Nordic humanitarian initiative in eastern Ukraine

The Nordic foreign ministers decided to provide early assistance to Ukraine in the field of humanitarian reconstruction and energy efficiency. The aid is to be made available for the affected and vulnerable regions of eastern and southern Ukraine, including the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

“It is vital to assist the local population and internally displaced people, and thus to start a normalization process in these parts of Ukraine”, the foreign ministers of the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland said.

In the first instance, the Nordic initiative will address key social infrastructure such as schools, kindergartens and health centers, and possibly also damaged housing in certain cases. Funding of EUR 2 million will be available for this purpose in 2014, with further allocations in 2015.

This Nordic initiative will cover only a small part of Ukraine’s reconstruction and energy efficiency needs. The intention is to start a process that may expand during implementation and that could be linked to Ukraine’s national programmes and other international assistance.

Pledges for African development by international banks

The World Bank and other international lenders pledged $8 billion in aid on Monday for infrastructure development in eight countries in the Horn of Africa in hopes that an infusion of funds will help moderate the persistent food and water shortages and armed conflict in the region.

The advent of oil production in Kenya and Uganda will be a catalyst for “dramatic and lasting” change in the region, the World Bank said. Also, the search for exploitable oil reserves is under way in Ethiopia and parts of Somalia.

The construction and improvement of oil pipelines, transport links and health and education facilities are among the projects to be funded by the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the European Union, as well as the World Bank, the lenders said.

The announcement of the aid package to Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda coincided with the start of a five-day, three-nation visit to the region by a delegation of international aid officials led by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

[Wall Street Journal]

The Red Cross uses text messages to beat Ebola

In an effort to contain Ebola, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has teamed up with a local cell-phone provider and the Sierra Leonean government to send health reminders via text message. Since the Ebola outbreak began last April, the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) system has sent out about two million text messages a month in Sierra Leone, reminding people to seek treatment early, avoid physical contact with others and not resist the efforts of community healthcare workers. The texts are delivered free so there’s no financial burden to the recipient.

Texting isn’t the only technology being used to combat Ebola. In West Africa, Twitter was abuzz with health tips and reassurance.

In countries where Internet access is not ubiquitous, cell phones play a vital role in communicating messages directly to a mass audience during health and other crises. Sixty-nine percent of Sierra Leoneans have a cell phone connection, but only 9 percent have a 3G or cellular Internet plan.

“Every mobile phone can do text messaging,” says Ken Banks, mobile technologist and founder of, a project that unites cellular technology with social change. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the cheapest model or the most expensive.”

The interactivity is appealing. Recipients can text back with basic questions about Ebola and get an automated response with information about treatment options, cleaning tips and medical help. And since the texts are sent to specific areas of the country, the messages, which are drafted by the IFRC and the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Health, can be personalized with regional advice.

Even though the country has low literacy rates — 43 percent for adults — text-based services are effective ways to disseminate information. “In villages where there is low literacy, there might only be a few people with cell phones who can read these messages,” says Christine Tokar, West Africa programs manager for the British Red Cross. Tokar says those who can read share the information with the town crier, who would distribute it through town meetings.

The texts are intended to reinforce similar messages delivered via posters, radio and television ads. But a text can be preserved on the phone, shown to a friend and referenced later — say, when Ebola comes to a previously unaffected area.

The Red Cross is hoping to have TERA up and running in 40 countries across the globe in the next five years.


Texting can be a humanitarian relief tool

Pandemics, like war, have a higher cost than their death toll. They erode infrastructures, threatening local economics and livelihoods.

One infrastructure that’s relatively hard to take down with disease, though, is the cellular phone system. Now, researchers are using it to check on the well-being of people living among the Ebola pandemic.

A poll was recently conducted by texting or “robocalling” questions to people who live in two districts of eastern Sierra Leone. This automated technique keeps researchers safe, and allows for multiple rounds of surveys to be sent out automatically over time.

“Our typical approach involves sending out roving teams of enumerators with clipboards (or handheld devices) to collect data through face-to-face personal interviews with respondents,” wrote Jean-Martin Bauer, a food analyst with the World Food Program (WFP) in an email. “The process delivers valuable detailed information, but tends to be cumbersome.”

Phone-based surveys reduce some of that burden, Bauer said, adding that the WFP can now bring in new data regularly and issue reports on the matter monthly without needing an army of enumerators.

Because cellular networks are set up in many developing countries—and landline or broadband networks are not—widespread polling is still possible in many places.

