The Pope’s hard-hitting Christmas message to the Catholic administration

Pope Francis listed 15 “ailments” of the Vatican Curia during his annual Christmas greetings to the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the central administration of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. Here’s the list.

1) Feeling immortal, immune or indispensable.
2) Working too hard.
3) Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened.
4) Planning too much.
5) Working without coordination, like an orchestra that produces noise.
6) Having ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s.’
7) Being rivals or boastful.
8) Suffering from ‘existential schizophrenia.’
9) Committing the ‘terrorism of gossip.’
10) Glorifying one’s bosses.
11) Being indifferent to others.
12) Having a ‘funereal face.’
13) Wanting more.
14) Forming ‘closed circles’ that seek to be stronger than the whole.
15) Seeking worldly profit and showing off.

[AP]

Geneva Convention signatories call on Israelis and Palestinians to respect humanitarian law

26 countries that are signatories of the Geneva Convention examined the question of the protection of civilians in the Palestinian-occupied territories, and signed a ten-point declaration reaffirming the obligations of both Israelis and Palestinians under the international humanitarian law.

Negotiated in the aftermath of World War II and ratified by 196 countries, the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols lay down the standards of international humanitarian law in time of war and occupation. They aim to limit the barbarity of war and protect those who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war), the International Committee of the Red Cross explains on its website.

On July 8, 2014, Israel launched an offensive on Gaza with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas. During this offensive Israeli strikes killed more than 2,000 people in the Gaza strip, according to the United Nations the majority being civilians.

The recent declaration does not create new obligations but reiterates some, such as the “need to fully respect the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law”, to prohibit “indiscriminate” and “disproportionate” attacks, the targeting of civilian objects, such as schools, or placing military objective in the “vicinity of civilians and civilian objects”. The text also emphasizes the signatories’ “deep concern” about “the impact of the continued occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the closure of the Gaza strip”. The signatories ”reaffirm the illegality of Israeli settlements.”

Swiss ambassador Paul Fivat told reporters, “This is a signal and we can hope that words count, and the parties will be, again, reminded of their obligations.”

The meeting was harshly criticized by Israel, who boycotted it, as did other nations such as the United States and Canada, which could limit its impact.

[The Jerusalem Post]

Australia cuts its foreign aid to lowest in its history

Australia’s foreign aid spending is set to become the least generous of any time in its history, with new budget cuts of almost $4 billion during four years that aid organizations have slammed as “lazy” and “incompetent”.

Under the cuts, Australia will drop from being the 13th most generous nation to the 20th, out of 28 of the world’s wealthiest countries.

Treasurer Joe Hockey acknowledged aid was the hardest hit in the mid-year fiscal budget, which was being used to “offset” defense and national security commitments of $1.3 billion.

Aid agencies said the budget cuts had made Australia one of the world’s stingiest aid donors.

World Vision chief executive Tim Costello  said it was the worst cut he had seen. “I’m devastated,” he said. “Aid spending is the most moral spending that the government can do, so to cut this is morally wrong. …This is just cruel and harsh.” Mr Costello said a raft of lifesaving programs, including efforts to combat human trafficking, will probably be affected by the budget cuts.

Unicef said the latest reductions meant Australia had become “among the world’s most tight-fisted donors” despite being the fourth-wealthiest member of the OECD with the sixth-lowest debt.

Save the Children chief executive Paul Ronalds said children in poor communities were the innocent victims of Mr Hockey’s inability to get his budget savings measures through the Senate. “Joe Hockey is effectively Robin Hood in reverse, robbing aid that has been committed to the poorest people in the world and using it to try and get his budget balanced,” Mr Ronalds said. “Together with the aid slashed from the May budget, this brings Australian aid down to the lowest it’s ever been comparatively. It’s simply un-Australian.”

Australian Council for International Development executive director Mark Purcell said the cuts will hurt “millions” of vulnerable people throughout the world. “We see it as wrecking ball by the government.”

Under the cuts, for every $100 Australia will give 21¢ to aid projects by 2017-18. It is currently 32¢ in every $100.

[The Age]

The Role of the Private Sector in Humanitarian Crises

Ebola is a humanitarian crisis first and foremost, but it is also a mounting economic disaster for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The secondary impacts of the crisis: Farmers are unable to harvest their fields or get their crops to market. Banks and government offices are partially or completely closed. Some companies have suspended operations. Quarantines, curfews and border closures are preventing people from moving freely to work, to their fields or to market. Scores of people have lost their jobs. In Liberia, nearly half of those working when the outbreak was first detected in March 2014 are no longer employed.

Decreasing production, diminished trade, disrupted agriculture and rising prices are likely to cost upwards of $4 billion, according to the World Bank. The scale and complexity of the crisis is unlike anything the humanitarian community has faced.

