Nigerian refugee camps struggle with aid for the displaced

More than 1.5 million Nigerians displaced by the militant group Boko Haram are flocking to relief centers across the country’s northeast, where they are met with overcrowded facilities and a shortage of supplies.

Boko Haram’s five-year insurgency continues to leave a trail of despair and desperation.

Nearly 10,000 people now stay in the Damare camp in Adamawa where there are not enough toilets and a persistent health threat looms.

Open defecation and unclean hands are issues that aid workers like Fidelia Joseph deal with regularly. “It is always a tug of war to tell the women to sweep the environment or to throw refuse and other garbage where they rightly belong to and if you insist that the right thing must be done, people will take offense,” Joseph said.

The increasing influx of displaced people worsens an already fragile situation. A glimpse from the entrance of Damare camp reveals gloomy faces, maimed fathers and tired mothers.

Towns that have been hit repeatedly by the Islamic insurgents, like Michika, and Chibok, where Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in April and struck again in November, can hardly provide secure shelter for residents. And more people may be coming.


UN says over 12 million Syrians in need of humanitarian help

An estimated 12.2 million Syrians need assistance because of increasing violence and deteriorating conditions in the country, up from 10.8 million in July, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Tuesday.

Valerie Amos told the U.N. Security Council that the delivery of aid from Turkey and Jordan to rebel-held areas in Syria without government approval has “made a difference,”  and she urged the council to extend the authorization for cross-border aid which expires on Jan. 9.

Amos painted a grim picture of the worsening situation in Syria: a 40 percent contraction in the economy since 2011, three-quarters of the population living in poverty, a 50 percent drop in school attendance, and 7.6 million people displaced inside the country and 3.2 million who have fled to other countries, the largest displacement in any conflict.


Auditor General reviews Canada’s humanitarian aid

Canada’s humanitarian response to international disasters has drawn mixed marks from the federal auditor general.

In a report released Tuesday, Canada’s Auditor General Michael Ferguson stated that it’s not often clear how the foreign affairs department decides what to spend on the projects. Moreover, while the department is able to respond quickly in times of disaster, its response times can vary significantly.

“Longer response times increase the risk that assistance to affected populations will be delayed, but the Department does not measure the overall timeliness of its own processes,” concluded Ferguson.

Ferguson wrote that the international community is routinely called upon “to save lives, alleviate suffering, and protect human dignity” in times of crisis. “Millions of people around the world affected by humanitarian crises rely on assistance from the international community, including Canada, when their governments lack the capacity or will to respond.”

He said the department should “reflect” on the delays already experienced to help mitigate “risks” for future spending and “help ensure short-term objectives are achievable.”

He wrote that the Canadian government has spent an average of $567 million annually over the past five years on aid, and that humanitarian need always exceeds resources. “It is therefore important that limited resources be allocated in a timely manner to where they are needed most, and that there is accountability for how they are used.”

[Ottawa Citizen]

Humanitarian news service IRIN

The humanitarian news service IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks), after nearly 20 years as part of the United Nations, announced that it will spin off to become an independent, non-profit media venture, with the support of a major private donor.

IRIN is an important resource for humanitarian workers around the world,” said Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, adding that “this is the right time for the service to branch out.

She welcomed the generous commitment from Hong Kong-based Jynwel Charitable Foundation “which has helped to secure its future as an independent news service.”

The new headquarters will be based in Switzerland, with support from the UK-based Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Policy Group.

“IRIN’s transition presents a great opportunity for growth and revitalization,” said Jho Low, Director of Jynwel Charitable Foundation, adding that “IRIN has done fantastic work for nearly 20 years. It’s time to give it the place on the world stage that it deserves. I believe in the vision and am excited by the potential.”

IRIN covers parts of the world often under-reported, misunderstood or ignored. It started distributing humanitarian news about Central Africa by fax from a small office in Nairobi in 1995. Its readership includes UN decision-makers, donor governments, academics, media and aid workers in the field. Its work is syndicated, republished and cited by news outlets and journals from around the world.

[UN News Centre]

What does it mean to have a toilet?

What does it mean to have a toilet? We in the West don’t spend much time pondering that question.

Geeta has no toilet near her home in northern India; she treks 2 miles in the dark to a field for privacy. If Vanessa’s school had private bathrooms, the 17-year-old wouldn’t have to miss class when she’s having her period.

