Russia and China veto UN resolution on Syria sanctions

Russia and China have vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have imposed sanctions on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons by the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Drafted by Britain, France and the United States, the measure won nine votes in favor, while three countries – China, Russia and Bolivia – opposed it. Kazakhstan, Ethiopia and Egypt abstained.

It was Russia’s seventh veto in five years to save its Syrian ally. China, also one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, has joined Russia in vetoing six resolutions on Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned that imposing sanctions on Syria during the ongoing Geneva conference was “completely inappropriate” and would undermine the effort to end Syria’s nearly six-year war.

The proposal marked the first major Security Council action by the new US administration under President Donald Trump, which is seeking warmer ties with Russia.

[Al Jazeera]

Humanitarian catastrophe unfolds in Yemen as world refuses to act

Yemen is now classified as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, described by the UN as being “on the brink of famine”. Yemen is listed as the worst-affected country facing potential famine, where more than 7 million people require emergency food assistance.

When I was in Yemen last August, I’ll never forget the looks on the parents’ faces. They were so ashamed and embarrassed — unable to afford the most basic food for their children who now lay in hospital on the verge of death, some with their stomachs bloated and others with their tiny ribs sticking out.

Seventeen-month-old Eissa’s mum sat on the bed holding her lifeless son, tears streaming out of her eyes. We went back to that hospital the next day. Eissa’s bed was empty. He had died overnight.

It’s hard to believe the situation in Yemen has gotten so much worse since then. The UN says there are more than 460,000 children like Eissa who are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

“While Yemen is being starved or is starving, there is nothing really that is actually taking place to actually fix it,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s top aid official in Yemen. “What we are facing is a generation of young kids who are going to be stunted. They are never going to reach their full potential physically and intellectually, because of the importance of those early years and the right nutrition.”

The plight of children starving to death in Yemen was first reported around March last year. The world knows this is happening but is refusing to act and is choosing to ignore what is happening.

[ABC.au]

Bridging the humanitarian and development nexus

Humanitarian aid and development actors “have an opportunity to do what we are all talking about — bridging the humanitarian and development divide,” said World Food Program Executive Director Ertharin Cousin at the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin.

During the conference, 14 donors pledged $458 million for relief efforts in 2017 and an additional $214 million for 2018 and beyond. Pledges have been announced by the European Commission, Norway, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Italy, Ireland, Finland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Republic of Korea.

More than 170 representatives from 40 countries and several high-level U.N. representatives gathered in Oslo Friday to discuss the humanitarian response to the Lake Chad Basin, where $1.5 billion is needed in 2017 to assist more than 8 million people, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

[Read full Devex article]

The Syrian outlook on life

The news from Syria is terrifying: The war hasn’t ended, despite Russia’s decisive intervention on behalf of Bashar al-Assad and the fall of Aleppo at the end of last year.

Refugees are still fleeing, in search of a safe haven, wherever they can.

And the West is still giving them the cold shoulder.

This is especially true of the United States, where the Trump administration is preparing a revised executive order that blocks people from seven Muslim nations entering the country. The original version banned all Syrian refugees from coming to America, indefinitely.

These people are among the most vulnerable in the world today.

[CNN]

Rihanna named Harvard’s Humanitarian of the Year

Popular singer Rihanna has been named the 2017 Harvard University Humanitarian of the Year.

“Rihanna has charitably built a state-of- the-art center for oncology and nuclear medicine to diagnose and treat breast cancer at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados,” said S. Allen Counter, the Harvard Foundation’s director.

“In 2012, she founded the nonprofit the Clara Lionel Foundation Global Scholarship Program [named for her grandparents] for students attending college in the U.S. from Caribbean countries, and supports the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen Project, which provides children with access to education in over 60 developing countries, giving priority to girls, and those affected by lack of access to education in the world today. ”

[Harvard Gazzete]

UN says 1.4 million children at risk of dying due to famine

Nearly 1.4 million children are at “imminent risk” of death in famines in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said on Tuesday.

People are already starving to death in all four countries, and the World Food Programme says more than 20 million lives are at risk in the next six months.

“Time is running out for more than a million children,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in statement. “We can still save many lives. The severe malnutrition and looming famine are largely man-made. Our common humanity demands faster action. We must not repeat the tragedy of the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa.”

Famine was formally declared on Monday in parts of South Sudan, which has been mired in civil war since 2013. South Sudan has also been hit by the same east African drought that has pushed Somalia back to the brink of famine. Children are also suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Yemen, where two years of war have caused economic collapse and severe restrictions on shipping. Famine has been ongoing since last year in parts of northeastern Nigeria, where the government is fighting the militant group Boko Haram.

