Solomon Islands scrambles to reach areas hit by two major quakes

The Solomon Islands plans to dispatch emergency supplies to areas affected by a 6.9 magnitude aftershock on Saturday, a day after a much larger tremor triggered a tsunami warning that send hundreds of coastal people fleeing into the hills. Both quakes triggered tsunami warnings which were lifted a short time later.

“We are working with the National Disaster Office of the Government and we’ve mobilized our emergency response teams to accompany the government officers and other international non-governmental organizations that are going on this boat,” General Secretary of the Solomon Islands Red Cross Joanne Zoleveke said.

Friday’s quake caused significant damage and forced people from homes in the town of Kirakira on Makira Island, about 200 km from the Pacific Island nation’s capital of Honiara.

Australia has provided $37,235 worth of supplies and a helicopter to undertake an initial assessment of affected areas to help target relief efforts.

Suzy Sainovski of World Vision in Honiara said staff from the humanitarian organization in Kirakira saw people fleeing to higher ground. “One of the reasons we need to get them shelter assistance (is) because it’s the start of the wet season here.”

[Yahoo News]

Turn refugee settlements into enterprising business incubators

Refugee camps should be turned into enterprise zones so inhabitants can set up businesses and build their own infrastructure, according to a new report.

Called Refugee Cities, the report argues that existing aid strategies have failed, with refugees preferring to avoid the camps due to the lack of opportunities they offer. Instead, by modelling them on special enterprise zones (SEZs) elsewhere in the world, they could benefit both the refugee and the host populations, as well as giving inhabitants useful skills for their eventual return to their homelands.

“Modelled after the most successful special economic zones in the world, refugee cities work within political realities to create jobs for refugees and their neighbors, while achieving a return for investors,” says the report. “Surrounding communities would enjoy new investment and infrastructure, and governments would welcome refugees as a benefit rather than a burden.”

US-based NGO Refugee Cities was founded by Michael Castle Miller, who said the idea would benefit both refugees and the host country. “The aims of the project are to expand opportunities for migrants and to thereby allow them to find dignity, meaning, and a social and economic future,” Miller told Dezeen. He added that Refugee Cities aimed “to provide a model under which host countries can benefit from refugees’ presence; to deliver a financial return for investors; to make international assistance more effective and self sustaining; and to provide refugees with the material, knowledge, and psychological resources to rebuild their home countries when they are able to return.”

[de zeen]

The world’s largest solar plant … and it’s in India

Nearly 300 million of India’s 1.2 billion people live without power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to shrink that number by expanding solar generation twenty-fold by 2022.

At full capacity, the new 2,500-acre plant in Kamuthi could power up to 150,000 homes and add 648 MW to the country’s electricity generating capacity. That’s nearly 100 times greater than the world’s previous largest solar plant, California’s Topaz Solar Farm.

Even more impressive: The Kamuthi plant was built in just eight months, compared to the two-plus years it took to construct Topaz, and at a fraction of the cost — $679 million compared to Topaz’s $2.5 billion.

India, along with the U.S. and China, is currently one of the world’s largest producers of carbon emissions. Nearly 80 percent of the country’s power now comes from coal, and if India added all of its new power in coal, too, then the world would be in serious trouble.

At the Paris climate talks last December, Modi pledged that 40 percent of India’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2030. This plant will help them get there.

Indonesia earthquake in Aceh

A 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck Indonesia’s Aceh province on Wednesday Dec. 7.

The earthquake flattened more than 200 houses and buildings, including shops and mosques, in the worst-affected districts of Bireuen and Pidie Jaya. At least 97 people have been killed and more than 200 injured. Aceh province has declared a state of emergency.

Rescuers are combing through the rubble for survivors.Speaking in Jakarta, National Board for Disaster Management spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the death toll could still rise.

“Now our priority is the search and rescue operation. We have to move so fast to save them,” Sutopo said.

UN makes its largest funding request ever for humanitarian aid

A new United Nations report detailing its humanitarian aid efforts around the world offers a snapshot of a world in chaos, and a price estimate for what it would cost to prevent the situation from getting worse: a record-breaking $22.2 billion.

“For 2017, humanitarian partners will require $22.2 billion to meet the needs of 92.8 million people in 33 countries,” the report says. “Humanitarian access is severely constrained and has grown in complexity in countries including Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, preventing humanitarians from carrying out their work and leaving affected people without basic services and protection.”