In Ecuador, Reverside, 37, wouldn’t have to visit her brother’s house to use his toilet, which is shared by nine other people from different families.

These are some of the stories told (and shown) in a new exhibit called My Toilet: Global Stories from Women and Girls, put together by Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), a London-based nonprofit and the Panos Pictures photo agency to mark World Toilet Day. The six-day-long exhibit, which opened Monday at the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery in London, features images from 20 countries — Brazil to Kenya to the U.S. Each subject poses next to what she uses as a toilet and tells her story of why a latrine matters.

Among the 2.5 billion people without access to a clean and proper toilet — more than a billion of whom defecate out in the open — “women and girls are hit hardest,” Sam Drabble of WSUP says. That’s often the case in lower-income countries throughout South and Southeast Asia as well as sub-Saharan Africa.

A toilet may simply be a hole in the ground or a space in an open field. In some parts of South Asia, “hanging toilets” — bamboo huts with a hole cut out in the floor, suspended 3 feet above a pond — are common.


A Tribute to Peter Kassig a believer in ‘hopeless’ humanitarian causes

Peter Kassig, 26, was a man known for his relentless commitment to improving the lives of other people, determined to provide as much care to the afflicted as possible – not so surprising for a man with a pastor grandfather who used the pulpit to promote a better understanding of the Middle East and parents committed to the education and health of their community.

A video posted by Islamic State (Isis) on Sunday purported to show he had been beheaded, just over a year the militant group kidnapped him in Syria in October 2013.

From 2011 to 2013, he attended Butler University in his native Indianapolis, Indiana. While at Butler, he visited Beirut where he was “consumed” by the Syrian conflict and the immense humanitarian crisis it bred.

Having already provided medical care to refugees in Lebanon, Kassig founded the humanitarian group Sera (Special Emergency Response and Assistance) at the age of 24. The small operation provides medical training, supplies and treatment in areas too difficult for other humanitarian organizations to effectively operate, including parts of Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.

In article after article, Kassig’s friends and acquaintances praised his genuine and truly altruistic commitment to helping afflicted communities.

In June 2012, CNN profiled Kassig while he was providing medical care in Lebanon, primarily to Syrian refugees.

“We each get one life and that’s it. We get one shot at this and we don’t get any do-overs, and for me, it was time to put up or shut up,” he said. “The way I saw it, I didn’t have a choice. This is what I was put here to do. I guess I am just a hopeless romantic, and I am an idealist, and I believe in hopeless causes.”

[Read full article in The Guardian]


Doors closing for Syrians seeking refuge abroad


Syria’s neighbors Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq are cutting back sharply on the number of Syrians they allow onto their soil as they can no longer cope with the influx of refugees, reports two prominent humanitarian agencies,  the International Rescue Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq have taken in more than three million Syrian since the conflict began in 2011, while countries outside the region have agreed to accept around 50,000, or less than 2 percent of the total refugee population.

“What we are witnessing now are the results of our failure to deliver the necessary support to the region. We are witnessing a total collapse of international solidarity with millions of Syrian civilians,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

In October, Lebanon, which has the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world at one in four residents, said it could not cope with more than one million Syrians and has asked for funds to help look after them.

NGOs called on countries outside the region to provide financial support to Syria’s neighbors and take in at least five percent of the total Syrian refugee population

How the world will look if Ebola goes global

The Ebola epidemic is still roaring in three countries; two others have contained the disease, but it has now leaked to a sixth, Mali. The case count is 10,141, with 4,922 deaths.

I wanted to be sure I wasn’t over-imagining what might happen next with Ebola, if it is not contained at its source now. For a fact-check, I turned to Jody Lanard and Peter Sandman, two risk-communication experts who have been involved in most of the big epidemic threats of the past decades. I hoped they would tell me not to be too worried about Ebola becoming a permanent threat in West Africa.

