New UN leader must factor Trump into his plans

António Guterres took the oath of office this week to become the next secretary general of the United Nations amid a rise in nationalist movements around the world and what he called a loss of confidence in institutions, including the one he will take over in January.

The next United Nations leader would already have faced tough challenges: war, climate change, widening income inequality, record levels of global displacement. But the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States has changed the incoming secretary general’s approach to virtually every major crisis.

1.Even as he needs commitment from the United States, the single largest funder of the United Nations, Mr. Guterres will be under pressure to call out American leaders if they flout the basic values of the United Nations Charter.
2.Guterres has to ensure that Mr. Trump does not severely cut United States funding for the United Nations or dismiss the institution altogether as a platform for solving global problems.
3.A third conundrum is Syria, which Mr. Guterres staked out as his top priority when he campaigned for the job. Mr. Trump has suggested he wants to join Russia in routing the Islamic State from Syria, even if that approach means keeping the country’s strongman, Bashar al-Assad, in power. If he goes along, Mr. Guterres, a canny, well-connected politician who has cast himself as a champion of human rights, will face the prospect of endorsing a leader accused of committing war crimes.

In his speech on Monday, he laid out his priorities while reassuring world powers he has their interests at heart. In a pitch to the incoming Republican administration, Mr. Guterres said he would make the United Nations more “nimble” and “efficient” and promised “management reform,” shorthand for cost cutting. There is widespread concern among United Nations diplomats that Mr. Trump, who has dismissed the value of global cooperation, at least on the campaign trail, could kneecap the organization.

Mr. Guterres, a former Socialist prime minister of Portugal and for 10 years the head of the United Nations refugee agency, spent much of his speech discussing the importance of preventing conflict; diplomats have said in recent days that he is considering making that a top priority. He warned against using human rights “as a means to a political end” and spoke about the paradox of globalization.

 [New York Times]

Pope urges Syrian President to respect humanitarian law

Pope Francis urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to do everything possible to end the war in his country, to protect civilians and to ensure humanitarian agencies can deliver emergency aid to the people. The pope also asked Assad “to ensure that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid.”

Syria’s SANA news agency reported Assad met on Dec. 12 with new Cardinal Mario Zenari, the papal nuncio to Syria, and that the cardinal delivered a letter from the pope.

Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo told Catholic News Service by phone on Dec. 13 that the Syrian army had liberated most of the city from ISIS the previous day. He said the Syrian army called for the terrorists to surrender and come forward without their weapons. “Unfortunately, there was no surrendering,” Archbishop Tobji said, adding that Aleppo is still 1 percent or 2 percent under control of the Islamic State.

Yet, because the city is nearly completely under Syrian army control, “the people are celebrating,” the archbishop said. Like a parade, “there were car convoys, people marching everywhere, expressing their joy,” he said.

Archbishop Tobji noted that “there is a lot to rebuild” and it will be a “huge challenge” to put the economy on the right track “after all this destruction.”

He commended Pope Francis’ Dec. 12 letter to Assad: “It gives the people hope,” the archbishop said. “It’s always a plus for the people to hear from the church’s highest authority such words of encouragement and support.”

[National Catholic Review]

Russia: Syria regains control of east Aleppo so humanitarian aid to proceed

The Syrian government has established control over eastern Aleppo, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

“Over the last hour we’ve received information that the military activities in east Aleppo have stopped,” Churkin said, according to a simultaneous translation provided by the UN.

“So there’s no question about cessation of hostilities, or humanitarian operations. The Syrian government has established control over east Aleppo so now the stage has come for practical humanitarian initiatives.”

Sources inside Aleppo tell CNN a ceasefire and evacuation agreement has been reached in the beleaguered eastern part of the city. The Aleppo ceasefire and evacuation agreement was reached with “Turkish mediation,” a commander in the Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham told CNN.  The Turkish Foreign Affairs ministry confirmed its involvement in the deal to CNN and said civilians will be evacuated to the city of Idlib.