Take Syria, which is slated to receive more than a third of the UN’s total requested funding, or about $8 billion. Over the past five years, fighting there has killed more than 400,000 people, left millions on the brink of starvation, and sent more than half of the country’s prewar population fleeing to safer places inside and outside Syrian borders.

In Yemen, the UN estimates it needs $2.7 billion to help the more than 3 million children and pregnant women who are acutely malnourished there, as well as the millions of others currently at risk of starvation.

South Sudan is also a huge priority for the UN humanitarian effort, which wants to spend $3.4 billion in the country. The conflict there has already killed more than 50,000 people and displaced 1 million refugees. Nearly 4 million people are at risk of starvation.

The money the UN actually receives from the global community often doesn’t come close to fulfilling its needs; the UN basically got about half of what it requested from international donors for this year.

Most of the major conflicts that are driving the UN’s need for funding are showing no sign of letting up. If the world continues on its current course, the UN very well may set another record with its appeal next year.


US and Russia nearing humanitarian agreement solution for east Aleppo?

Syrian troops continues to blitz east Aleppo, as part of an operation to seize control of the area held by rebels for more than four years. The Syrian al-Assad government now holds some 60% of eastern Aleppo, making swift gains since breaking through rebel defense lines.

Food stocks, clean water supplies and medicine are running dry in eastern Aleppo. Russia has begun sending in aid and setting up mobile clinics, after all the hospitals in eastern Aleppo were bombed beyond use. Rebels hit a Russian mobile hospital in Aleppo, killing one medic and injuring two doctors, Russia’s state-run Sputnik news agency reported.

The United States and Russia announced Saturday they were working together on an agreement to have all rebel groups expelled from eastern Aleppo and to ensure safe delivery of aid there by humanitarian staff.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow and Washington planned talks on the routes and timing of the withdrawal of rebels.

“Once they’re set, a ceasefire regime will come into force to start the evacuation of these armed groups. If US-Russian cooperation on this will bring results — and we have all reasons to believe it will do so — then the problem of eastern Aleppo will be effectively solved,” he said, adding it would allow “smooth humanitarian aid delivery” and normalize life there.


UN launches $1 billion appeal for northeast Nigeria

With the scale of human suffering in north-eastern Nigeria becoming clearer as the Government has pushed Boko Haram insurgents from more and more areas, the United Nations launched a $1 billion funding appeal to address the needs of those in crisis, and announced that nearly 75 partner agencies are on standby to respond where areas are accessible.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) throughout 2016, human suffering has become more apparent as the Nigerian Armed Forces pushed Boko Haram out of areas the group had held. The response area shifted from Abuja to Borno state, enabling easier access to the vulnerable population for the humanitarian teams, however, the conflict scaled up and so did the urgent need for more assistance.

“This is the largest crisis on the African continent and I am confident that with the support of the international community and the private sector, we can begin to bring hope to the people of the north-east,” stressed Peter Lundberg, the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator, while also complimenting the Government of Nigeria and the initiative behind the Inter-Ministerial Task Force on their full cooperation to address the humanitarian situation.

While fear of unexploded improvised devices prevents farmers from planting for a third year in a row, nearly 5.1 million people are expected to face serious food shortages.

“The narrative on this humanitarian crisis can no longer be ignored and we are appealing to the international community to help us prevent the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians over the coming 12 months,” stated Mr. Lundberg.

[UN News Centre]

Utah and Mormons are the most generous givers in America

Utah is tops among all 50 US states in generosity, according to a new report released this week at WalletHub. The report breaks down “generosity” into two main categories–a state’s rate of volunteerism and the percentage of income its people spend on charitable donations.

In Utah, people donate an impressive 6.6% of their income to charity. New Hampshire was the stingiest, with just 1.6% of income given away.

Utah also ranks first in the percentage of people who say they donated their time (56%) and the total number of hours they volunteered (75.6 per person, nearly four times the volunteer hours of the lowest state, Kentucky).

Given Utah’s majority Mormon population it’s not surprising that the state came first in charitable giving. According to social science research, Mormons rank first among all religious groups in the United States in terms of charitable giving, donating 5.2% of income.

That’s barely half of the 10% “gold standard” that Christians are taught to strive for. But it’s nearly two percentage points higher than the next-most-generous group, Pentecostals who give 3.4%, not to speak of Roman Catholics (1.5%), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (.9%).

