I have never met a political child

Around the globe, conflict is escalating at a frightening rate. Those left most vulnerable are the children.

Here in the U.S., we have an escalating humanitarian crisis at our border with Mexico. Increasing numbers of women and children from various Central American countries are fleeing violence and insecurity. Every day, more and more mothers are putting their lives – and the lives of their children – on the line by crossing the Rio Grande seeking refuge in the U.S.

At the Save the Children / Catholic Charities Child-Friendly Space at Sacred Health Community Center in McAllen, Texas, families make a quick stop to get food, clothes and items for personal hygiene. I sat with these women and listened to their stories. I wanted to know why they were running away from their homes, and why they would risk their family’s life on an uncertain future. I heard stories about poverty, extreme violence and other atrocities these families endured every day in their home communities. One mother simply told me, “I ran to protect my babies. I had no other choice.”

As I write this, Save the Children is responding to a number of humanitarian emergencies around the world, many of which have stemmed from armed conflict or political issues.

In any crisis, children are always the most vulnerable, and their voices are rarely heard. We know children don’t choose sides when it comes to political conflict or religious debate. Eglantyne Jebb, the founder of Save the Children, said this: “I have never met a political child.”

Here’s what I need to say: Debates about immigration and other issues will–and should–continue. But in the midst of often-heated and lengthy political battles, we cannot allow children to be caught in the cross fire.

[Joaquin Duato, Worldwide Chairman of Pharmaceuticals for Johnson and Johnson, writing in Huffington Post]

Grassroots support and assistance for Kashmiri flood victims

Deadly flooding occurs regularly across India, but the recent flooding in Jammu and Kashmir is the region’s worst in 50 years. Commentators there have compared this disaster to Hurricane Katrina, for its devastation of a famously picturesque city Srinagar and also for its emotional backdrop where trust between the populace and the central government is so low that some relief deliveries have dissolved into open confrontation.

Following the lackluster reaction from the state government to the heavy flooding in the region of Jammu and Kashmir –affecting 1.9 million– and the Indian government’s tacit refusal to solicit help from the United Nations, disaster relief has consisted chiefly of concerted efforts from organizations within India, coupled with fellowships being formed worldwide.

Civilian response to the flood relief is unparalleled: despite being caught off-guard and irrefutably unprepared for the cataclysm. Citizens have been attempting to fill the gap of the state government and serving as the primary caregivers of their own people. The disparate entities and individuals coalescing to revive Srinagar predict a long road ahead for this steadily unfolding disaster. As of today, the National Disaster Response Force has rescued 50,860 people from floods and 12 camps have been arranged.

Marriage halls, mandirs and mosques have been converted into provisional community kitchens, welcoming throngs of uprooted people. Locals house strangers, doctors volunteer in smaller makeshift dispensaries, and volunteer rescue teams continue to wade through waters to deliver food.

Raheel Khursheed  of Twitter India utilized Twitter to send SOS distress messages, culling information about supplies needed, and coordinating rescue operations. Time zones away, a group of expatriates work to create awareness and coordinate the relief efforts underway on the ground.

Change.org campaigns and pleas for international aid are being circulated through social network channels, tax-exempt nonprofit organizations are being devised, and expatriates are returning home to lend their expertise and FCRA approved organizations surface to accept funds from abroad.

[Read full Forbes article] 

Russia to send third humanitarian convoy to Ukraine

Russia is ready to send a third batch of humanitarian aid to Ukraine`s southeastern regions within days, its emergency situations ministry said Wednesday.

“We are ready to continue this (relief) effort. By the end of the week we will be able to continue the effort if certain decisions are made,” Deputy Emergency Situations Ministerm Vladimir Stepanov said, adding that such work must continue by all means.

“The campaign to collect humanitarian aid is being carried out across the nation, with the aim of helping Ukrainians get prepared for the winter,” he said.

Stepanov also urged the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to play a more active role in the delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid in Ukraine, Xinhua reported.

The second batch of humanitarian aid arrived last Saturday in Ukraine`s eastern city of Lugansk, following the first convoy carrying 2,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid August 22.

