Violence leaves at least 200 dead in Syria

It’s hard to believe that in a brutal civil war that’s lasted seven years, some of the worst acts of violence in Syria have come in the last 48 hours. At least 200 civilians have been killed in government shelling and airstrikes.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, backed by Russia, is trying to bury the opposition on the outskirts of Damascus. After one airstrike, residents scrambled to find survivors and protect themselves from the next one. Even by the standards of the Syrian war, activists describe what’s happened in the past 48 hours in the rebel-held enclave of Ghouta near the capital as a bloodbath.

White-shrouded bodies lined the hospital floors, many of them children. Ghouta has been under siege for more than five years. Pro-government forces are reportedly preparing a new ground assault that will crush the rebels once and for all. All residents can do is brace for the onslaught.

[CBS]

The impact of climate change

Of the top ten costliest hurricanes of all time in the U.S., nine have been since 2004. And half have been in the past five years.

In the past three years, the city of Houston alone has endured three so-called 500-year floods.

While there’s much we don’t know about climate change, here are three things we know for certain:

  1. Climate change increased the intensity and likelihood of storms – 2017 was a devastating year of natural disasters, by any measure, from wildfires in several western states to intense heatwaves in the Southwest to Harvey, followed closely by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

A recent study by hurricane experts in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences found that Harvey’s unprecedented 51 inches of rainfall in the Houston area, as well as wind speeds in other parts of the state, were three times more likely and 15 percent more intense than without climate change. The study even called the rainfall “biblical” – as in, it has likely occurred only once since the time the Old Testament was written.

In Texas now, the odds of another Harvey-like rainfall could be nearly 1 in 5 per year by 2100 – put another way, rain of this magnitude could hit the state 18 times more often by the end of the century. Storms that have more than 20 inches of rain in Texas are about six times more likely now than they were at the end of the 20th century, just 18 years ago.

Climate change did not cause Hurricane Harvey, but it certainly made its impact much worse. Like an athlete on steroids, climate change enhances the performance of an already powerful force.

  1. The costs are and will continue to be enormous – If we do not act to mitigate further damage, while adapting our infrastructure and our systems to the reality of climate change, we will face dire financial consequences that may prove impossible to work around.
  1. The impact on people is much deeper than numbers and dollars – Climate change isn’t just about studies and storm patterns, it means people are devastated.

After Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said, “Three 500-year floods in three years means either we’re free and clear for the next 1,500 years or something has seriously changed.”

Unfortunately, the reality is the latter.

[Environmental Defense Fund]

Getting Lebanon’s water flowing

The Syrian conflict has displaced at least 1.5 million people to Lebanon, putting pressure on water services and resources. Humanitarian agencies and the national government have drawn on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicators to gather new data on access to water and water quality, to be able to respond more effectively to the water crisis.

UN-Habitat estimates that demand on water services has increased by 30 per cent since the crisis began. 3.7 million people – both Lebanese and Syrian are in need of water. The water crisis affecting Lebanon predates the arrival of the Syrian refugees. Decades of civil unrest and under-investment, followed by episodes of conflict driven by regional and sectarian tensions, have splintered towns and cities, damaging the country’s existing water infrastructure that delivers water to towns, cities and households.

Although Lebanon is rich in water compared to Jordan, Israel and Syria, the amount of renewable water in the region has dropped from 1,000 cubic metres a year per person – considered the threshold of water poverty – to around 700m3 per person since the refugees arrived.

Humanitarian agencies, national government and water utilities have been working to respond to the infrastructural and water resource challenges that underpin the crisis. UNICEF has been working with the MoEW to collect and support data collection on access to water linked to the new SDG indicator on quality.

[International Institute for Environment and Development]

Somalia ‘not out of the woods yet’ on drought relief efforts

Despite Somalia experiencing over five failed rain cycles, drought-related famine was averted through the efforts of Somalis and their international partners.

The top United Nations humanitarian official in Somalia has commended the drought relief and recovery efforts of the authorities in the northern state of Puntland, while cautioning that the current humanitarian crisis is far from over.

The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, said “We are not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination.”

There are still 5.4 million people in Somalia needing life-saving humanitarian assistance. Work is being done in all regions to build and sustain resilience in all communities.

