Humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq as ISIS advances

The advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Northern Iraq has displaced about 200,000 people, most of them coming from the Yazidi ethnic minority.

Iraqis displaced by fighting in the north-west of the country must be given urgent humanitarian assistance, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

The appeal was made after hoards of civilians fled the town of Sinjar and surrounding areas following an attack by militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which now goes by the name of the Islamic State. Tens of thousands are trapped without basic necessities or vital supplies in the Sinjar Mountain area south of the city, the human rights movement said in a statement.

“The civilians trapped in the mountain area are not only at risk of being killed or abducted by ISIS; they are also suffering from a lack of water, food and medical care, the organization said.

They are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, who is currently in northern Iraq.

UN special representative of the secretary general for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, urged the country’s authorities to “work with the UN to ensure the delivery of life saving humanitarian assistance.” He has also called on the Kurdistan Regional Government, embattling the jihadists, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.


US, World Bank and businesses pledge billions for Africa

President Obama announced that the U.S. government, World Bank and businesses will invest a combined $33 billion in Africa’s economy, showcasing America’s economic ties to a continent where trade and investment are increasingly dominated by China and Europe.

Obama said the United States will finance $7 billion in business exports and investments in Africa, while U.S. companies have inked $14 billion in deals with the continent.

And the World Bank, Sweden and private sources have pledged another $12 billion in funding for Obama’s Power Africa energy initiative, bringing the electrification program’s total funding to $26 billion.

U.S. food aid policy has shifted under the Obama administration. Rather than relying primarily on federal funds to support small farmers overseas, the administration has enlisted African companies and major multinationals to help address some of the development challenges Africans still face.

US-Africa Leaders Summit seeks to boost African trade

Typically, people only look at Africa through the lenses of either humanitarian, health or security issues, says Amadou Sy, a senior fellow in the Africa Growth Initiative at the D.C.-based Brookings Institution.

That needs to change, says Sy, and a good start is the historic three-day U.S Africa Leaders Summit, which kicked off Monday and is gathering over 50 of Africa’s heads of state in D.C.

So-called hotspots of the continent often distract from how much has changed in Africa over the past couple decades, the economic gains it has made and why it’s important the U.S. fosters its continued growth, Sy says. “The bottom line is it makes sense,” Sy said. “After all, why did the U.S. support Europe after World War 2 and have the Marshall Plan? It was in its benefit to have a vibrant, economically strong Europe for trade. The same thing with Africa.”

The U.S. does not want to miss out on Africa’s growth potential. “You want to be part of that in terms of commerce, in terms of trade, in terms of investment,” Sy said. “And for strategic reasons also. Nobody wants to see a region of the world that is unstable.”

Africa still continues to struggle, and has some significant obstacles to overcome. More than 400 million people in Africa live in extreme poverty, one in three is malnourished, over 500 million suffer from water-borne diseases and 24 million are afflicted with HIV, according to George Ingram, a senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Yet Ingram also notes that’s only part of the picture, writing in a recent blog. “It would be easy to focus on these statistics and see Africa as hopeless, as has been all too common. But a more holistic picture reveals trends that are cause for considerable optimism.”

From 2000 to 2010, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were in Africa, and Africa was the fastest-growing continent at 5.6 per cent in 2013, Ingram wrote.

Over the last 10 years, there have been fewer coups, more democratization, rapid urbanization, and some success stories, Sy said.

For example, almost everybody in Africa has a mobile phone, including those living in rural areas, Sy said. And a number of the biggest companies are already in Africa, including Microsoft, Wal-Mart and Google, which translates its pages into local languages.

China investment is well entrenched in the continent and has become the largest bilateral trade partner with Africa, surpassing the U.S in 2009.


Gaza misery heightened by latest war

For the more than 1.8 million people squeezed into Gaza, a territory about twice the size of Washington DC, chaos has always infringed on the daily rhythms of life.

But the latest conflict with neighboring Israel has compounded the misery of many. Since Israel began Operation Protective Edge against Hamas on July 8, about 520,000 people in the small, impoverished territory have been displaced by the conflict, according to the United Nations. That is 29% of the territory’s inhabitants!

The United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza, an already crowded and impoverished territory.

