Phone technology gives refugees a cash lifeline

Brian Dinga, his sister-in-law and her six children fled their South Sudanese home in September 2016 after his brother was shot dead in fighting. They trekked across the border into Uganda and were accommodated in the world’s largest refugee settlement, Bidibidi, where they struggled to make ends meet.

A donated mobile phone has given them a lifeline. Brian was identified by the non-governmental organization DanChurchAid as a vulnerable case and he now receives an electronic cash transfer via the donated phone to buy food for his family.

UNHCR is providing phones to refugee representatives so they can report on issues such as protection, water supplies and other services. UNHCR turned to the private sector for help and at the beginning of the year, it reached agreements with the Ugandan mobile network operators MTN, Africell and Airtel to provide connectivity.

Zein Annous, chief executive at Africell, said the company was “following the lead of the government’s generous policy towards refugees” by selling phones in the settlements at reduced prices and providing SIM cards free of charge. “Providing telecom services to refugees is a business but we also see it as part of our corporate responsibility,” he said. “We want to improve lives in a sustainable way.”

Working with the private sector to provide connectivity and improve the delivery of aid to refugees is one of the key themes among topics being discussed at a two-day conference in Geneva this week designed to find ways to strengthen the international response to refugees.

A rape-murder sours Lebanon on its Syrian refugees

As Europe and the United States are closing their doors to the world’s spiraling number of refugees, especially Syrians, the burden is intensifying in countries like Lebanon that border war zones and receive the vast majority of refugees.

When ­Syrians began streaming into Lebanon six years ago to escape their country’s war, around 1,000 of them found a welcome in the small Christian village of Miziara, in the pine-clad mountains of the north. That was until the discovery of the body of Raya Chidiac, 26, a daughter of one of the village’s wealthiest businessmen. She had been bound, raped and suffocated with a plastic bag. The Syrian caretaker at the family’s home confessed to the killing and was arrested and charged with murder.

The ensuing backlash against Syrians has rippled across Lebanon, exposing razor-sharp tensions between the country’s 1 million Syrian refugees and their hosts that increasingly threaten to open up Lebanon’s own fragile sectarian divisions. Syria’s neighbors are hosting 5 million Syrian refugees, compared with about 18,000 admitted by the United States and 1 million who have sought asylum in Europe. As the war in Syria drags into an eighth year with no sign either of an end to the fighting or a peace settlement that will guarantee safe returns, concerns are growing that the refugees will not be going home.

Chidiac’s killing touched a nerve among Lebanese who feel they are shouldering a disproportionate share of the refugee crisis. Calls are mounting for the refugees to be sent back regardless of conditions inside Syria. As for the Syrians living in Miziara, it was already too late. All of them, refugees or not, were ordered to leave the town after Chidiac was killed, setting a precedent many Syrians fear may soon be replicated across Lebanon.

[Washington Post]

Russia sending humanitarian aid to Cuba

Russia has now sent Cuba 930 tons of humanitarian aid aimed at helping to manage the consequences of the deadly Hurricane Irma.

The aid mainly included construction materials and medicines. According to Russian Emergency Minister Vladimir Puchkov, Russia will deliver more than 1,200 tons of construction materials as humanitarian assistance to Cuba.

In September, the Caribbean region, including Cuba and the southeast of the United States, were hit by a number of hurricanes. Hurricane Irma is considered to be one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, which caused significant damage to Cuba’s energy and agriculture sectors.

[Sputnik]

Singapore send humanitarian relief to aid Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) team on Tuesday arrived in Bangladesh to deliver some $270,000 worth in aid to Rohingya refugees. The humanitarian supplies, which comprised tents, blankets, food, medical supplies and lamps, were donated by the Singapore Government and non-governmental aid group Mercy Relief.

A second batch of aid is slated to be delivered to Bangladesh by the RSAF on Wednesday.

Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman, who travelled to Bangladesh with the team, told reporters: “We are a small state, we do what we can to help.”

“Singaporeans are also concerned,” he said, referring to the crisis, and noting that several community organizations had stepped forward to raise funds for humanitarian efforts and were working with relief agencies to help distribute them.

Some 500,000 Rohingya are estimated to have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state for Bangladesh since August. On Tuesday, Mercy Relief said it had identified women as the most vulnerable group in the overpopulated evacuation camps. Its team members will be distributing relief items such as dignity kits for women that contain scarves, sanitary napkins, soap, as well as solar lamps and tents.

[Straits Times]

Fourth storm, Hurricane Nate slams U.S. Gulf coast

Hurricane Nate slammed into the Mississippi coast on Sunday with destructive winds and torrential rains that flooded streets and highways throughout the region as the fast-moving Category 1 storm made landfall.

The fourth major storm to strike the United States in less than two months, Nate killed at least 30 people in Central America before entering the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and bearing down on the U.S. South. It has also shut down most oil and gas production in the Gulf.

Nate comes on the heels of three other major storms, Harvey, Irma and Maria, which devastated Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, respectively. However, with winds of 85 miles per hour (135 km per hour), which make it a Category 1 storm, the weakest in the five-category ranking used by meteorologists, Nate appeared to lack the devastating punch of its predecessors.

