The road less traveled

Many young women in rural Africa face difficult futures: of early marriage, young motherhood, limited education, and meager livings.

But not Modester. At 18, Modester is one of the top students in all of Zambia, headed for university and whatever big dream she may have in mind.

That’s an extraordinary accomplishment for a girl from a small, rural community. And it all started with the gift of a goat. Read more

Syrian immigrants in US represent an American success story

An analysis of Syrian immigrants in the United States published this month offers a pretty compelling snapshot of what, indeed, is going on: A lot of hard work, integration and success.

The study, put out jointly by the Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank in Washington, and the Fiscal Policy Institute, examined 2014 census data to paint a picture of roughly 90,000 Syrian immigrants in the country. It found that, “when given a chance, Syrian immigrants are fitting into and excelling in the United States, both socially and economically, on a wide variety of metrics.”

Here are some of the major findings:
– Syrian immigrants are a highly entrepreneurial group: Eleven percent of the Syrian immigrants are business owners in comparison [with] 4 percent of immigrants and 3 percent of U.S.-born people.
– Syrian immigrant businesses are thriving: The median earnings of Syrian business owners are $72,000 a year. This means they are supporting and growing the local economy and providing employment.
– They are well-educated: Syrian men, in particular, are more likely to have a college degree or an advanced degree such as a master’s, doctorate, or professional degree.
– Syrian immigrants speak English at high levels compared to all immigrants.

[And related to any new Syrian refugee immigrants] “the 90,000 Syrian immigrants who were in the United States before the recent arrival of refugees have been thriving and are therefore well-positioned to help their compatriots when they arrive,” the report says.

[Washington Post]

Humanitarian evacuation of eastern Aleppo appears to be completed

Hundreds of rebel fighters and civilians, including small children swaddled in thick blankets, were bused out of war-ravaged Aleppo in heavy snow on Wednesday as the evacuation of former rebel strongholds entered its final phase. Scenes of buses slowly driving out of Aleppo in a shroud of white offered an evocative finale to what has been one of the most brutal chapters in Syria’s civil war.

The evacuation of the Syrian city of Aleppo has now come to a close, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and multiple other officials and a rebel group said.

A group of buses scheduled to evacuate the last civilians and rebels from eastern Aleppo had been delayed, Syrian state-run media said, blaming infighting among rebel factions.

More than 4,000 fighters left rebel-held areas of Aleppo, the Red Cross said Thursday, in the last stages” of an evacuation clearing the way for Syria’s army to retake the city.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted Tuesday that 37,500 people had been evacuated from the war-torn city so far, adding that “all evacuations are intended to be finished [shortly].”

The Assad government has retaken Aleppo from rebel groups who have controlled parts of the city since 2012. The government has made significant territorial gains after its forces, backed by airstrikes, entered rebel-held areas in late November.

[CNN, AFP, Yahoo]

Children caught in the crossfire of the battle for Mosul

The desperate plight of a generation of children is in the balance as the bloody battle for the city of Mosul threatens to become a humanitarian catastrophe, Amnesty International said following a field investigation.

On a visit to the region this month, the organization met children of all ages who had suffered terrible injuries after being caught in the line of fire between the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) and government forces who are backed by a US-led coalition.

“Children caught in the crossfire of the brutal battle for Mosul have seen things that no one, of any age, should ever see. I met children who have not only sustained horrific wounds but have also seen their relatives and neighbors decapitated in mortar strikes, torn to shreds by car bombs or mine explosions, or crushed under the rubble of their homes,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, who returned from a 17-day mission to northern Iraq.

With few or no functioning or accessible hospitals left in the conflict-affected areas of east Mosul, the epi-centre of the fighting, the best hope for the wounded to receive medical care is in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Even though only some of those injured in the Mosul battle have been evacuated to Erbil, hospitals there have been overwhelmed by the large number of casualties.

“The scars left by these unimaginably traumatic experiences are psychological as well as physical, but these life-altering wounds are being neglected by the Iraqi government and its allies, who have so far failed to ensure adequate medical facilities are in place,” said Donatella Rovera. “If there are resources for the war there must also be resources to deal with the consequences of war.”

[Amnesty International]

UN sets up team to prepare Syrian war crimes cases

The United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday voted to establish a special team to “collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence” as well as prepare cases on war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the conflict in Syria.

Liechtenstein U.N. Ambassador Christian Wenaweser told the General Assembly ahead of the vote: “We have postponed any meaningful action on accountability too often and for too long.” He said inaction has sent “the signal that committing war crimes and crimes against humanity is a strategy that is condoned and has no consequences.”

The special team will “prepare files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings in accordance with international law standards, in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes.”

The team will work in coordination with the U.N. Syria Commission of Inquiry. The Commission of Inquiry, which says it has a confidential list of suspects on all sides who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, has repeatedly called for the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

The Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, along with Syrian allies Russia and Iran, spoke out against the resolution.