The nonreligious average 1.1%.

[Religion New Service]

Climate change could spark major humanitarian crisis, experts say

Climate change—and resultant natural disasters, droughts, and sea level rise—”could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions,” senior military figures told the Guardian on Thursday.

Specifically, the experts echoed a recent warning from the United Nations that without radical action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, “we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy,” as the number of global climate refugees climbs.

“We’re going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people,” Maj. Gen. Munir Muniruzzaman, chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on climate change and a former military adviser to the president of Bangladesh, told the Guardian.

“Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions,” added Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney, a member of the U.S. State Department’s foreign affairs policy board and CEO of the American Security Project. “We’re already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity, and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal.”

Such a crisis would serve “as an accelerant of instability,” Cheney said—even more so than it has already.

[Read full Common Dreams article]

World AIDS Day Statement from USAID Administrator

Every year on December 1st, we celebrate the tremendous progress the world has made in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), … and driven by cutting-edge research and data, our collective efforts have saved millions of lives and are beginning to turn the tide against HIV/AIDS. Building on the leadership of President George W. Bush and bipartisan champions in Congress, President Obama has expanded antiretroviral therapy treatment more than five-fold over the last eight years.

Today, PEPFAR is supporting 11.5 million people around the world with life-saving treatment, exceeding its 2016 target. Our efforts have reduced new pediatric infections globally by nearly 70 percent since 2000.

[However] our work is far from finished. Only 18 million out of the 37 million people living with HIV worldwide are currently on treatment, and thousands of people cannot access proper care because they suffer the indignity of stigmatization and isolation.

[But] together, we can end AIDS worldwide by 2030.


UN says half the population of Central African Republic needs humanitarian support

With nearly half the population in the Central African Republic (CAR) in need of humanitarian assistance, some $400 million is required over the coming year to shore up relief efforts that will be critical “to save the lives of people who are among the poorest and most forgotten on this planet,” a senior United Nations official said today.

Clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, plunged the country of 4.5 million people into civil conflict in 2013. Despite significant progress and successful elections, CAR has remained in the grip of instability and sporadic unrest. More than 13,000 UN staff are currently based in the country as part of the UN Integrated Multifaceted Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic.

Despite its considerable agricultural potential, CAR has some of the highest chronic malnutrition rates in the world – almost one in two children – due to ongoing insecurity, poor access to clean water and health care, as well as lack of seeds and tools. Maternal and early childhood mortality rates are also among the highest in the world.

Eruptions of violence over the past year meant that one in 10 remains a refugee, the majority in neighboring Cameroon, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

[UN News Centre]

Record number of boat migrants reach Italy this year

A record number of migrants have reached Italy by boat from North Africa in 2016, according to official data. As of Nov. 28, 171,299 boat migrants had reached Italy’s shores, the Interior Ministry said, compared to the previous record of 170,100 for all of 2014.

Italy has borne the brunt of new arrivals since the implementation in March of an agreement between the European Union and Turkey to curb the flow of migrants sailing for Greece. In the past three years, Italy has recorded nearly half a million migrant arrivals. Many have fled war, poverty or political oppression.

The influx has brought a record number of asylum requests this year in Italy where more than 176,000 asylum seekers now live in shelters. This is putting the country’s asylum process and legal system under increasing pressure.

Most of the migrants who have come to Italy this year are Africans of various nationalities. Some 36,000 Nigerians have made the trip, about 21 percent of the total, along with 20,000 Eritreans and more than 12,000 from Guinea.

An estimated 4,663 migrants have died in the Mediterranean this year as a record number of unaccompanied minors have come to Italy.


Humanitarian aid work gets more complex and less safe

Following are excerpts of a Newsweek Opinion piece by Thomas Arcaro, professor of sociology at Elon University:

The need for humanitarian support globally is rising at a much higher rate than can be met by currently available material and human resources. In our imperfect world there will always be a need for humanitarian efforts, and those tasked with directly addressing these needs feel both a personal and professional responsibility to deliver.

My research and book, “Aid Worker Voices,” focus on aid workers. Many veteran aid workers observed that the core aspects of the work have slowly become more complex in the last several decades. A lack of safety is an increasingly palpable fact of life. They report seeing friends and colleagues get raped, kidnapped and, yes, even beheaded.

