best available videos, interactive games and other online resources to help students master complex topics. PowerMyLearning also provides coaching to teachers, especially those who are early in their careers, and conducts workshops where families can learn about what their kids are doing.

[Daily Good]

Closing an HIV lifeline in Africa

President Trump’s re-introduction of the policy banning US government funds from going to organizations with any links to abortion jeopardizes a wide range of healthcare clinics in dozens of countries because family planning advice is often bundled up with other provision.

In all, nearly $9bn is at stake, and hundreds of thousands of women could be affected. Such drastic cuts will inevitably mean the end of programs that have nothing to do with abortion but which provide vital support to people living with the physical, psychological and social implications of HIV.

In Mozambique alone, figures from 2015 show that about 110,000 children aged 14 and under were living with HIV.

Amodefa – the Mozambican Association for Family Development— has various social projects on HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, sexual and reproductive health, and sexual rights. The lives of the poorest women in southern Africa depend on organizations such as this. Yet they will be among the worst affected by Donald Trump’s crackdown on family planning groups around the world. Advocates across the region say the move risks undermining progress in tackling HIV and AIDS in southern Africa, one of the areas hardest hit by the epidemic.

“Projects already approved run the risk of being cancelled, and those that are already ongoing run the risk of not being renewed when they come to an end in September, said  Amodefa director Santos Simione. USAID currently provides $2m of the organization’s $3m annual budget.

[The Guardian]

The value of water is on the rise

In the wake of recent water-related disasters in Bangladesh, including water-logging and floods that displaced thousands of families, a high-level consultation in the capital Dhaka on valuing water will look at ways to optimize water use and solutions to water-related problems facing South Asia.

On July 31, ministers, senior and local government officials, businesses and representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and development partners will attend the Fourth Consultation on Valuing Water to be held at the BRAC Center in Dhaka. Regional cooperation will be a critical component in solving these interrelated problems.

While Bangladesh has been heavily affected, it is hardly alone in grappling with both chronic shortages and overabundance. In India, nearly two dozen cities face daily water shortages; in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, people wait in lines for hours to get drinking water from the city’s ancient stone waterspouts; in Pakistan, the Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if authorities didn’t take immediate action.

Dr. Azharul Haq says the “nuisance value” of water is going up. Water is declining across the world day by day, both in quality and quantity. Freshwater – a finite resource – is under particular pressure from population growth worldwide and other causes, compounding the challenges of extreme climate events like droughts and floods.

[Inter Press Service]

Angelina Jolie on the Syrian humanitarian situation

Excerpts of speech by Angelina Jolie Pitt, UNHCR Special Envoy for Refugee Issues, before the United Nations Security Council :

Since the Syria conflict began in 2011, I have made eleven visits to Syrian refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Malta.

I think of the mother I met recently in a camp in Iraq. She could tell you what it is like to try to live after your young daughter was ripped from your family by armed men, and taken as a sex slave.

I think of Hala, one of six orphaned children living in a tent in Lebanon. She could tell you what it is like to share the responsibility for feeding your family at the age of 11, because your mother died in an air strike and your father is missing.

I think of Dr Ayman, a doctor from Aleppo, who watched his wife and three year-old daughter drown in the Mediterranean when a smugglers’ boat collapsed packed with hundreds of people. He could tell you what it is like to try to keep your loved ones safe in a warzone, only to lose them in a desperate bid for safety after all other options have failed.

These are some of nearly four million Syrian refugees who are victims of a conflict they have no part in. Yet they are stigmatized, unwanted, and regarded as a burden.

On my last visit in February, anger had subsided into resignation, misery and the bitter question “why are we, the Syrian people, not worth saving?”

[Read full speech]

137 million people’s lives are at risk from flooding

“In the next 30 years, it is projected that heavy rainfall events will be increasing … in Asia, by about 20% for sure,” climate scientist Dewi Kirono at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) told CNN.

Southern Asia is already the wettest area on the continent and one of the wettest regions in the world, receiving an average of at least 1000mm of rainfall a year.

As the rains fall harder, more than 137 million people in India, Bangladesh and China will be put at risk of coastal or inland flooding, more people than in the rest of the Asia-Pacific combined, a study in 2012 found. The majority of flood-related deaths and injuries worldwide since 1950 have been in three countries. According to statistics from Belgium’s Universite Catholique de Louvain’s Emergency Events Database, since 1950, more than 2.2 million people in these countries have been killed by flooding.

The problem centers around three of the great Himalayan rivers of South and East Asia: The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Yangtze. About 500 million people, or 50% of the population in India and Bangladesh, and about 300 million people, or about 25% of the population of China, live within the flood basins of these three rivers. Taken together, the three waterways support an estimated 14% of the world’s total population. When the heavy rains higher up in the flood plains flow into these rivers, water levels rise dramatically — and floodwaters pour into the surrounding cities and towns.

Still, these factors have been here for years. Why is the danger growing now?

“A lot of the urbanization … has happened in a largely unplanned matter.” Abhas Jha, the World Bank sector manager for Transport, Urban and Disaster Risk Management for East Asia and the Pacific, said. As natural drainage, such as open green spaces and wetlands, are covered in cityscapes…, heavy rain has nowhere to go. And the rains are getting heavier.

[CNN]