Richard Branson: Hurricanes are the ‘start of things to come’

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson rode out Hurricane Irma in his wine cellar on his private island in the British Virgin Islands. As many of the same islands brace for the impact of Hurricane Maria, he appeared on CNN’s “New Day” with a message: “Climate change is real.”

After anchor John Berman asked if he saw a correlation between the recent hurricanes and climate change, Branson said, “…Scientists have said the storms are going to get more and more and more intense and more and more often. We’ve had four storms within a month, all far greater than that have ever, ever, ever happened in history.”

“Sadly,” he continued, “I think this is the start of things to come.”

Branson noted that recent storms like Irma, which tore through the Caribbean, and Harvey, which ravaged Houston, Texas, have been extremely devastating.

“Look,” the philanthropist said, “Climate change is real. Ninety-nine percent of scientists know it’s real. The whole world knows it’s real except for maybe one person in the White House.”

“The cost of rebuilding just the British Virgin Islands will be three or four billion dollars,” Branson responded. “The cost of rebuilding Houston will be billions of dollars. If all that money could be invested in clean energy, in powering the world by the sun and by the wind, where we won’t have to suffer these awful events in the future, how much better than having to patch up people’s houses after they’ve been destroyed?”

[CNN]

The necessity of education for refugee children

According to a new report by the UN Refugee Agency, 3.5 million refugee children are currently out of school.

A year ago, in September 2016, the first UN Summit for Refugees & Migrants and Leaders’ Summit on Refugees took place. While we have seen greater attention and awareness on the importance of investing in education for the globally displaced, we must not lose this opportunity to hold governments and donors accountable to commitments made at least year’s historic refugee summits. We must ensure that these commitments are tracked and that students see the benefits of commitments that were made on their behalf.

During this week’s Session of the UN General Assembly, and related meetings and events, we encourage donors and decision makers to prioritize follow-up from last year’s Leaders’ Summit, including:

  • Identify a lead government or entity to coordinate formal follow-up from the Summit.
  • Ensure sufficient monitoring and evaluation of commitments made at the Summit.
  • Provide mid-year and annual reports on commitments made at the Summit.
  • Host follow-up ministerial meetings to track ongoing commitments and generate new support are held, as appropriate.
  • Ensure that civil society is consulted and fully engaged, as our constituencies can be leveraged to assist in this effort.

Efforts to mobilize the support of refugee-hosting governments and the donor community are critical in finding solutions to these unprecedented challenges.

[Global Campaign for Education]

Belgium to double its investment in humanitarian innovation

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo announced in New York that Belgium will double its investment in humanitarian innovation next year.

De Croo said, “More and more people die because of humanitarian crises and conflicts. Still, only one per cent of humanitarian means is dedicated to humanitarian innovation and research. We must change this. More innovation will save more people. This is why next year, Belgium will double its investment in humanitarian innovation to 20 million.”

One of the innovative projects that Belgium is investing in, together with the World Food Programme (WFP), is a program for the development of humanitarian drones. With drones, humanitarian organizations can, among other things, collect more precise information about disaster areas and bring emergency aid more quickly to areas that are difficult to access. Often, the most vulnerable victims are located precisely there.

Together with Handicap International, Belgium is also investing in the development of 3D-printed limbs. In many crisis regions, people with severe physical injuries have only limited access to quality prostheses.

[ReliefWeb]

Three storms raging in Atlantic — with one aiming for Irma’s path

Three storms are spinning in the Atlantic, with one already a hurricane and another one strengthening and forecast to threaten areas battered by Hurricane Irma last week.

Tropical Storm Maria formed Saturday in the western Atlantic Ocean and is expected to be a hurricane by late Monday and a major hurricane by Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center says. By Sunday morning, Maria was about 460 miles southeast of the Lesser Antilles, moving toward the Caribbean at 15 mph.

That means areas devastated by Irma could again be dealing with hurricane conditions by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Hurricane watches have been issued for Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, Dominica and Anguilla. Tropical storm watches are posted for St. Lucia, Martinique, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose, a Category 1 storm, is spinning about 420 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and 435 miles southwest of Bermuda. Jose currently has maximum sustained winds of 80 mph and is expected to remain a hurricane through Monday night, the Hurricane Center said.

There’s also Tropical Storm Lee, which formed earlier Saturday in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.