A coalition of more than 48 companies with major assets and operations in West Africa has come together as the Ebola Private Sector Mobilization Group. Their members have provided direct support through donating funding, personnel, equipment, and through building infrastructure, as well as lending expertise in construction, logistics, and distribution services.

This is very much a win-win: The humanitarian sector gets access to highly skilled personnel; funding, new ways of working and specialized operations, such as logistics and communications; meanwhile, businesses reap benefits of business continuity, building or strengthening customer loyalty, as well as charitable credibility.

Coordination is key and it is the role of the United Nations to lead a comprehensive response to the crisis. UN agencies, donors such as the United States and England, as well at the private sector must provide quick, flexible funding to partners, increasing funding for community mobilization for prevention and preparedness not only in affected countries but in at-risk countries such as Guinea Bissau, Gambia and Senegal.

And finally, NGOs like Oxfam need to do more to partner with local organizations and consult community members to identify the most vulnerable.

[Huffington Post]

UN launches huge humanitarian appeal for 2015

Valerie Amos, UN humanitarian chief, said the number of people affected by conflicts and natural disasters around the world had reached unprecedented levels during 2014, prompting the UN to launch an appeal for $16.4bn in funding.

A year ago, the UN set out to assist 52 million people, but during 2014, the number of people in need has nearly doubled to a record 102 million.

More than 40 percent of the appeal $7.2bn would go to help 18.2 million people suffering from the war in Syria. The appeal also covers Central African Republic, Iraq, and South Sudan, the top humanitarian priorities, as well as Afghanistan, Congo, Myanmar, occupied Palestinian territories, Somalia, Ukraine and Yemen.

The 2015 request, on behalf of 455 aid organizations, does not include money to help feed millions facing hunger in Africa’s Sahel region, which has seen repeated droughts and conflicts.

Amos said aid in 2014 helped avert a famine in South Sudan, fed millions of Syrians each month, provided medical supplies to 1 million Iraqis and paid for food for 903,000 people in Central African Republic.

But with 80 percent of the needy living in conflict-ridden countries, the demands for aid are outstripping the ability to pay for them, Amos said.

[Al-Jazeera]

International aid groups ask for support to help the Philippines

International aid groups have called for donations from all over the world for their relief efforts in the affected areas, mostly in the Visayas and Bicol region, of typhoon “Ruby” (International name: Hagupit).

World Vision has set up a disaster relief fund page asking supporters to donate at least $50, noting that many of Hagupit’s victims are also victims of 2013’s super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also set up a page where people can donate.

Meanwhile, World Food Programme (WFP) also called for financial support in its page while its USA office has called on supporters to donate using their mobile phones.

International Committee of the Red Cross have set-up a page intending to unite families separated by the typhoon.

Oxfam International for its part said it has prepared household water and hygiene kits for victims of “Ruby.”

[Yahoo News]

Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe about to get worse

As civil war in Syria inches toward its four-year anniversary, the nation’s humanitarian catastrophe deepens.

Some 7.6 million Syrians are now internally displaced, and another 3.3 million have fled to neighboring countries to avoid the complex three-way dogfight among Assad’s forces, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Syrian rebels.

In Lebanon the influx of one million refugees is straining the capacities of a country of only 4.4 million.

Today, some 12.2 million Syrians, both inside and outside Syria, rely on emergency food aid. It thus came as a shock when the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) announced on December 1 that a lack of funds was forcing it to suspend aid to help feed and clothe Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt.

The cutback is projected to hit 1.7 million Syrian refugees. Many have signaled that their best option now may be a journey back to war-torn Syria. Unless funds are found quickly, Syria’s “new level of hopelessness” might rise to new heights.

[Council on Foreign Relations]

Central African Republic humanitarian crisis among world’s worst

The situation in the Central African Republic remains one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, the United Nations refugee agency warned today, with more than 187,000 refugees having fled to neighboring countries over the last year, bringing the total number of refugees and internally displaced people over 850,000, about a fifth of the country’s entire population.

The figure was half a million less than at the end of December 2013, after Bangui was captured by the anti-Balaka militia, an event that triggered fresh violence and displacement according to UNHCR. Insecurity quickly degenerated into chaos, displacing close to 1 million people inside the country and across borders and prompting the entire UN system to respond to the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis.

“The one-year anniversary of the conflict marks one year that children have been out of school, a year of learning lost, and a year of their lives scarred and shattered,” said Sarah Crowe of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

UNICEF launched a campaign in November that aimed to help return hundreds of thousands of children to school after the deterioration in the security situation forced many teachers and students to flee.

