Yemen crisis a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’

It’s been just more than two months since a Saudi Arabia-led coalition began its airstrike campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the country has since become a “humanitarian catastrophe,” experts said this week.

“I am shocked about what I have seen,” said Medecins Sans Frontieres’ Middle East Operations Manager Pablo Marco, who spent 50 days inside the country recently. “The biggest problem is the fact both parties in the conflict are not respecting the civilians and, specifically, they are not respecting medical facilities and medical staff.”

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that more than 2,000 people have been killed and more than 8,000 injured in the conflict since airstrikes began, and that 8.6 million people are in urgent need of medical help.

U.S. State Department press director Jeff Rathke said that the U.S. has urged “Saudi and other authorities to continue to allow commercial shipments of fuel and food to avert a humanitarian crisis for the 16 million Yemenis in need of assistance.”

Dozens of hospitals have had to shut down inside the country, and nearly all that are still operating are powered by generators. “We are witnessing how the whole health system in the country is literally coming to a halt,” Marco said. “In a matter of 15 days or two weeks there will be hundreds of people who will be dying from this.”

[ABC News]

UN races humanitarian relief to quake-affected Nepali communities as monsoon season nears

Marking one month after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal killing thousands and devastating large swathes of the country’s Kathmandu valley, the United Nations relief arm is continuing to intensify its humanitarian operations as it supports national and local authorities with critical life-saving efforts.

The 25 April earthquake, and its 7.3 magnitude follow-up on 12 May, damaged 26 of Nepal’s hospitals and over 1,100 health facilities, while affecting some 5.6 million people, half of whom have been displaced. An estimated 8,500 people were killed by the two quakes. In addition, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has confirmed that 8.1 million people are in need of humanitarian support while another 1.9 million require food assistance.

Among the major obstacles facing emergency responders is Nepal’s unique and challenging mountainous topography which has rendered many affected communities difficult to reach. And now, with monsoon season no more than three weeks away, time is now of the essence as affected communities – without shelter and short on food supplies – remain more vulnerable than ever to potential landslides and torrential rains, the UN has warned.

As a result, OCHA has reported that elite climbers and porters have joined the relief efforts, setting off on foot from humanitarian staging areas where aid is dropped off in order to optimize delivery to the more hard-to-reach areas.

Against that backdrop, however, there is also growing concern that international funding for the humanitarian response is, to date, insufficient. In today’s press release, OCHA warned that only 22 per cent of what is required for the response was received against the $423 million humanitarian appeal.

[UN News Centre]

UK’s foreign aid wasted on countries that don’t need it?

Britain should give a bigger slice of its international aid to the poorest nations, say campaigners.

Just 38% of the £12billion aid budget went to the 48 least developed countries last year, said development pressure group One.

One believes that if every donor country boosted the share earmarked for the poorest countries to 50%, an extra £24billion would have been available to those who need it most.

Critics have accused the UK Government of showering cash on countries which do not need it, in a bid to meet a target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid. Campaigners believe the money should be better targeted.

One also wants a bigger focus on women and girls in developing countries, with a Poverty is Sexist campaign backed by Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban.

One’s global policy director Eloise Todd said: “We won’t see an end to extreme poverty unless leaders shift focus to the poorest countries and the poorest people, especially girls and women.”

[The Mirror]

Economic damage from Nepal earthquake almost half the country’s GDP

The initial estimates of the economic damage caused by the April 25 earthquake in Nepal are in–and the numbers are staggering.

The economic damage from just the first Nepal earthquake is almost half of the country’s GDP.

The overall damage is estimated to be at about $10 billion, according to the Nepal government–nearly half of its gross domestic product (GDP) of $19.2 billion. According to IHS Global Insights, a research firm, the estimated cost for rebuilding homes, roads and bridges alone could run up to $5 billion.

For Nepal–one of the poorest countries in the world–rebuilding its ravaged economy will be particularly difficult after it suffered years of slow growth.


Day in the life of a relief worker in East Africa

A day in the life of Save the Children Child Protection Advisor, Amy Richmond, in the refugee camps in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia:

I wake up every morning with the sun. We ration electricity, so we all make the most of daylight. Breakfast is usually a cup of instant black coffee and a granola bar. I won’t have anything else until I return from the camps. (We don’t eat in front of the children.)