[UN News]

Yemen: The world’s worst humanitarian crisis enters another year

Four years after the Houthi takeover of the capital Sana’a and the beginning of the Saudi-led military intervention, there is little to suggest that Yemen will find peace in the near future.

As of January 2018, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions, causing widespread devastation to the country’s civilian and public infrastructure, including hospitals, airports, roads, houses and factories.

With more than 8 million people ‘a step away from famine’ (Al Jazeera, 10 December 2017) and a major cholera outbreak that has killed 2,000 people and infected almost 1 million (World Health Organization, 11 December 2017), Yemen has descended into what has been described as the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’.

The ongoing civil war in Yemen is the result of several local and national power struggles, aggravated by a regional proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

[ACLED]

Gender equality and women’s empowerment unmet development targets

Without speedy progress on gender equality and real action to end pervasive discrimination against women and girls, the global community will not be able to keep the promise to ‘leave no one behind’ on the road to ending poverty, protecting the planet and advancing prosperity by 2030, according to a new United Nations report launched on Wednesday.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women said: “As a world, we committed through the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] to leave no one behind,” but the report reveals many areas where progress remains slow to achieve the Goals by 2030. Even where progress is made, it may not reach the women and girls who need it most and the ones that are being left furthest behind.”

The report points out that a girl born into poverty and forced into early marriage is more likely to drop out of school, give birth at an early age, suffer childbirth complications and experience violence – a scenario that encompasses all the SDGs. Moreover, new data in 89 countries reveals that there are 4.4 million more women than men living on less than $1.90 a day – much of which is explained by the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work women face, especially during their reproductive years.

“It’s a problem in all countries, developed, developing, north, south, east west,” Shahrashoub Razavi, UN Women’s Chief of Research and Data, told UN News. “We have a long way to go to achieve gender equality universally,” she added, calling it “a problem that stymies the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

[UN News]

Bill and Melinda Gates accomplishments from giving away over 40 billion dollars

It’s been 18 years since Bill and Melinda Gates announced that they intended to give away their fortune—now an estimated $91 billion—to better the planet, along with the lives of its most vulnerable inhabitants. Since then, they’ve hired over 1,400 employees and spent $40.3 billion to tackle some of the hardest-to-solve problems—like healthcare, poverty and education—in both developing countries and here at home.

“The human condition, by all key measures, has improved dramatically,” says Bill. “People are living longer and less children are dying; the death rate for children under five has been cut in half over the last 15 years.” Adds Melinda: “Last week I was in West Africa and Kenya. The amount of entrepreneurism and people lifting themselves up is palpable. The world is changing for the better and we want people to know that.”

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Bill: Global health is our biggest area, and it’s going well. With any luck we’ll have the last polio case this year.
Melinda: There are literally millions of children alive because of the vaccines that we’ve been involved with.
Bill: And there are things that are much longer term, like getting an HIV vaccine done, which unfortunately will probably take another decade. Eradicating malaria will probably be a 20-year quest.

Q: You often bring your kids on your humanitarian trips to the Third World. What have they learned?
Melinda: All three of our kids have spent a lot of time in the developing world, not just on nice safaris but sometimes living with these families. So it’s become central to our lives and, I’d say, has changed us all for the better. I think it will probably affect the path they’re each on in life. It certainly grounds us in what’s important.

[People]

Deterring emigration with Foreign Aid

As waves of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean and the US Southwest border, development agencies have received a de facto mandate: to deter migration from poor countries. The European Union, for example, has pledged €3 billion in development assistance to address the “root causes” of migration from Africa. The United States has made deterring migration a centerpiece of its development assistance to Central America.

Will it work? Development aid can only deter migration if it causes specific large changes in the countries migrants come from, and those changes must cause fewer people to move.

Evidence suggests that greater youth employment may deter migration in the short term for countries that remain poor. But such deterrence is overwhelmed when sustained overall development shapes income, education, aspirations, and demographic structure in ways that encourage emigration.

Emigration tends to slow and then fall as countries develop past middle-income. But most of today’s low-income countries will not approach that point for several decades at any plausible rate of growth. Because successful development goes hand in hand with greater migration, aid agencies seeking to affect migration must move beyond deterrence.

