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.

[PBS]

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.

[AP]

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]