The team huddles at 7:30 a.m. and we set priorities and tasks. One of my goals is to help kids who have been lost, abandoned or orphaned. First stop is reception where dozens, sometime hundreds, of children arrive each day. As soon as they’re registered, they’re rushed into a feeding center – many of them eating their first meal in days. I work with our partners to make sure vulnerable children get into a protective environment and to reunite lost children with their families.

Next, I monitor the camps – making sure kids are in our school, Child Friendly Space or early child development program. I’m also on the lookout for hazards and basically “kid proof” areas for children to play.

One day while surveying the camps, I met a girl named Alima. She lost both her parents to violent conflict in Mogadishu. She told me of her loss and her frightening journey to the refugee camp – 6 days and nights hitchhiking and walking through the desert. Despite her hardship, all Alima wanted to talk about was finishing high school. Her hopes were music to my ears. When children talk about their future, it’s a positive sign that – with the right support – they can overcome tragedy. I walked Alima to her host family, comforted to know they were caring friends of her parents.

Then I went to a teen mothers’ group where the girls get needed support and resources. We help them to start a business such as tailoring or dyeing fabrics. The girls are independent and want to avoid the traps of exploitive professions and relationships.

Around 4:00, we head back for debriefing at the Save the Children compound. It’s a cluster of tents, dorms, offices, garages and warehouses of food to distribute to families in need. It’s more like a shipping company with a few places to sleep. I have a 3” mattress, a blow-up camping pillow and a mosquito net. One good thing about it being so hot is that we actually get warm showers.

At night, we have a modest communal dinner – typically rice and lentils. Sometimes we have goat meat. Then it’s computer time. Writing emails, reports, tracking status, recommendations, proposals. It’s late at night when I miss my family and friends at home.

[From Save the Children site]

Aid burst lifts people out of extreme poverty

Giving some of the world’s poorest people a two-year aid package—including cash, food, health-care services, skills training and advice—improves their livelihoods for at least a year after the support is cut off, according to the results of an experiment involving more than 10,000 households in six countries.

“We finally have truly credible evidence that a program for the poorest of the poor can really help them meaningfully reduce their poverty,” says Dean Karlan, an economist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and a co-author of the study, reported today in Science.

Outside experts are more cautious, but still impressed, particularly because the work was done as a randomized control trial—in which people were randomly assigned to either an intervention or a control group. Most poverty interventions have failed to show sustainable benefits in such trials, so the effectiveness of the program justifies countries considering the strategy, says Jonathan Morduch of New York University, who studies microfinance and poverty.

The idea of assessing poverty inventions in randomized control trials, in the same way as drugs and vaccines are tested, was developed over the past decade by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (see ‘International aid projects come under the microscope’), and by Innovations for Poverty Action, a non-profit organization founded by Karlan that coordinated the latest study.

“Effects often fade over time, so seeing results persist for a year is already quite impressive,” says Morduch. It shows that a coordinated short-term intervention can put very poor people on the first rung of the ladder of escape from extreme poverty.

[Scientific American]

Rescue work to find the victims and survivors of 2nd Nepali earthquake

At least 65 people died in Tuesday’s 7.3 magnitude earthquake in Nepal and nearly 2,000 were hurt in quake, with fears the figures could rise. At least 17 died in India.

Aid agencies have appealed for funding, saying Tuesday’s tremor has badly hit efforts to help those already affected by the 7.8-magnitude quake on 25 April. Richard Ragan of the World Food Programme said the latest quake had set back the relief effort and many UN agencies were now “desperately short of funds”.

Thousands of Nepalis – many of whom have not returned to their homes since the first quake, which killed over 8,000 people – spent another night in the open.

The Red Cross said it had been told of many casualties in the town of Chautara in Sindhupalchowk, where it has a hospital and which has become a hub for humanitarian aid.

Even before Tuesday’s earthquake, aid workers worried that wealthy nations seemed unwilling to fund the relief effort in Nepal, having pledged only about 15 percent of the initial appeal for $423 million, said Jamie McGoldrick, the resident coordinator for the United Nations in Nepal. “The international community seems quite reluctant to provide material,” he said.

