Statement to UN Security Council concerning humanitarian help for Syria

Excerpts of statement by Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator:

Close to seven million children in Syria live in poverty. Nearly 1.75 million children remain out of school and another 1.35 million are at risk of dropping out. 7,400 schools – one in three across the country – have been damaged, destroyed, or otherwise made inaccessible. And even if the schools were intact, many would be unable to open, with almost one quarter of the country’s teaching personnel no longer at their posts.

Outside Syria, hundreds of thousands of Syrian children are left to face an uncertain and traumatic future on their own; they have become stateless, abandoned by the world but for the generosity of neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, as well as Egypt.

For these suffering children, what’s at stake isn’t politics. It’s their lives and their futures. It is their innocent voices, their suffering that need advocating.

We also must not lose sight of the fact that – all over Syria – millions of people, in locations inside and outside the four de-escalation areas, continue to suffer because they lack the most basic elements to sustain their lives. We must not stand silent while violence flares up elsewhere in the country and parties continue to use starvation, fear tactics and the denial of food, water, medical supplies, and other forms of aid as methods of war.

I call on members of the Security Council to use their influence to see that these actors respect humanitarian principles and allow the unfettered delivery of aid. We are also greatly concerned at cross-border restrictions and regulatory impediments imposed on the NGO community operating in northern Syria and are troubled by increasing reports indicating that IDPs fleeing are being kept for prolonged periods in screening camps and subjected to restrictions on their movement by the self-proclaimed Democratic Self-Administration in northeastern Syria.

Sri Lanka flooding after worst torrential rains in 14 years

Rescuers in Sri Lanka on Monday pulled out bodies buried in the mudslides triggered by the country’s worst torrential rains in 14 years, taking the death toll to 164. The Disaster Management Centre said 104 people are still missing while 88 remain in hospital.

The incessant rains experienced since Thursday night have driven nearly half a million people out of their inundated homes in the southern and western regions.

Police said a Sri Lankan Airforce helicopter (SLAF) MI-17 carrying relief aid for flood victims crashed in the southern Galle district, the worst hit of the 14 districts by flash floods and earth slips in the on-going monsoonal rains, while carrying out relief operations in the flood-stricken areas.

Following India’s lead in sending out emergency relief to Sri Lanka, more countries have started pledging assistance to provide relief to the flood victims.

China is to donate relief items worth of $ 2.2 million.

[First Post]

Australia boosts humanitarian aid to starving Africans

The Campaign for Australian Aid has welcomed a federal government move to provide an additional $19.3 million in humanitarian assistance to people at risk of starvation in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya.

“We’ve seen the government strip the aid budget to its bare bones recently and have been campaigning for more funding towards what is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II,” director for the Campaign for Australian Aid, Tony Milne said.

“We want to thank the 31,176 people who have signed our petition to [Australian Foreign Minister] Julie Bishop to increase aid for East Africa’s deadly famine by at least $20 million, and we acknowledge Julie Bishop for responding. While we welcome this much needed contribution and our government in recognizing that the potential of an entire generation is at risk, more needs to be done to avert a humanitarian crisis, including in Yemen and Somalia.”

Bishop announced on Monday the new funding would bring Australia’s contribution towards the international response to conflict, drought and famine in Africa to approximately $68 million since July 2016.

[Australia ProBono]

Foreign aid saves lives

Excerpt of Guardian article by Dr Tom Catena, the only doctor in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains and a finalist for the 2017 Aurora humanitarian prize:

My heart sank last week when President Trump announced proposed cuts in the diplomatic and foreign aid budget. The budget suggests cuts in aid to international organisations by 44%, humanitarian assistance funding would drop by 31% and global health programmes would be cut by 25%.

Meanwhile the Australian government announced it will cut $303m from the foreign aid budget over two years.

I keenly observe these developments, not as part of the international aid community but as someone who sees the desperate need for aid every waking hour of the day. Since 2007, I have been the only doctor permanently based in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, home to 750,000 people. It is also a conflict zone.

