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]

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]

US Appeals Court deals blow to Trump’s temporary ban on refugees

A U.S. appeals court on September 7 rejected efforts by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to temporarily bar most refugees from entering the United States.

In the latest legal blow to Trump’s executive order targeting refugees and people from six predominantly Muslim countries, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that refugees who have “bona fide” relationships with U.S. resettlement agencies should be allowed into the country.

The court also ruled that grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of legal U.S. residents should be exempted from Trump’s 90-day ban on travelers from Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

The court added that “it is hard to see how a grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, sibling-in-law, or cousin can be considered to have no bona fide relationship with their relative in the United States.”

[AP / Reuters]

Mexico’s strongest earthquake in a century leaves dozens dead

A magnitude-8.1 quake, which was felt as far as Mexico City and Guatemala City, was registered off Mexico’s southern coast just as heavy rains from Hurricane Katia lashed the east.

The epicenter was in the Pacific Ocean, some 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) southeast of the capital and 74 miles (120 kilometers) from the Pacific coast.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the quake was the strongest earthquake Mexico has experienced in 100 years.

It hit late Thursday, when many people were asleep. The states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, home to about 9 million people, are located closest to the earthquake’s epicenter. They are two of the most impoverished areas in Mexico, and were likely hit the hardest.

So far, twenty-three people have been confirmed killed in Oaxaca state, seven in Chiapas state and two in Tabasco, local and federal officials said.

[CNN]

Angela Merkel’s open-door migration policy a million refugees later

A million refugees have taken refuge in Germany since 2015 under German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door migration policy. Many cities and towns took in more refugees than required.

Altena, an industrial west German town, was facing an economic downturn after its ironworks closed. Jobs were lost, businesses shut down, and families abandoned their homes. The population dropped by more than 10%. The mayor was looking for a way to give the town a boost when Merkel made her appeal in 2015.

“First, we wanted to help. There was a human reason to take them,” Altena’s mayor Andreas Hollstein explained.  “But the second reason was a win-win situation. We thought, ‘Okay, we need new people in Altena. …. This will help us invest in the future.'”

Altena, required to take in 300 refugees, took in in 400, and set up a program to match them with volunteer mentors that would help navigate German culture and its notoriously bureaucratic paperwork.

Bernadette Koopmann is one of the welcoming. “I have such a perfect life. I have healthy children, we live in a country that has not experienced war in a long time.

“Others are not so lucky,” she said. “They experience war, devastation, and poverty. I believe it’s not too much to ask for our help.”

[Read full CNN article]

WFP ED: Saudi Arabia should fund hunger relief in war-torn Yemen

Comments by David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), were unusually forthright for such a high-ranking UN official in criticizing one party in a conflict, as Beasley accused the Saudi-led coalition of hampering the provision of aid to Yemen.

“Saudi Arabia should fund 100 percent [of the needs] of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” Beasley told Reuters news agency. “Either stop the war, or fund the crisis. Option three is, do both of them.”

Since fighting began in March 2015, more than 10,000 people have been killed, and millions have been driven from their homes. The country is also facing a health crisis, with more than 2,000 people having died from cholera since April, more than half a million people infected, and another 600,000 expected to contract the infection this year.

Aid groups have also accused Saudi Arabia of blocking needed assistance and goods from areas that are most in need. The UN has accused Saudi Arabia of restricting entry to vessels bound for the key Red Sea port of Hodeidah through which around 80 percent of Yemen’s food imports once arrived.

“The Saudis have created serious complications for us because of the port being blockaded to a certain degree, and the destroying of the cranes at Hodeidah port … That has substantially reduced our capacity to bring food in,” the WFP‘s Beasley said. He added that coalition restrictions had also obstructed the delivery of fuel needed by UN vehicles which travel in and out of Sanaa carrying aid and personnel.

The kingdom has said that hundreds of millions of dollars it pledged to humanitarian programs have benefited civilians on both sides of Yemen’s conflict.

[Reuters]

Aid workers under attack in Myanmar as Rohingya conflict worsens

The Myanmar authorities’ restrictions on international aid in Rakhine state is putting tens of thousands of lives at risk in a region of Burma where mainly Rohingya people are already suffering horrific abuses from a disproportionate military campaign, Amnesty International said.

“Rakhine state is on the precipice of a humanitarian disaster. Nothing can justify denying life-saving aid to desperate people. By blocking access for humanitarian organizations, Myanmar’s authorities have put tens of thousands of people at risk and shown a callous disregard for human life,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director for Crisis Response.

Aid workers told Amnesty International of an increasingly desperate humanitarian situation in Rakhine state, where the military has been engaged in a large-scale operation since attacks on dozens of security posts on 25 August.

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee from their homes since the violence began. According to latest UN estimates 90,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed the border into Bangladesh. Thousands of people – mostly Rohingya – are believed to be stranded in the mountains of northern Rakhine State, where the UN and international NGOs (INGOs) are unable to assess their needs or to provide shelter, food and protection.

Hate speech and death threats have been directed against international aid workers, further threatening humanitarian operations. The European Commission reported “intimidation of national INGO/U.N. staff, and looting of some INGO warehouses.”

[DeVex / Amnesty International]

16 million children affected by massive flooding in South Asia

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that an estimated 16 million children are in urgent need of life-saving support in the wake of torrential monsoon rains and catastrophic flooding in Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

Since mid-August, there have been at least 1,288 reported deaths, with over 45 million people estimated to be affected.

Many areas remain inaccessible due to damage to roads, bridges, railways and airports. The most urgent needs for children are clean water, hygiene supplies to prevent the spread of disease, food supplies and safe places in evacuation centers for children.

“Massive damage to school infrastructure and supplies also mean hundreds of thousands of children may miss weeks or months of school,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. “Getting children back into school is absolutely critical in establishing a sense of stability for children during times of crisis and provides a sense of normality when everything else is being turned upside down.”

In Bangladesh alone, more than 3 million people have been affected by flooding. An estimated 696,169 houses have been damaged or destroyed and 2,292 primary and community schools have been damaged by high water.

[UNICEF]

Adolescents have highest HIV infection rate in Africa

Adolescents is the only age group where HIV rates are increasing faster in Africa, according to medical experts. HIV and full-blown AIDS is also the biggest killer of adolescents in the continent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by next year at least 1.8 million children will be on treatment from the sexually transmitted disease.

In Tanzania, recent statistics by Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF), a US-based foundation, indicate that out of the 1.4 million people living with HIV, 91,000 of them were children aged O to 14 years.

This was revealed as medical and allied experts are converging on Tanzania for a 13-country conference set to discuss the psycho social support for the children and youth living with HIV.

[The Citizen (Tanzania)]