UN says 1.4 million children at risk of dying due to famine

Nearly 1.4 million children are at “imminent risk” of death in famines in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said on Tuesday.

People are already starving to death in all four countries, and the World Food Programme says more than 20 million lives are at risk in the next six months.

“Time is running out for more than a million children,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in statement. “We can still save many lives. The severe malnutrition and looming famine are largely man-made. Our common humanity demands faster action. We must not repeat the tragedy of the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa.”

Famine was formally declared on Monday in parts of South Sudan, which has been mired in civil war since 2013. South Sudan has also been hit by the same east African drought that has pushed Somalia back to the brink of famine. Children are also suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Yemen, where two years of war have caused economic collapse and severe restrictions on shipping. Famine has been ongoing since last year in parts of northeastern Nigeria, where the government is fighting the militant group Boko Haram.


International aid under the new US Presidency

Since coming to power, President Trump has signed a slew of executive orders. One, the executive order ‘Auditing and Reducing US. Funding of International Organizations’ aims to slash a minimum of 40% of funding to multilateral institutions, such as the UN and the World Bank. While the executive order is apparently being mulled over by departments concerned within the new administration, if it is put into effect without much modification, this order will have major international implications. The US is, after all, the largest donor of international aid in the world today.

It is understandable that the new US administration wants to cut its expenditures and focus on increased growth. However, there are other areas than the international aid budget, where such cuts can be exercised. This past year, the US military budget easily dwarfed the rest of the world. With a defense budget of around $597 billion, it was almost as much as the next 14 countries put together.

The new US administration’s proposed reduction of support to international organizations is troubling. Tackling the reasons of conflict instead of putting in place security-based interventions is the more sensible choice, as it is less expensive, and it also deters needless human suffering.

It would have also been great to see the US pay more attention to why the UN system, the World Bank, the IMF, and other major development agencies, continue to produce such lacklustre results in delivering human development goals. Tangible proposals by the new US administration to make the existing aid agencies more accountable would also have been welcomed. However, simply tightening the purse strings of available international aid instead, will not bode well for anyone.

[The Express Tribune]

Migrants choose arrest in Canada over staying in the US

Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reporting a flurry of illegal crossings into Canada in recent months. Officials say Quebec province has seen the highest influx of people seeking asylum, with many crossing in snowy, remote areas in northern New York.

One illegal crossing area that has become particularly popular among immigrants is in Champlain, N.Y., in the northeast corner of the state. At the end of Roxham Road, there’s a big dead end and a “Road Closed” sign — but there’s also a very heavily trodden route through the snow that goes over into Canada.

At the road’s end, a young woman with an infant gets out of the taxi. She doesn’t want to talk and seems to have limited English. She hugs the baby to her chest and, with her free hand, pulls a black suitcase on wheels. As she moves toward the ditch, several Canadian police officers approach. The Canadian policeman offers to carry her baby as she makes her way through the slippery snow path. She hands the child to him and then takes the hand of another officer who helps her to the road on the Canadian side. The police bring out a child car seat and place it in their cruiser. The woman is arrested, and she and her child are driven away from the border. The whole thing takes about six minutes.

People who work with immigrants in Canada say these border-jumpers would rather be arrested in Canada than live in fear of how U.S. officials might handle their cases.

Cpl. Camille Habel, spokeswoman with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, says “Once we confirm that they’re not a threat to national security, we hand them over to [the Canadian Border Service Agency] who then start the immigration process.”


Donald Trump isn’t the only news event on Earth

While CNN and much of the world press focuses on Donald Trump’s antics, two United Nations reports documented events happening elsewhere that have all but gone unnoticed.

In Afghanistan, the 2016 Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict report recorded the highest number of civilian casualties in a single year since records started in 2009. There has been a 24% increase in the number of children killed and injured compared to 2015.

More human rights violations documented against members of the Rohingya community in Myanmar include the burning of houses and the destruction of property, looting, beatings, sexual violence, forced disappearances and killings. Stories include mothers seeing their children being killed, women being gang-raped by up to eight men, people being rounded up and taken away, and the army deliberately setting fire to houses with families inside.

How many of you reading know this is happening in Afghanistan or Myanmar?

