A global conversation on humanitarian action

The World Humanitarian Summit is scheduled to take place in Turkey, during May 2016, a meeting proposed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Breanna Ridsdel, spokesperson for the Summit,  said, ”It will be more like a key moment in a conversation which has been going on for decades, and needs to go on for decades to come.”

One aim is to draw as many people into that conversation as possible, including the new players in the humanitarian field whose presence is one of the things changing the environment and making the conversation necessary.

In the past, humanitarian organizations consciously held themselves apart from anyone with military and commercial motives. Now they are being urged to collaborate with the private sector and in some cases, even the military.

In the past, aid was given by rich, developed countries to the poor and the undeveloped. Now the lines are not so clear. Former aid recipients are now middle income countries and aid-givers themselves, and they approach things in a different way. Big multinational NGOs, based in the West, have been joined by a host of local NGOs and civil society organizations working in their own countries. And awareness has grown of the instrumental response role played by aid-affected communities themselves.

Sara Pantuliano, director of the Humanitarian Policy Group at the UK’s Overseas Development Institute, says getting the balance right between the different actors will be crucial to the event’s success. “It’s a UN summit, not an inter-governmental summit,” she told IRIN. “If the recommendations which emerge are strong enough, it could make the changes in the humanitarian architecture which are so badly needed. An inter-governmental process probably wouldn’t be able to move so far. But states have to be on board so that they can take the Summit’s outcomes to the General Assembly and get the decisions required. … Governments will be invited but they won’t be driving the process.”


US military’s humanitarian activities in Africa

The U.S. is trying to win a war for the hearts and minds of Africa, a war zone about which most Americans are completely unaware.

However, a Pentagon investigation suggests that these various humanitarian projects in Djibouti or Ethiopia or Kenya or Tanzania may well be orphaned, ill-planned, and undocumented failures-in-the-making.  This evidence of failure has an eerie resonance for previous efforts to use humanitarian aid and infrastructure projects to sway local populations in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan.  In each case, the operations failed in spectacular ways, but were only fully acknowledged after years of futility and billions of dollars in waste.

In Africa, the sums and scale involved are smaller than the Mideast or Southeast Asia, but U.S. military humanitarian assistance — from medical care to infrastructure projects — is a form of “security cooperation.”  According to the latest edition published earlier this year: “When these activities are used to defeat an insurgency, they are part of a counterinsurgency operation. While not all security cooperation activities are in support of counterinsurgency, security cooperation can be an effective counterinsurgency tool.  These activities help the U.S. and the host nation gain credibility and help the host nation build legitimacy. These efforts can help prevent insurgencies…”

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and its subordinate command, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) based at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, have spent years engaged in such humanitarian projects.  These have been touted in news releases at their websites in lieu of candid information on the true scale and scope of AFRICOM’s operations.      Read more on the subject

[Excerpt of article by Nick Turse, managing editor of TomDispatch.com]

Humanitarian aid from Iran delivered to Iraqi Kurds

Iran’s second consignment of humanitarian aid has been delivered to the people of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, an official with the Iranian Red Crescent Society said.

The consignment weighs 260 tons and consists of food, blankets, tents, etc, the Tasnim news agency quoted the official as saying.
He said Iran’s humanitarian aid is being distributed among the Kurdish refugees who have fled from areas invaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group.
[Tehran Times]

Mounting death tolls from Asian monsoons

At least 137 people have died in the last few days from flooding caused by intense monsoon-season rains that have been lashing parts of Asia for weeks, according to government and media accounts.

Pakistan’s government reported Friday that up to a foot of rain (313 mm) in eastern parts of the country Thursday caused heavy flooding that left at least 56 people dead and 68 injured.

In Indian-administered Kashmir, 50 people died when a bus carrying a wedding party overturned in a flash flood. They were among 70 killed in Jammu and Indian-administered Kashmir as a result of flooding, Indian officials reported according to CNN sister network CNN-IBN.

In Thailand, the state-run MCOT news agency reported that authorities have urged residents along waterways in the country’s central region to move to higher ground. The government had deployed more than 600 soldiers to aid in flood prevention work, the Bangkok Post reported.

On Wednesday, China’s state-run CCTV reported 11 people had died and 39,000 had been evacuated in the southwestern city of Chongqing after heavy rains there. More than 2,200 homes collapsed in the deluge, CCTV said.

Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal were also hard-hit in August. South Korea and Japan have also seen flooding.


Humanitarian refugees flee eastern Ukraine

According to the United Nations, more than one million people have been displaced by the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Some 800,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia, another 260,000 are displaced inside Ukraine.

Ole Solvang, senior emergency researcher for Human Rights Watch, returned from eastern Ukraine and reports how both Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels are contributing to the rising death toll in the besieged city of Luhansk, where many residents have not had electricity, gas and running water for weeks, and where food and fuel are running low. Solvang reports:

“Luhansk is a city held by the separatist forces that has been under siege by the Ukrainian army for several weeks now. But perhaps the biggest challenge for people living there is the ongoing shelling, killing and injuring civilians. A morgue doctor there had registered more than 300 civilians who had been killed in Luhansk city alone since the military operations started in May.

“Who is responsible? In many cases, it’s difficult to determine with certainty. I think there is, logically, if you look at the situation—the separatists are holding the city, the Ukrainian army is trying to retake the city, so, logically, I think that there is an assumption that rockets, artillery shells that fall within the city come from the Ukrainian army. The Ukrainian government is claiming that these are rebels firing into their own areas. There might be cases of that, but in most of the cases we looked at, the evidence pointed to the Ukrainian army.

“As to the vast number of refugees leaving Ukraine, they cite the difficult humanitarian situation in Luhansk, in particular, but most of them said that the determining factor for them was the increased shelling in their neighborhoods.”

[Excerpted from Democracy Now interview with Ole Solvang, senior emergency researcher for Human Rights Watch]

Humanitarian aid workers targets of attack

More and more, during the course of helping suffering populations, humanitarian aid workers have become targets of attack by extremist groups.

2013 saw the highest number of aid workers killed compared to all other years, as reported by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Of 460 incidences of violence reported against aid workers in 2013, 155 have been fatal. This was said to have triple the number over the last 10 years. The leading offenders are reportedly found in Afghanistan, Syrian Arab Republic, South Sudan, Pakistan and The Sudan.

Without sufficient numbers of workers on the ground, service delivery to displaced people is hampered. And with more needy situations, not to speak of these attacks on humanitarian aid workers, there is need for an increase in the number of aid workers who have the courage and commitment to respond to increasingly various complex situations around the world.