Vanuatu in the wake of Cyclone Pam

Vanuatu’s government has launched a flash appeal to help thousands of people in urgent need of humanitarian aid in the wake of Cyclone Pam. Jotham Napat, chairman of the National Disaster Management Committee (NDMC), said more than 166,000 people had been affected by the cyclone, with 110,000 left without access to safe drinking water.

He told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat his country would need $US29.9 million to respond to the humanitarian crisis over the next three months. “The cyclone damaged around 63 per cent of the health facilities and has disrupted health service delivery.

International aid has been pouring into Vanuatu in the 10 days since Cyclone Pam devastated the country, but the United Nations also said more was needed.

UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team leader Sebastian Rhodes Stampa said more than $US10 million in contributions from donors had been recorded. Mr Rhodes Stampa said emergency food and shelter and the restoration of basic health provisions on even the remotest of islands would be a priority. “But also, it’s critical that we get the children back in school, we return communities to a sense of normality as soon as possible, as well as providing for their most urgent needs,” he said.

The World Food Program is taking a leading role in supplying the food aid.

[Australia Broadcasting Corporation]

Academy for humanitarian relief launched

The world’s first academy for humanitarian relief has been launched, aimed at training 100,000 aid workers from over 50 countries in organizing rapid responses to disasters and emergencies.

The Humanitarian Leadership Academy, launched Monday, is a response to the growing number of humanitarian crises around the world, driven by climate change and conflict, combined with a severe and worsening shortage of people with the skills necessary to coordinate the large-scale response required in the critical first days to prevent mass casualties.

The HLA is being set up by a global consortium of aid organizations with initial £20m funding from the UK Department for International Development, out of a target of £50m. The Save the Children charity has paid the startup costing and is hosting the academy’s hub in London.

Further centers will open in Kenya and the Philippines later this year, and by 2020 the plan is to have ten training centers around the world, which would offer both classroom and virtual training for the surrounding regions, in mobilizing the rapid response in resources and manpower needed in the wake of a disaster.

Jan Egeland, a former UN head of humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, will be the academy’s first chairman. He said the initiative “may revolutionize the entire humanitarian sector”.

Last year witnessed a record number of severe global humanitarian emergencies and the highest number of refugees the world has seen since the second world war. 50 million people were forced to flee their countries.

[Read full Guardian article]

Media obsession with ISIS takes focus away from Syria’s humanitarian crisis

76,000 civilians were killed in Syria during 2014, the worst year since its civil war began in 2011.

The Failing Syria report, recently published by a global coalition of British aid agencies and charities, accuses international powers – particularly the 15-member Security Council – of failing to deliver on pledges to protect innocent victims of the fighting.

Yasmine Nahlawi, from Manchester-based Syrian organization Rethink Rebuild, believed the rise of jihadist groups like ISIS and the ensuing media war has seemingly deflected attention away from the country’s ongoing crisis. “The obsession with ISIS by both the media and policy makers has not only taken the focus away from the growing humanitarian crisis, but has also distorted our perception of the conflict itself,” she said.

Several key resolutions passed last year called for an end to attacks on civilians, an increase in aid, for the UN to be allowed to operate in Syria without seeking permission from authorities in Damascus. However, the report indicates a failure to deliver on all of these promises:

  • People are not protected: 2014 was the deadliest year of the conflict so far.
  • Aid access has stagnated: 4.8 million people who require aid now reside in areas the UN deems ‘hard to reach’. This is a million more than in 2013.
  • Needs have increased: 5.6 million children require aid, a 31% increase from the previous year.
  • The humanitarian response in comparison with needs has declined drastically: in 2013, 71% of the necessarily funding required to aid civilians inside Syria, along with refugees in neighboring countries, were provided. In 2014, this had dropped to 57%.