People throughout the US standing up against Trump’s executive order is a welcome corrective to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment and activity in much of Europe and the US in the last few years. However, it seems we only care about discrimination when committed by certain governments.

[The Guardian]

Paper gliders to deliver lifesaving humanitarian supplies to remote regions

Otherlab, an engineering research and development lab based in San Francisco, has created the world’s most advanced industrial paper airplanes. The paper gliders look almost like stealth fighters, capable of carrying more than two pounds of supplies like blood and vaccines to those in need. And they could totally transform humanitarian aid for people in remote regions.

The gliders are made from an inexpensive material called mycelium, designed to be aerodynamic and degradable within a matter of days.

The drones can hold canisters, “medically sensitive fluids” and batteries, delivering lifesaving items to rural areas without roads, or regions rendered inaccessible by natural disasters or war.

“We designed these to be used in areas where existing infrastructure was insufficient to get critical items — blood, medical supplies and so on — to where they needed to be,” said Mikell Taylor, Otherlab’s team lead for the project.

[Read full Mashable article]

Four ways we can strengthen humanitarian aid

In the last three decades, rates of extreme poverty and childhood mortality have fallen while access to water and schooling for the most marginalized populations has increased significantly. These achievements are not complete, perfect or irreversible. Future progress requires humanitarian agencies … to reinvent themselves by boldly pursuing what I call the four “S’s”: scale, systemic approaches, sustainability and stewardship.

Scale: Because the people in need number in the billions, our programs must stretch each dollar to serve as many as possible.

Systemic approaches: While many people picture humanitarian work as the distribution of food and medicine, such immediate aid rarely gets at the systemic causes of problems. Hunger, for example, results from myriad factors.  That is why C.R.S. uses the integral human development framework for systemic interventions.

Sustainability: We must ensure that whatever gains are made will be sustained after a development project’s funding expires. Success in this regard shifts the emphasis from what an aid agency does to what the affected community can and will do. This means investing in the capacity of local groups.

Stewardship: While the overhead costs of nonprofits receive a great deal of scrutiny, it is not the sole metric of good stewardship. Low costs do not necessarily signal that a nonprofit or government agency is making the best use of its resources; this can be discerned only through evidence-based assessments of programs.

[Excerpt of article by Carolyn Y. Woo served as president and C.E.O. of Catholic Relief Services]

Trudeau meets Trump

A political odd couple, President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resolutely played up their similarities at their first meeting Monday, even as obvious differences lurked behind their public smiles.

But it was hard to escape their contrasting worldviews.

Speaking to reporters, Trump defended his restrictive refugee and immigration orders, saying that “we cannot let the wrong people in.” Trudeau, on the other hand, said Canada continues to “pursue our policies of openness.”

Trudeau later acknowledged that there are times when the two countries differ. But he said, “The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they chose to govern themselves.”

After Trump’s recent travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries, Canada offered temporary residence to any immigrants stranded in Canada. The decision was announced by Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s immigration minister. “Let me assure those who may be stranded in Canada that I will use my authority as minister to provide them with temporary residency if they need it,” said Hussen, who was born in Somalia and came to Canada as a teenage refugee.

Despite the chaos and uncertainty sparked by Trump’s travel ban, the Canadian government, led by Justin Trudeau, refrained from directly criticizing the order. Trudeau instead posted a series of tweets highlighting the stark difference between the position espoused by the Canadian and American governments. “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau tweeted.

[CNN/The Guardian]

3 ways Trump’s Travel Ban could affect humanitarian aid workers

International humanitarian aid organizations say the travel restrictions issued by President Donald Trump could have a dramatic impact on how they operate. We spoke with aid groups that work in the listed countries about the possible effects on their workers.