And after Gaza’s only power plant was hit, residents are without electricity. Without refrigeration. Without water pumps and sewage systems.

At the main hospital, already stretched by weeks of fighting that left close to 1,900 people dead and thousands wounded, a pair of mega-generators powered crucial life-support equipment.

“We cannot supply electricity to hospitals or water pumps or sewage treatment or for domestic use,” Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority in Gaza said. “People have to pump the water to the residential tanks but don’t have electricity.”

Jamal Derdsawoi, a representative of Gaza’s electric company, pointed at Israel. “By attacking the power plant and cutting the electricity, they’re killing the civilian life in Gaza,” he said.

The United Nations has said that a deliberate strike on the plant would be a violation of humanitarian law.


The Norm in Gaza

Excerpts of an opinion piece by eminent political philosopher Noam Chomsky:

On July 17, Malaysian Airlines MH17 was shot down in Eastern Ukraine, killing 298 civilians. President Obama denounced it as an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.” His UN Ambassador thundered that “we must stop at nothing to determine who is responsible and to bring them to justice.”

With the Israeli attack on Gaza in July [which to date has killed nearly 1800], President Obama spoke out of his “strong condemnation of rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel by the militant group Hamas,” while “also expressing ‘growing concern’ about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza,” but without condemnation. The Senate filled that gap, voting unanimously to support Israeli actions in Gaza.

This is the norm.

[Another part of] the norm in Gaza is described in detail by the heroic Norwegian trauma surgeon Mads Gilbert, who has worked in Gaza’s main hospital, and just before this latest Israeli onslaught, submitted a report on the Gaza health sector to UNRWA, the UN Agency that tries desperately, on a shoestring, to care for refugees.

“At least 57 % of Gaza households are food insecure and about 80 % are now aid recipients,” Gilbert reports. “Food insecurity and rising poverty also mean that most residents cannot meet their daily caloric requirements, while over 90 % of the water in Gaza has been deemed unfit for human consumption,” a situation that is becoming even worse as Israel again attacks water and sewage systems, leaving over a million people with even more severe disruption of the barest necessity of life.

Gilbert reports that “Palestinian children in Gaza are suffering immensely. A large proportion are affected by the man-made malnourishment regime caused by the Israeli imposed blockage. Prevalence of anaemia in children under 2yrs of age in Gaza is at 72.8%, while prevalence of wasting, stunting, underweight have been documented at 34.3%, 31.4%, 31.45% respectively.”

Another norm for Gaza: For the past 14 years, Israel has killed more than two Palestinian children a week.

The distinguished human rights lawyer Raji Sourani, who has remained in Gaza through years of terror, reports that “The most common sentence I heard when people began to talk about ceasefire: everybody says it’s better for all of us to die and not go back to the situation we used to have before this war. We don’t want that again. We have no dignity, no pride; we are just soft targets, and we are very cheap. Either this situation really improves or it is better to just die. I am talking about intellectuals and academics ….ordinary people [are] saying that.”

Similar sentiments have been widely voiced: it is better to die with dignity than to be slowly strangled by the torturer.

Another U.N. school in Gaza struck by Israeli shelling, “a moral outrage and a criminal act”

Yet another attack near a school used as a U.N.-run shelter in Gaza led to new carnage as the conflict between Israel and Hamas raged unabated. Before these latest attacks on Sunday, which UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl identified as an Israeli strike, the health ministry had put the cumulative death toll in Gaza at 1,712.

An undetermined number of other people were killed and several others wounded Sunday in the shelling near the school in Rafah, in southern Gaza, the spokesman for the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said. “The dead and wounded in Rafah are still under the rubble and in the streets,” Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Ashraf el-Qedra said.

Thousands of Gaza residents had flocked to the shelter to escape weeks of violence — only to encounter more bloodshed. Witnesses said those killed or hurt were waiting in line for food supplies when a missile hit.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the latest incident “a moral outrage and a criminal act.” “The attack is yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law,” Ban’s office said in a written statement. “… This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable.”

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, tweeted that the school was sheltering almost 3,000 internally displaced people. “I can confirm a shelling incident has caused multiple deaths and injuries in the vicinity of a school,” Gunness told CNN’s “New Day” on Sunday morning.

At least two other U.N.-run schools-turned-shelter in Gaza have been pounded by violence in the past month.