Instead, they told me to be very worried indeed. Lanard and Sandman wrote an entire essay, stating in brief:

  • They address how unlikely it is that Ebola will be contained using the current level of aid and personnel. Here. they say, is what would have to happen for the disease to be stopped:
  • The people of West Africa and the governments of West Africa rise to the occasion, radically altering deeply embedded cultural practices, from political corruption to the way they bury their dead.
  • The world’s nations fill that gap, providing enough money, supplies, and people to outrace the epidemic.
  • Treatment, isolation, contact tracing, and contact monitoring reach the percentage of cases needed to “break the epidemic curve.”…
  • A spectacularly successful vaccine is quickly discovered, tested, mass-produced, and mass-distributed.

 [Read full article

Facebook and Google raise Ebola Relief

Both Facebook and Google have launched Ebola relief fund-raising campaigns in the past week, calling on their users to donate money to the cause.

And the founder of Facebook is setting a high bar. Before the Facebook button debuted, Mark Zuckerberg donated $25 million of his own money to the relief effort. In a video on his Facebook page he said: “I’m optimistic that together, the Facebook community can help stop Ebola.”

Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles shares his optimism. Her organization has built Ebola treatment units in Liberia and Sierra Leone and is now setting up systems to support children orphaned by the disease. When Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, reached out to Save the Children about a possible collaboration, Miles jumped at the chance.

“The tremendous reach that Facebook has, and the voice that they have, gives us a chance to reach a much bigger audience,” says Miles. “A lot of countries, like the U.S., are just focused on what’s happening here about Ebola. Facebook wants to help us direct the focus back to West Africa.”


The humanitarian issue of Palestine

[Excerpts of article by Syed Rizvi, writing in The Daily Texan]

This past Friday, the United Muslim Relief chapter at the University of Texas at Austin hosted its second annual “Let Palestine Shine” event, an apolitical charity dinner that provides direct relief to Palestinians in the form of sustenance, shelter, healthcare and education.

The Palestinian cause has been cast as anti-Semitic, anti-American, and, God forbid, pro-Islam. However, this should not the case. Palestine is a humanitarian cause, and events such as “Let Palestine Shine” should be able to bring people of diverse faiths and backgrounds together.

For this humanitarian claim to make sense, it has to be made clear that the fight over Palestine is not a religious conflict. Religion does play a factor in the conflict, but in the same way that religion plays a role in your everyday life. Religion is a moral driving force for many Palestinian-Muslims, as I am sure it is for Palestinian-Christians. The people of Palestine, which the United Nations recognizes as a state, are struggling for their basic rights every day. The region’s religious affiliations is irrelevant to the fact that we face a tragedy in Palestine.

The Palestinian conflict is political in part. However, as Americans, we should not forget the human element. The oppression and injustice against Palestinians violates the human conscious. There is a prevailing idea among Americans that the loss of Palestinians is a necessary evil and collateral damage that is executed by Israel for security reasons. This argument is dispelled by Israel’s disproportionate aggression, economic oppression, and invasive and illegal settlements, all of which independently go beyond sensible security measures.

Since Sept. 29, 2000, 132 Israeli children have been killed and 2,053 Palestinian children. In total, 1,185 Israelis have been killed and 9,100 Palestinians. The suffering of the Palestinian people extends beyond the graveyard. Israel has 5,271 Palestinian political prisoners detained while Palestine has 0.

Since 1967, 28,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed, and the state has an unemployment rate of around 25 percent.

[The Daily Texan]

The emerging donors to global development

The rise of emerging economies such as Brazil and China has not only lifted millions of people out of poverty, but offers new opportunities and resources for development elsewhere.

China, which is poised to become the world’s largest economy, is now a major source of aid and private investment for development, providing 20% of private foreign direct investment in developing countries. Brazil’s foreign aid budget has increased fivefold since 2005. Turkey gives more of its national income in aid than the average Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country, while the United Arab Emirates is the most generous of today’s donors, handing over 1.25% of its national income for development assistance.

The contribution of emerging donors to global development could be even greater through closer cooperation with traditional donors. The 29 member countries of the OECD’s development assistance committee account for 90% of global development aid and have decades of experience behind them. Yet, they can learn a lot from countries that have recently made the transition out of poverty and know from their own experiences which policies work best.

If the world is to meet its goals for sustainable development, traditional donors must think more globally, cooperate more closely with emerging donors and mobilize the huge sums that exist in untapped resources.

[The Guardian]

Outrage as ICC drops case against Israel for attack on humanitarian flotilla

Folowing the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor announcing she will not take action over Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 that killed nine Turkish activists, the ICC is being accused of “defying justice”.

