Humanitarian catastrophe continues to unfold in Raqqa

As of June 2017, Raqqa remains the only major Syrian city fully under ISIL control. The so-called Battle of Raqqa is the fifth and final phase of the campaign  launched by the Syrian Democratic Forces  against ISIL in their de facto capital of Raqqa. The battle is being supported by airstrikes and ground troops from the US-led coalition.

U.S.-led coalition airstrikes near Raqqa earlier this year killed at least 84 civilians, including 30 children, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said. In March, a bomb hit a school being used as a shelter for internally displaced persons in the village of al-Mansoura in the western Raqqa governorate countryside. In another instance, dozens of people died while standing in line for bread next to a refugee shelter.

“We are witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe in Raqqa as we previously did in Mosul [in Iraq]. It was caused by a lack of effective effort to deliver humanitarian aid and create corridors for the evacuation of civilian population, as well as persistent mistakes of the US Air Force, including airstrikes targeting civilian sites,” said Oleg Syromolotov, who supervises counterterrorism cooperation with other nations on behalf of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“There is enough evidence to indicate that many civilians were killed, dozens,” Nadim Houry, HRW director of terrorism and counterterrorism division. “When we asked the [US-led coalition]… on how they conducted their investigation they said these were… secrets that they could not share with us.”

One day before the HRW report, Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, Britain’s deputy commander for strategy and support for Operation Inherent Resolve, told London’s The Sunday Times that the deaths of innocent people is the “price you pay” for fighting the Islamic State.

[UPI]

LDS Church’s humanitarian aid to Africa and the Middle East

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will use $11 million in funds to assist victims of famine in eight countries in Africa and the Middle East. According to a press statement , “LDS Charities, the humanitarian arm of the Church, is partnering with 11 global relief organizations to support 25 projects in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, Niger, Kenya, Uganda and D.R. Congo.”

The church’s donation of cash and commodities will benefit more than 1.1 million people for up to one year, according to the church.

LDS Charities is partnering with key non-governmental and faith-based organizations, including CARE International, Catholic Relief Services, Convoy of Hope, International Rescue Committee, Islamic Relief USA, Rahma Relief, Real Medicine Foundation, Save the Children, UNICEF USA, USA for UNHCR and the World Food Programme.

“With 20 million people on the brink of starvation and 5.7 million children dangerously malnourished in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and northeastern Nigeria, it’s more important than ever for the international community to take action to prevent people from dying,” said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, in the church statement. “Our brothers and sisters in these countries need our help to beat back famine and stop the suffering of innocent people.”

“LDS Charities has consistently stepped up to help those who need it most in times of emergency,” said Prerana Issar, World Food Programme director of private sector partnerships. “Their trust in WFP and their compassion and drive to help those who cannot help themselves has made a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition around the world.”

[Daily Herald]

Jennifer Lopez announces humanitarian relief initiative for Puerto Rico

Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony announced the creation of Somos Una Voz (We’re Once Voice) on Wednesday, a humanitarian relief initiative for Puerto Rico, an alliance which includes some of the biggest names in Hollywood, the world of sports and the arts.

Together they have over 1 billion social media followers to help raise awareness of the critical situation and also raise donations for those in need. The Somos Una Voz alliance is working together to rush food, shelter, medicine, power, and communications to those in need that were affected by recent natural disasters.

Funds raised will be distributed among the American Red Cross, Reach Out Worldwide, United Way, United for Puerto Rico, and more beneficiaries to be announced.

A week after Hurricane Maria hit, millions are struggling for basic necessities like adequate food, water, fuel and electricity. Eighty percent of the island’s transmission lines are down, and power may not be restored for at least a month.

[E News]

First group of refugees from Australian detention camps head to US

After years of detention at one of two remote Australia-run Pacific centers, a group of refugees are heading to the United States for permanent resettlement.

At least 22 asylum-seekers who have been held at the Manus camp in northern Papua New Guinea will board a plane in the capital of Port Moresby and fly to Manila, then head to an undisclosed location in the U.S. The public affairs officer in the U.S. embassy in Port Morseby says a second group of about 30 refugees will leave a second detention center on Nauru for resettlement in the U.S. in the coming days.

The refugees are the first of 1,250 asylum seekers that are being resettled in the United States under a deal struck between Canberra and Washington in the final weeks of President Barack Obama’s administration. Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, attacked the agreement during a contentious phone call with Australian Prime Minister Turnbull shortly after taking office, and called it “a dumb deal” in an angry tweet posted in February, before eventually agreeing to honor it.

More than 1,200 asylum seekers from Africa, Asia and the Middle East are being held in Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s northern island of Manus, as part of Canberra’s policy of intercepting people attempting to sail to Australia and seek asylum.

[Voice of America]

Two-State Solution in Israel increasingly unattainable

The United Nations top envoy for the Middle East peace process told the Security Council today that hopes for a two-State solution have been dashed with Israel moving forward with illegal settlement activity at a high rate since late June.

“Continuing settlement expansion, most notably during this period in occupied East Jerusalem, is making the two-State solution increasingly unattainable and undermining Palestinian belief in international peace efforts,” Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov told Council members. Violence against civilians and incitement had also perpetuated mutual fear and suspicion, impeding efforts to bridge gaps between the two sides.

Over the last three months, Israel had not stopped settlement activities, as called for by Council resolution 2334 (2016), he said. In occupied East Jerusalem, plans were advanced for more than 2,300 housing units in July, 30 per cent more than for the whole of 2016.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the destruction of Palestinian-owned property across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, continued; albeit at a significantly lower rate, he said.