The development is a hopeful one for the international community, which has failed to find a political solution to the crisis in Aleppo, which has become the epicenter of Syria’s brutal five-year war. Rebel groups held eastern Aleppo for more than four years after the Arab Spring uprising and a Syrian government siege on the area had essentially cut it off from the outside world, sparking a humanitarian crisis there.

[CNN]

Indonesian Red Cross scale-up Aceh earthquake relief efforts

Four days after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Pidie Jaya District in Aceh, Indonesia, the humanitarian impact of the disaster is becoming clearer. According to the National Disaster Management Agency, at least 100 people have been killed, while over 600 suffered injuries. The earthquake damaged some 11,300 houses, over 100 offices, 88 shop-houses, nearly 60 mosques and over 30 schools. Over 65,000 people were displaced from their homes and many of the affected residents are fearful of aftershocks and are reluctant to return to their homes.

The earthquake also damaged water sources in many of the villages. Wells owned by residents have turned black and murky, forcing the villagers to rely on rainwater and rivers for their drinking water.

Since the earthquake, the Indonesian Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia) has been providing emergency aid and assisting in search and rescue activities. Early assessments indicate that water, sanitation and healthcare remain top priorities as relief efforts gather pace.

[IFRCAsiaPacific]

Solomon Islands scrambles to reach areas hit by two major quakes

The Solomon Islands plans to dispatch emergency supplies to areas affected by a 6.9 magnitude aftershock on Saturday, a day after a much larger tremor triggered a tsunami warning that send hundreds of coastal people fleeing into the hills. Both quakes triggered tsunami warnings which were lifted a short time later.

“We are working with the National Disaster Office of the Government and we’ve mobilized our emergency response teams to accompany the government officers and other international non-governmental organizations that are going on this boat,” General Secretary of the Solomon Islands Red Cross Joanne Zoleveke said.

Friday’s quake caused significant damage and forced people from homes in the town of Kirakira on Makira Island, about 200 km from the Pacific Island nation’s capital of Honiara.

Australia has provided $37,235 worth of supplies and a helicopter to undertake an initial assessment of affected areas to help target relief efforts.

Suzy Sainovski of World Vision in Honiara said staff from the humanitarian organization in Kirakira saw people fleeing to higher ground. “One of the reasons we need to get them shelter assistance (is) because it’s the start of the wet season here.”

[Yahoo News]

Turn refugee settlements into enterprising business incubators

Refugee camps should be turned into enterprise zones so inhabitants can set up businesses and build their own infrastructure, according to a new report.

Called Refugee Cities, the report argues that existing aid strategies have failed, with refugees preferring to avoid the camps due to the lack of opportunities they offer. Instead, by modelling them on special enterprise zones (SEZs) elsewhere in the world, they could benefit both the refugee and the host populations, as well as giving inhabitants useful skills for their eventual return to their homelands.

“Modelled after the most successful special economic zones in the world, refugee cities work within political realities to create jobs for refugees and their neighbors, while achieving a return for investors,” says the report. “Surrounding communities would enjoy new investment and infrastructure, and governments would welcome refugees as a benefit rather than a burden.”

US-based NGO Refugee Cities was founded by Michael Castle Miller, who said the idea would benefit both refugees and the host country. “The aims of the project are to expand opportunities for migrants and to thereby allow them to find dignity, meaning, and a social and economic future,” Miller told Dezeen. He added that Refugee Cities aimed “to provide a model under which host countries can benefit from refugees’ presence; to deliver a financial return for investors; to make international assistance more effective and self sustaining; and to provide refugees with the material, knowledge, and psychological resources to rebuild their home countries when they are able to return.”

[de zeen]

The world’s largest solar plant … and it’s in India

Nearly 300 million of India’s 1.2 billion people live without power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to shrink that number by expanding solar generation twenty-fold by 2022.