[india.com]

Obama commits 3,000 troops to West Africa to fight Ebola

As the worst-ever Ebola epidemic rages on in Africa, President Barack Obama announced that the US will ramp up efforts to combat the virus as part of “the largest international response in the history of the CDC.”

In an address from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Obama said that the US is willing to take the lead on international efforts to combat the virus, CNN reported. Ebola “is a global threat, and it demands a truly global response,” Obama said.

The announcement came amid increasing criticism that the international community has not responded quickly and boldly enough to what has become the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

So far, more than 2,400 people have died this year from Ebola — more than the combined total of all previous outbreaks since the first recorded in 1976 — and the epidemic has spread to five African nations, including Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, and Senegal.

To work to turn the outbreak around, the White House has committed more than $175 million to this “top national security priority.” The focus of the funds is stopping spread in West Africa. The US will send more than 3,000 troops to the most affected areas, and set up a joint operation in Monrovia, Liberia — the hardest hit of the five regions — to coordinate the relief efforts.

In addition, the plan will boost the number of health workers in the region. The US pledged to build as many as 17 additional Ebola treatment units — with a total of about 1,700 beds — and to help recruit medical personnel to staff them. The Department of Defense also plans to establish a site where up to 500 health care providers can be trained each week. USAID will support a program of distributing kits with sanitizers and medical supplies to some 400,000 of the most vulnerable households in Liberia.

US government to provide humanitarian relief to Kashmir flood victims

The United States has offered humanitarian aid to the flood-affected people of Jammu and Kashmir.

The US intends to provide USD 250,000 to select nongovernmental organizations through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in response to the needs of the people affected by the disaster.

The organizations, which include Save the Children India, Care India, and Plan India, will use these funds to provide emergency relief, including temporary shelter and non-food relief supplies, to thousands of families in remote villages severely affected by the floods.

Thousands of people are thought to be stranded in Indian-administered Kashmir nearly two weeks after devastating floods there.

At least 200 people have died, with many missing, and there are mounting fears of disease spreading as criticism grows of the Indian government’s response.

Colombian organization that aids displaced women wins top humanitarian award

A group of women in the troubled Colombian port city of Buenaventura has been awarded one of the world’s most prestigious humanitarian awards for their work with survivors of forced displacement and sexual violence. The group, called Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future, won the 2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award.

Colombia’s 50-year civil conflict has forced some 5.7 million people to flee their homes – making the Andean nation second only to Syria in terms of its internally displaced population. It’s also the eighth-largest source of refugees.

Benedicia Benancia, 57, is a typical beneficiary of the Buterflies program. In 2001, she was chased from her home in western Colombia along with her seven children. “We had to escape the gunfire around us. It was immediate. We ran for our lives,” she said in a statement.

But the violence followed her to Buenaventura, where turf wars over drug routes are common and more than 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. Sexual violence, kidnapping and murder are commonplace.

Benancia said her life was precarious until she became involved with Butterflies. Among their programs is what is known as the “food chain,” which encourages members to save money and food by pooling their resources and providing a steady source of support in a place where there are few jobs. Benancia says that she used to sleep on a dirt floor, but thanks to the food chain she was able to build a house. “I wouldn’t have been able to save otherwise,” she said.

The UN said the cornerstone of the Butterflies’ work is life skills and civil rights workshops. “Women come together and, realizing they are not alone in their suffering, slowly regain their self-esteem and strength,” the UN said.

Buenaventura is one of Colombia’s most dangerous cities. In Buenaventura, where crossing into the wrong neighborhood can get you killed, the Butterflies often have to be secretive about their work.

“These women are doing extraordinary work in the most challenging of contexts,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a statement. “Each day they seek to heal the wounds of the women and children of Buenaventura and in doing so put their own lives at risk. Their bravery goes beyond words.”

[Miami Herald]

Humanitarian aid worker beheaded by “Islamic State”

A video purporting to show the beheading of British aid worker David Cawthorne Haines was released Saturday. Vowing justice for the murdered man, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron says his killing by extremist group the Islamic State is “an act of pure evil.”

