Life goes on in Afghanistan

Excerpt written by Katherine, Medair Relief Worker:

As I fly from Kabul to southern Afghanistan, I wonder about how people survive on what looks like endless, barren, sand-colored land stretching to the horizon.

After the plane touches down, a rosebush garden greets us at the airport, and contradicts the stereotypical picture of southern Afghanistan—the oft-cited center of conflict in the country. Men wrapped in various shades of brown and tan patus, a sort of shawl/blanket, ride through town on motorcycles and bicycles. Although sunny, the winter air still holds a chill. The rest of the road is filled with its mix of cars, small trucks, and local trolleys, while the land outside town extends into the desert.

On days like this, it’s sometimes hard to imagine that the country is at war. But even on this calm sunny day, checkpoints along the road and cautious discussions of recent incidents are a reminder of the insecurity and daily risks. A reminder of the conflict that has lasted for nearly four decades.

I think of the impact of the last 40 years on the people of Afghanistan. Of the many acute emergencies, both minor and major, that have spanned those years. The communities that have had to adapt, to learn how to cope.

Life here goes on, but the effects of conflict have slowly and relentlessly taken their toll on the availability of services, and on the people who need access to them. Meanwhile, the world speeds into the future, leaving them behind. As my eyes pan beneath the green mesh, I wonder if the people here feel left behind. I wonder if they still feel hope.

WiFi router for first responder humanitarian needs

MeshPoint is a smart and rugged WiFi hotspot designed to provide instant Internet access in adverse conditions, suitable for crisis situations.

The idea for MeshPoint was hatched in 2015 when volunteers from project Open Network (Otvorena Mreža) in Croatia were helping humanitarian organizations and refugees during Syrian refugee crisis. They saw that humanitarian organizations needed communication for coordinating volunteers in the field, for logistics (having enough food and blankets in field warehouses, etc.). They also noticed that even all the biggest NGOs like Greenpeace, Red Cross, International Organization for Migration, UNICEF and others struggled to setup communication with their teams in the field, and how all current networking products are not suited to be used in crisis events by first responders.

Open Network volunteers setup mobile and fixed wifi hotspots and gave them to volunteers and humanitarian organizations that were working in the field.

In order to setup communication in crisis situations like floods and earthquakes devices first and foremost have to be easy to use, especially by first responders, but they need:

– Open source hardware and open source software
– Setup needs to be easy, as easy as creating social networking profile
– Needs to work autonomously for at least 6-8 hours (via battery pack)
– Needs to be able to charge battery pack over any power source (solar, wind, AC generator, car battery, etc)
– Can form a mesh network so coverage is spread really fast
– Has capacity to server lots of people (multiple radios and frequencies)

Find out more   

The silent disaster for migrants and refugees reaching Libya

In 2016, about 5,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean, and in 2017 the toll is already estimated at 2,000 people as of June. But how many die before reaching the coast and embarking on boats?

There is every reason to believe that this is a silent disaster.

As they pass through Libya in hopes of traveling on to safety in other countries, many refugees and migrants are robbed, abused, jailed, tortured, or even killed.

Since July 2016, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has provided lifesaving health care to refugees and migrants detained in Tripoli, and, in early 2017, expanded its operations to include a new project in Misrata.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are over 380,000 migrants currently in Libya. The majority of health issues affecting the patients are directly linked to the detention conditions and the violence that marks their journey: skin diseases, scabies, diarrhea, respiratory infections, muscular pain, wounds and psychosomatic disorders.

Some came to work in Libya, which once was an economic “El Dorado” for nationals from neighboring countries. Others work to try to secure funding for the Mediterranean crossing, working under conditions that fell within the scope of forced labor and were interrupted by periods of detention or are at the very beginning of their journey across Libya.

[ReliefWeb]

The man-made humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen

Batool Ali-yemen-civil-warBatool Ali is six years old, though you would never guess that from her huge, haunted eyes and emaciated frame. Ribs jutting out over her distended belly, Batool weighs less than 16 kilograms (35 pounds). She is one of nearly half a million children in Yemen suffering from severe malnutrition. (For photo of Batool Ali, click icon at top left.)

What makes these images particularly painful to look at is the realization that this humanitarian crisis is entirely man-made.

Yemen is in the grip of a vicious cholera outbreak and a near famine that have coincided to create one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet.