[Center for Global Development study]

Climate-smart agricultural initiatives set to scale in India

India brought to light a new plan for promoting solar farming. With an allocation of USD 21.8 billion, the government plans to start building 10,000 MW solar plants on barren lands, providing 1.75 million off-grid agricultural solar pumps. Through the scheme, farmers’ income levels are projected to see a sharp rise as they will be given an option to sell surplus power generated to the local power distribution companies.

Research partners first set up a solar pump irrigator’s cooperative in Dhundi Village of Gujarat in 2015, as a model of reference to be scaled for attaining multiple benefits of income growth, regularization of power, sustainable ground water use and de-dieselizing of agriculture leading to a curb in carbon dioxide emissions.

Now their efforts have come full circle with the Finance Minister of India announcing the government will take necessary measures and encourage state governments to put in place a mechanism that their surplus solar power is purchased by the distribution companies or licensees at reasonably remunerative rates.

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) as a concept envisions the creation and implementation of innovative models for attaining multiple benefits and resilience not just for the farming community but a wide range of stakeholders. The power from the sun is fetching not just economic dividends for the farmers but also helping create a sustainable business model on the whole. By early 2016, enough surplus power was sold to earn the farmers an additional income of around USD 5,300. Importantly, such initiatives put to motion the attainment of the nation’s intended nationally determined contributions towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

[CCAFS]

Refugee-made products on display at the world’s biggest trade fair

For the first time ever, refugee-made products will be on display at Ambiente, the leading international consumer goods trade show, from 9-13 February 2018, in Frankfurt, Germany. Twelve product lines created by refugee artisans and craft people from Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iran, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria will be presented.

This breakthrough is the result of MADE51, a new initiative by UNHCR and a global network of social enterprises to help talented makers fleeing war or persecution achieve greater self-reliance and access to the global marketplace. At Ambiente, potential buyers can view and order a variety of products, including:

  • bowls and jewelry created by Malian Tuareg refugees
  • cashmere throws, embroidered bags, block-printed scarves, lampshades and soft furnishings crafted by Syrian refugees
  • wall hangings and basketry woven by Burundian refugees
  • complex pile rugs, wool kilims and embroidered home textiles created by artisans who have returned to Afghanistan
  • scarves and bags hand-dyed by South Sudanese and Somali refugees
  • smoked bamboo lighting and embroidered jewelry made by refugees from Myanmar

[ReliefWeb]

The contribution of migration and displacement to urban growth

1: Are there more displaced people live in urban than rural areas? – You’d be forgiven for thinking that today the majority of displaced people live in cities. Nobody really knows whether there are more internally displaced people (IDPs) in urban than rural areas, or how long they stay there. Nor do we know what proportion of people newly displaced each year make their way to the world’s towns and cities.

2: Are urban IDPs more vulnerable than the urban poor? – It is also regularly suggested that urban IDPs face additional challenges specific to their displacement, and examples show that they are indeed at risk of exploitation and extortion. Yet, once in the city, displaced populations join the ranks of the broader urban poor and live in the same marginalized and precarious conditions.

3: Does urban displacement call for more humanitarian assistance? – Cities have attracted migrants and been sanctuaries for those displaced throughout history. Today, however, they are becoming hubs not only of opportunity but also of accumulated risk. This is particularly the case in hazard-prone regions, including parts of Africa and Asia where small and medium-sized cities are expected to experience the highest rates of urban growth in the coming years.

What role can humanitarians play in such situations? It would appear that a much broader and far-reaching response may be needed to reduce poverty and improve urban systems and services.

[Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre]

