Taxing the world’s poor to give to the bureaucrat

The 10 percent of the world’s population still consuming $1.90 or less a day are subsisting on a small fraction of the resources available to people at the US poverty line.

In the rich world, even in the United States, government tax and transfer systems like welfare payments reduce the gap between rich and poor. But in the world’s poorest countries, taxes are less progressive, financial transfers are much smaller, and—with the bulk of social spending soaked up by broken health and education systems—the net effect is often to leave people poorer than they started.

Tax regime in many developing countries isn’t very progressive—taxing the rich a similar percentage of their income as the poor. That’s because the revenue authorities tend to rely on indirect taxes like VAT—which fall on all consumers—rather than direct taxes on high personal or corporate incomes. So poor people lose a similar proportion of their income to the government as do rich people. The impact of government can thus be to increase poverty rates.

In four of the five sub-Saharan African countries where CEQ data is available, the net effect of taxes and transfers is to increase the number of people living below the World Bank’s extreme poverty line. (In Tanzania, for example, poverty is nearly 20 percent higher due to taxes and transfers.)

Eradicating global poverty will require decades of sustained economic growth, and a state capable of delivering high-quality education and health services to all. But in the short term, just making the current system of taxes and transfers slightly more progressive would be—on a technical level—a pretty easy fix for poverty and inequality in many countries.

[Center for Global Development]

Rising mental health issues among humanitarian workers

Post-graduates from King’s College London, Laura Samira Naude and Esther ten Zitjhoff, left Britain and headed to Greece’s refugee camps. Armed with compassion and educational books in Arabic, English and Farsi, the duo travelled from camp to camp in their library on wheels, attempting to bring the hope and resources to the refugees as they prepared for their future in Europe. But as winter came, facing the many pressure that all NGOs in Greece face, Laura and Esther began to lose hope themselves: “Everything you try and do is met with obstacles, we didn’t have a huge support group and so after a while we just couldn’t cope, physically or mentally”.

Aid workers and volunteers in the humanitarian sector face traumatizing situations that have been proven to cause them to experience anxiety, burnout, secondary traumatic stress, depression or PTSD, explains Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

A report conducted by the Antares foundation in 2013, found that 30% of aid workers had experienced PTSD, compared to 11% of US veterans who participated in the war in Afghanistan according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Brendan McDonald, former aid worker at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), recalls how when asking his staff councilor for advice after a particularly traumatic experience in Syria, he was only sent a pamphlet on yoga. At the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, McDonald, along with other colleagues, attempted to petition the summit, calling on the UN to “prioritize staff well-being”. He said, “I was told by UNOCHA senior management not to pursue the matter; it was basically not seen as an issue”.

[AFP]

Impact on Iranian people from Trump sanctions

In the years prior to the nuclear deal, when Iran was under broad international sanctions, the country saw shortages in key foodstuffs and life-saving medicines.

According to Iran’s Food and Drug Administration, during that sanctions period, the list of medicines subject to shortages in Iran extended to 350 drugs. After the lifting of international sanctions as part of the Iran nuclear deal, the situation improved dramatically.

With U.S. sanctions poised to return, much suffering for Iranians seems to be on the horizon. In fact, what the Trump administration is seeking to do could prove much more dangerous than anything Iran has been subjected to before.

[Bourse & Bazaar]

UN calls for ‘immediate end to use of disproportionate force’ in Israel

Dozens of people were killed and hundreds injured on Monday amid reports of Israeli forces firing live ammunition at protesters protesting against the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. Israeli forces faced accusations of using “disproportionate force” against Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said “those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account.” In an earlier statement, the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was “gravely concerned” that many of those killed or injured during weeks of protests were reportedly posing no imminent threat when they were shot.

The statement also called on Israel to “fully respect the norms of humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to lift the blockade of the Gaza strip”, and to “put an immediate end to the disproportionate use of force against Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza strip, refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties and ensure prompt and unimpeded access to medical treatment to injured Palestinians”.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s executive director for the Middle East and North Africa, said Israeli authorities’ policy of firing at protesters irrespective of whether there was an immediate threat to life had resulted in a “bloodbath that anyone could have foreseen”.

Philip Luther, research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said: “This is another horrific example of the Israeli military using excessive force and live ammunition in a totally deplorable way. This is a violation of international standards, in some instances committing what appear to be wilful killings constituting war crimes.”

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that firing live ammunition at protesters showed “appalling indifference to human life on the part of senior Israeli government and military officials” and called for an immediate halt to the killing of protesters.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry fell in love while doing humanitarian work

With just days to go before the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, one of her closest friends spills the details of how the couple fell in love.

“Harry invited Meghan to Botswana,” Janina Gavankar said. “They were staying in a tent with nothing and just had each other.” The two had a shared passion for philanthropy work, according to Gavanker, which she thinks cemented their romance.