[Mancunian Matters]

Statistics on the increasing number of attacks on humanitarian aid workers

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Number of incidents 63 63 74 107 123 165 155 130 152 170 264
Total aid worker victims 143 125 172 240 220 278 296 254 309 277 474
Total killed 87 56 53 87 88 128 109 72 86 70 155
Total injured 49 46 96 87 87 91 94 84 126 115 178
Total kidnapped* 7 23 23 66 45 59 93 98 97 92 141
International victims 27 24 15 26 34 51 75 46 29 49 57
National victims 116 101 157 214 186 227 221 208 280 228 417
UN staff 31 11 27 61 39 65 102 44 91 60 110
International NGO staff 69 69 112 110 132 157 129 148 141 86 136
LNGO and RCS staff 35 43 28 55 35 46 55 47 77 105 206
ICRC staff 8 1 3 10 4 5 9 10 5 3 14
Security risks in places like Syria and Iraq are so high that NGOs often have to operate remotely. That means the UN and other groups rely heavily on local humanitarian organizations to operate in conflict zones. The local aid workers are often the ones most at risk — not the Americans and Europeans who tend to capture the headlines when something goes wrong on a particular aid mission.
Key for organization type
  • UN: United Nations
  • INGO: International non-governmental organization
  • LNGO and NRCS: Local non-governmental organization or National Red Cross / Red Crescent Society
  • ICRC: International Committee of the Red Cross
  • IFRC: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

[Source: aidworkersecurity.org]

Innovation in the humanitarian field

In the ’90s, an NGO called Potters for Peace started to work with local potters in Central America to develop ceramic water filters that are thought to remove 99.88% of water borne disease agents. They are now produced at over 50 independent factories in more than 30 countries.

A more high-tech solution for the same problem, is the LifeSaver Cube, a water filtration product born in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. It can carry up to 5L of water which is filtered and sterilized through the use of an inbuilt hand pump. LifeSaver Systems, based in the UK, is a private company; but the national Department for International Development and Oxfam were consulted during the development of the product, another example of how a for-profit organization can work together with the third sector to reach a common goal.

Other fascinating examples of collaboration between the private sector, the academia, governments and NGOs, have more to do with process innovation. The Cash Learning Partnership, for instance, formed by the British Red Cross, Save the Children, Oxfam GB and other partners, aims to promote appropriate, timely and quality cash and voucher programming in humanitarian response. Credit card company Visa is providing technical support.

Generally speaking, the inclusion of private organizations within the humanitarian system, could help foster a more entrepreneurial approach in a sector which has traditionally been risk averse. But, of course, it’s much easier to say this, than feed it into practice.

Oxford scholars Alexander Betts and Louise Bloom write, “innovation is already and irreversibly part of the humanitarian system.” The hope is that in the future, by creating shared definitions and principles, identifying good practices, and lifting barriers to ethical innovation, reseachers say, humanitarian actors will be more prepared to meet the challenges of our increasingly troubled world.

[Forbes]

Japan a leader in disaster relief

Japan has pledged to provide $4 billion over the next four years to reduce the number and the suffering of disaster victims worldwide.

“Disaster risk reduction is the most important challenge for both developed and developing countries. For developing countries in particular,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Mr. Abe said, speaking at the third annual United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan.

Japan’s critical role in pushing progress on disaster risk reduction and management lies partly in own long history as an aid recipient and in coping with earthquakes and tsunamis, such as the recent tidal wave that struck the country’s Pacific coast in 2011, and the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2013.

Japan’s history in dealing with disasters has given it a “sensitivity and understanding in its engagement with other recipient countries that is based on first-hand experience,” according to the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

The East Asian nation has long been a leader in efforts to reduce disaster risk, having contributed about 27 percent of the world’s $13.5 billion total disaster risk reduction aid between 1991 and 2010, the Institute reported.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Humanitarian aid workers in more danger and stretched more than ever before

Humanitarian aid work has become increasingly dangerous, with aid workers more stretched than ever. For the first time since World War II, more than 50 million people are displaced worldwide. Attacks on aid workers more than tripled in the last decade.