But you won’t find the story splashed on front pages and leading news bulletins around the globe — Yemen’s grinding two-and-a-half-year civil conflict is often called “the silent war” because it receives relatively little attention in the media.

CNN has found that the Hadi government of Yemen and its Saudi Arabian-led backers are actively seeking to block journalists and human rights organizations from flying in on aid flights.

Jamie McGoldrick, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, warned CNN of the toll that the lack of media coverage is taking. He said the UN has been unable to raise even 30% of the funding it needs to deal with the crisis.

“Yemen is very much a silent, forgotten, I would even say a purposefully forgotten emergency,” McGoldrick says. “And because we don’t get the media attention, we don’t get the political support and therefore we don’t get the resources we need to address this humanitarian catastrophe.”

Since the conflict began, the Saudi-led coalition, which has US support, has imposed a blockade on the country that has left nearly 80 percent of Yemenis reliant on humanitarian assistance for their most basic needs.

[CNN]

Bill Clinton on proposed US foreign aid cuts

Drastic reductions to the U.S. foreign aid budget would be “a bad thing” because the relatively small amount of money is well-spent, former President Bill Clinton told a coalition of U.S. humanitarian and development groups on Tuesday.

“It’s a bad thing if the government cuts US AID, because it’s a little bit of money doing an outsize amount of good,” Clinton said.

The Trump administration wants to cut funding to the U.S. Agency for International Development by nearly one third in the fiscal year starting in October. There is strong congressional opposition to the proposal, part of efforts to slash the diplomatic and development budget from $54.9 billion to $37.6 billion.

Clinton was speaking to InterAction, which says the cuts would be “devastating” at a time when famine threatens the lives of 30 million people and conflict has displaced 65 million worldwide, an all-time high.

He said responding to challenges such as climate change and poverty required interdependence rather than an “us and them” mentality, which has gained traction in response to some of the negative effects of globalization.

[Associated Press]

World Refugee Day, a time to reflect

World Refugee Day is observed each year on June 20.  On this day, refugee advocates urge people to focus on the plight of those who have been displaced by famine, war and oppression.

By the end of 2016, more than 65 million people worldwide were forced to leave their homes due to conflict and persecution, data published by the U.N. Refugee Agency reveals.  That’s an average of 28,300 people per day, almost 20 people every minute.

“As an editor, I think about who is going where, and why,” shares Tiffany Harness, Middle East editor. She recalls one such experience: The young mother was crying, uncontrollably it seemed, as the rescue boat that had picked her up off the coast of Libya drifted in the sea.

She and more than 600 others had piled into a smuggling vessel that was probably overloaded, unseaworthy or both. When the boat capsized, most of those onboard were rescued. At least 30 were not, including the woman’s baby.

I will never know more about them than that.

Her photo (click icon at left), taken last month by Chris McGrath of Getty Images, conveyed a heartbreakingly common story in a crisis marked by death and numbers.

More than 5,000 migrants and refugees drowned last year in the Mediterranean as they tried to reach Europe. More than 1,600 have drowned in the same waters this year, according to the International Organization for Migration, a slower pace than last year but still horrifying.

[Washington Post]

Famine impacting 6.7 million Somalis

An elevated risk of famine persists in parts of Somalia due to severe food consumption gaps, high acute malnutrition and disease burden. Over 6.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance; more than 700,000 have been displaced since November 2016 and diseases such as AWD/cholera and measles continue to spread.

Humanitarian partners have significantly scaled up assistance, but these efforts must be sustained to avert famine, particularly in the worst drought-affected areas that are already facing severe food insecurity, alarming rates of malnutrition and disease outbreaks.

The United Kingdom has announced an additional aid package of 60 million British pounds (about $77 million) to Somalia to help tackle the current humanitarian crisis caused by the prolonged drought. The announcement was made yesterday by the United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who visited Somalia to assess the drought situation that has forced hundreds of thousands of residents to abandon their homes in search of food and shelter.

The Secretary of State noted the latest assistance was in addition to the 100 million pounds of aid disbursed by Britain to Somalia since her last visit earlier this year.

[ReliefWeb]

Foreign aid can work wonders

Foreign aid can work wonders. It set South Korea and Taiwan on the path to riches, helped extinguish smallpox in the 1970s and has almost eliminated polio.

Aid can also burden weak bureaucracies in developing nations, distort markets, prop up dictators and help prolong civil wars.

A decade ago governments rich and poor set out to define good aid. They declared that aid should be for improving the lot of poor people [and] it should be coordinated.