The ruling came despite the court’s acknowledgement that Israel likely committed war crimes. ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated Thursday that “there is a reasonable basis to believe” that Israel committed “war crimes” in its attack on the Mavi Marmara vessel, echoing the findings of a 61-page report by ICC prosecutors.

The Center for Constitutional Rights blasted the court’s decision: “It is outrageous that the ICC is refusing to prosecute Israeli officials despite acknowledging that there’s a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed. For the court to say the case ‘would not be of sufficient gravity’ to justify further action when the Israeli Defense Force attacked international vessels in international waters, killed nine people and seriously injured many more, defies any reasonable understanding of justice and international law.”

“Calling it a war crime is encouraging, but there is a factor of disappointment that they will not take this investigation further,” Ehab Lotayef of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition told Common Dreams. “Israel commits war crimes against unarmed civilians in many incidents, whether inside occupied territories in Gaza or the West Bank, whether against internationals or locals.”

The Mavi Marmara was one of six ships in 2010, organized by an international coalition of campaigners for Palestinian rights, blocked and raided by Israel while attempting to break the siege of Gaza. For the past six years, solidarity ships have sought to sail to Gaza from around the world, but since 2008, none have reached their destination.

Israeli naval commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara on the May 31, 2010, immediately killing nine people and wounding over 50, with one person later dying from the wounds sustained. An eighteen-year-old U.S. citizen was filming the raid when he was shot several times, including in the face at point-blank range, resulting in his death.

[BBC/Common Dreams]

WHO slams BigPharma for failing to produce Ebola cure

Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), voiced her condemnation  against the pharmaceutical industry for neglecting to create a vaccine for the Ebola virus, despite the disease having menaced West Africa for almost 40 years.

Chan slammed Big Pharma for causing the problem — simply put: the market-oriented pharmaceutical industry lacks incentive for coming out with a vaccine in a timely manner, because treating West Africans doesn’t bring in the money.

“Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D [Research and Development] incentive is virtually non-existent,” she said. “A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay. WHO has been trying to make this issue visible for ages. Now people can see for themselves.”

The World Health Organization announced in a statement that it will begin distribution of an experimental vaccine in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone by early 2015. More than 90 of the world’s leading scientists participated in the collaborative effort, from national and university research institutions, government health agencies, ministries of health and foreign affairs, national security councils, and several offices of Prime Ministers and Presidents.

Also participating in the research and development were drug regulatory authorities, the MSF (Doctors Without Borders) medical charity, funding agencies and foundations, the GAVI childhood immunization advocacy group, the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the World Bank Group.

No other country has so far contributed as much to global health care expertise in the Ebola crisis has Cuba. The small island nation with few financial resources and a population of only eleven million people has particularly exemplified a more effective way to tackle Ebola: With more than 4,000 medical workers already on the ground in Africa, by late October Cuba sent another 350 personnel, most of them doctors and all with specialized training.

After Cuba, the international organization Medecins Sans Frontieres also has deployed 270 international health care specialists working in the affected countries, while making an effort to contract locals as well.


AIDS in South Africa

A former UN special envoy for AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, has condemned the UK’s Department for International Development for cutting their aid budget. The activist has claimed this as a “death warrant” for millions of South Africans suffering from AIDS.

As a consequence of South Africa gaining “middle income” status, foreign aid contributors have been reluctant to continue donating millions in aid.

Despite the fact the South African government proclaims the country’s economic resurgence, millions of ordinary South Africans are still reportedly blighted by the specter of AIDS. Over 6 million people live with HIV, which is the largest number worldwide. While 2.5 million sufferers are receiving anti-retroviral drugs, there are still 3.5 million untreated cases in the country.

According to the Human Sciences Research Council, 760 people in South Africa died from AIDS every day in 2012.


Rainfall makes Gaza emergency even worse

This weekend’s rainfall flooded Gaza, leaving both the displaced along with residents extremely vulnerable to the extreme weather.

Saad al-Din al-Atbash, head of Gaza’s water authority, told Anadolu Agency that “The recent war destroyed everything in Gaza, many sewage pipes and water networks are still buried under the rubble”. This, along with the damaged electricity network, has been further aggravated by the weekend storm.