[CNN]

‘Humanitarian catastrophe’ unfolding as Myanmar takes over aid efforts in Rakhine state

Nearly 400,000 Rohinyga have fled into makeshift camps in Bangladesh since 25 August, when coordinated assaults on security outposts by Rohingya insurgents prompted a massive military crackdown.

Now, the Myanmar government has taken control of aid operations in the country’s crisis-hit Rakhine state, as reports continue of massacres and “ethnic cleansing” by soldiers on the Muslim population there.

The UN has described the humanitarian situation for Rohingya people in northern Rakhine as catastrophic.  Sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Guardian they fear a deliberate attempt to undermine aid operations.Senior officials and Human Rights Watch said they believe the move could become permanent, ending vital food and health programs run by international agencies. Already there is an aid blockade on UN agencies that workers say is having a severe impact on malnourished children.

“We’re slowly getting kicked out,” said one. “This could fundamentally shift the way we operate here. The amount of time it will take to get back, or even if we are allowed, is all up in the air and in the meantime there could be a humanitarian disaster,” they said. “The government clearly don’t want us there. It’s an attempt to keep us out in a way that doesn’t fall on them; they can use security as an excuse. It’s obvious what’s going on,” they added.

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, said he believed the moves could be part of a government strategy to hinder the flow of information from the ground. “It’s becoming clear that the Myanmar government may be moving forward with a larger political plan to replace agencies on the ground in Rakhine with the much more malleable and less-inclined-to-speak-publicly Myanmar Red Cross,” he said.

[The Guardian]

Mexico steps up to unique triple disaster threat

There are few countries in the world resilient enough to respond to a hurricane and the strongest earthquake in a century, accompanied by a tsunami threat, all within hours of each other. Such was the challenge that confronted Mexico last week.

Officials at Mexico’s National Civil Protection System, created after the 1985 earthquake that claimed over 10,000 lives, kept a watchful eye on Hurricane Katia, one of three hurricanes newly emerged from the Atlantic, when the country was hit by an 8.1 earthquake which triggered 3-metre waves along parts of the Pacific coastline.

Tragically, some 90 people lost their lives in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco, and many have been made homeless. But the numbers of affected could have been higher if not for the continuous improvement of Mexico’s early warning systems and disaster risk management for all natural hazards, which has been ongoing for over three decades.

The 8.1 earthquake rippled across Mexico City for a full minute before subsiding, but the “alerta sismica” (seismic alert) gave residents a vital 86 seconds to find safety before it struck. Two years ago this month saw the activation of a new Seismic Warning System operated through 8,200 loudspeakers, to familiarize residents of Mexico City with the sound of alerts that give them up to 50 seconds’ notice of earthquakes. The alerts are also sent to mobile phones and other devices.

Political commitment is key to reducing disaster losses and addressing the underlying drivers of disaster risk, whether that means reducing greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring resilient infrastructure and strong building codes, protecting ecosystems or paying special attention to the needs of impoverished and vulnerable communities.

[Excerpts of PreventionWeb article by Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction]

UK limits spending on Irma disaster relief as overseas territories ‘too wealthy’

The UK’s £13bn aid budget cannot be spent helping its overseas territories recover from Hurricane Irma, the Government has said. Instead, funding must be collected from other reserves across the Government, which have been described as “scanty”.

Anguilla, Turks, Caicos and the British Virgin Islands are all considered too wealthy to receive emergency funding from the budget, according to international aid rules.

The UK has so far pledged £57m to help fund the recovery effort following the deadly storm. Now, the Government is facing claims that five times more aid could have been sent to help the victims of the hurricane had it been allowed to dip into aid budget reserves.

An unnamed minister told the BBC:  “This great pot of ODA, necessary for development, needs to be spent on crises like this and we have to find a way of doing it.”

A Government spokesman said: “This was an unprecedented disaster and it’s absolutely right that the Government responded immediately to the needs of those affected. This was our primary focus and continues to be our priority.

The way Britain and 34 other developed nations spend their aid budget is governed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development based in Paris (OECD). Countries are given a ranking according to need, which is intended to ensure the poorest nations are given priority.

[The Independent]

Irma leaves trail of destruction and broken records

Irma finally weakened to just a big storm, 10 days after it became a hurricane and started on a destructive and powerful path that killed 40 people in the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States.