One respondent said about the difficulties inherent in her profession that she just wants to “get back to the work that I am fiercely proud of,” instead of fearing for her safety.

Humanitarian principles like neutrality and impartiality that once seemed so self-evident have been drawn into question, especially on the politically and ethnically complex battlefields of Iraq and Syria. Humanitarian safety protocol that seemed straightforward in places like Aceh, Malaysia or even Port-au-Prince, Haiti, appear almost quaint now on the battlefields in the Middle East where even aid convoys have become targets.

Tufts University researcher Antonio Donini put it this way: “Humanitarianism started off as a powerful discourse; now it is a discourse of power, both at the international and at the community level.” Aid workers are caught in power squabbles as they try to deliver needed supplies, medical care and support for those in need.

The confines of the system within which aid workers struggle to work includes the humanitarian aid industry, and the larger economic and political forces that shape our world.


Southern Africa cries for help from El Niño

Malawi is one of seven southern African countries on the brink of starvation and in a situation that the UN says needs requires immediate action.

It has been devastated by a combination of a long drought caused by a strong El Niño weather cycle and climate change. Successive maize harvests have failed, leaving communities there and in Zambia, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and elsewhere, desperate for food.

Madagascar is the most critical, said David Phiri, UN food and agriculture coordinator based in Harare, Zimbabawe. “Hundreds of thousands of people are on the brink of famine. We may see deaths there from starvation. People appear to have no food or money. The cost of inaction or further delaying our response is too ghastly to contemplate. It needs immediate action,” he warned.

Forty million people in southern Africa and a further 11 million in Ethiopia will need food aid over the next few months, Phiri said. But many may get little or nothing because only 25% of the $2.9bn in aid sought by the seven most affected countries has been pledged. A separate World Food programme appeal for $600m is only half-funded.

[The Guardian]

Thousands of Haitians stranded at US-Mexico border

Desperate Haitian immigrants have been massing along the U.S.-Mexico border for months seeking humanitarian relief.

After the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti, thousands of citizens migrated to Brazil looking for work. But as Brazil has slipped into recession in recent years, many of them have hit the road again, heading north on a 6,000-mile journey to the U.S. border — by every means of conveyance.

“Taxi, bus, plane, bicycle, boat, horses, and we’ve walked for five days,” says Pierre Smith, 34, a smiling, broad-faced accountant from Port-au-Prince. He’s staying at the San Juan Bosco, an immigrant shelter on a barren hilltop in Nogales, Mexico, while he and 100 of his countrymen wait to cross into Nogales, Ariz.

These Haitians want the same generous benefits that were extended after the earthquake, when they got protection from deportation and temporary work permits. But the U.S. welcome mat is gone, and the new wave of Haitians is in for a harsh reception. The Homeland Security Department announced new rules in September. All Haitians who show up at the border without papers and who don’t ask for asylum are now detained.

Pierre Smith knows this. He and others like him won’t be granted asylum because they’re fleeing poverty, not political persecution — so once they cross, they will join nearly 4,500 other Haitians currently in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“When I get there, I don’t mind staying in detention,” he said, standing on the front steps of the shelter in a black muscle shirt. “I am looking for a better life.”

The United States allowed in 60,000 Haitian immigrants as a result of the earthquake. Now officials have heard that as many as 40,000 more have left Brazil for the United States. However, the US government has run out of detention space. This is why the Haitians are bottle-necked all along the western U.S.-Mexico border.


UN readies to send humanitarian help to Aleppo as rebels agree to aid delivery

UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said he had received approval from armed Syrian opposition groups, saying they would uphold the conditions needed for aid to be urgently delivered to East Aleppo.

Under the arrangement, medical evacuations and new doctors would also be rotated into the besieged city.

Humanitarian workers were prepared to be deployed with hundreds of truckloads of medical equipment, food and other supplies needed in eastern Aleppo.

[Australian Broadcasting Corporation]

Syria’s version of the reason for humanitarian crisis

Many wonder about what is taking place in Syria, and why humanitarian aid does not reach east Aleppo and who is responsible for hindering the delivery process.

Syria’s permanent representative to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, said the reason behind the humanitarian crisis in Syria is the siege imposed by terrorist organizations and their attacks on humanitarian convoys, in addition to the lack of security in the areas where those organizations exist.

