Tally on Yolanda damages to the Philippines

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported yesterday that the death toll from super-typhoon “Yolanda” had increased to 6,155, almost two months since the monster storm brought massive devastation to central Philippines.

The latest data released by the NDRRMC showed that the addition to the number of fatalities came from Iloilo province. Among the causes of death of the victims were drowning, hit by debris/fallen tree, cardiac/cardio-pulmonary arrest, pneumonia, stroke, and multi-organ failure.

Meanwhile, the number of missing also slightly went up from 1,779 to 1,785.

The number of injured stood at 28,626.

The super-typhoon, which made several landfalls on Nov. 8, affected 3,424,593 families or 16,078,181 people in 57 provinces.

Of the total affected population, 890,895 families or 4,095,280 people were displaced, some of whom are still being served in evacuation centers.

[Manila Bulletin]

Polio woes for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the region

The “West” and the majority of the Muslim world appear to have divergent views on two things about the Syrian civil war: the centrality of the conflict and what constitutes the “worst case scenario.” For the West, the prospect of al Qaeda or other Islamist militants prevailing is a nightmare. But for many Sunni Muslims, the nightmare is already here.

The onslaught against the Sunni majority turned Syria into the favorite destination of militant Islamists worldwide. It has provided al Qaeda, which boasts not one but two affiliates there — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the al Nusra Front — an opportunity to rebrand itself and given its recruitment efforts a shot in the arm.

Last week, 72 prominent Saudi clerics issued a statement calling on Muslims around the world to support a recently formed Islamist coalition in Syria known as the “Islamic Front.” The good news is that the Front does not include the two al Qaeda affiliates, and the clerics did not call on Muslims to travel to Syria. However, the characterization of the conflict as a “Jihad,” or holy war, is a troubling development.

More than 100,000 people have died in the conflict, which has turned millions more into refugees.

Now, in surroundings even dirtier than the war they escaped, Syrian refugee children in Lebanon face another potential threat: Highly contagious and potentially deadly polio.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are attempting to vaccinate as many as 23 million children across the region. According to the WHO, vaccinations will also be carried out in other countries including Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey.

Tiny Lebanon, which neighbors Syria and has absorbed the highest concentration of refugees – over 800,000 so far — is considered to be at particular risk.

Lebanon’s burden from Syria’s civil war

The government of Lebanon cried out to the world for help Monday over the strain the civil war in neighboring Syria is putting on its country, making an official plea for donations to help cover the the growing multitude of refugees throughout the region and burgeoning budgets needed to fund their care.

The U.N. said Monday that $6.5 billion, a record amount, will be needed next year to cover a projected 4 million Syrian civil war refugees and the communities they have flooded into.

One-fifth of the people living in Lebanon’s borders are now refugees from Syria’s war. That’s the official figure; the real one could be much higher, as the U.N. count has typically not been able to keep up with the influx of people who have lost everything.

Nearly 1,600 refugee camps dot Israel’s northern neighbor, which is smaller than the state of Connecticut. A third of the registered displaced people live in substandard shelters, the U.N. says.

Nearly 300,000 of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are school-age children, and the U.N. expects the number to more than double in 2014.

Pitiful response to receiving Syrian refugees outside Middle East

Europe’s leaders “should hang their heads in shame” over their failure to take in more than a tiny proportion of refugees who have fled Syria’s desperate civil war, rights group Amnesty International said Friday.

European Union nations have offered to open their doors to a little more than 12,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria, Amnesty International said, describing the number as “pitifully low.”

The figure represents 0.5% of the more than 2.3 million people who have fled the country since the conflict began in March 2011.

More than half  the 2.3 million refugees registered by the United Nations are children.

At least 4.25 million have been forced from their homes within Syria, Amnesty International said, making the total number displaced above 6.5 million — nearly a third of the country’s population.

In this dire situation, the countries neighboring Syria — Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt — have taken in 97% of the refugees, according to U.N. figures.

Within Europe, 10 EU member nations have promised to resettle 12,340 refugees. Of these, 10,000 places have been offered by Germany.

Outside Europe, Australia and Canada have promised to take in about 1,800 refugees between them.

In light of its report, Amnesty International has called for “an urgent and significant increase” in the number of resettlement places offered to refugees from Syria.

