Four ways we can strengthen humanitarian aid

In the last three decades, rates of extreme poverty and childhood mortality have fallen while access to water and schooling for the most marginalized populations has increased significantly. These achievements are not complete, perfect or irreversible. Future progress requires humanitarian agencies … to reinvent themselves by boldly pursuing what I call the four “S’s”: scale, systemic approaches, sustainability and stewardship.

Scale: Because the people in need number in the billions, our programs must stretch each dollar to serve as many as possible.

Systemic approaches: While many people picture humanitarian work as the distribution of food and medicine, such immediate aid rarely gets at the systemic causes of problems. Hunger, for example, results from myriad factors.  That is why C.R.S. uses the integral human development framework for systemic interventions.

Sustainability: We must ensure that whatever gains are made will be sustained after a development project’s funding expires. Success in this regard shifts the emphasis from what an aid agency does to what the affected community can and will do. This means investing in the capacity of local groups.

Stewardship: While the overhead costs of nonprofits receive a great deal of scrutiny, it is not the sole metric of good stewardship. Low costs do not necessarily signal that a nonprofit or government agency is making the best use of its resources; this can be discerned only through evidence-based assessments of programs.

[Excerpt of article by Carolyn Y. Woo served as president and C.E.O. of Catholic Relief Services]

Armenia sending humanitarian aid to Syria

Armenia has sent approximately 40 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Syria, the latest of  several batches sent over the course of the conflict in Syria.

Both nations have maintained economic and diplomatic ties with one another despite the conflict. More than 100,000 people of Armenian descent currently reside in Syria.

[Al Masdar News]

Trudeau meets Trump

A political odd couple, President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resolutely played up their similarities at their first meeting Monday, even as obvious differences lurked behind their public smiles.

But it was hard to escape their contrasting worldviews.

Speaking to reporters, Trump defended his restrictive refugee and immigration orders, saying that “we cannot let the wrong people in.” Trudeau, on the other hand, said Canada continues to “pursue our policies of openness.”

Trudeau later acknowledged that there are times when the two countries differ. But he said, “The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they chose to govern themselves.”

After Trump’s recent travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries, Canada offered temporary residence to any immigrants stranded in Canada. The decision was announced by Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s immigration minister. “Let me assure those who may be stranded in Canada that I will use my authority as minister to provide them with temporary residency if they need it,” said Hussen, who was born in Somalia and came to Canada as a teenage refugee.

Despite the chaos and uncertainty sparked by Trump’s travel ban, the Canadian government, led by Justin Trudeau, refrained from directly criticizing the order. Trudeau instead posted a series of tweets highlighting the stark difference between the position espoused by the Canadian and American governments. “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau tweeted.

[CNN/The Guardian]

3 ways Trump’s Travel Ban could affect humanitarian aid workers

International humanitarian aid organizations say the travel restrictions issued by President Donald Trump could have a dramatic impact on how they operate. We spoke with aid groups that work in the listed countries about the possible effects on their workers.

  1. Aid groups are restricting employee travel – There’s a lot of ambiguity in the executive order on how individuals — U.S. citizens or otherwise — can travel to and from the seven banned countries, says Nick Osborne, vice president of international programs for CARE, a global aid group. At the least, Americans traveling to and from those seven countries could face scrutiny when returning to the U.S. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the order, CARE has placed immediate travel restrictions on their staffers. Oxfam, an international charity organization, says they’ve had to rearrange travel plans for American employees and nationals of the listed countries. The group is concerned about long-term impact on the movement of staff, says Emily Bhatti, press officer of Oxfam America. “The lack of clarity could make it hard for groups to quickly deliver aid if a crisis were to arise. For CARE, the brewing food crisis in Somalia is top of mind.”
  1. Aid workers who are citizens of the seven banned countries not being able to travel to the U.S. – In many countries, local staffers make up much of the crew that operates aid projects on the ground. Many times, these employees have crucial, on-the-ground knowledge that shapes aid strategy. These staffers come to the U.S. for many reasons. Save the Children, for example, brings experts from various countries to meet with members of Congress and U.N. officials, share knowledge with American colleagues and tell their stories to journalists. This March, the group was planning to bring to the U.S. two Syrian experts on mental health to speak at the launch of a report on the effects of civil war on children.
  2. Trump’s ban could cause other countries to place travel bans on U.S. workers – There’s a chance the seven countries may restrict Americans from entering their countries. If that were to happen, aid workers would likely be affected. Unlike diplomats or U.N. employees, aid workers don’t have special visas that ensure safe passage when traveling. In response to the executive order, Iran and Iraq have both called for reciprocal measures.