The people of this region have suffered beyond belief, with aerial bombardments a daily occurrence for years. Villages and farms have been targeted, forcing the population to flee into the mountains, where they have little or no food. I have experienced the atrocities and hardships of this war, firsthand. I regularly treat up to 400 people a day. Adults and children with horrific burns across their bodies, toddlers with lost limbs due to shrapnel wounds and people suffering from leprosy or malnutrition.

We don’t have access to medical technology. Supplies are limited. We use decades-old treatments and often don’t have electricity or running water. We don’t even have reliable telephones. But I’m always on call, delivering babies, treating cancer, training my staff and, all too often, repairing the wounds inflicted by war, using what few resources we have, and with support from my incredible team.

The sad truth is that most world leaders and humanitarian organizations have virtually abandoned the people of the Nuba Mountains. [continued]

“Humanitarian aid can literally make the difference between life and death”

I am needed here in Sudan just as much, if not more so, as I was when I came here in 2007; so is the support of the international community.

Countries that should be at the forefront of efforts to prevent catastrophes such as famine and to relieve the effects of drought on some of the world’s poorest people are turning a blind eye. This sends a worrying message that leading economies are no longer interested in being part of efforts to mitigate suffering.

Part of the problem is that the narrative needs to change. Foreign aid has become a politically divisive issue. People assume the money is misspent, wasted on bureaucracy or that foreign aid just doesn’t work.

Of course, the system is far from perfect. In an ideal world, it would not just be about how much is spent to fix the immediate problems, but, rather, about the impact aid has on sustaining stable governments, tackling corruption, protecting human rights and the rule of law. Nonetheless, in the short term, I see what a positive impact humanitarian aid can have. It can literally make the difference between life and death.

There are people doing incredible work around the world every day to help preserve human life. These are not people tied to the international aid system, but people who independently tackle the needs of the most helpless and destitute and do so at great risk.

But individuals cannot tend to the world’s afflicted alone. The international community must provide the resources to help us better serve the people who need our services. At a time when famine is reaching a crisis point in parts of Africa, and countless children are dying of starvation, the need for support from the world’s richest nations is even more critical.

[Dr Tom Catena, the only doctor serving 750,000 in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains]

Trump announces famine aid to Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria

When President Donald Trump met Pope Francis this week, the U.S. leader renewed a commitment to fighting global famine and proudly announced a new multimillion-dollar American aid contribution to four African nations in crisis.

In the meeting, Trump “renewed the commitment of the United States to fighting global famine,” the White House said. “As he relayed at the Vatican, the United States is proud to announce more than $300 million in anti-famine spending, focused on the crises in Yemen, (South) Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.”

Left unsaid by the president or the White House: His proposal to slash such funds by more than 40 percent in the next fiscal year.

While the Trump administration’s 2018 spending plan does not eliminate money for emergency food aid, it ends a critical program by consolidating it into a broader account that covers all international disaster assistance. Doing so reduces the amount of money the U.S. dedicates to fighting famine to $1.5 billion next year, from $2.6 billion in 2016. The reduction is likely even steeper compared to 2017, but the administration hasn’t calculated figures for this fiscal year because it doesn’t end until Sept. 30 and more money may be allocated for famine relief before then.

Trump officials say the proposed changes will streamline U.S. aid programs, eliminate redundancies and increase efficiency. Relief organizations fear less U.S. money will mean an increase in famine and hunger-related deaths, particularly in Africa, if Congress approves the budget. Trump’s overall proposal, however, is already prompting significant opposition from Republican and Democratic lawmakers.


WFP head: Famine is not fake news

The former South Carolina governor who now heads the U.N.’s World Food Program says the media’s focus on President Donald Trump is taking away attention from the risk of famine in Africa and the Middle East.

WFP Director-General David Beasley said,  “…If you turn on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN–it’s nothing but Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump!” he said, referring to U.S. TV networks. “And very little information about the famines in Syria, northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen.”

“We’ve got to break through all of the smoke,” he said. “This is not fake news, this is reality.”