Violence persisted as one of the main obstacles to resolving the conflict, he underscored. Nineteen Palestinians had been killed in attacks, clashes and Israeli military operations. Further, eight Israelis had been killed in clashes and attacks, including three Israeli-Arab perpetrators of the 14 July attacks against two Israeli policemen in Jerusalem’s Old City. After three months of quiet, on three separate occasions, Palestinian militants fired rockets towards Israel with no injuries reported, he said. In response, the Israeli Defense Forces conducted five airstrikes in Gaza, resulting in three Palestinians being injured.

While all initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy were welcome, much more needed to be done to support the political process aimed at establishing Palestinian statehood. Economic development was no substitute for sovereignty and statehood.

[From meeting notes of Security Council meeting 8054]

Rohingya refugees struggle in roadside settlements

Some 429,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar since a violent crackdown on the Rohingya community began a month ago following a series of attacks on security posts.

The vast majority are now living in informal camps and spontaneous settlements that have sprung up in Bangladesh, clinging to hillsides and strung out along busy roads. Their need for food, shelter, access to healthcare and child protection is particularly acute.

Sara is – incredibly – more fortunate than many. Along the road south from the Kutupalong Refugee Camp, single mother Agida, 35, and her four children sleep rough on the mud-churned verge, strewn with discarded trash and clothes. She survives on occasional aid packages handed out or tossed from trucks by private donors, and by begging from passing cars. Exposed to the monsoon downpours, she is also terrified for her children. “It’s not safe here for them here,” she says with a desperation in her voice nearing panic. “Someone could take them while I sleep.”

The UN High Commission for Refugees is stepping up all efforts to safeguard the most vulnerable refugees like Sara, and their families, caught up in a tragic crisis unprecedented in the region in decades. At the request of Bangladeshi authorities, the UNHCR is putting up hundreds of family tents and distributing thousands of plastic sheets to help shelter refugees like Sara. The UN Refugee Agency, with the help of backers such as the UAE and the courier service UPS, has now sent four planes loaded with relief items into the country.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, toured Kutupalong camp and asked mothers gathered in the makeshift camp what their children needed most.

“Everything,” they replied.

[ReliefWeb]

Third earthquake in Mexico in less than 3 weeks

A 6.1 magnitude earthquake shook southern Mexico on Saturday morning, the US Geological Survey said, rattling a country still coming to grips with the devastation from two stronger temblors earlier this month.

Saturday’s quake was centered in Oaxaca state about 275 miles southeast of Mexico City. Roughly speaking, the epicenter was between the centers of this month’s two more violent earthquakes — the 7.1 magnitude temblor that hit Tuesday closer to the capital, and the 8.1 magnitude quake that struck September 8 off the southern Pacific coast, near Chiapas state.

More than 300 people have been reported killed in the September19 quake; nearly 100 reportedly died in the September 8 temblor.

[CNN]

Wrath in the path of Hurricane Maria

The Turks and Caicos Islands, a British overseas territory of more than 52,000 people,  felt Hurricane Maria’s wrath Friday as the storm hurtled through the Caribbean while still causing trouble on the battered US territory of Puerto Rico after its landfall two days earlier.

Maria is still producing winds of 125 mph (more than 200 kilometers per hour).

Hurricane Maria raked across Puerto Rico, an island of more than 3 million people, as the most powerful storm to strike the island in more than 80 years, ripping roofs off buildings, filling homes with water and knocking out power to the entire population. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said it could be months before the electricity returns.

A dangerous storm surge and large waves are expected to raise water levels by as much as 9 to 12 feet above normal tide in the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas. In Turks and Caicos, 8 to 20 inches of rainfall is predicted, and in Puerto Rico, an additional 3 to 6 inches is likely, with isolated maximum storm totals at 40 inches.

Heavy rains are also expected in parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Bahamas.

The giant storm’s death toll is beginning to mount. In Puerto Rico, Maria left at least 13 dead, based on preliminary assessments, the island’s governor told CNN’s “New Day.” At least 15 people are confirmed dead on Dominica, and dozens more remain missing.

[CNN]

US humanitarian aid to select countries facing food insecurity and violence

The United States announced more than $575 million in additional humanitarian assistance to the millions of people affected by food insecurity and violence in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia.

This additional funding brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance to nearly $2.5 billion for these four crises since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017.

The announcement was made by United States Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green at the United Nations General Assembly.  With this new funding, the United States is providing emergency food and nutrition assistance, life-saving medical care, improved sanitation, emergency shelter, and protection for vulnerable groups who have been affected by conflict.  The United States is also providing safe drinking water and supporting health and hygiene programs to treat and prevent disease outbreaks, including cholera, which has taken hold in all four countries.

During today’s announcement, Administrator Green reiterated the U.S. Government’s commitment to working with international and local partners to avert famine and provide life-saving aid to people impacted by these crises.

[USAid]

Central Mexico earthquake

For the second time in two weeks, a powerful earthquake struck Mexico, toppling buildings, cracking highways and killing hundreds of people.

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked central Mexico on Tuesday, killing more than 200 people, leveling buildings and knocking out power to millions.

Mexico is still recovering from a magnitude 8.1 quake that hit earlier this month off the country’s southern coast. That quake, which killed at least 61 people, was the strongest quake to hit the country in 100 years, according to President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Although the two earthquakes struck hundreds of miles apart, they have some similarities, experts say. The 7.1-magnitude earthquake Tuesday was about 650 kilometers from the epicenter of the 8.1-magnitude earthquake that hit September 8, said Jana Pursley, a geophysicist with the US Geological Survey. Both earthquakes seem to be a result of the rupture of fault lines within the North American tectonic plate.

[CNN]