Why is no one punished for attacks on aid workers?

There are rules during wartime, and the rules are simple: Don’t target medical facilities. Don’t harm doctors and medical workers. Don’t harm civilians, including aid workers. They’re outlined in a raft of domestic and international laws. This includes the Geneva Conventions, a treaty ratified by 196 nations after World War II, and several U.N. Security Council and U.N. Human Rights Council resolutions.

Yet aid workers are operating in environments that are increasingly hostile to them, says Anaïde L. Nahikian, who runs Harvard’s Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action. In October 2015, U.S. planes bombed a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 42. In July, South Sudanese soldiers brutally gang-raped foreign aid workers. And the number of reported kidnappings of aid workers each year quadrupled to 121 from 2002 to 2014.

In the past few years, almost no one has been arrested or jailed for these atrocities or prosecuted at the International Criminal Court or ad hoc U.N. tribunals. The message to violators is that they can act with impunity, says Patricia McIlreavy, vice president of humanitarian policy at InterAction, a coalition of global NGOs. “I don’t know of any punishments that have been meted out,” she says.

“Warring parties today have a license to kill — without consequences or accountability for their actions,” says Shannon Scribner, associate director of humanitarian programs and policy at Oxfam America. “[The world’s] standards no longer carry much weight.”

[NPR]

International aid organizations call for humanitarian corridor in Aleppo

Leading international humanitarian organizations called for the opening of secure corridors in Aleppo in order to evacuate the many wounded civilians in the city’s opposition-held eastern districts.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) have stressed that the sick and wounded should be moved from Aleppo to safe zones where they can receive urgent medical care.

Tarik Jasarevic, spokesman for the WHO, stated that his organization had made a medical evacuation request to the Syrian health authorities in order to facilitate the provision of medical aid either in regime-held western Aleppo or in medical facilities close to nearby Idlib.

Speaking for the ICRC, Krista Armstrong confirmed that their medical teams have been working tirelessly in eastern Aleppo to save lives, but that they lack the ability and facilities to address emergency and specialist cases.

According to the WHO, only 35 doctors remain in eastern Aleppo despite an urgent need for medical professionals. Aleppo’s medical facilities are stretched to their limits.

[Middle East Monitor]

Some Israelis see $38 Billion in US aid as a failure

It was billed by President Obama as “the single largest pledge of military assistance in U.S. history,” a gift from the American taxpayer to the Israeli taxpayer, totaling $38 billion over 10 years, complete with squadrons of F-35 fighter jets.

But in Israel, the deal inked in Washington last week between the closest of allies has been met not with big love, but with mostly a collective “So what?”

Leaders in the Israeli defense establishment said the deal should have ushered in a new era of cooperation, but did not. They said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his mutual antagonism with Obama, blew it. Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak called the pact for the most advanced weaponry ever a failure and a sign of the withering relationship between the United States and Israel.

Several defense analysts pointed out that, after factoring in inflation and previous supplemental bumps in funding for Israel by Congress, the new assistance package represents less money than the past 10-year deal. Yair Lapid, a leader of an Israeli centrist party, warned that the White House demand in the pact that Israel buy military hardware from U.S. contractors–and not the Israeli defense industry–would backfire. Lapid said last month, “The only thing Israelis will remember from the deal is the unemployment line” in the nation’s economically hard-pressed cities.

Yet there are other views. David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, published a column headlined, “Ungrateful Israel owes the US a simple thank you.”

[Washington Post]

The US foreign aid budget and American strategic interests

The word “billion” has a certain ring to it. It sounds like, and is, a lot — in any context. We don’t normally think of numbers higher than a billion.

So when the United States inked a memorandum of understanding with Israel this month, promising $38 billion in military aid over a 10-year period, it set off alarm bells for many.

To be sure, in terms of U.S. foreign aid, $3.8 billion a year is definitely a lot. The package to Israel is the largest awarded to date, though it is only slightly bigger than the roughly $3.5 billion Israel received annually from the United States in the 10-year deal that ends in 2017.

And about three-quarters of all military aid goes to just two countries: Israel and Egypt, with Israel being the largest recipient of U.S. aid since World War II.

U.S. foreign aid serves many stated purposes, but, generally speaking, the money is intended to ensure American strategic interests abroad.

[Washington Post]

Glaring data gap in the War Against Poverty and Disease

It’s surprising how little data is available on the rates of everything from disease to employment in poor countries, says Trevor Mundell, president of global health for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Governments and international organizations and researchers still aren’t collecting basic statistics on a lot of major diseases in Africa. Says Mundell, “[For example] there’s a complete absence of solid data around what the dimensions of [typhoid] in Africa.”

There’s a similar problem with dengue, a very unpleasant virus that’s spread by mosquitoes. This makes it hard to set priorities for health spending, he adds. “How do you plan for the future if you don’t even know the state of the present?”

The data gap is especially noticeable when it comes to statistics on girls and women, and ending the inequality they face is a major focus of the global goals. For instance, it’s hard to get solid, comparable numbers across all countries on everything from maternal mortality to how well girls are transitioning from school into jobs to what assets women own. In some cases — domestic violence against women is a classic example — many countries don’t consider gathering this data a top concern.