[Reuters]

Swiss humanitarian aid worker abducted in Darfur

A Swiss humanitarian aid worker has been abducted in the conflict-torn Darfur region of Sudan, Switzerland’s foreign ministry and a United Nations source said on Sunday.

The kidnapping is the first such incident since a UN peacekeeping force began downsizing its troops in conflict-wracked Darfur, a western region of Sudan the size of France.

The Swiss foreign ministry told AFP in an email it was “aware of the case of a Swiss woman kidnapped in Sudan [Darfur]”. The foreign ministry did not provide any details on the identity of the abducted woman or the circumstances surrounding her kidnapping.

The Swiss national had lived in Sudan for many years and was “abducted by unidentified armed perpetrators near her residence …late last evening,” (Saturday), UN’s top aid official in Sudan, Marta Ruedas, told AFP. “She is not a UN staff member, but she has long collaborated with the UN on a number of initiatives.”

Ruedas said the aid worker has been actively involved in humanitarian work in El Fashir, the capital of North Darfur state. Social media reports indicated the abducted woman had been working for a Swiss non-governmental organization providing aid to children.

[AFP]

Africa holds the keys to its own development

As a region, Africa accounts for around 20 percent of U.S. aid, with Egypt, Kenya, and South Sudan being the biggest beneficiaries. Although critics argue that lowered public international spending will adversely affect development projects, this reduction should also be seen as an opportunity for the continent to rise and for the relationship between the U.S. and Africa to evolve.

Africans must identify priorities, define, and implement them:
Priority 1: Job creation – Given that the continent will have a shortfall of 74 million jobs that need to be created by 2020, governments need to create policies and implementation plans that will allow for a more competitive private sector that favors business growth and job creation.
Priority 2: Regional Integration – African governments should seek to improve regional integration initiatives, which are key to sustaining development and encouraging long-term prosperity for the entire region.
Priority 3: Commercial engagement and trade – Leaders must actively seek commercial and trade engagement. The recent Trump administration trade report to Congress clearly reflects that the U.S. will unequivocally protect America first in future trade regimes.

Though aid to Africa looks like it will get cut, it doesn’t mean that U.S. engagement will too. The region is of paramount importance because of Western reliance on natural resources, trade, economic opportunities, and long-term security issues. In fact, American engagement in Africa largely serves American interests.

African leaders should not be dismayed by possible cuts in foreign aid, instead, they should actively seek to create the enabling environment necessary to boost local economies, attract foreign investment, negotiate transfer of technology, encourage private sector growth/competitiveness, and increase regional integration.

[Excerpts of Brookings article by Angelle Kwemo]

September deadliest month of 2017 for Syrians

Hospitals, ambulances, schools and displaced people escaping violence are being routinely targeted by airstrikes in Syria, resulting in high numbers of deaths and injuries, and making September the deadliest month of the year, according to the United Nations regional relief coordinator for the crisis.

“I am appalled by reports of high numbers of civilian casualties due to heavy air attacks in Syria,” said Panos Moumtzis, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis . “September was the deadliest month of 2017 for civilians with daily reports of attacks on residential areas resulting in hundreds of conflict-related deaths and injuries.”

Schools and hospitals in Idlib have been forced to close for fear of being targeted. Mr. Moumtzis asserted that targeting civilians and facilities, including hospitals and other medical facilities is “simply unacceptable and constitute a grave violation of human rights and international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.”

This week, airstrikes on Raqqa City killed dozens of people and injured many others while some 8,000 others remain trapped there. Between September 19-30, airstrikes on residential areas in Idlib killed at least 149 people – the majority of whom were women and children. Three explosions in Damascus city caused the death of 20 people and injured 15 more. Civilian casualties were also reported in Rural Damascus, Hama, Aleppo and Deir-ez-Zor. Three explosions in Damascus city caused the death of 20 people and injured 15 more. Civilian casualties were also reported in Rural Damascus, Hama, Aleppo and Deir-ez-Zor.

“I would like to praise the phenomenal work carried out by humanitarian workers and in particular national staff,” he continued, noting that rescue workers on a daily basis risk their lives to help others.

[UN News Centre]

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a largely Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar at the center of a humanitarian catastrophe, many of whom have ended up sheltering in makeshift camps in Bangladesh, telling tales of killings, rape, and massacres.

But the Myanmar government won’t even use the word “Rohingya,” let alone admit they’re being persecuted. Instead, the government calls them Bengalis, foreigners, or worse, terrorists. This difference between these two terms—Rohingya and Bengali—is crucial to understanding the crisis unfolding in Myanmar, where more than 500,000 Rohingya have recently fled following a government crackdown and which has been called a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing by the top United Nations human-rights official.

Before the massacres, there were thought to be around 1.1 million Rohingya living in the country. Indeed, the Rohingya have existed in Myanmar—a Buddhist majority country formerly called Burma—for centuries. The Rohingya had carved a place for themselves in Burma; with some serving in parliament and other high offices. Their ethnicity was included in the 1961 census.

