Africa’s own humanitarian agency?

The African Union (AU) has recognized that there needs to be an urgent response to the humanitarian crisis caused by millions of people being displaced on the continent.

Africa has a huge challenge. Almost 30% of the world’s 41 million internally displaced people and close to 20% of the world’s refugees are in Africa. The root cause of displacement across the continent is conflict. And more people are bound to be displaced given the threat of climate change and a growing wave of natural disasters.

Some of the capacity for an African Humanitarian Agency already exists. However there are certain concerns that need to be addressed:

  • The continent has a wealth of standards and institutions. But standards are often ignored and institutions battle to carry out their functions.
  • People should be appointed for their ability to handle complex humanitarian issues rather than because of their political connections.
  • One of the criticisms often leveled against the AU is that it does little to promote peace and security on the continent.
  • Clear and realizable goals need to be set. One clear target could be that in its first five years, the agency works with states to review laws that criminalize migrants, refugees and other forcibly displaced populations.
  • Currently, 80% of the African Union Commission’s budget comes from the region’s cooperation with the European Union and its member states. This funding trajectory needs to be revisited. A new funding model to foster African ownership of AU programs [could include] imposing a 0.2% levy on “all eligible imported goods” into Africa. This would generate an annual income of about US$1.2 billion.

The African Humanitarian Agency is a welcome initiative. But political, technical and financial support will matter. This will require the AU to take a pragmatic approach. The only question is: can it?

[Mail and Guardian]

More than 750,000 need immediate aid after Haiti hurricane

As the death toll in Haiti soars to more than 800 following Hurricane Matthew, humanitarian organizations face a race against the clock. Rising casualty numbers threaten to overwhelm the few health centers and hospitals not hit by the disaster. Large sections of the population are also at risk from epidemics.

The city of Jérémie in Grand’Anse, which has been almost entirely destroyed, remains impossible to access. It will be several days or weeks before all land routes reopen.

“We are working to supply immediate aid to survivors who have lost everything. Casualty numbers are high,” explains Hélène Robin, head of Handicap International’s emergency programs. “Our teams in the field have two priorities: to provide them with immediate and appropriate care to make sure they do not die from their injuries or develop permanent disabilities, and to supply people affected with the equipment they need to build a shelter and prepare food.”

More than 750,000 people need immediate humanitarian aid and first responders are expecting very heavy damage in the Grand-Anse and Sud regions, particularly in the cities of Jérémie and Les Cayes, according to the United Nations.

[Relief Web]

Haiti faces humanitarian crisis after Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew left a broad swath of destruction across Haiti on Wednesday with flooding, rivers of mud that washed out a crucial bridge into the southwestern peninsula of the country and thousands seeking shelter.

Haiti Ambassador Paul Altidor said his government is confident the number of dead will “remain quite low.” He said the government had enough advance warning to begin to move people away from dangerous, flooding areas and he believes that this saved lives.

“It’s been decades since the Caribbean has seen a hurricane of this magnitude, the heavy downpour. This is something that has not been seen in a long, long time. It is a major, major disaster.”

A United Nations representative to Haiti, Mourad Wahba, agreed the country was facing its largest humanitarian crisis since an earthquake in 2010 that left tens of thousands living in tents and makeshift dwellings. Some 55,000 Haitians left homeless by that earthquake were still living in shelters when Hurricane Matthew struck. Wahba said hospitals were jammed with people and running out of clean water.

The U.N. estimated that 2.3 million people are living in areas impacted by the hurricane.

[USA Today]

Which 10 countries host half the world’s refugees?

Ten countries accounting for 2.5 percent of world GDP are hosting more than half the world’s refugees, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

Fifty-six percent of refugees are being sheltered in 10 countries.

“A small number of countries have been left to do far too much just because they are neighbors to a crisis,” said Amnesty Secretary-General Salil Shetty, presenting the report titled “Tackling the global refugee crisis: from shirking to sharing responsibility.”

Amnesty said the top refugee hosting country was Jordan, which has taken in more than 2.7 million people, followed by Turkey (more than 2.5 million); Pakistan (1.6 million) and Lebanon (more than 1.5 million).

The remaining six nations listed in the top 10 each hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees: Iran (979,400); Ethiopia (736,100); Kenya (553,900); Uganda (477,200); Democratic Republic of Congo (383,100), and Chad (369,500).

Amnesty said many of the world’s wealthiest nations “host the fewest and do the least.”

“It is time for leaders to enter into a serious, constructive debate about how our societies are going to help people forced to leave their homes by war and persecution,”said Shetty.