The “Back to School” initiative aimed to help a total of 662,000 children to resume their studies, and UNICEF is delivering “school in a box” kits that contain essential equipment, such as exercise books and pencils, and school backpacks, to enable children to resume their educations. Currently, 300,000 children were reported back in school, a significant step that has had “a ripple effect throughout the whole community and lent a sense of momentum and optimism.”

[UN] 

2014 a troubling year and a sign of things to come

2014 has been dominated by the humanitarian crises in Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, that have destroyed and disrupted the lives of millions of people. Protracted conflicts like those in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, violent natural disasters, as well as the Ebola crisis, are seriously testing the limits and response capacities of individuals, organizations, governments and the United Nations.

But 2014 is not just a troubled and turbulent year.  Regrettably, it is also a sign of things to come and a loud warning signal for us all to seriously heed.

All the evidence shows that humanitarian needs are now rising faster than our capacity to meet them. Over the past ten years, the amount requested through humanitarian appeals has risen nearly 600 per cent—from $3 billion at the start of 2004 to $17.9 billion today.

It is increasingly difficult to raise these funds. Earlier this week, the World Food Programme was forced to suspend its support to 1.7 million Syrian refugees, because of acute funding shortages. With winter fast approaching the situation is getting even more critical, and we must also not forget Iraq.

Fifty million people – the highest number since the Second World War — are displaced in their own countries or across borders.  The food price crisis of 2007-2008 led to protests in 50 countries.  This demonstrates how food price shocks can rapidly increase humanitarian needs and cause social unrest.

Humanitarian aid cannot be used to fill the development funding gap or be a substitute for political solutions that are so desperately needed, not least in Syria.

[Excerpts from opening remarks by United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, at the Third Annual Global Humanitarian Policy Forum]

UN says humanitarian system must engage earlier and more systematically

With needs rising faster than the world’s capacity to meet them, humanitarian actors must grapple with the challenge of working in partnership to ensure people’s needs are met as quickly and efficiently as possible, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said, opening the Third Annual Global Humanitarian Policy Forum in Geneva.

“We can no longer afford to operate separately or in parallel with one another in silos, we have to work horizontally,” he told the Forum.

Mr. Eliasson pointed to the current year as “a loud warning signal” the international community ought to heed, with humanitarian crises, protracted conflicts and natural disasters “seriously testing the limits and response capacities of individuals, organizations, governments and the United Nations”, and three times as many people now in need of humanitarian assistance compared to 10 years ago.

“We are at a crossroads. The trajectory is unsustainable,” he stated. “We must change the way we work and chart the road ahead.”

[UN News Centre]

17,000 refugees face tough humanitarian situation in Darfur

Over 17,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are facing tough humanitarian conditions in the remote South Darfur area of Um Dafug near the border with the Central African Republic (CAR), a local official told Sudan Tribune.

Tribal clashes in Central Darfur state forced some 9800 people to flee their village to Um Dafug. Also, the district received over 1,200 refugees from the CAR, along with 6,000 Sudanese who moved back to their country as result of the sectarian fighting in the troubled neighboring country.

The commissioner of Um Dafug Mohamed Ali Sharif, said the county is harboring over 17,000 people including IDPs, refugees and returnees who fled the violence between Christian and Muslim militias in the CAR. “All of them are living in miserable humanitarian conditions. The IDPs and refugees are in desperate need of basic services including life-saving food, health and the environment services as well as shelter materials,” Sharif said.

He said that the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) delivered on Monday humanitarian assistance to the needy in Um Dafug. He also praised the efforts exerted by the humanitarian groups in the state expressing hope to provide all the necessary needs for the affected population.

They also underlined the need to provide sufficient quantities of potable water, and erecting safe sanitation facilities. “66 per cent of people in Um Dafug practice open defecation”, said an inter-agency report.

 [Sudan Tribune]

World Food Program to suspend aid to Syrians

The United Nations food aid organization said on Monday that it would suspend assistance to more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees because it had run out of money to support them.

The organization, the World Food Program, said the suspension, taking place immediately, would have “disastrous” consequences for refugees from the Syrian civil war struggling to cope with years of deprivation. Food aid in Syria will come to a halt in February if WFP does not receive additional funds.

The cut in aid will also affect refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who receive vouchers from the program to exchange for food in local shops. The same mechanism also provides an economic lifeline to communities struggling to cope with the huge influx of Syrian refugees in the last four years.

The food aid cuts “couldn’t come at a worse time,” António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement. “It will impact tens of thousands of the most vulnerable refugee families who are almost entirely dependent on international aid.”

The sudden imposition of the cuts highlights the growing strain all humanitarian aid agencies are facing as they try to cope with a long list of emergencies in places like Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Ukraine.

[New York Times]