Sonia Khush “driven by ending human suffering”

When humanitarian assistance pays off, dangerous risks are easier to take on, says Sonia Khush, a senior director for humanitarian response for Washington-based Save the Children. She cites Save the Children programs that allowed displaced Syrian children living in tents to return to classes or play in a new gymnasium.

“I go ahead because through all these emergencies, I’ve been able to see what a positive impact our programs have on children,” Khush says. “That’s very rewarding. I usually end up being willing to take the chance and go. But …there are probably places where I wouldn’t want to go.”

Khush, who recently returned from Liberia, has also spent time in Jordan and Lebanon working with Syrian refugees.

“You have to see what the needs of the people are and what you can deliver,” she says. “You have to think on your feet very quickly and, for me, I just enjoy that pace of work. We’re really driven by ending human suffering.”

It’s also necessary to pace the work, she says. Save the Children cycles workers out of troubled areas every six weeks.

Khush, who is single, says when someone doing the same work is kidnapped, “you keep thinking, ‘OK, I’m doing everything I possibly can to be safe.’ I know there’s a known element of risk. But I’m here for a reason.”

[USA Today]

Loss of US aid to Palestine over Israel

On January 6, less than a week after Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas signed the treaty to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon announced the PA will become a member of the international tribunal on April 1. (As a member, the PA would be able to prosecute Israel for allegedly committing “war crimes”, such as Israel’s actions in Gaza this past summer.)

Ban’s announcement drew heat from the US Congress, and Kentucky senator Rand Paul introduced the “Defend Israel by Defunding Palestinian Foreign Aid Act of 2015,” which would halt aid to the Palestinian Authority until it withdraws its attempt at becoming a member of the court.

South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham suggested that US law demands an end to funding if the PA brings a case against Israel, citing the Appropriations Act of 2015, which states that funding the PA must be suspended if “the Palestinians initiate an International Criminal Court judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.”

[The Weekly Standard]

If delivering humanitarian aid was easy, everybody would do it

There is a dizzying complexity to shaping a humanitarian response that is irresistible to American aid doctor Pranav Shetty, who lives with his wife, Nora, in Arlington, Va.

Pranav Shetty (center) briefs US Ambassador Samantha Power in Liberia

When he trained health care workers and treated patients at the height of the Ebola epidemic last August in Liberia, the local hospital system was in shambles.

He organized the delivery of medical supplies in northern Iraq after attacks by the Islamic State left areas isolated. At the time, refugees from the overrun city of Mosul were flooding into the area. His work brought him as close as a mile from an Islamic State checkpoint.

“Everybody wants to have an impact on the world,” says Shetty. “The greatest impact is not to go to the places everybody goes to. The greatest impact is to help the people that nobody wants to help.”

His wife, who also did humanitarian work, said she occasionally tries nudging him toward the lesser of two dangerous destinations. Nora Shetty successfully lobbied him to fight a deadly virus. “With Ebola, you have a bit more ability to protect your own safety,” she reasons.

She describes her husband, among the first people the International Medical Corps sends to crises, as someone who disdains complacency and is committed to always improving his disaster-relief skills.

“You want to be challenged,” he explains. “You don’t want the same thing every day. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”

[USA Today]

For humanitarian aid workers, global dangers have never been so real

These are spirited, grueling and perilous times for those trying to change the world. The risk of a gruesome death while serving humanitarian needs is frighteningly real.

“It’s a conscious choice and has to be a calculated choice,” says American aid doctor Pranav Shetty about heading into the world’s most dangerous places. Shetty, 33, is emergency health coordinator for the International Medical Corps based in Los Angeles. He has pivoted this past year between two headline-grabbing crises — the Ebola epidemic, and the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

In West Africa, thousands have died, including half of the health workers who became infected with Ebola. In the Middle East, tens of millions have been displaced, and the Islamic State’s savagery has swallowed up aid workers like 26-year-old Kayla Mueller.

