Wealth distribution inequality

While Americans and much of the world fixate on such things as Donald Trump’s latest tweets, the plague of inequality continues to grow.

An analysis of 2016 data found that the poorest five deciles of the world population own about $410 billion in total wealth.

As of June 8, 2017, the world’s richest five* men owned over $400 billion in wealth. (* Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Amancio Ortega, Mark Zuckerberg.)

Thus, on average, each of these men own nearly as much as 750 million people.

International Rescue Committee: “Americans oblivious to overseas suffering”

The vast majority of Americans are “oblivious” to the fact that more than 20 million people are on the brink of starvation in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, according to a recent survey conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

A “staggering” 85 percent of Americans simply don’t know that these nations are facing such dire shortages of food and other necessary resources, IRC discovered.

Lack of awareness, however, does not imply deliberate lack of concern, IRC is quick to observe. Once Americans are briefed on the relevant facts, the organization notes, “the issue immediately rises to a top global concern.”

IRC goes on to note that “[n]ear-famine, which is affecting 20 million people in Africa and the Middle East, is likely the least reported but most important major issue of our time,” implying that the media is at fault for not keeping such a crucial issue at the center of public discussion.

The survey also found that most Americans favor providing more humanitarian aid, not less, as President Donald Trump has proposed: 68% of registered voters agree that foreign aid from wealthy nations like the U.S. is needed now more than ever.

“Millennials [78% concerned] see humanitarian aid as a defining issue for their generation, and the United States,” IRC‘s report notes. “On nearly every measure tested in the poll, millennials are more concerned than other generations, believe it is a moral obligation for the U.S. to provide assistance, and are most willing to engage.”

 [Common Dreams]

Line up of 1,000 musical artists to play refugee solidarity concerts

Amnesty International and Sofar Sounds are producing a global concert series Give a Home, taking place in cities all over the world on 20 September 2017.

After joining the lineup of artists performing, Ed Sheeran said, “We all deserve a home, not just the memory of one. That’s why I’m proud to join Amnesty International and Sofar’s Give a Home campaign in raising awareness for the global refugee crisis and funds for Amnesty’s important work.”

Sheeran will play a Give a Home gig in Washington D.C., USA.   Playing alongside him will be Jean-Jean Bashengezi (‘JAJA’) a guitarist, singer and refugee who now lives in Washington. Bashengezi’s music draws influence from his roots in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was forced to flee in 1994 when his country descended into deadly conflict following the Rwandan genocide.

With more than 22 million people now forced to flee their home country, the aim of the ambitious concert series is to unite people in showing solidarity with refugees. The funds raised by the project will support Amnesty International’s work in documenting human rights abuses and violations against refugees and pushing governments to find a sustainable solution to the refugee crisis.

Give a Home will see music fans around the world open up their homes to host intimate concerts in more than 60 countries worldwide.

[Amnesty International]

EU helps Peru respond to widespread flooding

Peru has recently experienced the worst floods in decades. The Andean country’s arid desert coast was inundated by torrential rains battering Peru between December and March, costing 107 lives and leaving more than 170, 000 people homeless so far.

Most rivers have overflowed along the 2500 kilometre Pacific coast, and 24 of the country’s 25 regions were severely affected.

“Peruvian rivers are currently estimated to be discharging their highest volume of water in more than 200 years,” said Boris Teunis, an EU Civil Protection expert in hydrology, quoting weather forecasts based on hydrological models developed by the European Commission’s Global Flood Awareness System. This severe disruption of usual weather patterns is caused by El Niño, the abnormal warming of Pacific Ocean waters which creates storms and subsequent flooding.

The EU has disbursed €1 million in emergency humanitarian aid, deployed civil protection experts and facilitated European donations in kind, including life-saving water pumps from Spain and France to assist those most affected in Peru’s northern provinces.

Thanks to an initial contribution of €250 000 from the European Commission, the EU humanitarian partner CARE was able to dispense emergency kits. In addition to handing out necessity items (such as buckets and water purification tablets), the EU’s humanitarian partners on the ground are supporting local authorities in assessing damages and risks to the population. Beyond the immediate needs of victims they fear the onset of a health crisis as stagnating waters create an ideal breeding ground for the vectors of zika, malaria, dengue and yellow fever.

[European Commission’s Directorate-General for … Humanitarian Aid Operations]

Former refugee: “Refugees will contribute to society”

In the 1980’s, faced with a swelling number of arrivals and growing reluctance from western governments to maintain resettlement opportunities, governments in Southeast Asia threatened pushbacks. In response, the multilateral Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) was signed in 1989, bringing together commitments made by countries of origin, asylum and resettlement.