  1. Aid groups are restricting employee travel – There’s a lot of ambiguity in the executive order on how individuals — U.S. citizens or otherwise — can travel to and from the seven banned countries, says Nick Osborne, vice president of international programs for CARE, a global aid group. At the least, Americans traveling to and from those seven countries could face scrutiny when returning to the U.S. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the order, CARE has placed immediate travel restrictions on their staffers. Oxfam, an international charity organization, says they’ve had to rearrange travel plans for American employees and nationals of the listed countries. The group is concerned about long-term impact on the movement of staff, says Emily Bhatti, press officer of Oxfam America. “The lack of clarity could make it hard for groups to quickly deliver aid if a crisis were to arise. For CARE, the brewing food crisis in Somalia is top of mind.”
  1. Aid workers who are citizens of the seven banned countries not being able to travel to the U.S. – In many countries, local staffers make up much of the crew that operates aid projects on the ground. Many times, these employees have crucial, on-the-ground knowledge that shapes aid strategy. These staffers come to the U.S. for many reasons. Save the Children, for example, brings experts from various countries to meet with members of Congress and U.N. officials, share knowledge with American colleagues and tell their stories to journalists. This March, the group was planning to bring to the U.S. two Syrian experts on mental health to speak at the launch of a report on the effects of civil war on children.
  2. Trump’s ban could cause other countries to place travel bans on U.S. workers – There’s a chance the seven countries may restrict Americans from entering their countries. If that were to happen, aid workers would likely be affected. Unlike diplomats or U.N. employees, aid workers don’t have special visas that ensure safe passage when traveling. In response to the executive order, Iran and Iraq have both called for reciprocal measures.


Refugees risking life and limb to escape to Canada from the USA

Hussein Ahmed and Mohamed Hossain moved as quickly as they could through the waist-deep snow. They had never seen snow in their home country, let alone walked miles in it. They were fleeing the United States for Canada, terrified but determined to get to safety.

The two men were part of a group of five Somalis who crossed illegally through Mexico into the United States, begging for asylum there. Now they find themselves crossing a border to beg for asylum all over again. The men began having sleepless nights because of US President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric. Then he signed an executive order temporarily barring refugees, and all travelers from Somalia.

That was the final sign. They hatched a plan to leave. They each paid a man $300 to take them toward Grand Forks, North Dakota. He drove them to as close as possible to the border about 8 p.m. on Friday might, the men say. They were to steer clear of the bright lights of the US border in the distance, where customs agents might turn them back or send them to jail. He told them where to walk across the land where North Dakota and Minnesota meet Manitoba.

But what was meant to be a 30-minute journey stretched into hours. “We traveled the whole day and … actually we lost the direction,” Hossain, 28, says. At one point, the men thought they might die trying to save themselves.

They had been through so much before they reached America. Ahmed says he fled death threats from Al-Shabaab. Hossain says he fled discrimination as an ethnic minority in his country, after seeing his family members threatened or killed. Ahmed left behind young children when he fled; Hossain’s mother is still in Somalia, and tried to dissuade him from making the dangerous border crossing.

Two other refugees, Razak Ioyal and Seidu Mohammed, know the scars the trek to Canada can leave — both temporary and long-term.Their hands were so frozen it sounded like when glasses are clinked together. “The doctors had to cut all my fingers,” Mohammed says. They took skin from his thigh to help repair the skin burned by frostbite.

When the Canadian border lights were behind them, they called 911, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers came, and the men requested asylum.

Rita Chahal, executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, has been working to help them at their moment of desperation. Workers at the “Welcome Place,” where her group operates, shuttle back and forth to the border when they get calls about new groups arriving. They give warm welcomes at the crossing, blankets to the shivering, temporary shelter and food after the long walk and translators for those who don’t speak English or French.


United Arab Emirates $8.8 billion in foreign aid

Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, Chairwomen of International Humanitarian City in Dubai, called for establishing a data bank to allow governments to document their humanitarian work. 

The Humanitarian Logistic Data Bank will depend on of the use of technology in charitable aid for a quick response to those in need, said Princess Haya, wife of Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, during the second day of the World Government Summit.

“We have to move away from conventional ways of providing aid. Innovation is necessary for humanitarian aid,” she said to a crowd of delegates, as she highlighted the role of smartphones in changing forms of aid in developing countries such as limiting the spread of Ebola in west Africa and targeting those in need in a quick manner. Drones and satellites were among the technologies that helped in providing aid.

Princess Haya noted that the United Arab Emirates has topped the list of donors to foreign aid, reporting a 34 per cent increase in 2015, reaching $8.8 billion.

She praised the UAE food bank initiative, recently launched by Shaikh Mohammed for the Year of Giving. “While reports show that current food waste is worth $2.6 trillion, which can feed three times of world’s population including the 800 million hungry people.”