The U.N. says roughly 20 million people in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen are facing possible famine. Refugee agency UNHCR says South Sudan has become the source of “the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis,” with some 1.8 million people–including 1 million children–seeking safety in six neighboring countries. Nearly 900,000 are in Uganda alone.

“So we’re making an appeal today for the donors to step up to the game even more,” Beasley said, warning about access difficulties likely in the upcoming rainy season in South Sudan, amid already-difficult access caused by violence in the world’s newest country.


Libya’s humanitarian crisis deepens

Conflict, insecurity, political instability and a collapsing economy have contributed to the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Libya, prompting the United Nations refugee agency to announce plans to step-up its presence and programs there.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visited Tripoli where he met refugees and migrants in some of Libya’s many detention centers. “I was shocked at the harsh conditions in which refugees and migrants are held, generally due to lack of resources,” Mr. Grandi said. “Children, women and men who have suffered so much already should not have to endure such hardship.”

Some 300,000 Libyans have been displaced by ongoing conflict. In all, more than 1.3 million people – including internally displaced people (IDPs), as well as vulnerable Libyans, host communities, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers – are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

According to Mr. Grandi’s Office UNHCR, hundreds of thousands of people in the North African country have been affected by the collapse of law and order, absent or insufficient health care assistance, essential medicines, food, safe drinking water, shelter and education. In response, UNHCR is ramping up its existing humanitarian operations and is strengthening cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to leverage the respective strengths of both organizations.

[UN News Centre]

They outnumber refugees but don’t often make the headlines

Refugees make headlines. Internally displaced people don’t.

Maybe their plight eludes the limelight because, unlike refugees, they don’t cross international borders … or seek to enter the United States or Western Europe, where people debate how many of them to let in … or undertake harrowing voyages across the Mediterranean.

And maybe it’s because of their official label. “Internally displaced persons” (also known as IDPs) sounds vague and a bit confusing, as if they were lost inside themselves.

The Norwegian Refugee Council recently issued a report tallying 6.9 million people internally displaced by conflict and violence in 2016. The total number of IDPs displaced by violence or conflict is 40.3 million, double the number from the year 2000.

By contrast, there were 16.5 million refugees as of mid-2016 according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

[Read full NPR interview]

UN agency works to fill humanitarian vacuum in north DR Congo

The United Nations migration agency is responding to the urgent humanitarian needs of more than 27,000 displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) eastern province of North Kivu, after many relief aid organizations left the camps.

Sweden’s development agency has provided $183,000 to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The funding has been crucial to enable IOM to construct and rehabilitate basic water and sanitation infrastructure.

“These funds have come at a time when most humanitarian actors have pulled out of many displacement sites in eastern DRC due to security and funding issues, leaving thousands of displaced people even more vulnerable,” said Boubacar Seybou, Head of IOM’s Office in Goma.

Over the next 12 months, IOM will continue to provide life-saving assistance and protection to vulnerable people in displacement sites in North Kivu, thanks to additional financing from Sweden.

By the end of April 2017, there were 3.7 million internally displaced persons in the DRC, making it the African country most affected by internal displacement.

[UN News Centre]

What’s the value of US foreign aid?

“Why should we care?” “Let them take care of their own problems.” “We have enough problems in our own backyard!”

As of April 2017, 73% of U.S. respondents seek a decrease in funding for foreign aid.

The recently leaked State Department budget suggests how the new administration seeks to cut direct foreign aid.

But modern foreign aid is not charity. It is strategic and an investment in a stronger America abroad. At a cost of less than 1% of our entire federal budget, foreign aid is a bargain, given its ability to bolster our national security:
– By stabilizing vulnerable communities, foreign aid strengthens our national security.
– Illicit trafficking of people, arms and drugs provide safe havens for terrorists and displace innocent people, creating refugees and IDPs (internally displaced people).

Strategic aid promotes economic prosperity while bolstering self-reliance and opening markets and trading opportunities to the United States. For example, South Korea was provided strategic foreign aid after the ceasefire on the Korean peninsula in 1953, creating one of our most important allies and our 6th-largest trading partner. The return has been exponentially higher than the investment.

