Humanitarian aid plus covert aid to Syria

The United States has announced it is sending an additional $12 million in humanitarian aid to Syria, warning of a “dire and rapidly deteriorating” situation inside the country.

Citing U.N. estimates, the White House said up to 1.5 million Syrians are in need of aid, including more than 130,000 who have fled the country amid the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

“With these additional funds, the United States is now providing over $76 million in assistance for food, water, medical supplies, clothing, hygiene kits, and other humanitarian relief to those most urgently in need,” the White House said.

The move comes a day after U.S. officials told CNN that President Barack Obama had signed a directive authorizing covert, supposed non-lethal U.S. support for Syrian rebel fighters by the CIA and other agencies. It was unclear exactly what the secret order, referred to as an intelligence “finding,” authorized and when it was signed, but the sources said it was within the past several months.

Food production for developing nations

The Obama administration drafted some of the world’s largest food and finance companies to invest more than $3 billion in projects aimed at helping the world’s poorest farmers grow enough food to not only feed themselves and their families but to earn a livelihood as well.

President Obama and the leaders of four African countries introduced the group of 45 companies, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, at the last summit meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations. The alliance includes well-known multinational giants like Monsanto, Diageo and Swiss Re as well as little-known businesses like Mullege, an Ethiopian coffee exporter.

The U.S. administration also reported on the progress of what is known as the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, the largest international effort in decades to combat hunger by investing in the fundamentals of agriculture, including seeds, fertilizer, grain storage, roads and infrastructure. The initiative, first agreed upon by the Group of 8 leaders at their meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, in 2009, was a pledge to put $22 billion into food and agriculture projects. Although much of the money had previously been earmarked for agriculture projects, about $6 billion was new. Apparently most all of the $22 billion is budgeted and appropriated, and over half of this disbursed.

Polio has sprung back to life

Nothing demonstrates human interconnectedness like the spread of infectious disease. Polio is endemic to just three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. In recent years however, visitors have carried polio back to 39 previously polio-free states. Thus people everywhere have a stake in eradicating polio, as we have stamped out smallpox.

Immunizing the last unvaccinated children on the planet is an expensive and complex undertaking, and worth it in the long run. The world not only would be forever spared an incurable, crippling and often fatal disease. It would also save a lot of money. If polio transmission could be stopped by 2015, the net benefit from reduced treatment costs and productivity gains through 2035 would be $40 billion to $50 billion, according to a 2010 study.

Thanks to the efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative — which links national governments to the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Unicef, Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — progress has been tremendous.

The coalition has adopted an emergency plan that prioritizes efforts in the three endemic countries.  (Remarkably, India, which because of population density and poor sanitation was considered the greatest challenge, had zero new polio cases last year.) The idea is to stop the virus at the source and hope it doesn’t spread to places where vigilance has been lightened.