[Khaleej Times]

Thousands of refugees face a locked American door

One of the provisions of President Trump’s executive order on immigrationthat that has all but been ignored slashed by more than half the total number of refugees from any country and any religion who can be allowed in the United States this year.

And two-thirds of that sharply-reduced number have already been admitted.

President Obama had raised the annual global refugee quota the United States would accept, from 85,000 that had prevailed for several years to 110,000 for the 2017 fiscal year.  But President Trump’s executive order dropped that number to 50,000. Through early February, some 30,000 have already been admitted, leaving 20,000 to be allowed in through September before the doors slam on everyone.

“All of us in refugee resettlement have been deeply concerned about this,” said Chris George, executive director of New Haven-based Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. “But no one has challenged the President’s authority in setting a ceiling on the number of refugees overall allowed into the country each year.”

According to American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, “The (Ninth Circuit) Court of Appeals did not address one way or the other the overall refugee cap.” Which should mean that it stands untouched in the executive order.

Europe, too, has slashed its quotas, but they are still substantially above the US number.


Russian humanitarian aid to Syria

The Russian Center for Reconciliation has carried out seven humanitarian missions in the past 24 hours to reach out to some 6,300 Syrians.

“In the past 24 hours, humanitarian assistance was delivered to 6,300 civilians. The overall weight of humanitarian cargo stood at 6.2 metric tons,” the statement reads.

Russian planes also airdropped 20.6 metric tons of food, provided by the UN, to the city of Deir ez-Zor. The city has been effectively under siege by Islamic State militants, leaving supplies to be delivered solely by air.

In total, Russia delivered more than 160 metric tons of humanitarian cargo to Syrians since the start of 2017.


United Nations facing possible decrease in funding from the United States

In January 2017, the US saw a number of proposed bills, as well as a draft Executive Order, that threaten to reduce or substantially change American support for the United Nations (UN). The US is currently the single largest contributor to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets—meaning that any changes in US funding could drastically impact UN operations, including … human rights and development around the world.

There are three key legislative and executive activities currently proposed which could impact US funding to the UN, if passed:

  1. The Safeguard Israel Act (H.R. 769) proposes prohibiting voluntary or assessed contributions to the UN until the President certifies to Congress that UN Security Council Resolution 2334 has been repealed.
  2. Draft Executive Order “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations” proposes a 40% decrease in US voluntary funding for international organizations and funding cuts related to Palestinian Membership at the UN.
  3. The American Sovereignty Restoration Act (H.R. 193), introduced by Representative Mike Rogers (R-AL), proposes to terminate U.S. membership in the United Nations. This bill is introduced each year but is more concerning in 2017, given the context of a Republican-controlled House, Senate White House.

Analysts have also raised concerns about how the current anti-UN rhetoric may negatively impact American foreign policy.

[Council on Foundations]

UN calls for 50% increase in funding for humanitarian mine action

The latest United Nations Portfolio of Mine Action projects shows a sharp increase in the need for humanitarian mine action, including landmine clearance, risk education and victim assistance, in conflict and post-conflict settings around the world. The online Portfolio of Mine Action Projects 2017 presents an overall requirement for USD 511 million, a 50% increase from last year’s USD 347 million consolidated appeal.

The 2017 Portfolio presents a consolidated picture of the needs and strategies of twenty-two countries and territories contaminated with landmines and other explosive hazards such as unexploded cluster munitions, rockets and improvised explosive devices across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America.

The highest funding requirements are found in the active conflict zones of Afghanistan (USD 124 million), Iraq (USD 75 million), Syria (USD 52 million) and Yemen (USD 17 million). In addition, needs remain in countries which have extensive residual contamination, such as Cambodia (USD 23 million) and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (USD 26 million). An user-friendly online portfolio is available at http://www.mineaction.org/resources/portfolios and includes interactive options, such as graphs and charts summarizing the needs according to country, region and area of work.


UK troops to protect humanitarian aid in South Sudan

Britain’s Secretary of State for the Department for International Development, Priti Patel, suggested the UK peacekeepers who will be deployed to South Sudan this year could help guard sites of humanitarian organizations.

In an exclusive interview with the Sky News, Patel did not admit whether her country peacekeeping troops will, in fact, protect South Sudan aid. Her statements, however, suggest the UK could give its troops a legal mandate to protect aid sites.