A real cost calculus actually shows that cutting funds for resilience-building solutions would inevitably sacrifice more with blood, through military intervention, when a conflict hits a boiling point; or toward emergency and disaster response when there are food shortages, refugee influxes, and health epidemics.


Foreign aid or more ammunition?

U.S. military leaders are the first to advocate for proactive and coordinated development initiatives to prevent conflict and war, knowing that our men and women in uniform pay the highest cost in war. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, prioritizing development would be 60 times less expensive than military intervention and the subsequent assistance required for helping nations rebuild in the aftermath.

Although it’s supported and sensible, this is an understandably difficult strategy to sell because successful prevention does not attract popular attention. There are no videos and photos when a crisis is averted. There are no “hero” awards and higher approval ratings. And we live in an age of instant gratification where mere activity is mistaken for progress.

We cannot continue operating in civilian/military silos or relying on hard power alone. Prevention must be the objective key part of our national security strategy. Then, and only then, will aid no longer be seen as charity — but as an essential, modern tool of US national security, and an investment in our economic prosperity.


UN stresses that humanitarian funds urgently needed in Yemen

Voicing concern over lack of humanitarian access – particularly for medicine and medical supplies – in war-torn Yemen, a senior United Nations relief official has called on all parties to the conflict to ensure urgent and unrestricted access to people in need across the country.

“Giving the UN and humanitarian partners safe and unimpeded access to those in need would be a strong demonstration by the warring parties of their concern for the Yemeni people,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen.

According to the statement, administrative delays at ports, checkpoints, and interference with aid delivery have hampered efforts to transport medicine and medical supplies to people in need in a timely manner.

The access is all the more important now given the current threat of famine and outbreaks of cholera in locations throughout the country. Some 17 million Yemenis are battling food insecurity, making it the largest “hunger crisis” in the world.

Also in the statement, Mr. McGoldrick underscored the urgent need for additional resources and called on the international community to fund the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan.

“All commitments made during the pledging conference need to materialize at once,” stressed Mr. McGoldrick in the statement, adding: “While Yemen awaits for peace, humanitarian action is saving lives every day across the entire country.”

[UN News Centre]

Further cuts to Australia’s Foreign Aid budget

In a disturbing trend, Australia’ foreign aid budget is being lowered again by $300 million over the next four years. Earlier this week The Australian reported that the money would be diverted to Australia’s intelligence agencies to boost the war on terror.

John Hickey, the CEO of Baptist World Aid, told Eternity, “We understand that protection and security is important, but the aid budget is vitally important for Australia as a wealthy nation to play it’s [part] as a global leader in helping to address the needs of vulnerable people around the world. … It seems that the government is not taking its responsibilities as seriously as we think it should around caring for vulnerable people around the world.”

With the hunger crisis across parts of Africa reaching catastrophic levels, Hickey says, “we believe it’s time to increase our collective commitment for the sake of people in extreme difficulty, rather than decreasing it further.”

Tim Costello, chief advocate of World Vision Australia, told Eternity, “At a time of the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War Two, yet another budget cut in aid is devastating,” says Costello, referring to the 60 million displaced people across the world. “The war in Syria, and famine in Africa; the only practical hope for them is humanitarian aid and development aid.”

“For Christians who take Matthew 25 seriously, both in their personal giving and lives, and in a nation (Australia) that still is the third richest on earth, to have checked out of sharing the load of desperate people, is really not just a failure of what Jesus teaches, but a failure of the Australian idea of a fair go.”

The CEO of Common Grace, a group of Christians passionate about justice, Scott Sanders, told Eternity, “As Christians, we should be deeply concerned at the latest round of slated cuts to Australia’s aid program. Our government has again chosen to place our self-interest above our responsibility to love our neighbor, to support our region, and to play our part in addressing the injustice of poverty in our world.


Executive Director of humanitarian organization held in South Sudan

Officials with Unity Cultural and Development Center, a nonprofit humanitarian organization, said security operatives arrested its executive director and have yet to provide a reason for his arrest.