Calling David Haines a “British hero” who was an innocent in the fighting that has consumed much of Syria and swaths of Iraq, Cameron said, “We will do everything in our power to hunt down these murderers and ensure they face justice.”

Haines, 44, had spent much of the last 15 years working for relief agencies. Before he was kidnapped in Syria in the spring of 2013, he had worked with the U.N. and several charitable agencies in the Balkans, South Sudan, and Libya. He was also a husband and the father of two daughters, ages 17 and 4.

“David was like so very many of us, just another bloke,” his brother, Mike, said in a statement released Saturday, in which he describes how his brother dedicated himself to humanitarian work after leaving Britain’s Royal Air Force.

[NPR]

West African health centers can’t keep up with Ebola outbreak

The number of new Ebola cases is growing faster than the ability of health officials to handle them, the head of the World Health Organization said Friday.

“In the three hardest hit countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the number of new cases is moving far faster than the capacity to manage them in the Ebola-specific treatment centers,” said Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general. “Today, there is not one single bed available for the treatment of an Ebola patient in the entire country of Liberia.”

At least 2,400 people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the outbreak has been concentrated, Chan said. Cases have also been reported in nearby Nigeria and Senegal.

This is considered the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. The World Health Organization said Monday the rapid spread of the virus in Liberia shows no sign of slowing. “The number of new cases is increasing exponentially,” the WHO said, calling the situation a “dire emergency with … unprecedented dimensions of human suffering.”

This week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it will donate $50 million to help fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

To help ease some of the burden on West Africa’s already overtaxed medical system, the United States announced Tuesday it will send $10 million in additional funds. That’s in addition to the $100 million Washington has already sent to help fight the outbreak. USAID also announced it will make $75 million in extra funds available.

[CNN]

Military involvement in conquering the Ebola outbreak?

As the body count in Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak continues to rise, some say the time has come for the U.S. military to step in.

“The U.S. Military is uniquely poised to help with this disease,” says Timothy Flanigan, an infectious disease researcher at Brown University who’s volunteering in Liberia, the country hardest hit by Ebola. “We’ve trained for it, we’ve got the logistics, we’ve got the support and we have the matériel.”

The Department of Defense runs a sophisticated health service for its own troops. Its staff includes infectious disease experts, doctors and nurses. It can set up massive field hospitals almost anywhere. On top of that, the military can do logistics like no other: It can move fuel, food and supplies en masse.

“Our deployable medical capabilities are generally trauma medicine, treating people who suffer wounds in combat and things of that nature,” says Michael Lumpkin, the assistant secretary of defense in charge of Ebola response. “That’s not necessarily what they’re dealing with there.”

Until recently, many charities working in the region didn’t want military involvement. But as the outbreak grows worse, aid groups feel they have to take a chance. “I think what we’ve already seen is a sea change in the receptiveness of many international health workers to military engagement,” Julie Fischer, a public health expert at George Washington University says.

Doctors Without Borders, which has clinics throughout the region, is now asking for military support. In neighboring Sierra Leone, the British Military is planning to set up and run a 62-bed facility. That work is being done in coordination with the charity Save the Children.

[NPR]

Should the world continue to fund food aid to North Korea?

For nearly three decades, a chronic food emergency has gripped North Korea. In the 1990s a famine killed up to five per cent of the pre-crisis population.

Pyongyang presses on with its nuclear programme and prestige projects while millions of its citizens remain malnourished. The long-running food crisis is the outcome of decades of economic mismanagement and a political system that absolves its leadership of any real accountability.

Humanitarian activities by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) and private relief groups constitute the longest ongoing engagement between the hermit state and the international community. But the North Korean regime’s actions create an ethical conundrum which may be reaching its breaking point.

Donor fatigue has set in. The WFP’s assistance requests are grossly undersubscribed and the organization may be forced to shut down its remaining program. And if it tries to soldier on with reduced resources, its ability to monitor its own activities will be badly affected, risking aid diversion and catastrophic scandal.

[The Guardian]