[The Atlantic]


A brief overview of US foreign aid

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found, “When survey respondents are told that only about one percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, the share saying ‘the U.S. spends too little’ more than doubles (from 13 percent to 28 percent), while the share saying ‘we spend too much’ drops in half (from 61 percent to 30 percent).”

In fiscal year 2012, the United States paid out $31.2 billion in economic assistance and $17.2 billion in military assistance.

According to USAID, the top five categories for economic aid include aid for “global health and child survival, international narcotics control and law enforcement, and migration and refugee assistance. Other programs in the economic assistance category include the Peace Corps, international disaster and famine assistance, and disease control through the Centers for Disease Control.”

The last category, for example, would include funds for combating Ebola in Africa. (Some of the aid is funneled through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work to protect civil liberties, the rule of law, religious freedom and equality for women.)

It is hard to imagine a world — let alone aspire to one — in which the United States eliminated all economic aid. We would not send government resources or personnel, for example, to Hatti for a hurricane; to Japan for the nuclear accident; to any Middle East ally to cope with refugees from the Syrian civil war; to Ukraine for economic assistance in the wake of Russian aggression; or to our ally Colombia (which gets more than $660 million) for economic growth and restitution/reconciliation efforts for victims of previous governments’ abuse.

[Read full Washington Post blog]

The challenges facing humanitarian agencies and workers

More than 250 representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have gathered in Beijing this week for their 9th Asia-Pacific Regional Conference to discuss new and innovative approaches toward meeting today’s humanitarian challenges.

Every day, the 47 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific are tackling human suffering in various forms. While we live in an era of incredible technological advances and major achievements in combating disease, we also live in a time of great uncertainty where conventional drivers of humanitarian crises such as natural disasters and conflicts are increasingly interacting with new forms of hazards.

About 89 percent of people affected by natural disasters worldwide are living in the Asia Pacific region. We are seeing changing patterns in disasters, where climate change is driving extreme weather events that are putting greater numbers of people at risk.

The escalation of protracted crises in the Middle East has had grave humanitarian consequences. More than 4 million people in the region have fled their countries of origin due to conflicts. In Iraq, recent waves of violence are creating a serious refugee crisis. In Syria, millions continue to rely upon the aid from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The security of our staff and volunteers is increasingly at risk – across the region we (IFRC) have lost almost 50 colleagues in the line of duty. It is unacceptable that so many people have lost their lives while trying to save the lives of others.

[Excerpts of China Daily op-ed written by secretary general of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies]

NY doctor with Ebola worked with Doctors Without Borders

Craig Spencer, who tested positive for Ebola Thursday, is a New York emergency physician who recently worked with Doctors Without Borders treating patients in West Africa.

He is on the staff at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, which in a statement called him “a dedicated humanitarian .. who went to an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population.”

Spencer, 33, describes himself on his Linkedin page as a “fellow of international emergency medicine” at the New York hospital. He speaks five languages including Chinese and studied language and literature at Henen University in China in 2006-2007.

According to his Facebook page, he left for West Africa via Brussels in mid-September and returned to Brussels October 16.

“Off to Guinea with Doctors Without Borders,” he wrote. “Please support organizations that are sending support or personnel to West Africa, and help combat one of the worst public health and humanitarian disasters in recent history.”

[US Today]

UN launches humanitarian appeal for Iraqis as winter approaches

An estimated 2.8 million Iraqis lack food assistance while another 800,000 are in urgent need of emergency shelter, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned today as it launched an appeal for greater financial support to bolster its operations on the ground.

Neill Wright, OCHA’s acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, cautioned that the needs of some 5.2 million affected Iraqis had now become “immense” and urged the international community to step up its efforts through a $2.2 billion appeal. “This effort requires all of us – the UN, non-governmental organizations, civil society and the private sector – to work together. All of us have a role to play.”

Iraq has been convulsed by increasing instability over the past several months amid an ongoing offensive by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), unleashing wave after wave of internally displaced persons and refugees.

At the same time, the agency warned, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees escaping the ISIL onslaught on the Syrian border town of Kobane were expected to cross into Iraq from Turkey, citing civil unrest, the high cost of living, difficulties with aid, and the desire to join family members already living in the Kurdistan region of Iraq among their reasons for entering the country. They join the estimated 1.8 million citizens internally displaced throughout the country in 2014 alone.

In its latest appeal, OCHA also noted that with the onset of winter, 1.26 million people remain in dire need of some form of winterisation assistance, such as warm clothes, shoes, health services, and food.