Al Bawaba reports that “streets in Khan Younis in Gaza were swamped and contained homes filled with water”. Thousands of displaced Palestinians are living in tents or caravans, which have little or no protection from the rain.

The mayor of Khuzaa warns that the effect of rain could be more difficult that the war itself. “As winter approaches, there will be a humanitarian disaster in Khuzaa because we can’t control the route of floods after the war has changed the structure of the landscape and destroyed all constituents of life in the town including water, electricity and telecommunication networks and infrastructure,” he said.

UN agencies estimate that around 90,000 homes must be rebuilt, in addition to hundreds of schools and other major infrastructure, which were systematically destroyed in Israel’s attack.

Israeli authorities announced that the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings would be closed until further notice, according to the Ma’an news agency.


Turning Gaza into a super-max prison

According to the United Nations, 100,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged, leaving 600,000 Palestinians – nearly one in three of Gaza’s population – homeless or in urgent need of humanitarian help. Roads, schools and the electricity plant to power water and sewerage systems are in ruins. The cold and wet of winter are approaching.

It is astonishing that the reconstruction of Gaza, bombed into the Stone Age, has tentatively only just begun two months after the end of the fighting. Aid agency Oxfam warns that at the current rate of progress it may take 50 years to rebuild Gaza.

Where else in the world apart from the Palestinian territories would the international community stand by idly as so many people suffer – and not from a random act of God but willed by fellow humans?

As far as the agreement reached in Cairo this month for Gaza’s reconstruction, donors pledged $5.4 billion – though, based on past experience — much of it won’t materialize. In addition, half will be immediately redirected to the distant West Bank to pay off the Palestinian Authority’s mounting debts.

One Israeli analyst has compared the proposed solution to transforming a third-world prison into a modern US super-max incarceration facility. The more civilized exterior will simply obscure its real purpose: not to make life better for the Palestinian inmates, but to offer greater security to the Israeli guards.

For some donors exasperated by years of sinking money into a bottomless hole, upgrading Gaza to a super-max prison looks like a better return on their investment.

[Excerpts of an article by Jonathan Cook, a Nazareth- based journalist]

China key to shaping future global humanitarian action

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, concluding a two-day mission to China today said the world can learn a great deal from the Asian country’s experience in building disaster management and response capacity.

Every year China suffers from serious floods, droughts, typhoons and earthquakes, so there has been substantial investment in developing its disaster management capabilities including forecast technology and emergency planning.

China has a wealth of knowledge and expertise in managing natural disasters, and is one of a small group of countries that is able to deploy an international search and rescue team with the operational capability to handle difficult and complex technical search and rescue operations.

[UN News Centre]

Relief efforts in Syria hampered by lack of access

Escalating fighting, insecurity and a lack of access to deliver critical assistance continue to hamper United Nations efforts to respond to the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria, a top UN relief official says.

Kyung-wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned that conditions in the conflict-riven country were worsening, while the UN and partners struggled on the ground to deliver assistance in a timely manner.

“Food, medicines, and other assistance is just a short distance away from those who desperately require it,” she said, speaking on behalf of Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. “And if the parties grant access, we can deliver. We can save lives. But our requests have so far gone unanswered,” she added.

The conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011, has led to well over 150,000 deaths, and more than 680,000 people have been injured. It has also spawned a refugee crisis in which some 2.5 million people are being sheltered in neighboring countries. At least 10.8 million people are in need of assistance inside Syria, including at least 6.5 million who are internally displaced.

[UN News Centre]

UN agency warns Somalia on verge of food crisis

Still reeling from a devastating famine which struck the countryside in 2011, Somalia once again sits on the brink of another humanitarian crisis as a poor rainy season followed by severe bouts of floods threaten local harvests, the United Nations agriculture agency warned today.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) expressed concern over the fates of more than one million people who are now in critical need of assistance, noting that there has been a 20 per cent increase in just six months in the number of those requiring urgent humanitarian help. In addition, the UN agency observed, two million more people are experiencing threats to their food security.

“If we’ve learned anything from the devastation of the 2011 famine, it’s that early warning signs must lead to immediate action,” Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, said. “We know from experience that quick responses to early warnings are crucial to prevent disaster and are less costly than emergency responses to full-blown humanitarian crisis,” he added.

[UN News Centre]