Official development aid, which includes grants, loans, technical advice and debt forgiveness, is worth about $130 billion a year. The channels originating in Berlin, London, Paris, Tokyo and Washington are deep and fast-flowing; others are rivulets, though the Nordic countries are generous for their size.

More than two-fifths flows through multilateral outfits such as the World Bank, the UN and the Global Fund. Last year 9% was spent on refugees in donor countries, reflecting the surge of migrants to Europe.

[The Economist]

Foreign workers send home 3 times the amount of money spent on foreign aid

The amount of money worldwide that migrants and foreign workers send back home increased by more than 50 percent over the past decade, according to a new analysis.

Technically known as ‘remittances,’ the total amount of these cash transfers grew from $296 billion dollars in 2007 to $445 billion in 2016 – triple what is spent by rich countries on foreign aid each year.

Roughly 1 billion people will either send or receive money, from abroad this year, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which sponsored the study and published the report Sending Money Home.

The upward trend in remittances worldwide represents a significant increase that has weathered a global financial crisis and increasing anti-immigrant policies in many wealthy countries. The money sent back home by foreign workers does a lot to reduce poverty globally, a fact not widely recognized by the public or policy makers.

Nearly half of the money sent home goes to people living in rural areas, according to the analysis. Families use the money to pay for food, health, education and to support businesses, which for the poorest communities typically are focused on farming.

World Bank head Jim Kim called remittances an important way to help end extreme poverty by 2030 because of their ability to ‘increase prosperity.’

[Humanosphere]

86% of Europeans believe that the EU should help any country worldwide affected by disasters

  • 9 of 10 Europeans think that it is important that the EU helps to coordinate the response to disasters in individual countries.
  • 81% say that coordinated EU action on disasters is more effective than actions by individual countries.
  • 86% believe that the EU should help any country worldwide affected by disasters.

[Eurobarometer]

German Chancellor Merkel calls for greater investment in Africa

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has underscored the importance of combating poverty in Africa as a way to stem the mass migrant flow to Europe.

Reducing poverty and conflict in Africa were the main topics raised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week as she met with African leaders ahead of next month’s Group of 20 (G20) summit. The leaders of the African Union from Guinea, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana, Tunisia, Rwanda and other nations met in Berlin to discuss a so-called “compact with Africa.” The initiative seeks to team up African nations which have committed to economic reforms with private investors who would then bring jobs and businesses.

“Positive development in the world will not work unless all continents participate,” Merkel said in Berlin. “We need an initiative that does not talk about Africa, but with Africa.”

Germany’s Finance Ministry announced on Monday that it agreed partnerships with Tunisia, Ivory Coast and Ghana as part of a planned investment of up to 300 million euros ($335 million) to help African nations.

Underscoring the pressure African countries face, Merkel contrasted Germany’s average age of 43 with the average age in Niger and Mali of 15. “If we don’t give young people any prospects, if we don’t invest in education and qualifications, if we don’t strengthen the role of girls and young women, the development agenda won’t succeed,” she said.

Last year, Germany took in around 890,000 migrants, thousands of whom came from African countries including Eritrea, Ghana and Ethiopia.

[Allafrica]

 

200,000 latrines sold by microentrepreneurs in 18 months

In rural Bangladesh, about 40 million people live without access to adequate toilets.
200,000 latrines sold by microentrepreneurs in Bangladesh in just 18 months is quite an achievement after three years of laying the foundation: research, product design and development, and putting business-thinking to work.

The SaTo pan, prototyped by American Standard in the U.S. and then tested by iDE in Bangladesh, sparked a new evolution in affordable, hygienic latrines. This innovation was conceived by engaging with end-users—understanding why they did (or did not) use sanitation products and what they prefer. This upfront investment in research and design strengthened the viability of the final product in the marketplace.

It costs iDE and our donors $11 to empower a family to buy a latrine. Families who purchase a latrine are seeing $205 in health and work-related savings per year.

The iDE Bangladesh program encourages private sector service providers to produce high-quality products that respond to the sanitation needs and demands of rural Bangladeshis.

[Sanitation News]

Welcome to Refugee High

Sarah Quintenz is due in the front office for a new student enrollment.

14-year-old Mohammad Naser and his family fled Iraq, and have been in the United States for all of three weeks. A representative of the refugee resettlement agency Heartland Alliance accompanies them.