[BBC; New York Times]

Truth and myths about USAID and American foreign aid

Americans are woefully misinformed about not only foreign aid but also the role of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Americans generally estimate US foreign aid at 10% or more or our Federal budget. They also probably believe that this aid is mostly in food, shelter, governance, education and medical assistance. The truth, in brief, about United States’ foreign aid:

  1. The budget for international aid in the US is less than 1% of our budget.
  2. USAID depends heavily on contractors. Contractors like Haliburton and Chemonics lead the way in profiting at the rate of hundreds of millions from these contracts.
  3. USAID has very little control of these contractors.
  4. The main aim of USAID is to support US firms.
  5. All it takes is for a pressure group, like consulting engineers for example, complaining to the legislature or the While House that they are losing work as a result of technical assistance to a country, for USAID assistance to stop.
  6. US corporations have a big advantage related to bio-engineering of agricultural products, products which are mercilessly peddled to aid-receiving countries. If you want to end your career at USAID prematurely, talk about Franken-foods.
  7. USAID does not provide the prompt assistance that is needed by most countries.
  8. For most of its existence, USAID was a non-political agency, attempting to provide assistance wherever it was needed internationally. Unfortunately, by making it part of the State Department, it has almost certainly become a much more political agency.

[Read full CDN article by Mario Salazar, former USAid worker] 

Not waiting on governments to respond to Syrian humanitarian crisis

Seventy-eight nations, plus 40 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), recently gathered in Kuwait to raise money for the relief of Syrian refugees. Kuwait opened the proceedings with a promise of $500 million, matching last year’s donation. The U.S. won the number one position with an offer $507 million, but many participants offered little more than good will. Overall the conference generated $3.8 billion of the $8.4 billion which aid agencies were seeking.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation. The country has lost nearly four decades of human development. Unemployment is over 50 percent. Life expectancy has been cut by an astounding 20 years.”

Some 12.2 million people, more than half of the population, are estimated to need humanitarian assistance. A similar number have been displaced — between 6.5 million and 7.8 million — within Syria, and three to four million have been displaced on to neighboring states.

One of the best ways to help those suffering from the Syrian conflict is through private relief groups. Indeed, the crisis has spawned a variety of relief efforts by NGOs around the world, many of which were represented in Kuwait. Private organizations tend to be more diverse and flexible than public agencies.  Many groups have a religious orientation. For instance, World Vision and Catholic Relief Services reflect Christian principles, while Islamic Relief USA is a Muslim organization formed in 1993.

Many other NGOs provide welcome relief throughout the region. CARE, Concern Worldwide, Doctors Without Borders, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, Life for Relief and Development, Mercy Corps, Mercy-USA, Save the Children, and Shelterbox all assist victims of the Syrian civil war. Some groups operate directly in Syria, others serve Syrians outside their country; some organizations go to camps while others run refugee centers in surrounding nations; many NGOs emphasize particular forms assistance, such as education, children’s services, food, health care, and shelter. All make a catastrophic situation slightly less awful.

The many NGOs dedicated to aiding Syrians offer a wealth of options for those inclined to give. There’s no reason to wait for politicians to act.


NASA technology located four trapped Nepal earthquake victims by detecting their heartbeats

A technology developed by NASA and the US Department of Homeland Security designed to save people trapped by debris in natural disasters has been used in the field for the first time. FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response) lived up to its name, locating and saving four people trapped under rubble for days after the 7.8 earthquake in Nepal killed more than 7,000 people and injured countless others.

FINDER is a radar machine that sends a continuous microwave signal through the rubble, and can detect a human’s breathing or heartbeat (and distinguish it from the movement of an animal). It can locate people hidden behind 20 feet of solid concrete or buried beneath 30 feet of rubble, and the person doesn’t need to be conscious to be detected.

The technology is based on remote radar sensing that NASA originally developed to detect life on other planets. It was deployed with search and rescue teams to Nepal on April 29, four days after the earthquake struck. It had been tested many times before, but had yet to be implemented in a real-life emergency.

NASA is working to commercialize the FINDER technology in order to get it into the hands of more first responders. No doubt more earthquake victims could have been saved if FINDER was deployed with more search and rescue teams.


International aid finally reaches remote areas of quake-hit Nepal

It has been difficult to gauge the extent of the quake’s damage, let alone deliver aid to Nepal’s more far-flung districts.

