U.S. warns Egypt concerning financial aid

The United States warned Egypt that executing supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood may affect the aid that Washington provides to Cairo.

“The imposition of the death penalty for 529 defendants after a two-day summary proceeding cannot be reconciled with Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law, and its implementation of these sentences, as I said, would be unconscionable,” Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf stressed, according to AFP.

Harf made clear that the way Egypt proceeds regarding the trials and death sentences will have consequences for future American aid. The United States previously announced it would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Egypt over its displeasure with the military’s pace of restoring democracy following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi.

U.S. law forbids sending aid to countries where a democratic government was deposed by a military coup, though Washington has never qualified Morsi’s ouster as a “coup”.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the trial of a further 682 Islamists began, among them the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie, who was arrested last August after a brief spell in hiding.

India and Southeast Asia officially certified polio-free

Rukhsar Khatoon, 4, is too young to fully grasp the significance of her life: that she is the final documented case of polio in a country of 1.2 billion people. She has become the greatest symbol of India’s valiant — and successful — effort to rid itself of a crippling and potentially deadly disease.

Her face has appeared in newspapers and on television. She’s been invited to national events by Rotary International, the organization that led the effort to rid India of polio. She is a literal poster child, an inspiration, a symbol of a feat that no doctor or health official thought possible even a few years ago. But this past Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially certified India as being polio-free.

This is great news that all Southeast Asia is certified polio-free by the World Health Organization — a momentous achievement for global public health and the worldwide effort to eradicate polio.

This extraordinary feat wasn’t easy. Most experts believed that India, with its high population density, poor health care services and regional accessibility problems, would remain the most polio-endemic region in the world.

Great achievements don’t just happen; they require the great efforts of many. The polio eradication movement, started in 1988, was a joint effort between the Indian government; WHO; Rotary International; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; UNICEF and various other NGOs; the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and about 2 million workers who vaccinated nearly 170 million throughout the country to finally wipe out the disease.

Truly, this worldwide effort should serve as a reminder that when the global community bands together to solve an issue, great things can be achieved. And today should serve as a call to not simply continue the efforts but to exponentially increase them.

[CNN]

Pakistan’s Impending Famine

Pakistan’s Thar desert, in the southeastern Tharparkar district, is home to about a million residents, and is a harsh landscape in which to eke out an existence in the best of times.

Media reports have revealed that dozens of people—many of them children—have died from malnutrition over the last three months in the bone-dry desert region. And things could soon get much worse.

Local residents say that while there is not significantly less water than there usually is during this dry winter season, the 30 percent drop in rainfall over the monsoons has significantly affected them. Residents live on the edge of survival, and the smallest pressure from the climate can push them into extreme poverty or malnutrition, says Zaffar Junejo, the chief of the Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP), which has been working in this area for the last 18 years.

Tharparkar is one of the country’s most food insecure districts, with the WFP declaring residents to be in a state of “severe food insecurity”. Health is another major concern, with 47 percent of Tharparkar’s children categorized as “malnourished”.

Since March 7, relief goods have been streaming into the area from all over the country, in the wake of a widely reported “drought”.

Nearly half of Pakistan’s 180 million people lack access to safe water. No other nation has a higher infant mortality rate, and only a few have more cases of tuberculosis.

Syria the worst refugee crisis in recent history

Civil war in Syria has created the worst refugee crisis in 20 years, aid agencies have warned, with no end to the conflict in sight.

Since March 2011, more than 2.5 million Syrians have fled abroad and another 6.5 million have been internally displaced. That means a third of the country has now been forced to leave their homes.

With an average of 6,000 people fleeing every day in 2013, Antonio Guterres, the UN’s refugee chief, said refugee numbers had not risen “at such a frightening rate” since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Aid agencies are calling it the worst humanitarian disaster in recent history.

According to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency, Jordan is currently home to more than 584,000 Syrian refugees, including around 100,000 in the Zaatari refugee camp alone. Turkey hosts the second largest number, with 634,900.

Lebanon, which had a pre-Syrian war population of just over four million, is now sheltering nearly a million refugees. (The number hosted by Lebanon as a ratio of its population would be equivalent to nearly 15 million in France, 32 million in Russia or 71 million in the United States!)

[The Telegraph]

UN says 5.5 million Syrian children affected by war

The Syrian conflict, which enters its fourth year this month, has unleashed massive suffering across all segments of Syrian society, but the impact on children has been especially acute, according to a new report by UNICEF. Malnutrition and illness have stunted their growth; a lack of learning opportunities has derailed their education; and the bloody trauma of war has left deep psychological scars.

“ …Children have lost lives and limbs, along with virtually every aspect of their childhood. They have lost classrooms and teachers, brothers and sisters, friends, caregivers, homes and stability. Millions of young people risk becoming, in effect, a lost generation,” UNICEF said.

UNICEF said that more than 10,000 children have been killed in the violence, which would translate into the highest casualty rates recorded in any recent conflict in the region. Of those who have survived, thousands have been wounded, lost their home and schools, and seen family members and friends killed. That trauma has left around 2 million children in need of psychological support or treatment, the agency said.

Almost 3 million children are displaced inside Syria, while another 1.2 million have fled the country and now live as refugees in camps and overwhelmed neighboring communities where clean water, food and other basic items are scarce.

On the education front, UNICEF said that nearly half of Syria’s school-age children — 2.8 million and counting — cannot get an education because of the devastation and violence.

[AP]

NBA star builds hospital in The Congo

Three years ago, a woman gave birth to premature triplets in a small village clinic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The doctors were not equipped to provide the medical care these tiny patients required, so the parents were told the babies would simply be left to die.

But the triplets’ father had heard about a new, state-of-the-art hospital just up the road built by Congolese American and former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo. The father begged the doctors to call the United States.

Mutombo says that phone call is just one example of why he decided to open a hospital in his hometown of Kinshasa. Built with funds raised through his Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, the hospital bears the name of his mother, Biamba Marie Mutombo, who he says taught him the importance of helping others.

“For everything she did for her children and for her family, the value of love and giving back and sharing. Not just with you, not just with your family, but with the people you encounter in life, with your community, and that was the kind of love that my mom gave.”

Mutombo hopes his hospital will help provide medical care desperately needed in the Congo. He says the hospital has treated more than 30,000 patients and employs nearly 400 doctors and nurses.

And those triplets? They spent more than three months on life-saving machines and now are thriving toddlers. The parents were so grateful that they named the babies after the 7-foot, 2-inch basketball player.

[CNN]