Africa has worst hunger crisis in 70 years amid US budget cuts

Africa faces the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, with more than 20 million people facing starvation, and any cut in funding to humanitarian agencies working in famine-affected areas will cause untold suffering, a spokesman for the World Food Program said, responding to questions about U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut $10 billion in foreign aid.

“Any cuts at this time are extremely significant, not just for us but for any U.N. agencies and any aid organization,” said David Orr, WFP’s Africa spokesman, at a media briefing in Johannesburg. “With the magnitude of needs at the moment is it vital that we continue with a high level of assistance.”

The current hunger crisis is in three African countries, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria, as well as nearby Yemen.

The U.S. is WFP’s largest donor and was one of the organization’s founders. Last year it contributed more than $2 billion, representing about 24 percent of WFP’s total budget, Orr said.

“The more dramatic cuts in any aid budgets … the more suffering there is going to be,” Orr said.

[Cox Media]

10 times more in arms sales than the amount given in aid

Over the past two years, the UK and the US have sold billions of pounds’ worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, arms used to obliterate Yemen. After two years of airstrikes, Yemen is facing a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions, with more than 18 million Yemenis requiring humanitarian assistance.

On the one hand, the UK and US have supported Yemen with around $465 Million (£371.5m) in aid during the past two conflict-ridden years. On the other, British and American arms companies, with the authorization of the UK and US governments, have busily supplied much of the weaponry that Saudi Arabia has used for its devastating attacks in its southern neighbor.

Since the war started in March 2015, the UK Government has approved no less than 194 export licenses for arms and related equipment to Saudi Arabia, worth more than $4.1 Billion (£3.3bn) or around 10 times that combined UK-US aid sum.

Similarly, the US sold a record amount of arms to Saudi Arabia under President Obama’s administration, with sales set to continue under President Trump.

[The Independent]

Bill Gates advocates for foreign aid during Capitol Hill meetings

Bill Gates met with several Congressional leaders on Tuesday to discuss foreign aid and global health issues, a day after meeting with President Trump.

In his Capitol Hill meetings, Gates stressed the potential impact that budget cuts could have on programs backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to a Gates Foundation spokesperson. These programs include efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, to contain malaria and to deliver vaccines.

“Cuts to these high-value, high-impact programs could put millions of lives at risk,” said a Gates Foundation spokesperson. Gates also “raised the importance of expanding access to economic opportunity and education here at home,” the spokesperson said.

[The Hill]

How Foreign Aid Helps Americans

Foreign aid projects keep Americans safe. And by promoting health, security, and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.

For one thing, it helps prevent epidemics. The most recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people, but the death toll would have been much worse if the disease had spread widely in neighboring Nigeria, an international travel hub that’s home to 180 million people. What contained it? Among other things, a group of health workers who were stationed there for an anti-polio campaign. They were quickly reassigned to the Ebola fight, and their efforts helped stop the disease—and keep it from crossing the Atlantic to the United States.

Another example is America’s global HIV/AIDS effort, known as PEPFAR. There are 11 million people with HIV who are alive today because of the medicines that it provides. Many more never got the virus in the first place because of prevention efforts supported by PEPFAR.

This is not simply a humanitarian accomplishment. For those countries it means more teachers, entrepreneurs, police officers, and health-care workers contributing to strong, stable societies.

Better health puts nations on the path to self-sufficiency. How? When health improves, people decide to have fewer children, because they’re confident that the children they do have will survive into adulthood. As family size drops, it gets easier for countries to feed, educate, and provide opportunity for their people—and that is one of the best ways to stabilize any vulnerable region.

A more stable world is good for everyone. But there are other ways that aid benefits Americans in particular. It strengthens markets for U.S. goods: of our top 15 trade partners, 11 are former aid recipients.

US foreign aid represents less than 1 percent of the federal budget, not even a penny out of every dollar. It is some of the best return on investment anywhere in government. This money is well spent, it has an enormous impact, and it ought to be maintained.

[Read full article by Bill Gates]

Bill Gates meets Trump to argue for foreign aid

Tech billionaire Bill Gates met with President Donald Trump and highlighted the “indispensable role that the United States has played in achieving these gains,” his foundation said in a statement.

Gates wrote a blog post Friday to argue that the U.S. shouldn’t slash humanitarian aid. Spending on projects overseas helps “keep Americans safe,” Gates wrote.