Of course, the traumas of aid workers pale in comparison to those they serve. But many do face near-death experiences — 45 percent of those surveyed in the 2013 report had believed their lives were in danger or that they would be seriously injured at least once during their careers. They hear firsthand accounts of rape and murder on a near daily basis. They are usually an ocean away from their families. All while they are expected to fulfill the impossible task of helping to feed, house and protect the world’s growing number of displaced in a world of shrinking humanitarian resources.

Experts in the humanitarian business think the aid world is failing its staff for two reasons: first, lack of funding. But many interventions — providing online support and identifying staff willing to speak frankly about their struggles, for example — cost little.

More fundamentally, the issue is old-school attitudes about mental health, as many humanitarian managers tend to equate psychological support with weakness. One UN employee who was violently assaulted a few years ago while working in a war zone and who continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress as a result, thinks it’s also because so few people know there’s a problem.

“The U.N. and other humanitarian organizations are the ones developing policies on gender sensitivity, human rights, labor law and so on,” she told me. “So people just assume that these organizations are applying the same standards to their staff. But it doesn’t work that way.”

Aid workers need to be tough, resilient folks with a high capacity for hardship. This must change, and not just for high-minded humanitarian reasons. Depressed and anxious aid workers perform poorly.

Aid organizations exist to alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity. They should do better at applying these principles to their own staff.

[Written by Rosalie Hughes, a freelance journalist who worked for the United Nations refugee agency and other relief organizations in Kenya, Rwanda and other African countries from 2009 to 2013.]

 

Syria the worst humanitarian crises since World War II

According to the U.N., the conflict in Syria has caused the worst humanitarian crises since World War II, with more than 150,000 people killed and 12.2 million (more than half of the Syrian population) in need of humanitarian aid.

In June 2014 United Nations officials said that the UN could deliver aid to as many as two million people in separatist-controlled Syria. But by the end of the year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted that the actual numbers of aid recipients were far lower. In separatist-controlled areas, only 208,000 received food aid, only 250,000 received medical aid, and water and sanitation equipment was delivered to as few as 86,000. Ban Ki-moon called the denial of aid “a deliberate tactic of war aimed at denying help and support to those most in need.”

That’s something that the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) has been a victim of. The organization was founded by Syrian-American physicians to support and train medical personnel within the country. In a report, it noted that “Every single medical facility that SAMS supports inside of Syria has been targeted by an air strike or barrel bomb at some point in time and every month we lose additional medical personnel in targeted attacks.”

These attacks on medical facilities and medical personnel are not random. According to the group’s report on implementing aid in Syria, the attacks are very often deliberate – and doubly devastating. “The intentional targeting of medical facilities and personnel in Syria has led to a severe lack of medical personnel in the places where they are needed the most, and discourages civilians from seeking treatment when they are sick or injured, further endangering civilian lives and decreasing the impact of humanitarian aid efforts,” according to SAMS’ report.

“Barrel bombs and airstrikes are a daily occurrence, and make the road incredibly dangerous, and sometimes temporarily shut down. Vehicles are targeted, and aid trucks and ambulances are hesitant to travel on that road,” SAMS’ communication manager Kathleen Fallon said in an email to ThinkProgress.

While ISIS poses real threats to civilians, Fallon says the militant group’s territory is not the hardest to supply with aid. “All around the ‘hardest to reach’ areas are truly the contested areas,” she said. “Operations in areas where one party is in control, including ISIS controlled areas, have gone much more smoothly than in the contested areas where fighting is active and airstrikes are at their height.”

[Think Progress]

14 million suffering children due to war in Syria and Iraq

Around 14 million children are suffering hardship and trauma from the war in Syria and Iraq, the United Nations children’s agency said, highlighting the needs of children struggling to cope with severe violence, and the danger to the rest of the world of failing to help a generation preyed on by extremist groups.

Violence and suffering have not only scarred their past, they are shaping their futures,” said Anthony Lake UNICEF’s director. “As the crisis enters its fifth year, this generation of young people is still in danger of being lost to a cycle of violence—replicating in the next generation what they suffered in their own.”