China emerging as a serious player in humanitarian aid

China is becoming a bigger player in humanitarian aid and emergency relief:
– China has demonstrated a preference to respond to natural disasters — rather than “complex emergencies” — and may concentrate its funding on just one or two major crises each year, the paper shows.
– China’s foreign aid spending was channeled to 4,300 projects in 140 countries. The top five recipients for Chinese aid were Cuba, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Cameroon.
– Less than a quarter of China’s total foreign spending of $350 billion from 2000 to 2014 was comprised of official development assistance — compared to the United States, which allocated 93 percent of its spending to ODA during this time period.
-China’s diplomatic interest in countries is considered the “most important” factor in guiding its aid, according to the ODI — a connection evidenced by the fact that African countries that vote with China at the U.N. get an average increase of 86 percent in aid, as AidData shows.
– But Beijing does also look beyond political allegiances and gains when responding to some emergencies, like the Haiti earthquake in 2011, even though the Haitian government is an ally of Taiwan, as Andreas Fuchs, a senior economics researcher at Heidelberg University’s Alfred-Weber-Institute for Economics notes.
– Adds Fuch: “The purpose of China’s aid activities and aid is to win heart, it is about its reputation and of course now the changes in the U.S. administration is understood as an opportunity to increase China’s influence. It is about promoting China’s image around the world.”
– Says Xiaoqing Boynton, a senior director at the global advisory group ASG: “I think the trajectory will continue to develop and I think China will continue to grow its aid and to grow its soft power influence in Africa, and also in places like Latin America and neighboring countries,” she said. “An area I want to watch is how China really becomes more integrated in the traditional, international donor society, with governments like the U.S. and major European donors and works to improve transparency in aid.”

[Read full Devex article]

7 issues that will shape the humanitarian agenda in 2018

Highlights of an article by Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC):

Syria enters its seventh year of fighting in 2018. Hunger and disease will affect millions of people in Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Around the world people will flee conflict only to become trapped in misery, as seen in Libya. People will suffer from immediate and long-term effects of conflict and violence, as I witnessed in Central African Republic earlier this month. We believe the following seven key issues will shape the humanitarian agenda in 2018:

  1. The international community’s report card on conflict – The international community’s efforts and successes in addressing conflict will be critical in shaping the political agenda and the humanitarian response in 2018. The international community must offer a fresh perspective for peace – in high-profile and neglected conflicts.
  2. Rebuilding urban battlefields – Fifty million people are bearing the brunt of war in cities around the world. Reconstruction is a vast challenge in populated locations and goes beyond rebuilding streets and houses to include water, sewer and electrical systems.
  3. Transforming humanitarian funding – In protracted conflicts we work on a dual timeline, conducting urgent relief and looking towards the 2030 horizon of long-term needs. Conflicts are not temporary interruptions, they are structural, socio-economic catastrophes, and funding must be allocated accordingly.
  4. International Humanitarian Law – We see violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) on the news every day. But the fact that IHL has changed wartime behavior over the decades is drastically under-reported. In 2018 we must strengthen consensus around the law as a stabilizing force.
  5. Forgotten people – Sixty-five million people have been forced to flee their homes globally, including over 40 million in their own countries, people often neglected and unable to access aid.
  6. Cyber attacks and new weapons of war – New technologies are rapidly giving rise to unprecedented methods of warfare. Innovations that yesterday were science fiction could cause catastrophe tomorrow, including nanotechnologies, combat robots, and laser weapons. Think of the humanitarian consequences of air traffic control systems, oil pipeline systems, or nuclear plants being hacked.
  7. 7. Tech for good – The Fourth Industrial Revolution does not just entail risks; it also brings solutions to humanitarian problems. For example, the ICRC is partnering with Microsoft to use facial recognition technology to help reunite families separated

What southern Africa can learn from other countries about adapting to drought

The total annual rainfall in southern Africa doesn’t seem to have changed much over the last century since measurements began. But it has become more variable: droughts and floods are more frequent than before. The region’s urban authorities, industries, farmers and other citizens will have to adapt to these conditions.

The experience of other countries may offer useful lessons. Some arid countries, Australia and Israel for example, have been forced to develop novel technologies and strategies to survive extremely dry conditions. After drought from 1997 to 2009 forced Melbourne to take drastic measures to conserve water, residents changed the way they used water – and that behavior has persisted. On average, they still use only a quarter of the water used by the average Californian.

Australia encouraged households to save water through technology and behavior. It provided rebates for residential greywater (water that is relatively clean enough to be reused e.g. from bath, sink or washing machine, in contrast to black water which is water from toilets) systems for gardening, encouraged investment in rainwater tanks and implemented water restrictions.

Israel has, over many decades, developed a centralized water management system. It has invested in continuous technological innovations, improvements in practice and development of long-term management plans. Its greatest innovation relates to irrigation. It has developed an efficient drip irrigation system that uses up to 75% less water than some other irrigation techniques.

Countries in southern Africa must also start using the water they have more efficiently.