Ten days after Nepal was struck by a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake, international relief workers have finally gained access to areas cut off by the disaster and international aid has reached some of the nation’s more remote areas, FRANCE 24 reports.

Click to watch FRANCE 24’s special report 

Peace in the midst of quake for humanitarian Bishnu Adhikari

The days following the deadly Nepal earthquake have been intense and exhaustive for humanitarian Bishnu Adhikari.

“It’s a difficult situation but I am not discouraged,” Adhikari said late Thursday night via video chat from his home in Kathmandu. “I know life has ups and downs. Sometimes we go through these situations for our personal learning. I am grateful I am here and will do whatever I can in my capacity. There are so many things to be grateful for.”

Adhikari said he and his family, along with an estimated 70 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were in a chapel last Saturday when the walls began shaking. When the 7.8-magnitude earthquake was over, the people left the chapel and retreated to a fairly safe area where nothing would fall on them. There they began singing hymns. The music calmed many troubled hearts, Adhikari said.

“Wow, what a comforting spirit,” Adhikari said. “My mind started thinking about a relief plan and how we could help others.”

With homes gone or damaged, many, including Adhikari’s family, slept outside in somewhat cold temperatures for a few days. Fortunately, their home didn’t sustain major damage, and the Adhikaris were able to move back in and use their food storage and other supplies.

Most of those first days were spent locating people and coordinating with authorities on how to help others get shelter, water and food. Only one telephone system functioned for the first two days, and it wasn’t accessible to many of the remote villages, so it was difficult to communicate with people, Adhikari said.

“It’s been a good effort from everybody to help each other,” said Adhikari, who said there are about 155 Mormons in Nepal. Adhikari said he will continue to assist in coordinating relief efforts with the Red Cross, the LDS Church, the government in Nepal and Choice Humanitarian, a Utah-based nonprofit organization where he is the in-country director. He will also participate in the rebuilding process.

While the death and destruction have been tragic, Adhikari hopes for safer structures, better long-term planning by the government and greater unity among the ethnic communities of Nepal. He hopes people will turn their hearts to the Heavenly Father in this time of need. Most of all, he hopes to help as many people as he can.

“It’s a daunting task,” he said. “There are many reasons to complain and blame others, but I am not in that game. I don’t want to waste my time. I believe in … making a difference for as many individuals as possible. That is what I’m trying to do.”

[Deseret News]

As hopes fade, Nepal requests foreign rescuers to leave

The government of Nepal is asking foreign search-and-rescue teams to leave now that the likelihood of finding survivors buried by last month’s earthquake has largely passed. The official death toll now exceeds 7,300.

Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, a Home Ministry spokesman, said on Monday roughly half the 4,000 rescuers had already left. “I think all the rescuers will go to their respective countries by Friday.”

There seems almost no chance that anyone alive is still trapped amid the rubble from the quake, which struck just before noon on April 25. On Sunday, though, three survivors were found in the Sindhupalchok district, an especially hard hit and largely rural area north of Kathmandu.

Dr. Ian Norton, head of the World Health Organization’s program of foreign medical teams, said that the thousands of rescuers, who often work as firefighters in their home countries, had saved a total of 16 people in the aftermath of the quake, and that about 50 foreign medical teams comprising nearly 10,000 people had saved hundreds of lives and even more limbs.

[The New York Times]

Obstacles to Nepal earthquake relief

There’s a lot of aid headed toward Nepal, but it’s not getting there as fast as people would like. The reason: There aren’t enough runways.

The country’s only international airport is Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. It’s tiny. It has just one runway. So it can’t accommodate all the planes flying in.

The single runway has been closed several times for earthquake repairs. Also, there are limited places for planes to park. On many days, pilots circled for hours waiting for another plane to take off because there’s no room to land.

This bottleneck has slowed the recovery effort. A terminal duty officer, who wouldn’t give his name because he’s not allowed to talk to the media, says the situation is bad: “It is a mess here. ”

That’s not the only obstacle to relief work. Some groups show up and don’t know what to do or where to go. Or how to get there.

“Even where there was no disaster here, it was just really difficult to get around,” says Lisa Rudolph, an American Red Cross worker who arrived from Washington, D.C. “Even within Kathmandu itself it can take an hour to get from one point to another. And so now with roads blocked [due to earthquake damage and] the airport congested, it’s going to be really difficult.”