Across Syria, an estimated 2.8 million children were still struggling to pursue some form of learning amid the rubble and destruction resulting from the conflict. In large sections of the country controlled by the Islamic State, young children are increasingly being pulled into active roles in the conflict and subjected to intense indoctrination and training in the use of weapons, said Hanaa Singer, UNICEF’s representative in Syria.

Propaganda videos distributed by the Islamic State showing children being taught to throw bombs and to place them under vehicles. “It is scary, this buildup of the killing machine,” Ms. Singer said. “Children are being indoctrinated in a very systematic way.”

“This worst humanitarian crisis of our era should be galvanizing a global outcry of support, but instead, help is dwindling,” António Guterres, head of the United Nations refugee agency, said in a statement.

UNICEF had sought about $815 million for its operations in Syria and neighboring countries in 2015, but as of early March, it had received little more than one-tenth of that amount. “We can’t give up on the people of Syria,” Ms. Singer said.

[NY Times]

The United Arab Emirates recognized as the world’s top humanitarian donor

The United Arab Emirates has been named as the world’s top humanitarian donor of the year 2013, after it offered 5.89 Billion US dollars in foreign aid that year, reaching out in more than 140 countries around the world through 38 donor groups.

The announcement was made by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an organization dedicated to promoting policies which improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. The Committee noted in its yearly report that up to 93 percent of the UAE’s foreign aid were in the form of Official Development Assistance (ODA), making 1.33 percent of the country’s Gross National Income.

The more than 140 countries benefitting from the UAE’s foreign aid disbursements in 2013 included developing nations in Africa, and countries in the Middle East and North Africa region that have been strongly affected by turmoil in the past few years, including Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, the occupied Palestinian territories and Lebanon.

The UAE is home to the International Humanitarian City (IHC), a Dubai-based logistics centre for the distribution of humanitarian aid which hosts more than 50 non-governmental organizations and commercial entities, among them the Global Logistics Service of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, who are all involved in the delivery of aid during crises and for long-term development purposes.

[ifrc.org]

Denmark provides $2.3 million for humanitarian needs in Sudan

The government of Denmark has contributed $2.3 million to the Sudan Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) for 2015, following its contribution of $22.7 million since 2008 to help address growing humanitarian needs in Sudan.

The United Nations office of the resident and humanitarian coordinator in Sudan said, in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune, the Danish contribution comes at a critical time when funding for humanitarian action is scarce and humanitarian needs are growing.

The statement quoted the Danish minister for trade and development cooperation, Mogens Jensen, as saying the “humanitarian situation in Sudan remains extremely serious and is worsening in some areas”. Jensen added that the continued unrest in parts of Darfur, Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile still generates severe displacement of civilians, who will need assistance and protection. Sudan has received more than 120,000 refugees fleeing from the ongoing violence in South Sudan.

Adnan Khan, the UN acting humanitarian coordinator said that Denmark’s timely contribution to CHF is greatly appreciated as it will help ensure that humanitarian assistance continues to reach the most vulnerable communities, pointing that CHF funds will be used to support top and high priority humanitarian interventions across Sudan.

Last year, the Sudan CHF received support from Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (UK).

Crisis of anxiety among aid workers

According to a 2013 study commissioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 47 percent of its staff members who were surveyed indicated having had sleep problems in the previous month. And 57 percent had recently experienced symptoms consistent with depression. Rates of clinical depression among aid workers are double those of American adults. One cites “adult trauma exposure” as a main cause.

Yet mental health support for the estimated 250,000 humanitarian workers in the trenches is woefully lacking. The 2013 report recommends that the organization “provide and promote the option for staff to utilize external mental health therapists” and “disseminate information on what is covered by insurance for outside therapeutic support.” It also recommends more than 20 other measures to help aid workers.

While the management formally approved all but one of these recommendations, nearly two years later many of them remain unfulfilled. One recommendation that has been implemented — that aid workers going to the hardest places, to the Afghanistans, Iraqs and Syrias, will be contacted by an in-house counselor before and after their mission for an optional mental health check-in — is not happening systematically.