[PreventionWeb]

Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals

We fixed a time frame (2030) [as to when] every citizen around the world should have functioning water and sanitation services within reach. That is at least what countries agreed on when they adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I am convinced that by 2021 at the latest, all countries serious about the SDGs need to have strong monitoring systems in place. How else will they know what path to follow to achieve water, sanitation and hygiene services for all?

The present monitoring and evaluation systems in place in many countries are not designed to respond to the challenges around the SDGs. Take Niger, where the government thought that 69.5 percent of the population had adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services. Estimates given by the Ministry of Water and Sanitation in 2016 showed, however, that the country has provided only 18% percent of the population with basic services. This is disruptive and shocking data for officials. Officials in Niger are reflecting on how to deal with this.

If you want real change, if you want the ambition of the SDGs to really happen, then you need to have a monitoring system that properly weights the problems, defines actions accordingly and measures progress and effectiveness.  It exposes problems you thought were fixed, obstacles and bottlenecks in your country’s system you had no idea of, or you have no data to illustrate a situation. It shows that people in the city have much better access to WASH services than villagers. And it might show that, as is the case in Mali, you do not have enough trained mechanics in place to fix a tap or hand pump.

Monitoring is the backbone to achieving the SDGs. Without it, reaching the SDGs is a blind struggle.

[Juste Nansi, IRC article]

CDC anticipating a loss of 80% of its funding for international outbreak prevention work

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) operational interventions were key to ending the West Africa Ebola outbreak.

About two weeks ago, an internal memo leaked from the CDC informing personnel that the center was anticipating a loss of approximately 80% of its funding for international outbreak prevention work. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported in more detail  that starting in September 2019, the CDC will narrow its focus and eliminate many of its foreign country programs.

The CDC works overseas in two different ways. It funds programming that it is implemented by international NGOs and companies that support disease surveillance and preparedness, and it works government-to-government with health agencies and departments that fight infectious disease.

The programming that CDC supports around the world does things like improve the capacity of national laboratories to diagnoses illnesses like HIV, TB, Hepatitis, and Zika. It helps countries build better national disease surveillance systems so that they can catch outbreaks early and stop them before they turn epidemic. And it builds health information systems, so data can be shared across regions, and internationally.

The government-to-government relationships are equally important. CDC’s role as the lead US government institution on epidemiology gives it unique status and credibility overseas. Their US role means that foreign counterparts recognize them as colleagues and treat them accordingly.

From October 2019, CDC will support overseas programs in only ten countries. By contract, in October 2017, CDC was operational in 124 countries. That’s a massive decrease. This 80% to CDC”s foreign operations cut may save some money in the short term, but it comes at the expense of enhanced security and possibly the health of Americans in the homeland.

[UN Dispatch]

Five cities selected to develop global water resilience framework

Cities from five continents have been selected to contribute to the development of a global framework for water resilience. The City Water Resilience Framework (CWRF), developed by Arup with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, will help cities better prepare for and respond to shocks and stresses to their water systems.

Amman, Cape Town, Mexico City, Miami, and Hull were selected because they represent the range of water challenges facing cities around the world. As part of this partnership, the project will explore each city’s specific water concerns through field research and stakeholder interviews. Data and findings will be used to establish qualitative and quantitative indicators to measure city water resilience, for use in any city, anywhere, enabling cities to diagnose challenges related to water and utilize that information to inform planning and investment decisions.

  • Amman, the capital city of Jordan with a population of 4 million, is not located near sources of water and regularly experiences drought. The city also experiences unusually heavy rains, leading to flooding in the lower-lying areas of the city.
  • Cape Town, in South Africa with a population of 3.7 million has been experiencing severe drought, due to three years of low rain fall. Officials have warned that there are fewer than 90 days left before the city’s water supply runs dry.
  • Mexico City, the largest of the cities participating, has a population of 21.3 million. The rapidly growing city is heavily reliant on underground aquifers, and is at serious risk of running out of water in the future. Mexico City is also located on land that was once a lake, making it particularly prone to flooding.
  • Greater Miami, and the Beaches, with a population of 5.9 million, is a coastal location with a high groundwater table and complex canal system, making it particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.
  • Hull located in Yorkshire United Kingdom, has a population of 323,000. With 90 per cent of the city standing below the high-tide line it is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

[Reuters]