Irma was producing very heavy rain across the Southeast, leading to flash floods and rapid rises in creeks, streams and rivers. The hurricane center said that significant river flooding would persist over the Florida peninsula for several days and that parts of Georgia, South Carolina and north-central Alabama remained vulnerable to flash floods.

In Irma’s wake, meanwhile, lay a trail of devastation from the Cape Verde Islands to Georgia. Irma was so strong and so robust that it seemingly set a record for the number of records it set. According to Phil Klotzbach, a noted atmospheric research scientist at Colorado State University:

  • When Irma reached Category 5 — the strongest there is — it stayed there for more than three days, the longest run since forecasters began using satellites to monitor tropical storms more than a half-century ago.
  • Irma kept blowing 185-mph maximum sustained winds for 37 hours — the longest any cyclone has ever maintained that intensity anywhere on Earth since records started being kept.
  • Irma generated the most accumulated energy by any tropical cyclone in the Atlantic tropics on record.

But if there’s one statistic that sums Irma up, it’s this one: It generated enough accumulated cyclone energy — the total wind energy generated over a storm’s lifetime — to meet the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s definition of an average full Atlantic hurricane season.

About 7.5 million customers remained without power in Florida late Monday. Almost 1½ million had no power in Georgia, which experienced the oddity of tropical storm warnings over Atlanta, more than 800 miles from where Irma made its first U.S. landfall. “This will be the largest ever mobilization of [electric] line restoration workers in this country, period, end of story,” Tom Bossert, President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser, told reporters Monday.

The U.S. military spread far and wide in what Bossert called “the largest-ever mobilization of our military in a naval and marine operation. … We have the largest flotilla operation in our nation’s history to help not only the people of Puerto Rico, the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but also St. Martin and other non-U.S. islands affected,” he said.

[NBC]

What Hurricane Irma brought

Record-setting Hurricane Irma, which began as a Category 5 storm, has weakened but continued a furious climb up the Florida coast on Monday, toppling cranes, swallowing streets and leaving millions without power, after a multi-billion-dollar rampage through the Caribbean. At least 30 people have been killed.

The storm was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, after striking the Florida Keys island chain as a more powerful Category 4 on Sunday. But warnings of hazardous storm surges remained in effect through vast swaths of the Florida peninsula.

Maximum sustained winds had decreased to 75 miles (120 kilometres) per hour as of 5:00 am local time (0900 GMT).

While southwest Florida bore the deadly brunt of Irma, the eastern coastlines of Miami and the barrier island of Miami Beach were heavily inundated by storm surges.

The death toll is at least 30: 14 in the French island of St Barts and the neighboring Dutch-French territory of St Martin; six in the British Caribbean islands; at least four in the US Virgin Islands; at least two in Puerto Rico; and one in Barbuda. Three other deaths occurred in Florida due to car accidents sparked by strong winds and torrential rain.

In Florida, more than six million customers were without power, according to the state’s Division of Emergency Management. More than six million people had been ordered to flee their homes in one of the biggest evacuations in US history.

The combined economic cost of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could reach $290 billion, equivalent to 1.5 percent of the US gross domestic product, US forecaster AccuWeather said in a report.

Nearing 300,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar

The number of Rohingya who have fled fighting in western Myanmar has climbed sharply to 270,000, placing a huge strain on camps in Bangladesh where they are seeking shelter, the United Nations refugee agency said.

Two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh that were already home to nearly 34,000 Rohingya refugees “are now bursting at the seams,” Duniya Aslam Khan, a spokeswoman for the refugee agency, said in a statement. “The limited shelter capacity is already exhausted,” she said. “Refugees are now squatting in makeshift shelters that have mushroomed along the road.”

The refugees in Bangladesh are mostly women and children who have arrived by foot, the United Nations refugee agency said. The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group that has faced severe repression in Myanmar, where a Buddhist majority has long ruled. About one million of them live in Rakhine State in the west of the country.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her long struggle against military rule, has come under increasing international criticism for the plight of the Rohingya. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, also a Nobel laureate, wrote in a letter Thursday that it was “incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country” that “is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people.”

Previously, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had also confronted Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi on Twitter over the violence against the Rohingya.

[New York Times]