“By promoting health, security, and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.”

American aid, Gates wrote, helps prevent and eradicate epidemics, citing polio and Ebola as examples.

To illustrate the security benefits of international aid, he praised former President Bush’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS abroad with a program known as PEPFAR. Eleven million people with HIV are alive because of the program, Gates said, and “many more never got the virus in the first place because of the prevention efforts supported by PEPFAR.” What this meant, he continued is that there were more teachers, entrepreneurs, and other workers “contributing to strong, stable societies,” and Gates pointed to a study that showed that political instability and violence in African countries with PEPFAR dropped signficantly, compared to when PEPFAR was not in use.

[CBS]

The Christian case for foreign aid

The Bible is replete with references to caring for the poor in obedience to God. Jesus declares that loving our neighbor — wherever they live — is one of the greatest commandments, a corollary to loving God.

While the U.S. government doesn’t directly share this mandate, it plays a critical role in fulfilling the moral responsibility of all Americans to help those less fortunate. …Yet now, President Trump’s proposed budget threatens to severely cut that foreign aid.

At less than 1 percent of the federal budget — an amount analogous to the “widow’s mite” — foreign assistance promotes our values, our own prosperity and our nation’s security, all while providing a lifeline to the most vulnerable in the world, those Jesus called “the least of these.”

This isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. If the U.S. government isn’t on the ground saving lives and promoting recovery and development — in solidarity with thousands of American aid workers and American allies — then global crises will proliferate and cause destabilization that eventually reaches our shores.

In an increasingly unstable world, this small but vital account is the ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure. Former secretary of defense Robert Gates has said, “Economic development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

[Read full article by Richard Stearns (president of World Vision U.S.) and Sean Callahan (president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services)]

US no longer leads global efforts to mitigate suffering

President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the United Nations, which runs agencies such as the World Food Program and UNICEF, come at a time when famine is reaching a crisis point in parts of Africa. The timing of the proposed cuts has sent chills through the international aid community, which fears that a retreat by the U.S. in relief funding could make a bad situation worse.

Just days before Trump’s budget was released, U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien warned that the globe is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Two years of drought and failed rains across much of Africa have affected 38 million people in 17 countries.

For decades, the U.S. has been the largest supporter of the World Food Program as part of a bipartisan congressional commitment to averting famine and starvation. In 2016, the U.S. paid 24% of the food program’s $8.6-billion budget, or about $2 billion. At present levels, the U.S. also funds 40% of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 22% of the U.N. Secretariat, as well as 28% of the cost of U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Ben Parker, an analyst and editor at IRIN, a news agency specializing in humanitarian issues, said the U.S. humanitarian contribution was large in dollar terms, but in terms of the percentage of its economy, “the U.S. is not very generous.”

Scott Paul, senior policy adviser at the humanitarian agency Oxfam, said Trump’s budget blueprint sent tremors of alarm through the humanitarian community. “The message that it sends is that the U.S. is no longer interested in leading or being part of global efforts to mitigate suffering in the world,” he said.

[Los Angeles Times]

The US spends a lot less on foreign aid than you think

President Trump’s wants a 28 percent cut in America’s foreign aid funding, though some areas would go untouched — U.S. assistance to Israel, for example.

But Trump is playing to a strong feeling among Americans that we spend large parts of our national budget on international programs. That’s a persistent belief.

And a false one.

Guess how much of the U.S. budget is spent on foreign aid. Go ahead.

“When we ask the public to give us their best guess, we find on average they tell us 31 percent,” said Bianca DiJulio, associate director of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“The actual amount is 1 percent or less.”   Read more  

Underappreciated benefits of US foreign aid

Carnegie Endowment senior fellow Rachel Kleinfeld points to an underappreciated fact about foreign aid. “I would say the majority of it helps us strategically and economically,” Kleinfeld said.

U.S. companies and organizations often carry out disaster assistance for example. But there’s long-term payoff as well. “Think about it this way, of our 15 biggest trading partners today, 11 used to be recipients of U.S. aid,” she said.

Helping others helps ourselves in the long term. And of course, helping others … helps others.

Compared with other countries, the U.S. gives the most money. But when you compare by what percentage of our budget we give, we’re 19th in the world.

[Marketplace]

US asks Cambodia to pay war debts for destroying it!