“There’s always a certain amount of the unknown,” Shetty says by phone from Sierra Leone, where Ebola remains a deadly risk. “Everybody is taught to be hyper-aware.”

Mueller’s death struck the humanitarian community particularly hard, in part, because she was a young, idealistic woman who encapsulated with her words the passion behind what aid workers do. “For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal,” she told The Daily Courier in her hometown of Prescott, Ariz., about her work with refugees.

Mueller was kidnapped in 2013, a year when a record 460 aid workers were killed, wounded or kidnapped in dangerous places around the world, a 66% increase over 2012, according to data compiled by Humanitarian Outcomes, which provides research and policy advice to aid groups.

When a gruesome hostage killing posts to the Internet … the news reverberates through the aid community. “My first reaction is ‘Oh, my God, that could have been me,'” says Greg Matthews, 35, who has worked in the Syrian region for the New York-based International Rescue Committee. “That could happen to anybody at any time in any of the circumstances in which we work.”

Yet the challenge of providing relief in some of the world’s most chaotic environments, coupled with a lifelong desire to make a personal difference — and a restless hankering for adventure — keeps the humanitarian industry thriving.

[USA Today]

Only 5% of aid pledged to Gaza actually received

Only about 5% of the international aid pledged to help rebuild Gaza after the conflict with Israel last year has actually been received, according to a Palestinian government source.

The source in the office of the Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa told humanitarian news service IRIN that while governments worldwide had pledged to contribute $5.4 billion to relief efforts, only about $300 million had actually been received, reports al Jazeera.

Gaza was heavily bombed by Israel during the month long war with Hamas in July last year, with nearly 100,000 homes destroyed and more than 200,000 people, most of them Palestinian civilians, killed, according to UN figures.

In a conference in Cairo following the conflict, countries around the world pledged billions towards reconstruction costs and aid.

In late January, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency announced that it had suspended all reconstruction work in Gaza after running out of money, and that tens of thousands of Gazans were living in rubble. “People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble, children have died of hypothermia,” Robert Turner, the agency’s director for Gaza said.

[International Business Times]

The culture and conflict of South Sudan

South Sudan is in conflict between Army factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and the rebel forces of his rival Riek Machar that has led to the burning and flattening of key towns and brutal fighting.

One reason hostilities flame so brightly and spread so quickly owes to a powerfully reinforced culture of young men and guns in this part of East Africa. Boys, particularly in rural areas, grow up with few options besides joining armed groups and taking possession of a gun – both symbols of power that bring a sense of identity, masculinity, worth, and place. A mix of local economics, peer pressure, and the need to simply defend one’s village and family draw in young men to a culture in which violence and conflict seem normal.

That culture is reinforced in countless ways. The military and armed groups give paychecks – in a nation with few jobs. For rural boys especially, the military seems like a lucrative patronage network with clout and benefits.

“In the States, most boys play video games; what we do is we play with guns,” says Bol David Chuol, a teacher in Jonglei State.

“There’s this real emasculation of the young men who have not been able to find a place for themselves in the new South Sudan,” says Lydia Stone, senior adviser to South Sudan’s ministry of gender. “People are looking for a sense of identity wherever they can find it, and tribes just happen to be the default. In another country it might be gangs.”

South Sudan’s war continues

Gabriel Mabior left South Sudan’s army for the same reason he joined it: he wanted an education.

Mr. Mabior signed up to be a child soldier in 1987 after being assured that a pledge to fight would give him a seat in school. But like thousands of other boys, he was quickly yanked out of school and ended up fighting for years for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army against the government of Sudan.

Mabior, now a soft-spoken and thoughtful businessman with a proclivity for button-down shirts, feels proud of his contribution to the liberation struggle that led to South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Freedom allowed him to earn a university degree, he says, which is why he chose to fight in the first place – and achieving a degree was unlikely under the old Sudan regime in Khartoum.

