UK troops to protect humanitarian aid in South Sudan

Britain’s Secretary of State for the Department for International Development, Priti Patel, suggested the UK peacekeepers who will be deployed to South Sudan this year could help guard sites of humanitarian organizations.

In an exclusive interview with the Sky News, Patel did not admit whether her country peacekeeping troops will, in fact, protect South Sudan aid. Her statements, however, suggest the UK could give its troops a legal mandate to protect aid sites.

South Sudanese rival forces have in the past been accused of looting humanitarian aid supplies and abducting NGOs and UN personnel.

Britain, which already has troops in South Sudan under UN mandates, announced in October last year that it will send paratroopers to the war-torn young nation for UN peacekeeping mission.

The United Kingdom is a member of Troika, a three-nation (Norway, US, and UK) bloc widely credited for engineering South Sudan’s July 2011 independence.

[South Sudan News Agency]

International airlines allowing nationals of 7 banned Muslim countries to board US-bound flights

By any reading, Donald Trump’s executive order suspending the US refugee program and arrivals from seven mainly Muslim countries has been a disaster. Grandmothers and Iraqis who served alongside American soldiers have been detained. Not good for PR.

The White House has had to drop green card holders from the ban and more than one judge has ordered parts of the program be dropped. The State Department has reversed the cancellation of visas provisionally revoked after Trump’s executive order — so long as those visas were not stamped or marked as canceled.

Many international airlines are again allowing nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries hit with President Donald Trump’s travel ban to board US-bound flights after a federal judge blocked the controversial ban nationwide. US Customs and Border Protection informed major American airlines on a conference call that it was “back to business as usual,” an airline executive told CNN.

It has exposed rifts in the administration, with key players saying they were not properly consulted, and divisions among Republicans, who say such barriers are un-American or that they detect a religious test in the decision to give Christians preferential treatment.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this: Throughout a topsy-turvy campaign, Trump managed to offer a consistent messianic message amid the noise. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he said at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. “It’s going to be beautiful,” he bragged. “It will be so easy,” he boasted.

[CNN]

Setback for Trump: Appeals court rejects demand to resume travel ban

A federal appeals court early Sunday morning denied the US government’s emergency request to resume President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has asked for both sides to file legal briefs before the court makes its final decision after a federal judge halted the program on Friday. What this means is that the ruling by US District Court Judge James Robart, who suspended the ban, will remain in place — for now.

On Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security announced it had suspended “any and all” actions to implement the immigration order and would resume standard inspections of travelers, as it did prior to the signing of the travel ban.

After the Ninth Circuit’s decision on Sunday, a US Embassy official in Baghdad said that holders of valid US visas, including Iraqi Special Immigrant Visas, would be allowed to travel to the United States.

[CNN]

To Trump the only extremism that matters is Islamic extremism

It’s been nearly a week since a self-described fan of Donald Trump walked into a mosque in Quebec City and opened fire, killing six worshipers. Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, called it “a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the President is taking steps to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to our nation’s safety and security.”

Spicer’s statement left the press corps baffled. He seemed to be suggesting that a far-right, ultra-nationalist, white supremacist, radicalized by social media into murdering Muslims, somehow proved Trump’s position on the need to focus on the threat of Islamic terrorism.

But let’s pretend, for a moment, that facts actually matter, especially when it comes to the safety of American citizens. Here are the facts about terrorism in the United States:

  • Americans are almost seven times as likely to be killed by a white extremist than by an Islamic one, according to one study.
  • Citing a 2013 study, the New York Times notes: “Right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.”

 [From CNN article by Reza Aslan, author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”]

International aid for Chile to fight wildfire crisis

At least nine countries are sending various forms of aid to Chile to help deal with what President Michelle Bachelet has called the worst forest disaster in Chile’s history, consuming an area about three times the size of New York City.

As of January 30 there were at least 58 active wildfires that have burned 1,047 homes and killed 11 people, including four firefighters and the pilot of a single engine air tanker.

Spain, France, and Portugal have each sent over 50 firefighters, while Venezuela, Colombia, and Mexico have also mobilized firefighters to Chile.

Brazil is contributing the use of a C-130 with a slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS), and Russia sent a IL-76 air tanker.

The United States sent four wildfire specialists from the U.S. Forest Service and the USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) committed $100,000 to Caritas, a local non-governmental organization associated with the Catholic Church, for the regional procurement and delivery of firefighting equipment. The U.S. Embassy in Chile announced that an additional $740,000 is being provided.

A grandson of the founder of WalMart, Ben Walton with his wife Lucy Ana, are funding through the family’s foundation system the initial deployment and use of the privately owned 747 SuperTanker out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.

How India moving to a cashless society impacts Micro Finance

From an article by the CEO and Project Manager at Grameen Foundation India:

The Indian government’s surprise decision in November to demonetize two key currency notes – the Rs. 500 (about US$7.4) and Rs 1000 (about US$15) – pulled 85 percent of the currency used out of circulation. While it will likely put a check on black money in the medium term, it has caused a short-term crunch as 90 percent of transactions across India depend on cold, hard cash. Especially hard-hit are the poor, who purchase, save and borrow in small denominations.

Equally affected are microfinance institutions (MFIs), which rely heavily on cash to serve their poor clientele. As loan repayments in the Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 denominations were discontinued, MFIs were forced to halt loan disbursements. Some MFIs have also considered rescheduling loans if the currency flow does not improve sufficiently.

India’s MFIs have been central to expanding financial inclusion, creating an opportunity for women to enter the financial sector and enabling many poor clients to manage emergencies, raise their incomes and improve living standards. In addition, several recent initiatives launched by the government of India have made financial products and services more accessible to the less privileged.

But there is still far to go. Financial inclusion remains a dream for more than 506 million people, and a large portion of the rural segment still remains unbanked.

To date, only a few MFIs have experimented (sporadically) with integrating digital financial services into their core operations. The high cost of digital payments, poor digital literacy among their target clientele and an inadequate digital payments infrastructure are among several barriers facing MFIs.

MFIs need to get ready for the change as phones become increasingly accessible in once-remote communities. Today, roughly 38 percent of the rural population, including children and senior citizens, are rural mobile phone users – an increase from 22 percent in 2010. As the number keeps rising, so too do the possibilities of digital financial services that benefit the poor.

[NextBillion blog]

Messaging Apps an untapped humanitarian resource

New research, led by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), suggests messaging apps could play a vital role in humanitarian work in the future.

It’s estimated that more than 2.5 billion people around the world use messaging apps. That figure is expected to rise to 3.6 billion – half the world’s population – by 2018. In emergencies, such as natural disasters or armed conflicts, people are increasingly relying on these platforms to keep in touch with their loved ones or to remain informed about the situation.

“Messaging apps help humanitarian organizations gather information to better understand needs from hard-to-reach areas where it is often difficult to conduct face-to-face meetings,” said the ICRC’s director of communication and information management Charlotte Lindsey-Curtet.

“Humanitarian organizations are currently experimenting with messaging apps for two main purposes: to communicate with people affected by crisis or conflict, and to coordinate tasks and actions internally.”

 [The News (Pakistan)]