Half a century after American B-52 bombers dropped more than 500,000 tonnes of explosives on Cambodia’s countryside, Washington now wants the country to repay a $US500 million war debt. The demand has prompted expressions of indignation and outrage from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Over 200 nights in 1973 alone, 257,456 tons of explosives fell in secret carpet-bombing sweeps. The pilots flew at such great heights they were incapable of discriminating between a Cambodian village and their targets, North Vietnamese supply lines. The bombs were of such massive tonnage they blew out eardrums of anyone standing within a 1-kilometre radius.

According to one genocide researcher, up to 500,000 Cambodians were killed, many of them children. The Kymer Rouge then seized power in 1975 and over the next four years presided over the deaths of more than almost two million people through starvation disease and execution.

Cambodia’s strongman prime minister Hun Sen has hit back, saying “The US … dropped bombs on our heads and then ask up to repay. When we do not repay, they tell the IMF (International Monetary Fund) not to lend us money,” he told an international conference in early March.

A former Reuters bureau chief in Ho Chi Minh City, said no-one could call him a supporter of Hun Sen,  but on this matter he is “absolutely correct. … Cambodia does not owe a brass farthing to the US for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields and forest cover,” he wrote in the Cambodia Daily.

American Elizabeth Becker, one of the few correspondents who witnessed the Khmer Rouge’s genocide, has also written that the US “owes Cambodia more in war debts that can be repaid in cash.”

[Sydney Morning Herald]

Why is the world facing its worst humanitarian crisis since 1945?

The UN has warned that the world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since the organization was founded in 1945. Aid agencies have been warning for months and, in the case of Somalia, for years of an impending catastrophe. But the situation has deteriorated rapidly in the past 12 months.

Here is a look at the causes of food shortages and what is being done.
Are these crises man-made? The short answer is yes, although to varying degrees:
– North-east Nigeria has been a center of Boko Haram militancy. In the past 12 months the government has made military inroads, but hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes or trapped in Boko Haram areas. The UN’s World Food Programme says individual families face starvation, but the situation is not yet widespread enough for a famine to be officially declared.
– The two-year conflict in Yemen has pushed the poorest Arab state into a humanitarian crisis and driven millions of people to the brink of starvation. Saudi Arabia launched a Sunni-led military coalition two years ago to fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who had ousted the government. More than 10,000 civilians have died. Some 7m people face severe food shortages. The Saudis are blocking ports, ostensibly to stop the flow of weapons but also affecting food imports.
Somalia is different because the main reason for hunger is a drought, described by pastoralists as the worst in living memory. Temperatures have been rising in the Horn of Africa and weather patterns have become more unpredictable, a phenomenon some blame on global warming. Ever since 2011, the country has been plagued by internecine fighting.  Aid agencies say that, in some of the worst-affected regions, multiple armed militias are fighting for territory. 40 per cent of the population are at risk.

Is there donor fatigue? The refugee crisis triggered by the war in Syria has sucked up a lot of international attention and funding. In western countries, the appetite for foreign aid is lower among parts of the population. But Challiss McDonough, regional spokeswoman for the World Food Programme, said “fatigue is not the right word,” adding: “It is more like an overwhelming of the humanitarian system: 20m people are facing potential famine. A year ago I would have said that was unimaginable.”

Are countries condemned to repeat these catastrophes year after year? No. Ethiopia is often associated with starvation because of the 1983-85 famine in which at least 400,000 people died, with some estimates suggesting as many as 1m. Since then, however, a new government has taken big steps to prevent a recurrence. Last year, Ethiopia suffered the worst drought in at least three decades. People certainly went hungry, but Addis Ababa was able to mount a concerted response that was made easier by much-improved infrastructure, years of fast economic growth and prudent planning.

[Financial Times]

Man-made famine in Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien called war-wracked Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” with two-thirds of the population, or 18.8 million people — three million more than in January — in need of assistance and more than seven million with no regular access to food.

The conflict in Yemen has left more than 7,400 people dead and 40,000 wounded since a US-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened on the government’s side against rebels in March 2015, according to UN figures.

In just the past two months alone, more than 48,000 people have fled fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country, according to O’Brien, as it grapples with a proxy war fought by archrivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“The humanitarian suffering that we see in Yemen today is caused by the parties and proxies and if they don’t change their behavior now, they must be held accountable for the inevitable famine, unnecessary deaths and associated amplification in suffering that will follow,” said O’Brien.

“Yet all parties to the conflict are arbitrarily denying sustained humanitarian access and politicize aid,” he added.