Al-Jaafari went on to say that the Takfiri terrorists, influenced by the Saudi Wahhabi doctrine, are the ones who perpetrate the terror acts in Syria. He added that it is well-known that East Aleppo is controlled by terrorist groups affiliated to the Jabhat al-Nusra organization

He said the terrorism that exists in Aleppo is the same as that present in Mosul, wondering “why they accuse us, while they support the military operation there.”

Al-Jaafari added that the statements of Stephen O’Brien, the UN under-Secretary General for the Humanitarian Affairs about Syria make no mention of terrorism, as if there is no terrorism in Syria.

He also referred to the incident of the US air force describing their targeting of Syrian military sites in Deir Ezzor as a “mistake”. However two days later, it bombed all bridges on the Euphrates river, as well as the power generation plants and infrastructure in Aleppo city, not to mention the massacre committed by French warplanes in Minbij city and claimed the lives of 200 civilians, said al-Jaafari.

He added that resident representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Damascus, Elizabeth Hoff, indicated that millions of the Syrian people benefited from the humanitarian aid, stating that it was achieved thanks to coordination with the Syrian government, taking into account that 75% of the aid has been provided by the Syrian government itself, not the UN, despite the unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria for more than five years.


Close to one million Syrians living under siege

In the past six months, the number of people living under siege in Syria has doubled. Today there are almost one million Syrians being “isolated, starved, bombed and denied medical attention and humanitarian assistance.”

The latest figures from the UN come a week after deadly airstrikes by government forces on rebel-held eastern Aleppo resumed. Since then, hundreds of civilians have been killed.

“Month after month I have reported to this Council that the level of depravity inflicted upon the Syrian people cannot sink lower, only to return the following month with hideous and, with shocking disbelief, new reports of ever-worsening human suffering,” the UN’s under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien said.

A year ago, the number of people living under siege was 393,700. Six months ago that figure had increased to 486,700 but today the UN estimates that the total is 974,080.

The UN believes there to be 275,000 people under siege in eastern Aleppo alone. In Aleppo, humanitarian aid deliveries were last made in July and O’Brien said the remains of those rations were handed out on November 13. He also warned that without food, fuel and access to medicine, the people in eastern Aleppo will “face a harsh winter without heating or the bare essentials for life.”


Disasters are even more disastrous than we think

The devastation in floods, earthquakes or droughts is generally measured by how much stuff or assets people lose–say the number of wrecked houses and the dollar amount it would take to rebuild them. In the course of a year, that adds up to a lot of money: $300 billion by some accounts.

But a new report from a research group at the World Bank says the toll could be a lot more if it were to look beyond stuff that’s lost and see how livelihoods are affected, particularly for a country’s poorest people. Those losses could add up to an additional $200 billion a year, says Stephane Hallegatte, an economic analyst at the World Bank Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery group and lead author on the report.

“If magically, next year, we could prevent all disasters, 26 million people would be out of poverty,” he says. Either because natural disasters destroy their wealth and push them down, or the shock prevents them from climbing out of poverty.

When you looked at how much people lost in natural disasters, poor people were losing way more than rich people. When they are hit by disaster, all of their assets and wealth are in material form that can be destroyed. In villages, people have livestock that can die in a drought or flood. And people who are poor are twice more likely to live in fragile buildings that are completely destroyed when flooded or stormed, and they lose everything.

One scary finding from a study in Mexico is that when kids are removed from school because of a shock, 30 percent will not go back. We also have evidence that parents have to cut food intake on the family after a disaster. When this happens to children between 0 and 2, this has permanent impacts on their physical development and the income this person will make for the rest of their life.


Might a humanitarian airport in Gaza fit in a Trump Administration’s foreign policy?

Ahmed Alkhatib is the founder and director of Project Unified Assistance (PUA), a San Francisco-based 501c(3) nonprofit organization, which has revived and developed the idea of an internationally-managed humanitarian airport in the Gaza strip, and brought it to the attention of major regional stakeholders, including the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas and senior Israeli policymakers.

The idea is ambitious. Some have called it unlikely.

Nevertheless, Alkhatib has received kudos from a number of senior U.S. and international policy professionals for his analysis of the security and development concerns of all concerned parties, and there are growing indications the major stakeholders may be willing to endorse this concept or something similar.

[Read Forbes interview]