Refugees risking life and limb to escape to Canada from the USA

Hussein Ahmed and Mohamed Hossain moved as quickly as they could through the waist-deep snow. They had never seen snow in their home country, let alone walked miles in it. They were fleeing the United States for Canada, terrified but determined to get to safety.

The two men were part of a group of five Somalis who crossed illegally through Mexico into the United States, begging for asylum there. Now they find themselves crossing a border to beg for asylum all over again. The men began having sleepless nights because of US President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric. Then he signed an executive order temporarily barring refugees, and all travelers from Somalia.

That was the final sign. They hatched a plan to leave. They each paid a man $300 to take them toward Grand Forks, North Dakota. He drove them to as close as possible to the border about 8 p.m. on Friday might, the men say. They were to steer clear of the bright lights of the US border in the distance, where customs agents might turn them back or send them to jail. He told them where to walk across the land where North Dakota and Minnesota meet Manitoba.

But what was meant to be a 30-minute journey stretched into hours. “We traveled the whole day and … actually we lost the direction,” Hossain, 28, says. At one point, the men thought they might die trying to save themselves.

They had been through so much before they reached America. Ahmed says he fled death threats from Al-Shabaab. Hossain says he fled discrimination as an ethnic minority in his country, after seeing his family members threatened or killed. Ahmed left behind young children when he fled; Hossain’s mother is still in Somalia, and tried to dissuade him from making the dangerous border crossing.

Two other refugees, Razak Ioyal and Seidu Mohammed, know the scars the trek to Canada can leave — both temporary and long-term.Their hands were so frozen it sounded like when glasses are clinked together. “The doctors had to cut all my fingers,” Mohammed says. They took skin from his thigh to help repair the skin burned by frostbite.

When the Canadian border lights were behind them, they called 911, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers came, and the men requested asylum.

Rita Chahal, executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, has been working to help them at their moment of desperation. Workers at the “Welcome Place,” where her group operates, shuttle back and forth to the border when they get calls about new groups arriving. They give warm welcomes at the crossing, blankets to the shivering, temporary shelter and food after the long walk and translators for those who don’t speak English or French.


United Arab Emirates $8.8 billion in foreign aid

Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, Chairwomen of International Humanitarian City in Dubai, called for establishing a data bank to allow governments to document their humanitarian work. 

The Humanitarian Logistic Data Bank will depend on of the use of technology in charitable aid for a quick response to those in need, said Princess Haya, wife of Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, during the second day of the World Government Summit.

“We have to move away from conventional ways of providing aid. Innovation is necessary for humanitarian aid,” she said to a crowd of delegates, as she highlighted the role of smartphones in changing forms of aid in developing countries such as limiting the spread of Ebola in west Africa and targeting those in need in a quick manner. Drones and satellites were among the technologies that helped in providing aid.

Princess Haya noted that the United Arab Emirates has topped the list of donors to foreign aid, reporting a 34 per cent increase in 2015, reaching $8.8 billion.

She praised the UAE food bank initiative, recently launched by Shaikh Mohammed for the Year of Giving. “While reports show that current food waste is worth $2.6 trillion, which can feed three times of world’s population including the 800 million hungry people.”