A total of $2.1 billion are needed to reach 12 million people with life-saving assistance and protection in Yemen this year, according to O’Brien, who noted that just six percent of those funds have been received so far. He announced that a ministerial-level pledging event for Yemen will take place in Geneva on April 25, to be chaired by UN chief Antonio Guterres.

[PRI]

2016 worst year yet for Syrian children

Children suffered a “drastic escalation” in violence from the Syrian civil war in 2016, the United Nations said Sunday in a report that showed child deaths jumped at least 20 percent from the year before and recruitment of child combatants more than doubled.

“The depth of suffering is unprecedented,” Geert Cappelaere, the UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement releasing the report. “Each and every child is scarred for life with horrific consequences on their health, well-being and future.”

More than a third of the children killed, were killed in or near a school, a reflection of how all sides in the conflict have disregarded schools as a safe haven in the war. A Unicef report in December said the United Nations had documented attacks on 84 schools in 2016.

“Children are [also] being used and recruited to fight directly on the front lines and are increasingly taking part in combat roles, including in extreme cases as executioners, suicide bombers and prison guards,” the report said.

Other statistics in the UNICEF report showed 280,000 children live in hard-to-reach areas almost completely cut off from humanitarian aid. Nearly six million children now depend on such aid to survive, a 12-fold increase from 2012. Millions have been displaced, some as many as seven times.

More than two million Syrian children are living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, representing roughly half the number of Syrians who have fled their country since the conflict began in March 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

[The New York Times]

World facing greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945

The world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, the United Nations says, issuing a plea for help to avoid “a catastrophe”.

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said that more than 20 million people faced the threat of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.

“We stand at a critical point in history,” Mr O’Brien told the Security Council on Friday. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations. … More than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease.

“Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost. Communities’ resilience rapidly wilting away. Development gains reversed. Many will be displaced and will continue to move in search for survival, creating ever more instability across entire regions.”

Mr O’Brien’s comments follow on from a similar appeal made by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last month.

[BBC]

Up to 450,000 IDPs expected in cramped Mosul camps

There may not be enough space in camps to accommodate the tens of thousands of internally displaced people (IDP) currently fleeing their homes in western Mosul amid intense fighting in the city, a United Nations official has said.

At least 50,000 people have made their way to the camps on the eastern side of the Tigris River, but the UN warns that if the number rapidly increases, they will be hard pressed to find a place for the new arrivals.

Up to 450,000 are expected to make their way to the camps, Lise Grande, humanitarian coordinator for the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, said. Field workers, she said, are “working around the clock” to construct additional emergency tents as quickly as possible.

As the US-led Iraqi army offensive to retake the western half of the city from ISIL continues to push on, at least 700,000 civilians are still trapped inside, with food and fuel supplies fast dwindling.

Supported by the US-led coalition bombing ISIL in Iraq and Syria, Iraqi forces began the operation to retake the western part of Mosul on February 19. West Mosul is the largest remaining urban stronghold in the “caliphate” declared by ISIL in 2014.

[Al Jazeera]

Digital disaster response

What do you do if you are a disaster manager in a coastal city when a powerful earthquake hits offshore?

  • You start tweeting life-saving updates and safety information to the public, alert your volunteers via SMS and set up a helpline.
  • You host a conference call for rescue workers using open-source tools and provide them with access to key documents via an online file-sharing service before reaching out to emergency accommodation providers through lodgings websites.

At a conference on resilience in New Orleans this week, technology companies outlined the increasingly sophisticated tools they are offering – on an altruistic basis – to help people cope better when disasters strike.

Cloud communications platform Twilio.org is partnering with the International Rescue Committee charity so that refugees in Greece can find out the date of their asylum appointment in their own language via a phone-based voice response system.

Twitter aims to “weaponize Twitter in a disaster” by helping users make the most of different features – from dedicated hashtags to Twitter handle lists, adverts and live video – to get vital information to those affected as quickly as possible. If communications go down or are overloaded in a disaster, an SMS version of Twitter can be activated.

Yet while these companies are seeking innovative ways to assist in disasters, they acknowledged technology cannot always substitute for human support.

When New Orleans was battered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, around two-thirds of the lowest-income groups do not have access to the internet, said Estes White, adding that offline information remained essential to piece together a full picture of the situation on the ground and reach all those in need. “I would caution against thinking that social media is a total solution,” she said.