As winter closes in, the situation of refugees packed into temporary camps will only worsen. A huge storm that dropped snow and rain whipped by high winds onto Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon this week has added to the suffering. The Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, where thousands of Syrian refugees are living in tents, has been badly affected.

[CNN]

Turkey closes its border to Syria

Turkey has temporarily closed crossings to and from Syria along its border due to fighting between opposition groups inside Syria.

The announcement came shortly after the United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. The aid consisted of wood, medical items, non-military equipment like generators and communication equipment.

The blockage of passage to Turkey could have implications for refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported in September that nearly 500,000 Syrians had registered or were awaiting registration as refugees in Turkey, and those numbers have been increasing since.

Meanwhile, a huge storm dubbed Alexa descended Tuesday and Wednesday on the region, dropping snow and rain whipped by high winds onto Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, with the latter most affected, the UNHCR said. In the Bekaa in eastern Lebanon, where thousands of Syrian refugees were living in tents, emergency crews were distributing aid.

Al Qaeda militants have swept to power across large swathes of Syria’s rebel-held north. Known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS is the predominant military force in northern Syria, according to activists and seasoned observers, and have a powerful influence over the majority of population centers in the rebel-held north.

Typhoon Haiyan death toll nears 6000 with 1779 still missing

One month after Typhoon Haiyan tore through six Philippine islands, the death toll stands at 5,924 and 1,779 people are still missing, according to government figures released Sunday.

More than 12 million people have been affected by the monster typhoon that left behind catastrophic scenes of destruction and despair when it made landfall on November 8, the government said.

Several countries have been aiding in the recovery. According to the Pentagon, the American military effort, dubbed Operation Damayan, cost $32 million. At their peak, the relief efforts involved more than 13,400 U.S. military personnel, 66 aircraft and 12 naval vessels.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. scaled down its operation in the Philippines, but USAID continues to provide food and support as the recovery continues.

CNN Heroes team up for Philippines typhoon relief

Efren Penaflorida, 2009 CNN Hero of the Year, was grateful when Typhoon Haiyan bypassed his home in Cavite City, Philippines. But when he saw the devastation in other areas of the country, he wanted to do all he could to help his fellow Filipinos.

Penaflorida immediately began collecting donations at his mobile “pushcart classrooms,” which he uses to educate poor children in the country. But he wanted to do more.

So he reached halfway around the world to Doc Hendley, a North Carolina clean-water activist who had also been honored as a top 10 CNN Hero in 2009. After a disaster strikes, access to clean water is vital to help prevent the spread of disease. Hendley, who has responded to humanitarian crises in Darfur, Haiti and Syria, had just started assessing how his nonprofit, Wine to Water, might help the Philippines when he received Penaflorida’s e-mail.

“I was already thinking that maybe I should go, ” Hendley said. “When he shot me the e-mail … he sealed the deal. “Our organization depends on relationships with people on the ground … (and) what better relationship than with Efren?”

Soon, Hendley was on a flight to the Philippines with hundreds of water filters in tow. Penaflorida picked him up at the airport in Manila. “That was a long trip from the U.S. to the Philippines … and he has put out his own money and resources to help us,” Penaflorida said. “We were both excited, seeing each other.”

The next day, both men helped volunteers assemble the filters and pack 120,000 meals donated by Stop Hunger Now, one of Hendley’s partner organizations. Then they headed to Tacloban, in the heart of the devastated area, to deliver the filters.

“When we got to the communities, they were asking for help,” he said. “When Doc presented them with filters, I saw hope in their eyes.”

They distributed 2,000 filters by the end of the week. Because each filter can provide enough clean water for 10 people, and because each will last for 10 years, Hendley estimates that at least 20,000 people will benefit.

He originally planned to return home for the Thanksgiving holiday, but he now intends to stay until early December. “I couldn’t be home for a nice Thanksgiving dinner and pretend like nothing happened,” he said. “There’s too much we have to do.”

read more

CNN Heroes team up for Philippines typhoon relief – Part 2

Other CNN Heroes are also responding to help those affected by the typhoon:

Robin Lim, the American-born midwife named CNN Hero of the Year in 2011, has strong ties to the Philippines; her mother was Filipino. So after the storm, she brought food and medical supplies. She has also been working with local clinics to provide assistance to pregnant women, new mothers and young children.