As for the huge pool of data we do have — advocates say much of it is difficult to get hold of because it’s being hoarded by everyone from U.N. agencies to researchers.

Jody Heymann is dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and founding director of the affiliated World Policy Analysis Center, which is trying to gather much of this data in one place and make it comparable from country to country. Her dream is to inspire app developers to find a way to get it on smartphones.

[NPR]

Humanitarian workers in Syria face intense danger

The heinous attack against a UN humanitarian aid convoy near Aleppo shocked the world. It is a sad manifestation of the great danger humanitarian workers are facing in Syria today.

Humanitarian workers are facing intense danger, risking their lives to save others. “In Syria today, carrying humanitarian aid puts you in greater danger than carrying a weapon,” according to one aid worker.

Humanitarian aid outside the supervision of the government has been forbidden in Syria since 2012, as all aid is channeled through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other agencies registered with the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Thus, the work of grassroots humanitarian groups and NGOs working in opposition-controlled areas is effectively criminalized. People delivering humanitarian assistance face the danger of being put on trial before a military tribunal for “funding terrorist activities”. Any assistance to civilian populations in opposition-controlled areas, any services provided to areas outside the government control, is considered by the authorities as an act of resistance, as tacit support for the opposition.

Humanitarian assistance, which follows the principle of impartiality and neutrality, therefore has to be delivered in great confidentiality, through secret networks bound together by solidarity. Supplies are smuggled through tunnels and along dirt roads, over rivers and on the backs of donkeys through rough mountain terrain, in order to reach those communities that are cut off from all basic support.

[The Guardian]

Obama: Children not “fearful of other people because of where they’re from”

“Remember the boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria?” 6-year-old Alex wrote to U.S. President Obama. “Can you please go get him …We will give him a family and he will be our brother.”

Obama read the note earlier at the UN Leaders’ Summit on Refugees held in New York, and the White House posted it online Wednesday.

This how Alex’s letter came into the conversation: “The humanity that a young child can display, who hasn’t learned to be cynical, or suspicious, or fearful of other people because of where they’re from, or how they look, or how they pray, and who just understands the notion of treating somebody that is like him with compassion, with kindness,” Obama said Tuesday, “we can all learn from Alex.

Obama, in his speech, chided world leaders for not doing enough to help refugees. He called the global refugee crisis “one of the most urgent tests of our time.” Obama commended Germany and Canada as exemplary nations for providing these people support, and announced the U.S. would increase the number of refugees it accepts in 2017 by nearly 60 percent.

[The Atlantic]

UN resumes humanitarian aid to Syria

The United Nations said it resumed humanitarian aid deliveries to war-torn Syria on Thursday.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told Reuters that an inter-agency convoy would cross conflict lines into a besieged area of rural Damascus.

“We will advise on the exact locations once the convoy has actually reached those locations,” he said.

The Damascus branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent tweeted images of its aid vehicles on the move.

The U.N. suspended aid deliveries on Tuesday after the convoy was struck near Aleppo in northern Syria the previous day. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent said one of its employees and around 20 civilians were killed.

[USA Today]

Zuckerberg Chan fund pledges $3 Billion to banish disease

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla on Wednesday pledged $3 billion over the next decade from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative established by the couple, toward helping banish or manage all disease.

“We plan to invest billions of dollars over decades,” Zuckerberg said. Late last year, they had pledged to donate 99 percent of their Facebook holdings or some $45 billion to “advance human potential and promote equality.”

“This is a big goal,” Zuckerberg said, “But we spent the last few years speaking with experts who think it is possible, so we dug in.”

The first investment being made as part of what the Zuckerbergs hoped would become a “collective” effort will be $600 million for the creation of a Biohub in San Francisco. The Biohub will bring together engineers and scientists from three prestigious California universities to help the effort.

“Mark and Priscilla are inspiring a whole new generation of philanthropists who will do amazing things,” said Microsoft billionaire turned global philanthropist Bill Gates, who has made improving health around the world a top goal at the foundation he created with his wife.

[AFP]

Some Israelis view $38 Billion in US aid as a failure

It was billed by President Obama as “the single largest pledge of military assistance in U.S. history,” a gift from the American taxpayer to the Israeli taxpayer, totaling $38 billion over 10 years, complete with squadrons of F-35 fighter jets.

But in Israel, the deal inked in Washington last week between the closest of allies has been met not with big love, but with mostly meh–a collective “So what?”

Leaders in the Israeli defense establishment said the deal should have ushered in a new era of cooperation, but did not. They said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his mutual antagonism with Obama, blew it. Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak called the pact for the most advanced weaponry ever a failure and a sign of the withering relationship between the United States and Israel.

Several defense analysts pointed out that, after factoring in inflation and previous supplemental bumps in funding for Israel by Congress, the new assistance package represents less money than the past 10-year deal. Yair Lapid, a leader of an Israeli centrist party, warned that the White House demand in the pact that Israel buy military hardware from U.S. contractors–and not the Israeli defense industry–would backfire. Lapid said last month, “The only thing Israelis will remember from the deal is the unemployment line” in the nation’s economically hard-pressed cities.

Yet there are other views. David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, published a column headlined, “Ungrateful Israel owes the US a simple thank you.”

[Washington Post]