“I remember when Meghan told me about Botswana,” Gavanker said. “I loved how she was … pleasantly surprised. Like, this boy is actually just doing this for real. This is not some flouncy trip … he really means it.”

“Even with Meghan’s crazy schedule as an actor, she’s always made time for philanthropic endeavors,” her friend recalled. “It could be one day helping at a charity event and it could be an entire trip that she’s told nobody about to go help people in India.”

“One of the things I love about both of them is that they don’t tell anyone,” she added. “They just go do good work in countries with nobody watching.”

Gavankar added that Markle, who is known for her ever-glamorous appearance, is “incredibly low maintenance.” She thinks it was Harry’s down-to-earth side that stole Markle’s heart, which the bride-to-be got to witness in Botswana.

[ABC News]

‘Marathon of suffering’ in Syria conflict far from over

Jan Egeland, Special Adviser to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, recently said, “That’s what I fear, people think it’s over,” amid reports that “tens of thousands of people” from rural Damascus were preparing to evacuate to Idlib in the north-west of the country. “It’s not over.”

“We’ve still only 23 per cent of humanitarian programs funded,” Mr Egeland said, warning that there was “no cash …available to humanitarian actors” as “desperate, exhausted people arrive now every day in Idlib. There is no money for the operations.” He called on countries not to slow down their support “before this marathon of suffering is over.”

Two million people remain in hard-to-reach areas in Syria and 11,000 still live in besieged locations. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), displacement in some parts of Syria is as high as it was at the beginning of the crisis. OCHA’s records indicate that for every person who returns home voluntarily, another three people are newly displaced.

Mr. Egeland said his “worry number one” was Idlib, which is already home to more than two million people. “They are living out in the open, they are living in congested displacement camps…crammed in collective centers,” he said.

[UN News]

Aid workers freed in South Sudan

Ten aid workers, who were detained while on an assessment mission, and then were held by an armed opposition group for more than five days, have been freed.

The humanitarian staff, all nationals, included one from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), two from UNICEF, one from the South Sudanese Development Organization, two from ACROSS, three from Plan International and one from Action Africa Help.

The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Alain Noudehou, confirmed that the workers were returned safely and in good health. He commended the tireless work of those who secured their release, particularly the efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to facilitate their return to Juba.

He expressed outrage at what he described as a deteriorating environment for humanitarian work in South Sudan. Earlier the same week, a humanitarian worker was shot and killed while returning to check on a health clinic that had been looted in Leer County. This most recent death brings to 100 the total number of aid workers killed since the conflict began in December 2013.

[UNOCHA]

Post-harvest food losses: a priority for Africa

Around a third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted. In Africa, the figure is estimated to be as high as 50%. In developing countries, this happens mainly because of poor crop harvest and handling practices early in the value chain.

A report by Global Knowledge Initiatve (GKI) calls for investment into ‘quick wins’ that show promise for immediate impact – one example of that would be ColdHubs, which is providing affordable refrigeration to farmers in Nigeria. ColdHubs sells access to refrigeration hubs on a pay-as-you-store basis, solving the problem for individual farmers of large upfront investment in their own equipment.

“A 20 kg crate of tomatoes sells in Nigeria for US$40-50 [€32-40] during the peak season,” says Nnaemeka Ikebwuonu, CEO of ColdHubs. “That’s the price from 7am until about 1pm. By this time, rot has set in and it is sold for 50% less. By 5-6pm, it will be sold for 80% less. But ColdHubs enables farmers to store that 20 kg crate for US$0.50 [€0.40].” In other words, if a farmer has surplus tomatoes, an affordable €0.40 investment per crate will enable them to stagger sales and prevent a substantial loss in income.

US start-up company Evaptainers is taking a traditional refrigeration technique – evaporative cooling – and using it to manufacture pre-built, lightweight mobile refrigeration devices. Its EV-8 is a collapsible box made with a synthetic fabric, and users just pour water into the space between the inner and outer layers to activate the cooling process. It will sell for €20-28 and a pilot project using 300-500 units is planned in Morocco this year, with a view to an eventual wider roll-out in other countries.

Sara Farley, chief operating officer and co-founder of the Global Knowledge Initiatve explains: “Sometimes, innovations that seem more incremental in nature are also capable of ushering in large-scale and long-term change.”

[Read full article]

Syrian government and rebels reach evacuation agreement for Damascus

An agreement brokered by Russia to evacuate neighborhoods in southern Damascus has been reached between the Syrian government and rebel groups controlling the enclave of southern Damascus.

The parties agreed to evacuate trapped civilians and fighters in southern Damascus in exchange for sending away civilians and fighters in the two towns of Fua’a and Kafriyeh, predominately-Shiite towns under the government’s control in rebel-held Idlib province.

Mattar Ismael, a journalist based in southern Damascus, told VOA that people started preparations to leave southern Damascus, and the first convoy of civilians is expected to be bused out Tuesday morning.

[Voice of America]