“If every one of the wealthiest countries in the world were to take in refugees in proportion to their size, wealth and unemployment rate, finding a home for more of the world’s refugees would be an eminently solvable challenge.”


Global poverty declines even amid economic slowdown

The number of people living in extreme poverty is continuing to plunge, despite the 2008-09 financial crisis and slowing global economic growth, according to a World Bank study released Sunday. In the report, “Poverty and Shared Prosperity,” the World Bank says the progress proves that eliminating extreme poverty is an achievable goal.

Here’s the study’s key findings:
In 2013, fewer than 800 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day. That’s less than 11 percent of the global population. As recently as 1990, about 35 percent of all people lived in such extreme poverty.That means about 1.1 billion people rose out of extreme poverty.

50 percent of extremely poor people live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Even with a rocky global economy, earnings rose for the poorest 40 percent of people in 60 out of 83 countries studied between 2008 and 2013. The most significant contributions to declining poverty between 2012 and 2013 came from East Asia and the Pacific.

The World Bank studied several countries where inequality declined in recent years including Brazil, Cambodia, Mali, Peru and Tanzania. It identified six successful policies:

  • Early childhood development and nutrition
  • Universal health coverage
  • Universal access to quality education
  • Making cash transfers to poor families
  • Rural infrastructure — especially roads and electrification
  • Progressive taxation

Though poverty and inequality have continuously trended down, researcher Francisco Ferreira said, “the pockets of poverty that remain will become increasingly harder to reach and address.”


UN warns of world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Nigeria’s Boko Haram region

Up to 80,000 children will die in northeastern Nigeria without much-needed humanitarian assistance, a senior UN official said. Boko Haram’s insurgency has left tens of thousands dead, and millions more displaced.

UN Assistant Secretary-General Toby Lanzer said that without further assistance, northern Nigeria and surrounding areas impacted by the Boko Haram militant group’s onslaught will become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The militant group’s seven-year insurgency, aimed at establishing a so-called caliphate, has left at least 20,000 people dead and displaced more than 2.5 million people in the region. The death toll is likely higher due to consequences of the conflict, including fatalities caused by severe malnutrition and lack of access to medical supplies.

“We know that over the next 12 months, 75,000 – maybe as many as 80,000 – children will die in the northeast of Nigeria, unless we can reach them with specialized therapeutic food,” Lanzer added.

More than 6 million people are described as “severely food insecure” across the Lake Chad region, according to UN figures.


Why humanitarian aid workers are under attack

Military attacks against humanitarian workers and facilities have repeatedly been in the news in the past months; from Afghanistan, to Syria, to South Sudan, among others. This highlights a worrisome trend: the rise in the deliberate targeting of humanitarian workers.

In 2000 there were roughly 91 registered cases of personnel being injured, killed or kidnapped. That number has more than quadrupled ever since—an increase that cannot be explained simply by pointing out the rise in the total numbers of personnel employed in the humanitarian field.

There is no denying that working in war zones and in fragile or unstable post-war societies carries significant risk. Yet the growing trend of attacks against humanitarian professionals should not be downplayed as occupational hazards of a dangerous job. Rather, the increasing risks and attacks against humanitarian professionals should be seen as symptoms of the larger malaise of the international humanitarian sector as a whole.

Put simply, workers on the ground, both local and foreign, are increasingly targeted because of who they are and what they have come to do. This reveals something disturbing: the gradual erosion of the “humanitarian space”—the perhaps fictional yet vital notion of a “safe space” that should allow those providing emergency assistance and relief to operate amid ongoing conflicts.

What could account for this worrisome trend? The reasons are numerous and complex, but perhaps it worth reflecting on at least three important points:
First, when warring parties fight over controlling the civilian population and are deeply committed to destroying and denying their enemies’ ability to govern and maintain territorial control, granting and withholding humanitarian access and assistance become de facto weapons.
Second, these trends at play on the battlefield are reinforced time and time again when they are met with impunity and, at times, complacency from the international community.
Finally, it is important to reflect on how the legacy of the past decade of external military interventions, followed by counter-insurgency campaigns, “state-building” processes, “stabilization” operations and “civil-military partnerships” has at times dangerously muddled up the lines between principled and neutral humanitarian work and politics.

If the “humanitarian safe space” is not preserved and protected, providing assistance will become more difficult. This could have devastating consequences for the international humanitarian system as a whole and, more importantly, for the millions of civilians trapped in conflict-zones and dependent on humanitarian assistance.

[Dr Benedetta Berti, a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, writing in The National Interest]