Saigon-trained architect Thanh Dang was among 63 people who packed onto a boat to leave Viet Nam in June 1989. After a week at sea, the crowded vessel reached Indonesia, where Dang ended up in the Galang refugee camp. He was ‘screened in’ as a refugee and subsequently resettled to the United States, where he became an architectural designer working on schools and medical facilities in Atlanta, Georgia.

Looking back on the life that the program gave him, he makes an impassioned plea to the international community and ordinary citizens grappling with today’s multiple refugee crises.

“Put yourself in the refugee’s position. They are just normal people. I don’t think anybody wants to uproot their lives and face an uncertain future if they don’t have to,” he said.

“If you give them a chance to rebuild their lives, refugees will contribute to society where they live. Please don’t be afraid of them, and welcome them.”

[Read full UNHCR article]

The uncertain fate of Christians in Iraq

When Saddam Hussein was in charge, some 1.3 million Christians lived in Iraq. Today that figure is believed to be only 200,000.

Located some 35 kilometers southeast of Mosul along the Nineveh plains,  Qaraqosh was once considered the cradle of Christianity in Iraq, its history stretching back to biblical times. Before Islamic State invaded, Qaraqosh was home to Iraq’s largest Christian community.  40,000 people lived here until three years ago –no other city in the country was home to so many Christians. Now liberated after three years of occupation, little remains and former residents are considering whether it’s worth rebuilding in a country with an unclear future.

A local priest, Father Roni, has made it his task to resuscitate Qaraqosh. “We have to bury the dead so life can return,” he says. The bodies of 11 murdered people lie unburied at the cemetery. Some have been here so long that their faces are no longer recognizable.

Around half of the residents of Qaraqosh have left Iraq, with about 40 Christian families heading abroad each week to places like France, Jordan, Australia–anywhere but here, a region that doesn’t hold much of a future for them.

Under Saddam Hussein’s rule, they were at least halfway safe. As a Sunni Muslim, Hussein was himself part of a minority in the country and he formally incorporated the Christians into the state apparatus as part of his efforts to consolidate power. But their situation deteriorated after the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq. Despite the Americans’ claims of being liberators, the chaos they created further fomented the hatred many Iraqis had for Christians.

The province of Nineveh, where the Christians found refuge, is one of the most ethnically diverse in Iraq. In addition to Christians, it is also home to Yazidis, Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds. As such, it is considered a test case for how the divided country might coalesce once again after the fall of Islamic State. It would cost $10 million (€9 million) to rebuild Qaraqosh, but no one knows where the money might come from. And coexistence is little more than a vision.

 [Der Spiegel]

120,000 children return to Mosul with their families

Mosul’s years-long nightmare seemingly ended last week: On July 10, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi proclaimed the full liberation the city.

On July 13, US presidential envoy Brett McGurk told a Coalition meeting in Washington that military experts consider the Mosul campaign “one of the most difficult military operations since World War II.” The danger to Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga during the nine-month offensive came not only from snipers and waves of suicide attackers, but also booby-traps, mostly mines laid throughout the city by fleeing Islamic State militants. Nina Seecharan, Iraq director for the British charity Mines Advisory Group, said in a statement on July 14 that the organization has not seen landmines used on this scale in 20 years.

Mosul’s liberation came at a high cost: 80 percent of the city, which traces its history back to 401 BC, lies in ruins.  Mosul’s returning residents now also have to contend with the hidden threat of landmines and other ad-hoc explosive devices Islamic State left for them.

Nevertheless, the agency said Moslawis are eager to leave camps set up for internally displaced people, and return to what is left of their homes. An UNICEF spokesperson said 223,925 people have already returned to Mosul.

“Even though the fighting has ended, the rebuilding of children’s lives has only just begun. They will need physical and psychological care, and the swift restoration of all basic services including education and safe drinking water,” UNICEF spokesperson Sharon Behn Nogueira said.

[Grasswire]

Can foreign aid projects help improve national security?

The overseas aid budget is coming under attack, both in the UK and the USA. But that shortsighted view does not take into account how working together to help communities suffering under the shadow of terrorism can actually help us combat extremism.