At full capacity, the new 2,500-acre plant in Kamuthi could power up to 150,000 homes and add 648 MW to the country’s electricity generating capacity. That’s nearly 100 times greater than the world’s previous largest solar plant, California’s Topaz Solar Farm.

Even more impressive: The Kamuthi plant was built in just eight months, compared to the two-plus years it took to construct Topaz, and at a fraction of the cost — $679 million compared to Topaz’s $2.5 billion.

India, along with the U.S. and China, is currently one of the world’s largest producers of carbon emissions. Nearly 80 percent of the country’s power now comes from coal, and if India added all of its new power in coal, too, then the world would be in serious trouble.

At the Paris climate talks last December, Modi pledged that 40 percent of India’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2030. This plant will help them get there.

Indonesia earthquake in Aceh

A 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck Indonesia’s Aceh province on Wednesday Dec. 7.

The earthquake flattened more than 200 houses and buildings, including shops and mosques, in the worst-affected districts of Bireuen and Pidie Jaya. At least 97 people have been killed and more than 200 injured. Aceh province has declared a state of emergency.

Rescuers are combing through the rubble for survivors.Speaking in Jakarta, National Board for Disaster Management spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the death toll could still rise.

“Now our priority is the search and rescue operation. We have to move so fast to save them,” Sutopo said.

UN makes its largest funding request ever for humanitarian aid

A new United Nations report detailing its humanitarian aid efforts around the world offers a snapshot of a world in chaos, and a price estimate for what it would cost to prevent the situation from getting worse: a record-breaking $22.2 billion.

“For 2017, humanitarian partners will require $22.2 billion to meet the needs of 92.8 million people in 33 countries,” the report says. “Humanitarian access is severely constrained and has grown in complexity in countries including Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, preventing humanitarians from carrying out their work and leaving affected people without basic services and protection.”

Take Syria, which is slated to receive more than a third of the UN’s total requested funding, or about $8 billion. Over the past five years, fighting there has killed more than 400,000 people, left millions on the brink of starvation, and sent more than half of the country’s prewar population fleeing to safer places inside and outside Syrian borders.

In Yemen, the UN estimates it needs $2.7 billion to help the more than 3 million children and pregnant women who are acutely malnourished there, as well as the millions of others currently at risk of starvation.

South Sudan is also a huge priority for the UN humanitarian effort, which wants to spend $3.4 billion in the country. The conflict there has already killed more than 50,000 people and displaced 1 million refugees. Nearly 4 million people are at risk of starvation.

The money the UN actually receives from the global community often doesn’t come close to fulfilling its needs; the UN basically got about half of what it requested from international donors for this year.

Most of the major conflicts that are driving the UN’s need for funding are showing no sign of letting up. If the world continues on its current course, the UN very well may set another record with its appeal next year.

[Vox]

US and Russia nearing humanitarian agreement solution for east Aleppo?

Syrian troops continues to blitz east Aleppo, as part of an operation to seize control of the area held by rebels for more than four years. The Syrian al-Assad government now holds some 60% of eastern Aleppo, making swift gains since breaking through rebel defense lines.

Food stocks, clean water supplies and medicine are running dry in eastern Aleppo. Russia has begun sending in aid and setting up mobile clinics, after all the hospitals in eastern Aleppo were bombed beyond use. Rebels hit a Russian mobile hospital in Aleppo, killing one medic and injuring two doctors, Russia’s state-run Sputnik news agency reported.

The United States and Russia announced Saturday they were working together on an agreement to have all rebel groups expelled from eastern Aleppo and to ensure safe delivery of aid there by humanitarian staff.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow and Washington planned talks on the routes and timing of the withdrawal of rebels.

“Once they’re set, a ceasefire regime will come into force to start the evacuation of these armed groups. If US-Russian cooperation on this will bring results — and we have all reasons to believe it will do so — then the problem of eastern Aleppo will be effectively solved,” he said, adding it would allow “smooth humanitarian aid delivery” and normalize life there.

[CNN]