“Hi. How are you?” Quintenz asks. Mohammad smiles, bewildered. It only takes a few seconds to assess that Mohammad doesn’t speak any English.

If Sullivan High School on the North Side of Chicago had a motto, it would be “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Its immigrant population now numbers close to 300  –45 percent of the school’s 641 students–  and many are refugees new to this country.

This academic year alone, the Rogers Park school has welcomed a staggering 89 refugees–nearly three times as many as last year and far more than at any other high school in the city. The recent surge, fueled in part by an influx of Syrians, has turned the school into a global melting pot, with 38 countries and more than 35 languages represented.

The third most common language, after English and Spanish, spoken at Sullivan? Swahili.

How Sullivan got to this point is a fascinating story of a school that not long ago was struggling for survival. During what’s been called the worst refugee crisis ever, with nearly 50 million children across the globe fleeing violence or other threats, Sullivan has reinvented itself by addressing a critical question: How do you give these kids a second chance?                                                                                     [continued]

Refugee students in America

Ms. Quintenz at Sullivan High is seeing more and more older students. Some spent the last few years in a refugee camp and so have been out of school; others fled their countries without time to gather their documents.

No matter the reason, if they don’t have credits, the school must start such students as freshmen. “It sucks,” Quintenz says, “but I really don’t have any other choice.”

A Rohingya boy explains that as members of a persecuted Muslim minority, he and his family fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, then Malaysia, after his grandfather and uncle were killed. Another student outlines eight countries–Angola, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, among them–that her family has lived in since leaving Rwanda. One girl, who has been in the United States for only a few months, says that she misses the smell of jasmine in her native Syria but not the sound of bombs. Trauma is part of the cultural fabric in room 106.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that as much as 75 percent of refugee youth experience some level of post-traumatic stress disorder.

That’s why the school had every ELL teacher go through two trauma trainings, one conducted by Lurie Children’s Hospital and the other by Sullivan’s former social worker, who also ran weekly discussion circles for students to share what they had been through.

For Quintenz, helping students heal comes down to trust: “Kids are only going to talk to you if you build those relationships and they feel comfortable with you.”

[Chicago Magazine]

An American family moves to war-torn Mosul – Part 1

The Eubank family has a guiding principle–if other families are forced to live in war zones, there should be no issue with theirs being on hand to help.  And so as Iraqi forces pushed into the last pockets of western Mosul still under Islamic State control, an American mom was home-schooling her three children in a room above a medic station deep inside the city.

Sahale, 16, and Suuzanne, 14, sat in a corner near their mother, Karen, working on their laptops and occasionally bursting into song. Peter, 11, lay on a camping mat on the floor doing math. They sleep in a house a short drive away, but spend their days at the medic station to assist and give supplies to fleeing Iraqis.

About a mile away at the front line, their father, David, who says he served for a decade in the U.S. military including in the Army’s Special Forces, evacuated families as they came under sniper fire from Islamic State militants.

It was just an average day for the Eubanks, who describe their work as a calling from God. The family has spent much of the past 20 years in the jungles of Burma, where David Eubank founded the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian organization that provides emergency medical care, shelter and food supplies in the country’s long-running civil war. They traveled to Iraq two years ago, at first working alongside Kurdish peshmerga forces in the war against the Islamic State. The family has also worked in Sudan and made two trips to the Kurdish areas of Syria.                                                              [Continued]

An American family moves to war-torn Mosul – Part 2

The war in Mosul is more intense than anything this American family has experienced, Karen Eubank says. The eight-month battle has taken place in a densely populated city, home to more than a million people when the Iraqi operation began.

Families face a gantlet of risks. U.S.-led airstrikes and sometimes indiscriminate artillery and mortar fire by Iraqi forces bombard neighborhoods held by the Islamic State. Families that attempt to escape risk being targeted by militants’ sniper and machine-gun fire, with the increasingly desperate extremists mowing down hundreds of civilians in recent weeks.

“They’ve been shelled, shot at, they’ve grown up like this,” David Eubank said. “Our deal is that if there’s another family there, we can be there. Americans aren’t worth more than anyone else.”

His team of Free Burma Rangers–including medics from Burma’s minorities who have traveled from their own war to help in Iraq’s–prepared their equipment for an expected afternoon push by Iraqi forces.

The rest of the family usually stays a step back from the front line. “I don’t want my kids to die. I don’t take them purposefully to the fighting,” Eubank said. “We pray and think about every risk.”