The situation quickly deteriorated for the Rohingya, however, following the 1962 military coup, when the government refused to fully recognize new generations of the Rohingya population. In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed that prevented Rohingya from easily accessing full citizenship, rendering many of them stateless.

Since the late 1970s, nearly one million Rohingya are estimated to have fled Myanmar. In 2009, a UN spokeswoman described the Rohingya as “probably the most friendless people in the world”. Yet many Rohingya—collectively dubbed across international media as “boat people”—were stuck because they were turned away from a number of Southeast Asian countries where that had hoped to flee to.

[Quartz]

Money spent on MDGs well-invested

A recent Brookings study revealed that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the development agenda set by the US and others for the first fifteen years of this century – were more successful than anybody knew. Bottom line: The study concludes that at least 21 million more people are alive today as a result.

This tells us that the simple MDG approach worked; the U.S. and other, smaller donors helped save a number of lives equivalent to the entire population of Florida. If USAID continues to focus on effective targets, the American public could be reassured that every dollar is achieving the most possible.

The reduction of childhood malnutrition deserves funds. Evidence for Copenhagen Consensus showed that every dollar spent providing better nutrition for 68 million children would produce over $40 in long-term social benefits.

Malaria, too, deserves attention. A single case can be averted for as little as $11. We don’t just stop one persons suffering; we save a community from lost economic productivity. Our economists estimated that reducing the incidence of malaria by 50% would generate a 35-fold return in benefits to society.

Tuberculosis is a disease that has been overlooked and under-funded. Despite being the world’s biggest infectious killer, in 2015 it received just 3.4 per cent of development assistance for health. Reducing TB deaths by 90 per cent would result in 1.3 million fewer deaths. In economic terms, this would bring benefits worth $43 for every dollar spent.

There are 19 such targets that deserve prioritization, because each dollar would do a lot to achieve a safer, healthier world – a result that leads to lasting benefits for the US. When it comes to development, everyone’s goal should be the same. Rather than slashing funds for development, the United States should maintain its global leadership by focusing on the areas where every dollar achieves the most good.

[Inter Press Service]

Pile-up of natural disasters and humanitarian crises

Relief organizations and U.S. government agencies that handle disasters are feeling the pressure of a unique pileup of catastrophic events. Besides the Mexico earthquakes, there was a landslide killing a thousand people in Sierra Leone. And in Bangladesh, half a million Muslim Rohingya refugees have poured in, fleeing violence in Myanmar.

All this has happened as the world was already grappling with the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II: 20 million people at risk of dying from starvation and disease due to conflicts and drought in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

USAID, the agency that delivers U.S. assistance to poor countries, has deployed six separate disaster response teams including teams to help displaced people from Syria and Iraq. “This is only the second time that we’ve had six teams mobilized at once,” notes Alex Mahoney, a top official with the agency’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, or OFDA. The last time was during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. “So yes, it’s unusual,” he says.

USAID’s OFDA says the staffing demands of Ebola combined with several other disasters at the time, including the earthquake in Nepal and the Syrian refugee crises, “stretched OFDA to the breaking point.”

“We didn’t drop the ball on it, but it really took everything we had,” says former OFDA official Jeremy Konyndyk, who is now a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. “We pushed our staff farther and for longer than was sustainable.”

And in the aftermath, he and other officials concluded that this was unlikely to be a one-time occurrence.

[NPR]

Donor fatigue grips USA

The charity World Vision International is a major provider of disaster relief across the globe. So when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the group revved up its fundraising big-time. “We’ve raised just under $4 million in cash donations,” said Drew Clark, the charity’s senior director of emergencies.

Two weeks later Hurricane Irma roared through the Caribbean and Florida. This time World Vision brought in $900,000.

Then came the big earthquake in Mexico that killed more than 340 people. That fundraising appeal netted $150,000.

And for Hurricane Maria–which has left many of the 3.4 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico without reliable sources of power, food or even water–World Vision has only taken in about $100,000.

“There is clearly evidence of donor fatigue,” says Clark. “There’s just a limit to the amount of responses that we can successfully fundraise for.”

“I would say it is somewhat unprecedented,” says Leisel Talley of the epic cascade of disasters. She is leading the international component of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s response to the hurricanes. Talley says it’s not just that the U.S. has been clobbered with three disasters in a row. It’s that this happened alongside multiple other new crises since August.

[NPR]

Qatar Charity and UNHCR to provide aid in Myanmar

Qatar Charity and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have signed a cooperation agreement to set up emergency shelter for displaced Rohingya refugees in Myanmar

Under the agreement, the UNHCR will set up 420 temporary shelters for the Rohingya refugees in three areas in the Rakhine and Kajine states, with funds up to half a million dollars supplied by Qatar Charity.

Rohingya Muslims have suffered due to the recent escalation of the persecution campaign against them, which led to the flight of hundreds of thousands of them towards the borders with Bangladesh.

[ReliefWeb]