Yet the United Nations refugee agency is better than most, according to Kaz de Jong, head of staff care for the Netherlands division of Doctors Without Borders. His is one of the rare aid organizations known for doing a good job on this front. “At least they’re doing something,” he says, referring to the 2013 report. “Many do nothing at all.”

He’s right. A 2009 survey of 20 aid organizations found that many staff-care programs fail to adhere to basic standards. Little has improved since. What progress has been made often remains at the headquarter level, far from the shelling and violent stories that aid workers regularly face on the front lines.

[New York Times]

$121 Billion of U.S. foreign aid to Israel

The recent visit of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress has opened up a rare split in the relations between the United States and Israel. On its surface, the issue appears to be purely political: Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker John Boehner without consultation of the White House, an apparent violation of protocol.

Still, if the past is any judge, U.S.-Israel relations will recover. Since it was founded in 1948, Israel has become the largest single recipient of U.S foreign assistance — a total of $121 billion, almost all of which has been in the form of military assistance. Among the findings of a 2014 report by the Congressional Research Service:

  • This FY2015 foreign military financing (FMF) level would constitute roughly 55% of the United States’ total FMF funding worldwide and would finance 23% to 25% of the overall Israeli defense budget — percentages that clearly demonstrate the U.S. commitment to Israeli security and Israel’s dependence on U.S. support.
  • In addition to $3.1 billion in FY2015 funding, the Obama Administration also requested $96.8 million for joint US-Israeli programs and $175.9 million for Iron Dome, Israel’s short-range anti-rocket system.
  • The U.S. Defense Department also stores military supplies on Israeli bases in preparation for combat, and if needed, Israeli forces can request use of these supplies from the U.S. government in times of emergency, as happened in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. The value of the U.S. materiel stored in Israel increased to $800 million in 2010, with Congressional approval for up to $1.2 billion.

[Read full article at Journalist Resource

Greg Matthews “that sense that I belong here”

As a senior adviser for the International Rescue Committee, Greg Matthews rushes to disasters for a living.

He has helped refugees fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq, designing programs using a mix of traditional relief supplies, such as food and hygiene kits, with cash grants, job training, and placement and business start-up assistance.

Two things inspired Greg Matthews while growing up in Hartford, Conn. A 10th-grade social studies teacher got him thinking about international problems and the challenge of fixing them. And one day, when Matthews was giving swimming lessons, a student mentioned his father was leaving for Turkey for search-and-rescue work after an earthquake.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool,'” Matthews recalls.

Greg Matthews in Senegal, W. Africa

Even after marriage and the birth of a child, the seductive pull to international relief work remains. “It’s that sense that I belong there. This is what I’m good at. I can do this,” he says. “Every time I turn on the news and I hear that there’s a major disaster, (an) emergency breaking out somewhere across the world, I definitely get that adrenalin rush and my body starts kind of shaking a little bit.”

It’s quickly followed by a sense of dread, Matthews says. He wishes these terrible crises never happened at all.

[USA Today]

Canadian humanitarian worker held in North Korea?

Sometime in the last two days of January, Hyeon-soo Lim crossed the land border from China into the north-eastern corner of North Korea. This was nothing particularly special for Mr. Lim, the senior pastor of one of Canada’s largest Korean churches. He had been to the Hermit Kingdom more than 100 times before.

He was expected to call home on Feb. 4. When he did not, the church initially did not panic. But more than a month has passed with no word, and his church is worried Mr. Lim has been detained in a country that has jailed several foreign Christians in recent years.

“He’s not a tourist that wandered off. He knows the language, he knows how to behave in a way that’s not offensive to the government.”

Lim’s church raised funds for the impoverished country, and supports orphanages, nurseries and a nursing home. Mr. Lim would often take in vitamins, medical supplies and warm clothing.

[Toronto Globe and Mail]