An official with the organization said Angelo Bensencio Mangu was detained two weeks ago and his colleagues have been contacting security operatives to try to find out the reason for his arrest. His wife, Leticia Simom Adriano, says she has visited the security detention facility in Wau where he is being held but has not been allowed to see or speak to him.

“UCDC is one of the lead agencies in food assistance distribution in six IDPs sites. … We definitely regret the suspension and the consequences that it is already having on the vulnerable communities that we serve in Wau,” Yhohanna Philip, program coordinator for the organization, said.

Philip said some of the assets confiscated by security operatives in Wau are being used by the military, which is a clear violation of international humanitarian law. “Surprisingly, it has come to our notice that the detained Land Cruiser pickup plate No. SSD 822 G- was seen last Thursday moving in and around Wau town carrying armed soldiers and supplies.”

Stephen Robo Musa, who heads a civil society network in Wau, is … calling on the security operatives to release Bensencio or have him tried him in a court of law if he has committed any crime.

[Voice of America]

A Surgeon in the Village

“A Surgeon in the Village” is the story of neurosurgeon Dilan Ellegala and his key role in a Norwegian-funded mission hospital in the hinterlands of Tanzania. The story neatly unfolds in three parts. The first traces Ellegala’s life from his birthplace in Kandy, Sri Lanka, through an almost natural trajectory to a medical career, which accelerated after his ever-supportive family emigrated to the United States. Ellegala eventually lands in Haydom hospital in Tanzania, where he discovers its austere conditions and unfamiliar cultural terrain. It is here that he meets and ultimately decides to train an assistant medical officer (AMO), Emmanuel Mayegga.

The second part puts Ellegala back in the U.S. where he struggles to balance his “day job” in an Oregon hospital with a persistent pull back to Tanzania. Ellegala soon cobbles together a non-governmental organization (NGO) of sorts in an effort to promote his “teach first” approach, which emphasizes the transfer of skills and knowledge as an alternative to the hand-out-driven paradigm of most global charities.

This story is compelling enough on its own, and author Tony Bartelme tells it very well. Embedded within it are two themes that thoughtfully converge upon the relationship between Ellegala and his Tanzanian counterparts in particular, and between the Western and developing worlds more generally.

First is global health. To get at this, Bartelme pauses occasionally to give the history of Western medicine and explain the basics of neuroscience. What this does is contrast the broader challenges of global health and the hard realities of practicing medicine in the African context. For instance, Bartelme notes that while Ellegala was at Haydom, there were a paltry three CT machines for all of Tanzania, and 70 surgeons for a population of 40 million.

The book’s second theme is anchored in what Teju Cole has elsewhere called the “White Savior Industrial Complex.” Here Ellegala confronts the tendency of Westerners to patronize Africans in order to provide an experience for themselves. For instance, he is driven to madness by foreign medical students sitting in the front row during Haydom’s staff meetings, treating Tanzanians like “the hired help.” Above all, Ellegala is dismayed by the cycles of dependency that seem to plague both large-scale development aid programs and short-term medical missions. Bartelme seems refreshingly aware that even thinking about such things amounts to a self-indulgent validation of privilege in and of itself.

[The Post and Courier]

Ivanka Trump discusses humanitarian crises with US Ambassador to UN

The first daughter, Ivanka Trump, scheduled an unannounced meeting last week at the White House with Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to explore ways to address some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, including looming famines from Somalia to Yemen and aid blockades in Syria.

The collaboration by two of the administration’s most influential women signaled an intent to raise the profile of American support for humanitarian relief around the world at a time when President Donald Trump’s budget advisors have been calling for steep financial cuts in foreign aid.

In an effort to dramatize humanitarian needs abroad, Haley is planning to take a trip to Jordan and Turkey in the near future to highlight the plight of millions of suffering Syrian civilians, including nearly half a million people forced to endure sieges by government and rebel forces.

Aid advocates said while they welcome Haley and Trump’s interest in humanitarian issues, they see the administration moving in a different direction. The State Department, meanwhile, has yet to fill its most senior humanitarian positions, including the director of USAID, and the top posts that deal with refugees, humanitarian affairs, and conflict resolution.