South Sudanese rival forces have in the past been accused of looting humanitarian aid supplies and abducting NGOs and UN personnel.

Britain, which already has troops in South Sudan under UN mandates, announced in October last year that it will send paratroopers to the war-torn young nation for UN peacekeeping mission.

The United Kingdom is a member of Troika, a three-nation (Norway, US, and UK) bloc widely credited for engineering South Sudan’s July 2011 independence.

[South Sudan News Agency]

International airlines allowing nationals of 7 banned Muslim countries to board US-bound flights

By any reading, Donald Trump’s executive order suspending the US refugee program and arrivals from seven mainly Muslim countries has been a disaster. Grandmothers and Iraqis who served alongside American soldiers have been detained. Not good for PR.

The White House has had to drop green card holders from the ban and more than one judge has ordered parts of the program be dropped. The State Department has reversed the cancellation of visas provisionally revoked after Trump’s executive order — so long as those visas were not stamped or marked as canceled.

Many international airlines are again allowing nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries hit with President Donald Trump’s travel ban to board US-bound flights after a federal judge blocked the controversial ban nationwide. US Customs and Border Protection informed major American airlines on a conference call that it was “back to business as usual,” an airline executive told CNN.

It has exposed rifts in the administration, with key players saying they were not properly consulted, and divisions among Republicans, who say such barriers are un-American or that they detect a religious test in the decision to give Christians preferential treatment.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this: Throughout a topsy-turvy campaign, Trump managed to offer a consistent messianic message amid the noise. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he said at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. “It’s going to be beautiful,” he bragged. “It will be so easy,” he boasted.


Setback for Trump: Appeals court rejects demand to resume travel ban

A federal appeals court early Sunday morning denied the US government’s emergency request to resume President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has asked for both sides to file legal briefs before the court makes its final decision after a federal judge halted the program on Friday. What this means is that the ruling by US District Court Judge James Robart, who suspended the ban, will remain in place — for now.

On Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security announced it had suspended “any and all” actions to implement the immigration order and would resume standard inspections of travelers, as it did prior to the signing of the travel ban.

After the Ninth Circuit’s decision on Sunday, a US Embassy official in Baghdad said that holders of valid US visas, including Iraqi Special Immigrant Visas, would be allowed to travel to the United States.


To Trump the only extremism that matters is Islamic extremism

It’s been nearly a week since a self-described fan of Donald Trump walked into a mosque in Quebec City and opened fire, killing six worshipers. Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, called it “a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the President is taking steps to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to our nation’s safety and security.”

Spicer’s statement left the press corps baffled. He seemed to be suggesting that a far-right, ultra-nationalist, white supremacist, radicalized by social media into murdering Muslims, somehow proved Trump’s position on the need to focus on the threat of Islamic terrorism.

But let’s pretend, for a moment, that facts actually matter, especially when it comes to the safety of American citizens. Here are the facts about terrorism in the United States:

  • Americans are almost seven times as likely to be killed by a white extremist than by an Islamic one, according to one study.
  • Citing a 2013 study, the New York Times notes: “Right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.”

 [From CNN article by Reza Aslan, author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”]

International aid for Chile to fight wildfire crisis

At least nine countries are sending various forms of aid to Chile to help deal with what President Michelle Bachelet has called the worst forest disaster in Chile’s history, consuming an area about three times the size of New York City.

As of January 30 there were at least 58 active wildfires that have burned 1,047 homes and killed 11 people, including four firefighters and the pilot of a single engine air tanker.

Spain, France, and Portugal have each sent over 50 firefighters, while Venezuela, Colombia, and Mexico have also mobilized firefighters to Chile.

Brazil is contributing the use of a C-130 with a slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS), and Russia sent a IL-76 air tanker.

The United States sent four wildfire specialists from the U.S. Forest Service and the USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) committed $100,000 to Caritas, a local non-governmental organization associated with the Catholic Church, for the regional procurement and delivery of firefighting equipment. The U.S. Embassy in Chile announced that an additional $740,000 is being provided.

A grandson of the founder of WalMart, Ben Walton with his wife Lucy Ana, are funding through the family’s foundation system the initial deployment and use of the privately owned 747 SuperTanker out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.