How Millennials are reshaping charity and online giving

Millennials are spending — and giving away their cash — a lot differently than previous generations, and that’s changing the game for giving, and for the charities that depend on it.

Scott Harrison’s group, Charity: Water, is a prime example. Harrison volunteered to spend two years in West Africa. What he found when he first got to Liberia was a drinking water crisis. He watched 7-year-olds drink regularly from chocolate-colored swamps — water, he says, that he wouldn’t let his dog drink.

He got inspired to start raising money for clean water when he returned to the states, but his friends were wary. “They all said, ‘I don’t trust charities. I don’t give. I believe these charities are just these black holes. I don’t even know how much money would actually go to the people who I’m trying to help,’ ” Harrison recalls.

So his one cause became two: He started Charity: Water to dig wells to bring clean drinking water to the nearly 800 million people without access to it around the globe. But he also wanted to set an example with the way the organization did its work.

“We’re also really trying to reinvent charity, reinvent the way people think about giving, the way that they give,” he says.

Demographic change is a huge reason for rethinking this. With around 80 million millennials coming of age, knowing how they spend their cash on causes is going to be critical for nonprofits. And their spending patterns aren’t the same as their parents.

[Read full NPR article

Flying into the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic

On the flight from Brussels to Monrovia (Liberia), it literally was a “plane full of good Samaritans.” Almost everyone on board was going to help with the Ebola epidemic.

There were dozens of U.S. military personnel, a bunch of medical teams from NGOs and a few guys wearing hats that had “public health” written on them.

The two men sitting next to me were U.S. Army engineers coming to build an Ebola treatment unit in Liberia. One of the guys said he was happy to finally be using his engineering skills to build something instead of just searching for bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The three women sitting behind me on the plane were health workers coming to volunteer for Doctors Without Borders. They had taken time off from their jobs for the trip and had just spent four days learning to treat Ebola patients at a mock Ebola treatment center in Brussels.

With the third Ebola case reported in the U.S. last week, we’ve been hearing so much about shutting down commercial flights to and from West Africa. Sitting on the plane to Monrovia, I was struck by how essential these flights are to stopping the epidemic and getting help to millions of people.


3 Reasons the US military should not be fighting Ebola

President Obama is sending thousands of U.S. troops to West Africa to fight the deadly Ebola virus. Their mission will be to construct treatment centers and provide medical training to health-care workers in the local communities.

Here are 3 reasons why militarizing humanitarian aid is a very bad idea, according to a Reason.TV piece:

1. Militarized Aid Erodes Humanitarian Principles – Humanitarian aid must be perceived as neutral and not driven by political or military objectives. Using the military in a humanitarian crisis works against that and potentially instigates further unrest.

2. Militarized Aid is Ineffective in the Long Term – Militarized aid is often backed by huge budgets that are supposed to be spent quickly. The pressure to spend massive amounts is often coupled with pressure to achieve short-term political goals. That in turn translates into an ineffective use of funds.

3. Militarized Aid Diminishes the Supply of Civil Aid – By constantly relying on the military for humanitarian efforts, we’re stifling efforts to grow civilian-led organizations that can handle the complicated logistics necessary to address large-scale humanitarian crises.

US humanitarian aid going to ISIS

While U.S. warplanes strike at the militants of the so-called Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq, truckloads of U.S. and Western aid has been assisting them to build their terror-inspiring “Caliphate.” The aid—mainly food and medical equipment—is meant for Syrians displaced from their hometowns, and for hungry civilians. It is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, European donors, and the United Nations.

Aid convoys have to pay off ISIS emirs (leaders) for the convoys to enter the eastern Syrian extremist strongholds. “The convoys have to be approved by ISIS and you have to pay them: the bribes are disguised and itemized as transportation costs,” says an aid coordinator who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition he not be identified in this article. The kickbacks are either paid by foreign or local non-governmental organizations tasked with distributing the aid, or by the Turkish or Syrian transportation companies contracted to deliver it. And there are fears the aid itself isn’t carefully monitored enough, with some sold off on the black market or used by ISIS to win hearts and minds by feeding its fighters and its subjects.

Aid coordinators with NGOs partnering USAID and other Western government agencies, including Britain’s Department for International Development, say ISIS insist that the NGOs, foreign and local, employ people ISIS approves on their staffs inside Syria. “There is always at least one ISIS person on the payroll; they force people on us,” says an aid coordinator. “And when a convoy is being prepared, the negotiations go through them about whether the convoy can proceed. They contact their emirs and a price is worked out. We don’t have to wrangle with individual ISIS field commanders once approval is given to get the convoy in, as the militants are highly hierarchical.” He adds: “None of the fighters will dare touch it, if an emir has given permission.”