[Reuters]

International aid under the new US Presidency

Since coming to power, President Trump has signed a slew of executive orders. One, the executive order ‘Auditing and Reducing US. Funding of International Organizations’ aims to slash a minimum of 40% of funding to multilateral institutions, such as the UN and the World Bank. While the executive order is apparently being mulled over by departments concerned within the new administration, if it is put into effect without much modification, this order will have major international implications. The US is, after all, the largest donor of international aid in the world today.

It is understandable that the new US administration wants to cut its expenditures and focus on increased growth. However, there are other areas than the international aid budget, where such cuts can be exercised. This past year, the US military budget easily dwarfed the rest of the world. With a defense budget of around $597 billion, it was almost as much as the next 14 countries put together.

The new US administration’s proposed reduction of support to international organizations is troubling. Tackling the reasons of conflict instead of putting in place security-based interventions is the more sensible choice, as it is less expensive, and it also deters needless human suffering.

It would have also been great to see the US pay more attention to why the UN system, the World Bank, the IMF, and other major development agencies, continue to produce such lacklustre results in delivering human development goals. Tangible proposals by the new US administration to make the existing aid agencies more accountable would also have been welcomed. However, simply tightening the purse strings of available international aid instead, will not bode well for anyone.

[The Express Tribune]

Migrants choose arrest in Canada over staying in the US

Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reporting a flurry of illegal crossings into Canada in recent months. Officials say Quebec province has seen the highest influx of people seeking asylum, with many crossing in snowy, remote areas in northern New York.

One illegal crossing area that has become particularly popular among immigrants is in Champlain, N.Y., in the northeast corner of the state. At the end of Roxham Road, there’s a big dead end and a “Road Closed” sign — but there’s also a very heavily trodden route through the snow that goes over into Canada.

At the road’s end, a young woman with an infant gets out of the taxi. She doesn’t want to talk and seems to have limited English. She hugs the baby to her chest and, with her free hand, pulls a black suitcase on wheels. As she moves toward the ditch, several Canadian police officers approach. The Canadian policeman offers to carry her baby as she makes her way through the slippery snow path. She hands the child to him and then takes the hand of another officer who helps her to the road on the Canadian side. The police bring out a child car seat and place it in their cruiser. The woman is arrested, and she and her child are driven away from the border. The whole thing takes about six minutes.

People who work with immigrants in Canada say these border-jumpers would rather be arrested in Canada than live in fear of how U.S. officials might handle their cases.

Cpl. Camille Habel, spokeswoman with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, says “Once we confirm that they’re not a threat to national security, we hand them over to [the Canadian Border Service Agency] who then start the immigration process.”

[NPR]

Donald Trump isn’t the only news event on Earth

While CNN and much of the world press focuses on Donald Trump’s antics, two United Nations reports documented events happening elsewhere that have all but gone unnoticed.

In Afghanistan, the 2016 Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict report recorded the highest number of civilian casualties in a single year since records started in 2009. There has been a 24% increase in the number of children killed and injured compared to 2015.

More human rights violations documented against members of the Rohingya community in Myanmar include the burning of houses and the destruction of property, looting, beatings, sexual violence, forced disappearances and killings. Stories include mothers seeing their children being killed, women being gang-raped by up to eight men, people being rounded up and taken away, and the army deliberately setting fire to houses with families inside.

How many of you reading know this is happening in Afghanistan or Myanmar?

People throughout the US standing up against Trump’s executive order is a welcome corrective to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment and activity in much of Europe and the US in the last few years. However, it seems we only care about discrimination when committed by certain governments.

[The Guardian]

Paper gliders to deliver lifesaving humanitarian supplies to remote regions

Otherlab, an engineering research and development lab based in San Francisco, has created the world’s most advanced industrial paper airplanes. The paper gliders look almost like stealth fighters, capable of carrying more than two pounds of supplies like blood and vaccines to those in need. And they could totally transform humanitarian aid for people in remote regions.

The gliders are made from an inexpensive material called mycelium, designed to be aerodynamic and degradable within a matter of days.

The drones can hold canisters, “medically sensitive fluids” and batteries, delivering lifesaving items to rural areas without roads, or regions rendered inaccessible by natural disasters or war.

“We designed these to be used in areas where existing infrastructure was insufficient to get critical items — blood, medical supplies and so on — to where they needed to be,” said Mikell Taylor, Otherlab’s team lead for the project.

[Read full Mashable article]