[Thomson Reuters Foundation]

European Court of Justice rules against humanitarian visas for refugees

The European Court of Justice has ruled that refugees do not have to be granted humanitarian visas to the EU.

The court handed down its ruling in connection with a case brought by a Syrian family of five from Aleppo. The family had initially applied for a visa to Belgium at the Belgian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. They then planned to travel to Belgium where they would apply for asylum.

EU states are also not obliged to accept everyone who has experienced a catastrophic situation, the Foreign Office said.

Legally, refugees can currently enter the EU only under the new resettlement program. Between July 2015 and February 2017, some 14,422 people from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon were able to enter the EU and apply for asylum using this method.

[Deutsche Welle]

What a cut in US foreign aid could mean for this woman’s family

Last September, 19 months after fighting had erupted around her home in South Sudan, Alaakiir Ajok ran for the Uganda border. She found refuge in a settlement called Nyumanzi, where she was living with two of her four children. The other two disappeared in the chaos of conflict.

As of this week, Uganda is sheltering more than 761,000 other South Sudanese.

Ajok and her kids subsist on rations distributed by the World Food Program (WFP), and every month, she said, she would sell a portion of her sorghum for a bit of money to pay her children’s school fees. But when we met, WFP had just cut her rations in half, due to dramatic funding shortages. After that, Ajok had no sorghum to spare—which meant she had no money, and her son stopped going to school.

That was five months ago. On Tuesday, President Trump announced a proposal to cut the US State Department and USAID budgets by 30 percent or more.

The United States is by far the world’s largest contributor to humanitarian assistance in general, and the WFP in particular. International aid workers have been on edge ever since the election.

[Read full UN Dispatch article]

You don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian

Rihanna, the Grammy Award-winning artist — whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty — was in Boston Tuesday to receive Harvard College’s 2017 Humanitarian of the Year award.

At just 18, Rihanna founded the Believe Foundation, which provided support to terminally ill children. And since then, she hasn’t much slowed down.

Her Clara Lionel Foundation — named for her grandparents — tackles a range of causes, from education to health and emergency response programs. And her work with the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen Project helped convince Canada to pledge $20 million to the Education Cannot Wait fund.

In thanking the university, Rihanna spoke about family, and her grandmother’s losing battle with cancer. She spoke of her upbringing in Barbados, and her childhood dreams of saving the world, one 25-cent donation at a time.

Mostly, she urged students to do their part, to make a commitment to help just one person.

“People make it seem way too hard, man,” she said. “You don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian. You don’t have to be rich to help someone, you don’t have to be famous, you don’t even have to be college educated.

“My grandma always used to say if you’ve got a dollar, there’s plenty to share.”

[Boston Globe]

Pre-dawn raids across US to deport the undocumented impacting Mexico

Last week, a series of before-dawn raids by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) were launched in a number of American cities in at least six States. Immigrant rights advocates and the Mexican government are redoubling efforts to support Mexican citizens in the States.

Where ICE once only targeted undocumented people who had been convicted of criminal activity, now they are detaining those without criminal records, according to a number of activists who deal with undocumented peoples’ legal cases.

Activists explain that many undocumented people do not know that they don’t need – by law – to open the door. If the undocumented person opens their door, that is where the trouble starts, explains Francisco Moreno, COFEM community director, who works with people affected by raids. “If the person opens the door, [the ICE officers] can register everyone that’s inside – even non-criminals.” Detainees are removed from their homes in handcuffs, taken to a vehicle outside, and asked questions, said Moreno.

“It’s hard to overstate how disruptive this is, how wrenching this can be – people picked up in a raid might be the only source of income for a whole family, dressed their kids for school in the morning, cooks for their family, they might be a person supporting an elder parent or young baby. To imagine that person would be ripped away – imagine how it could affect everyone around them is extremely serious,” a representative of activist group KIWA said.

In recent weeks, Mexico has hastily established a program called Somos Mexicanos – We are Mexicans – designed to inform freshly deported or otherwise returned citizens from the US of programs available to reintegrate them into Mexican society.

Mexico has been struggling in recent weeks to cope with a sudden influx of refugees from across the country and around the world – from El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and countries in Africa – to its northern border towns, hoping to cross over into the US before the Trump administration further tightens border controls. Despite the sudden added pressure on its resources, Mexico has also managed to offer Haitian refugees and others papers where the US has made it clear it will not.