Many aid workers are uncomfortable with what’s happening. And the State Department official said he, too, was conflicted about the programs. “Is this helping the militants by allowing them to divert money they would have to spend on food? If aid wasn’t going in, would they let people starve? And is it right for us to withhold assistance and punish civilians? … Are we helping indirectly the militants to build their Caliphate? I wrestle with this.”

[Daily Beast]

Oxfam calls for military intervention for West African Ebola crisis

Ebola is poised to become the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation”, Oxfam has warned, with more troops, funding and medical aid urgently needed to tackle the outbreak.

In an “extremely rare” move, the charity is calling for military intervention to provide logistical support across West Africa. It says the world has less than two months to counter the spread of the deadly virus, so troops are now “desperately needed” to build treatment centers, provide flights and offer engineering and logistical support.

While Britain was leading the way in Europe’s response to the epidemic, it said countries which have failed to commit troops were “in danger of costing lives”. Oxfam highlighted Italy, Australia and Spain as examples of countries who have committed no troops, despite Spain having a specialist medical expertise unit in its military.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam’s chief executive, warned the world “is in the eye of a storm” as the latest outbreak progresses. “We cannot allow Ebola to immobilize us in fear, but instead we must move toward a common mission to stop it from getting worse,” he cautioned.

An Oxfam spokeswoman added: “The Ebola crisis could become the definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation. The world was unprepared to deal with it. It is extremely rare for Oxfam to call for military intervention to provide logistical support in a humanitarian emergency. “However, the military’s logistical expertise and capacity to respond quickly in great numbers is vital.”

[The Independent]

The 40-year history of Ebola

The humanitarian crisis wrought by the deadly Ebola virus raging through West Africa will not be over until a vaccine is developed, the scientist who discovered the virus has warned. The virus continues its unprecedented pace, invading and destroying vast swathes of West African countries and it will continue to do so if drastic action is not taken on the front line.

It is in West Africa that the fight against Ebola must be waged, if the region is to survive. The international response is finally coming up to speed with the US and UK leading the way, with the ‘abysmal reaction by the rest of Europe’, prompting calls that more can be done.

Professor Peter Piot, part of the team who identified the Ebola virus in north western Zaire in 1976, warned the crisis has spiraled out of control. In theory Ebola is very easy to control, but it has got completely out of hand,’ he said, speaking at a seminar at Oxford University. ‘This is no longer an epidemic, it is a humanitarian crisis. … The good news is I think this is the last Ebola outbreak where we only have isolation and quarantine to treat. … Hopefully we will have a drugs and vaccines to offer in Africa.’

‘Most of these outbreaks have been in central Africa. There was one in Ivory Coast but that was a different strain from 1976, ‘ he said. ‘They have mostly been contained to the Congo, Uganda and South Sudan. … That is why there wasn’t much interest in this outbreak at the start, because it wasn’t really a big issue. All that changed this year.’

The story of the biggest Ebola outbreak in history began in Guinea in December last year. But it was three months before the authorities diagnosed Ebola and reported the situation to the World Health Organisation (WHO). By March 25, relatively few cases had been reported, and they were all confined to Guinea. Five months later, on August 8, the WHO declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

Drawing on his experience of 25 previous outbreaks in the last 37 years, Professor Piot said, ‘It took about 1,000 Africans dying and two Americans being repatriated. … That’s basically the equation in the value of life and what triggers an international response.’

[Daily Mail] 

UN warns only 60 days to beat Ebola

The UN says the Ebola outbreak must be controlled within 60 days or else the world faces an “unprecedented” situation for which there is no plan. The United Nations made the stark warning as it warned that the disease “is running faster than us and it is winning the race”.

“The WHO advises within 60 days we must ensure 70% of infected people are in a care facility and 70% of burials are done without causing further infection,” said Anthony Banbury, the UN’s deputy Ebola coordinator.

But Mr Banbury told the UN Security Council the 70% target was becoming harder to meet as new infections stack up. He urged: “We either stop Ebola now or we face an entirely unprecedented situation for which we do not have a plan.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) earlier said there could be 10,000 new cases of Ebola per week within two months. “It could be higher, it could be lower, but somewhere in that ball park.”

Some 95% of the cases are occurring in the same limited number of districts of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea which were affected a month ago, he said.

