Cash and technology used in urban humanitarian aid

In humanitarian disasters of the past, from Haiti to Palestine to Louisiana, in-kind donations flooded a troubled region, and displaced people would queue for bags of rice, or blankets or bottled water. Often, those disasters would be followed by claims that the aid hadn’t been sufficient, or that it had never been delivered to those who needed it. With little accountability, food went to waste on airstrips or in fields. Trucks were diverted by corruption or fraud, or waylaid by insufficient infrastructure.

Jordan has more than 689,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers living within its borders, and now new technology is being both used in camps and in the urban areas to ensure they are able to access cash assistance quickly, safely, and with dignity. The technology also adds a layer of accountability to aid organizations, who can track to the last cent where the aid is going, and whether it was delivered to the appropriate person.

An elderly Syrian approaches an automatic teller machine, grasps it by its sides, and peers into its abyss. The machine peered back, and in the blink of an eye, dispensed dinars. It’s part of a scheme that incorporates iris scanners—much like those used by tourists arriving at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman—as a means of identity verification for those whose visit to Jordan is more prolonged.

Many stateless people in Jordan and elsewhere no longer have access to their bank accounts, let alone identification papers. The things many non-migrants take for granted in their daily banking regime—a regular mailing address, proof of employment, credit history—are merely reminders of another life for many of the refugees living in Jordan and elsewhere.

Distributing cash allows a woman to buy sanitary products at the time she needs, or to buy medicine when a child is sick. It means a family can buy the types of food that suits their needs, or reminds them more of home, or provides more nutrition than the bag du jour from an aid organization. The money is spent in the local shops, and stays in the local economy.

 [Diplomatic Courier]

Famine looms in South Sudan

UN aid agencies warn the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, already one of the biggest in the world, is getting worse as famine looms and growing numbers of refugees flee to neighboring countries.

World Food Program (WFP) spokeswoman Bettina Luescher says thousands of people throughout South Sudan are fleeing intensified violence that stems from the country’s nearly three-year conflict. She says they have been forced to leave their crops to rot in the field, adding to a growing problem of hunger.

“Up to four million people, a third of the population in South Sudan are severely food insecure—meaning a third of the country does not know where the next meal is coming from,” said Luescher. “The malnutrition is above emergency levels in seven of the 10 states, nearly twice of the emergency threshold in two states. We are very concerned that the threat of famine is very real, that it could happen.”

Luescher says humanitarian agencies have helped to stave off catastrophe so far. But, she says funds to carry out life-saving operations are running out.

In the meantime, the United Nations refugee agency reports the number of people fleeing South Sudan continues to grow. Last month, it says, an average of 3,500 people fled to neighboring countries each day.


Afghanistan’s ever growing refugee crisis

More than a million people were uprooted in Afghanistan last year. This year, at least another million Afghans are “on the move” inside the country and across its borders. Many fled violence or conflict; others escaped hardships such as poverty or drought. Still others were forced to return from Pakistan and Iran.

Afghanistan has now agreed to accept ­Afghan asylum seekers deported from the European Union. The deal, signed in October, could lead the E.U. to construct a separate terminal for deportees at Kabul’s international airport, and as many as 100,000 Afghans could return.

“This sudden increase [in the displaced] has put a lot of pressure on Afghanistan, which has had 30 years of war,” said Nader Farhad, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Kabul. “It’s not easy to put together the infrastructure, to provide the services that are required,” he said, adding that the displaced need everything from food and blankets to jobs and health care.

“To the European countries, we say: Instead of investing in the return of Afghans to Afghanistan, tackle the root causes,” Farhad said. If the United Nations and other aid agencies fail to provide emergency assistance, “it will be a humanitarian crisis,” he said.

Massive displacement has plagued Afghanistan for years, beginning with the Soviet invasion in 1979. That conflict kindled two decades of war. When the United States invaded in 2001, some 4 million Afghans were living in Pakistan and Iran. Many of those refugees later returned, driven by hopes for stability and peace. But now, ­Afghanistan is witnessing some of its worst violence since the United States helped to topple the Taliban.

More than 1,600 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2016, according to a U.N. report released in July. That was the highest number of civilian casualties in the first half of a year since the United Nations began keeping track in 2009.

The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since 2001. Recent violence has been driven by Taliban assaults on Afghan cities, putting more civilians in the crosshairs. And the clashes have pushed even more people from their homes.

[Washington Post]

China offers US$3 million in humanitarian aid to flood-hit North Korea

China on Wednesday announced a US$3 million relief package to North Korea to help it deal with flooding earlier this year that left hundreds dead.

The flooding along the Tumen River, which runs between the two countries, has left about 70,000 homeless. It was triggered by Typhoon Lionrock, which swept through North Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces two months ago.

The aid announcement comes as North Korea and international organizations are finding it difficult to secure enough funds for disaster stricken areas, mainly due to political concerns stemming from Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

The ministry said the aid provision was decided following a request from North Korea.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said late last month that the country was considering building temporary floating bridges on the river to transport relief goods to north Hamgyong province.

[South China Morning Post]

Researchers urge large Aid Groups to collaborate more

[Excerpts from an interview with Sara Pantuliano, managing director of the Overseas Development Institute, a global development think tank based in London:]

Q: The aid sector is bigger than it’s ever been before, with 4,500 known relief organizations around the world. That might seem like a good thing — but your research has shown the opposite.

A: The system is no longer fit for purpose. It was created 70 years ago [after World War II] and hasn’t really evolved with the geopolitics. Organizations have become businesses in many ways, held back by interests that are very corporate. Success is not measured in terms of the quality of the aid you provide, or how much you’re working in partnership with other NGOs. It’s about how many places you’re in, how much staff you have, how much is in your budget. That’s where the incentives start to go against what they’re trying to achieve [helping those who need aid].

Instead of being collaborative with local NGOs that could take on crises more efficiently, more appropriately, international organizations are competing with them. For example, when Typhoon Haiyan struck in the Philippines [in 2013], we saw everyone flood into the country where there is [already] an enormous capacity to deal with these kinds of natural hazards. The Philippines gets many typhoons every year and [aid groups there] know how to respond. They’ve got the structures, they’ve got the capacity, and they would have done just fine in leading the response to the typhoon. Instead, everybody and their dog was on the ground. That actually made national efforts harder. It swamped the efforts of the local people to take the lead in planning their recovery.

We need to find a way to address the incentives that hold back so many international organizations. People need to be at the center of their organizational interests, not the growth of their budgets or staff. That takes a lot of courage. Ultimately, this is at the heart of the issue: power.

I don’t think [big aid organizations] are going to cede power [to other NGOs] so easily. So we’re telling them: if you don’t change, you’re just going to make yourselves redundant. States won’t let you in anymore. Organizations on the ground will reject your aid and reject your role.

People on the ground have a negative perception of humanitarian aid. We hear that crisis after crisis. For example, from surveys of earthquake victims in Nepal, they told us that the aid that they’re receiving is not appropriate, not relevant. They’re getting food that they’re not used to, supplies that they don’t need.