Dr. Laura Stachel, a 2013 Top 10 Hero, has also provided Lim with one of five “solar suitcases” that she has donated to the relief effort. These portable kits provide essential power to medical clinics.

Team Rubicon, a group of military veterans that responds to natural disasters, was on the ground within days of the storm. The group, founded by 2012 CNN Hero Jake Wood, has 43 volunteers in the Philippines providing medical care, opening supply lines and helping repair a field hospital in an area west of Tacloban.

Evans Wadongo, a Top 10 CNN Hero in 2010, is also hoping to partner with Penaflorida. Although Wadongo normally distributes his solar-powered lanterns to rural communities in Africa, he has launched an online campaign to raise funds so he can assist Filipinos more than 5,000 miles away.

[CNN]

On World AIDS Day December 1

Since it was founded in 2002, the Global Fund has been a leader in the world’s successful response to HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. All told, its efforts have saved nearly 9 million lives. The Global Fund also plays a key role in helping developing countries change the course of these three epidemics.

For example, when people have early access to HIV testing and treatment, they not only save their own lives but they dramatically reduce their chances of infecting others. Moreover, a simple preventive procedure like voluntary medical male circumcision lowers a man’s chance of acquiring HIV — and potentially transmitting it to his partner — by about 60%. Overall, effective prevention and treatment programs have helped reduce new HIV infections by a third since 2001.

That last number is crucial, because preventing new HIV infections is absolutely essential to ending AIDS. Developing a vaccine to prevent HIV remains critical, and scientific researchers are achieving exciting breakthroughs. In the meantime, we need to develop new technologies that women can use to protect themselves. Condoms are a great way to prevent the spread of HIV, but they require the cooperation of both partners.

The Global Fund doesn’t just provide money for pills and other health products. It channels its resources into training new generations of doctors, nurses, and health care workers. It helps developing countries build stronger health systems. This approach guarantees that the money donors invest in the Global Fund has a long-term impact on overall health and quality of life in dozens of countries.

Put simply: The Global Fund isn’t just one of the kindest things people have ever done for each other — it’s also one of the smartest investments the world has ever made.

[Read Bill Gates full opinion piece

US veterans fill their own void delivering aid to Philippines

Members of Team Rubicon, a disaster relief organization staffed by US veterans, are using their military skills in the Philippines — and finding the camaraderie they miss in the process. The organization isn’t just lending a crucial role in helping aid the ravaged Tacloban region, harnessing the organizational training and skills learned by service men and women in war zones. It’s also filling a void for many of them who miss the intense bonds and clear mission of the military.

The group’s co-founder, Jacob Wood, is a square-jawed Iowa native who graduated college with a business degree and promptly enlisted in the Marine Corps. After four years in the military, including a deployment to Iraq in 2007, and another to Afghanistan in 2008, Wood got out. Then came the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when he and his Team Rubicon co-founder William McNulty, also a Marine, went down to aid in disaster relief. While working on the ground, they realized that veterans have many of the skills to help in relief efforts. From that first mission in Haiti, the organization has continued to grow to its current roster of more than 12,000 volunteers.

Team Rubicon has “all the best parts of the US military — mission, purpose, camaraderie — without the bad parts, like having to shave,” says Peter Meijer, a former US Army medic.

Volunteers bring in all their own water and food, usually favoring freeze-dried supplies or the specially packaged military food known as Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs. The key is to be self-sufficient, Meijer says. “The first rule of disaster response is don’t be a victim,” he says. Otherwise, “you’re just taking aid away from those who need it.”

In Manila, the presence of military veterans who are now civilians, as well as Team Rubicon’s visibility around the centers of military operation, have riled some in the aid community, who have criticized the group for hogging the spotlight. Some of the groups also complain of being bumped from flights.

But Wood defends his organization, saying that if team members come on strong, it is because “veterans are used to making difficult decisions in difficult situations.”

Indeed, part of Rubicon’s success, Wood argues, is knowing how the military works and what it needs, which comes in handy during large disasters in which US troops are brought in.  This is particularly important since the US military controls the flights that run to the disaster zones— flights which move aid shipments, vehicles, and volunteers.

“It really helps that we’re familiar with the chain of command,” Meijer says.

[Christian Science Monitor]