[Sky News]

USAID announces more assistance grants in West African fight against Ebola

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah announced nearly $142 million in humanitarian projects and grants to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The announcement brings total U.S. humanitarian assistance for the Ebola crisis to more than $258 million.

“Stopping Ebola in West Africa will require a significant international effort, and the United States urges our global partners to provide additional assistance to help bring the outbreak under control,” said Shah. “We are helping affected countries gain positive and strong momentum by the day, but much more must be done to win this fight.”

The new projects and grants will support:

  • Construction and support of additional Ebola treatment units in partnership with the affected countries and international organizations;
  • Training and support for health care workers and safe burial teams;
  • The Government of Liberia’s strategy to establish and staff community care centers, which, in tandem with Ebola treatment units, will provide another level of Ebola isolation and care to communities while helping to break the chain of transmission; and
  • Critical logistics support for international partners working in West Africa.


African flight logistics for Ebola aid workers

More than 4,000 people have died from Ebola as of Oct. 8, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and international air travel has already carried at least one infected traveler outside of West Africa.

The three West African nations hit hardest by the Ebola pandemic have seen a dramatic reduction in airline service. But there’s one group of travelers—medical aid workers—who urgently want to reach the affected countries to help patients and disrupt transmission of the virus.

“It is difficult to get people in and out,” says Ian Rodgers, director of operational support and preparedness for Save the Children in Washington, D.C. His NGO is currently operating at 60 percent of full staff in the Ebola-hit region.

Given the collision of airline cutbacks and a surge of relief workers and cargo to the region, several NGOs are discussing the need for a potential charter service to help bypass the shortage of commercial options. That’s usually how aid workers get to and from areas wracked by war or earthquakes. As more health workers in Africa potentially contract the disease, Rodgers believes organizations will be keen to establish a reliable way to evacuate those workers.

The charter route has been used in recent weeks to transport medical supplies and other equipment to Liberia and Sierra Leone, funded by a $3 million donation from billionaire Paul Allen. Allen, the Microsoft co-founder, has pledged $25 million through his foundation to tackle the crisis, as has fellow tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. Allen is willing to boost his initial $3 million grant if a passenger charter becomes necessary.


Growing humanitarian crisis in Somalia

For decades, Somalia has been riven by factional fighting and the recent spread of religious fanaticism in the guise of Al-Shabaab has only added to the beleaguered country’s woes.

In 2012, new Somali national institutions emerged as the country ended a transitional phase toward setting up a permanent, democratically-elected Government.

In 2013 the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia was established by the UN Security Council. It is mandated to support the Federal Government of Somalia with its peace and state building agenda and to strengthen Somalia’s security sector, promote respect for human rights and women’s empowerment and assist in the coordination of international assistance.

“The humanitarian operation in Somalia requires urgent scale-up,” the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Philippe Lazzarini,said in a press statement. “We are in a race against time to save lives in areas stricken by drought and conflict.”

The humanitarian coordinator noted that aid workers could reach affected areas despite the numerous challenges and persisting insecurity but urged the international community to drastically ramp up its financial assistance for the country.

“Despite competing crises in the world today, not responding to the humanitarian situation in Somalia is not an option,” Mr. Lazzarini continued. “Critical funding is needed today to expand operations. Funding pipelines for food security, nutrition, health, water, sanitation and hygiene services must be increased without delay.”

[UN News Centre]

Disturbing trend of attacks on humanitarian workers

From a report by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming :

UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) is alarmed at the recent outbreak of violence in parts of the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, targeting civilians, humanitarian workers and United Nations peacekeepers. The latest surge in attacks has badly hampered humanitarian activities.

The recent episode of unrest in Bangui represents a disturbing trend of attacks on humanitarian workers who are trying to access and assist displaced populations in Bangui and its suburbs.

There are some 410,000 internally displaced persons in the Central African Republic including over 60,000 in 34 sites in Bangui.

Around 420,000 CAR refugees have fled to the neighboring countries.

Malala warns Obama: ‘Drone attacks are fueling terrorism’

The White House invited sixteen-year-old Pakistani women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai to meet the President, First Lady, and their daughter Malia on Friday. The youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize contender made the most of the photo opportunity, warning Obama that U.S. drone strikes were fueling terrorist attacks.

“I thanked President Obama for the United States’ work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees,” she said in the statement. “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”

Malala, who was shot in the head by Taliban agents a year ago for speaking out against the ban on girls’ education, also gave an eloquent defense of nonviolent resistance and the power of peaceful dialogue on the Daily Show last week.

[Think Progress]