Poverty, poor health and global security concerns all come together in north-west Pakistan. The region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has hosted large numbers of internally displaced peoples for decades, largely refugees from Afghan conflicts. Many live in camps or work as laborers on brick kilns. It is in this challenging part of the world that an interesting example of partnership working between the UK and Pakistan is taking place that shows a way towards improving the well-being and economic prospects of the population. And we argue it may also, in a small way, assist in improving global security by enhancing local stability.

The initiative we worked on was a collaboration between a UK-based charity, The Abaseen Foundation and its partner NGO in Pakistan. This UK charity raises funds for health, education and development work in this region. An independent review of the project noted the “enormous impact” it had in providing access to previously absent health services for marginalized peoples and – importantly – thoroughly engaging the support of the community to create a sustainable legacy.

Despite the fact that projects such as this one demonstrate the value of well-managed aid in developing sustainable local resources, the very idea of overseas aid is vulnerable to political posturing that denies its value or discredits spending at times of austerity at home. Such calls can be even more shrill when the beneficiaries are in distant lands that are riven with conflict and appear to be at the forefront of exporting terrorism and anti-Western sentiments.

We believe that success stories like this offer a challenge to the rhetoric surrounding the future of overseas aid. A case can be made that spending on aid rather than war may be more productive for peace and security. The work of the charity may be some sort of antidote to alienation – promoting and capitalizing on shared affinities for a more internationalist and less insular outlook.

[The Conversation]

The best countries in the world to be an immigrant

A new ranking of the best countries to be an immigrant has placed Sweden in the top spot, closely followed by Canada, Switzerland, Australia and Germany. The United States, a country which was largely founded through mass immigration, came in seventh.

U.S. News and World Report, which compiled the ranking, said it looked at measures such as economic stability, income equality and job markets to create its list, using a special survey of the opinions of more than 21,000 business leaders and other elites, as well as members of the public.

Eric Gertler, co-chairman of U.S. News and the New York Daily News, said, “With the recent spotlight on immigration in the U.S. and abroad, we wanted to dive into its potential benefits and challenges on a country’s perceived economic status in the world.”

Specifically, immigration in Sweden became the subject of an unusual public debate in the U.S. this year, with President Trump suggesting at a rally in February that immigration had led to problems in Sweden and that the country should serve as a model for how the U.S. should not allow some immigrants in. “They took in large numbers and they are having problems like they never thought possible,” Trump said, sparking a flurry of angry responses from Swedes.

Sweden had become a popular destination for refugees from Africa and the Middle East over the past few years, taking in more per capita than any other European nation at the height of the migrant influx in 2015. Sweden wasn’t the only Nordic country to fare well–Norway, Finland and Denmark also took places in the top 10, largely due to favorable perceptions found in the survey about their economies and commitment to income equality. Other countries, such as Canada and Switzerland, were given positive marks not only for their economy but also integration measures for immigrants, such as language training.

[Washington Post]

Volunteers helping Syrian refuges in southern Turkey

This trip to the border was again a heart-wrenching trip.

Visiting several homes for amputees and victims of war left us stunned. This new center we visited is run by a single man, Abdulrahman, who with his own meager savings has pieced together two wooden dorms on a little plot of land for victims of the civil war. Thirty to forty people live in these little dorms, with separate parts for men and women.

Meeting the victims of the horrific bombing of Aleppo moved us all to tears. Seeing the blinding orange/white flashes of the bombs over Aleppo on your TV is one thing, but to meet the survivors of those flashes is something else. It adds a whole new dimension to the horrors of war, and will never leave you the same. We all were nearly speechless and incapable of even talking about this for days.

What do you say when you meet people so badly burnt, a mother with no legs, young men without arms or legs, how do you respond? Some of the worst cases cannot leave their rooms, or even their beds without great difficulty.

We delivered several truckloads of aid to families, and to a large orphanage. The orphanage has 24 rooms, and at times one room may house three mothers and their children.

The caretakers of the orphans told us that they were in desperate need of money for the rent before the 1st of the month or they would be thrown on the streets. One of our student volunteers gave his last 20 liras.The next day, I checked our mail and thankfully we can pay their rent for a few months. We can’t express how overjoyed we are, and they are, for your gifts, and helping us to adopt this family. We were elated, as it would be unimaginable to see these kids on the streets. They are in such difficulty, yet they recently received another mother and child, who had just crossed the border after fleeing Raqqa. Incredible!

The residents are eager for friendship, human warmth and radiate when you come visit them and treat them with dignity. They want you to stay, drink tea, and in their difficult situation, they will offer you a meal. How could we even think about complaining of our long hours in the heat when you meet those who have lost all?