The group is being hosted by Brig. Gen. Mustafa Sabah, a brigade commander with the Iraqi army’s 9th Armored Division.  Sabah said that he initially was surprised that Eubank brought his whole family with him. “I thought, ‘This is not the right place for children,’” he said. “But then when I got to know them well, I realized this is what makes them happy, and they really believe in what they are doing.”

Sabah said that by just being there, the family is doing enough “because they give positive energy to everyone around them,” but that along with the rangers, they have effectively become a logistics battalion.

[Washington Post]

Situation report on ar Raqqa Syria

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) campaign to retake areas of ar Raqqa governorate currently under ISIS control has been ongoing since November 2016. The operation is supported by US-led airstrikes.

As of end-May, over 205,000 had been displaced. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) residing in organized camps and makeshift settlements have irregular access to food, drinking water, and sanitation facilities, as well as health services. Anecdotal evidence suggests similar needs among those still in ISIS-held ar Raqqa city.

In the coming months the additional caseload of people that will require humanitarian assistance in ar Raqqa and surrounding governorates is projected to reach 440,000, including 340,000 people newly displaced and 100,000 people estimated in Raqqa city currently. The increasing number of people in need will no doubt put a strain on current capacities.

Moreover, widespread fighting and airstrikes are likely to damage or destroy vital civilian infrastructure, such as health centers, water towers and pumping stations, and power stations, thereby making needs more acute.

[Relief Web]

Humanitarian leaders to gather at Aid & Development Asia Summit

More than 250 high-profile representatives from NGOs, businesses, government and UN organizations are set to convene at the Aid & Development Asia Summit in Myanmar June 14-15 to exchange innovative and sustainable solutions for improving aid delivery and development strategy in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia is particularly vulnerable to severe climate change related disasters. Out of 65.3 million displaced people around the world, 14% are being hosted in Asia and the Pacific. Despite significant progress made over the last decade, hunger, malnutrition, disease and poverty are still among the notable challenges particularly facing the region.

Over 130 million people in Southeast Asia do not have access to basic health services. Communicable diseases, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis (TB), remain a major public health challenge. The region has the lowest density of health professionals with a deficit of 6.9 million health workers. As a result, Southeast Asia has one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world with 1 in 19 children dying before their fifth birthday.

[ReliefWeb]

Hackathon to find solutions for humanitarian problems

“Tech for Humanity”, to be held in Tallinn, Estonia June 9-11, will be devoted to finding innovative solutions to aid humanitarian catastrophes. Organised by the Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol and Garage48 the Tech for Humanity hackathon will focus on three areas: finding new implementations of technology to aid the refugee crisis; natural disasters; and developing countries.

100 contributors are expected to be involved. In the first stage, the teams will develop a prototype of the product or service that they can then introduce to the sub-committees of the UN such as the Global Humanitarian Lab and the International Committee of the Red Cross. From there on, the product development can continue in collaboration with the Global Humanitarian Lab or the Red Cross and the best solutions will be put to work.

“Better solutions in logistics, information gathering and distribution are essential to ensure that help would quickly reach the ones who need it the most. Sustainable solutions in education and psychological help are needful to ensure the normal quality of life for displaced people. These are just a few examples of areas in need of innovation – we await everyone who wants to help to solve these problems in collaboration with UN experts,” the organizers said.

Since 2010, the Tallinn-based Garage48 has been organizing hackathons where participants create prototypes to test their business ideas in 48 hours. At a hackathon, everyone can pitch their idea on Friday; the most popular ones attract teams that will start executing them; and on Sunday evening, the teams present their prototypes. So far, over 60 Garage48 events have taken place in 17 countries and four continents.

[Estonian World]

India’s humanitarian assistance and disaster relief

The Indian Navy is currently assisting the Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan governments in dealing with a devastating cyclone and flood, respectively.

In previous years, India has rendered similar assistance, most notably in in April 2015, when Nepal was hit by a massive earthquake.

Also in 2015, the Indian Air Force was deployed in Yemen. During that relief effort, India rescued nationals from 41 countries apart from bringing home a large number of Indian citizens. Last July, India was quick to get its citizens out of South Sudan as well.

The Indian mainland is not very far from these disaster zones. Hence, India could deploy its military assets more effectively than in other parts of the world. The Indian military is the strongest force in the region; its geographic advantage is coupled with material capabilities like naval warships and long range aircraft.

[The Diplomat]