[Khaleej Times]

Thousands of refugees face a locked American door

One of the provisions of President Trump’s executive order on immigrationthat that has all but been ignored slashed by more than half the total number of refugees from any country and any religion who can be allowed in the United States this year.

And two-thirds of that sharply-reduced number have already been admitted.

President Obama had raised the annual global refugee quota the United States would accept, from 85,000 that had prevailed for several years to 110,000 for the 2017 fiscal year.  But President Trump’s executive order dropped that number to 50,000. Through early February, some 30,000 have already been admitted, leaving 20,000 to be allowed in through September before the doors slam on everyone.

“All of us in refugee resettlement have been deeply concerned about this,” said Chris George, executive director of New Haven-based Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. “But no one has challenged the President’s authority in setting a ceiling on the number of refugees overall allowed into the country each year.”

According to American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, “The (Ninth Circuit) Court of Appeals did not address one way or the other the overall refugee cap.” Which should mean that it stands untouched in the executive order.

Europe, too, has slashed its quotas, but they are still substantially above the US number.


Russian humanitarian aid to Syria

The Russian Center for Reconciliation has carried out seven humanitarian missions in the past 24 hours to reach out to some 6,300 Syrians.

“In the past 24 hours, humanitarian assistance was delivered to 6,300 civilians. The overall weight of humanitarian cargo stood at 6.2 metric tons,” the statement reads.

Russian planes also airdropped 20.6 metric tons of food, provided by the UN, to the city of Deir ez-Zor. The city has been effectively under siege by Islamic State militants, leaving supplies to be delivered solely by air.

In total, Russia delivered more than 160 metric tons of humanitarian cargo to Syrians since the start of 2017.


United Nations facing possible decrease in funding from the United States

In January 2017, the US saw a number of proposed bills, as well as a draft Executive Order, that threaten to reduce or substantially change American support for the United Nations (UN). The US is currently the single largest contributor to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets—meaning that any changes in US funding could drastically impact UN operations, including … human rights and development around the world.

There are three key legislative and executive activities currently proposed which could impact US funding to the UN, if passed:

  1. The Safeguard Israel Act (H.R. 769) proposes prohibiting voluntary or assessed contributions to the UN until the President certifies to Congress that UN Security Council Resolution 2334 has been repealed.
  2. Draft Executive Order “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations” proposes a 40% decrease in US voluntary funding for international organizations and funding cuts related to Palestinian Membership at the UN.
  3. The American Sovereignty Restoration Act (H.R. 193), introduced by Representative Mike Rogers (R-AL), proposes to terminate U.S. membership in the United Nations. This bill is introduced each year but is more concerning in 2017, given the context of a Republican-controlled House, Senate White House.

Analysts have also raised concerns about how the current anti-UN rhetoric may negatively impact American foreign policy.

[Council on Foundations]

UN calls for 50% increase in funding for humanitarian mine action

The latest United Nations Portfolio of Mine Action projects shows a sharp increase in the need for humanitarian mine action, including landmine clearance, risk education and victim assistance, in conflict and post-conflict settings around the world. The online Portfolio of Mine Action Projects 2017 presents an overall requirement for USD 511 million, a 50% increase from last year’s USD 347 million consolidated appeal.

The 2017 Portfolio presents a consolidated picture of the needs and strategies of twenty-two countries and territories contaminated with landmines and other explosive hazards such as unexploded cluster munitions, rockets and improvised explosive devices across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America.

The highest funding requirements are found in the active conflict zones of Afghanistan (USD 124 million), Iraq (USD 75 million), Syria (USD 52 million) and Yemen (USD 17 million). In addition, needs remain in countries which have extensive residual contamination, such as Cambodia (USD 23 million) and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (USD 26 million). An user-friendly online portfolio is available at and includes interactive options, such as graphs and charts summarizing the needs according to country, region and area of work.