But Mabior, who lives in the capitol Juba, is now frustrated that South Sudanese are fighting again instead of pursuing what he describes as the fruits of liberation and peace, like study and individual growth. “What are you fighting for?” the former child soldier asks. “This is the time for young people to live. This is the time for peace. This is the time for education.”

Mabior’s disappointment is shared by millions of his fellow South Sudanese, and echoed by donor countries that poured in billions of dollars to help the new nation over recent years. They all want to know why, given decades of fighting and two civil wars that killed millions, anyone would pick up the gun again.

British aid worker shot dead in South Sudan

A British aid worker in war-torn South Sudan was shot dead late Tuesday in the capital Juba, the government said.

The Briton, who was working for the US aid organization The Carter Center, was killed by a gunman who followed him into his compound in Juba, according to presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny. “He was driving in his car, and when he arrived at his gate he got out of the car, then while walking he was shot,” he said.

Aid workers have been targeted multiple times in the 14-month long war, including gunmen shooting down a UN helicopter and peacekeepers killed. The country is awash with guns, and shots are often heard at night. International charities have warned of increased harassment, surveillance and threats of expulsion from the government.

In August 2014, gunmen murdered at least six South Sudanese staff members of international aid agencies. In October, gunmen also abducted two UN workers in separate incidents in the war-ravaged town of Malakal.

The Carter Center, set up by former US president Jimmy Carter, is working in South Sudan in several areas, including trying to eradicate guinea worm, a particularly painful water-borne parasite.

[AFP]

 

55 aid workers killed in Syria since March 2011

Kayla Mueller knew that she was putting herself in harm’s way when she slipped from to the Turkish-Syrian border into Syria, but the 26-year-old American felt compelled to help. Killed after being held captive by ISIS for more than a year, Mueller’s death followed that of a fellow American aid worker, Peter Kassig, who was beheaded by ISIS militants in November. British aid worker David Haines, was similarly executed in September.

While the threats to aid workers have come into a shocking light with their apparent targeting and brutal killings by ISIS militants, aid workers in Syria faced grave threats even before the Islamist militant group began to gain ground there last year. According to the Humanitarian Outcomes’ Aid Worker Security Database which tracks such figures, 55 aid workers have been killed since the start of the conflict in Syria in March 2011. In terms of absolute figures, that’s the highest number of aid worker deaths in any country aside from Afghanistan.

Trevor Hughes, the Director of Risk Management and Global Security at International Relief and Development (IRD) said that while ISIS’ attempts to capture, ransom, or kill foreigners is concerning, the group’s gruesome stunts haven’t had a real impact on his work — especially because many kidnappings are carried out by opportunists. “You have the shifting lines between rival groups, and just because you’re taken by a rival group that isn’t regime-aligned or ISIS-aligned doesn’t mean that they’re not going to see you as a commodity to get sold up which happens a lot in numerous of countries,” he said.

Of course there are real threats, he said, but the threats also affect those who are in desperate need of the food, sanitation kits, winterization materials, infrastructure repair material, and medical supplies that his organization provides to those who are “stuck” in of the conflict.

[Think Progress]

Ukraine cease-fire reached, along with $40 Billion international aid deal

A new cease-fire is set to begin Sunday in eastern Ukraine, in a deal after 16 hours of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. The leaders of France and Germany helped broker the deal, which calls for a buffer zone free of heavy weapons. News of the temporary peace emerged along with a new international aid plan for Ukraine.

NPR’s Corey Flintoff brings us these details that emerged from the talks in Minsk: “The immediate issues in these talks were stopping the fighting, establishing a security zone between the two sides, and pulling their heavy weapons out of each other’s range. The long-term issues are whether Ukraine will officially recognize the areas where separatists have declared independence, and give those regions power in the central government.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande acknowledged that more work remains to be done, even as they celebrated the temporary peace deal.

“We have now a glimmer of hope,” Merkel said, adding, “I have no illusions, we have no illusions.”

[NPR]