[Foreign Policy]

Millennials are changing charitable giving

Many people think of Millennials as self-centered, selfie-snapping, uber-texting, uber-riding, narcissists. Even some Millennials share this opinion. Johnny Oleksinski, a Millennial himself, wrote in the New York Post:

“This is my number one rule: Do whatever millennials don’t. Definite no-nos include quitting a job or relationship the moment my mood drops from ecstatic to merely content; expecting the world to kowtow to my every childish whim; and assuming that I am always the most fascinating person in the room, hell, the zip code.”

He sounds like he’s loads of fun to be around.

But is this true? Are Millennials really the most selfish generation of all time? Are Millennials only obsessed with the Kardashians and Snapchat?

Millennials care more about others than you might think. The 2015 Millennial Impact Report reported that 84 percent of Millennials made a charitable contribution in 2015.

Read about 6 ways that Millennials are changing the face of charitable giving

Yemen war causing devastating humanitarian crisis

Pope Francis says he is praying for the safe return of a priest kidnapped 14 months ago in Yemen, yet again highlighting his concern for the country which is plummeting into what the UN is calling the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.

Millions of people continue to suffer in Yemen, a country struggling with military conflict, famine, and a failing health system, with a child dying every ten minutes. Humanitarian organizations are working hard to bring fresh water and medical aid to the people of Yemen, but their efforts are challenged by the ongoing situation in the nation.

“Sana’a airport has been closed since last August. Even if people have money, they cannot go for medical care. …It takes us, for example, three days … to send one person out of Yemen,” said CARE International Country Director Wael Ibrahim.

Ibrahim argues that it is the duty of humanitarian organizations and international governments to help. “Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, at the bottom of the UN development index…Yemen cannot survive on aid alone. There has to be an investment in the development and recovery activities. We would like to see more money going into growing food, building infrastructure, facilitating the opening of the airport, and so forth.”

The Australian government recently announced their pledge to the humanitarian efforts in Yemen, saying they will give $10 billion. Ibrahim hopes this action will show the world that Yemen is important and needs to be addressed.

[Vatican Radio]

5 takeaways from the Asia Pacific Humanitarian Leadership Conference

The inaugural Asia Pacific Humanitarian Leadership Conference, held in Melbourne from April 26 to 28, was an opportunity to discuss and debate the future and direction of humanitarian response. Below are five key takeaways:

  1. Traditional humanitarian leadership styles are unsustainable in the current global environment. More involvement of the private sector, blurring the division between humanitarian and development, smarter use of resources and better engagement with local communities were important factors good leaders need to develop smarter humanitarian responses, said several speakers. Leadership styles should change to reflect changing needs.
  2. Localization and the humanitarian ‘power play’ – Localization was a major theme, with many arguing it will be a key aspect of humanitarian reform — providing greater resources by building capability for local leadership in response. Successful strategies involving localization could involve respect for national decision making, and up to 75 percent of humanitarian funds channeled through local and national organizations within 10 years.
  3. Converting lessons learned into change. Traditional information sharing is an individual-led knowledge management approach. A management-led knowledge management approach was instead recommended. As an iterative approach, new knowledge and lessons could continue to be incorporated into approach, evolving and improving humanitarian responses over time.
  4.  Reintegration is the ‘sweet spot’ between humanitarian and development. Discussions of blurring the lines between the humanitarian and development sectors — a “sweet spot” between the two sectors. Reintegration is a process by which returnees are able to maintain sustainable livelihoods, access safe services and reintegrate into communities within their country of origin. Calvert explained it involved the “poorest of the poor” and amongst the most vulnerable refugees returning to their country or origin — both voluntarily and not.
  5. Despite the changing environments, ethics and principles need to be at the core of humanitarian response. Leonard Blazeby, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Mission in Australia, shared that a humanitarian leader needs to be a known entity in an actual position and an actual person. And that person needs to uphold humanitarian values, principles and ethics.