[VoA]

Can Mobile Banking lift people out of poverty?

If you live in Kenya there’s a jingle you hear on television and radio a lot, an ad for a type of banking service called M-PESA that’s run entirely through your mobile phone.

You set up an account with the phone company. You can send and receive funds by text. Or, if you need to make a cash deposit or withdrawal, you do it through a vast network of agents — small-time vendors in kiosks and shops, for example, that the company has set up.

M-PESA was launched nine years ago. Today almost every single household in Kenya uses it. Most Kenyans didn’t have access to traditional banks before. Which already makes mobile banking a game-changer.

Now scientists say there could be an extra benefit for poor customers: Mobile banking might lift people out of poverty. That’s the subject of a study out this week in the journal Science about M-PESA.

It turns out mobile banking made a big dent in poverty. The impact was particularly strong for households led by women. Compared to households in areas without M-PESA agents, those women-led families with access to a large number of agents set aside 22 percent more in savings between 2008 and 2014. And they bought 18.5 percent more basic goods.

What’s more, among the poorest families — those who’d been living on less than a $1.25 a day — nearly 1 in 10 got enough of a boost to lift them out of extreme poverty.

That’s a better track record than a lot of aid programs.

[NPR]

Oxfam calls for independent monitoring of Syria evacuations

Oxfam and 53 other international and Syrian organizations which constitute the Syria INGO Regional Forum (SIRF) continue to be appalled by obstructions to humanitarian assistance, lack of protections for civilians fleeing armed conflict and apparent violations of international humanitarian law in Aleppo, in Foah, in Kafrayya and in many other parts of Syria.

Oxfam International states: “Negotiations to evacuate civilians are being subjected to political negotiations by all parties to the conflict. This politicization of aid is putting civilians at risk.”

“We welcome and support France’s proposed Resolution at the UN Security Council to ensure independent monitoring of evacuations and full humanitarian access. It is the very least the international community can do.”

[Oxfam]

Evacuation underway from eastern Aleppo

Some 350 evacuees were able to leave the rebel-held pocket in eastern Aleppo in Syria late on December 18, despite an attack on buses set to deliver wounded and sick people from government-held villages, according to monitors and aid officials.

The reports came as the UN Security Council prepared to convene on December 19 to vote on a French-drafted proposal to send UN monitors to Aleppo to observe evacuations from besieged areas.

At least five buses carrying evacuees from eastern Aleppo arrived in rebel-controlled areas outside the city on December 18 after they were held up in government-controlled southern Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activists on the ground who were in contact with the evacuees.

It was not immediately clear if convoys would be allowed to deliver more evacuees after armed assailants on December 18 attacked and burned five buses en route to evacuate ill and injured from villages near Idlib in northwestern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights blamed the attack on Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants.

The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the past week have pushed to establish full control over the eastern part of Aleppo, which the opposition had held since 2012, with an offensive that has been harshly criticized by the UN and Western governments.

[Reuters, AFP, AP]

The International Development Association working to combat poverty

IDA18, the donor meetings for replenishing the resources of the International Development Association IDA (a part of the World Bank) were completed on 15 December in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

The aim of the IDA is the eradication of extreme poverty and the more balanced distribution of well-being. The IDA lends money on concessional terms as well as providing aid to the poorest developing countries.

Funding for IDA is provided by 47 states. This round of a record $75 Billion is the largest in the 56-year history of the IDA, as now with the new way of leveraging the IDA’s capital it is possible to attract significantly more funding.

The biggest funders continue to be the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. Finland contributes 105 million euros to the funding. The emphasis in the funding round is on investments in the poorest countries to enable growth, opportunities and social adaptability. Spearhead themes are gender equality, environmentally sustainable development, the economic growth of developing countries and employment, the strengthening of administration and institutions and especially support for fragile and conflict states.

[ReliefWeb]

UNICEF to test first humanitarian drone in Africa

In cooperation with the Government of Malawi, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will establish an air corridor and use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), known as drones, for humanitarian purposes, the agency announced.

“Malawi has over the past years faced serious droughts and flooding,” stated Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works, Jappie Mhango. “The launch of the UAS testing corridor is particularly important to support transportation and data collection where land transport infrastructure is either not feasible or difficult during emergencies.”

The corridor will be the first one in Africa, and the first one to be used globally for humanitarian and development purposes, the agency reports. It will become fully operational by April 2017, while its distance is expected to be no longer than 40 kilometres.

The Humanitarian UAS Testing Corridor will undergo testing in three areas: imagery – generating and analyzing aerial images for development and during humanitarian crises, including for situation monitoring in floods and earthquakes, connectivity – exploring the possibility for UAS to extend Wi-Fi or cellphone signals across difficult terrain, particularly in emergency settings, and transport – delivery of small low weight supplies such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines and samples for laboratory diagnosis, including for HIV testing.

[UN News Centre]