African satellites track human rights crimes

This past week, George Clooney announced an expansion to the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), an initiative he co-founded three years ago with the Enough Project’s John Prendergast. The satellite project uses satellite imagery to monitor and warn against human rights abuses in war-torn Africa.

As conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and the surrounding region become more linked with regional criminal networks, SSP will widen its focus to undertake forensic investigations that attempt to reveal how those who are committing mass atrocities are funding their activities and where they are hiding their stolen assets.

Clooney said: “We want to follow the money and find out how these atrocities are funded, who enables them, and what the smart tools are to counter these activities more effectively. Genocide and other human rights crimes are never just spontaneous events. They require planning, they require financing, and they require international indifference to succeed.  Where is the money coming from and where is it being hidden? To the extent we can, we want to make it more difficult for those willing to kill en masse to secure their political and economic objectives, and we want to move the needle away from indifference and inaction.”

The other co-founder of the SSP, John Prendergast, said: “We’ll focus on imposing a cost on those that contribute to or facilitate the perpetration of these human rights crimes.”

[The Christian Science Monitor] 

American charities continue to struggle financially

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, America’s biggest nonprofits are barely able to make up the fundraising losses they sustained in the Great Recession.

Only about half of the charities on the Philanthropy 400 are raising more than they did in 2007, when the recession started.

A sign of the struggle: The No. 1 organization, United Way Worldwide, is treading water.

After United Way and Fidelity Charitable, number 3 on the list was the Salvation Army, followed by Task Force for Global HealthFeeding America, and Catholic Charities USA.

Most traditional charities, which rely on a broad pool of donations from Americans at all income levels, continue struggling to win support.

An AIDS cure for all

Thirty years ago, scientists announced that the probable cause of AIDS had been found. Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, would subsequently enter our lexicon and become synonymous — no matter where you lived — with death. Since then, more than 75 million people have acquired HIV and nearly 35.6 million have died of AIDS-related illnesses. With no cure in sight, it seemed that ending this epidemic would be a Sisyphean task.

But investments in AIDS research, prevention and treatment have yielded tremendous dividends. As a result, we have before us the opportunity to end one of the greatest public health crises in history.

More people than ever are receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy, and are living healthier, longer lives. There have been historic declines in AIDS-related deaths worldwide. From 1996 to 2012, antiretroviral therapy averted 6.6 million AIDS-related deaths, including 5.5 million in developing countries. The annual number of new HIV infections has also dropped by 33% since 2001. In 26 countries, the rate of new HIV infections among young people (ages 15-24) decreased by 50% since 2001. For the first time, we have the ability to end the transmission from mother to child and to keep mothers alive.

Merely a decade ago, few believed they would see a cure in their lifetimes. Yet despite these promising developments, the epidemic is far from over. Of the 35.3 million people living with HIV, nearly two out of three living in developing countries are not on HIV treatment, either because they do not have access or do not know their HIV status. Effective outreach to those most at risk—and most in need—is critical.

While we now have the tools to begin to end the HIV epidemic, achieving an AIDS-free generation is still threatened by a considerable gap between available resources and the amounts needed to scale up high-impact interventions. Investing now in these interventions will not only accelerate progress in reducing AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections, but it will also lower the long-term cost of the HIV response.

[Source: CNN]

Have yachts vs have nots?

The gap between rich and poor is getting wider.

Are you shocked? Unfortunately, probably not. You might be when I tell you how wide the gap actually is, though.

The latest statistics show that the richest 85 people in the world now own the same wealth as the entire poorest half of the world’s population.

… But it’s not just about money.

It’s about the fact that this tiny number of people control and exploit so many of the world’s resources, not to mention their disproportionate influence on the economic and political decisions that affect ordinary people’s lives. And as the ‘have yachts’ gain power, billions of ‘have nots’ go without food, education and medical help.

[Courtesy Oxfam] 

Foreign aid to Afghanistan bypasses the forgotten poor

For all the billions of dollars in foreign aid that have poured into Afghanistan over the past 12 years, Sajeda, her head-to-toe burqa covered in dust, sobs that the world has forgotten the poorest of the poor in the largely untroubled north of the country.

One of the paradoxes of Western aid: the northern region of Afghanistan which supported the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 has got significantly less help than the south and east, home of the Taliban militants.

Over the past decade, much of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding has been spent in the strongholds of the insurgents as part of Washington’s strategy to win the “hearts and minds” of the local population. A disproportionate share of U.S. aid, which makes about two-thirds of all development assistance in Afghanistan, has ended up in the southern provinces where it has been used to achieve political and military objectives.

“We are the poorest and most unfortunate people of this country and no one pays attention to us. We are forgotten,” said Sajeda, who lost 12 members of her family in the landslide that killed hundreds in northern Badakhshan province.

Despite the most expensive reconstruction effort ever undertaken in a single country, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest states.

[Reuters]

Humanitarian groups urge action on Central African Republic

Citing fears of genocide, representatives of humanitarian organizations tried Thursday to focus U.S. lawmakers’ attention on the Central African Republic, where the situation is on the verge of exploding into a “decades-long conflict,” one aid group said.

Mercy Corps believes “right now is the time to act, and we are asking Congress to make smart, forward-thinking decisions,” said Madeline Rose, a policy adviser to the group, in a telephone interview prior to addressing the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on African Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.

The group fears “that the current crisis in CAR is on the verge of metastasizing into a new, decades-long conflict,” she added. At least 2,000 people have died in the fighting, and 2.2 million others — about half the country’s population — need humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.

The continuing violence has raised the specter of genocide, as occurred 20 years ago in Rwanda.

“Do not repeat the mistakes of the past — heed the lessons,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last month during a visit to the country.

Catholic Relief Services Chief Operating Officer Sean Callahan. “The world stood by as nearly one million people were killed in Rwanda 20 yrs ago, and we cannot let the violence tear the social fabric of CAR,” he said.

Rose agreed. “We’ve seen this over and over again in the way the international community responds to crises like these — where we focus too narrowly on short-term, emergency needs and don’t take a step back to make long-term, strategic investments and decisions about how to solve the root problem.”

[CNN]